One of the most common complaints from new photographers is that they feel overwhelmed — and rightly so. For an outsider, a photography business might seem as simple as getting a camera, some clients, and viola! You’re a photographer. But the true photographer knows that’s not the case: there are SO many things you have to do to start your own photography business.
I don’t know about you, but I am all about lists. I am much more productive when I have a clear list of tasks that I can check off as I work towards my goals. When I first started my photography business, I felt like I was grasping at straws, often with no clear direction on what to do next.
To help you out with your feelings of overwhelm, and to give you the direction I wish I had at the beginning, here is a list of the top 10 things that you should do before starting your photography business.
Now, if you’re already taking clients and you haven’t completed some of these tasks, don’t panic! Just read through the list, mark off the things you have already done, and highlight the things that you can get started on immediately. This will keep you organized and focused. It’s never too late to start getting organized!
- Purchase the necessary equipment. Equipment is an extremely important part of providing your clients with professional photos. Your equipment will change as you evolve as a photographer, but in order to get started, you will need a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera, lens, batteries, charger, memory cards, editing software, and a computer. Together, these items make an excellent starter kit. If you are shopping for a starter camera, I would suggest looking into the Canon Rebel or the Nikon D3300 with the kit lens and adding on a Canon 50mm f1.8 or Nikon 50mm f1.8 (an effective and inexpensive professional lens).
- Learn how to shoot in Manual Mode. If you have followed my for a while, you would know that my daughter rides horses. Let me tell you, I did not have any experience with horses when she started riding. I was surprised to learn that if you do not tell a horse to turn, they will walk right into an obstacle like the bushes or a fence. They will not choose the best option, only one of the options that they THINK you want them to choose. This is also true of cameras when left on auto (or green button) mode. A camera can only take certain factors into consideration when determining settings for creating an image. It will not infuse creativity on it’s own. The photographer is the only one that can bring artistic talent and decision-making into the creation of an image. The world of creative photography will open up to you when you learn how to shoot in manual mode.
- Build a consistent portfolio of work. When you are just starting your business, it is extremely important to practice shooting every day. Expect your first images to be out of focus or have poor exposure, especially when you are first learning how to manipulate the manual setting. Beg, borrow, and steal anyone who will allow you to photograph them and practice, practice, practice! Once you have built up a body of work, be very selective when choosing images for your portfolio. You want to choose images that have some variety – don’t post 25 images of your own children because it will send the message that you do not have experience with anyone outside of your family. Also, only select images with perfect exposure and focus. Finally, be sure the images are ones you would be able to produce again – not just a “lucky shot” with your camera on auto.
- Research business ownership and write a basic business plan. I know, this makes you want to crawl under the covers and hide, right? Ha! Me too! Well, this doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds. All you have to do is create a vision for how you want your company to look and operate. Start by filling in this blank: “In one year, I want my business to be _____.” Think about things like your income, the type of photography you enjoy, the type of clients you’d like to have, how often you want to work, what kind of prints you want to sell, etc. Pull together a plan and keep it as a living document that you are constantly amending This plan will develop into a road map of your business’s progress and you can check off items as you complete them along the way.
- Create an online place to share your work and show to clients (a website and/or social media profile). Hear me now! I can’t stress this enough. You must eventually have a website if you want to be taken seriously as a professional. However, in the early days of your business, it’s okay to use a Facebook page or Instagram profile as a temporary stand-in. Key word: temporary. “Build a website” should be near the top of your to-do list for the success of your business. You need an online location where you can store your portfolio and send potential clients to view your work. This portfolio should not be a mix of personal iphone images and professional work – this is strictly for your professional, client-based work. You can read about why I think a website is important for a photographer HERE and I also wrote about the important elements of a website HERE.
- Decide on your niche. When I was starting out, I specialized in newborn, babies, toddlers, children, families, extended families, senior portraits, weddings, birthday parties, and much much more! Ha! We all start out like that, and that’s okay. You need to try different things to decide what you like and you need to generate income to grow your business. That said, it’s still important to carve out a specialty for yourself. A generalist is never seen as an expert, and you want to be an expert. Part of your business plan or vision should include eliminating the genres of photography that you don’t enjoy as much and honing your skills in just one or two areas. This will position you as a leader in your particular genre.
- Learn basic skills in editing, storing files, and saving backup images. While we would all like to think our job is just shooting amazing photos all day long, the reality is that much of our time is spent sitting in front of a computer, editing. With the proper tools and skills, editing can actually be a lot of fun! Choose an editing program and learn how to use it as efficiently as possible. I recommend Lightroom or Photoshop. Storing your image files will also be very important, especially as your business grows, because your clients’ photos will take up a lot of memory. Your computer hard drive will fill up very quickly, so I recommend having an external hard drive or a cloud system to store everything. You will also want to have a secondary place to save your projects in the event that something happens to the original images (believe me, you do not want to learn the hard way by losing an entire gallery of images that you’ve spent hours working on). Having an external hard drive AND a cloud system is a very functional strategy! Once you have all these files saved, it’s important to keep them well-organized., I like to organize my files by date: I have a folder with the year and within that I have monthly folders that contain the sessions from that month, which are titled with the family’s name. You can decide what works for you. Create a system and stick to it — it will make your workflow smooth and your life easier!
- Choose a business name. This step is simple but very important. Many photographers choose to use their personal name as their business name. This can be very effective because people know who you areand you become your brand, which makes you easy to find. People know exactly who they are going to work with when the photographer’s individual name matches the business name. This clarity is very attractive to potential clients. The downside of using your personal name is that your private and professional lives can easily become merged. You might start getting personal Facebook messages or text messages about your business. It can be harder to set up work/life boundaries when you are easy to find. Also, if your name changes for some reason, this can cause confusion or inspire you to change your business name, which is a lengthy process. Think carefully before you choose a business name because it will be a big part of your life. Once you have chosen a name (especially if you do NOT use your own name) you will want to research any other businesses in your state that may have the same name. You also want to research URL availability (check out www.godaddy.com) before you move forward with your decisions, because it’s important that your website include your business name in some format.
- Decide on a pricing structure. The way you set up your pricing structure can determine the future of your business and help you to secure the right clients from the start. Some things to think about when deciding on your prices are:
- The session fee and what that includes
- The cost of digital images. If you’re going to provide digital images, will they be included in the session fee, sold as a package, or sold individually?
- Products such as gift prints, albums, wall galleries, photo gifts, etc.
The most important thing to remember is to make these decisions before you start taking on clients. Clear pricing structures not only make your look more professional, but they also help you avoid a situation where a client can talk you into their ideal pricing (which is often much less than what you are worth). Keep in mind that nothing has to be set in stone — you can always change your prices as you gain experience and build your business.
- Use your confidence to grow your business. Confidence allows you to share your work more openly, charge actual money for your services, and label yourself as a true photographer. When we get a job in the corporate world, the service industry, or retail, we are given a title on the first day of work. When you start your photography business, it can feel a little awkward at first to own your role as a photographer. Once you become comfortable with this new title, you will feel more confident as a professional. This confidence provides a gateway to success: live as if you already have a successful photography business. Start to think like someone who is a success. Fake it till you make it, because you will make it. Stick to your business vision and believe in yourself. Take your business seriously and do not treat it as a side hobby.
You have chosen one of the most rewarding and creative professions so be grateful for wherever you are in the process. Build your business one step at a time and try not to compare yourself to people that are further along the path. Focus on your next step and your progress will add up, your clients will find you, and you will have the professional life you have always wanted.