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You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your fashion photography business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
STEP 1: Plan your Business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How long it will take you to break even?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a fashion photography business?
While there are a number of items you’ll need to get started, your most valuable business tool is your talent and experience.
Industry leaders recommend budgeting for a minimum of $10,000 for camera and studio equipment. This should include:
- Camera and various lenses
- Modifiers - giant umbrella, octabank, scrims, and beauty dishes
- Studio equipment - lighting, stands, backdrops, modifiers, props, floors, backgrounds, and remote triggers
- Computer and editing software
- Backup storage devices
- Professional album creation software
Your startup needs are not limited to just photography equipment. The following business tools will help ensure you stay organized and on track with your marketing strategy:
- Accounting software
- Portfolio - this should include some of your best work and show potential clients that you’re able to work in a variety of settings
What are the ongoing expenses for a fashion photography business?
Your ongoing expenses will be defined by your vision for the company. Many photo shoots will take place away from home, freeing you of the need to invest in a brick and mortar space. Your biggest expense will be time spent on networking, marketing, and travel. Between fashion events, meetings with clients, and photo shoots, much of your time will be spent away from home, where you will incur the typical expenses associated with jet setting across the country (or the world). You will also need to invest in maintenance of your equipment, photo editing software, and equipment replacement when necessary.
Who is the target market?
Ultimately, your target market is defined by your creative vision, personally and professionally. Designers require photographers to capture images of their latest lines, which are displayed in look books. There is at least one magazine that targets every demographic, each of them requiring a photographer who inspires readers. Think Vogue, Rolling Stone, and L’Officiel. Fashion bloggers also have a need for professional photographers and photo editors. Consider your creative goals and then research who has a direct need for those services.
How does a fashion photography business make money?
Fashion photographers are paid a flat fee per shoot, which varies widely depending on the reputation of both the client and the photographer.
How much can you charge customers?
The amount you are able to charge will depend vastly on your experience, skill level, and the clients you work with. Many fashion photographers require a minimum of $1,000 per day, with many averaging anywhere from $2,500-10,000. A wide, yet accurate, range. Those more established you are in the community, the more you can charge; anywhere from $10,000 to $150,000 per shoot, depending upon the client.
How much profit can a fashion photography business make?
Again, this varies, depending upon your region and the type of clients you choose to target. The average profit for fashion photographers is between $52,000 and $69,000. Should you choose to open a firm that includes multiple photographers or offers clients additional services, your profits stand to increase exponentially.
How can you make your business more profitable?
As a photographer, you are only limited by your imagination and the types of projects you choose to take on. Consider expanding your client base to include customers who require product photography for their online stores. Enterprises such as Neiman Marcus have thousands of products displayed on their websites - each item must be photographed from multiple angles. A photography agency, comprised of multiple photographers of varying skill levels and innovation, could prove profitable. If photo editing is your strong suit, market your talents. You would be surprised at how many businesses require such a skill.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your fashion photography business is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.
You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.
For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, but if you still want to weigh all your options check our our article, What Structure Should I Choose for My Business?
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a fashion photography business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Fashion photography businesses should require clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and intellectual property ownership. Here is an example of one such services agreement.
Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional service agreement for your fashion photography business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.
Trademark & Copyright Protection
If you are developing a unique product, concept, brand, or design, it is prudent to protect your rights by registering for the appropriate trademarks and copyrights.
STEP 7: Get Business Insurance
Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
How to promote & market a fashion photography business
Many of today’s most successful fashion photographers spend up to 75% of their time marketing. Technology offers a number of ways for you to showcase your work. Social media should be an integral part of your day, allowing you to reach prospects worldwide. This free business tool, combined with your website, is a wonderful way to showcase your best work and target potential clients.
Photographers are part of the artist community. Often a tightly knit group. Therefore, word of mouth will be your strongest marketing tool. Integrating yourself within this populace should be an essential part of your marketing strategy.
Entrepreneurs just starting out in this industry are urged to take on “free” work whenever possible. This should be viewed as skill-building; a way to develop your photography skills and build a certain level of leadership and professional experience, while making connections within the community. This practice will also offer you a higher level of creative control, allowing you to build a portfolio that reflects your style and vision. During this time, focus on collaborating with photographers, stylists, and makeup artists who have proven their talent.
Additionally, spend as much time as you can attending fashion events. Keep business cards on you at all times, and produce Z Cards to hand out while networking. The Society of International Fashion and Glamour Photographers offers its members guidance and support for fashion photographers of every skill level.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
As mentioned, spend your first years in this industry surrounding yourself with the very best in the business. The relationships you build and your quality of work will help you reach your goals. Maintain a level of professionalism and always strive to think outside the box, delivering unique photos from every shoot.
STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence
A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Start A Fashion Photography Business In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Those entering this specialized field often do so because of their passion and eye for both fashion and photography. The combination of these two art forms serves as a creative outlet. Successful photographers are often able to travel the world while earning an income that supports them as they work to fulfill their dreams.
What happens during a typical day at a fashion photography business?
Most fashion photographers work on a freelance basis, particularly when first starting out. Marketing and administrative duties are equally as important as photo shoots and should be treated as such. While no two days are exactly alike, most days are divided between building the business and expressing yourself artistically.
On the photography side, fashion photographers must attend photo shoots, copyright their work, edit photos, and update their portfolio. Much time is spent sifting through magazines and online photos, noting fashion trends, as well as ideas for future shoots.
On the business end, business owners must schedule shoots, book travel arrangements, manage finances, archive invoices and bills, and implement marketing strategies. Traveling and networking with others in the industry is also critical to a fashion photographer’s success. Many artists hire assistants to help them manage the business aspect, freeing up their time to focus on the creative aspect of the business.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful fashion photography business?
While photography composition rules can be learned, those seeking long-term success should have a natural eye for both fashion and photography. A basic understanding of photography and fashion are critical. To ensure your very best work from the start, spend some time studying fashion: history, era-specific fashion, terminology, designers and image-makers, makeup, hairstyles, and current industry news.
Photography is about capturing a moment in time; a moment that cannot ever be recreated. Therefore, it is also critical that you be at one with your camera. Get to know the different setting, lighting concepts, as well as digital photography concepts. Even the best photographers must edit their photos, so image editing should also be a part of your skill set.
Industry leaders recommend working as an assistant, both in fashion and other photography realms. First-hand experience is the best teacher and will better equip you to predict and solve any issues that might arise. This will also serve as your first introduction into fashion photography, offering an opportunity to network with pioneers in the industry.
What is the growth potential for a fashion photography business?
As mentioned, most fashion photographers start out working alone, or with a small team of assistants. As connections are made and experience in the industry is built, many choose to move on into other aspects of the business. Business growth opportunities include opening a fashion and commercial photography agency or a fashion marketing firm.
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One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a fashion photography business?
Pioneers of the fashion photography industry offer the following advice:
- Read magazines and follow online fashion websites. Take note of the styles and photography traits that you’re most drawn to, as well as the artists behind such work.
- In your research, also take note of how the demographics and aesthetics vary from publication to publication. This will help you when preparing your portfolio for a specific organization you may wish to work with.
- Your portfolio should tell a story and reflect your true style.
- Take big risks, be consistent, and work hard.
- Your job goes beyond simply taking a good picture. Be the logistical mastermind and approach this role with confidence.
How and when to build a team
While many fashion photographers choose to work individually and on a freelance basis, they will also tell you they couldn’t do it without their support team. When building your portfolio, work with stylists, makeup artists, and art directors who share the same goals and creative vision as you. Many fashion photographers have also found success working with a photo agent, who can assist you in making industry connections that might otherwise take years to build.
If you do not possess strong business acumen, consider hiring an attorney and/or accountant to keep your books in order. An assistant can also prove to be an invaluable asset, as they handle the day-to-day specifics, while you focus on the creative details.