The Do’s & Don’t’s of Starting Your Own Photography Business

I’ve certainly learned a lot in the years I’ve been running my business. I won’t lie, there are a few things I’ve learned the hard way. Like anybody in these times, I see lots of new photographers popping up. I began to think about some of the basic do’s and do not’s that I wanted to share with all those out there considering their own photography business. While this is only the tip of the iceberg, I hope that it gives you some things to think about in your own journey. So, let’s get started!

how to start a photography business

Do learn how to use your camera in manual.

– Buying a ‘nice’ camera and starting up a business the next day is not the way to do things. You should be in control of your camera. Learn what each element does in relation to creating images – ISO, shutter speed, aperture and focal length.

Do learn what proper exposure, white balance and focus looks like.

– Are your images full of smurfs? Or perhaps it seems like someone is wearing sunglasses when they’re viewing your images. Sometimes it takes some training to help your eyes really see the changes you need to make in your images. I highly, highly recommend purchasing a calibration device to ensure your monitor is giving you proper output.

Do produce fairly consistent results from session to session.

– Before starting a business you should produce fairly consistent results when it comes to exposure, white balance and focus. On this note, you should also be able to produce consistent results in less than perfect lighting. Especially if you want to shoot events of any type.

Do find out the tax laws in your area and get all the proper paperwork in order.

– Contact your local business office to find out what you need to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. It’s better to start off on the right foot while you’re beginning, versus trying to clean it up afterwards.

Do “cover your butt” with model releases and contracts.

– On another legal note, make sure you are covered when it comes to using people’s likeliness’s on  your website and you’re covered in case of an unhappy client. Having a contract from the get go will help you protect yourself and your new business.

Do practice safe shooting in regards to poses and locations.

– Always look out for the safety of your clients. Not only do you just not want your clients to be hurt; it could come back on you legally. Do not take your clients to unsafe locations. Do not agree to dangerous props or poses. Please always be very careful with newborn babies and learn which shots should be composites. If you do not have the Photoshop skills to create a composite, just don’t do the shot.

how to start a photography business

Don’t undervalue your time.

– Your time has value, even when you’re starting out. Now, we’re assuming you’ve already got a grasp on all the above basics, but you’re still new. Your time still has value – it takes time to prepare for a session, shoot, edit, and then provide whatever deliverables you’re going to provide. It costs money to drive your car, and every time you use your camera, it wears it down and there is depreciation. You’ll do yourself a huge favor by figuring out your cost of doing business and not letting yourself lose money when you shoot. (Note: I could write a whole post on this alone but this is just a summary!)

Don’t jump into weddings right off the bat.

– Weddings are a whole beast onto themselves. If something goes wrong, there is no do-over. Weddings are absolutely not the place to practice your skills. If you are interested in weddings, the very best thing you can do after you have your technical skills down is to second shoot with an established photographer. You should also always have backup equipment when you shoot weddings and that’s something most new photographers have a hard time affording.

Don’t buy camera equipment without understanding exactly why you need or want it.

– I so often see new photographers going ‘I want to upgrade to this or that’ but don’t yet show that they’ve even mastered the equipment they have. If you cannot fully utilize your current kit, a ‘better’ camera will not make you a ‘better’ photographer. Learn about the equipment you have and learn about the differences in the equipment that’s available. You should be able to clearly state why you need/want the new equipment before you purchase it.

Don’t go crazy with photography fads.

– Photography is definitely one of those fields that gets pretty trendy. There are trends in props and in processing. Just remember to take it all with a grain of salt and try and imagine what the people looking at your photos fifty years down the road are going to think. Are they going to be giggling like we do at the floating head photos of the 80s? Have fun with props, but don’t forget to take photos that are clean and can stand the test of time as well. Be selective in what you purchase, because you don’t want to throw your money down the drain.

Don’t assume running a photography business is ‘easy money’.

– “All they do is show up and take some pictures and put them on a disk, why does it cost so much?” Running a successful photography business is not ‘easy money’ in any way. Yes, you can just go press a button and then dump the images on a disk. But, I can tell you that you’re not going to find yourself running a successful, long lasting business. There is so much that goes into it – shooting, processing, presenting your products, a computer system, props, studio set ups, lighting, continuous learning, and communication with clients and vendors. Of course there are taxes, too! Running your own business of any kind is a roller coaster of ups and downs. It’s stressful and at times you just wish someone else would deal with it for you. Just keep all of these things in mind when you make the decision to turn your hobby into a business.

Don’t give up on your dreams.

– With all of the above being said, this is what I want to close with: Follow your dreams. If you truly feel passionate about running your own photography business, then go for it. It takes dedication, creativity (and not just behind the lens), a sense of humor, patience and so much more. But, when you have those moments where you know you have touched somebody’s life and you’ve created an image that future generations will cherish – all the hard work feels worth it. If you are ready to get on board and do things right; welcome to the family. 🙂


I hope you enjoyed this post and it helps you see a little glimpse into what it takes to get your own photography business started. If you are looking for more help, I do offering one on one mentoring, so feel free to drop me a line!

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