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How to Start a Photography Business

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Published on October 15, 2021

Updated on September 23, 2022

How to Start a Photography Business

Disclaimer: Step by Step Business’ content is for informational and educational purposes only. It’s not intended to be a substitute for professional legal or tax advice. All of our articles are thoroughly reviewed and fact-checked by our editorial team. Read our editorial guidelines for more details.

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Fast Facts

Investment range

$9,100 - $15,800

Revenue potential

$78,000 - $156,000 p.a.

Time to build

0 - 3 months

Profit potential

$50,000 - $100,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Growing

Commitment

Flexible

How to Start a Photography Business

If you’re an amateur photographer, you may have considered trying to make money using your talent. Photography is a growing $11 billion industry, so now could be a great time to turn your skills into a thriving business. Photography businesses can specialize in anything from weddings and events to portraits and wildlife. Regardless of what you choose, a photography business could be a great opportunity for you to chase your dreams and make a good living at the same time. 

Starting any kind of business, however, takes a lot of work. The key is to have the knowledge that you need before you start so that you avoid common mistakes. Fortunately, this step-by-step guide details all you need to know to start shooting your way to entrepreneurial success.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Starting a photography business requires time and effort. You need to fully understand what’s involved before you decide if it’s right for you. 

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Dream Job — follow your passion!
  • Flexibility – work from home, when you want
  • Good Money – Low expenses mean strong profits

Cons

  • Stiff Competition – you’ll compete with established photographers
  • Marketing Costs — it’ll take time and money to build a name

Photography industry trends

The pandemic set back the industry significantly in 2020, particularly wedding and event photography, but as the pandemic recedes, the market for photography services is expected to recover.

Overall, the industry is very sensitive to economic fluctuations because when consumers have less disposable income, they spend less on photography services.

Industry size and growth

  • Industry size and past growth – The US photography industry is worth $11.5 billion after an estimated 4% growth in 2021 and a marginal average annual growth of 0.4% over the past five years.[1]https://www.ibisworld.com/united-states/market-research-reports/photography-industry/ 
  • Growth forecast – The industry outlook is strong, as employment of photographers is expected to grow 17% from 2020 to 2030.[2]https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/photographers.htm 
  • Number of businesses – There are more than 225,000 photography businesses in the US.[3]https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/number-of-businesses/photography-united-states/ 
  • Number of people employed – More than 263,000 people are employed in the photography industry.[4]https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/employment/photography-united-states/
photography industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

Trends in the photography industry include:

  • Improved quality of some smartphone cameras
  • Increasing use of drones in real estate, weddings, and large gatherings
  • Use of selfie sticks to take group photos 

Challenges in the photography industry include:

  • Stiff competition in a saturated market
  • Copyright disputes
photography industry Trends and Challenges

What kind of people work as photographers?

  • Gender – Around 62% of photographers in the US are female, while 38% are male.[5]https://www.zippia.com/photographer-jobs/demographics/#gender-statistics
  • Average level of education – Half (51%) of photographers hold a bachelor’s degree and 21% have an associate degree.[6]https://www.zippia.com/photographer-jobs/education/
  • Average age – The average age of a photographer is 38 years old.[7]https://www.zippia.com/photographer-jobs/demographics/#age-statistics
photography industry demographics

How much does it cost to start a photography business?

The start-up costs for a photography business can range from $9,100 to $15,800. Equipment and a website are the largest investments. If you’d like to brush up on your skills, there are many free and paid photography courses online, from beginning to expert. 

Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$200 - $200$200
Licenses and permits$200 - $300$250
Insurance $100 - $500$300
Business cards and brochures$200 - $300$250
Website setup$1,000 - $3,000$2,000
Initial marketing budget$200 - $500$350
Cameras$3,000 - $4,000$3,500
Lenses and flashes$2,700 - $4,000$3,350
Computer and other equipment$1,500 - $3,000$2,250
Total$9,100 - $15,800$12,450

How much can you earn from a photography business?

Your profit will vary depending on:

  • How many customers you can acquire through marketing and referrals
  • Your ongoing expenses, particularly if you hire employees at some point

Photographers charge from $100 to $250 per hour, plus about $50 for each final edited print. Based on the low end when you’re just starting out, we’ll use a benchmark of $150 per hour of work including prints. Your profit margin should be about 65%. 

When you launch, if you can work 10 hours per week, your annual revenue will be $78,000 and profit will be about $50,000, assuming that 65% margin. As your brand gains recognition, you could work 20 hours per week, taking in $156,000 in annual revenue and a tidy profit of about $100,000. 

photography business earnings forecast

What barriers to entry are there?

There are very few barriers to entry for a photography business. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • Standing out from the competition. You will need to market your expertise.
  • You will spend a lot of time and money marketing yourself before you start to make money.
  • You need to have excellent photography skills.
  • Start-up costs are relatively high compared to other businesses.

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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

Now that you know what is involved in starting a photography business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in order to be able to enter a new market with tough competition.

Why? Identify an opportunity

Since you will have no track record in the business, you’ll need to find a way to stand out from the competition.

Look for an opportunity in the market where there may be a gap and try to specialize in that niche at first so that you can start to build a portfolio.

For example, there may be a large number of wedding photographers but not very many fashion photographers. If you market yourself to people in the local fashion industry, you can start to build a body of work.

Your website will need to have extensive photos of your work.

What? Determine your products or services

Make a list of all the types of photography that you could do based on the opportunities that you see in the market. Determine which types you would like to do, or if you want to specialize only in one type. Be sure to list all of your services on your website.

How much should you charge for photography services?

When you are just starting out, you may have to charge a lower rate until you have a track record. Average prices range from $100 to $250 per hour, plus $25 to $100 per final edited print. You will need to make a name for yourself and show your experience and success to command a price that is at the higher end of the range.

Research other photography services in your area to determine what prices are in your local market. Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will depend on what you choose to specialize in and offer. Determine where you should market to reach that target. For example, if you plan to be a wedding photographer, you can market to wedding planners.

After you get started, word of mouth referrals will be your biggest source of business.

Where? Choose your business premises

In the early stages of your business development, you can operate your business from home to help you keep your overhead expenses in check. But as your business grows you may hire workers and decide to rent out an office. 

You can find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
photography business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Business Name

Your business name is the identity of your business, so you must choose one that can represent your objectives, services, and mission well in just a few words.

Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “photos” or “photography”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Jim’s Bakery” over “Jim’s Cookies”
  • Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
  • Use online tools like the Step by Step Business Name Generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that set your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.

Step 4: Create a Business Plan

Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:

  • Executive Summary: Brief overview of the entire business plan; should be written after the plan is complete.
  • Business Overview: Overview of the company, vision, mission, ownership, and corporate goals.
  • Product and Services: Describe your offerings in detail.
  • Market Analysis: Assess market trends such as variations in demand and prospects for growth, and do a SWOT analysis.
  • Competitive Analysis: Analyze main competitors, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and create a list of the advantages of your services.
  • Sales and Marketing: Examine your companies’ unique selling propositions (USPs) and develop sales, marketing, and promotional strategies.
  • Management Team: Overview of management team, detailing their roles and professional background, along with a corporate hierarchy.
  • Operations Plan: Your company’s operational plan includes procurement, office location, key assets and equipment, and other logistical details.
  • Financial Plan: Three years of financial planning, including startup costs, break-even analysis, profit and loss estimates, cash flow, and balance sheet.
  • Appendix: Include any additional financial or business-related documents.

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist at Fiverr to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to photography. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state. 

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your photography business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just needs to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using ZenBusiness’s online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.

Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Venture capital: Venture capital investors take an ownership stake in exchange for funds, so keep in mind that you’d be sacrificing some control over your business. This is generally only available for businesses with high growth potential.
  • Angel investors: Reach out to your entire network in search of people interested in investing in early-stage startups in exchange for a stake. Established angel investors are always looking for good opportunities. 
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best options, other than friends and family, for funding a photography business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept. 

Step 8: Apply for Licenses/Permits

Starting a photography business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your photography business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.  

You may want to use industry-specific software such as Photo Workflow, ShootQ, and Sprout Studio to book sessions, manage and send large photos to clients, send digital contracts, and more. 

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.

Marketing

Some of your business will come from the casual passerby or online visitors, but you should still invest in digital marketing! Getting the word out is especially important for new businesses, as it’ll boost customer and brand awareness. 

Once your website is up and running, link it to your social media accounts and vice versa. Social media is a great tool for promoting your business because you can create engaging posts that advertise your products: 

  • Facebook: Great platform for paid advertising, allows you to target specific demographics, like men under age 50 in the Cleveland area. 
  • Instagram: Same benefits as Facebook but with different target audiences.
  • Website: SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Book Now”. This can sharply increase bookings.
  • Google and Yelp: For businesses that rely on local clientele, getting listed on Yelp and Google My Business can be crucial to generating awareness and customers.

Kickstart Marketing

Take advantage of your website, social media presence, and real-life activities to increase awareness of your offerings and build your brand. Some suggestions include:

  • Signage – Put up eye-catching signage at your store and website. 
  • Flyering – Distribute flyers in your neighborhood and at industry events. 
  • In-Person Sales – Offer your services at local markets and trade shows. 
  • Sponsor events – You can pay to be a sponsor at events that are relevant to your target market.
  • Post a video – Post a video about your photography service. Use humor and maybe it will go viral!
  • Start a blog – Start a blog and post regularly. Change up your content and share on multiple sites.
  • Seek out referrals – Offer incentives to generate customer referrals to new clients. 
  • Paid ads on social media – Choose sites that will reach your target market and do targeted ads.
  • Testimonials – Share customer testimonials about how your services helped them.
  • Create infographics – Post infographics and include them in your content.

Develop your website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google. 

You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

Focus on USPs

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your photos meet their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your photo business could be:

  • Wedding photos for the biggest day of your life 
  • Culture, travel, and events — the most vibrant images 
  • Top-notch wildlife and natural world photography 
unique selling proposition

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a photography business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in a photography studio for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in photography. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. Online businesses might also consider affiliate marketing as a way to build relationships with potential partners and boost business. 

Step 12: Build Your Team

You may not need to hire any employees if you are starting out small from a home-based office. However, as your business grows, you may need to recruit full-time employees for various job roles. The potential employees for a photography business include:

  • General Manager – Hiring and firing, making bookings and running the show
  • Photographers – Shooting when you’re unable
  • Marketing Lead – SEO strategies and social media promotions 

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent.

Step 13: Start Making Money!

Congratulations! You’ve now accumulated all the business knowledge you need, it’s time to get out there and start shooting your way to photographic success. 

A photography career might seem glamorous, but it requires a lot of hard work and patience. To capture the essence of your photographic subject and take the best shot, you’ll have to do more than aim and shoot. It’s wise to hold a pre-photo session and make your subject comfortable first. If you’re covering an event, you’ll have to research the event beforehand, get up close and personal with the participants, and set up your gear for the action shots. 

Photography Business FAQs

How can I start a photography business with no money?

Unless you already have all the equipment you need, you are going to need some money. You may be able to get financing of some kind, or you could buy second-hand equipment to save on costs. You can also do free marketing on social media.

Are photography businesses profitable?

A photography business can be very profitable. You could make a profit of $38,700 to $117,200 just by yourself.  If you grow your business and hire employees, you could potentially earn more.

How much money do I need to start a photography business?

Startup costs range from $9,100 to $15,800. If you already have equipment and can build your own website, your costs will be much lower.

Can I start a photography business with no license?

Licenses required will depend on your state and local requirements. Check their websites to see what you need. There are generally no specific licenses related to a photography business, but you may need general business licenses.