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.

Tips on how to start a photography business for the beginner

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.

IT’S NOT JUST CREATIVE, BUSINESS SENSE IS NEEDED

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.

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:

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. 14) Incentive based programs to encourage your clients to spread the word to their friends

EQUIPMENT & STEPS TO RUN A PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS

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

LEARNING ONLINE

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.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA
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.
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  4. 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!! :)

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