How to Start a Photography Business: 8 Tips to Get Started with a Photography Side Gig

Do you love taking photos? If so, you’re probably one of the many people who have wondered about how to start a photography business. With some strong goal-setting and determination, you can join the ranks of professional photographers. To get started with your photography business, follow these important steps.

How to Start a Photography Business in 8 Easy Steps

  1. Choose Your Areas of Focus
  2. Create a Business Plan
  3. Decide on a Business Name
  4. Establish Your Business
  5. Acquire Space, Supplies, Equipment
  6. Build a Photography Website
  7. Create Your Marketing Materials
  8. Promote Your Business

One of the great things about working in photography is the endless array of opportunities. If you can’t dive in full-time, you can learn about how to start a photography business on the side. Or, you can start part-time and work towards making photography your primary job. You can shoot everything from weddings to portrait photography to events—and more. Envision the photography business of your dreams and work to make it a reality.

Becoming a professional photographer and business owner is quite an adventure. It can feel overwhelming at first, but you can learn from the example of others who have taken the plunge. By following these simple steps, you can set yourself up for success in photography.

1. Choose Your Areas of Focus

When starting a photography business, the first thing you should do is to decide on your areas of focus. Think about your experience and the types of photos you love to take most. 

As you formulate your ideas, it may be helpful to ask yourself some questions. For example, do you prefer to take pictures of people or inanimate objects? This can help you decide between pursuing portrait photography or a field like product or real estate photography. If you like photographing people, you need to assess whether you prefer to take pictures of babies and kids, teens, adults, or families. You could also consider corporate photography or fashion photography. 

What if you truly love very different areas of photography? As a small business owner, you can create a unique blend of photography services that suits your talents. You may find it best to start with a single focus area and then expand over time. This approach will allow you to manage all the specific needs of one style of photography before branching out.

Once you have some clarity on your focus areas, you should research your specific niche. After all, starting a wedding photography business is very different from launching a real estate photography business. You’ll need to understand key details—such as any specialized photography equipment you’ll need—early on to help you plan. Don’t skip the important step of crafting your vision when exploring how to start a photography business.

2. Develop Your Business Plan

After choosing your focus areas, your next step is to develop your business plan. Some photographers mistakenly skip this essential step—and their business growth can lose money as a result. With a business plan, you have a clear definition of your goals, financials, and core marketing strategies. You’ll know what kind of business you want to pursue, the type of clients you want to attract, and have a roadmap for success.

How detailed does your business plan need to be? If you intend to seek investors or borrow money, you’ll need a robust photography business plan. But if you expect to fund your business using your personal assets, a less formal plan will do. Either way, building a business plan is an important step in starting a photography business.

Whether formal or informal, your business plan needs to include some essential content. Start with an executive summary that lays out basic facts about your business. Discuss your business structure and your chosen focus areas. Detail where you will conduct your business—such as a home photography studio, rental site, or on location. You may also want to write a mission statement for your photography business.

Include sections that describe your products and services and target market. Identify your competition and note how you’ll differentiate yourself from them. List key marketing strategies and outline your financials. It is also helpful to create a timeline of crucial business-building steps and the dates by which you will accomplish them.

Creating a business plan takes some time, but it’s one of the most important things to do when starting your photography business.

3. Decide on a Business Name

After all the analysis that goes into business plan development, you’ll be ready to exercise your imagination. You can put your creative muscles to work and brainstorm potential business names. Choosing a business name can be one of the most enjoyable parts of how to start a photography business.

Often, professional photographers use their personal name as part of their business name. This can be a good approach in some instances. However, if you’ve done your homework and decided on your areas of focus, you can choose a distinctive name that embodies what you do. If you’ve decided to focus on child photography or pet photography, you may want a fun, whimsical name. But if your primary focus is business photography, a corporate-sounding name would be more suitable. A wedding photographer may want an elegant name. 

Remember that your business name will be a core piece of your brand identity. Choose something that stands out and conveys a strong message about your skills and services.

After you’ve narrowed your ideas to a few top selections, you need to make sure that the names aren’t protected by trademark. You can find out via the US Patent and Trademark Office website. Also, make sure that you can acquire a domain name that aligns with your business name. This way, you’ll ensure that prospects and customers can find you on the internet with ease.

4. Establish Your Business

You’re now ready to take one of the most exciting steps in your photography journey—officially establishing your new business. You’ll need to affirm your business structure, which you should have determined while developing your business plan. 

Many photographers who work on their own choose a sole proprietorship, which is the easiest, lowest-cost option. However, you should also consider a limited liability corporation (LLC). With an LLC, you’ll have greater protection of your personal assets than you would as a sole proprietor. No one likes to think about legal problems, but they can and do happen. An LLC may be the wisest choice for your financial security.

Now, you’re ready to fill out official forms that allow you to start a business. Each state has different business start-up requirements, so be sure to research what to do for the state where you live. You may also need to secure permits from your city or county. Also, if you plan to sell photography prints, you may need to collect sales tax. Understanding state and local business start-up requirements is a key step in learning how to start a photography business.

If you form an LLC or plan to hire any employees, you’ll also need an employer identification number (EIN) for tax purposes. Even if you are a sole proprietorship, having an EIN may be a good idea. You can use it to identify your business for tax purposes instead of using your personal Social Security number (SSN). This approach keeps your SSN private and safeguards you against identity theft. Applying for an EIN is free and takes just a few minutes, so it’s likely worthwhile.

You’ll also need to secure a business license from your locality. Usually, getting a license requires you to fill out a simple form. Once you have a business license, you are ready to open a business bank account. 

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), it typically costs less than $300 to start a business. Of course, costs may vary by state and by the business structure you’ve chosen. You can probably handle the basics on your own but be sure to consult an attorney if you need advice on how to form a business entity.

After you’ve filled out all the necessary forms and registered your business at a local, state, and/or federal level, you’re officially a business owner. Congratulations! 

5. Acquire Space, Supplies, and Equipment

Now that you’re a business owner, you can start acquiring the resources you need to run a successful photography business. First, make sure you have the right space to conduct business. You may have a home photography studio, or you may work on location. You could also rent commercial space for your business operation. Even if you don’t take photos at home, you may need to set up a home office for post-production or other business management tasks.

Next, you need to make sure you have all the equipment you need. You’ll need at least one camera and appropriate lenses, of course. But you may need lighting equipment, backdrops, props, photo editing software, printers, paper, and more. And you may also need a quality camera harness, such as the Drifter Camera Harness or the Bandit Camera Harness

If you’ve completed a business plan, you’ll know exactly what to spend on essential start-up costs. Keep a careful watch on your spending so that you don’t drain your bank account too quickly.

6. Build Your Photography Website

Today, a photography website is a must-have marketing asset for every photographer. Why is a website so important? Many people begin their search for products or services with an online search. You need a website that conveys what you do and showcases your work.

For many photographers, a do-it-yourself website building approach can work well. Website solutions such as WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix are inexpensive and easy to use. These tools also integrate with web hosting providers. You may need to invest in a pre-made, custom theme that is optimal for presentation as images. Often, a website is home to your online photography portfolio.

You’ll also need to decide if you plan to conduct sales through your website. For many online photographers, having a web-based storefront helps generate significant income. Your website building solution may have built-in tools that let you create an e-commerce store. You’ll also need to integrate with a payment processor so that you can accept payments from customers. 

Today’s website creation tools are extremely user-friendly. Chances are, you can handle the basics of creating and updating a website yourself. But if you get stuck, you can get technical support. Web design platforms and hosting providers often have a customer service team who can offer you guidance. If necessary, you can hire a web consultant to complete specific tasks. 

Remember to consider your web design and development aptitude during business planning. You don’t want to be stuck with an unexpected bill for web consultation services that wasn't in your budget. Keep in mind that you don’t need to waste time focusing on tasks that are out of your comfort zone. It can often be better to delegate certain tasks to an expert so you can focus on other aspects of starting your photography business.

7. Create Marketing Materials

A website is just one element of your overall marketing strategy. You’ll need a range of digital and printed marketing assets to help spread the word about your photography business. If you’ve completed a thorough business plan, you should have a solid idea about what marketing materials you need.

Every photographer needs a few essentials. Business cards are a must if your focus is primarily local photography work. You’ll also need to develop a strong social media presence—but you don’t need social media accounts on every network. At a minimum, photography businesses should consider having accounts on Facebook and Instagram. Why? Facebook has more than a billion global users and is the biggest social network in the world. Instagram focuses on visual content, which makes the site a perfect space for showcasing your photography talent. Pinterest is another excellent choice, especially if your pursuing wedding photography.

What else do you need to market your photography business? You may need promotional brochures, signs, and print or online advertisements. Also, email marketing can be an exceptional way to keep in touch with customers. 

You can find inexpensive and easy-to-use email marketing tools that let you create everything from newsletters to special promotions. Be sure to ask for permission from people before you add them to your email lists. If you don’t, you could find yourself out-of-compliance with anti-spam laws. Unfortunately, this situation can jeopardize your opportunities to send out emails from your web domain. 

You don’t need to be a marketing guru to cover the basics of marketing for your business. But you should be prepared to hire marketing professionals if you need them. Identify your strengths and decide where you need help. Your best bet may be to offload some tasks and focus on the areas of building your business that make the most of your time and talents.

8. Promote Your Business

You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you build it, they will come.” Unfortunately, that’s not always true when it comes to operating a business. Some people think that if they can take nice photos, their business will grow organically with little need to focus on marketing. The truth, however, is that most successful photography professionals put significant energy into promoting their business. You’ll need to become familiar with some marketing fundamentals as you learn how to start a photography business.

For example, instead of building a website and letting it stay stagnant, you should update it frequently. Consider creating a blog to highlight client successes or share your expert photography knowledge. Post to your social media accounts several times each week to keep your name in front of prospects and customers.

Networking is also key to success in professional photography. Find out how to get involved with your local chamber of commerce and learn about lead sharing opportunities with other small businesses. Get to know professionals in niches related to your areas of focus. If you do wedding photography, team up with event venues or make-up artists, for example. Stop by local childcare centers and share flyers describing your holiday portrait packages if you do family photography.

Always look for ways to grow your expertise and meet people. Attending relevant trade shows is a great way to accomplish these goals. While you can attend large national trade shows, you may find more benefit from attending smaller, local events. For example, if you focus on pet photography, a local pet event can be ideal. As your business grows, you may want to shift from attending shows to exhibiting your work or sponsoring an event yourself. 

You should always work towards cultivating lasting relationships with past customers. Word-of-mouth is a powerful way to gain new clients. Stay in touch with clients and show them your appreciation by offering special discounts or offers. You may even want to consider sending a birthday card just to let customers know you care. 

When customers have positive feelings about your business, they are more likely to refer others to you, and this will help your business continue to thrive. Focusing on building lasting, trusting relationships is essential when starting a photography business—and can ensure successful growth in the years ahead.

Learn How to Start a Photography Business and Turn Your Dreams into Reality

If you’ve ever dreamed of having a career in the photography industry, you’re not alone. But don’t set your dreams aside and assume starting a business is beyond your capabilities. Instead, learn how to start a photography business step by step and work steadily towards your goals.

As a first step, you’ll need to envision what you want to do. Do you have specific talents or areas of interest? Do you want to start a small side business with the occasional photo shoot or turn your photography into a full-time job? These considerations provide an essential framework for developing your photography business.

After creating your vision, you should build a business plan. Be sure to dedicate time and energy to this essential task. Your business plan will document your business purpose, products and services, and competitors. Detail your company start-up costs, identify funding sources and pricing, and create a high-level marketing strategy. A thorough business plan provides a critical framework for your business growth.

Once your business planning is complete, start thinking about your business name. You can always use your personal name, or you can go in a more creative direction. Remember that the right name can let prospective customers know what you do and help establish your brand identity. 

The formal process for starting a business usually involves filling out several forms. You’ll need to register your business in your local city or county and may need to register with your state or federal government as well. Completing this critical step can feel amazing since it transforms you from an amateur photographer into a true professional.

Be sure that you have all the necessary supplies. You may need camera gear, lighting equipment, camera harnesses, props, and more. You’ll need to secure space to perform your photography work, along with any resources you’ll need for post-processing. 

Early on in your business journey, you should create a photography website. Having an online presence helps people find you and allows you to showcase your portfolio. A website can also be a launching pad for your digital marketing efforts. You’ll need a few social media accounts to expand your reach and drive traffic to your site. And you may find benefit from email marketing and digital advertising as well.

But don’t neglect the value of print advertising. An ad in a local paper or a brochure for a community event can bring significant new business for some photographers. Flyers left at relevant local businesses can also bring business your way. Many professional photographers find they need a mix of digital and print marketing assets to achieve the best results.

Remember that marketing yourself is key to building a successful business. Keep your website and social media accounts active. Attend local events that align with your focus areas. Network as much as you can. When you put focused effort into marketing your business, you’ll find yourself with new clients and higher revenues.

Photography is truly a wonderful field full of countless opportunities. If you’ve invested time in perfecting your craft, you can turn your passion into a lucrative business. Learning about how to start a photography business is the first step towards achieving your ambitions. Many successful professional photographers have walked the path before you—and you can find practical advice and inspirational stories to guide your way. 

Imagine the future you desire and work steadily towards creating it. Believe that you can start your photography business. Then, take that first small step. Your dream is just beyond the horizon and you have the talent to get there.