Got an eye for composition? Going pro is the first step to increased exposure. Here’s how to make it happen fast and cheap.
Business at a glance
Hourly rate range $100-250
Annual salary $43,000-65,000
Average salary reported is about $57,000.
Depending on your niche, region, and how long you've been in business, you can make well over $65,000 as a photographer.
Note: the above range assumes you already have a good digital camera (DSLR, ideally).
None required. Many successful photographers are self-taught, though educational institutions at nearly every level almost anywhere in the country offer photography courses, programs, and degrees.
If you’re used to hitting the shutter button for fun, the idea of starting a photography business might feel kind of overwhelming. But fear not, you can start a photography business today and start working right away with very little time or monetary investment (which is especially great if you’re just wondering how to start a photography business on the side). Follow this guide to learn how to start a photography business, step-by-step.
What do you want to shoot?
First up on your starting a photography business checklist is deciding what photographic services you’re going to offer. There are all kinds of niches that you can work in depending on your creative interests, your access to subjects and clients, and the equipment you already have on hand.
What to charge
Do some research, here. Look at competitors in your region and match their rate.
Attention to detail
Organization and time management
You’ll also need to make some decisions about what your deliverables will be. Do you want to offer full service photography, coordinating everything from shoots to printing to shipping? Many photographers these days opt instead to take the photos, do a light edit in Photoshop or other (free) image editing software, then deliver the files digitally, allowing the client to deal with them however they prefer. This is ideal if you’re mostly interested in shooting and not so much in everything that follows; it also means you can start working much faster, since you don’t need to set up suppliers or other third-party services.
Note that you are unlikely to require a special permit or license to be a photographer, except when conducting photoshoots in public, outdoor areas. Double-check with your local government to be sure.
How much does it cost to start a photography business?
Startup costs for a photography business can vary wildly, but if you want to get going on a shoestring and you already have a camera and a decent computer (which we’re assuming you do), you won’t need to spend much on equipment. Don’t worry about renting studio space right away and don’t start buying professional quality equipment before you’ve booked your first job. Digital cameras are so good these days even entry-level equipment can generate great images with a little practice.
Bootstrap photography equipment
To cover most jobs
Camera bag: $100
Memory cards: $100
Business cards: $50
Photo editing software: many are free!
Additional items for weddings
External backup hard drive: $100
Even more memory cards: $100
Since it’s someone’s big special day, weddings demand a little extra backup equipment to ensure that snaps of the first dance and cake cutting don’t get lost in the mix. You might also want to have a second camera and lens with you (one wide angle, one portrait or telephoto) so you don’t have to switch lenses constantly. But don’t go out and spend thousands on one! Book the wedding first, then rent a camera and lens for a tiny fraction of the cost.
And if you’re planning on shooting fine art, street photography, or travel photos, you might be able to get away without any of these extras. Heck, you might even be able to get some shoots done with your smartphone.
And how much should you charge?
Hourly rates for photography range from $100 to $250 in the United States, which is a pretty huge range! This is because rates tend to be much higher in big cities and for certain services such as weddings. The best way to determine what you should charge is to look at comparable competition in your area and price accordingly.
You should also factor in the amount of time you will spend editing and transferring images once the shoot is over. Every hour that you spend with a client is likely going to require another hour at home on your computer.
Some photographers choose to price their services based on flat rates. These rates also tend to be highly variable depending on the market and niche, but for example, you might charge $1,500 for an 8-hour wedding, $150 for five portrait poses, or $250 for birthday party candids.
You might also choose to print your photos and sell them, but for that pricing you’ll need to know what it costs to print an image, then apply a markup, which is commonly around 4x. So if your cost is $5 per print, you can consider a starting price of $20 until you get a feel for what people are willing to pay.
Now build your photography website
The best way to show off your business to potential clients is to display your photos. And one of the best places to do it is on your website. A beautiful, professional website is a home base for your business, the place where you can send anyone and everyone who is interested in your photography so they can find your portfolio, get your contact information, and schedule you for a shoot.
If you don’t have any web development skills, don’t worry, you don’t need them. Durable’s AI website builder can take a tiny amount of information about your business and transform it into a complete site in less than a minute. The artificial intelligence tool will write text, choose fonts, select colors, and assemble it all for you, ready to add your own photos. Want to see a sample? Check out the photography website template.
Start promoting your photography business
When you’re first starting out as a photographer, the key to promotion is VOLUME. Okay, not the loud kind of volume, think quantity. Spread the word about your business (and photo samples) to anyone who will listen, hopefully generating both early jobs and positive word of mouth.
Share your website with anyone and everyone in your personal and professional networks.
Sign up for social media accounts. Instagram is the most important of course (photos, duh), but also get on Facebook and LinkedIn. Be sure to post your work often and respond to comments promptly.
Even though you probably take photos for free all the time, that’s not what we’re talking about here. You need to get paid, and you need to make sure you’re set up to receive money before you take your first job. Fortunately, Durable makes it easy.
Durable’s invoice tool can quickly generate custom invoices that are both professional-looking and easy to understand, so your happy clients can pay quickly and conveniently. Then add Durable Money to your system and you’re all set—it’s an online business bank account that integrates with your invoices and website, keeping your professional finances separate and organized.
Once you’ve done some shoots and can see that your business has potential, it’s time to widen your reach to capture even more business. Here’s what to do next.
Brand your photography business
Working under your own name is common in photography but it can be helpful to develop a business name and brand identity to increase recognition amongst your potential clients. If you need some quick help coming up with name ideas, the AI business name generator rules at it so give it a try. You can also consider choosing official brand colors, fonts, and even try developing a simple logo that you can use on business cards, your website, advertising materials, and more.
Power up your marketing strategy
With your major promotional elements in place (website, social accounts, etc.) you can now take some time to think about your marketing strategy in more depth.
Competitive analysis: what are other photographers offering? How are they pricing their services? What kinds of promotions are they doing? Use what you learn to augment your own strategy.
Understand your clients: look for commonalities between your best clients and the types of shoots you feel most comfortable with. Are weddings too long for you? Are portraits too boring? Do wealthy customers expect too much? Ask yourself questions about your business to help identify your ideal customer and target market.
Send email: when you’ve collected enough email addresses through your website, previous clients, and your personal network, email them on a regular schedule that isn’t too often (start with once a month and see how that goes). Email is much more effective than social media and it allows you the flexibility to talk to your clients about anything relevant to your business—special deals, schedule reminders, upcoming events, etc.
Set up a CRM: client relationship management software is basically an endless digital address book that tracks data about your clients. A CRM makes it much easier to manage your contacts and market to them effectively.
Invest in better photography equipment
It’s hard to say this enough, but you do not have to spend thousands of dollars on fancy cameras and studio lighting to be a photographer.
That said, if there is some kind of photo that you want to take that can’t be done with the equipment you have, now is a reasonable time to think about upgrading.
Upgrade photography equipment
Camera body: $2,000-$3,000
Lenses of various focal lengths: $200-$2,000
Studio lighting: $1,000+
Editing workstation (e.g. Apple iMac): $1,300
Remember that you should only add items that are going to earn you more money. And don’t forget that renting is still a great option even for up-and-comers like you.
Protect your neck
As a photographer, you’re likely to encounter some kind of liability at some point, so it’s a good idea to carry professional insurance that protects you from things like personal injury, damage to property, etc. If you need more information, check out our guide to business insurance.
You should also think about specifically insuring your camera equipment, especially if you went ahead and dropped $10k on lenses when we told you not to.
You may be able to add coverage to an existing policy and there are definitely insurance packages made for photographers that include coverage for things like lost images, hard drive failures, and more. Talk to your local broker.
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So you’ve settled into a nice little business that provides a creative outlet and reliable income. Want to ensure it lasts? Here are some things you can do to help frame your future.
Write a photography business plan
Business plans are amazing for setting long-term goals and outlining how you’re going to achieve them. It doesn’t need to be a comprehensive dissertation on photography entrepreneurship, just a simple, easy-to-follow document that gives you a reference point to keep your business on track when times get tough. If you need help writing one, the U.S. Small Business Administration offers a handy template.
Register your business entity
It’s standard for photographers to start out as sole proprietors, which is a business type that doesn’t require much (if any) paperwork in most states. But formal business structures like LLCs do offer advantages, such as protection from liability, investment options, and tax benefits, so it’s worth considering registering your photography business. Be sure to work with a CPA or business attorney to choose the right business structure for your goals.
Scale your photography business
At some point in your photography career, you’ll max out the number of shoots you can do. You just won’t have any more time, so your revenue will be capped. That’s when it’s time to think about scaling up. Here are some things you can do:
Add photographers: with more shooters in more places, you can help more clients and make more money, all under the same brand.
Add editors: Love shooting but hate editing? Hire a part-time, full-time, or contract photo editor to do the computer work for you, freeing you up to do what you love best—taking photos.
Secure financing: lusting after that new Nikon or desperate to have your own studio space? Small business financing from a financial institution can help you achieve your goals faster.
Accept investment: for major expansion, such as franchising, investors can rapidly increase your access to capital.
As your photography grows and expands, don’t forget what got you to this point: your talent at making images. So don’t get too bogged down by the business side of things and keep snapping that shutter.
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