How to start a photography business?

So, how to start a photography business? You have been doing photography for a while now, you have a good understanding about the technical side of things, you have a bit of experience photographing almost everything, you may even have been hired from a friend or a family member to photograph something.

And you are probably wondering: Am I ready to start doing photography professionally? The short answer is probably no, but you are on the right path! Please read on!

Being a good and successful professional photographer is not the same thing as being a good photographer. Being able to produce nice images is not enough, there are a lot of people out there who can do that. And some of them are doing that for free.

What you need is a lot of confidence in your abilities, very solid people skills and very, very good business skills!

What you don’t need is a fancy photography equipment.

How to start a photography business?

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a bunch of expensive gear to be a professional photographer. There are plenty of people out there who use a basic DSLR or mirrorless camera and a kit lens and are killing it! Yes, professional gear will give you better results, don’t get me wrong, but you don’t really need to invest thousands in it to start.

And here lies the biggest problem nowadays. When you remove the initial huge investment from the equation, suddenly becoming a pro seems so feasible and easy, that a lot of people will do the first step without even thinking if they will need something more than photography skills. Some may even succeed, but most will certainly fail.

I will say this again – being able to make good images is not enough!!

But why do you need solid people skills and very solid business skills when all you want to do is photography?

I have been doing photography professionally for more that 10 years now and from my experience I can confidently say that most clients will book you not only because you make good images (there is a ton of people who can do that), but because they feel comfortable working with you, because you feel confident when you talk with them in person, because you answer your emails and phone faster than the rest, because working with you is not only productive, but fun, because you market yourself in a way that attracts them.

Photography is a business like all businesses. In order to be successful (read: make money) you need not only the best product, but you need to know how to market it, how to present it to your clients and how to run everything else about the business in the background (expenses, marketing, your website and SEO, time scheduling, etc…).

Let’s say you already feel pretty confident about all this, how do you actually get started? Here is a simple guide what to do.

Start by working for / with people you know

How to start a photography business?

The best way to gain confidence in your photography skills and to actually become good is to practice. Go out there and shoot as much as you can. Find subjects that interest you. Take photos of your partner and your children. Start talking with your friends and family and look for opportunities to advance your photography. Ask your neighbours to photograph their kids birthdays. Ask a friend to model for you so that you can practice working with people. Do you have a friend who is exceptionally good at something? Go document that. Working with people close to you at first will give you the necessary confidence for when you will need it in the field working with real clients.

And don’t forget – you are building a portfolio to start your business!! Don’t think about impressing the world just yet.

No job should be beneath you

This will be advice hard to follow. Photographing all the gigs you can get your hands on in the beginning will be a fast way to build your portfolio and will potentially allow you to meet new clients. You will get more experience and you will practice more the skills you will need to master. It is important to remember that even if a job doesn’t pay that well (or maybe doesn’t pay at all), you will still reap benefits of more work when you first start your photography business.

More work means you have more images to practice your post-processing skills and more photos to include in your portfolio. And most importantly – the more people you meet and work with, the more word of mouth recommendations! And this is one of the keys to build a successful photography business!

Always remember what Henri Cartier-Bresson said: “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

It doesn’t really matter in what area of photography you want to specialise – wedding photography, fashion photography, family and children photography, product photography, etc.. The more people you meet and work with, the better.

Find a mentor

The only way to truly advance in any field, not just photography, is to have an honest and professional feedback about your work. Posting your work online and not getting any meaningful or helpful feedback from other photographers can be very frustrating and painful experience. Surely your friends and family love your photography and praise your work, but that is nowhere near helpful for growing your work and improving your technique.

Finding a mentor, somebody who inspires you, somebody who’s work you admire, a professional in your area of interest will help you immensely! Your mentor can give you advice on building your portfolio, can help you with tips about your business or even help you with finding clients. He can also act as a reviewer of your work.

Part of building confidence as a photographer is being willing to put your work out there for critique and review. Having your portfolio reviewed is hands down the best way to grow! Getting constructive and honest feedback will go a long way in helping you create more compelling photos.

You can also ask your mentor to give you tips how to succeed as a working professional photographer.

Go to as many photography workshops you can afford

This is not just for beginners! Going to workshops, conferences and meeting other photographers is paramount to succeed in this business. Even after doing this for more that 10 years, I still regularly go to workshops and conferences.

How to start a photography business?

This is me in the middle, with the blue t-shirt, attending a workshop in Paris. Photo by Emin

How to find one thats best for you? Well think about what area in photography you want to specialise in and search for a workshop online. Contact photographers who inspire you and ask them for a private workshop or portfolio review.

Build your portfolio

In this day and age, having an online portfolio is an absolute must. There is a number of professions online services out there to help with that – paid and free. You need to get your work out there for people to see, and to do that you need to have a professional looking website (online portfolio) that will for sure impress future clients.

When starting to build your portfolio remember that less is more! You don’t want every photo you have ever taken in the portfolio. Instead, it should be a curated body of work that shows only your best photos. Having your portfolio reviewed is the best way to ensure you are on the right path doing that!

Get in contact with photographers who inspire you

This can also help a lot! Get it contact with photographers who inspire you. Ask them for guidance, do a workshop with them or even ask to second shoot for them. You can never know when a good opportunity will present itself.

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