Turn Your Passion for Photography Into a Business
Professional photographers are in demand. Stop a moment and look around you. How many photographs do you see? As I sit here in my office, typing on the computer – I see my profile picture on the computer. I see photographs of homemade bread on the cover of a magazine. I see a model wearing nice jewelry on the cover of an Avon catalog. I have photographic art hanging on my walls. There is a landscape photograph on my calendar. The bag of potato chips that I was snacking on earlier has a picture of nachos. I look at a portrait of my grandparents and find myself missing them. I have a stack of photography books full of amazing photographs. If I flip over to Amazon, I will see tons of product photographs. If I visit Realtor.com or Zillow, I can stare at pictures of beautiful homes that are for sale. If I check the news, most news stories will be accompanied by at least one photograph. Everywhere I look, I see photos. Some pictures were taken by average people. Yet, most of the really good photographs were taken by a talented professional photographer.
Reasons that you may want to start a photography business
When you look around, can you see potential business opportunities? Do you find yourself critiquing photos? Are there times that you know that you could have taken a better photograph? For example, maybe you would approach the subject differently, use different props or select different lighting. Do you find yourself thinking that you could use your skills and creativity to take photographs for people that will meet or exceed their expectations?
Maybe you are photographer that is simply looking for a way to earn some extra income to support your photography habit. After all, sometimes it is a lot easier to explain to your spouse that you need to purchase a new lens or upgrade the camera if your photography efforts are allowing you to earn some money.
Lastly, maybe you are considering starting a photography business because that will allow you to spend more time each day doing what you love the most – taking great photographs. As a professional photographer, you get to spend a large part of your time taking photographs, talking photography, and being immersed in the field. Just be aware, if you own a photography business, a significant portion of your days will likely have to be spent on sales and marketing activities.
If you are interested in starting a photography business, the information that follows can be used a guide to help you with your preliminary business planning. Your photography business plan does not have to be long, drawn out and formal unless you plan on applying for a business loan. A simple business plan will serve as a guide to help you navigate the early stages of your business. It will include your vision for the business. Creating a simple business plan will also help you verbalize what your business’ purpose, it’s mission.
Just so you know, when you read my tips, I have spent about 15 years photographing real estate. I am currently learning about product photography. Although the real estate photography is my money maker, I also enjoy event photography and photojournalism. I love taking photographs that capture people living their lives. Yet, I don’t want the pressure that comes along with being paid to provide photographs for events. So, as you consider starting a photography business, I highly recommend that you seriously evaluate whether there are any aspects of photography that you prefer to leave for your personal enjoyment.
1. Evaluate Whether You Have Sufficient Technical Skills
In 2018, the majority of people in the United States have access to a digital camera. After all, our phones and iPad s can take pictures and record videos. Advances in technology has made our cell phone cameras and digital cameras affordable and easy to use. Additionally, there are a number of free or low cost photo editing software packages readily available.
As result, a professional photographer needs to have advanced photography skills. If you want to get paid, the photographs you take needs to be significantly better than what the customer feels like can take them self.
An expensive camera does not create amazing photographs. A talented photographer is required to create amazing photographs. The camera and other equipment area simply tools that the photographer uses. A talented photographer can take a great picture with a cheap point and shoot camera. That said, the nicer lenses, lighting equipment and cameras are needed by professional photographers so that they can fully capture their vision in a photograph. Nicer equipment and software is also needed to manage the professional photographer’s workflow.
To use an analogy, consider a shovel. A child can use a cheap plastic shovel to dig a hole and create a moat around his sandcastle at the beach. Yet, a master gardener will opt to use a better quality shovel and an array of other tools to create and maintain a beautiful garden with a water feature. The mere possession of a nice camera will not allow someone to create a work of art any more than owning a nice shovel will allow someone to create a beautifully landscaped garden.
If you want to start a photography business, at a minimum you need to understand:
- How your camera works
- How your lenses work
- How your flash works
- Post Processing
You will want to be able to quickly change settings and lenses since hesitation could cost you the shot. You will also want to know your camera equipment’s capabilities and limitations. The better you know your gear, the better you will be able to use it to create the photographs that you envision. This is not to suggest that you need to know everything about your camera equipment or photography. Photography is an art that requires vision, talent, a willingness to practice, and experiment in order to continually grow and improve.
If you do not have the technical know how, seek out opportunities to learn and practice as much as you can. You should also consider finding a photography job or internship that will allow you to gain knowledge while you are working for a more experienced photographer.
Remember, as a professional photographer you are getting paid for your ability to apply your technical skills in a creative way to create and/or capture a great photograph that the client will want to keep or use.
2. Decide what type of photography you want to specialize in.
In other words, decide on your niche. Be sure to consider:
- Where you plan to work. If you live on a farm in a remote community miles away from the nearest city, you may not want to specialize in architectural photography. However, if you live in an area with a military base or lots of young couple; wedding photography may be a great niche.
- How much you enjoy interacting with the people. Wedding, portrait and event photographers will spend most of their time with people. Whereas, someone that photographs landscapes or products will spend much more time alone.
- Do you have the necessary skills? I may dream of being a photojournalist. However, if my real talent is in a photography studio where I can control the lighting and people’s poses; photojournalism may not be the best fit for me.
- Will there be enough of a demand for the type of photography that you want to provide? In other words, will you choice allow you to pay the bills? Research the market in your area. Will the people in your area be willing and able to afford your photography.
- For example, lets say that you want to specialize in horse photography. If you work in an area with lot of Thoroughbred or sport horse stables, it is likely that you will be able to build a client base.
- In other areas, there may be more opportunities if you specialized in fashion photography.
- If you choose a highly competitive niche, such as landscape photography, you may also want to look for ways that you can earn additional income until you are able to generate an acceptable profit. For example, some the landscape photographers that I know earn most of their money conducting photography seminars.
- Yes, it is possible to have more than one niche especially if you are a small business. For example, you might do weddings and portraits.
Different Types of Photography Specialties
- High school seniors
- Fine Art
- Stock Photography
- Merchandise to be sold online
- architectural (Commercial buildings, hotels etc.)
- Real Estate (homes & ranches)
- Business Events & Functions
3. Create a business plan for your photography business
Your business plan can be very simple or it can be a formal document that would satisfy a lender’s requirements.
When you create a business plan, you will be forcing yourself to take the time to decide on which direction you want to go with your business.
At a minimum, your informal business plan should include:
- The name of your business.
- Where do you plan to work from. (Will you have a home office? Are you going to share an office suite? Will you lease your own studio?)
- What type of photography services you plan to provide?
- Who will be helping you? For example: I will be working alone. When needed, I will hire the services of an accountant for my bookkeeping and taxes. I will also engage the services of a printer and/or a picture framing company when required.
- Market Research: Who are your competitors? Why will people want to use your services?
- A simple SWOT analysis for your business:
- Pricing Plan
- Budgeted Income & Expenses
- Sales & Marketing Strategy
- Long range goals Do you want to grow your business into one that has employees? Multiple locations? Do you plan to sell the business when you retire in xx years?
As you are doing your research, I encourage you to check out the Professional Photographers of America (PPA)website. PPA is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help photographers bridge the gap between “artistry and entrepreneurship. Their mission is to help working photographers grow their businesses and enhance their skills.”
4. Startup Costs
- The gear that you need will obviously depend on the niche that you choose. For example, a product photographers studio will be different than a portrait photographer’s studio. A landscape photographer is not going to be concerned about having a studio.
- I highly recommend having back up equipment available. This includes extra batteries and memory disks. My nightmares involve going out to a really important shoot and discovering my camera has decided to die. There is nothing more frustrating than losing great shots because your memory card is full or you forgot to bring a back up battery.
- Consult with a qualified Certified Public Accountant. This person should be able to help you understand what information you will need to keep and track for sales tax and federal income tax purposes. That person should also be able to advise you on the business structure would be most beneficial for you. (Sole proprietor, LLC, partnership, S Corp, etc.)
- Consider consulting with an attorney to assist you with the legal forms and contracts that you plan to utilize. These forms may include payment expectations, model releases, the rights to the photos and how/where they may be used.
- Consider your insurance needs. If you are a portrait photographer, what happens someone trips and knocks over some of your equipment? If you are a real estate photographer, what happens if you get blamed for Fluffy’es escape and untimely death? What happens if you back into someone’s car at a wedding or damage a flower bed? The PPA website has information about different types of insurance available to photographers.
5. Develop your marketing plan
In order to be successful, a professional photographer will need to be able to continually develop your business and marketing skills along with your passion for photography. You might be the most amazing and talented photographer alive today in your niche. However, if no one knows about your, you will not make a dime.
– Create a portfolio
As a professional photographer, you need to create a portfolio that show cases what you do. Your portfolio does not need to include every photograph that you have ever taken. It should include the best photographs. Your favorites. The photographs that represent the type of work that you want. For example, on my real estate photography website, I am not going to include any of the business portraits that I have taken no matter how awesome they might be.
Consider having one portfolio of your work that has been printed out. Consider having another portfolio on a website. You might also choose to maintain a portfolio on one or more social media sites.
Let people know that they can hire you as a photographer or that they can purchase your photographs.
NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK
Network with people that you know.
-Network with other photographers and people in the industry. For example, even though I am a photographer, I do not take my own portraits. I did not photograph my son’s wedding. I have paid to attend photography workshops, seminars and classes. I have purchased books written by photographers that I know. Now that I have a shop that sells art, I am also reaching out to photographers and other artists that I know to see if they are interested in displaying their work at my shop.
-Network with your potential customers
Create a website
Your website will serve as an online business card. An online portfolio. You can also set it up to be an online store.
Utilize social media
Social media sites to consider include: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, industry specific blogging networks, etc.
Pay for advertising if necessary.
Note: It is entirely possible to generate enough business through networking, referrals, your website and social media without having to resort to paying for advertising. Yet, well-placed ads can be a great strategy.
- Get out there and take photographs.
- Always strive for quality.
- Never fall into the trap of thinking you know it all.
- Seek to become a lifelong student of the art of photography and business.
Did I forget anything?
Please feel free to contact me with any comments or suggestions.