Starting a photography business with no experience can seem intimidating.
But you can do it—everyone has to start somewhere, after all.
Back in 2013, I started shooting wedding photos. I was working at a hotel in Guatemala, on Lake Atitlán, and I wanted to have more flexibility in my work. And make more money.
Fast forward to today, and I now make a steady six figures a year as a wedding photographer. And I still live in Guatemala.
I work primarily in the wedding season, from November to May, and then my wife and I travel with our daughter the rest of the year. (She’s from the U.S. and I’m from Spain, so we spend about two months in each place, every year.)
The reason I’m telling you this?
Because I didn’t have any experience when I got started. And I was able to build a solid business that let me live the life I wanted.
And you can too. Keep reading for my tips on how to start a photography business with no experience.
But First—Should You Build Your Photography Skills or Your Business?
In thinking about starting a photography business, there are two main areas you need to consider: photography skills and business development.
In an ideal world, you’d build up your photography skills to a level of proficiency and then start selling your services.
But not everyone can afford to wait. For many people, they need to start bringing in money from their skills as they build them.
Have you heard the term minimal viable product?
It’s used in the business world all the time. It means an early version of a product made to start bringing in revenue right away.
Businesses create a minimal viable product so they can start making money and so they can test their ideas.
Software companies do this all the time, launching the most-functional—but still very buggy—version of software to get things up and running, so they can bring in some money.
When we’re talking about how to start a photography business with no experience, the idea of a minimum viable product is a really useful concept. Because it helps you answer the question about whether you should hone your skills or focus on your business.
The truth is, you need to do both. And a great way to do this is to launch your minimum viable product. That is, start selling some kind of photography service as quickly as you can.
Here are some tips on how to do this:
- Be on the lookout for opportunities. As you start building your photography skills, look for ways to get hired doing things you can actually do. Ask local hotels, restaurants, or others who own businesses if they need photos showcasing their place of business, what they sell, or themselves.
- Be honest with yourself. This will be a balance—don’t take on work you can’t do yet, of course. But the sooner you find clients and bring in some amount of money, the sooner you’ll learn what it means to be a photographer who gets paid for their work, and be motivated to grow your skill set.
- Develop skills related to making money. Duh, right? But not for everyone. The point is, focus first on getting good at things you can charge clients for, then backfill skills that are important but not as closely tied to bringing you an income.
- Be willing to take the “just right challenge”. If you get an offer to do a job that you are not sure you can do, but you think you are close to being able to do it, take the risk. You can research on Google or Youtube, ask friends that have done similar jobs (if you don’t have them you can join photography groups on facebook) jot down ideas, and prepare yourself mentally for the job. There’ll always be the first wedding you’ll photograph or the first real estate gig, and if you have been practicing and are skilled enough it is worth taking the risk.
The experience you get from putting yourself out there will help you gain confidence, build your portfolio, and motivate you to keep going by bringing in some amount of actual money.
How to Start a Photography Business with No Experience: Building Your Photography Skills
Here are some tips for building your photography skills up, so you can start a photography business—even if with no experience.
1. Build Your Foundational Chops
This is all about getting those baseline skills in place. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Learn the basics. Focus on becoming proficient in your craft: understand your camera, composition, lighting, and post-processing.
- Practice regularly. Bring your camera with you wherever you go. But also set aside time to do intentional practice, where you focus on just one or two things you want to get better at—framing, lighting, or posing, if you’re working with people.
- Experiment with styles. Don’t get stuck doing just one thing. The more versatility you develop, the more fun you’ll have, and the more value you’ll be able to offer future clients—which will translate to higher rates down the road. What you learn from one area of photography you can usually apply to a different one.
- Use free resources. There are so many tutorials on YouTube, community forums, and other free resources. Take advantage of them—but don’t get paralyzed by them. Make sure you are actually using your camera, and not just learning without applying what you learn.*
- Take lots and lots of photos! The key to learning is to do. So don’t be shy, get out there and start taking photos of everything. This way you’ll progressively develop your voice and style.
*Pro Tip: You may want to avoid seeking out tutorials until you have a specific problem to solve—I’ve found the sheer volume of resources can be so overwhelming that you end up going down a rabbit hole, so just wait until you have a question you need answered, and go find the answer.
2. Gain Practical Experience
How do you start a photography business with no experience? Well, you try to gain experience—as fast as you can!
And not just experience on your own, as in the practice I mentioned above. But also experience shooting photos in some professional capacity.
Here are some ways to get professional experience when you’re brand new to photography:
- Volunteer for local events. Events may not have a photographer on hand—so offer to fill that role.
- Shoot friends and family. Photograph anyone who will let you.
- Offer free or extremely discounted shoots. This can be a great way to gain experience. But keep in mind that you have to spend time not only shooting but also editing. Free shoots can help you build a portfolio, but in my experience some people may flake on you if it’s completely free. Charging some small amount—say, $50 or $100—can help make sure people take your time seriously, since they now have skin in the game. (This note is different from photographing friends and family, since those are people who will show up for you and respect your time, as opposed to people you don’t know well who are simply looking for inexpensive photos.)
- Observe seasoned photographers. I’ve learned so much from shadowing photographers who know more than me. Way more than I ever learned from watching a YouTube video or reading a blog post.
- Try to apprentice. Take the above tip and double down, asking someone if you can apprentice for them for free or for a small salary. To protect yourself, make sure you set the expectations clearly on what the apprenticeship entails in advance.
- Take virtual or in-person workshops. Photography is an ever-evolving field. As your budget and time allow, it helps to attend workshops, take classes, and continue reading and learning. Also, consider subscribing to photography magazines and following blogs or Instagram accounts from popular photographers in niches you’re interested in (more on niches below).
3. Build a Portfolio
In photography your portfolio is your resume.
All of the photography experiences you have should be made with your portfolio in mind, helping you build a foundation in photographs for future employment.
Everything I covered above will help you build your portfolio. But here are two few more things to keep in mind on the topic:
- Create an online portfolio. When you’re ready to start sharing your photos you’ll want at least some of them to be online. This allows people to find you and it allows you to share your work easily with people. You can use platforms like Squarespace and WordPress to create a simple website, or even use devoted online portfolio platforms like Zenfolio or Adobe Portfolio designed to make the process super easy. (But keep in mind: These platforms will require a paid subscription.)
- Consider using Instagram. In my experience, Instagram is the only social media platform that matters for photographers. And it can be a great place to generate leads for future sales. It takes time, but it’s worth it. You can consider running ads on instagram, it might help kickstart your professional career.
4. Choose a Niche (Or Two)
It can be hard to start a photography business as a generalist.
People want specific types of photos, and by specializing, you can hone in on that particular market where you live. It may seem like you’re cutting yourself off from other ways to make money, but in the long run people would rather have someone who’s really good at just a few things—or says they are, if they’re just getting started ;)—then someone who says they can do everything.
That being said, if work falls into your lap, absolutely take it. Especially when you’re just getting started.
And if you get to the point that you’re getting so much work you can start turning it down? Then you know you arrived. (I got to this point just last year—and I have to tell you, it was weird. But also amazing.)
Here’s a quick step-by-step for finding your local niche:
- Assess demand. Evaluate local demand for different types of photography where you live using Google, word of mouth, and any other information you can gather.
- Evaluate the competition. See if there are any gaps between demand and who’s offering that type of photography in your area.
- Align your findings with what you want. Using the above, identify the types of photography you most enjoy that also have high demand and low competition—and that’s what you should go after.
In reality, the process won’t be this clean, and will probably require you to make some sacrifice with what you want to find a niche or niches where there is demand and lower competition.
But balancing these three factors—demand, supply, and your interest—is a good way to find the niche where you want to work, and actually make money doing it.
5. Keep Learning
It’s easy to get stuck in just doing one or two things. But the more skills you can add to your portfolio, the more you’ll make in the long run.
Remember, learning isn’t just about tricks of lighting or ways to fast track editing—though these things are definitely important. Learning can also be about getting better at handling clients, helping them surface what they actually want and making sure they feel heard and get what they’re looking for out of your work.
At the end of the day, if the client isn’t happy, you won’t get a referral and your business will stagnate. The main goal is to have clients love what you do, because they will be your best marketing tool.
How to Start a Photography Business with No Experience—Building Your Business
Here are some tips to help guide your efforts on the business side of things, based on my experience building my own wedding photography business.
1. Make Money ASAP
We went over this above, but it’s worth repeating: get a gig as soon as you can.
Keep it ethical and don’t oversell your abilities. But start charging and bringing in some amount of money as early as possible.
2. Create a Steady Stream of Client Requests
This is different from the first tip because that one is about just getting any work related to photography. This tip is about building a pipeline so that work starts coming to you.
This step is trickier and more complicated, because you don’t want to have a full pipeline of new work until you’re skilled enough to take it. So you’ll have to start building this out while still developing your skills.
But start sooner rather than later.
Here are the different ways you can start building out your pipeline for new business:
- Market your business. Visibility is key. I don’t recommend spending anything on ads—at least not digital ones—but fliers or other simple guerilla marketing tactics, like leaving a business card at popular wedding venues, can be a powerful way to start getting your name out there.
- Set up a website and optimize it for SEO. People use search to find photographers. If people search “portrait photography [your city]” you want them to find your website. There’s a lot more to know about the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) side of things, but to start just make sure you have a website at all. This will also help when people ask to learn more about your work—it’s a virtual location where you can send new contacts, and people you know can send them, too. On that note, make sure you have contact info or a Contact Us page set up on your website so people can actually get in touch with you.
- Use Instagram. People find photographers on Instagram, so consider setting up an account and sharing your work. This is also a great place to network and meet other photographers, which could in turn lead to future work—and learning—opportunities.
- Network locally. Word-of-mouth can be hugely important for finding photography work. For me, knowing wedding planners is a game changer in finding new work, and being able to break into a higher tier of wedding photography. On this point, make sure you’re polite to everyone you meet—you never know who they might know.
- Get referrals. The best marketing ever happens by itself, without you doing anything—because it’s the marketing that happens with a happy client tells a friend in person, or makes a social post, or shares a review. This kind of validation is gold for the photographer trying to grow their own business. So make sure whoever does hire you is so happy with the results that they become your champion.
3. Make a Business Plan
Once you start making money, you’ll want to make a business plan.
Your business plan is a roadmap from where you are now to the future you want.
This can be loose—no need to go as in-depth as you would if you were pitching investors for millions. You just need something to guide your journey, making some kind of path from where you are now to where you want to be in the future.
A business plan can help not only with practical stuff—budgeting, pricing your services—but also with vision. If you want to make six figures someday doing photography, write that down and think about it often. Just doing that can be powerful.
Your business plan should define:
- Your goals. This is about how much you want to make in a certain window of time.
- Your target market. Who will buy your services? And how will you reach them?
- Your pricing strategy. Will you charge less at first, then raise prices based on interest? Will you start at the rates you need to live on?
- Your budget. Initial investments in equipment can be significant. Plan your budget carefully, considering both your immediate needs and potential future investments.
- Your financial projections. This doesn’t have to be elaborate but it should provide clear direction.
4. Invest in Equipment
You’ll need to spend some money up front to get started with a photography business, especially if you have no experience—which probably means you have no gear.
But remember, this is a business. Make investments that you think will actually pay off, and establish a rough timeline for how long you think it will take to get a return on that investment.
Here are a few things to keep in mind on the topic of equipment:
- Start with the essentials—remember, you want the minimum viable product for now.
- A good camera and a versatile lens are fundamental. A good quality 35mm is usually a lens that can be used for many different types of photography.
- As you grow, reinvest in additional gear.
- Remember, quality trumps quantity, so choose gear that enhances your work.
5. Handling Legal Considerations
You may not have many legal considerations, at least first.
Though it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about legal considerations, if you’re truly starting a photography business with no experience, this step is probably something you can put off.
Here are some legal considerations for starting a photography business:
- Consider getting insurance to protect your gear.
- Consider using contracts for client engagements—these protect you and your clients.
- Consider setting up an LLC
In the U.S., it can be a good idea to create an LLC for your photography business once it’s fairly established. An LLC will act as a buffer between you and your asset (your money, and anything else you own) so that if someone sues you, all they can get is what the LLC owns, not what you own.
But an LLC requires an annual fee—the amount varies by state—and comes with some complexity. It may not be necessary for everyone.
Dive deeper—Check out our in-depth guide, How to Start a Photography Business Legally.