Branding, local advertising, local search-engine optimization, understanding of local businesses and freelance photography job market.
For those with a creative eye, a flair for framing and the ability to capture memories, photography can be a great career choice. Whether you’re taking photos yourself, editing photos after they’ve been taken or you’re involved in post production, there are plenty of ways to use your skills.
From traditional wedding photography to photojournalism, family sessions, portraits, advertising, product shots, fashion or food, the photography industry has plenty of opportunities for you to carve out a niche. Great photographers can quickly build a reputation too, meaning that once you have a good portfolio together, you’ll likely find yourself in demand.
Although photography is an artform, running a successful business requires plenty of practical skills. You will need to use your creative drive to create a sustainable freelance photography business, and we’re here to help. In this guide we’ll cover:
How you can understand the world of photography
How to hire employees, market, and administer your business
The best legal structure for your new organization
Resources for your photography business
Some rules and regulations you will need to follow
Information on taxes and finances for your photography business
Questions you should ask to see if you’re ready to start a photography business
And much more
By the time you’ve read through our complete photography business guide, you will have all the information you need to set up and manage a thriving photography business. Let’s get into it.
Photography is a very specialized skill; it requires people with both a keen eye and an understanding of composition, editing, framing and more to create stunning images. Add to that the need to manage others well plus a solid understanding of business principles...you'll see that freelance photographers need to be well-rounded individuals.
There are dozens of different niches you can choose to pursue as a photographer.
If you can make your name in one of them, your reputation will carry you a long way. Here are some areas to consider when choosing the type of photographer you want to be.
When you’re deciding which route to follow, look at local competition, your skillset, demand for these services in your area and any other local factors likely to impact the amount of photography business you can win.
Shooting clothes and models in a variety of situations and editing to show apparel in the most beautiful and evocative way.
Wide-angle lenses, beautiful contrasts and perfect framing means landscape photographers produce stunning shots of natural vistas.
Whether it’s individual portraits and headshots or capturing someone’s furry friend, great family and pet photographers are in high demand.
Photographers can partner with real estate agents and property developers to help showcase homes in the best possible light.
For those who love the adrenaline rush and atmosphere of a live event, these photographers bring the vibrancy of music and entertainment out in their images.
With the rise of drones as great vehicles for cameras, aerial photography is one of the most rapidly growing areas for photographers to specialize in.
In great demand by brands, restaurants and advertisers, food photographers use a variety of tricks and techniques to make people’s mouths water!
These photographers capture the images that grace magazines, websites and TV screens.
With the huge rise in website owners and others using stock photos, there’s an enormous demand for images that capture specific moments in life and work.
Perhaps the most popular and in-demand type of photographer, they immortalize the most important day of a couple’s life.
The most popular types of photography in descending order are: portrait, fine arts, events, wedding, advertising, photojournalism, nature, marketing, products and architecture.
The photography business is growing, albeit slowly at around 1.7 percent a year. It’s still a lucrative field though, with photographers and photography businesses pulling in a combined $10 billion a year and employing over 230,000 people.
This growth is being driven by several strong areas:
Disposable incomes of both individuals and businesses are growing, freeing up both household and commercial budgets for creative, art and photography products and services. This is especially true in the advertising and marketing space.
Over half of all photographers are self-employed freelancers, which is a significantly higher percentage than among similar professions. Competition among photographers tends to be fierce, as there are often more photographers than there are jobs to go around.
A strong portfolio that demonstrates flair and creativity is one of a photographer’s most powerful marketing tools. As they continue to showcase a unique approach, they can attract eclectic clients.
Photographers who can provide additional services like Photoshop editing, post-production support, website publishing and more are demanding extra business due to these value-add services.
Running your own photography business could be a great choice as long as you are aware of a few different areas.
There are generally more photographers than there are jobs to support them.
It’s not just about taking photographs. You must be able to manage your business well, market yourself, deal with people and administer effectively.
You will likely always be chasing down work and filling up your pipeline.
Being an expert at secondary photography skills like image editing, photographic manipulation and other areas can help you stand out.
If you can tick all these boxes, the chances are you would be both a great photographer and run a successful photography business. You’ll get to impress people with amazing visuals and capture memories that clients will always treasure.
If you want to be a successful photographer, the main skills and experience you will need are:
Branding, local advertising, local search-engine optimization, understanding of local businesses and freelance photography job market.
Accounting, financial management, administration and client relationship management.
Photo editing and manipulation (like Photoshop), post-production skills, etc.
You will want extensive training and certification in your chosen area.
The main challenge for a photographer is not the photography itself. If you have the right skills and training, good equipment, strong methods and techniques and an eye for detail, you can produce some beautiful images.
Most photographers fail because they are not good business people. They don’t know how to market themselves, manage their cashflows or drum up new business. Being a successful photographer is about balancing the creative with the critical and the art with the administration.
If you want to be a success, here are the key areas you’ll need to add you your skillset:
Making sure you have enough money coming in to pay your bills and having a cash buffer put aside for lean times.
Nurturing and building relationships with new, current and previous clients and encouraging them to work with you.
Getting your name out there and approaching gigs and jobs that can help you build your portfolio.
A typical day for a photographer depends on the type of photography you do. For photographers who work in studio environments (e.g. portrait, pets, food, advertising) you will spend time setting up your studio and lighting. You will then work with clients to get an exact understanding of their needs, shoot until you get it right, then complete any post-production tasks.
For photographers who work in live environments (weddings, events etc.) you will likely spend time traveling, setting up your equipment and keeping a constant eye open for the perfect picture.
Once you have completed the photography shoot, you will then spend time reviewing the thousands of images you have taken and send the best ones to your clients for approval. You will likely touch-up certain photos, then handle all of your business administration and perhaps seek out new work.
Now that you have all the background information for your photography business, it’s time to make it into a reality. That starts by choosing the right structure or “legal entity” for your business. In the U.S., there are four main business structures. They are:
This is the "default" business structure and is what your business will be if you decide not to create a more formal structure. We don't recommend this type of business as it doesn't give you the legal protections you need.
The most common type of business entity. An LLC is fast, simple and inexpensive to setup and maintain. It protects your personal finances and assets and is a great way to start your photography business.
This is a special type of LLC entity that's only available in certain states. It allows you to create "mini" LLCs, each with their own limited liability and separate assets, under the umbrella of a master LLC.
This is a more complex type of business and isn't generally recommended for smaller organization.
These are the largest and most complex types of businesses and are far more than the average entrepreneur or business owner will need.
For more information on the advantages and disadvantages of different types of businesses, please see our in-depth guide. If you’ve still got questions, we’ve answered them to help you choose the right business structure for your photography business.
In most cases our recommendation would be to create an LLC - they are quick to create, easy to manage and relatively inexpensive to run. They also provide you with liability protection and help you get taken more seriously by photography clients.
We’ve got a complete guide to everything you need to do, and we can even start setting up an LLC for your photography business today. LLC formation does vary from state to state, but we’ve got you covered, wherever you are.Start Your Business with Us, Today!
Once you've legally created your photography business, you’ll need to get some other things in place.
For a photographer who is always out and about, you can likely run your business from home. If you’re going to be doing photography from a particular location, you will likely need a shop front and a photographic studio. The costs involved in setting up a studio can be high, so make sure you get one in a good location that is likely to attract both passing traffic and clients seeking you out.
Most states require businesses to file an Annual Report report once a year. You will also be expected to pay estimated taxes on what you plan to earn in the current business year. Your federal, state, regional and city business licenses and permits may need to be renewed on a regular basis, typically once a year.
You will need to create a business bank account and set up bookkeeping systems so you can properly capture your cashflows and pay the appropriate amount of tax. Here at Incfile we can even help you file your taxes.
It is likely worth investing in Photoshop or similar image editing software. Likewise, in addition to standard business software, you should have an easy way to share photos with clients online so they can indicate the ones they want and request any changes.
You will need to develop a photography brand, develop a website, get a logo and have business cards printed. Hire a branding and marketing expert who can take care of your various marketing needs.
It’s unlikely that you will hire employees to begin with, but in the longer term you can think about getting an administrative or studio assistant.
In addition to your camera and other photographic equipment, you will also need a computer, smartphone, transportation and possibly other devices. Any equipment or office furniture and supplies you need to buy can be written off against your business expenses.
Running a photography business comes with certain rules, regulations and legalities you need to be aware of. Incfile can conduct a Business License Research package for you, or you can take the time to do the research yourself.
A Clear and Comprehensive Guide to Starting Your Business the Right Way
Connecting with other business owners in your industry can be incredibly helpful. Here are some of the best social media groups:
"Our purpose as a community is to share our gifts, focus on service and celebrate new photographers! Join us, ask questions and learn from the community!”
A group for those interested in sharing their photos, Photoshop and Lightroom tips and questions
The purpose of this group is to bring together like minded people that are in the photography industry that would like to run, build and sustain a successful profitable photography business.
This group is focused on helping photographers create stunning imagery by utilizing the surroundings to tell the client's story in the most creative way possible.
Connect with fellow members of PMA — promoting innovation and education in the business of imaging. Share industry ideas, discuss the latest photo imaging news and expand your network.
We help photographers reach their professional and artistic goals, increase consumer awareness and help position photography as an art, science and visual recorder of history.
Here are some really great online tools for managing your photography business. They will reduce the time you spend on administration, help you to collaborate with others and free up your time to grow and manage your new venture.
Running a photography business is a way to bring together art and commerce. You can combine your creative flair with your excellent business sense to create images your clients will love. Start now, and build something beautiful.