We outline how to start a photography business with no experience, including how to increase your skills, the photography fields you can choose from, how to approach your business plan, marketing strategies, and ways to earn money when you’re not behind the camera.
For many recreational and hobby photographers, starting their own photography business fulfils a dream of combining their passion with their working life. Starting a business promises flexible working hours, artistic freedom and independence.
- How to start a photography business: overview
- Qualifications and training in photography are not needed
- The skills you will need
- How to start a photography business step by step
- Decide what what kind of photographer you want to be
- Photography sidelines that can earn you money
- Business plan: calculate costs and fees
- How to start a photography business: Pricing your services
- How to start a photography business: Finding funding
- Choosing a location: where to set up a business?
- Marketing and admin
- Summary: starting a photography business checklist
How to start a photography business: overview
The photography industry is changing. Since there is no longer any need to become a master, the barriers to entry into professional photography are easier than ever. At the same time, the necessary equipment is becoming increasingly cheaper.
Photography is now dominant in all visual media. This is good for the market because the demand for stock photos and advertising photography for web content is growing rapidly. The downside is a stream of leisure photographers who sense their great opportunity: Photo editing apps and social media platforms such as Instagram suggest to many amateurs that almost anyone can take photos. In the course of this, the professional production of the photos produced is gradually becoming less important.
So how start a photography business with no experience and be successful? Many business start-ups fail because the two most important pillars on which your independence should stand are underestimated: Thorough planning and realistic expectations of everyday working life and the salary of a photographer. Your starting point is a growing market and a flood of professional and semi-professional competitors. It is therefore important to maintain an overview and to know your own strengths.
Qualifications and training in photography are not needed
The professional title of the photographer is no longer protected. Unsurprisingly, there is an ongoing trend among start-ups in the photography industry: More and more talented amateur photographers are starting their own business on a part-time basis.
It is up to you whether or not you acquire specialist knowledge of a related vocational training course, a photography school or a relevant university degree if you want to start up a photography business. Certified further education and training courses can also add value to your résumé. Supplement your knowledge with trade journals and accompanying literature on trends in technology and design, which are indispensable helpers.
The skills you will need
Personal skills and qualities
If you want to start a photography business, you should bring along other qualities besides talent and a sense of aesthetics. A high affinity for technology and software is a great advantage, because you are solely responsible for the correct operation and assembly of your equipment. Professional post-processing only works if you have mastered the common image processing and design programs.
Social skills are not to be underestimated in the everyday life of a photographer. In customer contacts and fee negotiations, good communication is the be-all and end-all. If you understand your customers’ wishes and explain your own ideas skillfully, the end result will be satisfactory for both parties.
Trends and techniques change continuously. There should be no lack of curiosity and ambition to learn how to use new equipment or programs. Constant further training and specialization within your core business are the best prerequisites for securing lucrative and recurring orders.
As with any business start-up, you need basic entrepreneurial knowledge. Self-study in the areas of tax, accounting, marketing and sales is therefore highly recommended. Alternatively, there are various start-up seminars. However, you also know your personal limits: Ask for expert advice if necessary. Tax and start-up consultants can help you with the finer points.
Expertise in photo rights and copyrights
Know and protect your rights! You should be familiar with media law and copyright laws in order to protect yourself from misuse of your work . If you assign the rights to your images, the rights of use of the customer and third parties should be contractually stipulated.
Regular research on reverse image searches can help you identify copyright infringements early on. Document copyright violations and use a lawyer to send warnings if necessary. An additional trademark registration is useful if you want to protect your name and logo from imitation.
How to start a photography business step by step
Decide what what kind of photographer you want to be
Not all photographer is the same. The job of the self-employed photographer offers many facets and areas of activity. The sooner you define which areas you want to cover, the easier it will be for you to make all of the necessary decisions.
If you want to start your own business as a photographer, positioning your company is the first step. In which and how many branches of the industry you want to specialize depends primarily on your own skills and experience. In general, the more specialized you appear towards customers, the more professional you appear compared to a large number of competing photographers. Typical areas of activity for photographers are, for example:
Advertising (apartment, food, industry, fashion)
Studio photography (portrait, family / baby, application, glamor)
Journalism / press
Art and film
Photography sidelines that can earn you money
There is also the professional field of the photo designer. Unlike the photographer, photo designers handle the preparation and follow-up for shoots according to the client’s specifications. Above all, this includes the design concept for backgrounds, props, perspectives, motifs and light. The post-processing of the finished photos with image editing programs is also the responsibility of a photo designer. There is a large overlap here with the tasks of a self-employed photographer.
Another branch of income for a photographer can be holding seminars, workshops and tutorials for amateur photographers. If you enjoy teaching, photo coaching is a possible, lucrative sideline.
Business plan: calculate costs and fees
Is a business plan even necessary if you are self-employed as a freelance photographer? The answer is yes. If you want a realistic, clear assessment of all your expenses, precise planning is indispensable. Based on this information, you can calculate the prices of your services. If you work on a fee basis, you should not forget these ongoing costs in your price calculation:
- Equipment costs (cameras, lights, accessories)
- Office costs (rent or lease, ancillary costs)
- Material costs (office supplies, spare parts)
- Communication (mobile phone contract, parcel delivery, postage costs)
- Software costs (design programs, licenses, website)
- Travel expenses (train tickets, car rental, fuel costs)
- Advertising costs (online marketing, business cards, flyers)
- Company insurance (professional liability insurance, commercial insurance, insurance for your equipment)
- Repayment of loans
- Company management costs (tax consultant, accounting)
- Formation of reserves
Do not forget about the private and personal costs that you will also have to cover, especially in the start-up phase:
- Accommodation and utilities
- Food, clothes
- Private insurance and retirement provision
How to start a photography business: Pricing your services
Many newcomers sell their services below value. If you want to earn a living with photography full-time, you have to make smart calculations. Always calculate in such a way that you can finance your living and build up reserves right from the start. Loss of earnings due to illness or unforeseen events can occur at any time. Therefore, remember to take sick days, weekends, vacation days and public holidays into account. Based on this information and your expected tax rate, you can calculate your monthly salary and hourly rate.
How to start a photography business: Finding funding
Just buying the equipment to get started as a professional photographer can be a financial burden. If you don’t have enough equity, you have many options. In addition to your usual bank and other private credit institutions that can offer photography business loans, you could also consider government subsidies for retraining and business grants if you are eligible.
Choosing a location: where to set up a business?
Of course, the location of your business start-up is an important factor, but your decision is directly related to your business idea. Most photographers nowadays do without their own studio, as their activities do not require a shop with equipment. So you work from a rented office or directly from home.
You are now faced with the choice of whether you want to set up your company in a region with a large number of orders and where you can expect a high density of photographers. In more rural areas there is often less competition, but the demand for photography services tends to be lower. International or Germany-wide catchment areas for orders are rather rare, unless your specialty is press photos or advertising photography. Typically, photographers work within 50-150 kilometers of their place of business. Also read how to set up a photography studio as a beginner.
Marketing and admin
The everyday professional life of a self-employed photographer often consists of varied tasks that have nothing to do with actual photography. You shouldn’t underestimate this reality. Especially in the start-up phase, the time invested in actively acquiring customers and planning advertising measures will take up a large part of your time. The follow-up to completed shoots takes an average of four days. The photographers surveyed invest one day each in further training and free projects. If you are aiming for around ten shooting days per month, the average total is 22 working days per month.
All your marketing activities should be based on a professional, clear and search engine optimized website. Potential customers can see what they are booking here in advance: A meaningful portfolio should depict your talent as versatile as possible. Reference customer lists help to underline your professionalism. Stay away from semi-professional website builders without an individual touch.
Your online presence should reflect your taste and aesthetics as an artist. A consistent corporate design should also be reflected in your logo, business cards and other print advertising materials. A picture should emerge that fits your personality. In contrast to commercial advertising, addressing private customers can be more emotional.
Starting from your website, the focus of marketing is very dependent on your personal target group. Test which channels work and try out different addresses. Setting up your own business as a photographer and marketing yourself well doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t hurt to be inspired by good and bad examples of the competition for your own marketing ideas. A mixture of several strategies is often effective:
- Google Adwords Campaigns and Facebook Ads
- Social media profiles
- Customer acquisition by phone and personal introduction
- Referral Marketing
- If you are contacted independently by interested customers, be sure to ask how the contact found you.
Especially in the initial phase of your self-employment, the time expended for contact with customers and clients will be large. You may be able to generate initial income through stock photo portals, so that you can concentrate on direct client activities.
Summary: starting a photography business checklist
- Do you have the right personal skills?
- Look at ways to increase your photography skills and keep up on trends.
- Learn about photo rights and copyrights.
- Decide what what kind of photographer you want to be.
- Explore photography sidelines to earn extra money.
- Create a business plan that includes calculation of costs and fees
- See if you qualify for government funding.
- Choose your location.
- Focus on your marketing strategies.