How to Start a Photography Business

by Jackie Lohrey - Updated September 26, 2017

Professional photographers spend about 5 percent of their time snapping photographs and the other 95 percent running their businesses, according to James Michael Taylor, owner of Outlaw Photography. As a result, success in this saturated and competitive industry requires both talent and good business sense. Quality equipment, an online portfolio, checklists and a solid marketing plan are essential for getting your business up and running.

Equipment Requirements

Invest in professional-level equipment. According to Julie Swanson, owner of The Modern Tog, start-up costs as of 2014 average between $10,000 and $15,000. Although specific equipment needs depend on whether the target market centers on in-studio portraits, weddings or both, basic equipment requirements start with two cameras and three to four different lenses. You’ll also need one or two flashes, flash triggers, reflectors, light stands, camera bags and memory cards.

Create an Online Portfolio

An online portfolio is essential for making it easy for new clients to find you and inspect previous work. Organize your website according to themes, such as family portraits and graduation photographs, or subjects such as wedding photographs by bride and groom names. If you don’t have an established client base on which to build a portfolio, consider investing in your future by offering free services, but only if your target is in-studio portraits. If you plan to focus on weddings, Valerie Jordan of the Digital Photography School recommends against using a friend’s wedding as a starting point. Instead, assist a local photographer or attend a wedding photography workshop and get permission to include any photos taken in your portfolio.

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Create a Client Questionnaire

Client questionnaires are vital for success. A client questionnaire is helpful for getting to know a client and for session planning. Open-ended questions specific to the type of shoot can provide valuable personal information. For example, Lauren Lim of Photography Concentrate recommends asking a newly engaged couple questions such as “what about this moment do you want to remember the most,” and “what are your favorite places and things.” Session planning questions should focus on must-have photos, the desired location and any specific requirements.

Join a Professional Organization

A professional association, such as the Professional Photographers of America or the American Photographers Association, can benefit a new photography business. For starters, professional organizations provide good opportunities for networking and getting your work recognized. In addition, you may qualify for discounts on products, services and insurance, and have access to legal and industry information. Both the PPA and APA have a number of membership levels and associated fees, and the PPA has a professional photographer certification program.

About the Author

Based in Green Bay, Wisc., Jackie Lohrey has been writing professionally since 2009. In addition to writing web content and training manuals for small business clients and nonprofit organizations, including ERA Realtors and the Bay Area Humane Society, Lohrey also works as a finance data analyst for a global business outsourcing company.

Photo Credits

  • Michael Gann/Demand Media
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