How to start a freelance photography business

If you’re thinking about striking out on your own in business and becoming independent, you should look into becoming a freelance photographer. Smarta has teamed up with Hiscox to bring you this guide on everything you need to know about starting up in the world of photography and help you decide if it really is for you.

Want more inspiring stories on how to start a business and make it grow? Check out the 30 best business ideas you can start for peanuts from Smarta

The industry and market

  • Easy to get into

Becoming a freelance photographer is one of the most accessible routes to starting a business. Anyone can try it. But, that means, there’ll be others offering a similar service nearby you. It’s time to work out what makes you a better option than any of them.

  • Local press

Weekly newspapers will always be a great source of freelance work. You won’t get the same rates as studio jobs, but you’ll try out new things and make some great contacts. A lot of locals also have sister magazines that can give you an even wider range of experience.

  • Agencies

Is an agency right for you? The answer depends on your style, the jobs you are looking for and the level of control over your work you want. Have a look at a few agencies and see if any inspire you to sign up some of your work. But don’t be convinced it’s a must for someone starting up.

Natural skills

  • Motivation

As a photographer, work won’t often come to you. It takes a lot of effort to earn a name for yourself and you’ll loads of motivation. If you’re going to make it in this industry, the thought of being a professional photographer needs to thrill you. You need to have a good personality, and be able to work well with people, in order to gain repeat customers and expand your business. 

  • Organisation

With jam-packed schedules and jobs that will be completed in tiny steps, you need to be organised as a photographer. Consistently meeting deadlines, replying to messages and chasing job leads are sure-fire ways of boosting your business growth.

  • Accounts

Be ready to become your own accountant. It’s time to brush up on your maths skills and your accounts knowledge. There are some great courses available and technology, like QuickBooks, will be a massive help!


  • BTEC, Degree, flexible options

First of all, there are loads of great opportunities if you want to do courses in photography, and they can get very specific.

A BTEC in Photography and Digital Imaging is highly regarded and is offered by colleges across the country.

If you can commit three years to studying, a BA in Photographic Art is a great option. Many universities offer this, with Westminster being frequently recommended.

If you want more flexibility with your studying, there are dozens of amazing part time courses. Search for one in your local area and it will be easy to find.

  • Keep learning

Don’t believe for a second that you’ve finished learning when your course is over. In photography, staying up to date with the latest trends, techniques and equipment is vital. Your customers will notice quickly if your knowledge is behind your competitors.

  • Practice, Practice, Practice

Practicing is just as crucial to your business as marketing and promotion. Take a break from the structure of prescribed jobs and shoot something that inspires you. Test yourself on new styles and techniques. Make sure you're using as much of your talents as possible when customers come calling.


  • Do you need a studio?

The days when every freelance photographer needed a dedicated space are long gone. If you want to offer shoots in a studio, it will cost from £150 a day but, with a longer commitment, you can get one for £600 a month.


  • Do you need any employees?

Early in their careers, freelance photographers are, traditionally, one man bands who rely on contacts rather than staff. However, when the jobs start to come in thick and fast, an assistant will be invaluable. If that time comes, look for someone who can help you in as many areas as possible.


What you’ll need...

  • A digital camera

The highest rated professional camera, a Canon EOS ID X, costs £4,000. But there are great options available from £500, particularly if you’re willing to go second hand.

  • Extra lens

There’s a huge range of lenses you could invest in, but you’ll only use a few. Find out what you need before spending up to £1,000 on a fancy new product you’ll never use.

  • Memory cards

Small memory cards (2GB) can be yours for under £5, but will quickly run out of space. 128GB cards will cost £30+ but are far more convenient than a dozen cheaper cards.

  • Printer

You can get great options for £500 but, depending on your needs, you might have to invest £2,000. Again, search around and make sure you’re getting the right option for you.

  • Low pay to start, but great potential

A safe estimate for what you’ll earn in your first year as a freelance photographer is £10,000. Recovered from the shock? Good, because, if you work hard and can turn one job into two more, you’ll soon earn more. You can easily end up with a wage between £30,000 and £70,000.

  • Know your budget

Knowing your budget is essential to make money as a freelance photographer. You need a firm grasp of your costs and your hourly rate. For every job, have a minimum you’ll take for it, and a max you would love to get for it. Then, it’s time to use your negotiation skills.

If all of this sounds a bit expensive for your wallet then don't hesitate to look for funding. You can apply for a business loan or ask friends and family for a no-strings-attached lump slum. 

First steps

  • Create a killer website

Your website is a lot of people’s first impression of what you do. If it’s poorly designed, with little attention to detail, imagine what people might assume about your photography? A well-designed, user-friendly website is the best place to show what you can do.

  • Work for free

Everyone loves free stuff. They especially love it if it’s something they need. When you’re starting out, offer examples of what you can shoot to show off what you’re doing. If you hear about a job you think you could never land, ask to do it for free. You’ll be amazed at the doors it opens.

  • Get feedback

Why should potential customers trust you? Because you have done great work in the past. Make sure they know that great work was genuine and appreciated with feedback. The good responses will help your business and the bad ones will improve your skill.


  • Keep lists

As a freelance photographer, your jobs will never be finished in one simple action. They are the accumulation of a lot of tiny tasks. You’re going to need to stay on top of what’s been done and what needs to be done next. For that, you’re going to need lists.

  • Shoot what you enjoy

Take every job you’re offered, but that doesn’t stop you hunting down the jobs you enjoy. If you want to photograph animals, target breeders. If your passion is sports, target teams. When you’re starting up, every job is a great job, but you can always have your eye on where you want to specialize.

  • Have a portfolio ready

It’s never too early to build an incredible portfolio. Even if you’re looking for your first professional job, there’s nothing stopping you. In this industry, you can get started as soon as you want. Once you have a portfolio, make sure it’s a central part of your website too.

Common pitfalls

  • Not replying to emails and phone calls

The quicker you reply to customers, the more likely you are to grab great jobs. If you set yourself a reasonable time limit to reply to every inquiry, and then stick to it, you’ll be helping your business get into high demand.

  • Over promising

Know how long each job will take, and keep a buffer for error, before taking on a new project. Asking a client to delay a project, or even turning them away, because you’re in high demand, can do a lot for your reputation.

  • Not knowing where your jobs will come from

Find the bloggers writing about what you shoot and make contacts at the right magazines. Send them your work for free at first.  Do anything you can to make sure the people who need your skills know what you can do.

Support and resources

  • Local help

Your local council could have a great selection of business training schemes and advisory services available. Seminars on managing your books, understanding tax, and even grants are the options that could really appeal to new freelance photographers.


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Smarta Formations

If this article has inspired you to start your own freelance photography business then look no further, and incorporate today with Smarta. We offer a company registration service powered by the National Business Register.  You can search for available names then register a business name, or set up a company and/or register a trademark with us. You will receive a professional binder with all your official documents via post within 3-days.

Smarta Formations is the quickest and easiest way for you to register your limited company. All the hard work is handled for you. 

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