How to start a photography business (the right way)
Today I am doing something a little different on the blog. I’ve noticed that a lot of newer photographers have been following me on social media. I’ve also had a lot of questions about starting a photography business or tips for new photographers. I decided to start sharing more of my photography journey on the blog.
I wrote this post a while ago, but the busy season got crazy and I never got around to finishing it. It’s finally ready to go. You should know that I didn’t do everything right when I started my business, I made a lot of mistakes! Part 2 will come out next week and talk about the mistakes I made when I started my photography business. If you want to learn how to start a photography business the right way, you need to read them both!
7 things I did right when I started my photography business
1. Learned to shoot manual
If you want to start a photography business the right way, the first thing you need to do is learn to shoot in manual. Long before you start a business, create a Facebook page, or start charging for your services.
Even when I first started, I made it a priority to shoot in manual. I read books even before I bought my first DSLR camera. I had thought about buying a DSLR way back around 2004, but instead bought a more expensive point and shoot. In hindsight, I wish I would have bought the DSLR, but at that point, I had no idea that I’d ever do photography for a living. Once I bought my camera, I read my manual. Always read the manual! That brings us to #2.
2. Invested in my business and equipment
In 2009, I decided that I wanted to be a photographer. At that point, it was still more of a hobby, but I knew that someday I would like to do it full time. I had spent over a year reading and learning as much as I could about digital photography and manual shooting. I bought a cheap DSLR on eBay. Even though I had a cheaper camera, I immediately bought a 50mm lens.
Photo by Smart.
Shortly after my initial purchases, I bought an 85mm lens. In 2012 (the year I officially started my business) I upgraded to a full frame camera and invested in Canon L lenses. Even though I was just starting to earn an income, I knew that investing in my business was important. One of the best portrait lenses for my extended families to couples like has been the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art Lens for Canon.
I also invested in courses and continued reading books, and watching YouTube videos to learn as much as possible. I continue to learn today by taking courses, reading books, and listening to podcasts. There is always something new to learn. Lately, I’ve been focusing on the business side of things, but I still love photography courses and videos.
3. Had contracts in place/started an LLC
When I decided that I wanted to do photography as a business, I legally registered my business and established an LLC. I also started using contracts. These two things are very important and should be two of the first things that you do.
If you want to know how to start a photography business, making sure that you do things legally is of utmost importance. You will want to check the laws for your state and possibly speak to an attorney regarding contracts and an accountant regarding taxes.
4. Kept going
Starting a photography business is hard work. Most people do not realize that a successful photography business is 90% business and 10% photography. When I started doing photography it was not my full-time job. In fact, it would be a few years before I would be doing photography full time. I also had a lot going on in my life during the first few years of my business (babies, moving, etc.) which made life even more hectic.
What I did right is that I kept going. Even when it was hard, even when I thought I would never make any money, and even when I wanted to give up.
5. Shot my first wedding for free
Even though it sounds crazy, shooting for free is one of the best things to do if you want to start a photography business. It’s much better than deeply discounting your work. Charging $20 for a session or $100 for a wedding makes you look cheap.
Sure, you might book a session or two, but you’ll be working hard and you’ll make absolutely no money. Working for free (to build your portfolio) is a much better way of starting out. I shot my first wedding for free. I shot this wedding on my eBay camera.
It definitely wasn’t portfolio-worthy, but it was a learning experience. I didn’t shoot another wedding for over a year, and when I did, I worked as a second shooter. That same year, I started booking my own weddings and they were completely different than the wedding I did just one year prior with my eBay camera.
Not my first wedding 😉 I won’t be showing you that right now.
6. Second shooting
After my first wedding in 2011, I decided that I wanted to try second shooting. The best thing to do if you want to second shoot a wedding is to have a solid portrait portfolio. I had been shooting more portraits in 2012 and I was able to start second shooting weddings with an established photographer.
I learned a lot by second shooting weddings. Almost immediately after I started second shooting, I was shooting my own weddings.
There is one thing that I wish I would have done differently with second shooting. In the very beginning, I worked with a photographer who did not let me use the images in my portfolio. If you’re starting out, I would highly recommend finding a photographer who will let you use the images in your portfolio. I ended up doing this a few months after working with the first photographer.
Even if you can’t, the experience alone is worth it. I learned a lot working with several other photographers. After about two years, I was booking my own weddings regularly and rarely had time for second shooting.
7. Outsourced from the beginning
I had help from the very beginning. When it came to my website design and logo, I had no idea what I was doing. Fortunately, I have a friend who is a graphic designer. I’ve been working with her since the beginning. We’re actually working on another rebrand right now!
Even though we are friends and she has offered her services at a great price, it was a smart choice to outsource from the beginning. I am not a designer, and working with one has definitely helped me look more professional since the beginning.
I tried outsourcing editing but I decided that, for now, I want to do that myself. For the more extensive editing (head swaps, etc.) I do have a friend who occasionally helps with that along with some administrative work for me during the busy season. Yes, it may cost a little to outsource. However, time is money and I’d much rather pay someone to do something quickly than spend hours trying to figure it out myself!
Did you learn anything about how to start a photography business?
So, what did you think? These are the 7 smart things I did when I started my photography business. If you’re trying to figure out how to start a photography business, I hope these 7 tips help you! Keep an eye out for part 2, which will be coming out next week. Part 2 is the 5 things I did wrong when I started my photography business. Hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes!