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How to Start a Photography Business

If you love photography, and you want to capture all of the beauty and joy in life, you might be considering how to start a photography business. So many people find the love of photography, beginning with wanting to capture their little bundles of joy, and having that desire grow from there. I receive so many questions on that topic, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the best way to ease into the transition on starting and maintaining a business, and also educating those that hire a photographer will know what they are paying for.

Steps on How to Start a Photography Business

  1. Be business minded
  2. What to Charge Clients
  3. Client checklist
  4. Best Equipment to Buy
  5. Importance of Social Media

Tips on how to start a photography business for the beginner

This post is originally written on October 4, 2012, last updated January 2016.

I think it’s important to share that I’ve changed my camera gear and favorite lenses over the years.

I started with a very basic Canon Rebel (2003), upgraded to a Canon 20D (2005), then a 5D (2009), and currently shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II (2013) as my main camera body. In 2016, I still use that same body. For more tips on how to decide what camera to buy, click on that link for another post.

Photographers are both men and women, but over the years, I’ve seen a trend with moms moms who choose to stay home with their children–seeing an opportunity to make a little money on the side with a photography business. Many people have purchased nice dslr camera kits 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.

How to Start a Photography Business: It’s not just about creativity. Having business sense is important.

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.

How to Start a photography business: WHAT TO CHARGE

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:

How to Start a Photography business: LIST FOR EACH CLIENT

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. Incentive based programs to encourage your clients to spread the word to their friends
Click “next” to see the essential equipment and business steps you need to take to have a successful photography business!
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  1. I’m a sophomore in high school and I’ve been really interested in photography since I was in elementary school. I highly doubt I would be able to find a photography job where I live and kind of want to start my own business after school and all. This really helped to push me to be pretty committed to doing this after I graduate and take some business classes and figure out all of the major details and what not. Thank you so much for this information!

  2. Hi,
    I have a question about choosing what camera i want to get next, right now i have a nikon D40 6.1 mp digital SLR. And i want something better than that im thinking about switching to Canon’s. Im actually liking how your camera takes the picture. If you can message me by my email so that we can talk more about this i would love to because i have a 15 photo session for this girl next month.

  3. what do you think about the Canon rebel t5i?

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  9. hi! Wonderful post, I really enjoyed it. I am a starting photographer and was just curious about your permission paper they have to sign as well as the copyright informing. Did you get the forms from a template, would you be willing to share an example? Thank you so much!! 🙂

  10. Did u teach your self? Your did you go to school for photography?

  11. this is a silly question, but i was wondering how photographers put signatures on the photos!?

  12. I am planning to start a photography business myself. I, like you, love being home with my family but I feel my passion for photography is unsatisfied and I want to take it to the next level. I recently took a “mastering manual” class through a local photographer. It was amazing and she was very complimentary of my work. I have few questions regarding the business aspect:

    1) how did you obtain a tax ID?
    2) what type of insurance do you have? did you always have insurance, even when starting out?
    3) did you need anything when opening a business bank account?
    4) do you have any samples or suggestions for model releases and copyright releases?

  13. stephanie c says:

    This was a great post! My question is when you were starting out, did you get your tax things together and then start or did you practice and then get a tax id? I want to take pictures of people but I don’t want to get too involved and not really go anywhere with it. I know doing your taxes is important but it seems like if you didn’t think you were going to start this as a income type business that you wouldn’t need a tax id. It’s so confusing lol

  14. hey there, I have been doing research on photography editing programs to use, and I have heard of a few good ones, but they weren’t compatible with my computer. Do you know a good system thats worth the money and won’t make me wanna rip my hair out and is compatible with a macbook pro? Thank you for all your help in advance!

    • Hey- I’ve been doing some photography work for the last couple of years and editing is my favorite part! I have been using Adobe Lightroom. I didn’t do a whole lot of reading on how to use i and it was very easy to learn. I use it on my PCs and Macs and they all seem to work great with it!

  15. mavi escobar says:

    i was wondering what you do to prepare your images for print. What specific guidelines do you recommend for giving your customers quality prints without missing limbs and such when they take their cd or usb for print at their choice of printing shop? I Love your ideas and tips!

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  17. I love your information posted on starting a photography business. I have been shooting photos as a hobby for over 40 years. I’ve been told I have many great shots from Europe to Rodeos. My wife and I are retired and on fixed income so we feel it’s time to start trying to do something we love and make some extra cash at the same time.
    Thanks Ever So Much Kristen!
    Tony & Mona Davis

  18. Excellent site. Plenty of practical facts the following. I’m just transmitting this to several friends ans also sharing inside tasty. And lastly, thank you on the energy!

  19. i would like to become a photographer to become my own boss

  20. Katlyn Wilkerson says:

    I really enjoyed reading all about how you started your photography business. It was really helpful to me. I am really considering starting a small business on the side. I won’t do it for my only income unless I somehow get really good at it and my future husband (boyfriend now) gets a really good paying job and can support us both. I am currently in college right now part time and working part time. I have plenty of extra time to work on editing pictures. I love it. I just need help figuring out photoshop. But anyways, thanks a lot for the helpful information!

    Sincerely,
    Katlyn

  21. Thank you for this article. I really liked the list you provided of all the things I will need to start a business. There were quite a few things that I hadn’t though about. Thanks again!

  22. Antoinette says:

    This was so helpful and what I needed. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  24. How do I do the whole tax ID? I am new to this all as well.

  25. I was wondering how you make a logo for your business?

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Logo’s are tough! there are etsy shops that make them, some custom. I’m not a great designer, so I hire out.

  26. D. Lindemann says:

    I’m just about ready to build a website for my photos. To protect myself legally is it necessary to form an LLC? I’m more concerned about nuisance suits more than anything else. My business will be strictly online. I have in my long ago past done work on commission but I don’t do that now. Thanks, your shots are terrific.

  27. You just need the skills and the inspiration for photography. There’s no need to get any training or classes to become a professional photographer. Its just your attitude towards photography that will make you a professional. Just don’t wait and think for the right time to get started.
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  28. Thank you for your advice on starting out a career in photography. Would you say that you do more work out in the field or in the studio? I am considering starting my own studio, but maybe while I start I should just shoot exteriors as it is free.
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  29. Well I just stared my website this morning. Looking at yours I have a long way to go! Nice work. You are the first person to know about it.

  30. Morgan Schwarz says:

    I am wanting to start a photography business with my future sister in law. I have a couple questions…
    1. How do you get a tax ID?
    2. How do you begin making us a business? Like… name, book keeping, all the stuff you need for government purposes.
    3. How do you make up a logo?
    4. When it comes to naming your business, how do you go about that?

  31. Tasha Herrell says:

    I found your article so helpful on starting a photography business and I agree with everything you wrote especially as it relates to timing and scheduling of time. You wrote about online galleries to share pictures with your clients. Where can these be found?

  32. Shatoria says:

    Hello,
    I just wanted say thank you! I am turning my hobby into a business. If you have some time please check out my facebook page. I would love feedback from you. https://m.facebook.com/sunshinephoto4u

  33. what type of printer do you use for your prints?

  34. You don’t have to go through that much. You could always do your photography as an “under the table thing”.

  35. LOVE this! I have been searching on tips on how to run a photography business and this is the only article that has really helped.
    I was wondering if you had any examples of the permission paper they have to sign as well as the copyright informing.
    Also what are the best cds to get to give to your clients with their images on them?
    When you put the pictures online for them to choose did you put your logo on those?

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Great questions! I’m working on more posts and sharing the file with ideas for a release. Sign up for my free newsletter so you can see when they are published! I don’t do CD’s anymore, I do thumb drives with my logo on it. I aim to put images online 2 weeks after the shoot.

  36. Where do you send your photos to have them printed?

  37. where do you get yur photos developed?

  38. I just wanted to tell you how helpful all your tips, tricks, and hints have been to me! You are very talented, and I LOVE your style. I appreciate your straightforwardness on subjects. I have found that not many ‘pro’ photographers want to share their insights for fear of losing business.
    Thanks again!
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  39. Question, do you use external flashes? If so, what would be some good brands to look into purchasing?
    Heather recently posted..S. Young “Suave 16”My Profile

  40. I love your post so far as I just now discovered it!!! I am a new photographer and I am starting out my own business for a hobby and side job as I’ve always had a passion for photography and traveling!!!

  41. Laura Harvey says:

    I am working on to start up photography business – portrait on location and studio, also event photography. I am working on business plan – financial part. It is very hard. I am trying to set up the rate. My problem, how do I assume how many clients per month at first year then rest of 12 months, then 2nd and 3rd year. How can I figure out on that? How many clients on first month of first year? 2 – 4 clients a month or maybe 0 – 2?. I can’t move on my financial part because I am clueless how many clients a month. Smile!

  42. This is probably a silly question but how did you go about getting a tax ID? I’m in the very early stages of wanting to start something and know that I need to get things like a Tax ID or business license out of the way. I also know I need to build a website to help me along.

    I loved your post btw. Very helpful!

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