Comprehensive Guide to Starting a Photography Business: Pro Tips & Essential Checklist

By Belle Verdiglione

Last updated on 07/15/2024

So, you’re the person at every party, capturing the wild dance moves and those hazy, happy memories while everyone else is too busy being sloshed or dancing on tables. You’re the go-to photographer at every birthday, the one who always gets handed the phone because, let’s face it, you take the best photos.

Now, you’re thinking, “Could this photography thing actually be a full-time gig? Can I ditch my 9-5 and make this passion my business?”

The answer is a big, enthusiastic YES! But before you start planning your six-figure success party, let’s sort out the essentials. And don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Here’s your guide to starting a photography business on a low budget and the best ways to market and promote it.

Getting the Gear

Gear Up Without Breaking the Bank

You need a camera and a lens to kick things off, but here’s a crucial tip: Don’t fall for the kit camera and lens combo. The sales pitch might sound convincing, but you’re better off financing a higher-quality camera body and a decent lens.

Repeat after me: Stay away from the lens kit. Seriously.

You can also rent your gear. Many camera shops offer affordable rental options, giving you access to top-tier equipment without the hefty price tag. If you’re considering second-hand gear, be cautious – you never know how it was treated.

Remember, the best camera to start your photography business is the one you have, but a good lens makes all the difference. If your camera body is decent, invest in a lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or lower. For portraits, a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens is a dream. For versatility, a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens is unbeatable.

And please, buy your Memory cards from reputable stores. No cutting corners here – cheap cards can fail, and you don’t want that during a shoot.

Better yet, check this pro photographer’s backup workflow to ensure you never lose your precious shots (again).

Learn Your Tools

Crack open that camera manual and get to know your gear (yes, it’s boring, but worth it). Master the Exposure Triangle – the interplay between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO is fundamental. There’s a treasure trove of YouTube tutorials and online resources. If you have some cash, consider a workshop or one-on-one mentoring with a local pro. Many photographers offer short courses to help you get up to speed quickly.

Editing Like a Pro

You’ll need a laptop or computer for editing. Financing can help here too. For professional editing software, Lightroom is your best friend at just $9.99/month and a wide choice of editing presets to get you started.

Editing takes practice. Dive into YouTube for color correction and temperature tutorials, or check out local camera clubs and short-term courses at colleges. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can level up your skills.

Once you’ve honed your editing skills, consider using AI post-production software like Imagen to support you in culling and editing photos even faster. Imagen’s smart AI automation can significantly streamline your workflow, giving you more time to focus on what you love (shooting) and less on the nitty-gritty of post-production.

Getting IntoPhotography Business: Pro Tips by Belle Verdiglione
Photo by Belle Verdiglione Photography

Setting Up Your Business

Legal Steps to Start Your Photography Business

Turning your hobby into a business involves a few legal steps. Here’s your checklist:

  1. Register your business name 
  2. Apply for a Business Number ie: VAT Number (Europe) TAX ID (United States) ABN (Australia)
  3. Check your eligibility for value-added tax ie: EU VAT (Europe) or Goods and Services Tax (Australia)
  4. Open a business bank account.
  5. Get the appropriate insurance to protect your business.

Every country will have a different structure and setup. You’ll need to check what is best practice in your state and country. 

Digital Presence & Payment Options

Check the availability of your desired domain name using GoDaddy or Crazy Domains, and make sure your social media handles are available too. Choose a website host, register your domain, and set up your email address. For email hosting, Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace are solid choices.

For accepting payments, consider options like Stripe, PayPal, or Square. These make it easy for clients to pay you.

Streamlining Your Workflow

To keep your business running smoothly, pick a Client Relationship Management (CRM) system. Tools like Studio Ninja, Pixieset Studio Manager, or Unscripted will help you stay organized, connect with clients, and streamline your processes. Automations are your best friend – they’ll save you time and ensure a seamless client experience.

For starters, make sure to check those 7 best AI tools for photographers to automate your daily business workflow in every possible way.

Starting a Photography Business On A Budget: Checklist by Belle Verdiglione
Photo by Belle Verdiglione Photography

Marketing Your Photography Business

How to Market a Photography Business

To market your photography business, start with a solid plan. Social media is your playground – use it to showcase your work, share behind-the-scenes shots, and engage with your audience. Build a loyal following by connecting genuinely with your followers.

Consider collaborations with local businesses or influencers. These partnerships can expand your reach and bring in new clients.

Also, make sure to check out Imagen’s Instagram Analyzer — a brand new free tool, tailor-made for photographers to score Instagram profiles, and provide useful insights, tips, and recommendations to help you improve your presence and optimize your Instagram portfolio for attracting more customers.

Ways to Promote Your Photography Business

Social media is great, but it’s not all. Promotion can take many forms. Host free or discounted sessions to build your portfolio and gain testimonials. Attend local events and network with other creatives. Offering free shoots initially can help you gain exposure and referrals, crucial for building your client base.

Practice Makes Perfect

Shoot everything and everyone. Use social media to find subjects and try every genre. Say “yes” to opportunities first and figure out the details later. If you’re taking on a big job, like a wedding, consider hiring a second shooter with more experience. You’ll learn on the job and have a safety net. And yes, sometimes outsourcing some editing is absolutely fine too. We all did at some point. 

Working for Free

Starting with free shoots isn’t about undervaluing your work – it’s about building your portfolio and gaining experience. It’s okay to begin somewhere. Your time and skills will pay off in the long run.

When doing free shoots, treat them like paid sessions. Make sure you have a signed contract and the client knows how much the shoot is worth. Limit the number of prints or images supplied – you might be able to upsell an album or digital files and make some money back.

Some of my best clients have come from creative shoots, model calls, or limited-time offers. We all want people to value our time and art, but we also need experience and proof of our work. Make sure to get social proof from everyone – whether they pay or not. Google reviews, video, and written testimonials are gold for your marketing.

Wrapping It All Up

Starting a photography business on a budget, and with no experience, might seem daunting, but with the right approach and mindset, it’s totally doable.

Equip yourself with the right gear, hone your skills, and lay down a solid business foundation.

Market and promote your photography business passionately and creatively. Don’t be afraid to shoot for free initially – it’s all about building your portfolio and gaining valuable experience.

And remember, “Don’t compare someone else’s middle to your beginning.” Every successful photographer started somewhere. With dedication and perseverance, you can turn your love for capturing moments into a thriving business. 

So go out there, shoot your heart out, and make your photography business dreams a reality!

_______________________

belle verdiglioneBelle Verdiglione is an award-winning published photographer and photography business coach. Speaker. Proud mama of two. Unapologetic feminist, collector of punk records, and enthusiastic Espresso Martini drinker (but not all at the same time…usually.).

Belle Verdiglione is your break-the-rules mindset and business coach, speaker, and founder of Camera Queens, a female and non-binary photography community.

You can listen to Belle chatting with rad humans on her Camera Queens podcast.



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