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Photography is essentially an art form which captures the moments in life we cherish. If you are thinking about sharing the beauty of your work with others while generating some cash flow, a photography business might be right for you. There’s a need for professional photographers in every market, but the majority of photographers make money either by serving individual clients or by working as a freelancer for magazines, websites, and other venues. Here is an overview of each type of photographer:
- Client-based: These photographers are hired by different clients and charge a certain rate per hour or per session. Their clients range from individuals, couples, families, advertisement companies, fashion brands, travel agencies, schools and corporations, etc. For instance, wedding, portrait, and headshot photography are all client-based business models.
- Freelancer: These photographers envision themselves primarily as artists and see their own self-expression as the core of their work. Their source of income often comes from selling or licensing photos to various stock image companies, magazines or books, and also from making large prints to sell at craft shows, art fairs, private galleries, etc.
Who is this business right for?
This business is great for people who have a creative eye, like flexible work schedules, and enjoy creating and editing photography of all kinds.
What happens during a typical day at a photography business?
If you’re running a service-based photography business, you will be:
- searching for potential customers for your photos, including cold emailing, calling, marketing and networking within your community and finding freelance work online
- reviewing event logistics, pricing, and service details
- taking photographs of clients or your specific subject/event
- editing the photographs and delivering the final product to your customers
As a freelancer, you can expect to be:
- taking photographs wherever your inspiration is from, be it architecture, landscape, human or animals
- connecting with and pitching your work to local galleries, art fairs and coffee shops
- submitting high-quality photos to stock image companies
- freelancing for magazines or a newspaper for specific events
What is the target market?
When you are first starting out, you will want to reach out to family and friends as your first clients. Word of mouth is very important for growing a photography business.
How does a photography business make money?
Service based photographers charge in one of three ways:
- package-pricing, or charging for a specific number of edited photos
- event-pricing, or charging a fixed price for a single event
- hourly-pricing, or charging a fixed rate per hour
As a freelancer, depending on where you’re selling your final product, the price can range from a few cents per photo for a stock image site to several hundred dollars for a magazine or gallery.
What is the growth potential for a photography business?
A professional photography business can be managed on a part time basis and kept rather small or it can be built to be a much larger business. There are some professional photography businesses that have many different photographers on the payroll for additional man power to cover more events. On the other hand, a small photography business with just a handful of customers can be managed from home on a part time basis. As your company grows larger and you get new clients, you may want to consider moving your business out of the home, leasing a professional studio.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful photography business?
You don’t need to be a seasoned photographer to open this type of business. You can start photography business as long as you have passion, a camera, editing software, and can find someone who is willing to buy your service.
As you grow your business, you should also consider taking classes to hone your skill. You can find many online courses to take regarding specific aspects of photography as well as classes offered by local colleges that you may want to consider.
There are also two professional photography associations you should consider to help get more education in the field:
What are the costs involved in opening a photography business?
If you will be working out of your home, the costs for opening your photography business can be quite low depending on what you currently own and how much you are willing to spend.
The standard photography equipment needed to get started includes a professional camera, editing software, and a computer to edit your pictures. You may need more equipment depending on the type of professional photography business you manage. If you have a studio, you may want to invest in proper lighting as well as props for your pictures.
Running expenses are quite low. You will need transportation funds for photography sessions that are outside your home or studio. You will also need to pay for electricity and possibly internet in order to edit your photographs, communicate with clients, and do research.
What are the steps to start a photography business?
Once you're ready to start your photography business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your photography business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your photography business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Establish a 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.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
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.
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How to promote & market a photography business
The best way to find initial customers is by creating a presence on social media and reaching out to people that you know. Online advertising can also be a good promotional option. You will also want to develop a website where you can showcase your work for others to see. This gives your prospective clients a chance to become familiar with your artistic style and also get a sample of what they can expect from your services. As you become more established, try to find your specialization in photography so you can offer the best service to your target community.
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How to keep customers coming back
Nearly every professional photographer has a personal website featuring past work and favorable reviews from previous clients. This gives your prospective clients a chance to become familiar with your artistic style and also get a sample of what they can expect from your services. Offering high quality, timely, and professional photography services is the best way to keep loyal customers. Be a people person and maintain a good relationship with your clients (e.g. by sending birthday cards, thank-you notes, etc.). This will also help you get more referrals from your old customers.
How and when to build a team
As a professional photographer, your business will inevitably be limited by how many clients you can personally take on. For this reason, if you can afford to pay them an hourly or monthly salary, finding reliable business partners, assistant photographers, and secretarial support can allow you to expand your business and bring in more revenue.
Granted, some pros choose to keep their business a solo operation, preferring to avoid the administrative headaches of managing employees. Nevertheless, when you find yourself turning away prospective clients due to a lack of personal bandwidth, it is probably the right time to expand your team.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a professional photography business.
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, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply.
- 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.
Photography businesses should consider requiring clients to sign a service 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 service agreement.
Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional service agreement for your 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.
How much can you charge customers?
As a service-based photographer, when you are first starting your business, you can expect to make between $20 to $75 per hour. As you gain more experience, and if you are able to break into the top end of the market, you could even make up to $500 per hour. However, this doesn't factor in time for all the work you will have to do before and after a shoot.
In addition to charging for the delivered product, you can also charge for added services, such as a rush delivery.
When setting prices for your business, estimate the amount of time you will spend photographing the event or subject, how many pictures they will be receiving, and how long it will take you to edit those pictures for delivery. In addition, you should look at what some of your competitors are charging in the area.
For further details see the article, How much should Photographer charge in 2016.
If you’re a freelancer uploading your photos to a stock image site, you will typically get about 15-50% in royalties per download. You also retain full ownership of your work.
If you manage to pitch your photo to a magazine or an ad company, a one time use your photo is can earn you a few hundred up to a thousand dollars, with a bonus if your artwork is selected for the front cover.
For an overview of the range of expected pay different magazines offer freelance photographers, see the article, Who pays photographer and how much?
Many professional photographers who are just starting out make around $30,000 per year.
How much profit can a photography business make?
The amount of clients you can have on a daily basis largely depends on the type of photography business you maintain.
- Wedding photographers can typically handle one wedding per day.
- Photographers for engagements or senior photos can serve as many as three clients per day, including time spent taking editing the photographs.
- If you photograph in a studio with clients coming to you, you can serve many more clients.
Work may be seasonal depending on the current needs of the market.
How can you make your business more profitable?
As you gain experience and build up your professional reuptation, you can consider other ways of making money in addition to offering your services as a photographer. For example, you could offer photography courses for beginners, or you could sell photobooks or individual prints of your work. If you are tech-savvy, you might also consider starting a photo-editing / restoration service.