How to Start a $167K/Month Photography Business

  • Brandon Boushy by Brandon Boushy
  • 11 months ago
  • Blog
  • 4
professional photographer on a studio with a lots of money on the floor

Do you have a knack for taking pictures? Have friends and family asked you to photograph their special events? It may be time to consider how to start a photography business!

If you’re a budding photographer looking to make money from your passion, you’re in luck. In this article, we’ll show you how to start your own photography business.

To show you the ropes, we sat down with Katelyn James Photography. Katelyn got started when she was invited to help a friend with wedding photography. She barely knew anything about photography, but today she’s making nearly $2 million per year. She’ll share the strategies that she used to start a photography business.

Follow Katelyn’s advice and our step-by-step guide to start your own photography business in no time.

How Much Does It Cost to Start a Photography Business?

top view of a photographer with a lot of studio photography equipments with a price range

Katelyn told us:

I got started with a $700 camera and some other attachments. It was about $2,000 in total. You don’t need $10K to $100K to start a photography business.

Check out our interview with her below:

Startup Costs

We’ll break down equipment costs later. But here’s a list of startup costs that professional photographers should include in their photography business plans.

∙ Business Registration: $0 to $1,000. Learn how to register a business.
∙ Equipment (camera, drone, PC, lighting): $300 to $10,000+
∙ Software: $100 to $500 per month
∙ Marketing (website, business cards, etc.): 8% of desired revenue
∙ Accounting (invoicing, payroll (if any), bookkeeping): $1,000-$10,000 per year
∙ Studio (if necessary): $1,000+ monthly. Learn how to choose a location.


Ongoing Expenses

Ongoing costs for a photography business include:

  • Business Insurance (General Liability, Professional Liability, Equipment)
  • Transportation Costs (IRS mileage rate and time for driving)
  • Maintenance and Repair of Equipment
  • Upgrades (equipment and software)
  • Rent (if necessary; equipment and/or studio)

My wife and I started a photography business in 2017, and during the first year, we spent approximately $16,000 in expenses, including models, hair stylists, equipment, and props.

How Much Do Photographers Make?

photographers annual income

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), photographers make, on average, $36K annually, with the highest earners making around $79K. But those figures only calculate the wage and salary of workers. 

It’s really easy to calculate how much a business should make in revenue. Most businesses aim for employee costs to be less than 30% of revenue. That means a business should make $120,000 to $264,000 per photographer, based on the BLS statistics.

The truth is that there are a lot of numbers thrown around in the photography industry, and any research will net a wide range of reports. There are individuals claiming they make $50K per year as part-time wedding photographers. Other photographers have reported making six figures consistently within their niche.

Instead of asking what everyone else is making, ask yourself, “What do I want to earn?”

Remember, if you’re starting a photography business, you determine how much you earn! Give yourself an honest evaluation of your photography skills, value how much your time is worth, and go out and get some business.

Professional Photographers

Professional photographers know the actual cost of doing business. They follow the regulations to the best of their ability, and they continually invest in their business.

If you’ve ever seen a person walking around with multiple cameras so they don’t have to change lenses, that’s when they’ve reached the high end of the photography market. These are the people you want to model a business after.

How to Start a Photography Business

checklist for starting a photography business

Starting a photography business can be hard work, but if you stick with it, you can quickly be amongst the ranks of the most profitable professional photographers. Just follow these steps, and you’ll break into the photography industry.

  1. Choose Your Photography Services
  2. Get Photography Equipment
  3. Choose Unique Photography Business Names
  4. Create a Photography Business Plan
  5. Get a Photography Business License
  6. Purchase Photography Business Insurance
  7. Market Your Photography Business
  8. Conduct Photography Sessions
  9. Manage the Business

Want to print off the instructions? We’ve created a starting a photography business checklist to make it easy for you. Download it below.

Download the Checklist

Now we’ll walk you through the steps of starting a photography business one by one.

Step 1. Pick Your Photography Services

photographer with camera offers various services

We asked Katelyn about generalized photography.

There’s no way I would be at the level I am if I had tried to do a little bit of everything. You have to choose a specialty.

Photography businesses have a lot of choices when it comes to their market. Knowing your specialty is key to developing a solid business plan. It will save you substantial time at launch and during the development of your business.

If you’re not sure which market you want to pursue, here’s a list of potential markets you can research:

  • Landscape photographer (nature, wildlife, plant photography)
  • Commercial photographer (advertising, product photography)
  • Boudoir photographer
  • Real estate photographer (commercial photography, residential photography, drone photography, 3D virtual walk-throughs)
  • Product photographer (white backgrounds, lifestyle photos, jewelry, mechanical equipment, callouts)
  • Wedding photographer
  • Event photographer (graduations, trade shows, corporate meetings, birthday parties)
  • Newborn photographer
  • Sports photographer
  • Editorial photographer
  • Portrait photographer (family portraits, birthday parties, newborns, cake smash)
  • School photographer (travels to schools and takes hundreds of headshots per day)
  • Studio photographer (shoots in a studio space)
  • Pet photographer
  • Contributor to stock photo sites

The most commonly entered photography market is portrait photography, but there are a lot of different options. Depending on what you’ll be photographing, you’ll need different equipment. Keep reading for more information on how to start a photography business.

The Link Between Market and Equipment

Many photographers stick to narrow target markets—such as wedding photography for 50 to 100 people—because each type of photography requires additional equipment. We’ll cover equipment costs and provide resources in the next step, but take note of the necessary equipment while you research markets.

For example, sports photographers use low f-stop, auto-focus telephoto lenses to capture the action on the field from a distance. When we spoke with Korbin and Whitney Korzan of Mile High Productions. Korbin pointed out that a wedding photographer might use a stabilizer vest to help hold their camera in place during a long workday.

See more of our interview with Korbin and Whitney:

Step 2. Get Photography Equipment and Skills

You’ll need a camera, lenses, memory cards, and extra accessories that correspond to the type of photography you want to do.

Katelyn suggests:

Invest in a low-cost camera and a prime lens to get started, then upgrade to a full-frame camera.

Picking a Camera

A camera is the most important piece of equipment you’ll buy for a photography business. It’s important to get high-quality equipment. However, that doesn’t mean you need to break the bank.

Spending hours on the web trying to research the best camera on the market is a waste of time if you can’t even afford the equipment. So, we’ll save you some time. Let’s look at the types of cameras available.

What Types of Cameras Are There?

bhphotovideo website news tips and reviews

Canon, Nikon, and Sony are the main manufacturers of camera bodies. There are forums where photographers endlessly debate which one is better, but most professional photographers use one of those brands.

Each camera maker creates three main styles of cameras:

  1. DSLR Full Frame: These are high-end cameras. They have the best features and can run anywhere from $1,700 to $6,700. Honestly, you don’t need anything more than a Nikon D750 or the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV when you start a photography company.
  2. DSLR Crop Sensor: These are recreational cameras where the sensor only captures a portion of what you see through the viewfinder. You can learn to adapt your photographic vision to the part of the view that is cut off, but it takes practice. The Nikon D3400 and the Canon OS Rebel T7 EF-S are good entry points for those starting new photography businesses.
  3. Mirrorless Cameras: Cameras without the mirror are lighter, have smaller lenses, and have a lot of new technology integrated into them. They run from $1,300 to $6,500 for full-frame models. The Sony A7 IV is considered the top of the line, while Canon EOS R6 and Nikon Z6 II are also well-liked. 

You can find all of them on Amazon.

I love our Nikon D750, but I strongly recommend going to a photography local business and testing each of them out to see which you prefer. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there to help you make the right choice. I find B&H Foto and Electronics to be one of the best sources for photography knowledge.

Once you choose a camera, remember that you don’t have to purchase new equipment. You can try to find great used equipment on the web or from a local Canon or Nikon retailer to keep your startup costs in check. 

Make sure to ask about the warranty, though. The number of photos taken impacts the usable life of the camera— shutters are what normally go bad first.

Other Photography Equipment

photographer accessories arranged on table

After you choose your camera, assess the costs of other equipment as part of your market research. Here’s a potential shopping list:

  • Tripod and Other Stabilizing Equipment: Expect to spend $100+ for a good one. Cheap ones will blow over with wind and break your camera.
  • Lighting Equipment (lights, reflectors): Make sure they communicate with your camera properly. If you’ll be shooting indoors or outside you might want a flash.
  • Hard Case and Bags: Helps protect your equipment. Make sure to get a casing that can be locked if you’ll be traveling with it.
  • Extra Batteries: It’s wise to have at least one extra that is fully charged ($15 to $50).
  • Drone: DJI is the way to go for drones. They range in price from a few hundred dollars to $30,000+. Don’t forget to get your FAA permit and local permits when needed. You may need special insurance if flying it over a crowd. 
  • Computer and Photo Editing Software: Adobe Creative Cloud is the standard. It starts at $20 per month. Use your .edu email if you have one to save some money.

You don’t need everything on the list to start your business. Not everyone uses a drone as Korbin does, and you may not need lighting equipment for your market.

Here are some more sites to help you find everything you need:

Editing

professional photo editing

When you’re learning how to start a photography business, don’t be surprised that a lot of your time will be consumed by editing photos. Editing can consume 30 to 50 percent of the time working in a photography business. To tweak your shots, you’ll need photo editing software, including Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom

Customers expect clean, crisp photos with digitally corrected lighting and colors. A professional photographer turns a picture you could get out of your phone into a masterpiece that exceeds all customer expectations.

Many top-tier photographers hire professional photo editors for image editing, but many small business owners will not allow others to edit their photos because they want to maintain creative control.

Resources for Editing

You should master editing, but if you really want to run your own business, I suggest creating workflows with well-defined processes for an editing team. There are a lot of online resources available for image editing that can get you up to speed on the latest techniques and software. We suggest Scott Kelby paperback books when someone asks us how to learn photography. 

Here are more good materials:

  • Adobe Photoshop Tutorials
  • PHLEARN
  • Creative Live (also great for Videography)
  • ProEdu

Videography

photographer looking at camera with editing software

Let’s be clear: not all photographers are videographers, and not all videographers are photographers. But if you can do both, you can book substantially higher priced photography jobs. Many photographers will partner with a videographer or hire one.

Korbin booked his first real estate photography gig because he owns a drone. Whitney told us about their photography services:

We have bigger packages and smaller packages. But obviously, our photo (and) video is worth more than just a photo or video package.

There’s an enormous market for both services, so here are some resources to help you educate yourself about videography:

  • Udemy
  • Skillshare
  • LinkedIn Learning

If all of this seems like a lot to take in, don’t stress. Next, we’ll discuss the minimum you can do to get started—and learn the rest later.

How to Start a Photography Business with No Experience

katelynjames website free photography training

If you expect someone to pay for your photography services, it needs to be worth their investment. And like any art form, amazing photos take a lot of practice.

Katelyn suggested:

Start shooting with your friends so you can develop a portfolio. People don’t have to know they are free shoots.

From the time you pick up a camera to the time you retire, a professional photographer should always be looking to improve. If you’re just starting, you’ll probably spend a ton of time with your camera gear and editing software.

You’ll encounter plenty of resources out there for photographers. In fact, there are so many that it may seem a little scary at first. The beauty of photography is that you don’t need a degree to start your business. You can learn from free training online. Katelyn told us: 

I just started sharing everything I ever learned. Old school photographers started making fun of me, telling me I’m doing it wrong. Now I’m sure they’d say differently.

To learn from Katelyn, check out her free access training.

Other Photography and Business Education Resources

There are wonderful programs to choose from if you want to go that route.

For most new photographers, you can find courses online to help hone your skills. Here’s a short list so you can research and find the best course to fit your needs:

  • New York Film Academy
  • Harvard Extension School (free)
  • Skillshare
  • Nikon School
  • Professional Photographers of America (offers affordable insurance too!). Learn more.

The next step on the photography business roadmap is choosing a professional photography business name.

Step 3. Choose Unique Photography Business Names

woman showing the screen of a laptop

Choosing photography business name ideas is a chance to show your style. Names for photography business services might be as simple as your name plus “photography.” You might also want to include the style of photography or the values in the business name. Check out our article about choosing business names or find your own name with our photography business name generator. Try it now!

Step 4. Create a Photography Business Plan

Every business should have a business plan. Even if it’s only a one-page business plan, it will help keep you on track. You’ll want to include:

  1. Your goals
  2. The types of photography you will and will not do
  3. Your target market
  4. Pricing strategy
  5. Marketing strategy
  6. Your budget and how you will use it


Katelyn told us:

You don’t have to have an office. You don’t have to have a marketing budget. [Over time,] we also grew into an educational company where we teach people how to succeed in the business.

Read our blog about writing a business plan for more info.

Step 5. How to Start a Photography Business Legally

imac with screenshot of sole proprietorship vs llc article from upflip website

To start a photography company, you’ll need to:

  1. Create a business structure: LLC and sole proprietorships with DBA are the most common.
  2. Get business licenses: Check with your local SBA office.
  3. Get your Employer Identification Number (EIN): We cover how to get an LLC and your EIN in our register a business blog.
  4. Get any necessary insurance: If insurance is only needed for certain jobs, you can get insurance through Hiscox.

As a business entity, you can open a business bank account under your business name to separate your business and personal finances. A business bank account is required to maintain limited liability status. Find out more about business banking.

Do You Need a Business License for Photography?

Your local laws may require a business license for photography.  If you’re doing photography as a side job, you’ll probably be okay. Many businesses and government properties require a license, permit, and insurance that protects the facility, too. This includes public parks.

Check with your local county clerk or tax assessor-collector to see what’s required in your city. Contact information for these officials varies by city and county, but here’s directory information for Texas, California, and New York.

How to Start a Photography Business from Home

screenshot of tax benefits from irs.gov website

Make sure it is legal within your city, county, and/or homeowners association. From there, you can do the editing and maybe even some of the photography from home. The best part is the IRS allows tax benefits for your personal office.

Step 6. Buy Insurance for Photography Business 

Many photography business owners forget that a small business needs insurance to protect their business and personal assets from lawsuit-happy clients. A photography career actually has some major risks involved, including:

A business owner should have at least general liability insurance and probably professional liability insurance. I suggest checking with Simply Business to get your photography business insurance. Get Coverage Today! 

Step 7. How to Market Photography Business

businessman holding a camera and a business card

Marketing materials are a huge part of starting a photography business. We asked Katelyn about marketing a photography business. She suggested:

Follow an educator on all of their channels and figure out whether you like them. It will help inspire you.

Get a Website

Your photography website is a combination of marketing and business for photographers.

If someone wants to see your work, then they should be able to type in a domain name that’s easy to remember and that takes them to a clean and dynamic site. Obtain a domain name from a domain seller like:

  • GoDaddy
  • Google
  • Domain.com
  • Bluehost

If you’re not good at web design or have no experience, that’s okay. Check out our blog about how to build a website

Katelyn wants you to know:

A website needs to have no more than 50 pictures. You also need to have a great About Us page. Saying that you love coffee and your camera is not enough.

No matter what, make sure your site is always up-to-date and running smoothly. You never know when a potential client may look at your portfolio. Also, be sure to establish a solid privacy policy and terms of use for potential clients.

Get on Social Media Platforms

Social media accounts are a phenomenal way for photographers to reach your target market. Set up business profiles on sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Behance (Adobe’s site for creatives), and constantly post your work.

If you want to make connections with people on social media, interact with them on your posts. It makes your business more personal and creates opportunities to gain more clients. Katelyn told us:

Trust is the number one selling point. If you share and they get to know you, prospective clients will reach out.

You can use your profiles to guide potential customers to your website.

Photography Business Cards

cheap business cards article

A photography business card is a great place to show off your skills. Put some of your favorite photos on the back and your contact information on the front. A lot of photographers love Moo business cards because they let you have a different back on each business card. If you’re looking for other photographer business cards, check out our blog on cheap business cards.

Other Marketing Methods

Don’t be afraid to reach out! If you’re just starting your photography business, try doing what Korbin did and contact local real estate agents. You never know who might be looking for someone to take fantastic shots of their properties.

If you want to work in wedding photography, you can attend bridal conventions. Not everyone has a big budget for their photographs, and when you attend trade shows you can meet potential clients. Plus, it’s a great networking opportunity.

Another tactic is to run Google Ad Campaigns. On their platform, you can create digital ads that are highly targeted to specific audiences and locations.

The ads cost less than traditional advertising platforms. It’s an easy and affordable method to reach a lot of potential customers with little effort. If you’re not sure about Google Ads, you can hire a specialist through freelancing sites like Upwork. Just be sure they have an AdWords Certification from Google.

Don’t forget to set up a Google Business Profile and add lots of pictures so local clients can find you more easily.

Pricing

A great way to see how much you should charge is to look at what others in your market are charging for their services and compare their quality level to your own. Ask questions like:

Are they putting out a better quality product?
Do they offer services I don’t?
Is their portfolio more comprehensive than my own?


Katelyn told us how to start a photography business and get the most value for your time:

Every three weddings, raise your price by $300 and see how much the market can sustain.

Make sure to create all your marketing materials and save them in ways that are easy to edit. Now that you know how to market a photography business, it’s time to discuss the photo shoots.

Step 8. Conduct Photography Sessions

man holding a mobile phone with camera as background

Photography businesses spend a lot of time working on sessions, and much of it isn’t apparent to clients. Let’s say you shoot family portraits. The time spent on the client shoot includes the time to:

  1. Create client contracts
  2. Educate the client
  3. Charge all your gear
  4. Drive to and from the photography session
  5. Photograph the customer’s session
  6. Cull photographs (eliminating unflattering and blurry photos)
  7. Edit photos
  8. Resize images
  9. Add photos to a gallery for your clients to view and buy


As you can see, a successful business requires far more than what your customers will see.

Katelyn explained that a new photography business owner will normally play a much different role than when the photography business grows:

When I first started, I was doing everything. Now, I’m primarily in charge of vision and content creation.

Step 9. Manage the Business

Many single-person photography businesses fail to succeed because the photographer forgets that they are a small business owner first. You can have the most amazing photography portfolio, but there are a few essential steps that a business photographer cannot ignore if they want to make more money.

  1. Take time for business planning.
  2. Keep your business expenses low. There’s no need for studio space if you’re shooting wedding photography, business photography, or real estate. 
  3. Maintain an office space at home. 
  4. Get separate bank accounts to keep your business and personal finances separate.
  5. Get some accounting software to help you manage your business. Photography can be a great living, but many photography businesses don’t even realize when they are losing money.

At this point, you know how to start a photography business.

Ready To Start Your Own Photography Business? Give It a Try!

Photography is an awesome field! Many professional photographers find starting a new business to be a win-win scenario. Either you make a great living, you get to have some experiences you would never have imagined, or both.

Either way, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and about the world, and be better off for it. Dare to capture life’s beautiful moments.

As the Korzans told us:

Commit. That’s the biggest, biggest thing. It’s hard when you’re first starting. You’re scared. You don’t want to reach out to anyone because you’re scared that they’re gonna say, ‘Well, let me see your portfolio.’ So it’s just being upfront and honest with people. Committing to the fact that you’re going to make things happen. You’re going to make it work. And just practicing.

What’s your favorite type of photography?

Join The Discussion

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4 thoughts on “How to Start a $167K/Month Photography Business”

  • Archana

    As you said a lot is changing now in photography industry compared to the old days. Creative photography became popular. That is why a lot of people have entered this business. The highlight of this that it costs less than any other businesses.

    Reply
  • LeoBella

    I am curious how a photography business would be able to pivot or survive during the COVID-19 pandemic with so many events being cancelled or held to a limited capacity. What is the best way to attract client leads given the new norm of social distancing?

    Reply
  • Emee Cruz

    Hi! what high-end cameras do you suggest?

    Reply
  • How to Go Viral on TikTok: From 0-100K Followers Fast – Advertisemint Social Ad Agency

    […] some, like Mile High Productions, social media is the only marketing they do—and they’ve used it to grow a $35,000-per-month […]

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