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13 Essential Steps For Launching A Successful Photography Business

13 Essential Steps For Launching A Successful Photography Business

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge, you’ll want to consider these steps to ensure yourself a successful photography business launch.

Chances are that if you’ve found your way here, you’re ready to start taking your photography seriously and possibly even making some cash off those killer photos you’ve been taking.    Before you throw your web site up and start charging clients money for your talents, I suggest considering the following measures:

a portrait photo of a photographer holding a camera and taking a picture

Photography can be fun and profitable.  This was me around 2008, at the start of my photography career.

1.  Learn Your Trade.

The public often assumes that all you need to take great images in any scenario is an expensive camera.  Wrong! While high-end gear helps, one still needs a comprehensive understanding and practice of the following:  exposure, lighting (on and off-camera), and the essential camera controls like manipulating focus, depth of field, shutter, etc.  Take crash courses with a local instructor and practice a lot on your own.  Consider taking the route of studying photography formally in college. Flickr and Facebook both have discussion groups for almost any kind of photography imaginable, and opportunities to share your work and get feedback on it at no cost.  If you don’t know what sort of photography you’d like to specialize in, check out my post on 7 Steps To Finding Your Photography Niche

2.  Learn image processing.

You can start with freeware like GIMP, but eventually you’ll want Lightroom and Photoshop.  If you want to start touching up photos but don’t have the cash for Photoshop, go for Photoshop Elements, a more compact and affordable version of the program.  As of right now, Photoshop offers a cloud-based subscription of all the necessary programs for $10/mo.

3.If you haven’t already, study up on how to run a small business.

You can take an online course for small business management, or even enroll in one at your local community college.  If you’ve never started a business before, be prepared for the inevitable failures and struggles you will encounter.  If you have downtime while commuting, I suggest subscribing to the podcasts Entrepreneur On Fire, and The Art Of Charm.

4. Insure yourself and your equipment.

You first have to decide if you want to operate as an LLC or be represented as a sole proprietor.
An LLC separates your business from your personal funds/liability.  The idea is that when someone trips over your camera bag while on a shoot, or sues you for their wedding photo files getting corrupted, your business will take the loss and not your personal bank account.

For my business insurance I use Hiscox.

-A sole proprietor does not distinguish themselves from the business and therefore is more vulnerable to a law suit.

Price for LLC Registration varies state-by-state as does the price of business insurance vary by insurance company.  Most commonly photographers will sign up for “Errors and Omissions” insurance, a basic liability policy.

5.  Create a strong web site/presence.

If you don’t have the time or resources to create a web site from scratch, WordPress and SquareSpace offer great, free templates for photography web sites.  If you want your own unique domain, which I recommend, you will need to pay for hosting and then point your unique domain to your WordPress site.  I’ve been using as my host for years and have nothing but good things to say about it.

6.  Have a good online portfolio.

When submitting quotes for Thumbtack or any other potential client for that matter, the client will want to see your work.  Without a strong portfolio, nobody will know your style or trust that you can get the job done correctly.   Make sure you separate your specific portfolios into separate galleries or even web sites, depending on how niche of a market you want to appeal to.

7.  Network with other pros in the area. is a great way to find and network with other photographers, both amateur and professional.  Go to a meetup and you just might get that foot in the door that lands you a studio or assistant wedding photographer job.  Making connections with established shooters is essential to you gaining experience that will lead you on the path to becoming a pro.  While pro photography is a naturally competitive arena, making friends with other local pros can work in your favor.

8.  Consider Joining PPA and other professional organizations.

It’s not free to be a Member, but The Professional Photographers of America offers resources such as Copyright, Medical and Dental Insurance, Equipment Insurance, Degrees and Certification and more.

9.  Have your own unique style.

Your style will set you apart from the competition.  You don’t need to plan your style out ahead of time, it will come to you naturally as you as you experiment with different types of lighting, angles and image processing.  Your artistic style as well as personality are two parts of your business that will set you apart from other pros.

10.  Contracts

This might seem like the least exciting part of the process, and it is.  Still, contracts are essential to protecting yourself from liability and having full transparency in order for the client and photographer to be on the same page in terms of expectations and boundaries.  Keep in mind that running your business will sometimes be 70% bookkeeping, marketing etc and the remaining 30% will be actually shooting and editing.

11.  Decide on pricing

Choosing how much to charge is one of the most difficult things for newer photographers.    Use a CODB (Cost Of Doing Business) calculator to figure out just how much you’ll need to charge to meet your goals.

12.  Figure out printing options.

The easiest route to go here is to use a third party printing service, such as  With SmugMug, you upload the photos and the clients purchases them through the site.  With a Pro account, you can set the prices and in effect how much profit you earn from the sale of each print.

The other option is to buy a printer yourself.   You have to decide if you’re willing to wait long enough to make a profit back from it, which could take a while depending on how busy you are. A decent printer for quality, large prints can run into the thousands of dollars.  A lot of pros like using Epson brand printers.  I love the Epson 3880,  which runs about $1,200 on  It’s capable of printing high quality prints, at fairly large sizes and on different kinds of paper.

13.  Market yourself!

In order to get clients coming in, you need a good marketing strategy.  Pick one, or try a combination of these and see what works best:

-Submit quotes on  See post: Is ThumbTack A Scam? and also My Experience With ThumbTack Thus Far (as a Photographer)

-Word Of Mouth: Encourage your clients to refer you, but only do this after you’ve served them and they are happy.

-Post to craigslist advertising your services.  Most people don’t land high-end gigs this way, but it happens from time to time.  This would be and ideal approach for someone who is building their portfolio.

-Vend your work at a local art fair.  Buying the supplies to mat and frame your artwork instead of paying a shop to do the framing will save you tons of money on the overhead.



Have suggestions for the list?  Leave them in the comments below and I’ll consider adding them to the list.


Other articles to help you with your business and shooting:

Spray And Pray Photography

3 Tips For Photographing In Changing Light

Tips For Event Photography


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