If you have some creative photography chops, you might want to open your own business. You’re not alone in wanting to turn your creative outlet into a money-making venture. Photography is a popular profession and hobby right now—and that’s the problem. As camera gear has become more affordable and consumer-friendly, and almost every smartphone now features a great camera, everyone’s a photographer.
But, that doesn’t mean you should toss your dreams of owning a photography business aside. It just means you may have to work a little harder to set yourself apart from the flock of amateur shooters.
Do you have your camera with you wherever you go? Are you constantly snapping pictures to add to your Instagram feed? Are you the go-to photographer at family functions? If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.
While you may be good at photography, before you jump in and start charging for picture taking services, research and plan your business strategy for greater success.
Starting a photography business on the side
So you already have a day job. You work as a barista in a coffee shop from 9-5 pm. But it’s not your passion. You’re sick and tired of frothing milk all day long to the sounds of the same music playlist playing over and over again. You’d rather be getting paid to produce photos that you are passionate about.
Well, be careful. If you just quit your day job and declare to the world that now you are a full-time professional photographer, you may quickly end up on the street without a cent to your name.
A better way to go is to transition out from one profession to another. Think of it this way. Start to take professional photography jobs on the days off from your 9-5 job. As you find that you are becoming booked consistently, then you can cut back your 9-5 job from 5 days to 4 days a week and start offering another day for booking photography work, and so on.
What you will then find is that you will embark on a very rocky road. This is because the clients who sent you work initially and thus encouraged you to pull back the hours from your day job are no longer giving you work, and now you’re sure thankful that at least you kept up your barista job 4 days a week.
How to start a photography business legally?
Even though you are only working a few days a week, you still want to make sure that the foundations for your future growth are in place. You also need to make sure that you are meeting your taxation obligations.
First of all, you’ll need to register a business name in your country. You’ll need to check the national business name registry in your country for the availability of the name you have in mind. Make sure when you do this, you check that the matching domain name is also available.
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Assess your photography business startup costs
As part of your business planning process, you’ll need to assess your startup costs. What are the essentials that you’ll need before you can really launch your business?
What about a studio?
Do you plan to start with a dedicated studio space or work out of your home? If you need office space, you’ll need to investigate commercial rental properties and figure that monthly cost, along with the cost of utilities, into your financial plan.
Secure startup funds
If you have enough money in your bank account to start your business, you may not need to borrow money, but many entrepreneurs need assistance. Many people who are starting a business for the first time end up asking family or friends for help or keeping their day job until their business is self-sustaining.
Whether you ask friends and family for financial assistance or apply for a bank loan, you’ll need a business plan in place that lays out how you’ll spend the funds and when or how you’ll pay your lenders back.
Figure out your personal finances
If you’re just starting out, realise that your business probably isn’t going to be profitable overnight. You might have to work another job to make ends meet until your business is generating enough money.
Your branding and reputation
Our expert sources offered the following advice for building your personal brand and reputation as a professional photographer.
Your person and gear
If you work with people, you are your brand. Even the little things affect your reputation, and most of your business will come from word-of-mouth referrals when you go to a shoot, dress appropriately—iron your shirt. Wash your car. Be organised. Bring your own water and snacks. Charge your electronics. Thank you, and referral gifts should be classy. Being ready shows respect and professionalism.
Always arrive at the shoot early, and don’t fail to deliver your product when promised. Print out directions, so you don’t get lost. Ensure that your clients understand your production schedule and how long it will be for them to receive their proofs and final product, and stick to your agreements. Answer phone calls and emails in a timely manner.
Anonymity is nearly impossible these days. Many potential clients will be searching for you and your work online. The images you post online should not only be high-quality but also the kind of images you want to be taking to attract the kind of work you want to be doing. Avoid contentious social media posts, and keep your language positive. Keep your LinkedIn profile and contact information on all sites up-to-date.
Customer expectations and contracts
Managing your clients’ expectations is important to your success. Your clients should know exactly what to expect of you and also what is expected of them. For weddings, timelines and group pictures should be organised in advance. For infant photos, your customers should know what clothes and accessories to bring. If you are taking corporate headshot images, people should know how to dress.
For contracts, your clients should know how much is due in advance and how to pay it. You should set terms on how far in advance you need them to commit so you can schedule. Contracts should be explained carefully, and if applicable, your customers should know how they are allowed to use the images — and that should be in writing as well.
While not everyone is comfortable with legalese, your professionalism will help make this necessary part of your business agreement go as smoothly as possible. You can find free contracts online, such as model release, photo licensing, wedding agreements and other common photography contracts.
Finding your niche market allows you to focus on a specific skill set and offers the opportunity to find networking prospects in a specific genre. Wedding and infant photographers are abundant. You can still book these types of gigs, but you may find more work if you can offer something that others do not.
The product you offer may cover a specific genre, such as sports, or even a style or mood, such as humorous photos. Or perhaps you are also a writer and can create beautiful picture books with family stories. Maybe you work in the medical industry and have the knowledge to create quality educational, medical photography. Wild Romantic Photography has the best range of services of wedding photography Yarra Valley. Check them out here.
How to start a photography business with no experience?
When you have no experience, you will need to start somewhere. The first thing potential clients will ask to see is your online portfolio. The best way to show a portfolio is with a website. But how can you get gigs to show on your website?
There is a debate in the creative professional world about this topic. One party says you should give away your time for free when starting out then charge for your services later. Another party says you should never give away your time for free as it devalues your time and those clients that you did free work for our clients that you can never charge a fee to because they know you will work for free.
However, if you have nothing to show new clients, then you will never attract new clients. It’s such a simple path to think along, and it goes like this…
- Do your own work in your own time and publish it on your photography portfolio. Pursue the style of work that you would eventually like to get paid for.
- Do family events, friends parties etc. And you must tell these friends and family that you are practising your professional skills and the photos you take will be free of charge for them, but in return, you ask to use them on your website photography portfolio.
- Gradually you will have a portfolio of work on your website from all these free jobs that you did for friends, family and in your own time. You can now place a price tag on these jobs for anyone looking to have something similar done professionally.
- As you get more and more work on your photography portfolio, you must replace the old work with the newest work and only have about 10 or 12 items from each genre or category you offer. So over time, your old work is getting bumped by your new and improved work. Your pricing table is increased gradually to reflect your improved offerings each year. Here’s an example of a pricing table. It’s easy to keep all your prices in one central table. Adjust this table and your corresponding accounting software each year.
- Once you’ve reached the point where you have a full portfolio of work that people are consistently hiring you for, you can then step away from offering free work because, yes, at this point, doing that will indeed devalue your service and your work. And you can basically forget about those free clients ever hiring you because, yes, they will always think of you as that guy that does work for free.
- Note: Occasionally, you may need to offer the process outlined in step 2 in order to fill out your photography portfolio with a new genre of work.
Now be prepared for the long road. It will take years to gradually fill out your photography portfolio with work that people admire and will consider paying you for. Nothing easy ever comes overnight, but if you keep working at it and keep the passion you started with, you will eventually have a photography portfolio to rival the best.
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Where to find work
A note about wedding photography
At weddings, you get only one chance to do it right. If you have issues with your camera or memory card and don’t have the proper backup gear, you may miss the whole thing and damage your reputation quickly. If you are not prepared for lighting challenges or the chaos of working with emotional, opinionated family members, you will not produce your best work.
Although weddings are usually profitable gigs, many experienced wedding photographers recommend that you start as a second shooter with an established wedding photographer before going solo. Many part-time or freelance photographers are trying to get in the wedding game, but there are other ways to make money while you work on your skills and purchasing the proper gear.
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It’s also important to note that the wedding market is seasonal, and business will likely fluctuate in the fall and winter. If you’re getting into this market, be sure to plan ahead and save for the off-season.
Other photography markets
Not interested in competing in the oversaturated wedding or baby market? Here are some other avenues you can explore:
Stock photography: You can start your own stock-photo website or sign up as a contributor to popular sites such as Shutterstock or iStock. Pay may be low, but licensing is managed for you, and you can sell in volume.
Contract work: Some photographers have obtained contracts that pay a set monthly amount to cover local events or to be on call. For example, perhaps your local tourism or business development department may pay you monthly to cover local events.
Commercial photography: All businesses need web images these days. You may be able to find work capturing images of their products or services, facilities, and even headshots of their board members and management team.
Real estate: Oftentimes, real estate agents will contract with photographers to capture professional images of homes, business properties and land. They may also want you to capture 360-degree or interactive video footage.
Pets: People certainly love their pets, and some pet owners want professional images of their furry companions, either as portrait-style images or on location with natural movement and action.
Boudoir or glamour: Many people like sensual pics of themselves or images taken of them with their hair and makeup professionally done. These can be done in a studio with other professional artists if you cannot do hair and makeup yourself.
Sports: A wide variety of sports organisations want professional images and video. You may even be able to obtain contract work to cover a full season or a specific event, such as a local marathon, rodeo or bike race. Keep in mind that lenses for capturing sports moments can be costly.
Local news: Local print, TV and online news sources may pay you for images of local events, weather disasters or crime scenes. It would require you to go out and cover events upfront on your dime, but it could pay off later.
Image or video editing: A busy local photographer may need assistance with his or her workload. The pay may not be ideal, but it is a good opportunity to work on your editing skills.
Product images: Many local artisans and retail businesses sell products online and need good product images for their own websites or shopping sites, such as Etsy or Amazon. The pay per image would below, but the work is relatively easy.
Food images: Like every other business, restaurants need to have an online presence. You may find ample work in helping restaurants create online menus and promotional images.
Music: Working bands need promotional images for their websites, CDs and media packages. Some also desire video of their live performances.
Paparazzi: To some people, “paparazzi” may seem like a dirty word, but someone has to snap pics of the Kardashians in their less-than-flattering casual moments. If you live in a city such as Los Angeles, New York or Las Vegas, you may be able to make money from selling your celebrity photographs.
Prints: Some photographers have found success in selling their prints. It’s a tough way to make money but worth exploring if it fits your genre. Prints can be sold online and in galleries.
Contests: If entering a photo contest is easy and doesn’t cost you anything, it may be worth trying to garner a little extra income.
There is a lot to know about becoming an exceptional photographer and making money doing it. With skill, careful marketing and a professional reputation, you have a good chance of creating a lucrative photography career.
We live in a fast-paced, instant-gratification world. The barriers to entry into the photographic industry are pretty low. You might think that setting up a photography business is as simple as grabbing a camera, setting up a Facebook page and telling people you are in business.
Starting a photography business CAN be done on a shoestring budget…
But it would be a mistake to think that you can create a meaningful income without actually investing any time, effort and money into the business upfront.
My whole purpose for teaching the business of photography is to show you how to create more of what you want in your life – more freedom, more flexibility, more creativity, more happiness.
So this post is all about getting started with the basics. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.