How to Start a Photography Business
Have you gone for a walk, taken a really nice photo and thought to yourself, “This is a really great photo! I should do this for a job”?
Ever attended a wedding and taken lovely photos of the happy couple that the wedding photographer couldn’t quite catch?
Were you ever pressured by a younger or older sibling to take photos of them because they want to pretend to be on the cover of Vogue or Time Magazine?
It’s situations like these that have inspired so many people to make a career in photography.
No matter the inspiration, you’re here because you want to start your own photography business.
Like all businesses, starting a photography business isn’t as simple as registering and getting hired as a freelancer in photojournalism.
No need to fear, as this in-depth guide will provide you with all the details you need to start your own photography business.
Speaking of details, what will we be covering in this guide?
- Market research
- What do I need to start a photography business?
- Funding and forecasting a photography business
- Growth and scaling
We have a lot of great detail to cover to get you prepared to start your own business, so let’s dive straight into it!
All businesses start with an idea.
Let’s be honest, if you’re reading this article, you already have one or two ideas for your soon-to-be-business. However, in the ideation process, we breakdown all the types of photography you can go into and see how feasible, practical, and viable they are compared to your expectations.
So what kinds of photography businesses are there?
Photojournalism is taking photos for journalism.
Simple enough, right? Well, yes and no.
Photojournalism comes in many forms. The foundation of it is the telling of a story through photography. Photojournalists are similar to reporters, and often have to travel to photograph news and events.
Most photojournalists either work freelance, selling their work to the highest bidder or for a media corporation, working as correspondents in specific regions or territory.
Photojournalists covering current events have a focus on general news, sports, conflict, politics, business, fashion and technology.
So what experience and skills do you need to be successful as a photojournalist?
The kind of work photojournalists receive means that staying in one place for a long period of time is unlikely. Depending on the type of journalism you want to focus on, it can be highly seasonal, oversaturated or even dangerous.
To get into photojournalism, you need to be tenacious to keep trying for the best shots and confident in your ability as you will often be competing with other photojournalists.
– A huge wealth of sectors to specialise in.
– Can work both for yourself or a media corporation.
– People bidding to get your work.
– Very competitive industry.
– No guarantee of buyers for your work.
– Could have to travel far or work unsociable hours
Commercial photography covers photos needed by companies to fulfil their business goals.
I know, it’s a rather broad statement. However, there are a few key purposes:
- Website: Stock imagery used on a company’s webpages.
- Promotional: Pictures used to advertise products or services across advertisement channels.
- Packaging: Pictures used on physical encasings of products such as boxes, covers and guides.
- Catalogue: Photography of items used to sell the products. This could be anything from fashion modelling, food for a menu or for e-commerce such as eBay.
Commercial Photography is a wide industry and unlike other types of photography, it isn’t seasonal. In fact, commercial photography is needed both locally and nationally all year round.
So, what skills and experience do you need to work in commercial photography?
Commercial photographers are hired to take photographs for commercial needs. Therefore, much like an average job position, you will need to put forward your existing experience.
It’s a good idea to contact local small businesses and offer them a reduced rate for your services. Not only will this provide you with imagery for a portfolio, but you will gain experience in working with clients whilst building relationships amongst the local community.
As you are taking photos for commercial reasons, you’ll be trying to capture what the client sees in their product or service. Never be afraid to ask questions – the more you know about the product or service, the better you can photograph it.
– Can focus on local or national businesses.
– Pays well.
– Can be easier to operate than other types of photography businesses.
– Competitive industry.
– Can be hard to get a foot in the industry.
– Could have to travel far for work.
Studio/ portrait photography
Studio and portrait photography is often labelled as personal photography. It’s a medium of photographing people (portraiture) and often ties into commercial photography.
Working in a studio means you will have a wide variety of clientele who are looking to have certain needs fulfilled.
These needs could be:
- Family portraiture: Clients looking for family photos and portraits
- Cataloguing: Usually commercial, cataloguing is photography based around products such as clothing or jewellery for a website.
- Digital/ print media: Photography used for media such as magazines, newspapers and online outlets. This could be a fashion photoshoot, news or anything related to promotion.
Studio and portrait photography usually links to another type of photography business. However, the main difference is you are based in a studio, rather than elsewhere.
What skills and experience do you need to become a portrait/ studio photographer?
Apart from capturing great angles, two of the most important skills in this area of photography are communication and patience. More often than not, your clients will be families and couples looking to have a photoshoot.
These are people who don’t necessarily have experience in photography and may have children. Hence why patience and communication is vital for this role.
Finally, you’ll need a portfolio of photographs to show potential clients the kind of stunning moments you can capture for them. A good way to build a portfolio is to ask your own family and friends if you could photograph them for your portfolio.
– Great local community focus.
– Only travel may be to photoshoots in the surrounding area.
– Can have a home studio.
– Renting a studio can be expensive.
– Can be competitive in larger areas.
Event photographers are employed to catch special moments regularly and with consistent quality.
It’s a sector of photography which covers weddings, concerts and exhibitions alike. This wide variety of work means that people often tend to specialise in key areas such as wedding photography and market themselves as such.
Depending on the type of events you will be attending, it can be highly seasonable. According to The Knot 2019 Real Weddings Study, 73% of American weddings are held between the months of May and October. Furthermore, the majority of concerts and music festivals are held in the summer months.
So, what experience and skills do you need?
At weddings and other similar events there are going to be lots of people enjoying themselves in the moment. Your job is to capture those moments, without interrupting the environment around you.
Doing this often requires a great amount of organisation, meaning communicating effectively with the organisers, such as the bride and groom, is essential.
Having experience with family or friends’ events is a great way to build a portfolio. These could be religious events such as baptisms, bar mitzvah or Eid.
This experience working in a formal environment with lots of people is a fantastic way to boost your confidence and practice your shots.
– Fantastic pay.
– Take on a wide variety of gigs.
– Experience different events and cultures.
– Have to travel a lot.
– Highly competitive.
So we’ve covered the different photography businesses there are. Do these descriptions match up to any existing ideas you had? If not, are you prepared to make sacrifices or compromises to still pursue your idea? You don’t have to make a decision right away. However, market research is where we can start evaluating your ideas against the market.
So you’ve got your ideas into what sectors you want to run in. Let’s start doing some market research.
But why do we need to do market research?
Market research allows you to understand what people are looking for, the prices people are prepared to pay, and the price your potential competitors are charging.
A good way to start your market research is to summarise your idea(s) in one sentence. So for example:
- “Photography for heavy metal festivals”
- “Photography studios for family portraits”
- “Wedding photographer for a large wedding”
Now that we’ve summarised our ideas into sentences, we can search these keywords. As an example, I’m going to research starting a wedding photography business.
A quick search of “wedding photographers near me” brings up half-a-dozen local photographers. Have a look at the prices for their services, see what factors affect the cost such as distance, time, videography etc.
You’ll notice that the majority of photographers have a large portfolio. This is something you will need to consider when making your business. When performing your market research, don’t be afraid to ask questions on photography forums. People here share their past experience and knowledge.
So here is what I have uncovered in my research:
The majority of wedding photographers offer 2-3 tiers. These tiers and their pricing differ to what is included. Here is a basic summary of what I’ve found:
- Tier 1 (£400-600): 5-hour sessions which cover the ceremony to some of the reception. Then provide both USB and online copies of edited wedding photos.
- Tier 2 (£700-900): 8-hour sessions which cover the ceremony up till the first dance. Then provide USB and online copies of edited wedding photos.
- Tier 3 (£1000+): From breakfast till after the first dance. May include videography depending on price. Provides both USB and online copies of edited wedding photos and footage.
Through my research, I have also found that these tiers aren’t the only service offered by the photographer. Add-ons, such as albums, frames and printed photos, are regularly offered on top of the price. However, I have found it not uncommon to have an album or set number of prints included in a tier.
So I now have a few ideas and I have researched them. What do I need to turn these ideas into a business?
What do I need to start a photography business?
In this section, you may find yourself tweaking, or even coming up with new and improved ideas.
Let’s look through what the business will need, so we can figure out how much money we will need to start and run the business.
As we’re starting a wedding photography business, there are some stand out pieces of equipment we need, as well as some less-than-obvious bits:
- Camera(s): The most obvious but most important piece of equipment. Some photographers have 2 or more handy. The majority of wedding photographers use mirrorless cameras to take the highest quality of shots.
- Lenses: Different shots require different lenses. That giant panorama shot with the whole guest list is going to require a different lens than the up-close shots of cutting the cake.
- Flashes/ Flashgun: Getting the right lighting is crucial for great shots. Flashguns, flash pods and other devices ensure you can get the best lighting, even on the dance floor.
- Spare batteries/ memory cards: If you’re taking thousands of photos all day, then your memory is going to fill up quickly and your batteries are going to die. It’s good practice to always carry more than you think you’ll need.
- Tripod: Any kind of mount such as a tripod or a monopod is a great tool for capturing specific moments. It’s an item which can be used for one specific moment, then left to the side for later.
- Car: You may be thinking, “Is this a piece of equipment?” Technically, yes it is. A car is your way of travelling to and from venues, places of worship, and home.
For a wedding photography business, there are 5 insurance policies which are most commonly taken to protect the photographers, their equipment and their business:
- Photography equipment insurance: This is a policy used to pay to fix and replace cameras, lighting or other equipment which gets damaged or stolen at a job.
- Equipment breakdown insurance: This policy covers electrical or mechanical malfunctions, often including services such as data recovery.
- Public liability insurance: Photography business or coffee shop, most businesses have this type of insurance. This covers property damage and injury caused either by yourself or your business.
- Professional indemnity insurance: This policy protects you against claims of negligence, slander, dishonesty and breach of confidentiality.
- Business car insurance: This policy covers your car if you use it for work, in this case, travelling for work.
Marketing and Sales
Marketing and sales channels are ways of attracting leads and turning them into customers.
However, when starting your business, it can be extremely difficult to attract your first customers. This is where your market research will be extremely helpful.
The overwhelming majority of photography businesses’ main sales channel is their website.
A well constructed website will help you target your ideal customers, answer their needs, and offer your services at prices they’re prepared to pay.
So, through my research of wedding photographer competitors, their website consists of a few key elements:
- Portfolio: A photographer’s portfolio is their main selling point. Potential clients can view their portfolio to gauge the photographer’s skills, specialities and experience.
- Pricing: Pricing for different work and available services the photographer offers.
- Availability: A surprising amount of photography businesses have built-in calendars into their website so you can check their availability for events and meetings.
When you start your website, it’s unlikely you’ll have many visitors. So how can you increase your site traffic?
A great place to start is registering your business website to your business address. This will allow you to appear on local search results.
Secondly, fine tuning and designing your website is important not only for improving customer experience but also for your Google ranking. There’s a surprising amount of technical depth and customer research that goes into a successful website.
As my website will be my main sales channel for my wedding photography business, I want to push all my potential customers to it.
Unless you are relying entirely on word of mouth or personal connections digital marketing is of some kind is going to be a necessity to drive traffic to your site. Methods such as paid social media advertising, adverts in local media outlets and Google ads can provide huge boosts.
Paid social media can be really beneficial as most platforms allow for location-based targeting. This means you can target people in your local area. Just bear in mind that this will increase the cost of acquiring customers.
Non-paid methods of advertising can be used as well. Methods such as posting to local community groups on Facebook can help with branding yourself as a local business. These don’t usually cost in terms of money, but do cost time.
When you start out it’s good to experiment with different methods. Testing now rather than later means that you can find out what works for you early on rather than wasting money in the future.
Pricing and payment terms
Your pricing and payment terms are extremely important for your photography business. It requires an enormous amount of consideration and it is vital you research how other photographers structure their pricing and process their payments.
The price you sell at will will obviously play a big part in your position in the market compared to your competition. Payment terms by contrast are the agreement between you and your clients about when they pay you for your services. This could also have an impact on which clients choose to go for your service instead of a competitors’ – some will find a high up-front deposit intimidating – so you’ll need to balance this with the needs of your business, the likelihood of cancellation, and so on.
It all comes down to research.
- Through the ideation, have you researched the industry you want to go into?
- Through market research, have you researched your competitor’s pricing and payment terms in that industry?
- Can you afford to have similar payment terms to sustain your business in both the short and long term?
- Can you afford to be a premium or budget option amongst your competitors?
Let’s carry on with my wedding photography business example.
Through my market research, I have found that the payment process usually begins with a deposit or booking fee for the photographer. This payment reserves the photographer for the date of the wedding.
The second payment is the rest of the balance owed to the photographer. The remaining balance is paid between 1 to 4 weeks before the wedding takes place.
Depending on the contract, other extras may be available before or after the wedding. The extras can include framed photos, photo books or other personalised memorabilia of the special day. It is important to lay out the options to the client before they pay the initial deposit.
As part of my research, I found that wedding photography can be purchased in “tiers”. These tiers include the number of hours the photographer is at the wedding, the distance travelled, and any additional add-ons.
I have opted to go for a similar method in my pricing and payment terms.
The price for my services changes based on tier selected. I have chosen to offer my services this way based on my market research. Because I don’t have much experience in the wedding photography sector, I will be marketing myself as a budget photographer. Let’s go through what each tier includes:
- Tier 1 (£400): 5 hours of photography, covering the ceremony through to the speeches. This includes editing the photos and uploading them onto my website for the couple to download and share.
- Tier 2 (£600): 8 hours of photography, covering the ceremony through to the first dance. This includes editing the photos and uploading them onto my website for the couple to download and share. This includes a framed photo of the first dance.
- Tier 3 (£800): 8+ hours of photography, covering breakfast until the first dance. This includes editing the photos and uploading them onto my website for the couple to download and share. This includes a photo album of the top 30 shots.
As I am just starting up, and I don’t have a lot of cash in the bank to sustain myself. To help provide some income throughout the year, I am going to be charging 20% of the total price as a deposit on the wedding, payable immediately on booking my services. This will help me pay for my expenses whilst I don’t have much work in the early months of the year due to the seasonality of typical wedding bookings.
Although a lot of other photographers charge between 10-15% deposit, my 20% will often work out to be cheaper as I am the budget option in comparison to other photographers.
Furthermore, my payment terms will be for the full amount to be paid between 1 month and 1 week before the wedding. To make sure everything is paid on time and in full, I will ask the clients to sign a terms of agreement contract which outlines my services and payment terms.
Funding and forecasting your photography business
Understanding your finances is crucial to the success of any business.
Before I go any further, you should know that this section is all about testing the viability of your ideas. So, don’t be put off if an idea doesn’t turn out to be as profitable as you initially thought… better to discover this now than a few years down the line.
When you’re developing your business and building your career one of the biggest considerations is always going to be money. How you fund your business is worth some planning. Understanding your funding requirements is what separates your ideas into what’s feasible and what isn’t.
There are multiple ways to fund your business. It can be funded by yourself, loans, grants, an investor, or a mixture of these.
We’re going to keep using my wedding photography business throughout this section.
The key to funding and forecasting is to be as realistic with yourself as possible.
So, being realistic, it isn’t feasible to charge the same price as an experienced photographer if I am just starting my own business. Therefore, I need to understand what my service is worth.
Furthermore, as I’m starting a photography business from scratch, I don’t have any historical data to base a forecast on. This is where your market research comes in handy. The majority of photographers have a booking calendar on their website. Combined with their pricing, you can get a good understanding of the frequency of their bookings.
Use the right tool for the job to make forecasting easy
Finance isn’t everyone’s forte. In fact, some people choose to completely ignore their finances until it’s too late. The reason for this is that numbers can be hard to understand. However, there are solutions out there to help you visualise your numbers.
Brixx is a great tool for modelling your new photography business. Throughout this section, I’m going to be using Brixx to visualise my numbers and use its tools to provide me with real-time report generation and scenario testing.
I’m going to be forecasting my wedding photography business. As I mentioned earlier on, wedding photography is highly seasonal. If you’re looking to start your own wedding photography business, I recommend reading 8 actions to fix off-season cash flow woes in a seasonal business.
The income of your photography business
Let’s start visualising my income.
These are my income components. My Wedding Packages group represents the different tiers of packages I offer, whilst the Add-ons group shows extra services people can purchase from me.
As well as these tiers, I will offer extras add-ons available including prints, albums and frames. However, I will get these produced externally to save my having to purchase more equipment.
Here is one of my Tier Income components. For my photography business, to book a specific day, you have to put down a 20% deposit 3 months before the wedding. Then 1 week before the wedding, you have to pay the full balance. This is done quite easily in Brixx using the Cash Delay system.
However, another method photographers adopt is to accept a booking a year in advance, with the full payment to be fulfilled between 1 and 3 months before the wedding.
As I don’t want to be taking large photography gigs until I feel more experienced, I have decided not to start accepting Tier 3 weddings until August. I managed the start dates of my components using the timeline feature.
Forecasting your photography business’ costs
When it comes to costs, there are two types: Startup and running costs.
Your startup costs are purchases and costs you pay to get the business running. These costs could be asset purchases, insurance bills or registering fees.
So my startup fees consist of:
- Domain purchase and email/website hosting
- Insurance policies
- Asset purchases (we’ll cover these in the assets section)
Your running costs are costs you pay on a regular basis to keep your business running and your quality of service high.
My running costs are:
- Insurance fees
- Travel expenses
- Hosting fees
- Software subscriptions to edit photos
- £2000 salary for the first year
One thing to bear in mind is that most startups are not profitable in their first year of business. You’ll be able to pay yourself a higher salary once you have more experience and a better portfolio/track record.
What assets does your photography business have?
Your assets and equipment are what makes your business run. Without a camera, how can you run a photography business?
Let’s have a look at my assets:
As you can see, I already own a camera and a computer. So, I need to purchase other equipment to provide a higher quality service more consistently.
Here is inside my Lenses asset component. This represents the purchase of 2 lenses I will need to get wide-angle and macro photos.
Now that I have my estimated startup costs and initial asset purchase costs, I now have a good idea of how much money I need to start my business.
Funding your photography business
Now that I have all my initial costs laid out. I know how much money I’m going to raise to invest into my business.
As I know my sales won’t be high in the first year, I’ve made the decision to invest over half of the estimated startup cost out of my own pocket (£1,500) whilst also taking a bank loan of £1,000 to cover the rest of the costs.
Here is my Brixx dashboard. It helps me visualise my estimated sales, costs and seasonality. If I was to forecast another year, you would be able to see a similar trend with my income being greater towards the center of the year.
As you’re dealing with your businesses’ financials, sooner rather than later you will have to deal with the three key financial reports. The key financial reports (your cash flow, profit & loss and balance sheet) are reports used to indicate the financial health of a company.
However, with Brixx, you don’t need to be an accountant to understand your finances. The app handles the accounting work for you meaning you can spend more time focussing on your business.
A free trial means that you can see for yourself how easy and useful financial forecasting software should be.
Growing and scaling up your photography business
You’ve started your photography business, congratulations! Don’t celebrate just yet, there’s more to be done! You need to still grow your business. So, here are some great tips to help you scale your business:
- Be ambitious – If you’re starting your own photography business, then you must already be ambitious! However, to grow your business, you need to take educated risks, take on big projects, and step outside your comfort zone.
- Be mindful – Pushing your business to grow is one thing, pushing yourself too hard is another. Owning a business can be difficult, and takes up a lot of time and energy. Be sure to be mindful of your own mental, physical and emotional health.
- Be smart – To succeed, you need to plan. Knowing what costs are going to hit and when is a great example of being clever about your business. Being smart means being prepared for the unexpected, and for positive problems that come with growth.
Starting a business can be hard, and you are bound to encounter challenges on the road ahead. However, with perseverance, planning and passion, you can overcome these obstacles and start your own successful photography business.
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