Updated September 10, 2021
Starting a photography business is a fine way to turn a passion into an income.
I interviewed three people who own successful and well established photography businesses, and asked them a range of questions that will be helpful for anyone considering starting a photography business.
I wanted to understand how they came into the photography business, including what experience was needed, and what the key challenges were along the way and how someone getting started in the business can overcome those challenges.
I first wanted to know what background my three founders came from, so I asked them – how did you get started in the photography business?
did you work professionally as a photographer? or did you just get started on your own?
It's not uncommon that people start a business in an industry where they have no prior experience or skills. Plenty of creative businesses – like photography – are born from someones passion to do what they love, and earn an income from it that supports their lifestyle.
But the photography business is all about producing great results.
So – should you get professionally trained? Or have some experience before you start?
I asked the three successful founders the question that was at the top of my mind:
can you start a photography business with no experience? or could you start out by hiring other photographers?
So my three experts all agree – you don't need to be a formally trained photographer to start a photography business.
You just need to take the time to learn the craft, and make sure you're turning out good quality work.
Most people starting a photography business don't have a lot of money to spend, and some people event want to start a photography business with no money.
I asked my three experts how much money you need in order to get started.
Can you get started with almost no money? What are the must-have things, and what can wait until later? Can you rent some equipment until you can afford to buy it?
It's not a very expensive business to get into, and it depends to a large extent on what type of photography you're doing. If you're doing sports photography, you don't need a studio – but you might need to spend a little more on different types of lenses. On the other hand, if you're doing just headshots, your setup is going to be quite simple, and on the lower end of costs – maybe as low as a couple thousand dollars or less.
Once you've got your starting equipment, you'll probably use some of your income to upgrade your gear and get better things as you go.
So – how much exactly could you expect to earn with a photography business?
I asked my three successful founders:
could you expect to replace your full time income with a photography business? can you earn good money?
When you're getting started, finding your first few fee-paying clients is a big deal.
There's a world of options available to new photographers just getting into the business.
I asked the three successful photography business owners how they got their first few clients, and how they grew their client base from that initial start.
what's the best way to do it? should you offer discount deals, or charge full price? where to advertise?
Two of the three founders didn't have any client base to start with – they started in the same way that you might be considering starting. Advertising online – craigslist, etc, and then running offers on the deal sites.
Those sites can be a great way to get some work, and build your portfolio, but pay particular attention to how you setup the deal to make sure you're not taking on too much work. Being over-booked will give your first clients a bad experience, and you don't want to kick things off with 1-star reviews!
So once the phone starts ringing, how can you make sure the clients are booking you, instead of someone else?
What do customers really care about when they're booking a photographer?
I asked my trio of successful founders:
what do they care most about? is it price and fees? is it availability? or is it something else?
As you're getting started in the photography business, you'll be confronted with opportunities in all different industries, and opportunities to shoot a huge range of different types of sessions.
The three founders said it's important to find a niche, and get known for one thing – rather than trying to be everything to everyone.
I asked my three industry experts – what type of niches should you consider, and how do you find something to focus on?
is a wide service offering the best way? or should you focus on one type of photography only?
Once you're starting to get established, you'll probably start upgrading your gear.
You might also start experimenting with new things, new ways, and new tools.
Some of those things might turn out to be a complete waste of money.
I asked my three successful founders what they regretted spending money on, and if they had any advice for someone starting out.
what things should you avoid? things that might look like a good idea, but are really just useless?
This can absolutely be a low-cost business to get into, if you buy things slowly instead of all in a rush at once.
I wondered what a typical day is like for someone who owns a successful photography business.
I asked my three experts:
are they days long? is it still enjoyable? is there enough time to slow down?
Each of the three industry experts manages their day-to-day a little differently – which really just goes to show that this industry can be whatever you want it to be. If you want a big business, you can build one. If you want a side hustle to double your income, you can do build that too.
However – for all the glitz and glamour, it seems like the photography business has the opportunity to attract it's share of controversy.
I asked my three photography business founders – what have you seen happening in the industry that is wrong, and shouldn't be happening?
what are the bad habits and bad practices in the industry? what should you avoid if you wish to build a good reputation?
Pretty clear advice here from the trio – make sure you're really clear about what niche you want to work in, and don't do the work for the sake of the money. It's one of those businesses where the art has to live first, and the business is the way you pay the bills. And – as the final of the three points out – you're going to pay your bills much easier if you're charging enough!
I wanted to know if the industry was competitive – are people trying to charge less to win work?
I asked the experts:
is it cutthroat? or, are you better off just doing good work, and charging a fair price?
The age old wisdom of just 'doing good work' seems to win the day in the photography business too.
As with any business, it's always easier to get more from your existing customers than it is to find new customers.
I asked my three experts what other services they can offer, in addition to just photography, to increase revenue and profits?
often, a business can earn more from add-ons and extras than their main business
the three successful founders share their keys to success in this industry, based on their own experiences
Without needing too much money, it seems possible that anyone can start a photography business if they have the time to put into learning and researching and understanding what they need to do.
The biggest thing that the three photography industry experts kept repeating to me over and over again was that you need to do your research, and you need to choose a niche to specialize in!
I have spent over 100 hours learning everything there is to know about the photography business, by talking to industry experts and photographers. I have compiled it into the worlds most useful guide, How to Start a Photography Business. You can check it out here.
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