How to Start a Photography Business

A step-by-step guide to show you how to start your own photography business.

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Explore different styles before finding your niche.

Trying out different types of photography is a great way to develop your skills when you’re starting a photography business. You can start with what you already know and love, and branch out from there, or if you’re feeling adventurous try something completely different from your usual work. If you have a lot of experience in wedding photography, try taking some still life shots to see how it feels (and learn a new technique). Amazing at headshots? Consider moody, fine art work. Play with different styles and take note of which ones you prefer—and where your work is the strongest.

Once you have an idea of the niche you’d like to focus on for your photography business, start to curate your best work. Hone in on what you’re good at and what enjoy doing. Your photography business can grow and expand as you try new photography styles.

Build a professional online portfolio website.

Before starting a photography business, you’ll need a professional photography website to send potential clients. With the right website builder, you can create your website quickly and easily:

  • Sign up for your free trial with Format—no credit card required.

  • Choose a theme you like. Don’t spend too much time on this, you can change it whenever you want to give your website a new look.

  • Add your work. Curate your photographs and create a gallery or custom page share your work.

  • Customize your site. Edit your site menu to make sure it shows potential clients exactly who you are as a photographer.

  • Personalize the design. Ensure options like the theme preset, fonts, and colors are on brand with your photography business.

  • Want to do more? Sell things in your online store, add SEO and social media integration, and go further with your business.

To learn more on how to make a photography website, we have you covered with an in-depth guide.

Start with what you’ve got.

Money doesn’t have to be a barrier when you’re starting a photography business. If you can’t afford that $5,000 DSLR, start with your phone. Use the tools you have and then go from there. Mobile photography is extremely popular and giving a lot of people the tools to become photographers at an accessible price. You don’t have to spend $20,000 on gear anymore.

Make investments in your photography gear as you grow your career and earn more money. Many professional photographers will suggest upgrading your camera peripherals before spending too much on a top of the line professional DSLR or mirrorless camera. Some of the most important accessories to upgrade as you take your photography business to the next level include items such as:

  • Lenses

  • Lighting equipment

  • Lens filters

Investing in software to edit the images, studio management software to manage client relationships and invoicing, and a software solution to deliver your final product to your customers through private proofing galleries, like the built-in photo proofing tool that comes with all Pro and Unlimited Format website plans.

Keep growing your skills, along with your business.

When it comes to staying on top of the industry with your photography business, diversifying is key. We’ve moved beyond simply including social media and being Web 2.0 ready, and client expectations are very different nowadays. For example, if you want to start a photography business that focuses on weddings, people want more than pictures—they want the full experience of having a photographer who understands events, they most likely want video, and they may even require multiple shooters. If you start out with a good foundation you can develop various skills as you go along—such as videography or event management.

There are a lot of ways to keep upgrading your skills, from part-time studies at a local college or university to free online courses for photographers.

Know what you’re worth.

When you’re starting your own photography business, it’s important to be very clear on the photography pricing structure of your work. You need to value your work and your time. Make sure you’ve done your research on industry standards and market rates in your region and niche to know how much you should charge.

A simple formula to figure this out:

Cost of materials + cost of labor + cost of overhead = total cost Total cost + desired profit (ie. 30%) = final price

This calculation has two necessary steps—it’s key to know out your total cost before determining how much profit you want to make. Skipping this step could put you at risk of marking too much money for profit.

Material and Overhead Costs

Make sure you take all the potential costs of owning a photography business into consideration.

  • Prints

  • Photobooks

  • Packaging

  • Shipping

  • Hard drives

  • Cloud subscriptions

  • Gear rental

  • Studio rental

  • Props

  • Software

  • Lighting

  • Cameras and lenses

Labor Costs

Labor can be harder to define. It’s important to account for all the time you spend both pre-production (setting up your equipment, making sure you have everything you need for the shoot) as well as post-production (editing and revisions), including travel time and client meetings.

Another way to figure out where your pricing should be is to just ask another photographer you admire how much they charge for a shoot or prints.

It can be tempting to undersell yourself, but remember that when you do a shoot it’s not just that hour you’re taking pictures.

Consider the other time that goes into delivering client work:

  • Research and time spent preparing beforehand

  • Driving to the shoot

  • Scouting the location

  • Finding models

  • Back and forth with clients

  • Editing

  • Delivery of client proofs and images

  • Implementing client feedback

Not everyone who starts a photography business chooses to include a pricing page on their website. But if your focus is on weddings, engagements, or portraits, for example, you might want to include a list of services and fees for potential clients to peruse. If you don’t want to list firm rates, you can include a range, estimates, or let clients know you’re able to provide a fee when they give more details on what they’re looking for. You could even include a place for people to book and pay directly through your website.

Invest time in your business.

Starting a photography business will require an investment of time upfront, as well as continued work outside of strictly photography work. While you may find yourself getting caught up in the creative elements of your work, and ignoring the somewhat boring business side of your work, don’t. It’s important to not take the business management aspects of starting a photography business lightly.

There are many things to consider when it comes to running your photography business, and it may seem totally overwhelming. Worse yet, it may feel like the dull administrative tasks could take up all of your time. The opposite is actually true. Keeping your mind free from a backlog of unpaid invoices or emails filling up your inbox affords you more time to do what you do best.

A good rule to keep in mind is to set aside 20% of your week for administrative work. This includes any tasks you don’t do for current clients: creating and following up on invoices, updating your website, responding to email, looking for new clients, handling your business taxes, and other tasks you need to keep your photography business running smoothly.

Attract clients.

There are a lot of places you can look when it comes to finding new clients, depending on the focus of your photography business. Word of mouth and referrals are great, but they should not be your only source.

The first thing to do is to make sure your photography website is optimized for SEO. It’s a good idea to choose a photography website builder that has built-in SEO tools, but it doesn’t hurt to stay up to date on best practices as well. There are also plenty of free tools you can use to find opportunities on how you can improve your website’s SEO reach.

Once you’ve done that, make sure your social media presence tells the story you want for your photography business. Is your Instagram feed curated, professional, and on-brand? Do you have links to your portfolio website? While you’re there, take a look at your bio and spruce it up if necessary. Do your research when it comes to photography hashtags. This can grow your following send potential clients to your website. Using the right hashtags is the best way to get your work in front of the right audience.

Sell more work.

There are a lot of places you can start selling your work once you’ve created a professional portfolio website. One of the first places to start is your own online store. As a photographer, you can sell all kinds of products, prints, packages, Lightroom presets, and digital products as well as schedule client bookings or workshops. Make sure you choose a platform that doesn’t charge extra fees so you keep 100% of your revenue.

Stock photography is a popular option for professionals looking to supplement their income as they grow their photography business. You simply submit your images and you’ll get paid every time someone purchases your photos. The one drawback of selling stock photography is the amount of commission per photo can be quite low.

On the plus side, if your work is popular, the commission amounts can add up. Stock agencies are a good way to get your work out there and get feedback about your work by learning what sells.

In addition to stock photography, you can also pitch your photos to websites, magazines, and other publications. It does take more work, but the fees are substantially higher.

If you want to sell your work offline, consider getting a space in local arts markets or craft shows or approaching small businesses like coffee shops to show and sell your work.

Market your photography business.

Of course, being a strong photographer is fundamental, but you need to go beyond simply creating great work—your photography business needs a marketing strategy. If you want to successfully grow your business, you can’t sit back and wait for clients to find you.

There are a lot of free or inexpensive things you can do, like making sure you have a professional blog that tells your brand’s story. A blog can be a great way to connect with your audience without being overly sales-y. Keep your tone friendly but professional. Depending on the focus of your photography business, you can write about many different aspects of your work.

Submitting your work to be featured in well-read online publications is another great way to market your work.

For more free ways to spread the word about your photography business, read our full guide here.

Updated on May 27, 2020 | By Steph Davidson

Shot by member Mark Clennon