How to Start a Photography Business
So, you want to start a photography business? The good news is that you’ve come to the right place. The not-so-good news? There is a wide, long road ahead of you, as there is truly a lot to consider when starting a photography business!
Have no fear, though. It’s a fun road, and it’s one we at Ownr know a thing or two about. This resource exists to provide guidance for entrepreneurs who are starting a photography business from scratch and do not know where to begin.
As a photographer, you have a lot to offer to your communities, from both a commercial and an artistic standpoint. As the experts in helping to launch Canadian entrepreneurs and small businesses, we hope that we have a lot of knowledge to offer you. So, without further ado, let’s begin going over the basics of how to start a photography business.
1. Choose a type of photography service to offer
Before we begin, there is something important to acknowledge. Saying that you are “going to start a photography business” is just about as vague as saying “I am going to start a business”. The truth is that the photography world is full of a variety of niches, and before you even start determining your business plan, you’ll want to decide which kind of photography you are going to offer.
Here are some of the different niches that photographers decide on:
A wedding photographer is an important part of any wedding ceremony as they are responsible for preserving a couple’s memories for many years to come. A wedding photographer works solo or as part of a team to snapshots of couples and their loved ones on the day of a wedding. Most often, these photographs will include both posed portrait photography (of the couple as well as the wedding party and family members), and candid, documentary-style photos of the wedding ceremony and reception. Sometimes a wedding photographer may also offer pre-wedding photography sessions such as engagement photos.
From a business perspective, wedding photography is a great place to be. While you will find that many types of photography have unpredictable demand, we would be willing to guess that almost no one is having a marriage ceremony without also hiring a photographer. In fact, photography is usually one of the biggest expenses in any wedding, as couples are often willing to spend more money on skilled wedding photographers that they can trust to do their day justice.
Many professional photographers find themselves drawn to taking pictures with people in them, as opposed to nature or landscape photography. If this describes you, it is possible to build an entire business out of photography families, whether it be couples, children, infants, or even pets. If you’re well-connected in your community and know a lot of folks, it may be worthwhile to get started on this photography path through word of mouth—does your cousin’s friend’s aunt need some portraits for her living room?
One of the lesser-known but still profitable ways for photographers to make money is by selling stock photos through sites such as Shutterstock or Getty Images, which generally offer a pricing structure for photographers willing to sell their photos. The most common types of stock images include nature shots and model shots, although sometimes there is a market for other genres such as real estate photos and candid scenes.
Some professional photographers with teaching experience find their luck in the world of teaching photography. If you have any education credentials or interest in helping people learn, it may be worthwhile to consider teaching as a viable stream when you start your photography business. The best way to get started is to check the job listings at your local community college or university who may hire experienced photography teachers on a part-time or full-time basis.
Bottom line: if you already have a passion for a specific photography niche, go for it! Knowing what type of photography you want to do can help you get specific about your target audience, so you’ll know who to market to and how. Also, if you’re looking for the most financially viable niche, you can do some market research into the types of photography that are most sought after in your area.
Don’t forget to think beyond traditional portrait photoshoots or family photos sold to individual clients. There are all sorts of businesses that need photos for their social media presence, packaging, and advertisements. Start brainstorming some local businesses that might need photos to get the ideas flowing. For example, real estate agents and home stagers hire photographers to capture a home that’s on the market. Skincare brands may require both portrait photography and product photography. There are endless examples of potential clients all around you, so keep your eyes open, and you’ll start noticing all of the ways that photography is used out in the world.
2. Develop a business plan
Every new business needs a business plan, and a photography business is no exception. In order to effectively grow your business, it’s essential that you know not only where you are but also where you’re going.
To develop your very own business plan that fits your unique photography business, the important thing to focus on are your business goals and ensuring that you have everything you need to meet them. The plan does not have to be formal, but it does have to be true to both you and your brand.
In order to write a photography business plan, you will first want to define your photography business structure. Who are your target clients? What is your business name? In which areas do you work? Some photographers find it helpful to write this in the form of a mission statement.
Next, you will want to focus on defining the type of photography services you provide. As we touched on earlier, there are many different directions that a photography business can take. Before you start taking new clients, take a few moments to ponder your brand image and identify who your ideal client is.
Speaking of clients, where are you going to be serving the patrons of your photography business? For some photographers, especially new photographers, it may make the most sense to operate out of a home studio. For some photographers, sharing a studio space can be a great way to network with the other professionals in your area. Whatever you decide on, make sure that the details fit into a financial plan that works for you and your business.
The last part of defining your photography business plan is setting out a marketing strategy for your brand, whether through the creation of a website or the planning of a social media calendar. If you do not yet have a website and a promotional presence online, now is the time to register a domain name and social media accounts.
3. Choose a business structure
Equally important to determining your business plan/strategy is setting out your business structure. While a business plan delves into the “why,” “what,” and “where” of your photography business, the business structure is more about the “how” and “who.”
The most obvious place to start with any small business is deciding whether you will be running a sole proprietorship or a corporation. Although these are two different approaches to running a business, there are so many disadvantages and advantages to both that the “right option” will truly vary based on the individual needs of each small business.
As a business owner, another thing you will need to define is how you will handle two very important matters: taxes and liability. As entrepreneurial types, it’s natural to want to handle everything yourself. Generally, though, when operating a small business you need to entrust the help of professionals to help you with your business’s finances, as well as your business’s legal matters. Every business legally must pay taxes, so it’s best to seek out tax help from a Certified Public Accountant. They also may be able to answer some of your questions about liability, though you will most likely want to speak to a lawyer who specializes in small business law about that.
4. Choose a business name
For some professional photographers, a business name is something they have from the get-go and helps them with their overall vision for their photography business. For others, finding a business name is like pulling teeth, and they don’t set their sights on one until the last possible moment. While there is no wrong way to go about it, there is no way around the fact that you cannot start your photography business without a business name. If you’re feeling stuck, it may be worthwhile to learn more about the process of naming a business (hint: it’s both an art and a science).
5. Register your business
Once you’ve settled on a business name, it’s time to unveil your photography for the world to see! This will involve registering your business, whether you decide that a sole proprietorship or a LLC (corporation) is right for you. If you’re still unsure, we have an article that provides a more in-depth overview of the differences between a sole proprietorship and a corporation. Some of the most common considerations for a small business to take include how the two would affect them from both a bureaucratic and a financial standpoint. For example, some small business owners who choose to register as a corporation appreciate that they have a clear distinction between their business and personal bank accounts and the fact that they can get a credit card with their business name on it.
It’s worth mentioning here that Ownr offers an easy way to register your photography business online in only a matter of minutes.
6. Gather the necessary equipment and supplies
Every business has associated materials, and photography businesses certainly have theirs. The world of photography equipment can actually be a bit of a rabbit hole, so allow us to help guide you. Below, we have set aside some of the most common types of photography equipment that you will need to run a successful business—because, after all, this job is so much more than just “taking pictures.”
These days, amazing quality photos can be taken directly on your smartphone. However, if you’re going to run a photo studio business, there are certain necessities that you’ll need to invest in for client photoshoots. There are things that every professional photographer needs in their toolkit, on top of your camera of choice, and then there are the add-ons that you may want to invest in as your business grows.
Multiple adapters, batteries, and memory cards
When it comes to your camera accessories, you absolutely need to have multiple adaptors, batteries, and memory cards on hand. Having your camera die on you during a photoshoot is bad news at any time. When you have paying clients coming into your photography studio for a portrait photography session, it’s going to look extremely unprofessional if you can’t find an extra battery for your camera or your SD card is unexpectedly out of space.
A reliable computer
While this isn’t an absolute necessity, having a computer on hand to tether to your camera during your photoshoots can save you all kinds of time in the long run. That way, you can instantly check your lighting and composition at a larger scale, rather than relying on your tiny DSLR camera screen. This will save you having to reshoot product photography or spend excessive time editing out problematic details that you didn’t notice at the time.
Photo editing software
On that note, you’ll also need to invest in reliable photo editing software for post-production. There are plenty of free and paid options available, so do some research and get familiar with your program’s capabilities before you take on any paid photography gigs.
Extension cords and power bars
Photography studios require a lot of electrical power, so you’ll probably need a few extension cords and power bars. Any lighting that you use that isn’t battery operated will require a plug, in addition to your laptop and camera battery chargers.
While natural light in a photo studio is great, weather conditions can’t always be relied upon, and using exclusively natural light limits you to working in daytime hours only. LED lamps provide a continuous light source, meaning that the composition is evenly lit. They can be customized with filters in a variety of colours and are useful for close-up photography.
Used for flash photography, speedlights can be used to create intense shadows on your subject. They are generally relatively small, lightweight and inexpensive compared to some other types of lighting, making them a good option if you’re just getting started. However, on the downside, they may not be powerful enough, depending on your intention.
This is a more powerful light used for flash photography. It is more expensive and much heavier than speedlights, and it requires a sturdy light stand. This type of flash can sometimes overheat and need to cool down before it can be used again.
If you’re planning on doing a lot of portrait photography, a beauty dish is designed for beauty photography in the hair and makeup industry. The softness it provides is somewhere between that of an umbrella and a softbox, and it can be used to create a strong catch light in your subject’s eyes. However, since a beauty dish picks up on every little detail, it will bring attention to any skin imperfections, so be conscious of when you pull out this type of lighting.
In addition to lights, something you will definitely need in order to run a successful photo studio are light modifiers. These can be used to diffuse light so that your light source is not pointing directly at your subject like a spotlight, creating a more neutral, even lighting throughout your composition. In general, a larger light modifier will result in a softer (and thus weaker) light effect. Reflectors bounce light from your light source back onto your subject for evenly diffused light.
Lighting umbrellas are made of translucent, reflective material that can help to create soft, consistent lighting. They are the least expensive light modifiers available. They can be useful for portrait photography, but they don’t allow for a lot of control on your part when it comes to light spill.
Softboxes and octaboxes
These are used to light your model without lighting the background by spreading light across a smaller area. They provide softer lighting than an umbrella and are more expensive, as they allow for more control over the light.
Unlike some of the other types of light modifiers, which need to be positioned around your subject on stands or held by a studio assistant, gels are inexpensive and can be affixed directly to your light source. They are translucent and come in a variety of colours and shapes, and can be used to create different light effects. Using directional lighting combined with gels, you can change the colour of one aspect of your composition, like the background, without affecting the rest of the photo.
A flag does the opposite job of a reflector. You can use anything black as a flag to block the light and prevent it from moving around your photo studio. Some reflectors even come with one side black so that you can use it for either purpose.
Another item that you’ll need at least one of is a backdrop. If you’re lucky, maybe your photo studio will have a blank wall that you can use as a neutral backdrop. However, there are tons of situations where you will need your background to be a different colour. This is where backdrops come in. Not only do they change the vibe and colour scheme of your composition, but they also offer versatility, especially in a small photo studio, because any space can instantly be turned into a photoshoot setting. Backdrops can be made of paper, fabric, or vinyl, with a variety of options in each of these categories, so you can completely personalize your photography studio to every different situation. Paper backdrops are typically the least expensive option.
7. Build your website and portfolio
To run a successful photography business, you need a great portfolio. After all, in a field with as much competition as photography, people who are shopping around for a photographer do not have much time to spend determining whether or not a potential artist is a good fit for them. The best way to draw their interest is through an eye-popping portfolio.
To build your portfolio, you will need to own a domain name and website. If you are new to the world of HTML and website building, a great way to make a beautiful website is through a website builder that will do the heavy lifting for you, such as WordPress, Wix, or Weebly. There are even website builders for photographers, like Format.
Once you have your website constructed, you will want to make sure that your portfolio is prominently displayed. A quick word to the wise regarding photography portfolios is that your first photo should be your standpoint piece, and your last should be amazing. Of course, the photos in between should be great, too, but keeping this rule of thumb in mind when you build your portfolio is a great way to capture the attention of potential customers.
While you’re busy gathering the most important photos for your portfolio, it may be a good idea to put some of your top shots aside and save them for social media posts at a later date. If they capture your attention, chances are they will capture the attention of your potential customers, too!
8. Ensure that you have proper insurance
Every business needs some form of insurance, and a photography business is no exception. When starting a photography business, there are so many things to consider, that it’s easy to forget about insurance, which is intangible and, quite frankly, boring.
9. Find an accountant and bookkeeper
We hinted at the importance of consulting an accountant earlier, but let us rephrase that a bit in this paragraph. You do not simply need to consult an accountant. You need to find an accountant, introduce yourself, and make them your new best friend. You should also know the difference between an accountant and a bookkeeper.
OK, we’re saying this mostly in jest, but seriously—if you’re somebody who is starting a photography business, an accountant is perhaps your most important ally. Not only will they make sure that your taxes are taken care of, but they can also help answer some of your pressing financial questions, which can in turn help inform your business goals.
Sometimes, an accountant will also help you with your bookkeeping services, but for the most part, they are there to help you with your taxes and offer financial consulting. If you are looking for somebody to keep track of your invoices, income, and expenses, you will need to find a bookkeeper. While some photographers find it manageable to handle their own bookkeeping, you’re not alone if you would rather have help with it.
In this same vein, if you can afford the resources, it might make sense to enlist the help of somebody who can help you manage your social media accounts and other affairs, either in the form of a part-time contractor or a full-time employee. Here’s a fun fact: the amount that it costs to use an accountant and/or a bookkeeper per year is generally recoupable, as it’s a valid example of a business expense and can, as a result, be written off. Welcome to the perks of being a business owner!
10. Create marketing materials for your business
Now comes the fun part. After you have more or less established your photography business, it’s time to determine how you will
While social media is undeniably an effective way to get customers, it’s certainly not the only way. Some photographers swear by what could also be described as “old school” methods, such as business cards and fliers with your business name and contact information. If you want to make physical promotional materials for your business, make sure that you factor this into your overall operating costs.
11. Market, market, market
Once you have created promotional materials for your brand, you are ready to start hitting the ground running with promoting your business—both literally and figuratively. If you are passionate about your photos and can’t wait to show them to the world, don’t be afraid to let those feelings shine through. For many people, this excitement is infectious.
If you’re really struggling to find clients or you don’t have enough examples of your work to sell people on your services, you can try offering deals and referral rates, or even free mini photoshoots in exchange for a testimonial, which you can use to bulk up your portfolio.
If you feel stuck by the marketing process, it may be helpful to check in and see what seems to work for other photography business owners. After all, a healthy dose of competition never hurt anybody! As long as you are putting the work in, it should only be a matter of time before you can make money from your art—and what more can we really ask for from our work?
Ready to start your business? Ownr has helped over 30,000+ entrepreneurs hit the ground running quickly—and affordably. If you have questions about how to register or incorporate your business, give us a call at 1-800-766-6302, Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm EST, or email us [email protected]
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.