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How To Start A Photography Business On The Side

How To Start A Photography Business On The Side

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How To Start A Photography Business On The Side

How To Start A Photography Business On The Side

Did you know that in the symphony of life, our responsibilities and passions can actually harmonize? Yes! There is a beautiful balance to be had between creativity and entrepreneurship. Welcome to the world of side hustle photography! 

While most people need a day job, something I learned early on was that it’s necessary to do something you love as well. Turning a passion into profit is one of the perks of running a photography business. 

When I started my photography business, I began with on-location shoots only. If someone needed a headshot, I’d rent out a room in a local library and set up a portable backdrop and lighting. 

You’ll need some basic equipment to do the same. You should have (at a minimum):

  • A professional camera, such as a DSLR from Canon, Nikon, or another professional brand.
  • The Adobe Suite (Lightroom and Photoshop)

With just these items, it’s possible to get started with your first on-location shoot. As you move into other parts of the business, you might add items such as portable backdrops, reflectors, umbrella lights, external flashes, and props. 

As far as education goes, I hold a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and had several university-level photography courses before I started, but it’s fine to take a local course at a library or museum before you jump in. 

Market Research and Niche Identification

The next step in setting up your side hustle is getting to know your market and niche. I was a young photographer, so it made the most sense for me to complete senior photos for local near-grads. I was also comfortable with several common poses for these shoots (you’ll find information in portrait photography books).

The senior photography niche was profitable. When I looked at what other photographers were charging (sometimes $3,000 or more per session), I knew I could fill a lower-budget niche. For $600, I could do an hour-long session and give my clients a book of photos, filling in a gap for people with less to spend. Of course, as my experience grew, my rates did as well.

When you run your own business, you have to register it to get your business license and pay business taxes. I ran my business as a sole proprietor, which is riskier than running an LLC. I went to the local Ohio courthouse and registered my business’s name and information with the Secretary of State. It cost around $50 at the time. You’ll need to reach out to your local courthouse or go online to your state government website to see the exact costs and process for registering your business.

As an independent contractor, I save approximately 30 percent of my earnings for taxes. You should also set aside sales tax. And, if you’re wise, you’ll purchase photography insurance to protect your equipment and yourself against liability.

Building a Strong Online Presence

Another part of the process of building your business is to create a website. You can create a cheap or free website to represent your brand. 

Once you set up your site on Wix, WordPress, or GoDaddy, you can load up a portfolio of images and post your rates. It’s important to load a portfolio that:

  • Showcases your best work
  • Looks professional and high quality (no pixelation or grain)
  • Has your signature on each image to prevent theft

Don’t forget to include a call-to-action and your contact information on each page of your site. 

Then, set up your social media accounts. Facebook is a good place to start because the audience skews older (which means more people are willing to spend money on great photos). Other options are Instagram, TikTok, Tumblr, and Twitter (X). 

You can do hashtag research to stand out, but basic hashtags such as “2024 photography” or “photographers of TikTok” are okay to use as well. Hashtags expand your reach, so while you’re in the early stages of building your business, try to add at least a couple to each post.

Time Management and Goal Setting

Now, as a side hustle, photography can take up as much or as little time as you need it to. I set up photo shoots only during the golden hours of the day (when the sun is rising or setting). That meant I could do one photo shoot before or after work.

Set realistic expectations for your business based on the amount of time you have to focus on it. 

For goal setting, you might want to try setting:

  • Financial goals for the month
  • Client interaction goals for the week or month
  • Session completion goals for the month

Finding Clients

Marketing is a bear. It has the potential to cost a lot of money and take up much of your time. However, small businesses have the benefit of plenty of organic marketing options (these are low or no cost to you).

To find clients, try these low (or no) cost options:

  • Setting up a LinkedIn profile
  • Creating a free website and writing a photography blog in your spare time
  • Creating TikTok videos during sessions with volunteers, such as family members
  • Offering promotions and referral incentives to local students or friends of the family

Once you start having successful sessions, people will naturally spread your name through word-of-mouth marketing, another free way to build your business. 

Related: Guide to finding clients for a photography business

Pricing and Financial Management

Doing market research is a necessary step when you’re starting out. Luckily, it’s very easy to find photographers’ pricing. By going online, you can enter a search for “photographers near me” to get an abundance of information about the local competition. 

Remember, since you’re just starting out, you may need to charge less than the competition to get your first few clients. However, as you grow your business, you can charge more. I started with three packages, and all were $100 an hour with a two-hour minimum. This rate was common for photographers fresh out of college at the time. I liked it because it created scheduling flexibility for me and my clients.

Growth comes naturally once you begin to see clients. When I reached two photo shoots a day per weekend day, I expanded to three days a week and added engagement and wedding photography. I had enough income coming in to purchase better lenses, filters, and supplies at that time.

As an aside, whenever you purchase anything related to your business or accept money from customers, ensure you’re using a business banking account. Come tax time, you’ll save yourself a significant amount of trouble. 

Related: How to price your photography

Balancing With a Full-Time Job

I’ve referenced working at the same time a little bit, but the key to success with a full-time job is sticking to a realistic schedule. No one can work every day. People get sick, run down, and tired. 

To keep myself at my best, I limited my business to one day per weekend at the beginning. As I got better at limiting my photo shoots to the time that was paid for and could edit photos more quickly, I expanded how often I would accept clients. And, during busy seasons at work? I blocked out time for my full-time job and reduced the number of photo sessions I completed each month.

I didn’t speak to clients about my availability other than to explain that I was only available on weekends. Be clear about how far out you’re booked so they understand what to expect if you (or they) need to reschedule for any reason.

Continuous Learning and Skill Enhancement

You’ll learn a lot on the job. You’ll discover how to interact with different personalities, handle tough weather environments, and make the most of your time. 

It’s not a bad idea to get industry-trend magazines or to sign up for photography newsletters. Taking a refresher course in photography annually is also smart since you’ll likely gain some new tricks while also building on base-level skills. 

Finally, don’t be scared to network with other photography professionals. Using LinkedIn or NextDoor, you can ask around for a mentor or connect with others with similar interests. Just be aware that established photographers are not always welcoming to new competitors, so there are likely to be some people who won’t want to connect.

Assessing Progress and Adapting Strategies

As a side hustle, reviewing your business performance isn’t as important as if you were growing it for a main job. However, it is important to keep track of reviews, such as Facebook reviews or feedback on Yelp. 

Listen to your client’s feedback so you can adjust your offerings and build a better client experience. By doing so, you’ll create a positive environment and be able to grow your business more easily in the future if you choose to do so.

It’s Time to Get Started

Starting a photography business on the side is achievable with some strategic planning, effective time management, and continuous skill development. However, you need to be at your best all the time, and you will need to balance your work commitments with your sessions. Don’t overbook your days, and put your best foot forward with your clients to encourage them to refer you to others.

Author

  • Cartina Cowart

    Catrina Cowart is a professional photographer and she provides the unique insights she learned as the owner of Catrina Daniels Photography.

How To Start A Photography Business On The Side

How To Start A Photography Business On The Side

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