Baking brown butter treats at home
Taking pictures of two girls
Easter Family Picture
Pictures of a ballet dancer in her tutu

How to Start a Photography Business

I hear from so many people with questions on this topic, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the best way to ease into the transition on starting and maintaining a photography business, or if nothing else so those that hire a photographer will know what they are paying for.

It is so wonderful that moms who choose to stay home with their children–have opportunities to make a little money on the side, and many people have purchased nice dslr cameras and think that would be a great way to earn some money. It is true, and it is fun, but there is SO much involved with having a photography business besides just having a good camera. I’ve seen many people who start that way get burned out, and even my own personal journey has been a hair pulling experience at times as I frustratingly charted the course for myself.

I thought I’d share my thoughts for those that are interested in having a photography business.


First of all, let me just say I am not super business savvy.  My business does not keep our family afloat, and I’m so grateful I don’t need to worry about that.  I can’t imagine the stress of needing a certain amount of clients in order to pay the bills.  So if you are planning on something like that, you need a lot of business sense.  Plus, photography is an elective luxury.  People don’t NEED it like they need food.  I have seen many full time photographers suffer in these hard economic times because people are cutting back and many believe that is a luxury that can wait til later.

I never planned to have a business.  Sometimes I laugh to myself when I stop and think that I started a business all on my own.  I’ve always felt pretty mediocre.  Not down on myself for being so, but recognized that is just the way it was.  School was difficult for me.  I did graduate with my Bachelors, but I really had to work for it.  I never aspired to “work” when I grew up (I still see it as a hobby, not a job).  I wanted to get married and have lots of babies.  But I’ve always had this insatiable craving to take pictures of people.

When I started my biz, I had no clue what to charge people.  I charged a little and was completely happy.  In 2003, I had a film slr and charged $50. I took a roll of film and gave the client everything, and pocketed $20 and was thrilled! We were on a super tight income, and I was able to indulge in a new pair of black shoes for church with that cash. After a year, I got a digital slr and charged $75 for the session and disc (a lot more images). I didn’t know much about editing then, so the images were “as is.”

Really, I wasn’t very good back then, so the pricing and inexperience went well together.  When I realized I wasn’t that good, I spent many hours on the computer trying to figure things out, camera, photoshop, etc.  My husband gently told me it was taking over my time.  I had to re-evaluate (and do so ALL the time) and prioritize my time.   Sometimes I wondered if I should just stop it all…but I’ve decided I love it too much.  Not just taking pictures, but meeting strangers and taking their pictures.  It all brings me so much joy.  So I limit what I take on, and I am mindful of my computer time.  My “work” hours on the computer are preschool time, and after bedtime (sometimes really late). When I go out for a shoot, its just an hour at a time, no more than once a week. When it does trickle over into family time, I become cranky momma, and I don’t like her and neither does my family.


It has been difficult for me to figure out what I want to charge. I am a SUPER thrifty person.  We don’t have cable, rarely eat out, just barely upgrade from having an old school tv, hubby drives a 1996 car, I buy furniture at good will or craigs list and fix it up…I am a “diy” kinda gal.  All that said, I am not the photographer for the thrifty person, and I’ve become ok with that (though I felt guilty for quite a while), taking into account that it takes time away from my family, and I’ve spent a lot of time and money honing my craft.

To make it less awkward on myself, I don’t do business with those in my church congregation, but will do a professional trade or refer them to my other photographer friends. I even had a parent of my sons classmate show interest in my taking their pictures, tell me I was out of her price range, and I referred her to a friend who is just starting out who charges less.  I have no problems doing that–I get it!  I want people to have great pictures, but I just can’t do it all.  I have never charged family members a penny, and many close friends I gift on my own accord, though I know many photographers will charge their family and close friends.  It is my favorite gift to give those I am closest with. Once again, hubby has to remind me that though it is good to be giving, I simply can’t give all that I want to (I used to offer to so many  people to do it for free, but in scaling back, I just can’t do that anymore).

Those of you that are thinking of starting a biz, or have dipped your toe into it, here is a list I go through with each client:

A lot of people don’t realize that a shoot is a lot more than just a shoot. There are so many things and many hours that go into just one session, so here is a breakdown of what each shoot consists of:


Time Spent…

  1. emailing back and forth to set the date, time, location, clothing suggestions, etc. (this could be 2 or 3 emails….or it could be 20 or more).
  2. driving to and from each session
  3. actually shooting at the session
  4. depositing checks/bookkeeping
  5. editing/prepping images for the sneak peeks on my blog/facebook
  6. weeding out the not so great and editing the rest of the images
  7.  uploading all of the photos to the online gallery
  8. emailing the client the gallery with all of the detailed info
  9. working on any additional edits that the client has requested (blemish removal, hair flyaways, hip slimming)
  10. packaging orders
  11. Setting up a delivery/pick up time
  12. backing up client files to external hard drives and burning backup discs
  13. Posting images to social media for others to see
  14. 14) Incentive based programs to encourage your clients to spread the word to their friends


you will need:

  • -professional camera (I don’t think a Rebel will do since so many amateur’s have them) Do you want your clients to have a newer model than you?
  • -Variety of lenses, flash, extra batteries/ flashcards
  • -photoshop/lightroom/other software
  • -Website, ideally a “.com”  (I recommend Blue Host, It is a great one stop shop for your domain, hosting, and has some templates) (this is an affiliate link)
  • -Tax id
  • -Professional lab
  • -Stationary: welcome packet
  • -Packaging prints clear bags
  • -Gift bags to hold print orders
  • -stickers: I put these on prints, envelopes, gift bag
  • -Pricing list online and/or in print
  • -Accounting software/accountant (every business must pay taxes)
  • -professional looking Gift cards (I give them to teachers and some people buy as gifts)
  • -Model release, you must get permission from clients to post their images online, some don’t want it
  • -Client info form:  gather info like address, cell number, childrens ages and birthdays
  • -Cd’s/ cases/where to print:  If I sell a digital collection, I have a card that informs how to care and where to print
  • -Copyright info:  Many people don’t realize it is illegal to scan professional images, good to inform
  • -Thank you card (mail after session or delivery of prints)
  • -Biz cards:  can never have too many of these.
  • -Facebook account:  social media is HUGE for word of mouth.
  • -Open a business banking account
  • -Insurance
  • -Ppa membership (I actually don’t do this, but it is recommended)
  • -Charge/pay taxes
  • -External hard drive


I am self taught. I never read my camera manual to teach me how to use my camera, in 2004, I poured over the limited internet resources and various trial and error. There were no blogs and pinterest with tips back then–there is so much now!!! Online forums helped me a TON!  I was a member of ProPhotogs forum for nearly 5 years.  I used to go daily, and was able to ask so many questions and learned from others questions, but I let my membership lapse and the ownership has changed now.  So many patient people answered my questions along the way and I had to learn to be tough when my not-so-great images were critiqued. Clickin Moms seems to be for those that may not want a business, but just great images.  I’ve made many great photographer friends along the way…online…on the phone…and locally.  I couldn’t even begin to list the people who helped me with specific techniques that I’ve never even met.


With any small business these days, you have to be involved with social media. Blogging is important, but so is facebook or twitter. I just had a friend decide not to have her photog biz anymore because she couldn’t keep up with the blogging and social media–is very important to keep fresh content for future clients to see, as well as sharing the work you’ve done for the clients friends for a future referral.
Photography…I love it, I love it, but I love my family more. My goal is to not let it overtake my family, and most days I feel pretty good that it isn’t. Aren’t they adorable? I think so.
If I missed something, feel free to leave it in the comments, and please let me know if you have any further questions, I will answer in the comments and you will get an email!  Questions help everyone!

If you have a fancy camera that you don’t know how to use, check out my books!

Kristen Duke

Kristen Duke

Thank you for stopping by my little spot on the web! If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to my future posts via RSS, Facebook, and if you are looking to improve your photography, see my beginner books HERE.
Kristen Duke
Kristen Duke
Kristen Duke

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  1. 171

    ホルダーのこれらの系統を受け入れる一貫して個人的に私にとって難解な信念の事務をされて。1 つまたは 10 の項目選択の製品ギャラリー資格を行くその後ときを求める、200 ドル法案に関する控除されるに起こる。あなたは何も失うことを参照してください。しかし、留意するジュエリー情報ミルの中で楽しい中毒性。

  2. 172


  3. 173

    Great write up! I am an “Advanced” amateur photographer. I actually just started learning how to shoot manual on my DSLR about 10 months ago. I mostly do lascapes shots as a hobby, and “The official family photographer”. There are times I do portrait shoots for friends and events with no pay, but recently I am getting more in demand for portrait shoots as I get better on post processing and results are much better. I think it’s time I need to start the biz.

    My question though, after getting the tax and insurance — don’t you also need a license? Like, getting a license to each city you receive payment from?

    Thank you
    Jay – Los Angeles, CA

    • 174
      daralynn+gilliam says:

      Honestly never heard of anyone getting a license for very city you receive payment from. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 15 years and never ever heard of that. I really don’t think you do.

    • 175
      Kristen Duke says:

      No, you don’t need a license for each city!

  4. 176
    Chad Smith says:

    Hi there! I read your post and found it truly aspiring and beautiful. I am an amateur photographer living in New York City. I have experience in taking pictures as I would sometimes shoot my friends and family as well as photographing landscapes. I am currently seeking to establish a business or at least start accumulating some clients and people who are willing to pay to have their picture taken. I would love, love some insight from your experience in the field and any advise you can give to a person who has some experience in taking pictures but would like to learn more about the ropes of the trade. Thank you, and I look forward to your response!

    Chad Smith

    • 177
      Kristen Duke says:

      Hi Chad! I’m working on more posts in the next few weeks just for those starting a photog business. Keep posted!!

  5. 178

    This was SO helpful! Thank you!! What kind of photoshop do you use and do you edit every single photo or are there some that you leave as they are?

    • 179
      Kristen Duke says:

      Hi Morgan! I shoot in RAW, so it is SOOOO easy to edit a bunch of images all at the same time. I generally do a “partial” edit, and then pick my top favorites or have the client pick theirs, to “fully edit” with a color pop, blemish removal, etc.

  6. 180

    エルメスの規制のための論文の営業を averts、袋がありますいくつかのまれな使用主にので、ギャンブルを 24 時間に 16、多くの場合彼らは砂の要素、たとえば高価な金属と同様にすることはできません。このプロバイダは、世界中の開発に達したが、その美しさを利益とフランスの指向している。唯一の実際の職人が何を道具によって実行され、生産、短い期間内に代えて、機会にハンドバッグに正しい仕事をするためである。
    ロエベ メンズ

  7. 181

    Thank You. I don’t know how else to say how helpful this was.

  8. 182

    I just stumbled across this post! Thank you SO much for sharing this wonderful information. It was very informative.
    alicia recently posted..All Hail the Keurig!My Profile

  9. 183

    Well darn, I just bought a rebel lol I really want great photos of family and friends, but would possibly like to try my hand in some business of my own. Maybe I should have opted for the t3i….poo

  10. 184

    How do I go about creating a logo and putting it on the client’s photos? Is that done through Photoshop?

  11. 187

    I am just breaking into my photography business (like what all I legally have to set up) and can use all the help I can get. I’m tryin’ to figure up the props to purchase and how to get babies to sleep during shoot and how to do a cheap back drop and how to use my editing program, AND, AND, AND lol! Is there anyway you can post your items/ attachments that you give your clients and price lists? So I have an idea of how to set mine up.

    • 188
      Kristen Duke says:

      I’m writing up a post all about pricing tomorrow!! Yes, there are SOOO many things to think about and items to check off, it’s quite a feat!

  12. 189

    I stumbled across your blog on Pinterest and feel like God sent it to me. I started a photography business 4 months ago as a supplement to our income / way to keep my sanity while I stay at home with my then 9 month old. I have been charging nothing since my start up and stressing myself out trying to figure out how to balance being a mom/finding them a sitter, running a business, online photography class, all while my husband works out of town. I wasnt sure what my next step was going to be and Ill admit that a few day ago I ven thought about quitting. I simply feel like I dont have the time needed to dedicate to it even though I love it so much. I recently pulled my price list off my site. I knew I had to increase them but wasnt sure how to go about it. I felt guilt/am I worthy?
    I am so glad I read this blog. It was exactly the advice I needed. Ive been selling myself short, especially now that I learned PS, and now I know I dont necessarily need to be an “affordable photographer”. I can be a competitive photographer worthy of the extra money should one so choose to spend it on the art I can provide.

    • 190
      Kristen Duke says:

      I’m so happy to hear it’s been helpful! Pricing is so very tricky, seriously, how to decide what to charge is tricky, glad to help!

  13. 191
    Samantha says:

    SO happy I ran across this on Pinterst! I have been toying with the idea for years and think I am now ready to go for it! I feel we are kindred spirits. So many of the things you stated about yourself be scribe me too! I did not care for school and am self taught as well. I have read over many of your other tips and I so appreciate your posts. I will be referring to your page often! And hey, I’m not too far from you either… I am stationed in San Antonio. Woot woot.

    • 192
      Kristen Duke says:

      Hi Samantha! SO happy to hear that our brains think alike! Photography is so technical, and it took me a while to grasp some concepts. I’m working on more photog biz posts, one going live tomorrow, so stay tuned!

  14. 193

    So is an EIN enough for a tax ID? Or do I need a Sales Tax Permit and other things? I am so confused!

  15. 195

    How to drive traffic to your site, I am trying to start a business, but can get any clients to come to my site
    Monica recently posted..Idaho Falls family photographyMy Profile

  16. 197


    What you have put together on here is amazing. This is really good information that I wish me and my wife would’ve had starting out. We really struggled with pricing too. One thing we did was call other similar photographers in our area and ask about their pricing, that helped a lot. My wife can relate to the whole work/life balance thing too. Great site! Keep up the awesome work!


  17. 198

    Hi all, I recently found your site by means of Yahoo and google if you are an identical issue, your website came up, it seems like to get good. We have combined with our favourites|combined with our favorites.

  18. 199
    daralynn gilliam says:

    Where do you park your online galleries? What lab do you use to process your images? I use Snapfish at the moment because it’s so cheap and know one is paying me at the moment. once i get paying clients I’ll choose another lab.

  19. 200

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!

  20. 201

    It really doesn’t matter what kind of camera it is, the Rebel series is just fine for doing photography. You actually get more value from it since you get more bang for your buck on lenses for portrait work. What really matters is the photographer them self. If they really know how to shoot. In the end no one can tell what kind of camera you used anyways. The client doesn’t really care one way or the other what kind of camera you are using just as long as they get what they are looking for which is quality photographs. I’ve seen photographers use simple point and shoots at graduation parties for crying out loud and still get business. Its all in how you market yourself as a business in the end game.

  21. 202

    Is it doesn’t best time to produce a number of blueprints for any longer term and it’s really time for it to be very glad. We have look at this put up and when I may I personally want to give you advice some appealing issues or even guidance. Maybe you can easily create up coming content in regards to this post. I want to discover more challenges about it!

  22. 203

    Haha – I typed my own name in the greeting! LOL- I meant Hi Kristen! LOL…..


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