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How to start a portrait photography business

by David Em
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You’ve decided to start your photography business but don’t know where to start. Here’s your step-by-step guide to starting a portrait photography business.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

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

Being a professional photographer

While you may be good at photography and get plenty of compliments, there’s more to think about than great photos.

Related: How to give photo credit

Here are a few pros and cons of being a pro photographer.


  • Monetize your hobby and skill.
  • Choose the hours you work.
  • Meet new people and build relationships.
  • Be a part of special moments in other people’s lives.
  • Be your own boss.
  • Home-based business.


  • Expensive start-up costs.
  • Photoshoots are often on weekends and evenings.
  • Inconsistent cash flow.
  • Pressure from clients and expenses.

Steps to starting a portrait photography business

If you’re ready to turn portrait photography into your career, here are the steps you need to take to begin.

Step 1: Build your portfolio

This is the first step because you need to show that you have a service to sell. You have to showcase your work and make a good first impression with the portraits you take.

Your portfolio should be a collection of your very best work and it should also show consistency. Ensure that your portfolio represents the work that you want to get hired for.

Step 2: Create a business plan

When you’re starting your portrait photography business, you need to come up with a plan. Without a plan, you won’t know how to succeed.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Benjamin Franklin

A business plan can simply be a written or typed document that covers the following:

  • What are the start-up costs?
  • What are the one-time and recurring expenses?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How will you get clients?
  • What will you name your business? (Make sure it isn’t trademarked by checking with the USPTO)
  • What kind of brand do you want to create?
  • How will you differentiate yourself from other photographers?

There are many aspects of a photography business and it’s important to think about each area before starting your journey. The business plan will give you direction.

You’ll also want to consider marketing strategies, referral programs, taxes, and consider your financial goals.

Step 3: Choose your business structure

The two common structures are Sole Proprietorship and a Limited Liability Company (LLC). The IRS has a breakdown of what each structure is and what you need to start one.

A sole proprietor is an easiest and cheapest method. However, an LLC will offer more protection for your personal assets in the event that you run into a legal situation.

Step 4: Pricing

How much you charge depends on your skill level, experience and the quality of your images. The goal of starting a portrait photography business is to make money, so you have to choose a sustainable rate.

As you grow, you can increase your rates and be confident in them.

Step 5: Create a website and business cards

Almost everything you do is online nowadays. you order food online and get it delivered. You order products online, meet people online, do your banking online, etc.

Many times, people will not make the initial contact in person. It’ll be online.

This is why you need a website. Your website should have:

  • Your portfolio
  • An about page
  • A contact page

A professional website will make your portrait photography business more legitimate and people will take you more seriously.

These things will help you communicate with a potential client the type of portraits you shoot, what you are all about, and how to get in touch with you.

For business cards, keep it simple, minimal, and classic. One side will have your logo and the other will have your name, website and contact information.

Moo offers a great variety of business cards that are high-quality at a very affordable price. Be sure to check them out and others like Vista Print, Overnight Print, and even Costco.

Step 6: Network to meet potential clients or referrals

Building your network is important in the portrait photography industry. Through your network, you can meet people who would be interested in booking a portrait session with you or may know someone who is interested.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of people who want or need portraits. The need can be for work, profile photos, models, bloggers, or just to have for the heck of it!

Regardless of the reason, there is a need out there. Be sure to network and tell people that you are a portrait photographer. This will result in more clients and leads.

Step 7: Be a second shooter

Starting a portrait photography business can be scary.

Learning from someone who is already doing it, can make it seem more attainable.

Ask around and see if you can tag along for a shoot. Tell them that you are a new photographer who wants to learn more about portrait photography and the life of someone who does it “full-time”

Be careful when doing this, as some photographers might think or accuse you of stealing their ideas.

If someone is uncomfortable with sharing their journey and tips, just find someone else.

5 common pro photographer myths

Starting your portrait photography business and becoming a pro photographer is exciting. It’s incredible to have the ability to monetize your skill and hobby.

With all of the excitement, it’s easy to overlook different aspects of being self-employed and working as a pro photographer that you may not have considered when starting your business.

Here are 5 common myths about being a pro photographer. By being aware of these myths and understanding how to overcome obstacles, you can be a successful pro photographer.

1. $100 per shoot = $100 per hour

If you’ve ever worked a job that pays you hourly, it’s easy to think that charging $100 for a photo shoot is the same as earning $100 per hour.

However, this isn’t the case.

When you charge $100 for a photoshoot, it means you’re charging $100 for everything that comes with it.

This includes travel, culling images, post-processing, proofs, possibly prints, and marketing. Although the photo session lasts an hour, you’re working on the “job” longer than an hour.

Let’s say it took you 4 hours to complete everything from beginning to end. That would mean you made $25 per hour and don’t forget about taxes.

As a business owner, you’ll pay state and federal taxes. Be sure to check with a tax professional for the exact numbers.

The key to being profitable as a pro photographer is to understand how much you’re spending on your business and charging enough to pay for your overhead and make a profit.

As a result, you might book fewer clients but charge a higher rate which allows you to build a sustainable business.

2. You don’t need a contract

There are many photographers who don’t use contracts, especially if they’re starting out their photography journey.

However, contracts are a vital part of your business.

A contract will legally protect you, set expectations, and your clients will clearly understand what they’ll receive.

When you’re thinking about building a sustainable photography business, make sure you consult with an attorney or online resource such as The Contract Shop to create contracts.

3. A website and Facebook page will easily attract clients

A website that looks great and a Facebook page for your photography business are two things you need to do.

They’ll be your client’s first impression of you, so you need to ensure it represents your business and who you are.

Creating these two things doesn’t mean you’ll be bringing clients.

You need a way for them to find you and the best way to do this is through marketing.

4. I can work whenever I want

If you’re photographing weddings and portraits, you’ll find yourself working solely on weekends and evenings.

Although there are times you’ll have a photoshoot during the week, more often than not, you’ll be working on the weekends.

This is because photography is a service-based business. When you shoot depends on your client’s availability and since most people work during the weekdays, they’re available on weekends.

5. You don’t need to build your network

To have a successful photography career, you need to network and work on your people skills.

Building a solid brand and reputation is important in the photography industry because it’ll lead to new and repeat clients.

Networking allows you to meet potential clients and also gain exposure as a photographer.

Not everyone you meet will be a potential client, but they may know someone looking for a photographer and they can refer new clients to you.


A portrait photography business is an awesome way to produce income while using a skill you already have and enjoy.

You can increase your revenue by shooting stock images and selling them online. This gives you the opportunity to create passive income.

More resources:

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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About Portraits Refined

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