How to Start a Photography Business - The Ultimate Handbook

Gurpreet Singh - Author Gurpreet Singh on Jun 17, 2019

Are you thinking of starting a photography business? Getting the basics right at the beginning will save you a lot of hassles later on and pave the way for a successful career. This guide is designed both for amateur photographers who are looking at how to start a photography business as well as the pro photographers who want to refresh their photography business plans.

We have put together a 10 step handbook on how to start a photography business.

Here is the step-by-step guide you need to follow for starting your photography business and getting success.

1. Working out your photography business goals

To attain success in life, you need to set your goals and follow through to achieve success. Likewise, you need to set business goals that you would work towards accomplishing. Think of your business goals as a long-term vision that you want to realize through your successful photography business.

A few examples of business goals can be:

  • I want to be the number 1 wedding photographer in my area.
  • I want to switch to photography full-time and make X amount of money every year.
  • I want to travel the world through my photography assignments.
  • I want to work with families and take up portrait photography for seniors, kids, and moms.

As you can see, whatever business goal you set is going to define everything that follows. Starting a photography business by setting clear business goals is the first step towards having clarity and purpose of executing the next nine steps.

2. Choose your photography niche

Interconnected with figuring out your goals is the process of choosing your photography niche. As a professional photographer, when you are starting a photography business, you need to specialize in one genre. While taking on whatever assignment comes your way when you are starting out might be pragmatic, be aware of slowly but surely steering the work you take on towards the type of photography expert you want to become. There are many types of photography that you can pursue - wedding photography, portrait photography, commercial photography, sports photography, travel photography, and many others. As you grow, you can make your mark in multiple photography genres, but having strong expertise in one photography niche is crucial to establishing a successful photography business.

3. Focus on your ideal client

Once you have chosen your photography niche, you will then have to figure out an ideal client persona for yourself.

Several factors go into deciding who your ideal client is when you are thinking of how to start a photography business:

Your location: Do you want clients closer to where you live, or are you willing to travel regularly for photography assignments. Be aware that many of the photography genres like wedding photography or portrait photography are firmly tied-in to the location. Clients tend to pick photographers from their local area based on references and their network.

Demographics: The kind of people you want to work with can be a significant deciding factor in the type of photographer you become. You may feel more comfortable working with kids or seniors, or with to-be moms rather than fashion models. Or you might excel in commercial, corporate shoots rather than working with families. Always go with your instinct and who you are most comfortable working with.

How much money are they willing to spend: Based on your photography business goals, you will need to choose clients based on their income levels. For example, you may want to focus only on premium and luxury wedding assignments that pay upwards of $5000 rather than working with smaller family affairs that would pay only $1000 for a portrait photography shoot.

Based on your interest and style: Some clients will automatically be drawn to your personal, signature style while others might have a clear vision about how they want their photo shoots to turn out. You need to find opportunities that let you find a balance between your creative freedom and working to a fixed client brief.

Take your time to figure out your ideal client as you would invest a lot of time, energy, and money in a marketing plan pursuing your ideal client base. Make sure that you are being honest with yourself and don't make your decision based on trends or whoever pays the most money.

4. Market evaluation and getting your pricing right

Carry out thorough research and analysis of the market you are going to operate in to understand the requirement that people have from the photography business you are starting. Try and find out the specific needs of the customers who are not being met by the competition in your demographic area. Are people in your area hiring photographers from outside of your locality? How can you beat the competition on services you offer or price points to make a mark and start gaining clients?

Research the websites of all photographers that are operating in your area and are proving the services you intend to provide. For example, if you are starting a portrait photography business, find out the rates offered by the competition. Are they offering packages or a-la-carte rates? Most photographers do mention the starting price of their services on their website.

Setting your price point just a little below the competition can be a good strategy when you are starting a photography business. But do take care not to undercut the pricing too much or else you will end up with an unsustainable and loss-making entity.

Check out this detailed article on how to set your photography pricing.

5. Create your photography business plan

It's time to create a business plan. Your business plan is the blueprint that you would follow to realize your business goals. Creating a detailed business plan will help you start a photography business and take it forward towards making it a sustainable, thriving enterprise.

What should a photography business plan include?

The essential aspects of a photography business plan are as follows:

Business Description: 
Describe in detail the defining characteristics of the photography business you are starting.

  • What would be your USPs?
  • Competition Analysis
  • What would be the services you would offer
  • What would be your product line?
  • Who’s your target client?

The legal structure of your business:

There are many ways to structure your business legally - sole proprietorship, LLC, or C-corp. Each of them comes with a different setup cost, personal liability protection, and tax and compliance requirements. Understanding the various aspects of the legal structure for your photography business is essential. Taking advice from a lawyer on how to start a photography business is advisable before you make the big decision. You also need to make a list of photography business names and decide on the one that can be registered.

Calculate the initial cost of starting a photography business. Include all expenses such as costs of legally setting up your business, setting up an office or studio, buying equipment, marketing costs, etc. Make sure that investing in starting your business should not leave you completely cash-strapped and without any money for operational expenses.

If necessary, you can look at taking up a small business loan. Check out this great article on the various types of small business financing options available and how to get then loan.

Cost of running a business:
Calculate all recurring expenses associated with your business - rentals that you would need to pay, consumables you would use, repair and maintenance of equipment, professional fees of CPAs, assistants, or any other help. What will be the costs incurred every time you take up a photography assignment?

Figuring out your pricing can be the most crucial part of your photography business plan. You need to balance your investments and cost of running your business against your revenue expectations and figure out a pricing model that ensures that you run a profitable business. Factor in seasonality and downtime of your business to make sure you have cash-flows that cover that as well.

Marketing and Advertising
Your business plan should also feature a detailed analysis on how you would build your clients list. What are the marketing and advertising opportunities available to you, what would they cost, and what is the return-on-investment that you plan to accomplish?

6. Registering your photography business

Now that you have your photography business plan in place, it's time to go ahead and register to make it a legal entity.

Here are the steps you need to follow to register your photography business: 

Finalise your photography business name

Finding a perfect business name is crucial as this would also become your brand name. Your brand name should be memorable, unique descriptive - all at the same time. And most importantly, it should be available for you to use without anyone else using it in a similar context.

Figure out a few names that you like and then search if anyone else is using the same name.

  • Do a simple web search and see if something comes up.
  • Book a domain name in your business name. Prefer a .com domain name.
  • Secure the social media accounts in your business name (Register on all major social networks even if you don’t plan on using them to secure your brand name)
  • Do a trademark search with the US Patent and Trademark Office Search page. It is a good idea to register a trademark for your brand name to make sure no-one else can use it in the future.

Here’s a great article on how you can register your photography business name as a trademark.

Register as a legal entity

You need to register as a legal entity (sole proprietorship / LLC / C-Corp) with both the federal and local governments for taxation and compliance purposes.

Setup a business bank account

Make sure that you keep your business and personal financials separate. Set up a business bank account to manage all your business transactions. Get a business banking debit card or credit card to pay for any business expenses where online / card payment is necessary.

Check on the business licenses you need

A photography business license is typically required for professional photographers. Check with your local municipal and state government to see what kind of business licenses are required for you to run your business.

Check out The U.S. Small Business Administration website for more information on licenses required for running a business.

Business Insurance:

While taking up business insurance can seem prohibitive when you are starting, the risk of being in an unfortunate situation without insurance is not worth taking. Make sure you have the right business insurance in place to cover any liabilities.

Contracts and agreements

Having business contracts and agreements in place from day one will help you look professional in front of your clients and instill confidence in them by clearly outlining the expectations and deliverables for any photography assignment you take up. 

Finding a lawyer, you can bank on:

While as a photographer you are not going to regularly need the services of a lawyer (or at least we hope not!), it's a good idea always to have a lawyer that you can bank on when something comes up where you need legal advice.

Tip: You don’t need to have a retainer arrangement but instead have an hourly consultation fees arrangement whenever you need advice with a lawyer.

7. Buy just the necessary tools

Now that your plan of starting your photography business is taking off, you need to make sure you have only the right photography equipment to handle the photography assignments that would come your way.

Only buy what is extremely necessary and don't spend too much money on all the latest gadgets. You can always rent some of the more expensive equipment for a specific photo shoot when they are required. Make sure you own photography equipment like a good camera, the backup camera, lenses, flashes, batteries, and a charger that will form your photography gear on a day-to-day basis. You would also need to invest in post-production and editing tools such as the software, computer, calibration device, necessary computer programs, storage devices, etc. Also, choose a photo lab carefully and get samples done so that you can deliver optimal quality of prints, albums, and other deliverables to your clients.

8. Create a photography portfolio website

Your photography portfolio website is going to be the single, most important tool that would help you grow your business. Your portfolio website is your gateway to the world and will speak on your behalf to your potential clients. Most clients will see your work and get to know you first through your portfolio website. Hence, it's critical to make a great first impression.

Check out some great examples of photography portfolio websites.

Here are five quick tips on creating a great portfolio website: 

  • Always show your best work only. Do not put all of your work on it. Make sure you curate and categorize your work properly.
  • Make sure your portfolio website looks professional and modern. Choose a minimal portfolio website design that lets your work stand out. Do not use jarring colors, gradients, or music.
  • Your portfolio website should be mobile-friendly as most clients would see your work online on their mobile devices.
  • Your online portfolio website should load fast and be secure.
  • Your contact information should be available on your portfolio website to enable clients to contact you easily.

See a comprehensive guide on how to create a photography portfolio website that would help you grow your photography business.

Start a 15 days free trial to create your photography portfolio website on Pixpa. No credit card or coding required.

9. Marketing your photography business: 

Like most creative businesses, photographers can leverage the internet to grow their business, earn recognition, and reach out to potential clients. 

Here are 12 ways to promote your Photography business:

Get yourself registered on local listings 

When you decide to take the plunge from a hobbyist to a professional photographer, the foremost thing to do is to register your business on a local listing website. Some of the popular classifieds where photographers list their business are Yelp, Craigslist, Foursquare, and 

Registering a business on these websites is almost free, as long as you don't avail their advertising service. However, do not expect this listing to yield results almost immediately. On these websites, you get to promote your business by responding to reviews and other queries against your listing. Along with analytics capabilities, these online classifieds offer other ways to improve the visibility of your photography business listing. 

You can opt for paid advertising on these websites to quickly see results. Before you list your business, get a peek of the pricing plans, which in case of Yelp looks something like below. 

Seek Referrals from clients 

Professional photographers have relied on referrals for a long time. Before the advent of social media, photographers were heavily dependent on referrals. You may get lucky with clients referring their friends or family to you occasionally; however, you should make sure that you reach out to them actively to seek referrals regularly. You can email or call them as per their convenience. 

List your business on Google and Bing 

Google and Bing are the two most used search engines in the world. While you can expect to get clients from all around the world, these search engines allow you to list your photography business as a local one, helping you get local traffic to your website. List your photography business on Google here and Bing here.  

To know more about how local listing can help photographers to grow their business, refer to this quick guide on local SEO for photographers. 

 Also, see: 9 ways photographers can use social media to grow their business

Promote your photography on social media 

Facebook and Instagram together have over 2 billion monthly active users and are predominantly photo-sharing social networks. Make most of this massive opportunity to reach people who might be looking for your service, or gain admiration for your work and recognition. 

You most probably have created your photography page on Facebook and an account on Instagram, if you haven't, you can start with going over the basics of using social media to grow your photography business. 

 Paid ads are another way you to foster your photography business, and you can couple your social media efforts with ads to accelerate the growth of your business. 

Share your photography and expertise with blogging 

To reap the benefits of blogging, you will need a portfolio website for your photography, which you can easily manage yourself. Blogging helps to improve the visibility of your website, considering its SEO benefits. 

Get ideas from your Facebook page and Instagram account 

One of the best things about using social media to grow your photography business is you can conveniently track your growth, though quantitatively, in the form of likes, shares, and hearts. You can utilize this information to come up with the ideas for your blog. You can write about your experience on shooting your most liked photograph, or share a tutorial about it. 

Write a blog praising a fellow photographer 

As photographers, we come across others' work that we immensely admire. You can write a blog expressing your admiration for their work, or list down specifics that you genuinely like in their photographs. 

Write about your out-of-the-box attempts 

Photographers are always up to something quirky, trying to get a shot that hasn't been attempted before. Regardless of the result, make sure you document your experience in a blog. This could be hugely helpful for other photographers, in turn in giving more exposure to your business. Also, do not forget to share your blogs on your social media network. Ensure that you maintain consistency by regularly posting blogs. Posting quality content will help you reach out to a larger audience and help grow your business manifold. While you are at it, also check out how your photographs can be optimized for SEO. In addition to this, you can write to Pixpa, in case you have something valuable to share about photography. 

Community participation 

There are over a million communities for photographers online. Facebook alone has over a thousand groups dedicated to photographers. Ideally, you can seek help from member photographers in matters of trouble with your work, but these communities are often visited by people looking for photography service. Keeping yourself active in these groups can get you some valuable clients. 

Make sure that you contribute to the photography community by responding to
the posted queries and sharing your blog occasionally. 

Social bookmarking 

Social bookmarking is an integral part of link building that helps to increase your website's ranking on Google and other search engines. Sites such as Delicious, Stumble Upon, Scoop it, which are categorized as social bookmarking websites allow you to submit a link (URL) of your website that eventually increases the rank of your website on SERPs. Similar to listing on classifieds, the results are visible over time and require consistent link submission. 

Get yourself published

 There are numerous fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, and more. Similarly, there are interior design magazines like Elle Decor. Depending on the kind of photographer you are –fashion photographer, wedding photographer, you can contribute an article or some of your fabulous photographs to these magazines. These magazines have a massive readership and can lead to pouring in clients in large numbers for your photography business. If you are contributing to their online portals, make sure that you get a backlink to your portfolio website. This amps up your SEO efforts. 

Attend photography events

 Photography events are held in large numbers; you can learn about these events on Facebook and Meetup. These events provide a great opportunity to network with like-minded photographers. At events like Photopro Expo, you get to learn from the industry's leading photographers. You can find opportunities to work with other photographers, make sure that you carry your business card with you. 

Participating in online photography contests can also be a great way to get exposure and recognition. You might also want to focus on search engine optimization of your portfolio website. 

Targeted local SEO techniques can help gain new clients and business in your area. See this article to learn more about Local SEO for photographers.

10. Building and growing your client relationships

Finding the first few clients to hire and pay you for photography assignments is always a challenge. 

If you're venturing into wedding photography, perhaps the first ones to hire you would be your close friends. These early clients will become your foothold to get into the industry. They will be your evangelists. Use the work done for them to get more work - and this means continuously building and engaging with your network. 

Tip: Be open towards taking on photography assignments free of charge if they help in shaping your portfolio. A stunning portfolio would enable you gradually raise your rates and demand your right price.

Treat every client with care, and they will bring you more referrals. Keep a good rapport with your customers and make them feel at ease with your business.

Here are 5 Tips To Build Client Relationship for a Successful Photography Business

1. Be Passionate.

If you don't love photography and are a photographer for reasons other than the mere love for the medium, it's going to show up in your work, and you should seriously give it another thought. The love for the camera and your subjects, and the ability to build happiness around your work is primary. An uninterested photographer cannot bring life to his/her photographs. It's essential for your clients to feel and know that photography is a passion for you, not just another business.

2. Get Organized. Prioritize.

In the early stage aiming to connect with audiences, you'd want to be organized yourself first. Begin with creating a database of clients that are valuable to you, besides having a general client list. Separate those with whom you had an unpleasant experience - and if errors can be rectified. An angry client is the last thing you'd want to give yourself.

Use a client proofing platform that lets you create private galleries for clients to share, proof and deliver your images online seamlessly. You can even sell your images as prints or digital downloads and increase your revenue.

3. Seek personal bonding with clients

Coffee is known to be a great conversation-starter! Informally meeting client and bonding with them is a great way to get to know more about them. It can be an excellent opportunity to ask open-ended questions, particularly if it's your first meeting with them. The answers to these can help you build beautiful, personalized stories about individuals or other subjects. It's wise to keep these meetings shot, crisp and spaced out yet as and when you feel you feel the need to meet and touch base personally.

4. Stay in touch with your clients

Don't forget your clients. Stay in their mind with regular newsletters, updating them about your latest work, offers, information on new/added services, reviews, etc. Pick a weekly theme, choose the periodicity, and share things you know your clients will love to hear! Enable your site visitors to subscribe to your newsletter. This will help build a potential customer database.

Tools like Mailerlite can help you make beautiful newsletters in a few easy clicks.

Sending personalized mailers that work wonders on almost all clients. Offer freebies, run offers, contests, and promotions. These can help build a loyal community that loves to hear from you. See if you can offer exclusive perks to premium clients. Occasions like birthdays and anniversaries can be good times to send in a personalized mail, wishing your clients. Building a personal relationship will help you garner more clients via references as well, and add to the 'word-of-mouth' phenomenon.

5. Get client testimonials

Testimonials play a significant role in persuading potential clients to hire you. They also make clients feel privileged and feel that they contributed to your success. For example, you've shot some stunning frames for a real estate developer. They've loved your work and given your due credits. Seize this opportunity to ask them about how their experience of working with you was like and request a testimonial!

Connecting with your clients is not always about business. Take a genuine interest in people - not just for the business you do with them, but also for who they are. Only then will your photography business reap the viral effects of great client referrals.

Tip: Don't forget to ask your clients for referrals. That's the best way of getting traction when you are starting a photography business.

As you have seen, there are several aspects to starting a photography business that you need to consider and execute as a part of the process.

This guide gives you a step-by-step answer to the question - How to start a photography business. Using this guide, you can create an action plan for setting up your own photography business. The going will not always be easy, but the rewards of pursuing your dream and creative passion while running a successful business are well worth the effort.

We wish you the best of luck.

Create your stunning photography portfolio website on Pixpa easily. No coding required. Get started for free. 


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