How to Start a Photography Business | Part 1
Where to start and things to consider for launching a new photography business.
I was a blank slate when I first started my business. I didn’t know the first thing about how to start a business. All I knew was that I loved taking pictures and I wanted to start earning a living from it. I met with some other local photographers who were kind enough to point me in the right direction and give me some much needed foundation in the school of business thought.
One of those foundational principles which has stuck with me ever since I first heard it was that there are basically three types of photographers; 1) Those who have great natural talent and artistic ability, but can’t put two pennies together because they don’t know how to run a business. 2) Those with little or no natural talent as a photographer, but they’re raking in the cash because they’re business minded. 3) Those who are both artists and business minded and are able to make a decent living from their love for real art.
Which do you want to be?
It was a struggle for me to learn the business side because I just wanted to spend all my time taking pictures and blogging them. Sometimes I still struggle with the business side, but I keep reminding myself that taking the time to build a solid working platform will free my time to make the art I want to make.
This is going to be a multi-part series on How to Start a Photography Business. I’ll be honest with you though, I’m no expert yet. I’m not raking in the cash by any means. We’re still learning and growing and trying new things (and pulling the plug on some things we’ve tried in the past). I’m going to share what I’ve learned so far and the things I will learn along the way. Hopefully, the mistakes we have made and our few successes will help some of you get on the right path without having to make the same painful and time consuming mistakes. I’m also hoping that the process of writing this stuff will help myself gain more clarity for my own business.
I want to make this as practical and actionable for you as I can. I’ll go into depth on some areas that I feel deserve it, but some things I will just bullet point for brevity & clarity sake. I’m also going to be interviewing other photographers and creative professionals to get their own unique experiences and insights. I’m really excited to start sharing those! Let’s dive in…
In my experience, there are several different things that could be considered square 1 in regards to starting a business. If we’re using the board game analogy, maybe it’s best to say that there are two boards being played at the same time. One board for business strategy and one for creative strategy. Both are equally important if you want be successful as an artist in business.
Square 1 on the Creative Board – Find your niche and strive to be the best.
As a creative (whether it be in photography or any other field of art), square 1 is defining your own vision for what you want to be/do in your field. Do you want to photograph weddings? Do you want to photograph families, newborns, seniors? Are you a portrait photographer or a photojournalist? Do you want to do commercial advertising photography?
Who or what are you?
Only you can answer that question and in doing so it will help you gain focus for your work. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to try to be all of those things because they are all separate niches. Trying to be a jack of all trades is a quick way to get yourself lost in a huge market. Answering this question will help you find your niche. Today’s market is so saturated with aspiring photographers that the only way to make yourself stand out is to find the niche that suits you and then strive to be the best in that niche. Whatever your niche may be, excellence is the key that opens the door to success. Savvy advertising sense may bring you quick cash, but people will soon decide for themselves whether or not you’re providing them high quality service. If you’re mediocre, you will get a reputation for mediocrity and all your advertising won’t be able to fix it. If you’re excellent in your field, you will get a reputation for it and a good reputation is worth more than great riches.
A good name is to be more desired than great wealth,
favor is better than silver and gold. – Proverbs 22:1
One thing is for sure, you cannot rely on having a fancy camera as the source of your ability as a photographer. Cameras don’t make photographs, photographers do. It’s not a matter of just pushing a button. It is first seeing the image in your mind and heart and then using the tool to capture your vision. Giving credit to the camera is the same as giving credit to a painters brush. It’s only a tool. Yes, an important tool without which the artist cannot create their art, but the credit goes to the artist, not the tool.
I say this as both a warning and an encouragement. I warn you not to go out and spend a fortune on a top of the line camera and expect to call yourself a professional because of your expensive camera. A true professional is still a professional regardless of what they’re using. I also encourage you that whatever tool you have, use it to its fullest potential and don’t bother upgrading until you’ve exhausted every ounce of capability it has. Your true talent will shine its brightest when you have the least available to you, but you still produce the best you’re capable of.
Do you see a man skilled in his work?
He will stand before kings;
He will not stand before obscure men. – Proverbs 22:29
With that said, a skilled artist does need quality tools to work with. If you’re in the market for a camera to start your business, but are not sure what to get, I would recommend doing some homework and reading up on different camera models. Narrow it down to one or two that you’re interested in and then consider renting to see which best suits you. www.borrowlenses.com is a great resource for finding and trying new equipment. It’s also great if you already have a camera and just need to try out some lenses or other accessories. In case you’re wondering, here is a list of everything I use.
- Canon EF 24mm f/2.8
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.4
- Canon FD 50mm f/1.8
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.8
- Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4
Square 1 on the Business Board – Find and register a business name.
This is not as easy as it sounds. There are LOTS of small businesses out there and more than likely there’s already someone out there who has the name you want. Don’t be discouraged. You’re a creative. Just use your creativity to come up with something else that suits you, but is also available. You’ll want to get it registered as a web domain name with a host server even if you’re not ready to start an actual website. Just go ahead and purchase the name so you own it and no one else can use it.
There are lots of web host servers out there to choose from. You can go with one of the big name companies if you like being a number on a spreadsheet, but personally, as a small business owner, I like working with other small business owners. I have this website and my other website registered and hosted through www.thirtypoint.com. It’s owned and operated by a cool dude named Sean Leacy. I love the personal attention I can get when I need something done on my website that I’m not personally capable of handling. Sure, it costs a little more than one of the big name companies out there, but I like knowing that I’m helping support his business and family instead of making some rich CEO even richer. Not to mention that he is excellent in his field. I like that.
To be continued…