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Feeling overwhelmed thinking about starting a photography business?! Don’t be!

If you’re anything like me, I was just a *tad overwhelmed when it came to starting my photography business.  I thought, “well, I love taking pictures, I can totally make this into a business!” The truth is, there was a lot I didn’t think of at the beginning of my new adventure, and that’s why I want to help you. Here is our complete guide for starting your very own, successful, photography business…one small chunk at a time.

First, take a deep breath.

This is a big deal for you, and yes, it’s overwhelming, but let’s start right at the beginning. You’re making a choice to take your dream to the next level, and that’s incredible. It takes a LOT of work (a LOT), but deciding to jump into this endeavor will teach you a ton about business and yourself, so hold on to your hats.  It WILL be hard, and you’ll probably want to quit many times (I can’t even count how many times I sat at my computer with all of that self-doubt chatter, telling me I wasn’t good enough to be a photographer). Sound familiar? You have to remember that nothing (especially business) becomes an overnight success. Starting your own photography business can be the most rewarding, freeing, and confidence building action you may ever take. So enjoy it!!! And then take another deep breath and GET TO WORK.

Keep your gear simple.

Many of us, especially when we are first starting out, are totally confused about what camera to buy and what lens to use. Let’s keep it simple. Start with a camera you have already, or can borrow or purchase from someone you know.  How many of us know someone who went out and bought a new fancy camera that they took on vacation ONCE? I know a few people actually. The best part about those cameras is that they are virtually brand new, AND far cheaper than if you buy brand new. If you’re able to buy a new full frame DSLR camera, awesome! Kit lenses can be nice when you’re starting out, but adding a solid prime lens can really be a game changer. Stick to one at the beginning (depending on your chosen photography interest, like portraits or landscape), and practice, practice, PRACTICE.

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Here’s a list of essentials:

Take your camera everywhere and take some risks!

Seriously, do it. Trust me, it’s worth capturing those random moments of your day.  You will unknowingly get better over the course of a few weeks and your confidence will grow as well. This is the best way to practice your settings, try different composition techniques, and just have fun! If you see a cute couple on your walk, ask them if they want to pose for you and that you’ll send them a few photos! Most people will love you for it! Put yourself out there and push your boundaries!

Learn the basics.

Many “professional” photographers think that in order to be taken seriously, they have to work in manual mode.  Many people DO choose to work in manual, but it’s not a requirement to take great and dynamic photos. Being able to control every aspect of your camera IS very useful, but don’t overwhelm yourself at the beginning. This is why taking your camera everywhere you go can be really useful. You can try out different modes, like “AP” or Aperture-Priority Mode, or “M” for Manual Mode.

A breakdown of the basics:

  • ISO – For more info about ISO, read on here!
  • Aperture (aka F-Stop) – Aperture determines your depth of field, focus and amount of light you allow into your camera.  At a wider aperture, say f/2.0, more light will be allowed in, and you’ll have more compression (meaning your subject will be in focus, while the rest of the image will appear blurry). This “blurred” effect allows your subject to pop off the photo.

  • Shutter Speed – Shutter speed is how fast your camera takes a picture. We recommend setting this to a minimum of double your focal length. If you’re shooting with a 35mm lens, that means 1/70th of a second. If you’re using a 50mm lens, that would be 1/100th of a second.
  • Focus – Auto-focus mode is what most use because it allows your camera to focus automatically, instead of you physically turning the focal ring on your camera lens to focus on your subject.

Volunteer your time.

When you’re comfortable with your camera, try volunteering your time and taking photos of others (especially if you want to start a portrait/family photography business).  Volunteer for local school events, take photos of family and friends, and maybe offer your services to a local businesses in town. I hate to burst your business bubble, but having an official business doesn’t mean people will automatically start knocking down your door asking for pictures. Start building a local network, because that is what will start your momentum! Word of mouth will be your biggest asset, especially when starting your photography business. Try different types of photography and just explore! The first few years are for figuring out what YOU are interested in, establishing your style and getting the hang of being a new business owner! Slow and steady wins the race!

Starting photography

Literally, I brought my camera EVERYWHERE! When people get something other than smartphone photos, they are usually totally ok with letting you photograph them!

Choose a business name!

This is the fun part! People either go with their personal name or a catchy name! There are pros and cons for both. For more on choosing the perfect name for your new business, check out this tutorial.

Start a Facebook and Instagram.

If you established any online presence for your business yet, start with Facebook and Instagram. First, they are free, and you will get a decent amount of traffic if you simple share with friends and family. Start posting your photos on a regular basis, and start building your portfolio. You can post anything from flowers, to your kids or animals, or just photos you’ve snapped around town. TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW. People, by nature, want to help you!

Some quick tips for social media…

  1. BE REAL. People don’t like generic/uninteresting descriptions and a nice photo…we are bombarded by that daily. Tell your audience WHY this photo is special, or share a sweet memory that it invokes for you. People react on social media to authentic emotion…so stand out by being yourself…because it’s perfect.
  2. Post as regularly as possible. Keep people engaged by posting on a regular basis.  This goes right back to taking your camera with you!
  3. Reach out to friends and family…and get over feeling judged.  Ok, I’m being harsh here, but the reality is, those people are your biggest network. Sometimes we assume (or know) that the people closest to us can be a bit “too real,” or “judgmental.” The truth is, their need to judge says FAR more about them than it does your ability to take good photos.  There WILL be people that support you, so let them help, and forget the other people who don’t.  A quick side story…a friend recently said, “oh, how’s that photography hobby going? Are you going to get a real job when your girls start school?”  There will ALWAYS be people who don’t take you seriously, but don’t let it get you down! You CAN make it in photography! I promise! 

When do you start charging?

This is a question that is asked a LOT. When are you ready to start charging for your photography? Well, we obviously can’t tell you that after X number of sessions you are absolutely ready to charge.  What we can do, is give you a list of questions to ask yourself that may help determine if you’re ready.

  • Do you think you can deliver your client consistent images? That means that your photos are in focus, the correct exposure, and capture images true in color? If so, you’re probably ready to charge?
  • Are you confident in yourself? We all struggle with this at some point, but are you willing to push past the fear of not being good enough and keep taking photos?
  • Have you invested in yourself? This means taking the time to learn about photography and you’re always trying to improve?

Look, we all need to start somewhere, and at some point, you’ll want to take the leap and start charging. Sometimes we have to push out that negativity in our own heads and just see what happens! Start at the low end and see what happens. Now that you’re a business owner, you need to understand that sometimes we just have to jump in and see how it goes!

Read, learn, practice.

This is the time consuming part. But you’re here, so that’s a great start! Really investing in yourself is the biggest contributing factor to success in your new photography business. You camera is a great asset obviously, but YOU are going to be the one to make or break your business (that’s what makes it so fun and worth wild)!

One thing I’ve learned over the last four years of having my own photography business is that it’s 150% up to me, which is exactly the way I want it.  There will ALWAYS be ups and downs, always. It’s a matter of pushing past the hard stuff and fully expressing your creativity in your work. Your confidence will grow with every new technique you learn!

photography business

Really think about your goals.

Sitting down and really setting your goals is key in your photography business. It forces you to think through your ideas, and how you want to implement them. Writing things down forces you to process the idea and therefore actually takes it out of your brain and in print! Take it a step further and break down your goals for each month or even each week. A useful strategy is to choose a topic for that week, and you learn the in’s and out’s of that subject until moving on to the next!

Consider building your photography website.

Having a website for your business isn’t absolutely necessary, but it’s a way to gain credibility in the eyes of your clients. It’s the best way to establish your brand and really curate the images you want people to associate with your business. There are many options for starting your website, so here is a guide to doing that simply and quickly!

new photography business plan

Start a photography blog.

Blogging is a great way to keep yourself producing content and taking pictures! Literally, for two years, the ONLY person reading my blog was my 94-year old grandmother, and that was enough for me! In time, you’ll start building a faithful audience that will want you to succeed.  The best part is, you’ll have a time capsule to look back and see your progress!

For a great read about why your new photography business should be blogging, read on here!

Keep your chin up!

Doing anything beyond our comfort zone is scary! There WILL be hardships in your photography business, and a failure here and there. I’ve had upset clients, and had to schedule reshoots, I’ve had an SD card go bad while on a shoot, and nerves that literally almost had me cancelling sessions…trust me, I get it. BUT, anything in this life worth doing TAKES COURAGE.

Conclusion

I recently ran across a great book, by Wayne Dyer, titled, “It’s Never Crowded Along the Extra Mile.” Just the title it’s SO true. When you make it a goal to continue pushing yourself, everything else tends to fall away and success will follow! Every new technique you learn will set you apart from the competition, so keep going!

We tend to look at established businesses in any sector and say, “wow, that’s WAY too much to try and figure out.” The truth is, every single business is built piece by piece, layer by small layer! 99% of success is about perseverance (and not luck, money or intelligence)!  Forge ahead and don’t give up photographers, we are here for you!