How to start a photography business
Today, it is easier than ever to get your hands on a camera and
start taking pictures, but becoming a successful photographer
requires time and effort. There are many different aspects to the
photography industry, from wedding photography and portraits to
commercial and stock photography. Some parts of the industry are
relatively easy to enter while others take years of experience and
The photography business can be extremely demanding, both
financially and in terms of work hours. But if you are passionate
about taking photos and you are okay with a bit of
unpredictability, it may be the perfect industry for you.
There is no typical day for a photographer as the routine can
vary, depending on their work load or the time of year. Shoot days
are typically very long and tiring, but also the most
"A shoot day is very different from a non-shoot day," says Lottie
Davies, a professional photographer who has worked in the
industry for over 20 years. "On a shoot day I get up very early. My
assistant will meet me at my house and we will drive to the
location. Sometimes if it is a dawn shoot I will be there the night
before. We shoot all day and then get back quite late."
The next day, Davies processes the files and gets them ready for
the client or if she shot with film, she will take it to the lab to
be developed. She uses a lab called Iris
When photographers aren't shooting, they are typically fielding
questions from potential clients and corresponding with existing
clients on the progress of their shoots. They must also maintain
their website or blog and work on marketing their business to
attract more clients.
The industry and market
Over the last ten years, the industry has changed dramatically.
New technology and the switch to digital photography have allowed
more people to enter the market. Additionally, as the costs of
cameras and other equipment has dropped, more people own a high
quality camera and are able to take their own pictures instead of
relying on professionals.
It is hard to judge the true size of the photography industry
because it is difficult to say how many photographers there really
are out there because so many people practise photography
occasionally or in addition to a full time job. The industry is
predominately made up of freelancers and small businesses.
According to the sector skills council for creative industries,
almost 50% of the companies in the photography industry are
- Knowing your way around a camera is essential to being a
photographer. Clients will hire you based on your portfolio and
- A good eye is key, but to be a successful photographer it is
also important to stay calm under pressure. Weddings and other
events can be high pressure and you must be able to coordinate big
groups of people to capture all the images that the client
- You need good people skills, especially with kids, and making
people feel relaxed and calm is also helpful because when people
are at ease the photographs will turn out better.
- Great communication skills with the subject or client are
important to ensure that everyone is happy with the final outcome
of the pictures.
Professional photographers take a range of training
paths, but there are two main ways they gain experience. Some
acquire their skills through being an assistant to an experienced
photographer, while others learn the trade through college
courses or other classes.
Many photographers serve as an assistant to an established
photographer before they launch their own business. Davies says,
"Being an assistant is like being an apprentice; it is the only way
to really learn where the business is and how it works." She served
as an assistant for six years before branching out on her own.
Other photographers have very little professional experience
before starting their business. Xander Neal and his wife,
Christine, started their photography business, called Navyblur,
without serving as assistants. Neal, who studied photography at
university, recommends photographing as many people, places and
things as possible. He suggests offering to take portraits of
friends and family to gain experience and build your portfolio.
There are also many training programmes available where people
who are new to the craft can be trained in the basics of
photography. The Photography Institute offers classes online and
Digital offers workshops all around the UK.
To avoid the cost of maintaining their own studio, many
freelance professional photographers hold shoots at locations
chosen by the client, such as their home or an outdoor setting.
Some photographers create a studio out of their home or rent one on
an as-needed basis, but many find it unnecessary to maintain a full
time studio. Navyblur used to have their own studio, but decided to
get rid of it because they felt it wasn't necessary to run their
business. Now they shoot exclusively outside or on location.
It is possible to run a photography business on your own, but
depending on what you are shooting it is likely you will need to
bring an assistant along help out. Most assistants work on a
job-by-job basis and receive little or no remuneration.
If you already have a high quality camera, starting up a
photography business doesn't cost much. However if you don't, a
professional quality camera can be £2,000. You will also need a
telefocus lens, additional lighting and a tripod, which all
together can cost several thousand pounds as well.
"Being a photographer is generally not a good way of making lots
of money, but there is a very thin edge that charge extremely high
fees and make a great deal of money," says Davies.
You need to account for instability and periods with no income.
"The fact that you have work at the moment doesn't mean you will
have it forever," says Neal.
Some sectors of the photography industry are very seasonal. For
example, wedding photographers are very busy during the summer, but
often have to do portraits or commercial work during the rest of
the year to make ends meet.
The first step to starting your own photography business is to
build an online portfolio of your work. This does not have to be
elaborate, but potential customers will want to see what your work
looks like before they hire you. Many photographers take photos of
friends or family in the beginning to build up a portfolio. When
Navyblur first launched, they photographed three weddings at their
local church to create theirs.
After you have a website, there is an easy way for people to see
you work and the next step is to start marketing your new company.
It is important to advertise and market you business in a variety
of ways. It may be helpful to display samples or brochures with
your work in local shops. If you are a wedding photographer, you
may consider advertising in bridal magazines or going to wedding
Reaching out to bloggers in the hope they will feature your work
may also help generate more business. Many photographers find they
get new clients through word of mouth and referrals. To get more
business, offer incentives when people refer you to someone else
such as free prints or a discount on their next shoot.
- Copyright laws surrounding photographs can be very confusing.
It is important to make sure that you know your rights as a
- Be very selective with the photos you put in your portfolio.
You should be critical of your work and only present the best
to show to potential customers.
- Joining a professional association can provide helpful support
and advice. It can also give you credibility with clients. The Association of
Photographers is a UK-based organisation that protects
photographers and promotes its members. There is also the World Photography
- Finding the right price structure is essential. It is
important that you price your services at a rate that allows you to
can earn a living, but not so high that customers are not willing
- In the beginning, find as many different ways as possible to
market your business. You never know what might catch a customer's
eye and advertising can been done at little or no cost through
Support and resources
- The British Journal of Photography is a great way
to stay up to date on the latest news in the industry.
is an online community of photographers that provides forums and
allows photographers to share tips and advice with each other.
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