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How to Start a Photography Business

Photography is a passion and hobby for many, and it can quickly transform itself into a career. The scenarios we can and do hire a photographer in are varied and numerous: weddings, reunions, anniversaries, parties, fundraisers, portraits, special events…

Turning your passion into a career does take some work, though. Besides talent, you need to have a healthy dose of business sense (you’ll be in charge of more than just taking pictures, including marketing, accounting, and booking) and great people skills.

If you haven’t already, consider taking a photography class to either brush up on or improve your basic skills. If you feel your talent level is there, then it just might be time to make the leap and become a professional photographer.

Step 1: Pick a Specialty

There are several specialty niches in the world of photography, and you should select the one that most appeals to you (and is not over-represented in your area already). A photographer could decide to focus on:

  • Portraits, further divided into newborns, children, and/or families
  • Weddings
  • Scenery
  • Parties (reunions, anniversaries, graduations, holidays, house-warming, etc.)
  • Real Estate (many real estate agents hire freelance photographers for the photos they use on their websites)
  • Fundraisers and special events  
  • Boudoir

Select a specialty early on, as the choice could affect other decisions. If you want to focus on portraits, you’ll need a dedicated studio, whereas freelancers working primarily at weddings don’t need one. Likewise, your specialty will dictate the equipment that you need.

Step 2: Get a Space

Your specialty will directly influence how much space you’ll need. A portrait photographer will need a wide, open, and neutral space, complete with a waiting area, and perhaps change rooms. Clients will come to you, and you’ll take pictures in your studio. A freelancer, however, might not need that much space at all. You’ll be going out on location most of the time. You do need a “dark room”, and perhaps meeting space for clients to come in and review the prints.   

Step 3: The Equipment

Have camera, will travel. A photographer needs so much more than just a camera. To begin with, you’ll likely need various cameras, and lenses, tripods, lighting, and reflector boards. If you’re a portrait photographer, you’ll also need various backdrops, and perhaps props (depending on your specific area). Photography equipment can be VERY expensive, so do some comparison shopping before you commit to something. You could even try renting some equipment from stores like Pittsburgh Lens Rentals. Compare prices, compare products. Read industry reviews. Make sure you’re buying the right kind of camera for your particular niche.

Even better, if it’s available in your area (or within driving distance), consider using an equipment rental company at first. You can rent cameras (and perhaps other equipment) for a fraction of the cost while you a) determine whether the camera is right for you, and b) your budget may be limited. A professional camera can cost thousands of dollars. Rent it instead to save money and “try before you buy”. Simply Google “photography equipment rental” and the name of your town or city. Only buy or rent what you need, not want, as equipment costs can quickly become astronomical. 

Step 4: Set Your Prices

Check the prices of other photographers to get a general idea. Think about your costs (studio rent/mortgage, equipment costs, utilities, travel) and desired income (how much do you want to make annually) to zero in on a weekly target. Photographers generally charge a sitting fee (often anywhere from $50-300 depending on location and experience), as well as cost for prints, framing, digital copies, and special items (calendars, mugs, albums etc.).

Many new photographers are nervous about charging a steep sitting fee for something that might take only an hour or so, but consider everything else involved: prior preparation, travel time, development, digital tweaking, salary for assistant(s), meeting time, and on and on. It goes well beyond the session itself, so charge accordingly, and within the market range for your location and experience level. Be competitive, but don’t under-value your time or talent.

Step 5: Marketing and Promotion

Develop an online presence (social media, website, directories), as most people find products and services that way in the modern world. Hire a professional web designer if you can’t do it yourself...your website is your calling card, and as a visual artist, it has to look amazing. Advertise in local newspapers and on local job boards. Join your local, state/provincial, or national photography association. Ask your clients for permission to post their photos in your online portfolio. Engage with customers, work hard, and over deliver, as word-of-mouth and positive reviews are crucial in the early stages.

Write a detailed business plan. Have and work towards goals and objectives.

Other Useful Links

25 Resources for Starting a Freelance Photography Business

How to Start a Photography Business

The truly lucky among us have the good fortune to turn a passion into a career. Photography is always in demand, and most photographers are passionate about their craft. Starting a photography business isn’t easy (starting any business is hard), but that passion should carry you through the bumps and bruises in the beginning.


Photo Credit:

Creative Commons License

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