How to Start A Photography Business In 2019

(Last Updated On: January 3, 2019)

Before You Begin Your Photography Business

Photo by Rosh Sillars

It’s a big decision to start a photography business in 2019. The good news is you can do it! Maybe you already have a small part-time photography business. You love photography and want the freedom and opportunity a career in photography provides. Are you ready?

I’ve earned over 7 figures worth of photography sales through the years and sharing what I know with you is the best way to thank the industry which has supported me.

First

It’s important to prepare and plan for your business. Do you have everything you need? You have some equipment, yet you have much more on your wish-list (this never ends). You have a good feeling about starting your business. However, you are looking for helpful advice before you start.

Have no fear, yes, this is an in-depth article with great information to help you start or grow your photography business. Yet, I’ll give you the secrets now. First, Start, it is not easier tomorrow and there is no way to know what to improve until you begin. Next is the right frame of mind. You must build a brand to win the photography business game. The fact is, there is a reason some photographers make $500 a day and others earn $10,000 a day. Hint, it’s not their equipment, software, filters or plugins.

What Is Not Important

photography business equipment

Although I have cameras and equipment ranging from high to low-end, I’ve created images for international, top ad agency campaigns with a Canon Rebel, mid-range lens and a single Alien Bee strobe. Yes, there are very good reasons to invest in high-end equipment. Yet, to create great images, the hottest new camera, gadget or software is not going to save your career. It all comes back to your eye, creativity and how you apply the photographic skills you learn along the way.

If an opportunity comes along and you don’t have the specific skills, either educate yourself or pass the opportunity on to another photographer. It is better not to take a photo job, than to poison your reputation. Maybe you can earn a referral fee?

Before You Start

Before you read further, please consider this caution.  Family and friends who hire you and rave about your amazing photographic eye is not reason enough to go into the photography business full-time.

Today, you need more than a good eye and the ability to focus and adjust a camera well. Millions of people like you and me have access to cameras and demonstrate excellent photographic skills. Photography is like most of the arts. Unfortunately, only the top 10-20% will make a good living from their craft.

There is a way to know if the time is right.  When people in your personal circle, such as, family and friends refer you to people outside their inner circle. This the positive sign of trust. Once the referrals come at a consistent rate from outside your family and friends, you can now evaluate the reality of being a full-time photographer.

For most budding photographers, starting part-time is the best answer. Many may find it to be the long-term answer too. There is nothing wrong with working on your dream part-time as long as you respect the photography industry and take the business side of photography seriously. This means charg what you are worth, act professional, understand and respect the value of your copyright.

Full or part-time, it is important to recognize that you are about to start a real business. The competition in the photography industry is too great to ignore. Yet, I recommend you ignore it. I explain why later in the article. However, to succeed, it helps to understand the value of a well-managed photography company. Many photographers fail full-time because they take poor part-time photographer business practices and apply them to a full-time photography business.

Your Photography Business Plan

Photography by Rosh Sillars

When you begin, focus. Decide what type of photography you wish to focus on and who (the persona) might be interested in hiring you or purchase your photographs. Test ideas until you find the right persona for the type of photography you enjoy making. A persona is the demographic make up of your main target audience, such as, a young twenty-something bride or a sales manager at a local business. The more specific you are about your target the better. This doesn’t mean you can’t do other types of photography. However, it is important that you find your niche or specialty so you stand out from the crowd.

One thing I always recommend is that you discover your and.  This helps you separate yourself from competition. The reality is everyone with a camera or smart phone is your photographic competition. When you combine your craft with another skill, technology or style you become an expert with value, rather than a commodity.

Facing The Numbers

It’s not easy to know how much to charge for your photography. The first step is to add all your expected expenses, everything. Include equipment, rentals, gas, insurance, set materials, assistants, processing time and how much you want to make in a year. Then divide the number of assignments you expect to earn over the next year.

This how much you need to make each day of photography to make your business work.

Use your current history as a guide; not what you hope for or you big goal, but a realistic number. If you are unsure, start with one per week or 50 for the year. This calculation will give you a realistic gauge about how much you need to charge.

I recommend the per image pricing model for most types of photography. If you are still unsure, compare prices of other local photographers.

Don’t be the cheap photographer. It’s foolish to think that you don’t have any overhead because you already own a digital camera. The business practice of the lowest price photographer is a race to the bottom.  The only way being the cheapest will work is if you work in mass or you are Wal-Mart. You’re not Wal-Mart. You are a professional. My experience tells me that photography buyers don’t give the big or important jobs to the cheap photographer.

Helpful Hint: Keep a list of your rates easily accessible so you will properly estimate all projects.

Your Photographic Audience

Photo by Rosh Sillars

Photography success means you develop a brand, style and look for your business. I recommend you hire a good designer to support your branding elements and marketing efforts. It makes all the difference in the world in terms of creating a professional image for your prospects. Keep the key elements of your look consistent throughout your paperwork, business cards, sales materials and website.

A photographer must have a website. If you don’t have a website in 2019, you are not in the photography business. Start with a professional website design using your best images. Make it easy to find your contact information; list your contact options on every page. Don’t expect people will click over to a contact page or fill out a form to do business with you.

Make it easy to do business with you.

Contracts are important to protect both you and your clients. Contracts don’t need to be complex. You can find photography contracts online through professional photography organizations such as PPA or ASMP.

Always retain your copyright unless someone pays for it. The only real good reason someone needs to buy your copyright is if they plan to resell your images. Yes, your photography copyright has value. Remember, if your copyright didn’t have value, then why are people working so hard to get it?

It’s About People

People are the secret to business success.  Network, network, network. Connect with people who represent the industry or persona of your target market. Do this online and off and never stop. Everyone is an opportunity for a referral. Ask the powerful question who do you know that uses or many need my type of photography (be specific). It’s amazing who the people around you already know.

I recommend you encourage and reward people who refer new business to you. These are your fans, supporters and champions. You must cherish them. Let them know you appreciate all they do for you.

How To Stay In Business

If you plan to stay in the photography industry for a long time, never stop learning.  Photography, business and marketing rules are always evolving. Read books, watch tutorials on YouTube, take classes, workshops and seminars. Keep on top of your craft, technology and the latest marketing strategies.

One thing independent photographers forget to do is go to work every day.  If you work for a company full-time, you are expected to be on the job at least 40+ hours per week. You need to hire you and expect the best. You must prospect for new opportunities and do the work required to make your photography business a success every day.

When you don’t have work, spend time to develop better and more efficient workflows, create new techniques, and improve your marketing. The best photographers create images every day whether they have an assignment or not.

Remember, the day you think you have arrived is the day your business and photography begin to decline.

The Only Thing Which Gets Your Photography Business Off The Ground

Photo by Rosh Sillars

The first thing you need to do in order to start your new business is to start. Stop waiting for the perfect time, people or money.  If you wait, you are wasting valuable time. Waiting does not help you grow your new business.

Go to moo.com and order some business cards. Let everyone know you are in business. Along the way you will make mistakes, you will learn many lessons and you will apply those lessons to become a better photography business person.

In the beginning of your business development process, you need to do the following things.

  • Open a business checking account. Keep your business money separate from your personal money.  Track of what is going in your account and what is going out of your account. The goal is to have more money coming in than going out. This may seem obvious, but you would be amazed at how many business people ignore this basic principle.
  • Develop a business plan. Your business has a better chance of success if you write a business plan (Here is some help)
  • Decide if you need financing to run your business. Can you self fund your photography business? or do you need investors? If so, go find them. In most cases photographers should self-fund their business.
  • Develop and implement a marketing budget and plan.
  • Hire quality professionals to support you. Good accountants, lawyers and consultants will save you time and money over the long-term.
  • Network, develop partnerships and sell everyday.

These are not all the things you need to do. Along your path you need to improve your product or service, develop better processes and reinvent yourself. Starting a business is easy, making it successful takes a lot of work. If you are not doing the work, you will never have a successful business.

A Successful Photography Business Ignores The Competition

Photo by Rosh Sillars

You want to live on own your own terms in 2019. The concept of doing what you love for a living sounds amazing. Building a profitable photography business in 2019 is not easy. Especially if you depend on your photography talent to drive your business.

Wait!

Isn’t your talent what it’s all about? Unfortunately, the modern photographer can’t depend on their eye alone to grow a photographic business. However, the successful photographer does understand that no-one else has their eye.

If you want to be a successful photographer in 2019 and beyond, you must forget about the competition. There are too many great photographers in the world to concern yourself. When you focus on the competition, it derails you from your goals.

There is nothing wrong with finding inspiration from other photographers. I highly recommend you learn from the best and apply techniques which help you create powerful images, provide unique customer experience and in demand products.

However, your only real photographic competitor is you. Compete against yourself. Establish weekly, monthly, and annual business goals. Set your prices based on your cost of doing business and the value you bring to your clients. Develop your brand, which is your reputation — then sell it.

No! you got in to photography to get away from the business world, you don’t want to deal with selling. If this is your attitude, your photography business will fail.

When you open a photography business, you enter in to an extremely competitive industry. It’s so competitive that nearly every person you see walking down the street can take a paying opportunity away from you, just by pulling out their smart phone.

This is why you must learn how to develop your personal brand. The photographers personal brand is not an option in 2019, it’s a requirement. You must sell your talent, style and reputation to people who don’t need you. You must make them want you.

How You Do It?

The first step in brand awareness is an awesome website. This is where you sell your services. Instagram is not your portfolio. A website is still a requirement for a serious photographer.

Next you must decide on your social media platforms. I recommend you start with one core platform and build out after you establish traction. Instagram is an excellent option to develop a community around your photography. However, for some photographers, Pinterest or Facebook is the best choice. You need to discover where your audience hangs out.

Consider going live. As much as showing your work is important to find your fans, so is your personality. 2019 is another big year for live streaming video. You must be a part of the next generation of social media.

The only way to get going live right is to practice. There are a number of things you can talk about. Give a behind the scenes tour, chat about your favorite photography topics, such as, subjects which inspire you, locations, posing and lighting. Ask a question, offer a Q&A ssession with your visitors. No mater what you do, acknowledge your audience, make them feel special and give them a reason to come back.

You can’t sell without a good call to action. This is true in your live streams, blogs and website. Make sure it is easy to contact you and people who encounter your work know exactly what to do to hire you. You’re best bet is to direct people to a web page, easy email or phone number.

Activity is the key. You must be active in your target community daily. If your target audience is local, then get out of your home, office or studio and shake hands. When you meet in person, it’s helpful to have a handout, such as a postcard of your work.

Remember, no one has your eye. This means you can’t rely on your prospects imagination to understand and visualize your work. You must show them, online and off.

Your Photography Marketing Plan

As important as social media is to the photographer, you must develop a full marketing plan. This includes multiple campaigns to grow your business. You need to develop awareness of your brand, drive traffic to your website, improve conversions (sales) and a retention campaign to keep your customers coming back.

To develop awareness use your social media resources, however, if they are limited, I recommend advertising using Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram. To drive traffic to your website, both social media and ads do work, however, my favorite method is SEO (search engine optimization). Although it takes time to build website authority, I’ve found search traffic earns my photography business the most income.

Improving your conversions is about studying your calls to action, A/B testing your webpages and reviewing your analytics for positive and negative trends.

Retention is an important, yet often overlooked, piece to your marketing plan. To grow your company you need to keep your customers coming back. Communication is key. I highly recommend you use email to keep in touch with your current customers. Your biggest fans will check in on social media to see what’s new. However, you need to connect with all your clients on a regular basis.

Send reminders, give your clients ideas as to when they should consider their next session. Maybe you have an exciting new product, software or piece of equipment. Offer a demonstration with a blog, photo or video.

Kick 2019 Off Right

Pull your best work together from 2018 and update your photos cards and website. Commit to review and update your website at least every three months.

No photographer knows everything about photography. There is always something new to apply to your craft. Never stop learning. Seek out new technology, concepts, styles, workflows and strategies to improve your photography skill. Do this not to beat the competition, but to personally be a better photographer and improve your photography business results.

Don’t let the frustration of photographers with poor business skills deter you. There are always photographers who charge less. Heck, I’ve lost jobs to photographers who charge more, you want to be that photographer. If you have to depend on price, you are not attracting new clients with your brand and skill, you are bidding for them.

The downward spiral of the lowest price leads many photographers out of business. Ignore the competition, to worry about what they are doing, it does you no good. Build a brand other photographers wish to emulate and exclaim how can you charge so much!

Photography Marketing Mobile-First Strategy

Photo by S. J. Pyrotechnic

Obviously, mobile is important in our daily lives. I’ve talked about mobile for 10 of the 10 years I’ve written this blog. Yet, today, mobile isn’t something to consider as part of your marketing strategy. It’s now the starting point.

How to apply new and traditional mobile concepts into your current creative business growth plan. These days there are many different approaches, some you may not have considered.

We live in what is referred to as a mobile-first world. And when I say mobile first, you may think about websites, and rightly so. Actually, I’ll address websites later. First, let’s think about your personal habits. Then, let’s consider the general public and what people actually do on mobile, and what they do not.

Whether people check out your site out on mobile or not depends on the type of content you deliver. Take a moment to think about the kinds of things you like to look at on mobile. Do you like to read in-depth articles on mobile? probably not. So, if you are reading this article on your phone, chances are you will not finish it now. Maybe you’ll just skim through it, possibly read the first paragraph or two just to get the idea of the blog post.

You may not like to read email on small phones because emails can be a little bit too long while you’re on the go. Chances are you’ll wait until you get on a larger computer to finish or reply. Shorter emails you’ll reply to right now. However, if it has a lot of content such as video and photos, it may be saved for later too. When you develop a mobile plan, consider what your target market does and why they are there. Make viewing your photographs an excellent mobile experience.

What We Like On Mobile

Let’s dig a little deeper into some of the things we like to do on a mobile phone. We like to text. In other words, we like short, direct information on mobile. We like video — video is huge on mobile. This is because we don’t have to do anything after we press a play button to watch a video. Our phone screens are big enough to give up enough information so we know what’s happening on the screen, we’re entertained. Remember, audio is super important with mobile. It’s true, if you don’t have good audio, people will not watch, even if you have awesome visuals. Poor audio will sink a video every time.

Texting And Messaging

Let’s take a step back to think about texting and messaging on social media.  We like short, quick text to the point back and forth communication. We use emojis or even a gif once in a while. We send words, symbols or short sentences to get the point across. You’d be amazed (or not) at how people communicate on a smartphone without actually saying anything people living in 1980 would recognize.

We have a new form of communication which has developed over time – it’s quick, short and to the point. However, one thing we don’t like, especially when it comes to texting, and even messaging is spam. People don’t like messages from sources they are not expecting. So, how do we approach texting and messaging to actually make it effective for our business?

One of the concepts which make texting and messaging so effective in marketing is the high open rate. The percentage of people who actually look at the message. However, we get really mad when companies send us stuff we don’t care about. So don’t spam. Don’t buy lists and send stuff.

Use text and messaging as a support system. I found it effective to remind people of preset appointments or let them know about an event or a special opportunity. In other words, you want people who know you to receive these texts and messages. Send to people who are really interested in what you have to offer.

When it comes to messaging, such as Facebook message bots, it’s a similar experience. Message bots are a big deal and will continue to become an important communication tool over time. You can create message bots that people can opt into based on the need for specific desired information. For example, I have a client who has an outdoor service, which means the weather is a big deal. So, we created a message bot for people to opt-in to which lets people know specific information about the weather in their location. Of course, accompanying the messages and information they requested is optional relevant support from the company.

Now, there are a lot of ways you can approach bots. However, the main thing is to make sure what you offer has value. So it’s kind of like an opt-in email list, offer something of value, and then people will give you their name and email, which you can market to later.

Video And Your Mobile Strategy

Video is another area you want to consider when it comes to developing authority and community for your mobile marketing strategy. It’s an excellent solution, more companies and professionals than ever are sharing their expertise and telling good stories with video. As a photographer you have stories people find interesting.

You have many options when it comes to using video as part of your photography marketing strategy.  Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, IGTV (which is the vertical version of a video on Instagram) are excellent choices. Oh, and don’t forget the standards such as YouTube and Vimeo.

So where should you start with video? Personally, I would begin where you have the strongest community. If you have a good Facebook community start there. If you have a solid Twitter community, start with Twitter. If you don’t have a community, I would go directly to Instagram or YouTube and build a photography community with one of those two platforms.

Your Next Step Is Live

If you really want to connect with your community as part of a mobile strategy, I would definitely consider going live. For live video, stick with your core community. However, consider Facebook if you are on YouTube and YouTube if you are on Facebook. Periscope was certainly hot at one point in time. But this platform has faded. Periscope still has value, especially if you are big on Twitter. However, I think YouTube and Facebook are your best first two choices to consider.

Websites And Mobile First

I want to discuss websites next because it’s the center of our marketing solar system. It’s important to make sure your website is mobile friendly. You may have heard about Google’s mobile-first index. It simply means that Google looks at a websites mobile friendly factors for ranking, especially when someone searching from a mobile device.

In the past, it was desktop first, because most people were on a laptop or desktop computer. Google has reversed this because a majority of the traffic now comes from mobile. And of course, Google is keeping up with the times.

Here are a few things to consider as it relates to your websites mobile solution. First, is your website responsive? We are well into the age of responsive websites. In the past, we might have a subdomain designed for mobile. However, today every website should be responsive and fit nicely on the screen in which it displays your photography.

Fast On The Draw

Another important element for mobile website success is to make sure your website loads fast. People do not have the desire to wait for your website to load. You think they might, but they don’t. Every second amount to a loss of opportunity on mobile.

Search

When it comes to mobile, search is still important.  Your website needs to be a good mobile-friendly resource. What information related to photography are people searching for? And how is your website be the solution? How can you make it easier to do business with you using a mobile device?

It’s also important to remember, search engines still depend on text. Photographers have websites full of photos, rightly so. However, make sure you have text describing your work, and photographic expertise. More people are talking to their phones to find photographers, so consider this fact as part of your mobile SEO strategy.

Set Goals For Mobile Success

If you want to understand what social media, marketing, and advertising platforms you should use for your mobile strategy, it’s important to set up some goals first. 

Before you finalize your goals, understanding your website analytics.  See what percentage of your website visitors are from mobile, this can open your eyes as to the importance of mobile. Mobile users — they’re buyers. Knowing the numbers (analytics) helps give you direction in terms of what is working and establishing realistic goals for your company.

Yes, plan your goals. However, before you can reach your goals, you need to understand your customer’s goals? Consider the four areas of marketing I like to focus on in my seminars.  How can I use mobile to develop awareness of my brand, drive traffic to my website, improve conversions (sales) and retention of my hard earned customers?

If you’re trying to drive traffic to your website, you can advertise. Both Facebook and Google are good advertising platforms. With Google, people just have to click a button and they’re calling your business from wherever they are standing.

There are a lot of excellent ways in which you can use the new services available on many of the different digital mobile-friendly platforms. Usually, those services are in line with the goals of your customers.

Mobile users are active in some way because they need more information about your photography. And if you can provide such information, you have a much greater chance of earning a new client.

There more things you can do today on mobile to support your customer and earn new customers. But some things are still the same, like understanding the photographic problem of your customer and how you are the solution.

Still, we need to think about why the searcher would go to their mobile phone first to find the solution to their problem. Why would they go to Google? Why do they look for a video, swipe on Instagram or listen to a podcast? There are very good reasons for each of these things. You need to think about how you can fit these concepts into your mobile marketing strategy to serve your future customer.

Dig down deep, get creative and find new things you can combine with your marketing strategy to separate yourself from the competition. And if you do that, you will find a mobile success strategy.

The When Photography Business Is Slow

Photography is certainly an up and down business. Some areas of photography, such as, seniors and weddings have their season. Too many photographers don’t use their down time to their advantage. Your down time is the best time to prepare for new business and retool your photography.

I like to do this a the beginning of the new year, and a few times throughout the year when I find my schedule slowing such as the months of May and August.

You are not alone. Whenever the phone stops ringing or the emails slow down, you fear it’s over. No one will ever call on you again! You know it’s not true, yet, you can’t shake the feeling. Some photographers are paralyzed. Don’t let this happen to you.

Six Things You Can Do

Photo by Tanel Peets
  1. Take a past or current client to lunch. Ask questions, such as, what are you seeing in the marketplace, how do your peers view photographers today? How do you think I can improve my photography business?
  2. Create new images. The best photographers photograph everyday. If you don’t have a paying assignment, make one up. Create.
  3. Educate yourself. Look for new techniques or trends you can learn and apply to your photography. Experiment with software updates or look for new concepts to apply to your images. Test new equipment to see how you can improve your photography.
  4. Get out of the office, house, studio. You are not doing much good there. Become more productive with your time. Take a walk, visit a new location for inspiration, go to a local networking event, or visit an old friend. Get out of the environment which is contributing to your stagnation.
  5. Review your processes and customer experience. How can you make hiring you as a photographer a more awesome experience.
  6. Work on your marketing. Update your website, improve your SEO (search engine optimization), network on social media, update your email list or develop a Pay Per Click marketing campaign.

The worst thing you can do when your photography business is slow is become unproductive. The slow time is what you were waiting for when you were too busy.

Will Your Photography Business Fail?

It’s a big step to start a photography business. Many photographers begin as amateurs who decide to turn their passion in to a career. Unfortunately, many photographers don’t heed the warning signs about their business future. Photography is an awesome career, however, there are things you must do to increase your chance of success.

The Beginning

Let’s start at the beginning. Although there are many things photographers don’t do well at the onset of their career, myself included. The number one path to failure is not starting. I know, when you have enough money, the stars align and your problems go away — it will be the right time. Nope.

There is never a perfect time.

Your problems will not magically go away. You may have a specific barrier which you are waiting to pass. Still, chances are, there will be another hurdle once this one passes. Start now, even if it’s a small step.

There is nothing wrong with a part-time job while you develop a photography career. You can transition. However, make sure you have a plan. Is your career transition process over, three, six months or a year? What goals do you need to reach before you can tell your boss to take this job and shove it.

Set Up For Failure

Too many photographers set poor precedents early on in their career. If you have any intent of making photography your full-time job, set high standards early. Use best business practices and set solid rates. When you set low rates early in your career, people will expect them later. The people who refer you will let others know if you are a cheap or high-value photographer.

The cheap photographer reputation is a tough one to shake.

It’s important to know your cost of doing business (CODB) and how much you need to charge as a full-time photographer. Starting cheap with the belief you can magically raise your rates quickly later, when you depend on photography for your income is foolish. Check out my pricing article for more information.

How may $500 weddings does it take to make a living? One hundred? Don’t forget your expenses, time, marketing and the competition you need to beat to earn 100 weddings in a year. There is a reason photographers charge thousands of dollars per wedding, command high day rates and per image fees. We have expenses to pay and families to feed.

Depending On Others

Is the life of a photographer right for you. Friends and family are helpful guides. Yet, not all friends and family want you to succeed. They don’t have a dream job, why should you? They are not always the best judge of a marketable photography either.

I recall my grandparents hired a neighbor, who was a budding photographer, to create their photograph. My grandparents where wonderful people. My grandmother was very kind. She saw the best in everyone. They raved about the talents of this photographer. Shockingly, when I saw the result, I realized it was the most horrible portrait I’ve ever seen from a photographer. Not just from a professional perspective. The photo is terrible. It’s underexposed, on camera flash, poor composition against a gray wall. Both my grandparents are frowning, caught off guard and look like they belong in a police line up. They proudly sent copies to the entire family.

Friends and family who tell you what a great eye you have does not pay the bills. You need strangers willing to pay you for your photography and then refer you. If people who didn’t know you before their session, refer you after to their friends and family — you have a good chance at success.

Don’t Do It Like Everyone Else

There is nothing wrong with mentors. It’s helpful to find influence and inspiration from other photographers. It’s not a bad idea to learn by trying to recreate similar work from photographers you admire.

However, over time, you need to separate yourself from the competition, if you are to succeed as a professional photographer.

When you do what everyone else does, it turns your photography in to a commodity. In other words, hiring you is all about price, not your work. No, your great service is not the answer either. Everyone must have great service to stay in business. If you don’t find a look, style or service which separates you from the competition. It will be a tough road ahead. There are a lot of photographers who can do the basic work.

The good news is, you can succeed because no one has your vision. Still, it’s important to understand the business to create a successful photography career. Are you going to start your photography business in 2019?

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