Running a photography business is 10 percent actually taking pictures. From start up costs to gathering clients, we’re covering how to start a photography business step by step.

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1. Draft a photography business plan

Photography and business seem like opposite words. But when starting a photography business, you need to remove the former from the equation entirely.

Whether you’re laying bricks or playing with pyrotechnics for money, you need a business plan.

Your photography business plan will outline what your business’ long term plan is, what your business is, and how you plan to make money during the whole thing.

When brainstorming how cash flows, ownership, and expenses will work, you should know the following:

  • how much you’ll charge per service
  • what services you’ll offer
  • what will make your business stand out.

Once you’ve gotten your thoughts out on paper, it’s time to contact a lawyer and start a photography business legally.

While the day to day legal documents you’ll be dealing with are model release forms and photo release forms, they can easily be downloaded for free here.

How much do photographers make a year?

A commercial photographer can expect to make anywhere from $17,000 to $60,000 yearly on average. How much a photographer makes depends on what people/events they shoot, but in a photography company’s initial year, this will more likely err on the low side.

But, hey. You want to know how to make a photography business, not a glorified hobby.

2. Actually have a photography portfolio

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How to Start and Grow a Photography Business - Create Professional Portfolio - Shant Kiraz

Image courtesy of Shant Kiraz

The most common mistake photographers make when starting up a photography business is they set up the infrastructure before having a portfolio.

You can’t set up a website if you don’t have proof you can deliver. People won’t hire you for your services based on a general feeling.

More often than not, you have to do a lot of free work, before you can start getting paid for it. It’s a common reality of starting a photography business.

While you can look up any article on how to start a photography portfolio, it’s important to always think about your brand. If you’re going to shoot food, have lots of pictures of food. If you’re going to shoot portraits, ask your family if they have a Friday free and a lot eyeliner.

How to make a photography portfolio?

While you may jump right into your own work, carefully research other photography agency portfolios. If you want to get into fashion photography, find the best photography websites and see what makes those portfolios stand out.

3. Create a photography website

How to Start and Grow a Photography Business - Create Photography Website

How to start a Photography Business 101: Squarespace is just the tip of the iceberg

While we’ll get into advertising later on (spoilers), setting up a website is so vital, it’s its own point.

At a bare minimum, your photography website should have your contact information, portfolio, and testimonials.

At its best, your photography website showcases new photos daily, mood boards, and has a pretty kickin’ blog.

Squarespace is a great place to start making websites–no web designer necessary.

In addition to your website, you should also have an Instagram account. Free to sign up, Instagram connects your photography portfolio directly to future customers. Adding hashtags like #wedding or #headshots, ensures your work reaches the right crowd.

It can be extremely effective.

What makes good business photography names?

A good business photography name catches the eye and perfectly states your brand. If you’re starting a photography business in the wedding space, you want to have some hint of that in your title.

Photography business names may seem trivial, but it’s your future customer’s first introduction to your work. Before incorporating, write up a list of 20 photography business names and send it out to trusted friends. See which ones cover your area well and also catch the eye.

4. Get photography tools

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How to Start and Grow a Photography Business - Photography Tools and Software - StudioBinder

You need a camera. Duh.

But what about lighting equipment? Editing software? Or in some cases, a studio to shoot in?

While each photography business will be different and have different needs, make sure you have the right tools that’ll allow you to turn around clients quickly and professionally.

Pre-production Tools

As you plan out your photography shoots, storyboard and shot list software will not only save you time. It will also keep you organized as you brainstorm your shoots before you arrive, ensuring you get all the takes you need.

A moodboard app allows you to carefully curate images that you can share with clients before the shoot.

Production Tools

Whether you need a camera or a lens or lighting rig or a really cool bag, sites like B&H offer the best deals on new and pre-owned equipment. Renting a studio depends on your location, but the best deals are often on Yelp.

If you’re going to shoot on location, make sure you get your location release form signed. And whether you use email or phone, send out a call sheet the day before the shoot.

StudioBinder will send out call sheets to your clients as an email and/or text.

Post-production Tools

Capture One is the gold standard in post production photography software, followed by Adobe Lightroom. If your photography business ideas involve actual film, you’ll need a dark room or development lab.

5. Go on a shooting spree

How to Start and Grow a Photography Business - Start Shooting Professionally

How to Start a Photography Business 101: Actually do what you love

Finally, we can stop talking about all the paperwork and dollars and put the photography into how to make a photography business.

As you drive around town shooting weddings, animals, and everything in between, make sure you get all the shots you need before you leave. Checking off a shot list on set is always a great way to ensure this.

While we won’t tell you how to shoot and what to look for in a frame (there are plenty of amazing blogs for that), it’s important to remember that your business is a business.

Remember is to send call sheets to both your clients and subjects (sometimes the same person).

6. Implement a retouch system

How to Start and Grow a Photography Business - Digital Retouching

How to Start a Photography Business 101: Get your hands on some great software

How to start a photography business could be rephrased as how to touch up acne.

Seriously though, you touch up, recoloring, and editing will take hours and hours. If you’re not careful, it can pile up, stopping you from taking on more clients.

While you can go this route yourself, you may want to contact someone who specializes in editing to scale your business effectively. Partnering up will free up more time to focus on other aspects of the business and will make both of your lives easier.

Job board sites like ProductionBeast are great for finding skilled editors.

Whether you hire a freelancer or not, as you go through your photography business checklist, you should have a plan for post production.

7. Stay on top of clients

As you get more and more clients contacting your photography business, there’ll be a considerable amount to keep track off. More than you can do in your head.

Implement a system to keep all your clients sorted out. Always know what stage of production a client is in. Establish a column for “New Clients,” “Scheduled,” “In Post,” and “Completed.”

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How to Start and Grow a Photography Business - Manage Clients - StudioBinder

How to Start a Photography Business 101: have a solid pipeline.

While some photographers use Trello or Asana for this, StudioBinder allows you to do this all under one platform. You can easily keep track with clients through the app, avoiding long email chains and keeping your gmail open for Dominos coupons.

Once you enter a client’s information, you can easily spin off call sheets too. Perfect for the shoot day.

8. Start an advertising push

How to Start and Grow a Photography Business - Digital marketing for photographers

How to Start a Photography Business 101: Facebook Ads work wonders

As the word gets out about your photography business, you’ll want to continually advertise your photography business throughout various social media platforms.

This can mean posting more often on your Instagram account, starting a Facebook Page, adding a blog. The best photography websites use a combination of all three.

Have quality posts, and do post very often.

Syncing up with other photographers is also another way to get your name out there. Use networking sites, like ProductionBeast or LinkedIn, to find other photographers with followings and share each other’s content.

Learning how to start a photography business is many ways identifying what photographers you want to be like. Reach out them–you never know what will come back.

What's the best advertisement for a photography business?

Word of mouth. While happy clients will do this on their own, sometimes they need a little encouragement. After a photography shoot, ask clients if you can showcase their work on your photography business website.

Ask them to recommend you to future clients and do stay in touch. A wedding photographer today can be a baby photographer tomorrow.

9. Reinvest profits

How to Start and Grow a Photography Business - Reinvest profits into company

How to Start a Photography Business 101: Spend money to make money

When your photography business makes money, it’ll be awesome and you can finally brag that you’re a paid photographer. However, you should think about reinvesting that money back into the business.

With extra money comes the opportunity to run more paid advertisements on Facebook, to get into new venues, to buy that equipment you couldn’t when you started, to even hire new photographers to take over parts of your business.

Having a bank you can trust is crucial when working through how to start your own photography business.

How to start a photography business step by step

  1. Draft a business plan
  2. Establish a portfolio
  3. Set up a website
  4. Build up your photography tools
  5. Go on a shooting spree
  6. Have a quick post production
  7. Stay on top of clients
  8. Start an advertising push
  9. Reinvest profits

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