If you have a creative spirit, an eye for detail, good people skills, and the urge to start a business, consider becoming a professional photographer.
With a low barrier to entry—no degree is required and startup costs are minimal—a photography business is a popular choice for people-oriented entrepreneurs who know their way around a camera.
Here's what seasoned photographers say about how to start a photography business.
Create a photography business plan
Start by researching and writing a business plan, which is a written document that defines your business concept and maps out how you'll create a profitable operation. Because the process of writing a business plan involves researching your target audience and competition, it helps you identify local service gaps or opportunities you can leverage to earn an income from behind your camera.
The typical photography business plan includes:
- Executive summary
- Company description
- Products and services
- Target audience
- Market analysis
- Competitive analysis
- Operations and management
- Sales and marketing strategy
- Financial plan
The planning process will also help you determine if you'll need to budget for and find studio space or if you can bypass that expense by shooting outside instead.
Establish business basics
Be professional from the get-go by establishing a business banking account, setting up bookkeeping, naming your company, and consulting with an attorney or accountant about legal formation options. They include:
“I always recommend starting with an LLC, especially if you are giving it a go as a one-person business. The one-member LLC is the easiest, cheapest, and least confusing way of formalizing your new business," Pete LaGregor, a professional photographer and practicing attorney, says.
Find a specialty
New business owners often start out serving anyone willing to pay, but veterans know that having a niche is the way to go. Specialties range from weddings and senior portraits to newborns.
“I've found that clients are more inclined to hire a specialist than a generalist. I would 100% recommend specializing in the area of photography you're most passionate about," headshot photographer Jay Soriano says.
Buy camera gear
Your specialty will influence equipment options, including lenses, flash units, tripods, and a backup camera body.
“Most photographers will tell you that you don't need to start out with expensive gear. Clients don't want to buy your camera—they're buying your skills as a photographer. I started with an entry-level DSLR and upgraded as I became profitable," Soriano says.
If you need to finance equipment, “Consider a business credit card that offers a 0% APR interest for up to the first 18 months," Rebecca Michael, director of content for the “Starting a Business" section of Fit Small Business, says.
Build a portfolio
With a specialty and the equipment needed for it in place, begin building a portfolio that will showcase your style and ability. “In the world of professional photography, nobody is interested in your education or resume. All prospective clients want to see is your portfolio so they can judge your skill level," real estate photographer Matthew Digati says.
Maternity and newborn photographer Chylea Denney recommends starting with family and friends who can help you “learn your camera from the inside out," LaGregor paid for ads offering a free family photo shoot and one 5x7 print as part of a marketing shoot.
Make an online strategy
Photography marketing is image-based, so plan on spending time sharing images and other content on Instagram and a Facebook business page. You'll also need a branded website that houses your portfolio. Photographer Scott Sleek recommends using Zenfolio's website design, portfolio, and sales tools. “Sites like Zenfolio will enable you to build a photo site and sell your work there. They do all the fulfillment for you," he says.
LaGregor attracts traffic to his website by writing search-engine-optimized articles specific to popular local photo locations. He also builds his email list by offering a free family portrait guide visitors can download after providing their email addresses.
Shoot for a trial
Not sure you can make a go of it? Consider starting your photography business as a side hustle or getting on-the-job training before going solo. “Like any other field, experience is immense in paving your way to success. Work around with studios and advertising companies who are on the lookout for a determined and creative photographer," photographer Kate Gross advises.