How to Start a Photography Business (that Makes $35K/Month)

  • by Jake Pool
  • 3 weeks ago
  • Blog
  • 1
Korbins Photography Business

Do you have a knack for taking pictures? Have friends and family asked you to photograph their special events? It may be time to cash in on your talents!

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 Korbin and Whitney Korzan of Mile High Productions. This photography power couple started five years ago with a $2,000 investment. Now, they’re earning over $35k a month!

Follow their advice and our step-by-step guide, and you’ll be making money with your own photography business in no time.

You can check out our interview with Korbin and Whitney here and part 2.

Step 1. Get Behind the Lens

If you expect someone to pay for your work, it better be worth their investment. And like any art form, it takes a lot of practice.

Korbin said on this subject,

Sharpen your sword. You have to. What I mean by that is learn, learn, practice, and practice some more. And never stop doing that.

Whether a photographer has been shooting for ten years or just picked up a camera last week, they must always work on their craft. But if you have little experience, you should spend time behind the lens and in editing sessions.

Side note: If you ‘re not sure of which camera to buy, don’t worry. We’ll cover equipment in Step 4.

There are a lot of resources out there for photographers. In fact, there are so many that it may seem a little intimidating at first. The beauty of photography is that you don’t need a degree to start your business. Though, there are many wonderful programs to choose from.

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

  • New York Film Academy
  • Harvard Extension School (free)
  • Skillshare
  • Nikon School

Editing

Today’s photographers do more than just take pictures. Photo editing is now an essential part of the photography business. Customers expect clean, crisp photos with lighting and colors digitally corrected. A photographer must transform a shot into the perfect image.

Image editing is such a big deal that many top tier photographers outsource to professional photo editors. But if you’re running a small business, that’ll cut into your overhead quickly.

Instead of outsourcing, do it yourself. There are a lot of online resources available for image editing that can get you up to speed on the latest techniques and software. Here’s a shortlist:

  • Adobe Photoshop Tutorials
  • PHLEARN
  • Creative Live
  • ProEdu

Videography

Let’s be clear: not all photographers are videographers and not all videographers are photographers. But if you can do both, the number of opportunities to grow your business expands exponentially.

Korbin landed his first gig doing a drone video for a real estate agent. And Whitney said this about their services catalogue:

We have bigger packages and smaller packages. But obviously, our photo/video is worth more than just photo or just video.

There’s an enormous market for both services, so here are some resources to help you educate yourself about videography. Again, we’ll cover equipment in step 4.

  • Udemy
  • Skillshare
  • Creative Live
  • LinkedIn Learning

Assistant or Apprenticeship

There’s no experience better than hands-on experience. That’s great news because many photographers need help during their sessions.

There are a lot of opportunities to help with tasks like carrying equipment, setting lighting, or creating the scene for a shoot. By doing these tasks you can gain valuable insight into both the creative and business side of the world of photography.

Sometimes the gigs pay and sometimes they don’t. Be sure to value your time and make sure you’re getting an even trade in experience if there’s no paycheck. Never work for free!

Here are some sites that can help you find local photographers in your area, and don’t forget about social media.

  • Photobooker
  • Flickr (You can search by location.)
  • 500px

Last, while gaining experience and taking courses are great for developing your skills, don’t let a lack of experience stand in the way of starting your business. Remember Korbin’s words of wisdom on that subject:

You do not have to be the best at everything to run a successful [photography] business. You just have to provide quality work for whatever sector or area that you’re working in.

Step 2. Get in the Small Business Mentality

Man thinking about photography

We’ve covered this step in a couple of our previous articles. Yet, this step is even more important when opening a business that deals in creativity.

Often, creative people (artists, designers, photographers, videographers, editors, etc.) like to spend more time on their craft than they do handling the business side of things. Don’t fall into this trap or you could lose out on a lot of revenue. If you’re not sure, here’s a checklist from a personality scientist.

Remember, you’re a small business owner and the goal is to make money while pursuing your passion. That means you need to do the same things entrepreneurs do to ensure their business is successful, like writing a business plan. The U.S. Small Business Administration has great resources to help with your planning.

We’ll provide tips on these topics in the next steps, but remember you’re responsible for small business tasks such as:

  • Marketing
  • Accounting (Pricing, Profits, and Cost Management)
  • Branding
  • Customer Service

Going into your photography business with the entrepreneurial mindset will save you a lot of headaches. If you work as an assistant or apprentice under another photographer, be sure to talk about the business side of things along with the creative.

Step 3. Pick Your Market

We asked Korbin for the market breakdown of his business and he said,

About 60% real estate, 30% weddings, and 10% commercial marketing.

Photography businesses have a lot of choices when it comes to their market. Knowing yours 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 of which market you want to pursue, here’s a list of potential markets you can research:

  • Editorial (Freelance for newspapers and magazines)
  • Industrial (Production and Manufacturing)
  • Commercial (Product, Advertising)
  • Event (Wedding Photography, Graduations)
  • Sports

The Link Between Market and Equipment

Your market and equipment are tied together as each market has its own needs based on the type of photography required. We’ll cover equipment costs and provide resources in the next step, but prepare a working equipment list when researching your markets.

For example, sports photographers use telephoto lenses to capture action on the field or court from a distance. And, as Korbin pointed out during the interview, a wedding photographer might use a stabilizer vest to help hold their camera in place during a long work day.

Step 4. Itemize and Cost Out Your Photography Business

Itemizing photography business cost

As part of any business plan, you must assess your startup costs. The highest costs of any photography company falls on the equipment. Fortunately, the cost of technology has dropped dramatically over the past three decades.

How Much Does It Cost to Start a Photography Business?

You can get fully going in this…photo, video and drone, for $2,000 or under.

The beauty of starting a photography business is that the startup costs are very low when compared to other businesses. Korbin’s assessment is true if you’re careful when choosing an equipment vendor.

We’ll breakdown equipment costs in the next section. But here’s a list of startup costs that professional photographers should include in their photography business plans.

  • Business Registration
  • Equipment (Camera, Drone, PC, Lighting)
  • Software
  • Marketing (Website, Business Cards, etc.)
  • Accounting (Invoicing and Book Keeping)
  • Studio (If necessary)

Ongoing costs for a photography business include:

  • Business Insurance (Equipment)
  • Transportation Costs (Gas to get to gigs)
  • Maintenance and Repair
  • Upgrades (Equipment and Software)
  • Rent (If Necessary; Equipment and/or Studio)

Picking A Camera

Your camera is the nuts and bolts of your operation, so 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.

The two best camera makers in the world are Canon and Nikon. There are forums where photographers endlessly debate which one is better. But most professional photographers use one of those brands.

The only question is choosing the best model for your needs. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there to help you make the right choice.

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.

Other Photography Equipment

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
  • Lighting Equipment (lights, reflectors)
  • Hard Case and Bags (Helps protect your equipment)
  • Extra Batteries
  • Drone
  • Computer and Photo Editing Software

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. Some photographers operate with only a camera, a lens, and a tripod. Here’s Korbin’s first gear kit from our interview that’s priced well below the $2,000 starting mark:

  • Canon Rebel T5
  • Tokina 11-16mm Lens
  • DJI Phantom 3
  • DJI Osmo

And some great online resources to help you find everything you need:

Step 5. How to Start a Photography Business Legally

Man and woman discussing how to setup photography legally

If you want to be a professional photographer, then you must set up and register your business at the federal, state, and possibly local levels. This allows you to operate as a business entity (sole proprietorship, limited partnership, limited liability company, or corporation), which helps with legal and tax liabilities.

Visit the IRS’s site to learn how to set up each of these entities or consult with your accountant or business attorney. Each state has different rules and regulations for registration.

As a business entity, you can open a bank account under your business name to separate your business and personal finances. Also, you can write off travel expenses to each shooting location. This saves a lot of money on your tax bill at the end of the year (or quarter).

Most professional photographers operate as a sole proprietorship, which means that you alone are the business owner. It also ties all legal and tax responsibilities to your personal income.

Though the odds of a lawsuit are low for photography businesses, some opt to form an LLC so their business and personal tax and legal liabilities remain separate. Again, consult with an accountant or business attorney to see which option best suits your needs.

Do You Need a Business License for Photography?

The quick answer is no. You don’t need one if you’re doing photography as a side job. Korbin probably didn’t have one when he landed his first photography job while working at Wells Fargo. But, if you’re starting a full time photography business, then the answer is yes.

Having a business license and an EIN (employer identification number) allows you to submit for small business loans should you want to apply for funding before launch or to scale in the future. In addition, your license allows you to get business insurance, which is a requirement for shooting at certain venues.

A license is also necessary if you’re renting a commercial space as a photography studio. Some cities require business licenses even if you’re operating from home.

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

Step 6. Funding

Group of people discussing funds

You understand your market and costs. You have a business plan, and maybe some potential clients in mind. It looks like you’re ready to start your photography business. Just one problem, how are you going to get the funding to start?

Startup costs are typically low for creative types of small businesses. Most likely, you won’t need to apply for a loan unless you’re renting or purchasing a space for a studio. And that would take a substantial down payment combined with a lot of experience.

Most photographers start with funds from their own pocket or that they earned from assisting on photography jobs.

How Can I Start a Photography Business with No Money?

If your personal funds are depleted, you’re not out of luck. It’s possible, if you have good credit, to leverage your credit and apply for a credit card with a 0% introductory rate.

It’s a risk, but the idea is to use the credit card for startup costs and pay it off before the interest rates kick in. If you have a solid business plan in place, confidence in your abilities and experience, and potential clients in mind, this could be a viable option to fund your new business.

Step 7. Marketing

Photography marketing breakdown

We asked Korbin and Whitney about their most successful approach to getting new business and clients. They responded,

Up until just a couple of months ago, we did not do any paid advertising. It was all through networking. It was all through social media. It was all through sending emails ourselves, so that didn’t cost us any money.

How to Market a Photography Business

Marketing a photography business is a little different from other businesses because word of mouth is the best and most reliable way to get new clients. It works in other businesses, but it’s essential in photography.

That means people need to see your photos. And there’s no better way to show off your photos than a portfolio website and social media.

Get a Website

Your photography website is the end-all-be-all resource for marketing to clients. If someone wants to see your work, then they should be able to type in a domain name that’s easy to remember and 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. There are a lot of resources to help you find a reliable web designer and webmaster to run your site. You can also take a do-it-yourself approach with a web development company like Wix to help design your site and logos.

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 set a solid privacy policy and terms of use for potential clients.

Get on Social Media

Social media accounts are another way photographers can get the word out about their work and business. Be sure to 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. You can use your profiles to guide many people to your website.

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 might be looking for someone to take fantastic shots of their properties.

You can attend bridal conventions if you want to work in wedding photography. Not everyone has a big budget for their photographs, and a convention is a great way to find someone willing to hire a photographer with less experience.

Another tactic is to run GoogleAd Campaigns. In 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 a easy and affordable method for reaching a lot of potential customers with little effort.

If you’re not sure about GoogleAds, you can hire a specialist through freelancing sites like Upwork. Just be sure they have an AdWords Certification from Google.

Be Consistent

Korbin had one last bit of advice for marketing and building a photography business:

You need to really be consistent with reaching out to everyone and just letting them know who you are, what you’re doing, and how you can help them.

Step 8. Customer Service is King

Man responding to customers

As we stated, getting started in the world of photography heavily relies on word of mouth. If you want to work more, then you must deliver extraordinary customer service. Clients will talk, and they need to know that you’re reliable, punctual, and will deliver stellar images.

Here are some tips to deliver amazing customer service:

  • Make every client feel important and treat them as person, not a job.
  • Guide clients through your process. Help them understand what you’re doing and why.
  • Say “Yes” (within reason). If a client wants a particular angle that you don’t normally shoot, shoot it anyway.
  • Apologize when something goes wrong and fix it. Technical difficulties happen, so be prepared!
  • Make your pricing and packaging easy to understand
  • Anticipate the needs of your clients and listen to what they have to say.

Step 9. Set Your Pricing and Financial Goals

To start a business, you need to set clear financial goals. But with creative businesses like photography, it can be a little tricky to value your time and the quality of your product.

Korbin explained in our interview that he first valued his time at only an hourly level because he related it to his hourly job at Wells Fargo. But he soon realized his time was worth a lot more than $30 an hour.

I would say our first year, we got a few hundred dollars a month.

Pricing

There are three factors you can use to calculate your pricing:

  • Materials (if you have to create a set or make prints)
  • Labor (based on your quality and experience
  • Any overhead needed for the shoot.

The sum of those three factors is your total cost.

Next, the Professional Photographers of America survey recommends a profit margin of 35% for home-based studio. So your price equation is:

Total Cost + Profit Margin (35%) = Final Price

It seems simple, but the X-factor is the labor. How much is your time and effort worth?

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?

Korbin and Whitney used this tactic as a benchmark to set their own pricing. Korbin said,

Well, let’s see where our quality is in comparison to this company that’s charging $700. And you realize: Our quality is pretty on point with that and so we could probably be charging that.

For photography, you want to create a business where you get paid for the quality of your work. If you’re creating images and videos on par or better than other companies that are charging much higher rates, then it’s time to raise your prices and charge accordingly.

How Much Does a Photography Business Make?

Money and photo camera on the table

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

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 a part time wedding photographer. And other photographers have reported making six figures consistently with 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 quality, value how much your time is worth, and go out and get some business.

Conclusion

With our step-by-step guide, you now understand how to start a photography business. Taking photographs for a living can have a slow start, so be sure to develop a solid business plan and master your networking skills. Before you realize, you’ll be making $35k a month like Korbin and Whitney.

With that, we’ll leave you with one last piece of advice we received from Korbin for people who are just starting out:

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 up front and honest with people. Committing to the fact that you’re gonna make things happen. You’re going to make it work. And just practicing.

Do you have any experience with a photography business? Can you think of anything we missed?

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