Start a travel photography business by following these 9 steps:
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 travel 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 travel photography business?
Most travel photographers work out of their home or on the road. Your start-up costs will include investing in several professional cameras and needed accessories, a laptop or computer able to display your images in the highest definition possible, and the associated software for editing. Of course, you are going to need to pay for your travel as well. $20,000 should buy your basic equipment and get you to your first few destinations.
What are the ongoing expenses for a travel photography business?
You'll be buying new camera equipment from time to time, but the travel is likely to be the biggest expense that you will face. Don't expect to be staying in four-star hotels with concierge service, but anticipate using hostels or sharing small rooms on a regular basis while you get established.
Who is the target market?
You will have made it big time when established photo-journals and travel guides are contacting you to shoot a spread for their next issue. As a beginner you'll want to establish yourself through selling on stock photography sites, freelancing to newspapers and websites, and perhaps doing studio work for weddings, graduations, and families.
How does a travel photography business make money?
You will earn the majority of your income by selling individual photos to websites and print magazines. Should you build a positive reputation, it may be possible to have your travel paid for by a client who wants your photography for their business, but this is not common.
How much can you charge customers?
Popular stock photography sites can pay as little a ten cents for each upload of a single image. Some sites do offer professional rates, but you will have to submit a portfolio and resume in order to become one of their select photographers. A local newspaper may offer between $20 and $100 for a picture. When your image is selected by a popular travel journal or magazine, it is possible to earn $1000 for a single image.
How much profit can a travel photography business make?
The average income for a professional photographer is about $60,000 a year. That average represents both new and established businesses. You will start out slow and should expect to earn half the average for the first few years.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Watch your travel budget. Just because you are on the road does not mean that steak dinners are affordable. Treat your travel expenses like daily living expenses, rather than as vacation expenses, and you'll see more income in the bank.
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.
After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your travel 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, and it's easy enough to form by yourself, or check out the top business formation services.
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.
Recommended: You can get $200 when you open a Chase business checking account with qualifying activities. Learn more.
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 travel 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.
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.
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. Learn more here about trademark and copyright protection.
The nature of legal requirements in distance education is ever changing, especially in regards to copyright laws. Here is a frequently updated resource, which can help keep you aware of the legal requirements.
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 travel photography business
The internet is going to be key in getting your name and images recognized by the paying public. While sharing your work on social media can get you noticed, it doesn't necessarily translate into a source of income. Upload samples of your work to photography websites and mention you have other work available. Send personal emails to potential travel businesses that may need your kind of work. Pitch photography ideas to travel journals and local news stations. Use any and all channels to reach out to the public.
How to keep customers coming back
You will need a catalog of traditional images mixed with unique angles and composition to attract new clients. They need to see that you can deliver a high-quality image when they order a specific assignment. Your artistic interpretations of typical destinations will let them know you are more than somebody walking around with a good camera. You can build repeat clients when you deliver on their expectations quickly while surpassing their requirements.
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 Travel Photography Business In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
A successful travel photographer will have extensive knowledge of how to use their camera to get the highest definition images containing dramatic landscapes. They will need to enjoy living on the road, hiking, and exploring distant locales to get the perfect shot. They should be sociable and able to toot their own horn in order to develop new clients and customers.
What happens during a typical day at a travel photography business?
If you are running your own travel photography business, on any given day you might:
- Travel to a new destination, this can include driving, flying, hiking, boating, or a number of other forms of transportation
- Take a large number of photos using your personal camera equipment
- Sort and curate your images using professional image software, fix lighting, and crop and focus errors to produce a professional image suitable for sale
- Upload select images for sale on stock photography websites or submit them to clients who have placed orders
- Work your social media, blogs, and other marketing channels to increase your business’ reach
- Study current travel magazines and journals for trends to help you plan your next photography destination
- Collect payment from clients who bought individual shots or hired you for a shoot
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful travel photography business?
You are going to need to know how to:
- Operate a professional-level digital single-lens reflex camera and be able to manipulate all the settings to generate the best, high-definition images
- Manipulate images using professional photo imaging software such as Adobe Photoshop or ACDsee
- Use a personal computer
- Navigate stock photography sites to upload your work
- Complete basic accounting tasks
- Utilize social media to promote your personal brand
- Travel the world on a budget
- Use a marketing strategy to get your work in front of paying customers
What is the growth potential for a travel photography business?
It takes time and effort to establish yourself as a full-time freelance photographer. You will need to continuously market your work and yourself in order to generate regular orders from returning clients. The growth potential is in making this job your only source of income when your photo sales are able to cover your living and business expenses.
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Take the Next Step
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.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a travel photography business?
Your creativity and determination to find a new and unusual angle of a location will get you noticed. It's not enough to take a shot of a local statue that everybody has on their phone. Visit familiar landmarks at times when nobody else is around, look for unique lighting or interesting backgrounds to add an interest edge to your work. Stay local to save money on traveling until you are beginning to earn real income for your images.
How and when to build a team
Someday, when your clients are paying you to explore the wilds of the African plains or the jungles of the Far East with all expenses included, you may want to hire an editor to polish and curate your images for you. Until that time, this will be a one-man job.