Starting Your Photography Business

It is interesting to look closely at the evolution of many freelance photography businesses, and this is because many of them begin more as a hobby than anything else. Why is that?

A photography business is not going to have the same sort of short-term setup period as many other businesses because it will require a large number of pre-existing images and shots. For example, the freelance photographer looking to begin operating on a full-time and official basis is going to require a somewhat comprehensive portfolio. This is not an item that can be put together “overnight” or even in the matter of a few weeks, and this means that the photographer is likely to have been “working” for many years before they go into business.

Starting Your Photographic Business
Photo by Vinoth Chandar

First Steps

Often this work has been done as a hobby or general enthusiasm. This means that the photographer may have a huge library of images from which to build a website, or even to sell to stock photography sites, but it may not be enough to start a business.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t start a photography business if you don’t have an expansive portfolio? No, but if you have only a few assignments under your proverbial belt, you may want to start looking through all of your past work to find images that might appeal to the individuals and businesses with whom you wish to work. For instance, you might find that you are fixated with architectural photography, and this could form the core of your business. Alternately, you may realize that you are a portrait photographer and can begin building a portfolio demonstrating your personal style or approach.

Starting Your Photographic Business
Photo by Mike Baird

The Need for Specialization

This takes us to the next major issue connected with the beginning of a photography business, and that is the area of specialization. While you could hang out a sign that simply says “photographer” you are likely to get a lot more business if you are a specific type of photographer. For instance, will you be a wedding and special event photographer? Perhaps you would like to be a portrait specialist? Maybe you envision yourself as some kind of photojournalist? Whatever the type, be sure that you design the business to coordinate with the goals.

Formulating a Business Plan

Here we come to one of the primary steps for any type of successful business – creating the “plan”. Yes, we know that photography is an artistic endeavor and that you may not want to deal with the many official line items in a formal business plan, but you must face the simple fact that you are going into business and this requires administrative and managerial efforts on your part – on top of all the photographic work.

A good business plan is going to be a great deal like a road map to success, and will include such details as:

Your company name – this is the official name under which you have registered the business with federal, state, and local agencies;

The format of the business – most freelance photographers work as a sole-proprietor, though some do advance to LLCs (limited liability corporations) as well;

The goals of the business – this is going to help you identify the ways you intend to sell the images. Will your goal be to create a stream of income through stock photography sites? Will you function strictly as a portrait studio? This is essential to your success and must be worked out before officially opening your doors for business;

The budget – what sort of startup funding do you have? Do you own the equipment you need? Will you need to setup a website? Understanding the costs and the available funds can tell you immediately if you are ready to “quit your day job”;

The market – this is a factor that will differ widely from photographer to photographer. This is because the world of the Internet makes it possible for anyone to operate a photographic business of almost any kind from just about any location. The market might be as small as the local community press or as massive as the entire planet. The key is to know the market and determine how best to access it; and

Legalities – understand your legal obligations as a business owner. You must register with all of the proper agencies and function properly with the tax codes. Make sure that you have dealt with the financial obligations around your income too. Often it is a good idea to meet with an accountant and an attorney to be sure your proverbial “ducks are in a row”. This is also a good way to get educated about your business too.

Once a business plan is completed, you will need to understand the importance of your professional appearance. This doesn’t mean your garments; it means that you will have to have an office, phone line, website, business banking account, etc. If you want to work with clients and business professionals you have to be in the same “league”, and this is the final step in becoming a professional freelance photographer.


  1. says

    I’ve started my photography business 3 years ago. In the beginning I was shooting my friends, after that my friends friends.
    2 years ago I launched my website filled with some of my first photos and shortly after that visitors started to turn into customers. Now I have 3-4 jobs each month and this number is growing.

    I think the most important thing to start a career is a strong portfolio and some recommendations from friends or ever other photographers.

  2. says

    Hi, I manage the accounts of many small businesses (i.e. less than 10 employees) and the only thing that I would add to your great article is on the subject of management structure. It is very common for a small business to set up and concentrate on creating business without planning how they are going to manage their money when it starts coming in. I would always advise contracting a good bookkeeper at the offset, allowing you to build your company and know that your cash flow will be optimised at the point when you will need to invest some of your profits into growth. So many companies have huge levels of outstanding unpaid invoices and when the time comes to grow they toddle off to the bank and look to secure an overdraft or business loan. Firstly, if you have invoices paid, you will not need to borrow so much and secondly, if you do need to secure funds from a bank, you will certainly gain their respect with an up to date set of books.

    Always check your bookkeepers qualifications, references and insurance before signing them up. There are some fully qualified bookkeepers out there that will be able to save you a small fortune on accountancy practice fees.

    All the very best to every small business in these difficult times. Please feel free to contact me if you need any further info.

    Bev :-)

  3. says

    Very good articles. I have bookmarked this site and will refer back to it often as I get started in this business. For me going into photography is a necessary change. I worked many years in I/T and the number of jobs are twindling, plus I am at a point that I wish to pursue something that interests me more. I always had a love for photography. Right now I am building my equipment and filling out the necessary forms to get my tax/business obligations in order. Until then, I continue going down the avenue of stock photography through my website. I started a second website for the business of portraits and event photography.

  4. says

    I think your right. With everyone having a camera on their phone, the need to target a niche is a must. If you’re going to be the wedding dude, be the wedding dude. If you’re going to be the baby photo gal, dive in with both feet.

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