How to Start a Photography Business | What I Need to Know about Starting a Photography Business
Every successful photographer started somewhere and has a unique story behind there journey! Whether you majored in photography at a university or are self-taught one thing is for sure there is much more to running a successful photography business then taking beautiful photos!
After being in the business for 5 years now I’ve met so many photographers. I’ve met photographers who are insanely talented and take the most amazing pictures, but they’re really struggling to grow their business. I’ve met others who are good photographers (not mind blowing amazing but good) and their business is thriving! These encounters support what I’ve stated above, “there is much more to running a successful photography business then taking beautiful photos”!
Clients have so many photographers to choose from these days and it can be quite a challenge to stand out. If you are in the very beginning stages there are some things you can do from the start to put you on the right track before you are in over your head and working backwards (like the boat I found myself in).
The first place to start…
No. 1 - Cameras
You need a decent camera. Unless you have a ton of money to spare you do not need to run out and buy the top of the line camera for professionals. Contrary to popular belief a camera does not take amazing photos alone the person operating it needs to know how to use it properly! What you do need is a Digital camera that has removable lenses and can shoot in manual mode. I started off with Canon’s 40D then upgraded to the 60D, then the 5D Mark iii and now shooting with 5D Mark iv. As I started to make money I then began upgrading my gear.
No. 2 - Lenses
You need a lens. I would recommend purchasing a very inexpensive portrait lens such as a 50 mm lens anywhere from $100-$200 (if you have the money though you can't go wrong investing in good lens). You want a lens that has an F/Stop (Aperture) of at least 2.8 or lower. Most kit cameras do not include a lens with this low of an aperture, so you would likely be better off purchasing just a camera body (no lens) and then purchasing a portrait lens. Don’t be too afraid of buying a used camera either! It could get you a better camera for the same price as a lower grade new camera.
Once you have your gear you are ready to start learning how to use it.
No. 3 - Mastering Manual
You need to learn how to shoot in manual mode. This is where you 100% control the settings of your camera (Aperture, ISO and Shutter speed). Put your camera in manual and never look back. You will make mistakes, but you will learn with each one. Resist the urge to fall back on automatic settings. It will slow your growth!
No. 4 - Lighting is Key
Light is everything in photography!! You must understand how to work with light!
No. 5 - Community over Competition
Understanding light and how to operate your camera in manual mode can feel very overwhelming and frustrating!! I highly suggest you find a photography community in your area and online. There are tons of online photography pages on Facebook you can join to share your work, ask questions and get support from other beginning and seasoned photographers. Make sure you meet other photographers in person too. Go shooting together and share your knowledge and frustrations with each other. You will grow so much more if you don’t look at other photographers as competition, but rather colleagues.
Here’s a great place to start: Join Facebook Page Community Over Competition with Sarah Kane
No. 5 Create your own community
In the very early stages of portfolio building I you should be on social media. Unless you are a social media expert it can be overwhelming to keep up with, so I would choose 1-2 platforms. Before you do that though decide on a business name. Make sure whatever name you choose is one you plan to stick with because Facebook will only allow you to change your business name once. A third change will result in the loss of all of your followers and having to start all over. This may not seem like a big deal now but once you start building your following it will! At this point I would also purchase a domain name (www.yourbusinessname.com) for your business even though you are not quite ready for a website. You want to make sure that the name you chose is not already taken. I would also recommend getting your business license now for the same reason.
Invite all of your friends to “like” your page and follow you on your social media sites. Be honest about where you are in your journey. Letting your audience know that you are a beginner and allowing them to watch you grow will cultivate loyal followers as you get further along in your journey. Share more than just your images, share your story, your frustrations, and your accomplishments. It may feel slow in the beginning and that no one is paying any attention, but after a few years I promise you will start to see a community of fans that you created!
No. 6 Building Your Portfolio
If you want to be a portrait photographer then you must practice on people!! If you have children photograph them every single day (in manual mode of course). Ask family and friends if you can practice using them as your subjects. Make sure you are posting these pictures on facebook and Instagram. Before you know it you will have people approaching you wanting you to practice on them!
No. 7 Set Your Prices
Even though you may not be ready to begin taking payments you should set your prices to a sustainable amount. You can offer FREE sessions for portfolio building or large "portfolio building" discounts, but make sure your audience sees what you will be charging once you are through this phase. It can be very difficult to break out of the "cheap" category.
No. 8 Find Your Niche
Decide on an area of focus sooner than later! If you haven’t really thought about what you want to photograph start thinking about this now! Photographers who specialize in one or two areas are more likely to achieve higher success. Think about it this way, if you have a heart attack do you want your family practitioner treating your or a heart specialist? It’s the same thing in photography, if I want pictures of my newborn baby am I going to go to a Wedding Photographer or a photographer who specializes in photographing babies?
Remember building a business is more than taking beautiful images, there is a lot of marketing, advertising, book keeping, among other things involved. It can be very difficult to grow a business when you are taking every job that comes your way. How do you market yourself as a photographer who specializes in weddings, babies, maternity, families, seniors and pets? The answer is you don’t.
If you’re not sure what your Niche is at this point it’s ok. That’s part of portfolio building. You will learn what you love and what you don’t love photographing. You may realize right away that you have no desire to photograph pets. If you don’t like it don’t do it. You may realize that you love photographing weddings, but you have kids at home and you don’t want to be tied up every weekend. You may love photographing newborns, but you don’t have a studio space. Are you willing to travel to client’s homes and bring a studio with you? Again, if it’s not something that’s going to be feasible for you in the long run then don’t put your energy into it. My advice is find your niche and then focus 150% of your time in that one area. Any other job is just driving you further away from your ultimate goal of running a successful photography business. It can be hard at first, turning away money, but I promise you taking every job outside of your field will be more costly in the end.
No. 8 Website Ready!
Once you’ve had a fair amount of practicing on family and friends and you feel that you are ready to officially start your business and start making a bit of money you will need to get a website and blog. I highly recommend Square Space for building an economical and user friendly professional website and blog, all in one, starting at just $8 a month!
Blogging from the very start of your business is the most important thing you can do for marketing and advertising! The best way to gain a presence on Google is through blogging. believe me you will thank me for this advise later (stay tuned for more on this topic).
No. 9 Setting Your Prices
Pricing is very subjective and unique to every individual photographer and there are several factors to consider when setting prices. Don’t google other photographers in your area and look at their prices. There situation will be completely different from yours. Maybe they have been in business for a long time and their prices are high. Maybe they are just doing this part time and is not their main source of income and it’s more of a business that supports their hobby. Their prices may be on the lower end. The following questions need to be answered when setting your prices:
- What are your yearly expenses? (website, business license (you will need to renew yearly) equipment investment, gas, taxes etc) This list will grow tremendously as your business grows!
- How much money do you want/need to make per year?
- How many sessions do you want to shoot per month?
These 3 questions will help you set your prices. I would recommend answering these questions twice. The first one should be a realistic amount for question 2. If you are just starting out having a goal of $96 per year is probably not very realistic, but a goal of $30,000 may be. Then answer the questions again, only this time put in your longterm goal for question 2 of $96,000 or more! It’s good to see what you will need to be doing to reach your ultimate goal!
Now add together your amounts for question 1 and 2 and divide that answer by 12. This amount is what you need to make each month to reach your goal.
Lastly take the last amount and divide it by the number of sessions you hope to book each month. That answer is a good place to start with pricing your sessions
Here is an example:
Yearly Business Expenses (YBE) - $4000 (this is just the beginning years)
Yearly Goal (YG): $30,000
YBE + YG = $34,000 (this is what you need to make (NTM) each year to reach your goal)
Now take your NTM ($34,000) ÷ 12 = $2833.33 (this is what you need to make per month (NTMM) to reach your YG)
Hang tight we’re almost there…
Last step take your NTMM and divide it by the number of sessions you want to book each month (SBEM) - $2833.33 ÷ 8 = $354.17. This total is the amount you will need to set for your lowest priced package to reach your YG.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. As a brand new photographer it may be difficult to charge these kind of prices. Especially if you still have a lot of room for improvement with learning your camera and understanding light. So you have a few options if charging that much is just not realistic.
Option 1: Raise your SBEM (Sessions booked each month goal)
Option 2: Lower your YG (Yearly Goal) to a more realistic goal
Option 3: Stick with your original pricing, but run a portfolio building promotion where you are offering 50% off for the next 3 months (or something like this). This way people know what your prices are and won’t be so shocked when your ready to raise them.
Starting and running a successful photography business is no walk in the park. The more successful you become the harder it will get, but it is worth every struggle! Once thing is for certain though you need to have thick skin and confidence in yourself! If you don’t believe in yourself you will fail. If you believe in yourself you can accomplish anything!
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