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4 Things You Need to Know Before Starting Your Own Photography Business

Marianne Stenger
4th December 2018

Taking your hobby and turning it into a profitable business can be extremely rewarding, but since photography is currently one of the most competitive fields to break into, it can also be challenging. Of course, this is not to say that it can’t be done, but it does highlight the need to do thorough research and create a realistic plan before you start working for yourself.

With this in mind, we asked four professional photographers who have successfully established their own businesses and photo studios what they wish they had known when they first started out. So if you’re looking to make the transition from hobbyist to professional photographer, here are four things you need to know before starting your own photography business.

Photo Credit: © Antonina Mamzenko

1. You can’t be good at everything

Personal branding photographer Maryanne Scott is based in South Yorkshire. She started her own wedding photography business in 2006 and has since expanded her business to include personal branding and headshots.

One thing she wishes she had known from the beginning is that the business side of things, such as marketing, PR and finance, is more important than the photography. “You take it for granted that a professional photographer has a certain level of skill with a camera, but you also need to understand all the other things that make a business work,” she says.

Scott points out that when you’re just starting out, there is a tendency to want to do everything yourself in order to save money, but ultimately, investing money in outsourcing can save you time and improve your business in the long run.

“I now outsource my editing and have an accountant. These are two things that gave me the biggest headache and I've found that it leaves me free to do the things I am good at and enjoy, like marketing and social media.”

She says she would also advise any photographer who is looking to branch out and start their own business to make sure they have a safety net in case things don’t work out.

“I started my business while I was still working full time. The intention was to do photography full time but the money side of things always held me back. As my photography business became more successful, I realised I couldn't physically do both. So I gave myself six months to save up enough money to cover expenses for a year, so that once I stopped working I would still have a safety net.

As I was photographing weddings at the time I made sure to book enough work for the following year so I knew I would have money coming in, so ultimately I didn’t have to dip into the savings. I now mainly do personal branding and headshot photography for business women and I’ve found that having a strong social media presence has massively improved business.”

2. You can’t please everyone all the time

London-based photographer Jane Cox specialises in photographing families, kids, and babies. Cox has loved photography ever since she can remember but after she gave up work to have her own family, she took the opportunity to retrain and start a photography business.

One thing she says she wishes she had realised earlier on is that not everyone is ‘her client,’ and that it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.

“I used to spend a lot of time worrying about whether people liked my photographic style, and whether I was charging too much for my work, even though when I started out I didn't ask for much money. Now I know that I don't have to please everyone and that I might not be the right photographer for some people, although it's very hard to banish those thoughts completely.”

In terms of advice, she says the first thing to do is make sure that you are well trained and confident with your equipment. Although good camera and lens will make it easier to get great results in less than perfect conditions, she also points out that to start out with you don't need masses of kit.

“In the words of Ansel Adams 'The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it', so it's as much about how you see things and how you use your equipment, as it is about what camera you are using.

I'd also say that when you’re starting out you should wear out your shoe leather and visit people in person wherever your target market is. You can also try to attend networking events, collaborate with local businesses, and make as many personal connections as possible in real life. Don't rely solely on social media and wait for the work to come in as that's unlikely to happen.”

3. You won’t spend as much time taking photos as you think you will

London-based corporate and lifestyle photographer Mark Turnbull has more than twenty years of experience in his field and has worked with big names like Sainsbury’s, Barclays, and Cisco Systems.

He says that when you’re just starting out for yourself, the business side of things often matters more than the photos you take. “Good business people stay in business, whereas good photographers don’t necessarily stay in business. The three most important things involved in running your own business are marketing, marketing and yes, marketing.”

Turnbull points out that based on his personal experience, you never spend as many days shooting as you think you will, so it’s important to budget for that reality.

“If you have previously been employed you will need to take on a completely different mindset. This is because getting your business to a place where you can earn a wage always takes longer than you think, as does the back-end of running a business. The old saying that ‘turn-over is for vanity, profit is for sanity and cash is king,’ still holds true.

4. Running a photography business isn’t always glamorous

Antonina Mamzenko is a London-based documentary and family photographer. She started her own business in 2009 and now also mentors other photographers on certain crucial aspects of running a business, such as pricing and marketing.

She points out that after nearly ten years of running a photography business, she has realised that running a photography business is not as glamorous as you might think when you are starting out.

“It’s sad but true. Only about 20% or less of what you do is taking photos. The rest of your time will be consumed by admin, marketing, finance and so on. It’s important to come into the business knowing this so that you don't get overwhelmed and disappointed,” she says.

“Mastering your photography craft is important, but having an understanding of how businesses run is even more important. You might be the most talented photographer, but without at least basic understanding on how to price yourself profitably, and market your services, you're not going to last very long. I see so many insanely talented photographers struggling to make ends meet and my advice would always be to take a business class. CreativeLive, for example, is full of good ones.”

Another thing she says can help is to start as you mean to go on. For example, if you start out with very low prices, it can be difficult to raise prices later, and you may need to establish a brand new client base every time you do.

So you should first figure out your costs of running your business, estimate how many shoots you can take on in a year, and what salary you want to pay yourself. This will give you your target average sale per client, and you can design your price list from there.

Finally she says it’s important not to let self-doubt and fear eat you alive. “The most successful photographers are often not the most talented ones, but the ones that are not afraid to put themselves out there to meet people and hustle like crazy.”

Looking for more tips or advice for branching out and starting your own photography business? Check out our five tips for getting organised as a freelance photographer.