Starting a photography business could be your main focus or a way to supplement your existing income. As with any other creative business idea, this will take talent, quality gear, and some marketing knowledge. There will also be related costs, such as website fees, to think about.
Every photographer should start out with a business plan, first and foremost. Getting your thoughts, ideas, and goals down on paper will help you stay on track. A detailed business plan will outline what your business will be and how you’ll earn money with it. This will cover cash flow, ownership, expenses, and competition. Having this mapped out will highly improve your chances of success.
Although it’s a competitive market, you could become one of the people who enjoy success with a popular photography business if you’re fully equipped with the information you need. This article will help you know what to plan for and expect.
Keep in mind that the costs listed in this article are just rough estimates based on averages. What you end up paying will depend on your own unique needs.
Purchasing photography equipment can be intimidating. Compared to other creative endeavors, it can be quite expensive. But while choosing the most costly gear out there isn’t necessarily a bad idea if you can afford it, it’s not a must, and won’t be a viable substitute for experience or skill. This section will focus on high-quality products that won’t put you into debt.
Let’s start with the most obvious piece of gear a professional photographer will need; a camera.
For this crucial item, I expect to spend between $1,000 to $3,000 as a minimum for a decent product. Of course, you can always choose to spend more, but you can get a great camera body in any price range you choose. Here are some quality picks to think about:
Do you need to carry one or two camera bodies? To be on the safe side, it’s wise to always have a backup.
When you’re shooting an event like a wedding, which only occurs once, you can’t take any chances when it comes to being prepared. Do yourself a favor and get two cameras to bring with you to these events.
If you are considering a portrait photography business, here’s our roundup of greater portrait cameras.
Camera Lenses- $950+
When it comes to taking beautiful pictures, quality lenses are one of the most important pieces of gear. Some even say that the lens matters more than the camera body.
For a decent lens, you can expect to spend at least $950. The focal length you’ll choose depends on the camera sensor you’re working with. First, identify the category of lens you need, then see what’s available for your camera body. Here are a few good choices:
You’ll also want to think about how your lens fits with the environment you typically shoot in. If you’ll be working mostly indoors, a wider option will be best, like this one:
Other Gear and Accessories
Next, you’ll need to think about additional photography gear and accessories. If you’re shooting weddings, you will definitely need a flash. Not every ceremony will be outdoors and as the one responsible for capturing this special event, you must be ready no matter what lighting conditions are present. You might end up shooting a nighttime event or being asked to take photos of the couple sharing a dance on a dimly lit floor.
It’s an exciting time to be alive for photographers. Not only is there an abundance of modern gear to choose from, but the Internet makes it easier to choose the best within your price range. Lighting isn’t something you want to skimp on, so choose well.
Flash units are now portable, lightweight, and speed light-capable. There are even remote-controlled units. Whichever type you choose, just make sure that it’s compatible with your camera. Here’s a model to consider:
You’ll also want to think about using a reflector in your photography, especially if you work with outdoor portraits. This can help with diffusion, bouncing light, as a wind shield, and more.
Other Useful Accessories
You will also want to get a bag to carry your camera in. A lot of photographers just use the bag their camera came in without any issues, so you could do that or just repurpose an old messenger bag for your gear. You should also consider getting an extra battery, lens cloths, and some cleaning spray.
Business Setup/Operation- $1,000+ per Year
You may think that starting a photography business is as simple as getting people to pay you for taking pictures, but this mindset could get you in trouble down the road. Starting a business is something you want to be thoughtful and careful about from the start.
First, figure out whether you want your business to be an LLC. Then make sure you are following the laws in your state to avoid unnecessary tax consequences or other complications down the road.
Having insurance as a photographer is important for a number of reasons, and there are policies out there specifically targeted at your line of work. Photographers tend to carry around a lot of gear, any of which may be damaged, stolen, or simply lost at any time. And when you’re working with clients, you have to worry about potential injuries, damage to property, and more.
There are many reasons a customer might choose to file a lawsuit, founded or not. Insurance can help protect you against all of these unpredictable possibilities, so you don’t have to worry.
Your Professional Website
For most photographers, a website is absolutely necessary for success in the field. Businesses that don’t get on top of this are at risk of getting left behind in this day and age. You can expect to spend about $60 per year for your website.
A website will help you show off your work, make you accessible for people with questions, and allow people to get a feel for your company. You’ll want to think about website content, your theme, and more.
But making your website is only step one. You’ll also need to make it easy to find for your clients. In a sea of information, even the greatest website can get lost. Learning some basic SEO is one way to help search engines bring people searching for your skills to your company website.
So you’ve thought about your website, some marketing strategies, and you have your gear ready. But you also need to think about managing your company’s finances. Using an online accounting system, such as Freshbooks, can be a huge help with this.
The cost will depend on how many clients you have and other considerations, but you can expect to pay a few hundred dollars per year for a decent-size photography business.
A system like this will enable you to check on an important detail or even work anywhere with an Internet connection. You’ll also get the peace of mind of knowing your data is safely stored in case something goes wrong with your computer or at the office.
Being good at what you do should be enough to bring business to your door, but in our modern world, that’s not how it works. The amount of attention and business you get is directly impacted by your marketing strategy. Let’s look at a couple of techniques you can use in your marketing approach:
Using Facebook Ads
Social media probably isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Social Media advertising is a great way for photographers to get the kind of leads that fuel their business and drive revenue, and right now Facebook is one of the cheapest and most powerful platforms currently available.
You’ll want to take advantage of this and also make sure you avoid common pitfalls to Facebook marketing along the way.
A portrait party is a unique way to market your photography business.
When you’re new on the photography scene, it can be hard to get people to trust you enough to try out your services. A portrait party can be a solution to this.
This is an event where you invite people to come and have their portrait taken for a nominal fee. You build your list of potential clients and gain valuable word of mouth advertising. Do this the right way, and it could completely kick off your business.
There are a number of reasons to have professional contracts drafted for your clients. People who aren’t lawyers shouldn’t be doing this since they don’t have the experience or legal training needed to ensure the contract will cover everything necessary. A professional legal contract will:
- Define your client’s expectations
- Hold your client accountable
- Outline responsibilities
- Protects your clients and you
- Ensure that you get paid
The cost for contract-drafting services and other legal needs will depend entirely on how much business you’re getting and the nature of your photography.
Computer Equipment- $2,000+
To become a successful photographer, you’ll also need to think about your digital equipment. A laptop, a system for color calibration, and methods for backing up your photos are just a few examples.
Your computer is another crucial piece of equipment in your business. While your camera and creative talent do contribute, your computer is what you’ll use to maintain your online presence, contact clients, and process the images. Getting a high-quality machine will be something you thank yourself for later. In this section, we’ll be focusing on laptops.
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A reliable, powerful laptop like the MacBook Pro is great because it handles photo editing software well and has a large, top-notch quality screen. This pixel-perfect display not only shows stunning colors but also wide contrast to accurately display shadow detail and highlights. These are also great machines for a photographer’s needs:
Screen Calibration System
Color management, or ensuring your photo colors are accurate, repeatable, and consistent, can be fairly complex and time-consuming. But given where we are right now with color technology, capturing consistent and realistic color is possible for every photographer.
To get accurate colors, you should take some easy steps to make sure your devices are all calibrated correctly. As a professional, you’ll need a color-management process you can rely on and return to again and again.
This could make or break your photos. Color calibration will allow you more control over your final images, but it will also save you a significant amount of resources and time in the editing stage.
Your time is valuable, and the more you have free, the more your business can grow. Once your devices have been calibrated, you can rest assured that what you see is what you get when you’re looking at your photos on a screen.
Backup equipment- $200+
Managing all the photos you take is another important step in the process of starting a photography business. This is something that’s easy to ignore until an issue pops up. You will be photographing events that only happen once in a lifetime and as your business grows, you need a stable system for organization and data protection.
You need to have backup photos stored in at least two different locations. In addition to cloud storage, here are some options to look into:
External Hard Drives
Since there’s a wide variety of different storage capacities available, finding the right drive for your needs shouldn’t be too difficult. While a large drive has obvious benefits, it also will require an adapter, making it less portable.
A smaller option is easier to take on the road, but you’d be trading that capability for less storage space. A good middle ground is to have a large hard drive back at the office or at home with all of your photos stored on it, like this one:
And you should also consider a portable option that you keep at the office or bring with you, like the WD 4TB listed below. Depending on your storage need, the setup of your office, and the frequency of travel for work, you could also go with two portable hard drives like this one:
To properly back your photos up, you’ll need to use a quality SD card (or preferably, more than one). Too many photographers try to save money in this area, mistakenly assuming that a memory card is a memory card. It doesn’t pay to be cheap in this area, but it’s also possible to spend too much on your SD cards.
To get a quality card, you will want to spend at least $50. You will also want to go with a name brand, like:
This card is reliable, temperature-proof, waterproof, shock-proof, and even X-ray proof. It should cover most of your needs as a professional photographer.
Having a backup plan for your photos is absolutely essential. After all, they are the lifeblood of your business. Don’t put off developing a foolproof plan and process to keep your pictures safe.
Sure, it does take some extra time and planning, but it also brings you peace of mind knowing that the images you’ve worked hard to capture are safe and sound.
Photo editing software
Photo editing is another essential piece of starting your own photography business. Editing the photos you take will bring out their fullest potential and also reduce file size for ease of uploading onto your website. This improves your search engine ranking. Having good photo editing software will bring your pictures to a whole new level.
Adobe Photoshop is a popular choice and for good reason. This software enables you to easily apply effects and get the results you’re looking for. A lot of people use Photoshop to make better quality images, but it also has features that are hard to find in other software. Videos and photos can be imported quickly and easily with Photoshop.
Even beginners should find it fairly easy to handle their images in this software. Additional features and tools can be found without much hassle in this program.
While Photoshop does offer a lot of features for beginners and seasoned professionals alike, it can be a bit costly. What if you’re looking to save a bit of money?
If you’d rather go for a lower cost option, consider using Luminar 3. Although it isn’t quite as well-known, this program comes with its own benefits and can offer you just what you need for photo editing.
One main benefit of this program is that it has plenty of presets to use once you get familiar with it. And if you’d rather not use them, you can just hide the panel or ignore them. The presets in Luminar are intelligent and allow you to set the intensity to your liking. As you can see, this software is highly customizable. It’s easy to use, simple, and intuitive.
Develop a Pricing Plan
Do you know how much you’ll charge for your skills? This isn’t always easy to figure out, especially when you’re new to the world of photography. But to start your own business, you’ll have to decide what an hour of your time and effort is worth to you. Don’t forget to factor in editing times when you’re figuring out your hourly rate.
When you’re starting a photography business, the items above should cover the essentials. A quality camera body, a variety of lenses for different environments, a high-quality computer, and proper lighting will be enough to create amazing images. But don’t forget to carry extras in case something unexpected pops up, or to include marketing and legal considerations in your overall vision.
Thinking ahead and ensuring that all of this is covered will free up more time for you to focus on developing your unique techniques and becoming the best you can be at photography.