How to Start a Photography Business, Step by Step


re you ready to transform your passion for photography into a successful business? Whether you're just starting out or have been honing your skills for years, this step-by-step guide will provide you with the essential roadmap for launching your photography business, even if you have limited experience.

Embarking on this journey may have its challenges, but fear not! This blog will save you countless hours of searching through YouTube for answers and help fast-track your dream of establishing a thriving photography career.

We will walk you through the crucial steps of how to start a photography business. We've got you covered from selecting the right photography equipment to registering your business, understanding the costs involved, and discovering effective contract and gallery software solutions. We will also dive into strategies for finding potential customers and guide you in the must-haves when creating an attractive website and photography portfolio. So, let's dive in!

The pros and cons of starting a photography business

Successful photographers know there are many pros to owning your own photography business. Here are some reasons why you may love being a photographer.

  • Your Why - We all have different reasons for getting into photography, but it really comes down to the fact that we want to capture moments for people that they will look back on for years to come. Whatever your reason is, remember that what you are doing is important! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • Creativity - This is where photographers shine! Use your photos to show your unique style and personality in every session.
  • Independence - If the sound of working for yourself, making your own hours, and not reporting to a boss sounds amazing, photography may be the career for you.
  • Income - Professional photographers can may a lot of money in this career. Work hard to get clients, set up email automation, and learn how to upsell your gallery and print sales for an endless income stream.
  • Travel - Some photography is done outside or in locations you have never been. Your photography services can take you to some incredible places.

Now that you know the good parts of starting a photography business, there are also some cons of being an independent business owner.

  • Imposter syndrome - Even as your skills develop, you will have some doubts in your first few years of business about your skills, how to find clients, and marketing in general. Develop an inner circle of other professional photographers to help you through these times.
  • Expensive gear - Cameras, equipment, and software can add up. Make sure you are appropriately pricing your sessions to cover your expenses.
  • Wearing many business hats - Especially starting out in your photography business, you won't have many others to rely on. Unfortunately, just showing up with a camera and calling it a day is not all it takes to be a successful photographer.
Image of Laylee Emadi

Types of photography businesses

When starting out, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of photography business types or how to choose a niche. Do you want to photograph people or still objects? Do you want to work in a specific area or travel? Are you open to any and all clients?

Here are some of the top photography genres. See if there are any you would love to work on a regular basis. Sprinkle in your own style and personality to set yourself apart from others.

  • Wedding photography business
  • Portrait photography business (this can include family portraits, newborn photography, or senior photography)
  • Headshot photography business
  • Pet photography business
  • Sports photography business
  • Food photography business
  • Real Estate photography business
  • Fashion photography business
  • Landscape photography business
  • Brand photography business (this can include product photography)
  • Fine Art photography business

If you are still unsure what niche you want to focus on, we recommend doing a few model calls. Model calls are a widely practiced strategy among photographers to offer a few complimentary sessions in exchange for practice and portfolio expansion. This will help you enhance your skills with your camera and help you practice working with clients. It will be tempting to accept numerous model calls to maximize practice opportunities. We do not recommend doing them all for free.

Image by Chip Dizard

The must-haves to get started

Now for the basics of how to start a photography business: your equipment. The rest of this blog will go into deeper detail on how to start a photography business once you have the equipment.

  • Camera - This is where it all starts, but what camera should you buy when starting a photography business? We suggest a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera. For cost-effective options, the Canon Rebel line and the Canon 6D Mark II are great places to start. Don't forget to buy extra batteries!
  • Versatile lens - The 50mm 1.8 is a great place to start! If you have a crop sensor camera, this will look more like an 85mm on your camera. If you're unsure which one to get, contact your local or online lens dealer to help you. Brands like Canon, Sony, Nikon, Tamron, and Sigma are great places to start. As you gain experience, you can add more lenses to your equipment.
  • Manual mode - The manual mode camera settings control your ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture. It is so important to learn how to shoot in manual mode to control focus points and the amount of light you bring into each photo. You don’t want your camera to choose your settings for you. There are many lighting courses online, but we will link Katelyn James' Lighting and Location course. She has course levels for beginners and professional photographers.
  • Computer - You will need a computer to connect to clients, draft contracts, edit photos, and send galleries. Most photographers work with Apple computers, but you can choose what kind to fit your budget. The most important need is a laptop with sufficient memory. External hard drives can also save you on computer space.

Photography services and software

Now that you have the equipment to capture the photos, it's important to have the photography services and software to help edit photos and increase your professionalism through client experience.

  • Photo editing software - When starting a photography business, finding the right tools is essential to set yourself up for success. Alongside your trusty camera, there are a few indispensable tools that every photographer should consider. Adobe Photoshop is a go-to software for advanced image editing, allowing you to retouch and enhance your photos to perfection. Photoshop is more advanced so we recommend starting with Lightroom. Lightroom is an indispensable tool for culling and editing your photos.
  • Photo culling software - If you are looking for software that culls through photos for you, we suggest looking at AfterShoot or Imagen. This is especially helpful for wedding photographers as they can have thousands of photos to go through at the end of the wedding day.
  • Online proof gallery and delivery software - Now, let's talk about some bonus tools that can take your client experience to the next level. CloudSpot is an excellent gallery delivery platform that allows you to showcase your session photos beautifully. Through CloudSpot galleries, you can sell prints and products, adding to your overall photography business income.
  • Studio management software - CloudSpot allows you to streamline your business operations by sending client invoices, contracts, and questionnaires. Utilizing CloudSpot for your studio management and gallery software elevates your photography skills and provides a seamless and professional experience for yourself and your clients.
  • Photography website - Creating an online presence is vital for photographers to thrive in today's digital age. An online presence serves as a virtual storefront, allowing potential clients to discover and engage with your work easily. First and foremost, having a professional website is essential. If you aren’t to that point yet, you can use CloudSpot as a portfolio! Here are a few photography website and portfolio must-haves. You can launch a basic website through Wix or Squarespace. As your photography business grows, we suggest a more customizable website like Showit.
Image by Logan Fahey

Important legal steps when starting a photography business

Starting a photography business can be an overwhelming task. There are a few things that all photography businesses will need before taking on any clients.

  • Business license - Protecting yourself and your business can be done by establishing an employer identification number and registering your business as a Sole Proprietor, Limited Liability Company (LLC), or S-Corp. Establish your new photography business legally to avoid any future headaches.
  • Insurance - Any professional photographer will tell you to get business insurance! It may seem annoying to deal with and a pain to set up, but this is a great way to protect yourself and your gear in case something happens. The Hartford is a great choice, among many others.
  • Accounting software - Managing your revenue and expenses manually is hard to do. You can do this yourself by using accounting software or outsourcing to a professional.

How much does it cost to start a photography business?

It might seem like you need to run out and buy a full-frame DSLR camera, three lenses, and all the additional products. The truth is that you don’t need every piece of equipment to get started. You do some basics which would include a DSLR or mirrorless camera, a versatile lens (for example 50mm 1.8), and a way to send contracts and invoices. We can almost guarantee that you will want to buy all of the lenses that you hear other photographers talking about but the key is to ask yourself, “Will this help me take better photos than I take now”. If the answer is no then you can wait to buy!

Many photographers suggest budgeting between $10,000 and $15,000 in startup costs in order to launch a photography business. This will include your cameras, lens, batteries, memory cards, business license, and software costs.

Based on your overhead costs, equipment costs, competitors/peer costs, target audience, and your invested time in the business: determine the pricing plan and how much you will charge your clients.

Image by Michelle Franzetti

Other considerations when starting a photography business

Beyond the tangible equipment, software, and services, there are some other aspects you should be considering to start a photography business. The following are important when trying to generate leads and accepting future photoshoots.

  • Your branding - Creating a strong photography brand is vital when starting a photography business. It helps you establish a unique identity and build recognition among your target audience. There are various options available to create a compelling brand once you come up with a business name: logo tournaments or hiring a professional graphic designer. A professional can work closely with you to understand your vision, values, and target audience, ensuring that your brand elements, such as logo, colors, typography, and visual style, align with your unique photography style. Regardless of the route, investing time and effort into crafting a strong photography brand will pay off in the long run, helping you stand out in a competitive industry and attract your ideal clients.
  • Your reputation - Show up on time and with the right equipment for the job. Always charge your batteries the night before a photoshoot. Showing up to photoshoots early with equipment ready to go seems basic, but it is crucial for the client experience. Clients don't always know what to expect so it's a good idea to give them an idea of timing before and during the shoot of what to expect. Clients will also need to know how long it will take to receive the final images. Word-of-mouth is a big deal in the photography industry and a good reputation matters.
  • Photo editing consistency - Maintaining consistency in your work, particularly in your editing style, is crucial for establishing a strong and recognizable presence in the industry. Consistency allows you to develop a distinct aesthetic that becomes synonymous with your brand, setting you apart from others. When clients hire a photographer, they often seek a specific look and feel that aligns with their vision. By consistently delivering a cohesive editing style across your portfolio, you build trust and attract clients who resonate with your artistic choices. It is essential to develop a signature editing style that reflects your artistic vision and brand values. Whether it's vibrant and colorful, moody and cinematic, or light and airy, staying consistent in your editing helps create a cohesive body of work that showcases your unique perspective. Consistency not only strengthens your brand identity but also fosters client loyalty, as they come to recognize and appreciate your distinct style. Remember, it's not just about individual photographs but the overall visual experience you provide as a photographer. So, strive for consistency in your editing style to create a lasting impression and solidify your position in the photography industry.

Write a photography business plan

What is your ultimate goal in photography? Will this be a full-time job or a part-time job? A part-time job that you want to turn into a full-time job? Writing out a business plan can help you answer these questions and provide you with a photography business roadmap.

  • Your pricing and rates - Photographers can struggle when setting their rates and determining their value. Your rates should reflect your skill level and market value. You should never price your work to result in lost wages or print costs, but many do. Do some market research in your area to determine what your competitors charge as a place to start. There are multiple rates to consider: your photoshoot rate, your editing rate (if you do proofing), and your print markup rate during photo delivery.
  • Attracting future clients - With your camera in hand, you are poised to embark on an exciting journey. Before you dive into the realm of professional photography, it is crucial to gain practice and attract clients. This is where the concept of model calls comes into play, offering you the perfect platform to enhance your skills and build a client base. Many photography business owners started out leveraging Facebook groups to find clients.
  • Upselling prints and digital files - As you gain experience through a few initial sessions and have sent out a few edited galleries, it is time to consider upselling the digital files. You are working hard, you’ve spent money on equipment and you deserve to be paid for it. Instead of giving your model call the client the entire gallery for free, you can choose to upsell the gallery through limited downloads. This means you would offer 5-10 images to the family for free and then they can get the entire gallery of photographs for an additional fee. It is important to recognize the value of your work and the investments you have made in establishing your photography business. As you progress further, it becomes acceptable to introduce an upselling strategy during model calls. For instance, after presenting the initial set of 5-10 digital images, you can offer the option for the model and their family to upgrade to the entire gallery of photographs for an additional fee. This way, you not only provide them with a taste of your photography skills but also present an enticing opportunity to preserve their cherished moments in a comprehensive collection.
  • Asking for reviews - With every session, you need to ask your clients for a review on Facebook and Google. Whether you do this in person, by email, or in a call-to-action button on your gallery, it's important for future clients to see how you worked with a client in the past. Reviews provide valuable feedback and testimonials that can enhance your credibility and reputation within the industry. They offer potential clients insights into your professionalism, skills, and customer satisfaction. By consistently delivering exceptional service and requesting reviews, you can leverage the power of word-of-mouth marketing and tap into a valuable network of clients. Ultimately, the combination of positive reviews and referrals can significantly contribute to the growth and sustainability of your photography business.

Starting a photography business demands considerable time and financial investments. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to seize opportunities to generate revenue and grow your enterprise. By strategically incorporating upselling techniques, you can strike a harmonious balance between building your portfolio, satisfying your client's needs, and ensuring the sustainability and profitability of your photography business.

Image by Michelle Harris

Create a marketing plan

You will want to promote your photography business by leveraging social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. These will significantly expand your reach and attract a wider audience. These platforms provide opportunities to share your work, engage with followers, and connect with potential clients. Engaging consistently on social media, sharing behind-the-scenes glimpses, and offering photography tips can help establish your credibility and build a community around your brand.

Getting started on social media as a photographer has endless potential to help you grow your photography client base. Some social post examples include showcasing your recent work, creating case studies, sharing testimonials or success stories, and even sharing about yourself! These posts will help you get referrals and future clients.

As you grow your photography business, you can add online pay-per-click advertising through Google, Bing, and Pinterest.

Build your professional photographers network

Networking is a powerful tool that many professional photographers use when starting a photography business. Seek out the right associations and business meet-ups to connect with a wide range of people in the industry. Building a strong network opens doors to valuable opportunities, collaborations, and mentorship. The more connections you establish, the greater the potential for word-of-mouth referrals, which can significantly boost your client base.

  • Connect with other photographers - Attend industry events, engage in online photography communities like CloudSpot Community, and foster relationships with fellow photographers, vendors, and professionals. Remember, networking is not about promoting yourself but also about building genuine relationships and offering support to others. By actively networking, you can expand your reach, gain valuable insights, and tap into a network of like-minded individuals who can help propel your photography business forward.
  • Find a mentor - Finding a mentor or peer in the photography industry can be a game-changer during your first year as a professional photographer. Having someone experienced and knowledgeable to guide you through the intricacies of running a photography business can provide invaluable insights and accelerate your learning curve. A mentor or peer can offer practical business education advice, share their own experiences, and help you navigate the challenges and opportunities that arise in the industry. They can offer constructive feedback on your work, assist in honing your technical skills, and provide guidance on pricing, marketing, and client management. Additionally, a mentor or peer is a source of inspiration, motivating you to push boundaries, and continuously improve your craft. Seeking out a mentor or connecting with like-minded peers can significantly contribute to your growth and success as a professional photographer.

Ready to start your own photography business?

We hope this helps you on your journey to learning how to start a photography business. Understanding your equipment and finding clients is just the start. With a little grit and education, you will be on the fast track to starting and growing your business with ease. We are rooting for you!