Nature Photography by Mike Shane
photography biz

How to start your own photography business


The photography business is dominated by small businesses and freelance operators, and is very competitive. However, photographers often operate in networks, so they can recommend their associates to clients when they are too busy.

Skills to start a Photography Business

Photography assignments are almost always project-based, which means working long and unpredictable hours with quiet periods in between. So as a freelance photographer you need to be well organised and budget carefully to ensure that your business survives the quiet times.

Photographer on assignment

You have to keep your photos in a library, so you need a good image management system, that will also help when you are on a project but are taking other pictures that can be used later. There are many fields in which you could specialize and each one requires special skills as well as the ability to take clear photographs. You can choose to be an artistic photographer, a fashion photographer, a journalistic photographer or a portrait photographer.

Next to the above, photographers need the following skills:

  • creative and technical skills to create quality photographs;
  • excellent eyesight, dedication and an artistic ability;
  • technical expertise with a camera and an understanding of light and lighting techniques;
  • good communication skills, to deal with clients
  • marketing skills, to attract new clients to use your services.

Photography training and courses
While many photographers are self-taught and learn through experience, there are plenty of learning opportunities that will speed up your education in this field and give your customers the reassurance that you are qualified to deliver what they are looking for.

Read more about photography courses

Analyse your local Photography Market

Your customers will depend on the area of specialisation that you choose. Your customers could be couples who are getting married, individuals who might require you to take photographs for various social events, such as anniversaries, birthday parties and christenings.

Parents with young children, and especially new babies, are often keen to have professional family portraits taken. Aspiring models also need the assistance of photographers to create their photo portfolios.

Educational institutions such as universities and schools need the services of a photographer to prepare materials for teaching and training purpose, as well as class photos, sports teams as well as photos for graduation ceremonies.

Magazines and newspapers might ask you to take or sell them pictures for their different sections such as food, travel,
beverages and beauty.

It is not always easy to get information and statistics about the people living and working in the area where you want
to start your business. But without this information, there is no way of knowing who will buy your products (that is,
who your market is) and why.

Study your Competition
In this business you will be competing against other independent photographers offering similar services, as well as
photographer agencies. You can research business directories such as Yellow Pages (www.yellowpages.co.za) to see
which photographers are already operating in your area.

Competition will come from photographic libraries and image banks such as Getty Images, which sell photographs often
at lower rates than you can charge. There are also a growing number of photographers who make their images available on internet portals. Customers can view, select and download pictures, and usually also pay by credit card.
Photography students are also your competitors; they work hard (and cheaply) to build their portfolios and gain experience
in the field.

Ways to promote your Photography Business

It is important to create a portfolio of your photographs (both physical and digital) so that you can show them to
prospective clients. A good portfolio will help you in marketing your business; if you can afford it, ask a graphic
designer to help you design and prepare your portfolio.

Make business cards, brochures, and promotional items using one or more of your images. In your brochures and your
advertising material, emphasise the value of what a professional photographer offers – services that people don’t get
when someone like a friend or relative takes photos at their special event. You need to show the quality of your work,
as well as the add-on services such as:

  • high-quality and special-size prints;
  • framing of the best photos of the day;
  • book or portfolio of selected photos;
  • DVD of photos that can be viewed on your television;
  • back-up of photos on a disk, to use on your computer and send to friends;
  • online storage of customers’ photos on your own website, which they can access through a password.

Your online portfolio
Create your own website to advertise your expertise and services. This is a good visual medium for a promoting a
photographic business, as you can display your work easily (although usually in low resolution). With the appropriate
software, you can even sell your photos online, taking credit card payments and allowing downloads of your high
resolution digital pictures.

Other ways of promotion
Winning an award gives you great exposure, and usually for free. There are many photography competitions all over the world, most of which can be entered for a small fee.Advertising in local newspapers and magazines could also help to make your business known. If your pictures are good, word of mouth will also help as your customers will refer other people to you. Build relationships with businesses that regularly use photographers – such as newspaper and magazine publishers, calendar printers, wedding planners, schools and universities.

More information on starting your own photo business
More information on finding a photography school or (online) course