How to Start a Photography Business

Written by Dave Lavinsky

How to Start a Photography Business


How to Start a Photography Business

If you’re looking to start a photography business, you’ve come to the right place. Since we’re going to show you exactly how to do it.

We’ll start with key photography industry fundamentals like how big the market is, what the key segments are, and how revenues and profits are generated.

Then we’ll discuss keys to not only starting a photography business, but succeeding in it!

And don’t forget to look at our photography business plan template if you need a plan to start or grow your photography company.

15 Steps To Start a Photography Business

Starting a photography business can be very profitable. With proper planning, execution and hard work, you can enjoy great success. Below you will learn the keys to launching a successful photography business.

1. Choose the Name for Your Photography Business

The first step to starting a photography business is to choose your business’ name.

This is a very important choice since your company name is your brand and will last for the lifetime of your business. Ideally you choose a name that is meaningful and memorable. Here are some tips for choosing a name for your photography business:

  1. Make sure the name is available. Check your desired name against trademark databases and your state’s list of registered business names to see if it’s available.
  2. Keep it simple. The best names are usually ones that are easy to remember, pronounce, and spell.
  3. Think about marketing. Come up with a name that reflects the desired brand and/or focus of your photography business.


2. Determine the Type of Photography Business You Will Launch

The next step in establishing your photography business is to define the specific niche you intend to focus on. Photography encompasses a wide range of specialties, and your choice will influence your brand, clientele, and the services you offer.

Here are some popular photography niches to consider:

  1. Portrait Photography: Specialize in capturing individuals or groups, including headshots, family portraits, and senior photos. You can also venture into specialized areas like maternity or newborn photography.
  2. Wedding and Event Photography: Focus on documenting weddings, engagements, corporate events, or other special occasions. This niche requires excellent event management and storytelling skills.
  3. Commercial and Product Photography: Work with businesses to create high-quality images for advertising, e-commerce, and marketing purposes. This niche often involves studio work and attention to detail.
  4. Landscape and Nature Photography: Explore the beauty of the natural world, capturing landscapes, wildlife, and environmental scenes. This niche often appeals to art collectors and nature enthusiasts.
  5. Fashion Photography: Collaborate with fashion designers, models, and brands to create visually striking images for magazines, advertisements, and catalogs.
  6. Food Photography: Specialize in photographing culinary creations for restaurants, food blogs, and cookbooks. This niche requires a keen eye for composition and lighting.


3. Develop Your Photography Business Plan

One of the most important steps in starting a photography business is to develop your business plan. The process of creating your plan ensures that you fully understand your market and your business strategy. The plan also provides you with a roadmap to follow and if needed, to present to funding sources to raise capital for your business.

To enhance your planning process, incorporating insights from a sample photography business plan can be beneficial. This can provide you with a clearer perspective on industry standards and effective strategies, helping to solidify your own business approach.

Your business plan should include the following sections:

  1. Executive Summary: This section should summarize your entire business plan so readers can quickly understand the key details of your photography business.
  2. Company Overview: This section tells the reader about the history of your photography business and what type of photography business you operate. For example, are you a portrait photography, wedding photography, or fashion photography business.
  3. Industry Analysis: Here you will document key information about the photography industry. Conduct market research and document how big the industry is and what trends are affecting it.
  4. Customer Analysis: In this section, you will document who your ideal or target customers are and their demographics. For example, how old are they? Where do they live? What do they find important when purchasing services like the ones you will offer?
  5. Competitive Analysis: Here you will document the key direct and indirect competitors you will face and how you will build a competitive advantage.
  6. Marketing Plan – your marketing plan should address the 4Ps: Product, Price, Promotions and Place.
    • Product: Determine and document what products/services you will offer
    • Prices: Document the prices of your products/services
    • Place: Where will your business be located and how will that location help you increase sales?
    • Promotions: What promotional methods will you use to attract customers to your photography business? For example, you might decide to use pay-per-click advertising, public relations, search engine optimization, and/or social media marketing.
  7. Operations Plan – here you will determine the key processes you will need to run your day-to-day operations. You will also determine your staffing needs. Finally, in this section of your plan, you will create a projected growth timeline showing the milestones you hope to achieve in the coming years.
  8. Management Team – this section details the background of your company’s management team.
  9. Financial Plan – finally, the financial plan answers questions including the following:
    • What startup costs will you incur?
    • How will your photography business make money?
    • What are your projected sales and expenses for the next five years?
    • Do you need to raise funding to launch your business?


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4. Choose the Legal Structure for Your Photography Business

Next you need to choose a legal structure for your photography business and register it and your business name with the Secretary of State in each state where you operate your business.

Below are the five most common legal structures:

1) Sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is a business entity in which the owner of the photography business and the business are the same legal person. The owner of a sole proprietorship is responsible for all debts and obligations of the business. There are no formalities required to establish a sole proprietorship, and it is easy to set up and operate. The main advantage of a sole proprietorship is that it is simple and inexpensive to establish. The main disadvantage is that the owner is liable for all debts and obligations of the business.

2) Partnerships

A partnership is a legal structure that is popular among small businesses. It is an agreement between two or more people who want to start a photography business together. The partners share in the profits and losses of the business.

The advantages of a partnership are that it is easy to set up, and the partners share in the profits and losses of the business. The disadvantages of a partnership are that the partners are jointly liable for the debts of the business, and disagreements between partners can be difficult to resolve.

3) Limited Liability Company (LLC)

A limited liability company, or LLC, is a type of business entity that provides limited liability to its owners. This means that the owners of an LLC are not personally responsible for the debts and liabilities of the business. The advantages of an LLC for a photography business include flexibility in management, pass-through taxation (avoids double taxation as explained below), and limited personal liability. The disadvantages of an LLC include lack of availability in some states and self-employment taxes.

4) C Corporation

A C Corporation is a business entity that is separate from its owners. It has its own tax ID and can have shareholders. The main advantage of a C Corporation for a photography business is that it offers limited liability to its owners. This means that the owners are not personally responsible for the debts and liabilities of the business. The disadvantage is that C Corporations are subject to double taxation. This means that the corporation pays taxes on its profits, and the shareholders also pay taxes on their dividends.

5) S Corporation

An S Corporation is a type of corporation that provides its owners with limited liability protection and allows them to pass their business income through to their personal income tax returns, thus avoiding double taxation. There are several limitations on S Corporations including the number of shareholders they can have among others.

Once you register your photography business, your state will send you your official “Articles of Incorporation.” You will need this among other documentation when establishing your banking account (see below). We recommend that you consult an attorney in determining which legal structure is best suited for your company.

5. Secure Startup Funding for Your Photography Business (If Needed)

In developing your photography business plan, you might have determined that you need to raise funding to launch your business.

If so, the main sources of funding for a photography business to consider are personal savings, family and friends, credit card financing, bank loans, crowdfunding and angel investors. Angel investors are individuals who provide capital to early-stage businesses. Angel investors typically will invest in a photography business that they believe has high potential for growth.

6. Secure a Location for Your Business

When searching for the ideal space for your photography business, several factors should be carefully considered to ensure it meets your needs and supports the growth of your venture.

Here are key considerations:

  • Location: Choose a location that is convenient for both you and your clients. Consider accessibility, parking options, and proximity to potential clients or complementary businesses like event planners or wedding venues.
  • Space Size: Evaluate the space’s size in relation to your photography niche. Larger spaces are suitable for studios and commercial photography, while smaller spaces may suffice for portrait or home-based photography businesses.
  • Natural Light: If you rely on natural light for your photography, look for spaces with ample windows and good natural lighting conditions. Alternatively, ensure the space can be modified to accommodate artificial lighting if needed.
  • Studio Setup: If you plan to have a studio, consider the layout and functionality. Ensure there’s enough room for backdrops, props, equipment, and comfortable shooting areas.
  • Amenities: Check for amenities like restrooms, changing rooms, and waiting areas if you anticipate clients needing these facilities during photoshoots.
  • Rent and Operating Costs: Analyze the rental cost, as it should fit within your budget. Also, account for additional expenses such as utilities, insurance, and maintenance.


7. Register Your Photography Business with the IRS

Next, you need to register your business with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) which will result in the IRS issuing you an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

Most banks will require you to have an EIN in order to open up an account. In addition, in order to hire employees, you will need an EIN since that is how the IRS tracks your payroll tax payments.

Note that if you are a sole proprietor without employees, you generally do not need to get an EIN. Rather, you would use your social security number (instead of your EIN) as your taxpayer identification number.

8. Open a Business Bank Account

It is important to establish a bank account in your photography business’ name. This process is fairly simple and involves the following steps:

  1. Identify and contact the bank you want to use
  2. Gather and present the required documents (generally include your company’s Articles of Incorporation, driver’s license or passport, and proof of address)
  3. Complete the bank’s application form and provide all relevant information
  4. Meet with a banker to discuss your business needs and establish a relationship with them


If you’d like to quickly and easily complete your business plan, download Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template and complete your business plan and financial model in hours.

9. Get a Business Credit Card

You should get a business credit card for your photography business to help you separate personal and business expenses.

You can either apply for a business credit card through your bank or apply for one through a credit card company.

When you’re applying for a business credit card, you’ll need to provide some information about your business. This includes the name of your business, the address of your business, and the type of business you’re running. You’ll also need to provide some information about yourself, including your name, Social Security number, and date of birth.

Once you’ve been approved for a business credit card, you’ll be able to use it to make purchases for your business. You can also use it to build your credit history which could be very important in securing loans and getting credit lines for your business in the future.

10. Get the Required Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a photography business often requires obtaining several licenses and permits to operate legally and professionally. The specific requirements can vary depending on your location and the nature of your business, but here are some common licenses and permits you may need:

  • Business License: Most jurisdictions require a general business license or operating permit. This license allows you to legally conduct business within your city or county.
  • Sales Tax Permit: If you plan to sell prints, photography services, or digital images, you may need a sales tax permit or seller’s permit. This enables you to collect and remit sales tax to the relevant tax authorities.
  • Home Occupation Permit: If you are running your photography business from home, you may need a home occupation permit or zoning variance, especially if you have clients coming to your residence.
  • Professional Photography License: Some areas may require a specific license for professional photographers, particularly if you are offering specialized services or commercial photography.
  • Studio Rental License: If you operate a photography studio and rent it to other photographers, you might need a special license or permit for this aspect of your business.
  • Health and Safety Permits (if applicable): If your photography involves special effects, pyrotechnics, or other potential safety hazards, you may need additional permits to ensure the safety of your clients and crew.

Depending on the type of photography business you launch, you will have to obtain the necessary state, county and/or city licenses.

11. Get Business Insurance for Your Photography Business

Operating a photography business comes with various risks, and having the right insurance coverage is essential to protect your business, equipment, and assets.

Here are some types of insurance you should consider for your photography business:

  • General Liability Insurance: This is a fundamental insurance policy that covers bodily injury and property damage claims made by third parties. It provides coverage if someone is injured during a photoshoot, or if you accidentally damage a client’s property while on location.
  • Professional Liability Insurance (Errors and Omissions): Also known as E&O insurance, this policy is crucial for photographers. It covers claims related to errors, omissions, or negligence in your professional services. For example, if a client is unhappy with the quality of your work or believes you failed to meet their expectations, this insurance can protect you from potential legal claims.
  • Equipment Insurance (Photography Gear Insurance): This type of insurance covers damage, loss, or theft of your photography equipment, including cameras, lenses, lighting, and other gear. It’s essential for protecting your valuable investments.
  • Business Owner’s Policy (BOP): A BOP combines general liability insurance and property insurance into one package, often at a lower cost than purchasing the policies separately. It’s a cost-effective way to get comprehensive coverage.
  • Commercial Auto Insurance: If you use a vehicle for business purposes, such as transporting equipment to photoshoots, you may need commercial auto insurance to cover accidents or damage related to your business activities.

Find an insurance agent, tell them about your business and its needs, and they will recommend policies that fit those needs.

12. Buy or Lease the Right Photography Business Equipment

To run a photography business successfully, you’ll need a variety of equipment to capture high-quality images and manage your operations efficiently. The specific equipment you require can vary depending on your niche and the services you offer, but here’s a general list of essential equipment for a photography business:

  • Camera Body: Invest in a high-quality digital camera with interchangeable lenses. Full-frame and APS-C sensor cameras are popular choices among professional photographers.
  • Lenses: A variety of lenses allows you to capture different types of shots. Common lens types include prime lenses, zoom lenses, and specialty lenses like macro or wide-angle.
  • Tripod: A sturdy tripod is essential for stability, especially in low-light conditions or when using slow shutter speeds. Look for a tripod that can support your camera and lenses.
  • Camera Bag: A durable camera bag helps you organize and transport your gear safely to photoshoots and locations.
  • External Flash and Lighting Equipment: Depending on your niche, you may need external flashes, strobes, softboxes, umbrellas, reflectors, and other lighting equipment to control and enhance your lighting.
  • Light Stands and Accessories: Light stands, clamps, and other accessories are necessary for setting up and positioning your lighting equipment.
  • Backdrops and Background Support: For studio photography or controlled environments, backdrops and a support system are essential for creating different scenes and settings.
  • Reflectors and Diffusers: These tools help you manipulate natural light and control harsh shadows, improving the quality of your outdoor or studio shots.
  • Camera Accessories: Extra batteries, memory cards, lens filters, lens hoods, and a cleaning kit are crucial for smooth shooting sessions.


13. Develop Your Photography Business Marketing Materials

Marketing materials will be required to attract and retain customers to your photography business.

The key marketing materials you will need are as follows:

  1. Logo: Spend some time developing a good logo for your photography business. Your logo will be printed on company stationery, business cards, marketing materials and so forth. The right logo can increase customer trust and awareness of your brand.
  2. Website: Likewise, a professional photography business website provides potential customers with information about the services you offer, your company’s history, and contact information. Importantly, remember that the look and feel of your website will affect how customers perceive you.
  3. Social Media Accounts: Establish social media accounts in your company’s name. Accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and/or other social media networks will help customers and others find and interact with your photography business.


14. Purchase and Setup the Software Needed to Run Your Photography Business

Running a photography business requires various software tools to manage different aspects of your business effectively.

Here is a list of essential software for a photography business:

  • Photo Editing Software:
    • Adobe Photoshop: Widely used for advanced photo editing and retouching.
    • Adobe Lightroom: Great for organizing, editing, and managing your photo library.
  • Client Management and Scheduling:
    • Client Relationship Management (CRM) software: Tools like HubSpot or Salesforce can help you manage client relationships, track inquiries, and schedule appointments.
    • Scheduling software: Tools like Calendly or Acuity Scheduling can help clients book sessions with you online.
  • Accounting and Financial Management:
    • QuickBooks or Xero: These accounting software options help you manage finances, track expenses, and generate invoices.
    • PayPal or Square: Useful for processing payments and online transactions.
  • Project and File Management:
    • Dropbox or Google Drive: These cloud storage solutions allow you to securely store and share high-resolution image files with clients.
    • Project management tools: Trello or Asana can help you keep track of tasks, deadlines, and projects.

Research the software that best suits your needs, purchase it, and set it up.

15. Open for Business

You are now ready to open your photography business. If you followed the steps above, you should be in a great position to build a successful business. Below are answers to frequently asked questions that might further help you.

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If you’d like to quickly and easily complete your business plan, download Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template and complete your plan and financial model in hours.

How Big is the Photography Industry?

According to IbisWorld, there are 185,075 photography businesses in the US, and the photography industry generated $10.5 billion in revenue in the United States alone last year. This represents an annual growth rate of 2.6% over the past 5 years.

What are the Key Segments of the Photography Industry?

The photography industry derives a significant portion of its revenue from personal and group portraits, wedding photography services and school photography services. Corporations make up the other large buyer of industry services, primarily in the form of marketing and advertising services and other organizations or groups account for the remaining

What External Factors affect the Photography Industry?

A number of factors affect the performance of the photography industry. These drivers include:

Per capita disposable income – This industry is particularly sensitive to fluctuations in disposable income because its services are discretionary rather than necessary. Therefore, a dip in disposable income limits the number of people who purchase professional photography services.

Total advertising expenditure – Revenue from commercial photography comes from photo shoots for advertisements or other marketing materials. Commercial photographs appear on billboards; corporate websites; and in magazines, textbooks and other print media.
Consequently, increased spending on advertising raises demand for commercial photographers, which generate over one-fifth of industry revenue.

Number of K-12 students – School photographs are a major market for portrait photographers. Changes in enrollment trends, including retention rates, influence demand for industry services.
In general, the more students enrolled in school, the more revenue photographers can expect to earn from school portraits.

Marriage rate – Wedding photography and video services are expected to account for a significant portion of industry revenue. Therefore, a rise in the marriage rate is beneficial to the industry as demand for wedding photography services increases.

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If you’d like to quickly and easily complete your business plan, download Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template and complete your plan and financial model in hours.

What are the Key Customer Segments in the Photography Industry?

The largest customer segment in the photography industry are households, followed by businesses and schools

What are the Key Costs in the Photography Industry?

Wages – In the last five years, total wages have decreased at an annualized rate of 1.4%.

Purchases – In the past five years, purchase costs to have declined to 19.4% due to the increased prevalence of digital photography equipment.

Rent and utilities – Rent and utility costs vary considerably according to studio location.

Other costs – The industry incurs a range of other expenses that make up another 2.4% of revenue.

If you’d like to quickly and easily complete your business plan, download Growthink’s Ultimate Photography Business Plan Template and complete your business plan and financial model in hours.

What are the Typical Startup Costs for a New Photography Business?

The total costs of starting a Portrait Photography Business is around $9,500 – $13,500 while Wedding Photography business usually costs $14,000 – $18,000.

How to Start a Photography Business from Home

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Additional resources in the Photography Industry

For additional information on the photography market, consider these industry resources:

Photography Business Plan Example PDF

Download our photography business plan pdf here. This is a free photography business plan example to help you get started on your own photography plan.


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