Start a wedding 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 wedding 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 initial 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. Skip on ahead to the Business Overview for more detailed answers to all your questions.
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 wedding photography business is sued. Consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account
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.
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.
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.
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.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
There are few things more important to a bride and groom than their wedding photos. Each photo takes them back to that special day surrounded by all their loved ones. The wedding photographer is an integral part of the process, there to capture the little moments the couple was too busy to enjoy at the time. Many couples also hire their wedding photographer for the events leading up to that special day, such as the engagement photos and engagement party.
Who is this business right for?
Individuals who have gained firsthand experience in the photography profession and are confident enough in their skills to venture out on their own will realize the greatest success in this business.
What happens during a typical day at a wedding photography business?
If you are considering opening your own wedding photography business, clearly define your professional goals and vision, both for the company and as an individual. Do you prefer to hire a staff of photographers or will you be out in the field, capturing those perfect moments? How active of a role do you plan to take in the day-to-day tasks?
Most of the events you shoot will take place on the weekends, leaving you the weekdays to attend meetings and handle office duties. While each day will vary, they will include the following tasks:
- Meeting with potential clients to discuss their needs, the services you offer, and pricing. Once hired, you will often have at least one more meeting, where you will further discuss their vision for the wedding and additional photo shoots.
- If you are not familiar with the wedding site, visit the establishment to get a feel for lighting and identify ideal areas for shots.
- Prep for photo shoots
- Travel to each location
- Edit photos
- Meet with your client to share their photos and identify which ones they would like to order
- Send images off for printing and wedding book creation
- Routine maintenance on photography equipment
- Educate yourself on the latest photography trends
- Attend networking events in the community
- Develop and maintain your marketing strategy
- Delegate responsibilities to your admin and team of photographers
For some artists, it’s difficult to maintain a balance between their creative tasks and administrative duties. If this balance is something you struggle with, consider employing someone to take on the responsibilities that disengage you.
What is the target market?
Your primary focus will be on engaged couples, seeking a photographer for their special day. This will often require you to attend multiple photo shoots, creating a photographic timeline of the engagement. For this reason, many wedding photographers are able to expand their services to include more than just wedding events.
How does a wedding photography business make money?
Your business will generate revenue from each service you provide. This includes: photo shoot(s), album creating, photo printing (includes editing), and meetings. Some offer their services as a package, while others charge a fee-for-service.
What is the growth potential for a wedding photography business?
This industry realized a higher rate of growth than most, over the last five years. Forecasts up to the year 2021 indicate an expected annual growth rate of 3%. These patterns express the maturity of the industry and ability to grow, with high market demand, regardless of the health of the economy.
Your business’ growth will, ultimately, be defined by the effort you put into building it, as well as the demand in your area. Before opening your business, research the photographers in your area. What are their specialties? How does your style stand out from the competition? If you have a team of photographers, what makes their style unique?
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful wedding photography business?
The ability to capture great images is critical to the survival of your company. Individuals planning on entering this field are encouraged to spend at least a year working as an assistant wedding photographer. Working under various photographers with different styles and specialties would also enhance your skill set. This experience will help you: define your style as a photographer, build your confidence, assemble a portfolio, and develop a personal style when it comes to communicating with your clients. To further advance your skills, the Weddings and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) hosts several annual conferences across the world.
Between networking, meetings, and photo shoots, a majority of your time will be spent with people. Therefore, strong interpersonal and communication skills are also important.
The service you are providing is an art. Artists are in a continuous state of improvement, ready and willing to learn the latest technique or accept constructive criticism. This should stand true for every aspect of your business. If photo editing is not your strong suit, consider taking a seminar and spending time working with the various software systems. Watch online tutorials and subscribe to photography magazines and online blogs.
As mentioned, some artists struggle with maintaining a balance between their art and the business aspect of their company. If you do not possess strong business acumen, consider taking a course at your local college or hiring someone to manage those duties. When friends and family come to you asking for a discount, remind yourself this is a business and you are here to make a living.
What are the costs involved in opening a wedding photography business?
Before getting started, you will need to purchase and familiarize yourself with all necessary camera equipment. Keep in mind that it is always recommended to have a backup of most items with you at all times.
You will need to budget for the following items (with approximate prices):
- Camera - $2,000 each x 2 = $4,000
- Various lens sizes - $3,500
- Flash - $330 each x 2 = $660
- Miscellaneous equipment - camera bags, memory cards, reflectors, light stands, flash triggers - $500-$1500
- Computer and editing software - $1,800
Additionally, you will need to have a well thought-out, attractive website built, develop a marketing plan, and lease an office/studio space. When budgeting for your wedding photography business, you should have a minimum of $14,000-$18,000 of capital set aside.
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.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a wedding photography business?
Professional wedding photographers offer the following advice:
- Always have backups of your cameras and flashes, at the very least.
- To have consistently great pictures and minimize editing time, get into the habit of shooting in manual mode.
- Remember that this is a business that requires you to wear many hats.
- Keep in mind that, in most places, the wedding photography business is seasonal. Get creative with different ways you can offer the public your services during the off-season.
- Ask your clients a lot of questions. This is how you get a feel for what they are looking for out of their wedding photos.
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Growing Your Business
How to promote & market a wedding photography business
In this industry, word of mouth referrals are your most powerful marketing tool. While some consumers will answer an ad in the newspaper, most are more apt to seek out recommendations within the community. Once you have completed the required services for a client, follow up with them and get feedback. If they’re satisfied, tell them about your referral program. Many customers have no idea how much of an impact this can have on your business.
Referrals don’t have to come from just past clients. Network within the community, developing relationships with cake makers, wedding planners, and venues. Offer a finders fee of 10-20% per client and always refer new clients to them whenever possible.
Social media sites such as Instagram are also a great way to gain exposure for your photography. Additionally, there are a number of business listing websites you could sign up for. Before partnering with one that charges a hefty fee, research their reputation and check how many views they get per month. Once you have met their guidelines, International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers will allow you to apply for a membership. If accepted, you will gain access to several resources, including an online “best wedding photographer” locator.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
Consistently stellar customer service is critical to your business’ survival. Weddings can be stressful times. Make sure you answer your client’s questions in a timely manner and keep in contact with them throughout the experience. If the wedding couple’s customer service experience is subpar, it will not matter how much they love their photos, they will tell their friends about every struggle.
How and when to build a team
Even if you decide to start your business as a solo photographer, you will need at least one assistant. Many photographers hire an apprentice or intern, who works at a reduced rate (or for free) in exchange for school credit or professional experience. Just make sure each team member is skilled at communicating with clients and that they maintain an air of professionalism that properly represents your business.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a wedding 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 more 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
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
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.
Wedding photographers 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.
Certificate of Occupancy
A wedding photography business sometimes has office space. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a wedding photography business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your wedding photography business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Wedding photographers charge anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000, depending upon the specifics of the package and the experience of the photographer. Packages include a set amount of time, generally eight hours, while additional time is charged at an hourly rate.
What are the ongoing expenses for a wedding photography business?
In addition to your standard overhead expenses that come with leasing an office space, wedding photographers should budget for the following ongoing costs:
- Website hosting and maintenance - $100 - $1,500 per year
- Accounting software and services - $300 annually
- Editing software - $180 annually
- Business insurance - approximately $700 annually
- Product samples - $200 - $1000 annually
- Fuel costs
- Marketing materials
- Association fees
- Payroll and taxes
- Workers Compensation
How much profit can a wedding photography business make?
Once you have signed enough clients to pay off all your equipment, you will start to see a real profit in your business. If you charge $2,500 per wedding and shoot two weddings per month, you have generated a revenue of $5,000 per month. Staffing additional photographers will help generate additional revenue and increase your business’ profit.
How can you make your business more profitable?
To ensure a more profitable business, consider implementing the following strategies:
- Offer additional services and goods, such as framing and accessories
- Have a team of photographers, each that have different specialties
- Offer your services at events
- Consider taking family photos as one of the services you offer
- Host photography webinars and community classes