You don't just wake up one day and become a professional photographer. It requires passion, a love for photography, a lot of hard work, and a camera (don't forget that last bit).
While your interest might start with snapping pictures on Instagram, a professional photographer has to enjoy experimenting, polishing their skills every day and putting in long hours to manage their own business.
Most photographers struggle to transform their passion into a profitable profession. For amateurs looking to make the leap into professional photography, the duties that come with arranging a big or small business can be difficult to deal with.
This article provides a detailed five step guide on how to start your own photography business. Like most things worth doing there are no short cuts. But with the right amount of skill and dedication to your craft, there's no doubt you'll be able to make a living out of your passion.
Are you ready to turn your shots into a profitable photography business?
Here are the five actionable steps on how to start your own photography business.
The first step to starting a photography business is deciding how you're going to monetize it. There are quite a few solid options here.
There are so many different things you can do in this field. Most first-time photographers start with events (weddings, parties, and sports), portrait photography (social media, baby portraits, headshots), or business photography (restaurants, real estate, websites).
To get a good idea of what interests you, try a bunch of different fields. Maybe you think you'll love events, but you discover your true passion is taking photos of babies or Instagram models in activewear. Keep in mind that doing a particular type of photography doesn’t hold you back from doing another, especially when you're first starting out.
Thanks to Instagram, everyone thinks they are a photographer. But the chances are they have plenty to learn – from aperture and exposure to focal length and ISO. With this in mind, you can use your talent to create in-person or online workshops to teach people photography skills.
Workshops and online courses can be a great way to earn a steady income. It has helped many people to skyrocket their photography businesses.
Here are some examples of online photography schools and courses to get inspired by:
So, what's the best way to start?
Enrol in courses and workshops so you can get a feel for what good photography courses look like. Not only will you see what other people are doing, you'll be able to identify gaps in the market and understand what's expected from a successful photography teacher before creating your own online course.
When your course is ready for launch, you could use a tool like Paperform to collect sign-ups and even take payments.
Another potential form of income is uploading your photos to stock image websites. These sites allow you to sell your photos and earn money each month, as well as grow your online brand by sharing with millions of users around the world.
There can be stiff competition, but more often then not, the cream rises to the top.
Here are some of the top places you can sell your stock photos online:
Before you start selling photos, it's important to make sure you own the exclusive copyright. It's good practice to have your subjects fill out a photo release form before each photoshoot, which transfers the full ownership to you.
You might use any of the templates below to build your release form faster.
Vacationers are always on the lookout for more authentic experiences. They don't just want to see the sights – they want to take amazing photos of them. With that in mind, it's a great idea to offer to lead travellers through the maze of your city and teach them how to photo shoot it.
If you want to take this route there are a few options. You can pair up with travel agencies or join travel photographers on Facebook or Instagram. You should also have an up-to-date website, where you can show people what they can expect to see.
After a while in the professional photographer game, you might have gathered a nice group of followers drawn by your amazing skills with the camera. This is a good point to start collaborating with online influencers and PR companies.
They will pay you to do all sorts of things – from promoting products and services to reviewing the best camera gear. You'll also get other opportunities like invitations to photo conferences, exclusive access to apps and a bevvy of other fun perks.
Before you know it, in exchange for writing or posting about these opportunities, you might start receiving gifts and payments. Just make sure that you don’t write about every single offer – and only post what genuinely interests your community.
There's no shortage of folks looking for people who are talented at photo editing. It's a vital skill and one that brings in a lot of high-paying customers – from retouching a model to look like they're a long-lost member of the Kardashians, to helping a restaurant owner retouch photos for their fancy new menu.
If you’re gifted with Photoshop, Lightroom, or other editing software, it’s an open door for you to make some extra money. You can create a Gig on Fiverr or Upwork and efficiently work from home, making it a great offering for your photography business.
Wedding photography is one of the most profitable photography niches. Lots of photographers specialize almost exclusively on this form.
The best way to become a wedding photographer is to market yourself as one. Start by having a website built around wedding photography – make sure you can accept orders, payment and have a form build specifically for this purpose.
Paperform is the best tool to collect wedding photography requests. You can easily embed it on your website and start generating leads. You can also use this beautiful wedding photography form template.
When you decide on one or more ways to earn money through photography, it’s time to create a business plan. Doing so will help you decide your business structure and get your business off the ground successfully.
Creating your plan may be daunting. But a little work upfront can save you lots of time and money in the long run. Start by laying out basic ideas and then organizing your thoughts into a creative vision board or checklist.
Here are the steps to create a photography business plan. Feel free to use them for your plan. (You can also save the picture provided here, print it out, and fill it in if you find it practical).
As mentioned before, there are many types of photography that you can pursue. If you have ever heard the saying, "Jack of all trades, master of none" you'll recognize that it's important to concentrate your skills.
Choosing a specific photography niche is crucial to establishing a successful photography business. Also, make sure to analyse your competitors and decide what services you will offer.
Describe in detail the characteristics of the photography business you are starting.
You need to set your business ideas and goals that you would work towards accomplishing. Think of your goals as a long-term vision that you want to realize to create a successful business.
Finding a perfect business name is crucial, as this would also become your brand name. Make sure it is memorable, unique, and descriptive. Before you commit, make sure to do a simple web search to see if someone is already using that name.
Once you've settled on a name, it's a good idea to have some business cards or other marketing materials with your contact information made, so you can hand these out to potential clients.
Once you have chosen your photography niche and your business goals, you have to figure out your ideal target market.
You can choose your ideal clients based on many factors: location, the kind of people you are interested in (should they be kids, seniors, fashion models, etc.) and income levels (i.e. would you shoot a wedding for $1000 or $4000?).
Part of becoming a professional photographer is treating yourself like one. When you begin to make money through photography, open a new business bank account and keep taxes in mind early on to avoid tax-time shock.
Just like customers come to you for their photography needs, it's best to go to the experts when it comes to finances. Ask a financial planner about expenses such as the cost of legally setting up your new business, buying photography equipment, getting business insurance and a business license, marketing your job, and all the fun things that come along with being a professional.
One last step before you start as a business owner is figuring out your pricing structure. This is may be the most crucial part of your business plan. At this point, I suggest you take advice from a financial expert who will help you balance your investments against your revenue expectations.
A good rule when you start a photography business is to set your price point just a bit below the competition. When you're starting out this can encourage customers to choose you and can be a great way to get experience (and grow your brand). Take care not to undercut the pricing too much though – you need to make sure you're valuing your business entity or potential customers won't.
Although you might already have a camera that you love, here are a few things you need to consider when looking at camera specifications.
The number of pixels is less important than the physical size of the sensor. If you merely read camera spec sheets, you’ll see that less expensive cameras and costly ones in some cases have similar megapixel counts (eg., 16MP, 20MP, 40MP). This doesn't mean their overall performance and quality is the same.
The objective reason for the improved quality in a camera with a large sensor is that it gathers more light. The bigger the sensor, the less noise in low light situations and better color and contrast overall. So, don’t expect a less expensive camera to compare to a more expensive one – even if it advertises more megapixels.
Automatic and semi-automatic modes can be useful when you’re just starting. But to get the most out of your pictures you need to take off the training wheels and learn to use manual mode.
Cameras are getting better and better, which means they can shoot at higher ISOs without producing any noise (noise is a term to describe visual distortion, like grain in an old VHS tape). We would suggest that you look for cameras that offer ISO 1600 or higher.
Higher-end cameras offer the ability to shoot in RAW. RAW files are much higher quality, but make sure you have plenty of hard drive space because they are typically four-times larger than a high-quality JPEG.
Consider the quality of the autofocus system. Does the camera focus quickly? If the camera has difficulty focusing on the right subject, you may want to look for another camera.
Sensor-shift stabilization (IBIS) physically moves the sensor in response to vibrations. Electronic image stabilization (EIS), in contrast, is a camera trick. The downside is that it provides a less blurry picture, often at the expense of reduced image quality. So, look for an IBIS in your camera. (Not the bird).
Some camera makers are now offering screens that allow you to adjust the display's physical position along one or two axes. This is great when you want to record yourself as a talking-head, enabling you to see how you're looking all the time.
If you want to share your photos straight to Instagram or Facebook, buy a camera that has built-in Wi-Fi. Not many cameras have GPS built-in, but some manufacturers have optional GPS add-ons if you want to add this functionality.
Whatever camera you are looking at, it will provide you a range of lenses. Is it a dime-sized plastic lens or a real glass lens? Are there manual focus, zoom, and aperture controls on the lens itself? These are all questions to ask.
Aperture controls are usually found only on the most expensive cameras. Cameras with cheaper price tags will often include at least manual mechanical focusing from the lens. Of course, the kinds of lenses you need depend on the kind of photography you're doing.
When manufacturers advertise digital zoom, they frequently throw around big numbers. As a general rule ignore them. It's mostly marketing talk. Instead, check the result of the image quality and look for optical rather than digital zoom.
Most cameras have a standard mini-jack connector for an external mic, and some have a 3-pin XLR connector. Just figure out whether the camera's connector will meet your specific needs.
Weatherproofing cameras are ideal if you want to shoot in the rain. Another thing to keep in mind: if you want a weatherproof camera, the lens should also be weatherproof.
No matter how much money you spent on a camera or lens, great lighting is maybe the most critical element to creating great pictures that look professional.
A website is a must-have asset for your new business. It is the storefront of your job, the home of your brand and the best place to showcase your skills.
Here are a few general tips if you’re building your first website:
A unique look and feel for your website is essential. Try to create a simple, memorable brand name that fits your domain and helps customers (and search engines) find you.
When in doubt, imagine you were looking for a photographer. You would want to see something professional, modern and easy to navigate. You might also want to learn a bit about the photographer's process, their story and their creative philosophy.
Finally, don’t forget to add an order form on your website. That’s how you will be collecting requests for your services from the website. You can easily do this with Paperform – we even have a ready-made photography order form template to make it easy for you to use.
You might wonder how you can offer the right services to leap frog the competition start gaining potential customers. One of the best things to do is to get other people talking about you.
To succeed at that, you have to plan out specific marketing tactics to bring you the necessary word of mouth recommendations.
Here are some ideas that will help you fill out your marketing plan.
Collecting referrals from your clients is particularly important. Many businesses have relied on referrals for a long time. Make sure that you reach out to your clients regularly to ask them to refer you to their friends and family.
You most probably have created your photography business page on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Now it's time to start going over the basics of using them for your benefit. Learn how to reach your target market and design eye-catching posts that showcase your photography skills.
In tandem with your social media accounts, you can start a blog on your website to write about subjects within your niche. This grows your authority on the subject and can be a useful technique to bring customers through search engines and social media. It's also a great way to show potential clients your personality.
Try to make your blog content engaging and informative – think about the kinds of questions your potential customers would have and answer them.
Communities are a perfect place to show your expertise by responding to queries and sharing your blog content occasionally. There are over a million photography communities out there, and you'll find most of them on social media.
Communities are also an ideal place to find solutions to issues you come across and build a professional network. Keeping yourself active in these groups can get you some valuable insights for your job.
Another way to increase your website’s ranking on Google and other search engines is social bookmarking. Social bookmarking websites like Delicious, Stumble Upon and Scoop, allow you to submit your website URL to increase your site's ranking (an important way to get more traffic).
Social media companies hold numerous photography events and online contests where you can network and learn from like-minded photographers. In-person and online events are a fantastic way to grow your people skills, as well as get exposure and recognition, which will help you gain new clients and business in your area.
Turning your passion into a business can be a challenge, especially if you are new to the online world. However, with the instructions from this step-by-step guide and a little hard work, you'll be well on your way to becoming a full-time professional photographer.
Are you ready to get started?
Anthea is a Course designer and Content Creator for the LearnWorlds team. She holds years of experience in instructional design and teaching with Educational Technology. Anthea has been a photographer’s assistant for her father since when she was able to hold a professional camera and help him run his photography business.
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