How to start a portrait photography business

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by David Em
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If you’re ready to take the leap from portraits as a hobby to a business, learn each step to start a portrait photography business.

Camera on top of a notebook with a computer in the background.
Photo courtesy of Canva.

If you love to take portraits, you can turn your passion and hobby into a business.

While you may be a good photographer and get a lot of compliments, starting a business is a big deal.

Related article: 8 tips to get more photography clients

Before launching your business, make sure you plan for the different aspects. Know the finance and legal side, along with how you’ll market your business.

As a full-time photographer, you get to be your own boss, work from home, choose the hours you work, and make money doing what you love.

While there are good and bad times, it’s a satisfying career.

The following covers what you need to know about starting a portrait photography business.

Also, learn and overcome common myths about running a portrait photography business.

Steps to start a portrait photography business

If you’re ready to turn your portrait photography hobby into your career and business, take the following steps.

1. Create a business plan

The business plan is the first and most crucial step.

A clear plan gives you a path and steps to achieve your portrait photography business goals.

It allows you to think through all aspects of your business.

Invest as much time as you need to create a business plan, and don’t rush the process.

The following are ideas of what to include in the plan.

  • Startup costs.
  • One-time and recurring expenses.
  • Services and products.
  • Target market.
  • Marketing plan and budget.
  • Business name and goal.
  • Competitive advantage.
  • Pricing structure.
  • Financial projections.
  • Insurance and bank accounts.

As a photographer, your business plan doesn’t have to be grand. You can type or write your plan, but don’t skip it.

A strong and clear business plan ensures you think through the process of running a portrait photography business. It provides a roadmap for you to follow.

2. Form your portrait photography business

Once you create a business plan and decide to pursue your portrait photography business, the next step is to form it into a legal entity. It’s time to make it official.

The most common business structures for photographers are a sole proprietorship and limited liability company (LLC).

If you’re unsure about which to choose, consult with a lawyer or tax expert.

Many photographers start as sole proprietors and switch to an LLC once their business takes off.

If you form an LLC, get an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS.

You’ll need it to open business bank accounts and file taxes for your business.

Before you register your business, your business name through a trademark search and ensure the domain is available.

If the name is available, register your business and buy the domain for your website.

3. Open a business bank account

After you form your portrait photography business into a legal entity and have a tax identification number, open a business bank account to keep your finances separate.

Your expenses, such as equipment and costs to maintain your business, could be tax-deductible.

Also, a business bank account makes you look more professional and helps in a tax audit.

Aside from a business bank account, you can apply for a business credit card.

Some credit cards offer points or cash back, which you can earn for business expenses.

4. Gather your portrait photography equipment

In your business plan, you listed the photography equipment you need.

Now that you made it official, it’s time to gather all the gear you need to start.

Essential items include cameras, lenses, batteries, flashes, lights, accessories, and photo editing software.

Buy high-quality gear while staying within your budget.

Since you’re starting your business, only buy the must-haves. As you grow, you can upgrade your gear and expand your collection.

5. Get photography insurance

Insurance is essential for your portrait photography business. It protects you from lawsuits, damaged gear, and dissatisfied clients.

While the type of insurance policies you get depends on your business and services, the following are common:

  • Business owner’s policy
  • General liability insurance
  • Business property insurance
  • Commercial auto insurance

Things can go wrong in your portrait photography business. Insurance can protect you from the unexpected.

6. Get accounting software or hire an accountant

The finance side of a portrait photography business can take up a lot of time.

Streamline the process with accounting and bookkeeping software or hire an accountant.

Quickbooks, Wave, Everlance, Freshbooks, and Xero, are excellent for keeping track of your income, expenses, and sending invoices.

Then, you’ll have the information in one place, making taxes straightforward.

You can also hire a bookkeeper and accountant if you want a professional to manage your finances.

7. Set up contact methods

The most important contact methods for a portrait photographer are an email address and phone number.

When you set up your email address, make it professional by using your domain.

If you don’t want to share your personal phone number, you can get a separate and free phone number through Google Voice.

Put your business phone number and email address on your website and listing pages on the web.

8. Launch your photography website

A professional website makes your portrait photography business legitimate.

Social media pages aren’t substitutes for a website. So, a website is essential.

While you can hire someone to build your website, some excellent platforms and resources make it intuitive and beautiful, such as Squarespace and Zenfolio.

When you create your website, it needs to have the following:

  • Portfolio
  • About page
  • Contact page
  • Blog
  • Pricing

A great website will attract potential clients and provide information to contact you about a session.

9. Promote your photography business

A successful portrait photography business requires clients that pay.

Even if you’re a talented photographer, most clients won’t come to you. Marketing and promotion are essential to get new clients.

The following are several methods to promote your portrait photography business:

  • Attend networking events.
  • Share your photos on Pinterest with a link to your website.
  • Blog about questions clients may have.
  • Volunteer as a photographer.
  • Offer a referral incentive.
  • List your business in local directories.
  • Regularly post on social media.
  • Use paid advertising.

There are many ways to market your photography business. Try the different techniques and stick to the ones that work for you.

Remember, your business won’t grow on its own. You need to invest time, energy, and resources into promotion and marketing.

Related: 32 creative graduation photoshoot ideas

Myths about being a professional photographer

Photographer leaning against a wall outdoors.
Professional photography isn’t always smooth-sailing, but it can be worth it. Photo courtesy of Canva.

Professional photography is incredible because you get to monetize your skills and passion.

While there are many benefits, being a business owner has its challenges.

The following are common myths about being a professional photographer.

By knowing the myths, you can overcome them and prepare yourself for the journey.

The cost of a session is your hourly rate

If your session is an hour long and you charge $300, it doesn’t mean you make $300 an hour.

Instead, it means you charge $300 for the hour-long session, travel, post-processing, prints, marketing, and taxes.

A one-hour shoot comes with a few more work hours and other costs.

To be a profitable photographer, price your sessions to cover the costs of your business.

While it can lead to fewer clients, it makes your photography business is profitable.

Contracts are optional

Contracts are a necessary part of your photography business.

Regardless of how many clients you have or how much you charge, you need a contract for every session. It provides legal protection and sets expectations.

Before you book your first client, get contracts for the different services you offer.

If you need help, consult with an attorney or online resource, such as The Contract Shop.

All you need is a great website or social media page to get a lot of clients

A great website and social media pages are essential. But, don’t expect clients to start rolling in without any effort.

After setting up your website and social media pages, focus on marketing.

Also, optimize your website to appear in search results. Study and use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques.

You can work anytime

Yes, you can work anytime. But, to be profitable, you’re subject to client availability.

As a portrait photographer, most of your sessions will occur on weekends or evenings.

Since photography is a service-based business, your availability should align with your clients.

Chances are, you’ll shoot on the weekends and edit on weekdays.

Extra gear is a waste of money

One camera and one lens aren’t enough. Malfunctions and damage can happen, so extra gear is a must-have.

With backup gear, you’ll have a solution if anything goes wrong with your equipment during a shoot.

It ensures the session is smooth and leads to better client experiences.

You don’t need to build your network

As a professional photographer, networking is essential.

Networking helps you build a successful photography career, find new clients, and make connections.

Also, you can meet other photographers and build friendships.

Go to networking events, join your local chamber of commerce, and find ways to get your name out there.

Networking is an excellent way to build your brand.

Conclusion

If you have a creative eye and the technical skills to capture powerful portraits, you can do it as a business.

Now that you know the steps to start a portrait photography business, you can take action.

The best part of a portrait photography business is that you can build it as big or small as you’d like.

Be patient and persistent because a successful business takes time.

Featured photo courtesy of Unsplash.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

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