Have you ever dreamed of leaving your day job behind and making a living as a professional photographer? Whether capturing stunning landscapes or making memories with your family, your photography talents might be the key to your new business.
Starting a photography business isn’t just about having the right gear and a good eye, but you can turn your passion into a profitable photography business. This guide will provide an overview of the photography business, steps to get started, and answers to common questions.
Photography business owners provide photography services to customers, who may be individuals, business owners, sports venues, or the media. There is a lot of variety in what a photographer can take a picture of, and business owners may choose to specialize in fields like portrait photography, weddings, sports, headshots, studio settings, and more. In addition to selling photography sessions, photographers usually make money off print purchases, photo licensing, and even stock photography.
The photography industry is highly competitive, and many photographers start their businesses part-time before building up the clientele they need to go completely full-time.
The photography industry consists of around 255,000 businesses that generate annual revenues of $12.9 billion, according to IBISWorld. This includes portrait studios, wedding photographers, school photographers, and commercial photographers. The industry relies heavily on consumer discretionary income and is sensitive to economic conditions. Major competitors include large chains like Lifetouch, along with independent and freelance photographers.
Barriers to entry are relatively low thanks to affordable equipment costs. However, new entrants face challenges in acquiring customers in a competitive market.
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Steps To Start A Photography Business
Step 1: Research the Market
The idea of turning your passion for photography into a full-fledged business is exhilarating. But before you jump, you need to answer a question: Is starting a new photography business a good idea? To try and answer this, you need to begin with market research.
Start off by looking at demographic data like income levels and age distribution in your area. Since photography often falls under discretionary spending, regions with higher average incomes could offer more potential clients. Also, are there a lot of young families around? If so, you might have found an excellent market for children’s and family photography. The Census Bureau is a great place to start your local demographic research.
Next, look for existing photography studios in your area using online directories. The more competitors in your area, the tougher it may be to break in. But don’t just count the number of studios; study them. Read customer reviews to find potential weaknesses in their services or things that are lacking in your area. Maybe you find that the local studios are great at weddings but fall short when it comes to school photography. That could be your opening. Pay attention to the specialties of these competitors. Knowing how many focus on weddings, portraits, or other niches can help you identify gaps in the market.
After doing this research, this is the time when you need to be brutally honest with yourself. What makes your business unique enough for customers to choose you over others? It could be your unique style, a specific type of post-processing, or perhaps an extraordinary customer service experience that you’re sure you can deliver.
After doing your market research, you should have a clearer idea of whether launching a photography business is a good fit for you. Understanding your potential audience, choosing a specialty, and knowing all you can about your competitors gives you a solid base for making your decision. If all signs point to “go,” then it might be time to make your dream a reality.
Step 2: Write a Business Plan
After researching the market, you may feel even more encouraged about starting your business, but you might find yourself wondering, “Where do I go from here?” This is where a business plan comes into play. While it might seem like a formality, a business plan is much more than that; it’s your roadmap and, quite honestly, your reality check.
Capturing breathtaking images might be your forte, but running a business involves much more. You’ll need to consider marketing, customer service, accounting, and so much more. Taking the time to answer these questions in a structured format will help you hone your photography business concept, weigh out the pros and cons of your ideas, and gain a clear understanding of what is involved in making your business work.
One of the most valuable sections of any business plan is the financial projection. Here, you estimate your income and expected expenses. The goal is to figure out whether you’ll make enough money to keep the lights on and, hopefully, turn a profit. It’s far better to realize the financial implications of your business idea in the planning stage rather than after you’ve already started. The last thing you want is to invest time, energy, and resources into a business that turns out to be a money pit.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Register the Business
Starting a photography business is an exciting venture, but before you start booking clients and snapping photos, it’s important to make sure your business is properly registered and legal. States have different rules, but here is a general overview of what you need to do:
Choose your business structure: There are four main types of business structures: sole proprietorship, general partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each structure has its own advantages and disadvantages.
- A sole proprietorship is the simplest and least expensive to set up, but it doesn’t provide any liability protection.
- A general partnership is similar to a sole proprietorship but involves two or more people.
- A corporation provides liability protection but is more complex and costly to set up.
- A Limited Liability Company (LLC) offers liability protection and is simpler than a corporation.
Related: Comparison of business structures
Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
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Business name registration: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.
During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.
Obtain business licenses and permits: There aren’t specific licenses for photography businesses; however, there are general local, state, and federal registrations that most businesses may need. These could include a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number (EIN), Occupancy Permit, etc.
While not licensing, photographers need to be aware of copyright infringement. Customers are increasingly printing copies of photographers’ work without paying for it. Legislation has been introduced over the years but hasn’t fixed the situation, and it’s often cost-prohibitive to go after customers using this work without permission.
Related: What licenses do photographers need?
Step 4: Set Up Operations
Once your photography business is legally established, you’ll want to set up your operations to ensure everything runs smoothly.
First, consider where you will conduct your photo shoots. Depending on your budget and needs, you can either rent a studio space or work from home. A professional studio space will elevate the image of your business, but it’s not uncommon to operate from home. If you shoot on location, you usually don’t need approval, but if you decide to operate a studio out of the home where customers come to your home, check local zoning laws first to make sure this is permitted.
Next, it’s time to invest in the necessary equipment. A photography business requires quality cameras, lenses, lighting equipment, backdrops, and more. You’ll also need a computer and software for editing your photos.
Finally, map out your workflow process from the initial client contact to delivering the final product. Consider whether you will handle all aspects of the business yourself or if you will outsource certain tasks or hire employees. Having a clear and efficient workflow will help ensure that you can deliver a high-quality product to your clients in a timely manner.
Step 5: Create a Marketing Strategy
The next step is letting the world know about your new photography business.
The first order of business could be to start building your brand identity. This includes creating a logo, selecting a color palette, and choosing fonts that reflect the style and essence of your business. With these elements in place, you can design business cards and brochures that all have a cohesive look.
Next, focus on creating a professional website that showcases your portfolio, clearly outlines the services you offer, provides your contact information, and includes client testimonials. This will give potential clients a sense of your style and the quality of your work.
Once your website is set up, take some time to research what other photographers in your area are charging and set your prices accordingly. Consider offering various service packages to cater to different needs and budgets.
Finally, utilize social media, networking events, and connections with local businesses to spread the word about your photography services. Word of mouth is a powerful tool, so don’t underestimate the impact of positive client testimonials and referrals from satisfied customers.
Step 6: Prepare to Launch!
We’ve gone over the major steps, but there are several remaining steps that you may still need to take. While the needs of each business vary, these are some common elements that can help ensure your startup’s success.
Business insurance: Protect your business and assets by obtaining the necessary insurance coverage.
Setting up bookkeeping: Set up accounting software and systems to handle daily transactions, taxes, and financial statements.
Develop a client contract: Outline expectations, deliverables, and payment terms to protect both you and your clients. RocketLawyer and Law Depot have free and inexpensive templates that may be helpful.
Opening a business bank account: Keep your personal and business finances separate by opening a business bank account. This makes it easier to manage the business’s finances and tax reporting.
Common Questions When Starting A Photography Business
How much does it cost to start a photography business?
The cost to start a photography business depends on a number of variables. Some photographers offer mobile sessions and travel to their customers, while others invest in a studio, which brings about additional costs.
A general number to budget for can be between $2,000 and $10,000, depending on the scale of operations. Here are the key start-up costs to factor in:
Business registration: The cost to register your business can vary by state, but it typically ranges from $50 to $500.
Photography equipment: If you don’t already have it, the bulk of start-up costs go towards cameras, lenses, lighting, computers, software, backdrops, and accessories. You’ll likely need to invest around $1,500 to $5,000 minimum for quality gear to get started.
Software: The cost of software to edit images can range anywhere between $0 and $100 per month.
Studio space: Renting a dedicated studio space requires a security deposit of usually 1 to 2 month’s rent. This can range from $500 to $2,000+, depending on location and size.
Insurance: Liability insurance and equipment coverage averages $400 to $1,000 annually.
Marketing: Building a quality website, branding, initial promotions, etc, requires around $500 to $2,000 upfront.
How profitable is a photography business?
A freelance photographer or small photography studio has the potential to earn a good profit, but income varies based on the type and volume of sessions booked and overhead expenses. As an example, let’s look at a photographer who focuses on portraits and weddings. According to Flash.com, on average, portrait photography can cost anywhere from $150 to $370 per session, while wedding photography can cost between $1,000 to $3,000.
Let’s use an example of a new photographer who books 5 portrait sessions per week at an average price of $250 per session and also books one wedding per month, charging an average of $2,000. Based on these booking assumptions, our photographer would generate $52,000 annually from portrait sessions (5 sessions x $250 x 50 weeks). They would also earn $24,000 from weddings (12 weddings x $2,000). This results in a total estimated annual revenue of $86,500.
If we deduct 40% to account for the cost of sales like printing, insurance, marketing, modest rent, but no employees, it leaves a gross profit of approximately $51,930.
What skills are needed to run a photography business?
While starting a photography business doesn’t require a business degree, some skills and experience are important in this industry.
Photography skills: A business owner doesn’t necessarily need a degree in photography, but they need strong photography skills. In addition to those skills, business owners can benefit from having editing skills, usually in programs like Lightroom or Photoshop, though you can outsource this. Many courses are available to help develop both photography and editing skills.
Much of a photographer’s success comes down to their talent, business skills, and ability to develop their own style that is also appealing to their customers. If you’re considering starting a photography business and don’t have professional experience, try to find an internship opportunity or offer to be a second shooter for another photographer so that you can learn as much as possible about the industry before you start your own business.
Creativity: The more creative a photography business owner is, the better they’ll be able to come up with intriguing shots that stand out from their competition.
Interpersonal skills: Running a photography business requires regular interaction with clients, and building a relationship with those customers can encourage them to use the business’ services again. Similarly, problems do occur, and clients may have questions or complaints, so strong interpersonal skills and the ability to address complaints and concerns are important.
Awareness of trends: The photography industry constantly evolves, and customers may be looking for a new photography style or idea that they saw online. A photographer who stays aware of new trends can offer these types of shoots and draw new customers.
Marketing skills: Marketing is a huge part of successfully running a photography business. From establishing and maintaining social media profiles to handing out business cards at events to blogging and investing in print advertising, photographers need to be marketers, too.
What are some common mistakes made by new photographers?
Three mistakes that new photographers often make include undervaluing their work, failing to find their niche, and overlooking the importance of legal and business basics. To be successful, it’s important to recognize your worth, specialize where your passion and market demand align, and tackle the business side with as much care as your creative work. Learning from these common pitfalls can pave the way for a more successful and fulfilling photography career.
What is the NAICS code for a photography business?
The NAICS code for a photography business is 541920.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.
American Photographic Artists
American Society of Media Photographers
International Freelance Photographers Association
National Press Photographers Association
Photographic Society of America
Professional Photographers of America