How to Start a Photography Business - 10 Step Handbook

Ankush Tripathi on May 15, 2019

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 photography business. This guide is designed both for amateur photographers who are looking on 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, for your photography business, 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 to you set for your photography business is going to define everything that follows.
Starting your photography business by setting clear business goals is the first step towards having clarity and purpose to execute the next nine steps.

2. Choose your photography niche

Interconnected with figuring out your photography business goals is the process of choosing your photography niche. As a professional photographer, you need to start off by specializing 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:

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 not making your decision based on trends or whoever pays the most money.

4. Market evaluation and getting your pricing right

Carry out a 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 which 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 a starting your 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 business.

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 for your new photography business. 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 out with. 

  • 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 advise from a lawyer is advisable before you make this big decision.

Calculate the initial cost of starting the 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, its time to go ahead and register your photography business and 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 purpose.

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 businesses.

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 out, 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 staring your photography business is taking off, you need to make sure you have just 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 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 clearly available on your portfolio website to enable clients to contact your 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: 

Initially, it’s good to start off with free channels to market your photography business such as social networking websites to get your business noticed in your immediate circle and get the word going about it. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, etc. are also excellent places to get plenty of valuable feedback when you begin uploading or sharing your work.

Check out our guide to marketing photography on Instagram.

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

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.

As you start to get traction, you can start participating in local events, and exhibitions. 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 be helpful in gaining 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

The one aspect you can’t underestimate is bustling 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. 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.

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. A dispassionate photographer cannot bring life to his/her photographs. It’s important for your clients to feel and know that photography is a passion for you, not just another business. 

2. Get Organized. Prioritize.

As a photography business in its 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 the 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. This is sure to 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 you 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 growing your 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 of starting a photography business. 

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. 


Liked this post? Share it now.

Everything you need.

Create your portfolio website, client galleries, store & blog. All in one place.

Get Started

15 days free trial. No Credit Card required.