The smartphones and other mobile devices we use today are equipped with sophisticated cameras, but they don’t automatically make everyone a professional photographer. Capturing that ‘perfect moment’ involves a lot more than holding a phone steady, clicking a button, and applying an image filter. 

Your primary motivation to start a photography business isn’t to be a business owner necessarily. Instead, it’s to take high-quality photos and make a living off them. The problem is there’s a lot of legwork involved with doing so. Like it or not, all the aspects of running and managing a burgeoning small business eventually come into play if you’re going to be a successful professional photographer. This guide will outline everything you need to start a photography business.

A professional photographer

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Professional photographer

What Is a Photographer?

A photographer works closely with clients to capture photos of people, places, and things using creativity and technical abilities in photographic equipment and photo manipulation software. They also suggest creative ideas and solutions to achieve desired results and provide their clients with professional images.

Their responsibilities include taking photos at locations or in a studio, reviewing and editing photos to select the best images, and operating equipment ranging from cameras, lenses, and lighting gear. 

What Types of Photography Services Should You Offer?

Deciding what services you will offer clients as a professional photographer starts with the stories you want to tell through the images you take. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Think about the markets you want to pursue. For example, weddings are typically profitable for photogs, but you only get one chance to do the job well. If your equipment fails or your client is unhappy with the results, they could come after you in court (which highlights the need for having professional liability insurance in your back pocket). That aside, keep in mind the wedding industry tends to be a seasonal play (busier in the warmer months, less so over the winter). So, be prepared to save for the off-season and decide what you’ll do during those months.

There are other photography markets to explore, of course, including:

  • Real estate photography. Real estate is always big business in Canada, and real estate agents frequently hire photographers to take pro shots of landscapes and residential and business properties. Agents will often want 360-degree or drone video footage to promote the properties they’re selling. The good news is the real estate industry is vast, and demand for professional photographers is high.
  • Landscape and nature photography. Do you have an eye for the great outdoors? Landscape and nature photography is always in demand. Capturing the beauty of nature likely means you don’t need any people in your pictures or props. That includes forest photography, mountain photography, seascape photography, and wildlife photography. Landscape photography may involve taking shots in urban settings to capture images of structures, buildings, and architecture. 
  • Stock photography. You can sell the photos you take in volume as stock photography by using websites like Shutterstock, Unsplash, Getty Images, and iStock. These sites manage the licensing for you and can get your work in front of clients you may not otherwise meet.
  • Commercial photography. Businesses of all sizes need digital images of their people, products and services, and locations. Larger organizations typically hire photographers to take shots of their senior executives and management teams.
  • Product photography. Local retail businesses and artisans selling their products online need product images to post on their websites and any third-party marketplaces they use, such as Amazon, Etsy, and Wayfair. It may not be a huge moneymaker, but it’s usually short work, and if you get enough clients, it can add up.
  • Music and entertainment photography. Musicians, bands, and other artists will hire photographers to do photoshoots or live videos of their performances. It may not be incredibly lucrative, but it’s an excellent way to develop your camera and editing skills while building a clientele.
  • Freelance photography. You could position yourself as a photographer-for-hire for various events and charge your clients on a by-project basis. For instance, most community or local newspapers don’t have an in-house photographer anymore. You might find selling photos and videos of local events, major accidents, or crime scenes to print and online news media in your region profitable over time.

Photography Business

Running a Successful Photography Business

As with any startup business, there are several steps you need to take to get your venture off the ground: 

  • Create a business plan. You’ve identified the type of photography business you’ll start and the services you’ll provide. Draft a business plan that is achievable and easy to follow. By determining your goals and planning a path to reach them over a three- to five-year period, you can figure out how you’ll get clients, make money, and grow your business. A business plan is also vital if you intend to seek funding from a financial institution.
  • Get necessary licenses and permits. You may need to obtain a business licence or permit to operate in your city or province. Check with your municipality and provincial government to determine if you do and what the requirements are.
  • Establish a business bank account. Getting a business bank account and keeping your business income separate from your personal bank account is best. Be prepared to manage a budget, track your expenses and income, and know what your tax responsibilities are. You’ll also need to register for a GST/HST account.
  • Attract clients. Marketing and promoting your photography services is vital to acquiring clients, even on a shoestring budget. Start by building a website. There are plenty of free website builders online such as Wix, Weebly, GoDaddy, Ucraft, and others. Once your site is up and running, you need to promote it with content using SEO (search engine optimization) keywords. There are free SEO keyword research tools you can use such as Rank Tracker, Google Search Console, and AnswerThePublic. Utilize social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest to promote your work. Once you build up a client base, get into email marketing by creating a monthly or quarterly e-newsletter to keep your audience engaged and ask for referrals or reviews of your services on Google Review.

How Much to Charge for Photography Services

Pricing your services involves developing a formula that accounts for your time, travel costs, and labour to ensure you’re paid fairly for your work. 

Start by choosing a niche. Do you want to start a landscape photography business? Or are you thinking about getting into wedding photography, shooting corporate events, or taking product pictures? Once you decide what type of photography you’ll pursue and begin acquiring clients and building your portfolio, check out your competition to get a sense of what they charge. You won’t charge top dollar for your services at first. But over time, as you grow your clientele and portfolio, you can increase your rates.

But think beyond the actual photoshoot when determining your prices. You’ll spend a significant amount of time processing the pictures you take, including editing, uploading, and distributing them. Be sure to factor the time and effort to do those tasks into your pricing model.

It may also be worthwhile to consider finding a mentor to help you build your business. For example, forging a relationship with an established professional photographer can provide you with a wealth of information and guidance. They’ve travelled the path you’re about to walk. So why wouldn’t you want to tap into their knowledge and experience?

Photography Equipment

What Kind of Equipment Do You Need to Start a Photography Business?

You’re starting, and your funds are limited. But high-quality cameras and related equipment aren’t cheap. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the gear you’ll need:

A high-quality camera

To shoot professionally, you’ll likely need a good full-frame DSLR camera. They tend to be pricey (cost ranges between $1,500 to $2,000 or more), but they have good low-light performance and are thought to be better than an advanced photo system type-C camera because the sensor is bigger. You’ll also need to buy different lenses for your camera and can use them for a long time, but it’s the camera that sets the tone and it’s what your future purchasing decisions for lenses will be based on.

Technology

Then there’s the technology side of the equation. It’s unlikely you’ll have a top-of-the-line computer. You’ll have to make do with what you can afford. Eventually, though, you’ll be able to invest in a high-end laptop (approximately $2,000) and editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom (an annual subscription is around $120 per year). 

You’ll also need a couple of portable hard drives (about $150 each) to back up your work, in addition to backing up your pictures to a cloud-based storage system. 

Memory cards ($50 or more each) with a high number of gigabytes (the more gigs, the more memory; ideal if you’re shooting an event like a wedding) are also must-haves. 

In addition to those, you’ll need a memory card reader (between $15 and $25), a battery charger and extra batteries for your camera, and a reflector kit to help manage the shadows and direct lighting on your subject.

Lighting

For lighting, you’ll need a couple of C-stands (Century stand), which are used to position lights or rig a camera above a set. Depending on the model you choose, they run between $180 to more than $300.

A tripod

Something else to consider buying is a sturdy tripod. The good news is high-quality tripods tend to last years, so get the best one you can afford. They range in price from $200 to $500 depending on which one you need.

5 Ways to Protect Your Photography Business

Falling prey to a scam or becoming embroiled in a legal dispute can happen to any small business owner, including photographers. So, how can you steer clear of those risks? Here are five ways to protect your upstart photography business:

1. Meet potential clients in person

Doing business online is commonplace. Fielding inquiries from potential clients by email or social media is the norm. However, try to meet any new clients face-to-face to help you avoid being scammed. It may not always be possible to meet a new client in person. In those cases, take advantage of holding virtual meetings via Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet. It allows your client to outline what kind of work they wish to hire you for, and it gives you the chance to ensure the inquiry is legit. For instance, how did they hear about you? Did a former client refer them? Or did they stumble across your website? The more you know about people or companies that wish to hire you, the less likely it is you’ll be taken for a ride.

2. Get it in writing

Don’t rely on a verbal agreement when agreeing to do business with an individual, group, or company. Get it in writing. That means having your clients sign a written contract that outlines the terms of service, deadlines, and fees. Doing so will ensure there is no confusion about the services you agreed to provide, what you are to be paid, how, and when. You can download a contract template from any number of sites to make it easier to draft a contract outline, but you’ll still need a lawyer to review it and ensure it’s legally binding. Concerning receiving payments, stick to receiving cash either directly or through a service like PayPal and accepting credit cards.

3. Purchase photography equipment from reputable sources

Caveat emptor! The gear you use are your tools of the trade, and buying photography equipment usually means making a hefty investment. Stick to buying your equipment from a reputable store in person or online. You might be able to save a few bucks by buying used equipment from a private seller through a classified ads website like Craigslist or Kijiji (and many times you’ll get what you need at a fair price), but there are no guarantees what you purchase from a direct buy-and-sell site is in good condition. And be mindful of new cameras or related equipment that’s priced ridiculously low. Authorized camera dealers are prohibited from selling their goods below a specific price.

4. Protect your online reputation and personal information

Avoid listing your residential address as your place of business, even if you work out of your home. Instead, rent a post office box and keep your home address private. Also, be sure to use two-factor authentication and strong, unique passwords to protect your social media networks, and don’t publish your home address on any of those sites either.

If you intend to display your work on your website, and the photos you’re publishing include people you’ve taken pictures of, get them to sign a model release that permits you to use their images on your site. If the people you’re featuring include children, ensure the child’s parent or legal guardian signs the release form.

Getting slammed by bad reviews online is another issue. Sometimes, someone who’s never hired you may post multiple poor reviews of your work and demand money in return to have those negative comments deleted. Don’t fall for that ploy. Fortunately, a lot of consumer review sites like Google Reviews allow you to respond to reviews and defend yourself, or you can flag offensive remarks that may violate the review site’s terms of service and have them removed.

But sometimes, a bad review is legitimate, and you must come clean. Stay calm, be professional, and reply tactfully. Apologizing and offering to resolve a client’s poor experience shows anyone who reads the bad review that you care about your clients. Doing so can often turn a negative review into a positive one.

5. Get liability insurance

Every photographer needs to protect their reputation and assets with a photography insurance policy. If you’re doing work on private property, taking shots at a wedding venue, working with children, or renting a studio to do photoshoots, you need liability insurance. Different types of coverages comprise a comprehensive policy. For instance, cyber liability insurance is a must-have to protect your customers’ private information and financial data, as is equipment insurance to protect your gear from damages.

Fill out an online application to get a free quote. Then, our licensed broker team will get to work shopping our partner network of more than 50 Canadian insurance companies to find you the right amount of coverage at an affordable rate.

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