How to Start a Photography Business

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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. Great ,, Thanks for sharing this informative article

  2. Nice article.. I think you put things clear and that you are really realistic!
    I have realised that of course I am not ready now to run my own business but as I want it absolutely, I will manage in a future. Thanks a lot for your help and nice continuation

  3. I majored in photography in college from 2010-2014, but they never taught us the business side of photography. So, at this point, my student loan debt is pretty much not being paid because I cannot make a paid living from photography. At this point, it has just become a hobby, sad to say.

  4. Great things to know starting a photography business and also nice to remember when you already are running one. Thanks for this detailed article. I’d just point out that today many of these very important tasks can be automated or dealt with some high-tech solution. Keep an eye on cloud platforms for photographers – they are huge!

  5. Samantha Hanlon says:

    Hi! I am just starting out as a photographer and have a handful of questions I haven’t been able to get answered if you could help me out! 🙂

    Did you type up your own model release? I need to make one but don’t know where to start.
    How do you send out your images? I was using a CD and shipping it out on town but need something simpler if there is
    What Online gallery do you use?
    I currently use a Nikon D3200 that I’ve had for 2.5 years and have just the two lenses that came with it but hoping to upgrade to something a little better, what do you recommend?
    What editing software do you use? I don’t currently use much editing and therefore do not charge much because I don’t think its worth too much yet! I’m looking to get Photoshop & Lightroom.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Hi there! You’ve got lots of questions! You should join the Capturing Joy Photo Club on Facebook (search it) we talk a lot of photo talk there. Quickly: yes, made my own model release. I use a thumb drive or online gallery (google). I write about lenses here on my site, search: my camera gear at the top. I love photoshop, but in my webinar that I’m teaching on THursday, I’m sharing about the Camera Academy course I created via the free webinar. See the post on my home page for details.

  6. John Jacobson says:

    Something extremely cool I saw the other day was running a mobile 3D photography business. Saw it at – seems decently inexpensive to get started and is a very unique product.