Before we start

Let’s get something straight first. A reality check. You are about to head into a career that is becoming less and less required by the public. The days where anyone with a film camera and a handful of lenses could charge $10K for a wedding shoot every week are over. Those jobs are still out there but now there is a much higher percentage of competitors all competing for the same work. This, of course, has obeyed a fundamental rule of economics and has driven the price that you can charge way down. So be prepared for a very tough road ahead.

Now if this is still the road that you want to take then you must be devoted. A 5 year minimum effort pushing hard 6-7 days a week is what is required to start to see any noticeable results.

Starting a photography business on the side

So you already have a day job. You work as a barista in a coffee shop 9-5 pm. But it’s not your passion. You’re sick and tired of frothing milk all day long to the sounds of the same music playlist playing over and over again. But you’d rather be getting paid to produce photographic artwork that you are passionate about. Well, be careful. If you just quit your day job and declare to the world that now you are a full-time professional photographer you may quickly end up on the street without a cent to your name.
A better way to go is to transition out from one profession to another. Think of it this way. Start to take professional photography jobs on the days off from your 9-5 job. Then as you find that you are becoming booked consistently then you can cut back your 9-5 job from 5 days to 4 days a week and start offering another day for booking photography work, and so on.

What you will then find is that you will embark on a very rocky road. This is because the clients who sent you work initially and thus encouraged you to pull back the hours from your day job are no longer giving you work and now you’re sure thankful that at least you kept up your barista job 4 days a week.

How to start a photography business legally

Even though you are only working a few days a week you still want to make sure that the foundations for your future growth are in place. You also need to make sure that you are meeting your taxation obligations.
First of all, you’ll need to register a business name in your country. You’ll need to check the national business name registry in your country for the availability of the name you have in mind. Make sure when you do this you check that the matching domain name is also available. For example, you want to call yourself “Fantastic photography”. You want to check that www.fantasticphotography.com or a similar domain suffix like .net is available. You may also want to reserve the country specific domain suffix like www.fantasticphotography.ru or www.fantasticphotography.com.au together with your .com domain name. You can search for your domain name availability here

How to start a photography business with no money

Unless you have squirrelled away savings from your barista job you are probably starting this fantastic new career with very limited funds. And yes the cost of camera equipment is high. The major outlay will be for your camera body and the lenses. Typically you will need a wide-angle lens, a telephoto lens and maybe a short prime lens. The wide lens for real estate and landscapes, the telephoto for parties and events and the short prime like a 50mm 1.4 for portraits and headshots.

A good way to start without breaking the bank is to look at buying used equipment on eBay, Amazon and Tmall depending on which country you live in. Another option is to look at a grey import. Grey imports are the term generally given to camera imported from places like Hong Kong. One such seller in Hong Kong that we have bought from in the past is DWI international.

How to start a photography business with no experience

There is a debate in the creative professional world about this topic. One party says you should give away your time for free when starting out then charge for your services later. Another party says you should never give away your time for free as it devalues your time and those clients that you did free work for are clients that you can never charge a fee to because they know you will work for free.

Below is a video from Ted Forbes over at The Art of Photography channel where he explains both sides but leans towards the side of not giving your time away for free.

However, we are of the opinion that if you have nothing to show new clients then you will never attract new clients. It’s such a simple path to think along and it goes like this…

  1. Do your own work in your own time and publish it on your photography portfolio. Pursue the style of work that you would eventually like to get paid for. Like this portfolio here.
  2. Do family events, friends parties etc. And you must tell these friends and family that you are practising your professional skills and the photos you take will be free of charge for them but in return, you ask to use them on your website photography portfolio.
  3. Gradually you will have a portfolio of work on your website from all these free jobs that you did for friends, family and in your own time. Now you can place a price tag on these jobs for anyone who is looking to have something similar done professionally.
  4. As you get more and more work on your photography portfolio you must replace the old work with the newest work and only ever have about 10 or 12 items from each genre or category that you offer. So over time, your old work is getting bumped by your new and improved work. Your pricing table is increased gradually to reflect your improved offerings each year. Here’s an example of a pricing table. It’s easy to keep all your prices in one central table. Simply adjust this table and your corresponding accounting software each year.
  5. Once you’ve reached the point where you have a full portfolio of work that people are consistently hiring you for you can then step away from offering free work because yes at this point doing that will indeed devalue your service and your work. And you can basically forget about those free clients ever hiring you because yes they will always think of you as that guy that does work for free.
    Note: Occasionally you may need to offer the process outlined in step 2 in order to fill out your photography portfolio with a new genre of work.

Now be prepared for the long road. It will take years to gradually fill out your photography portfolio with work that people admire and will consider paying you for. Nothing easy ever comes overnight but if you keep working at it and keep the passion that you started with eventually you will have a photography portfolio to rival the best.

Don't limit yourself to photography alone

We all know that professional photography is a tough game. Very few people can survive in the field with only photography as a full-time income. And yes if you are one of the lucky few who has managed to do this then well done and please share your wisdom in the comments area below.

Something you may want to consider is applying your passion for all things digital to other digital services. If you can learn Photoshop and Lightroom then you can learn other digital skills also.

Digital skills like;

All these additional services will bring other sources of income into your business that will supplement your professional photography business. What you will also find is that these services will feed work to your photography business through association. For example, someone needs a website built and they don’t have any professional photos of their office, staff, and workplace. Who are they going to call? You 🙂

Starting a photography business checklist

  • Decide that this is the road you want to take and decide to devote at least 5 years to pursuing it with all the effort you can.
  • Register your domain name and your business name.
  • Buy your equipment used online.
  • Don’t quit your day job.
  • Do free work for friends and family to get a portfolio together.
  • Don’t limit yourself to just photography.