How to Start a Photography Business: An In-Depth Guide

Our goal with Photo Logica is to help you start and grow your photography business.

This in-depth guide to starting a photography business has all the tips, insights, and best practices I’ve learned over a decade of working as a wedding photographer. It also has all the insights my co-founder Zacc Dukowitz has picked up in his 12+ years of experience working as a marketer and SEO.

When I first started my photography business I was excited just to get paid at all to do photography.

A photo I took at Isla Verde, a hotel on Lake Atitlán, when I was just starting my photography career

Over the years I’ve worked hard to build up my photography business.

Now, I make a comfortable six-figure income doing wedding photography where I’m based in Antigua, Guatemala. (Here’s my website.)

Of course, I made mistakes along the way. Lots of them. 

This guide contains everything I learned from those mistakes, and from talking to other successful photography business owners, so that you can fast-track the process and get on the path to creating your own successful photography business.

Here’s a menu to help you navigate this guide:

What Does Success Look Like for You?

If you’re just getting your photography business started, you may not want to make it your full-time income right now. 

Maybe you’re a student looking for a side hustle, or maybe you have a full-time career and you just want to monetize your weekend hobby.

Or maybe you’re the complete opposite, and you do want your photography business to be your sole source of income.

And success doesn’t just have to be about money. For some photographers, success might just mean booking a certain number of gigs per month, or achieving a work schedule that gives you more freedom. For others, it could be about gaining recognition in a specific niche, or capturing moments that resonate deeply with your clients.

The point is, success may look wildly different depending on what you want. 

So before you can really get started, you need to define your own goals—not in terms of how much you want to make (though that will be important too), but in terms of what you want out of your photography business.

Take a moment right now and write down what success looks like for you in your photography business.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Different lenses. Consider factors like creative fulfillment, client satisfaction, and work-life balance in addition to financial targets.
  • Time frame. Try setting both short-term and long-term goals, acknowledging that what you want may change as your skill set and photography business evolves. 
  • Your skills. Set benchmarks for professional development, like mastering new photography techniques or expanding your service offerings.
  • Your community.  Engaging with the photography community through collaborations or mentorships can also enrich your journey and broaden your definition of success, and could be a good thing to consider when defining what success looks like for you.

Tips for New Photographers Entering the Business

Some people set out to start a photography business after years and years of experience doing photography. And some want to start a business out of the gate, building their skills as they build their business.

If you’re in the latter group, here’s my best advice based on the years I’ve spent as a professional photographer.

  • Be ready. Be eager and prepared so you can seize any opportunities and challenges when they arise. 
  • Put in the work up front. Work harder in your first few years to kickstart your business and get the ball rolling in terms of word of mouth, your portfolio, your social media presence, your local presence, etc. The work you put in early on will pay dividends in the long run.
  • Always be professional. Take every single job you do seriously, even if it’s a free one. Treat people with respect, acknowledging the importance of the moment for the people you’re photographing—especially if it’s a wedding or some other special occasion—even if you’re not feeling 100% yourself that day. You never know who may be a reference later, or who may know someone else that could lead to you getting a major opportunity in your career.
  • Work on your skills. Always try to improve every aspect of your craft, one step at a time. Whether it’s editing, posing, social skills, communication, or marketing, there’s always something you can get better at. 
  • Identify what makes you different. Find what you excel at and what motivates you, and make that your selling point. Hint: This is specially useful if no one else is doing that in your market.
  • Take the leap. If having to face a transition from a different job to your photography business, save up money and quit when photography is giving you enough. Trust your gut and take a leap of faith. In my experience, something good will come out of just going for it—although it may not be exactly what you expected.

How Much Does It Cost to Start a Photography Business?

No guide to starting a photography business would be complete without covering startup costs.

We know not everyone will be going all-in when they first get started, so we wanted to cover different budget types to help you think about your potential costs:

Starting a Photography Business—Minimal Budget Approach

For those starting with a very tight budget, the focus is on essentials.

  • Camera equipment. A mid-range DSLR or mirrorless camera can cost $500 to $1,000. Consider buying used gear to save money.
  • Lenses. A basic but versatile lens like a 50mm f/1.8 costs around $125 – $200.
  • Editing software. Subscription to Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom is about $10 per month.
  • Website. Using platforms like Wix or Squarespace, you can build a website for around $10 to $25 per month.
  • Business registration and insurance (optional). Approximately $200 for initial registration and liability insurance. Insurance is highly recommended but you probably don’t need to worry about registering your business—more on that topic here
  • Marketing (optional). Initial marketing efforts such as business cards and social media are relatively low-cost, around $50 – $100.

Estimated total initial cost: $1,000 – $2,000

Starting a Photography Business—Moderate Budget Approach

A step up for those who can invest a bit more for quality.

  • Camera equipment. A higher-end DSLR or mirrorless camera, ranging from $1,500 to $2,500.
  • Lenses. A couple of quality lenses, including a wide-angle and a zoom lens, can cost between $1,000 – $2,000.
  • Editing software. Adobe Suite for more options, around $50 per month.
  • Website. Professional website with advanced features, around $30 to $50 per month.
  • Lighting and accessories. Basic lighting setup and accessories like tripods and bags, around $500 to $1,000.
  • Business registration and insurance. Approximately $300 to $500, including more comprehensive insurance.
  • Marketing. Expanded marketing efforts like a professional logo, improved business cards, and initial online ads, around $300 – $500.

Estimated total initial cost: $4,000 – $7,000

Starting a Photography Business—High-End Budget Approach

For those who want to start at a professional level with high-end gear and a strong marketing start.

  • Camera equipment. Top-of-the-line cameras will run $2,500 to $4,000.
  • Lenses. A set of professional lenses, including prime and zoom options, could cost upwards of $3,000.
  • Editing software. Full Adobe Suite and other professional software, around $100 per month.
  • Website. Custom-built website with advanced features, including SEO optimization, will run $1,000 – $2,000.
  • Lighting and studio gear. Professional lighting kits, backdrops, and high-end accessories, around $2,000 – $3,000.
  • Business registration and insurance. Including comprehensive insurance options, around $500 to $1,000.
  • Marketing. Extensive marketing plan including professional branding, website SEO, and online advertising, could cost $1,000 to $2,000.

Estimated total initial cost: $10,000 – $15,000

Additional Considerations:

  • Education and training. Consider the cost of workshops, courses, or mentoring sessions.
  • Travel expenses. If your photography requires travel, include these costs in your budget.
  • Legal and accounting services. Professional fees for legal advice and accounting services.

But—You Can Start Right Now with Whatever You Have

If you can charge people for your photography then you have a photography business.

So if the gear and software you currently have are providing you with the minimum tools you need to charge for your services, don’t let anyone get in your head and make you think you need to invest more.

As you run into needs, you can invest. If getting a better camera, or a new lens, or a new software subscription comes up and you think you could charge more or get more clients, do it. Same goes for getting a better website, or investing in/learning about SEO. 

Do these things when you need to—not because someone tells you to do them. 

As long as you’re making money with photography, you’re well on your way toward having a successful photography business. 

The details will fall into place as you go.

Get Started—Do These 7 Things to Start Your Photography Business

Here’s your To Do list for getting a photography business going:

1. Choose Your Photography Niche

Choosing your photography niche is a crucial first step in starting a photography business. But don’t be paralyzed by the choice—pick a niche, or two, and get started. 

A wedding photo I took in Antigua, Guatemala, where I do most of my work

To find your niche, you’ll want to weigh these three things: your passions, your skills, and market demand. 

Here are some things to consider for each one:

  • What do you love shooting? Start by assessing what you’re most passionate about shooting, whether it’s capturing the raw emotions of weddings, the serene beauty of landscapes, or the dynamic action of sports. Your niche should excite you, as this passion reflects in your work and attracts clients.
  • What are you good at shooting? Are you great at directing people for portraits, or do you excel in the patience and technical precision required for product photography? Your niche should play to your strengths.
  • What does the market need? Research market demand in your area or within your network. Some niches might be oversaturated, while others could offer untapped opportunities.

As you’re just getting started it’s important to become proficient in your niche, but also to keep your mind open. 

If there’s a big demand for commercial food photography where you live—shooting plates of food for high-end restaurants—then maybe you should start offering that. 

Looking for inspiration? Check out these 116 photography jobs to get your juices flowing.

2. Create a Business Plan for Your Photography Venture

Crafting a business plan for your photography venture is essential, but the depth and complexity of your plan can vary based on your goals and the scale of your operation. 

Here are three approaches to consider:

1. The Light Plan: Ideal for Hobbyists Turning Professional

  • Summary and goals. A brief overview of your photography business concept and what you aim to achieve in the short term.
  • Basic financials. Outline your initial costs, pricing strategy, and simple cash flow projections. This can be as straightforward as a list of expected expenses and income sources.
  • Marketing approach. Identify your primary market (e.g., family portraits, local events) and a simple strategy to reach potential clients, like social media promotion or word of mouth.

2. The Medium Plan: Perfect for Part-Time Professionals

  • Detailed business overview. Includes your photography niche, target clientele, and what sets your services apart.
  • Comprehensive financial plan. A more detailed financial section that includes equipment investments, operating expenses, revenue streams, and break-even analysis.
  • Marketing and growth strategy. A more structured marketing strategy, identifying specific channels and tactics for client acquisition. Also, outline goals for expanding your client base and services.

3. The Intensive Plan: Suited for Full-Time Businesses

  • In-depth business concept. Elaborate on your business model, long-term vision, unique value proposition, and competitive analysis.
  • Detailed financial projections. Include multi-year income, expenses, profit and loss projections, potential hiring needs and associated costs, and funding requirements if seeking investors or loans.
  • Marketing and operations plan. Develop a detailed marketing plan, including branding, online presence, pricing models, and client engagement strategies. Include operational plans, such as workflow, client management, and potential hiring of assistants or subcontractors.

Each type of plan serves a different purpose and scale of business. 

While a light plan might be fine for someone treating photography as a side hustle, those aiming to grow their photography business into a full-time career may benefit from developing a more intensive plan. 

Regardless of the chosen approach, the act of planning itself can be really useful. I didn’t start doing intentional business planning until I had already been selling photography services for a few years, and I wish I had—taking just 30 minutes to consider the shape of my business would have saved me dozens of hours of headaches, and also helped me make more money in the long run.

3. Legal Considerations for Starting a Photography Business

Here are the main actions you need to consider taking on the legal front when starting a photography business:

  • Paying your taxes
  • Choosing a name for your business
  • Registering your business
  • Creating contracts for your business
  • Getting insurance for your business
  • Deciding to form an LLC or remain a sole proprietorship (for the U.S.)

A lot of advice out there for photographers says you should do everything on this list. But the truth is, the only thing you absolutely have to do is pay your taxes.

We do recommend creating contracts and getting insurance—both are things that will cover you if something goes wrong.

But you don’t necessarily need to register your business. And you may not need to name it if you’re just getting started, especially if you’re just going to use your own name (John Smith Photography)—if you do that, you own the rights regardless of whether someone else has a business with the same exact name.

As you grow your business, you’ll want to do more of the things on this list. And if you’re making six figures you’ll probably want to do all of them. But you may keep your business small and lean and never do some of these things, and that’s just fine.

Dive deeper: Read our guide, How To Start A Photography Business Legally

4. Essential Photography Equipment and Software

The right equipment and software are the backbone of any successful photography business. But your choices need to align with your budget and the specific needs of your niche. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing equipment and software for your photography business.

Equipment for Your Photography Business

  • Minimal budget. Start with a reliable DSLR or mirrorless camera like the Canon EOS Rebel T7i or Nikon D5600, both offering versatility without breaking the bank. Pair it with a versatile lens like the 50mm f/1.8, known for its excellent low-light performance and depth of field control.
  • Moderate budget. Upgrade to higher-end models such as the Sony A7 III for mirrorless or the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV for DSLR enthusiasts. Invest in a range of lenses, like a wide-angle Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 for landscapes or a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 for portraits and events.
  • High-end budget. Opt for full-frame flagships like the Nikon D850 or the mirrorless Sony A7R IV. Complement these with professional-grade lenses, such as the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 or the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM for breathtaking portraits.

Software for Your Photography Business

  • All budgets. Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop remain industry standards for photo editing, offering comprehensive tools for image enhancement. Subscription plans start at $9.99/month, catering to all levels of investment.
  • Specialized software. For high-end editing, consider software like Capture One for advanced color grading or Skylum Luminar for AI-powered enhancements.

Remember, the best gear is what fits your specific needs and budget. Start with the essentials and expand your kit as your business grows and evolves.

5. Build Your Portfolio and Online Presence

Creating a compelling portfolio and establishing an online presence are important steps to launching a successful photography business. 

Your portfolio and online presence in the form of your social media accounts and website not only showcase your skill and style, but also serve as your digital storefront, helping you attract potential clients.

Build Your Portfolio

Here are my top tips for building your portfolio:

  • Quality over quantity. Select only your best work that represents your niche and style. A well-curated portfolio with 15-20 outstanding images is more impactful than one with hundreds of average shots. Also, build different portfolios for different types of work—don’t just show clients in one niche your work from another niche (unless you don’t have anything else to share).
  • Diverse projects. Include a variety of projects to demonstrate your versatility and skill range, especially if you’re targeting multiple photography niches.
  • Presentation. Use a clean, user-friendly layout that allows your work to stand out. Platforms like Adobe Portfolio or Squarespace offer elegant templates tailored for photographers.

Here is my wedding photography portfolio, to give you a sense of how I curate images to attract wedding clients.

A picture from my wedding photography portfolio

Establishing Your Online Presence

  • Professional website. Your website should be the cornerstone of your online presence, incorporating your portfolio, an ‘About Me’ section, and contact information. Ensure it’s SEO-optimized to improve visibility on search engines. Here’s my wedding photography website, for inspiration.
  • Write for yourself. A blog can enhance your website with SEO-rich content, showcase your expertise, and provide insights into your photography process, helping to connect with potential clients on a deeper level. 
  • Write for other sites. Guest posts on other sites can be a good way to get exposure for your work. And the backlink you get from another site to your website can really help grow your online presence through SEO (backlinks are super important for SEO—a backlink is when a website “links back” to your website, indicating to Google that your site is worth sharing).
  • Online networks. Joining photography forums and online communities can increase your visibility, offer networking opportunities, and allow you to learn from peers.
  • Submit to awards. Don’t spend too much time on this, but if you see some awards in your niche that you think you could win, take the time to submit your work. If you do win, the recognition will both help get more attention for your work, and you can brag about it on your website, helping you further establish yourself as an authority in your region and/or niche.
  • Social media. Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are invaluable for photographers. Regularly update your accounts with new work, behind-the-scenes content, and stories that engage your audience. Here’s my Instagram.

Remember, your online presence and portfolio are always works in progress. 

Regularly update them with new work, refine your presentation, and engage with your audience to keep your digital footprint dynamic and engaging.

6. Marketing Strategies to Attract and Retain Clients

Even if you’re just getting started, you have to think about marketing

Why? Because marketing helps you get new clients and keep the ones you already have.

But marketing doesn’t have to be some big, complicated operation. 

At its root, marketing means thinking proactively about how you’re going to get clients.

So you’re marketing plan could be as simple as:

  • I’m going to tell every wedding venue, wedding planner, and florist in my area about my business.
  • In the two months before wedding season, I’m going to offer a special 20% discount for my biggest package to anyone referred from these venues, and give 10% of the money from the package to the person who referred the couple.
  • I’m going to appear on page one for the search term “[MY CITY] wedding photographer” 

Of course, you could also decide to spend money on ads and print materials, and make your marketing more complicated and more expensive.

But you always have to keep the end goal in mind: Bringing in more clients, and more money.

Developing a Marketing Plan

  • Identify your target audience. Understand who your ideal clients are. This could be couples looking for wedding photography, businesses needing commercial shots, or families seeking portraits. Tailoring your marketing efforts to your audience will drastically increase their impact.
  • Build a strong brand. Your brand should reflect your photography style and professional values. It includes your logo, website design, and the tone of your communications. A consistent brand helps clients remember and recognize you. (Branding becomes more and more important as you grow your business.)

Digital Marketing Strategies

  • Website and SEO. Make sure your website is visually appealing, easy to navigate, and optimized for search. Use keywords related to your photography services to improve your site’s visibility on search engines.
  • Social media. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest are powerful tools for photographers. Regularly post high-quality images, engage with your followers, and use relevant hashtags to increase your reach.
  • Email marketing. Collect email addresses from your website visitors (with their permission) and send them newsletters, special offers, or updates about your work. Personalized emails can be a highly effective way to engage potential clients.

Traditional Marketing and Networking

  • Word of mouth. Encourage satisfied clients to refer you to others. Consider offering a referral discount to incentivize this.
  • Networking. Attend industry events, join photography groups, and collaborate with other professionals like event planners or graphic designers. Networking can lead to referrals and partnerships.
  • Printed materials. Business cards, flyers, and brochures can be useful, especially in local marketing. Make sure your materials are well-designed and consistent with your brand.

Client Retention Strategies

  • Exceptional customer service. Provide a memorable experience for your clients by being professional, responsive, and accommodating.
  • Follow-up. After a project is completed, follow up with your clients to thank them, ask for feedback, and remind them of your other services or upcoming promotions.

Remember, marketing is an ongoing process that requires experimentation and adaptation. 

To maximize your return on investment, keep track of the strategies that bring in the most business and adjust your efforts accordingly

7. Setting Your Prices and Managing Finances

Navigating the financial aspects of your photography business, particularly setting prices and managing finances, is critical to sustainability and growth.

This involves understanding your costs, valuing your work appropriately, and making sure you have a healthy cash flow.

Setting Your Prices

  • Understand your costs. Consider all expenses, including equipment, software subscriptions, travel, and time spent shooting and editing. Your pricing should cover these costs and yield a profit.
  • Research market rates. Look at what other photographers in your niche and region are charging. This helps ensure your rates are competitive but not undervalued.
  • Pricing structures. Consider offering packages for events like weddings or portraits sessions, which can simplify client decisions and potentially increase sales. For commercial work, pricing might be project-based or hourly.

Managing Finances

  • Budgeting. Keep a detailed budget that tracks all income and expenses. Tools like QuickBooks or FreshBooks are designed for small businesses and can streamline this process.
  • Saving for taxes. As a freelancer, taxes aren’t withheld from your earnings, so set aside a portion of each payment for tax obligations. Depending on your income, you may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments.
  • Emergency fund. Aim to build a reserve fund to cover unexpected expenses or slow business periods, ensuring financial stability.
  • Investing in growth. Reinvest profits back into your business for equipment upgrades, marketing efforts, or education to enhance your skills and services.

Remember, transparent and consistent pricing builds trust with clients, while prudent financial management ensures the longevity and prosperity of your business. 

Regularly review and adjust your financial strategies to align with your business goals and market dynamics.

Get Started Now

If you’ve ready this far and you’re still feeling uncertain about what to do next, I have some advice.

Go. Get. A. Client.

Do it now!

There’s nothing as motivating as having someone hire you to do work. 

Don’t think—take action. Who would hire you? Is it a friend, a business owner you know, an old teacher? 

Whoever it is, and whatever the work, send them an email, shoot them a message, give them a call. Maybe offer to update their LinkedIn profile picture, or freshen up the pictures of their restaurant on their website.

The point is to go do something that will put a little money in your pocket. It’s uncomfortable, but the more you flex this muscle, the more it will grow.

So get out there and find a client! You won’t regret it.

Want to learn more about starting a photography business? Check out our guide, How To Start A Photography Business With Absolutely No Experience At All

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