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3 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Starting a Photography Business

These days so many of us have nice cameras.  It’s always so tempting to start a photography business. There is a lot of negativity in the industry with people that will tell you that you can’t/shouldn’t do it.  I think that it’s always good to follow your dreams, but If you’re considering doing so, listen to my story first…

Five years ago I invested in a Canon Rebel.  I had a two year old and a brand new baby.  That camera was my best friend.  It didn’t take long and I started getting requests from others to take pictures for them also.  I was flattered and of course eager to say yes. My next step was starting a photography business.   So I got online (all the cool kids were doing it).  I created a blog, slapped “Kristin Wilkerson Photography” across the top and clicked away. My story about my first journey to becoming a professional photographer might sound familiar because many take this path, while other photographers despise it.

I’m here to tell you that it was a bad idea, a really bad idea to start a photography business this quickly.

mcpbusiness2 3 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Starting a Photography Business

While my pictures meant a lot to me and others seemed to admire them I wasn’t qualified or ready to put myself out there as a self-labeled professional photographer. The stress of honoring the requests of what I called “clients” was sucking the life out of what once brought me a lot of joy.  It didn’t take long for me to quit the business (that never really was a business). Instead I took a class to help me better utilize my camera, studied like crazy, and tried shooting in all sorts of lighting situations.

Let’s fast forward 4 years.  My love for photography had grown and so had my knowledge and understanding.  I also had more time to invest in myself.  It felt like the right time to start my business and after evaluating my life goals, my time restrictions, and my risk factors I decided to move forward.  I’m still in the early stages  but because I have taken the time to learn about both business and photography I am optimistic about the future.

mcpbusiness 3 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Starting a Photography Business

I’m sharing this story with you because most of us that enjoy photography reach that point where we ask ourselves “Should I start a photography business?”  Assuming you are confident in your photography and feel you can handle most “photo-related” scenarios thrown at you, here’s a few things to consider before taking the plunge:

  1. Am I willing to take the time and money to register for a business license, pay sales tax, and personal income tax?  If filing taxes and being registered isn’t something you are willing to do then offering your services for money is not a good idea.
  2. Do I have the time needed to invest in making clients happy? It’s not about just taking the pictures for them.  You need to be able to answer emails and give clients the attention they deserve.  You also need to be able to take criticism from clients and if you can’t then you’ll have a hard time managing a business.
  3. Does turning my gift of photography into a job suck the fun out of it?  For me 5 years ago the answer to that was yes.  Because I was already so busy the added pressure of deadlines and pleasing others ruined the joy.  It’s ok to keep your gift as a hobby or wait until it feels right.

Just because you love photography and have invested in equipment doesn’t mean that you have to be a professional photographer. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t be either.  There is no shame in being a hobbyist and there is no shame in turning your talent into a career.  Do what makes you happy but after my mistakes I’d suggest to do it right.

Kristin Wilkerson, the author of this guest post, is a Utah based photographer. You can also find her on Facebook.

 3 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Starting a Photography Business

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26 Comments

  1. 1

    So true, especially this line: “Just because you love photography and have invested in equipment doesn’t mean that you have to be a professional photographer.”

    I teach a Basic photography course at night school, and I am amazed at how many of my students naively think they can turn around and start making a living without doing the proper research after one 6-week course. I don’t want to be negative and kill their dreams, but I can usually tell the ones that don’t have what it takes out of the gate.

    Many of them DO have those skills though, and it’s great to see! I keep tabs on them and love watching their progress. They have taken the right steps. That still doesn’t ensure success though as a “real” photography business is hard work and highly competitive. As you know the best photographers don’t make the best business people and when we see mediocre photographers making a good living, we figure we can do it too.

    Great article. Lots to ponder. I’m sharing!

  2. 2
    Kim says:

    Brilliantly said. Thank you for your wisdom!

  3. 3
    Stephanie says:

    Thanks for this post! Especially the part about the business license and sales tax! It’s not all fun and games! There are so many differences in being a professional and taking steps to better the future of the art of Photography than taking good pictures or being good in graphic design and photoshop savvy! Being able to produce a SOTC image that is print worthy or having the knowledge of operating studio lighting and the logistics of how it works with your camera! It’s not overnight! Protecting your clients with insurance and all business expenses that go with running and operating a full portrait studio- and all the time of lawsuits you read about! Thank goodness for organizations such as the PPA!

  4. 4

    A great article there Kristin. I really wish more people would think seriously about setting up in business before the potentially ruin some ones memories.

    Thanks

    Andrew

    http://www.cardiff-wedding-photography.co.uk

  5. 5
    Matt says:

    Glad you started with registering for a business and taxes as number one. I’m tried of competing with cameras operating without being legit and no overhead.

  6. 6
    Mindy says:

    I like how you evaluated your risks. That’s basic business 101, but someone without a business background might not even think to consider the risks.

  7. 7
    Kim says:

    Answered Yes, Yes and No. I think I made the right decision at the right time. Being a lawyer and working as a professional for many years helped my decision-making process.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom.

  8. 8
    Sophie says:

    Perfectly written! It’s definitely not all fun and games, and so many things that you will learn the hard way if you just dive in head first. Thanks for sharing this valuable insight!

  9. 9
    Laura Cee says:

    I feel like you five years ago. I keep getting requests to shoot people and of course my friends encourage me to start my own business taking pictures of people; Inanimate objects no problem. I know what it takes to open up shop and be responsible for someone’s big day and I hate sounding negative about my work when I tell them “No really I need more experience to do that” but I get it and I don’t want to be one of those people coming in to field I know nothing about but act like I do because I bought a fancy camera.

    I had a friend ask me to shoot their wedding and I gladly did it because they are friends but it made me realize, I need education. I always want to learn the craft I am doing from start to finish, and the in betweens, I leave my camera on manual; I try to make sure the shot is done in camera and not rely on digital editing. I can’t in good conscious fake it, I want to provide a product I am proud of and love what I do…it’s a big decision but before I make it I need to educate myself and take some classes…thank you for solidifying what I knew in my heart was the correct way to go about in making this decision perfect timing to post this subject today.

  10. 10
    Anna says:

    thanks for sharing; i agree that photography is not so fun when it comes to all paperwork and computer related stuff.hard work.

  11. 11
    Ryan Jaime says:

    Finally a truthfull article about starting a photo biz! excellent!

  12. 12
    Katie says:

    Very interesting article, Thank you for sharing Kristin. I believe so many people out there need to read this article or wish they had read this article before “trying” to go in to the photography business. I think there are too many people who go out & buy a DSLR camera & after a week think they are a pro.

  13. 13
    Laurie Rutter says:

    Very good article. I am a true hobbyist. At times I find it hard to justify wanting or needing more equipment, but I make do with what I can afford. Sometimes I have to be more creative as I don’t have the latest and greatest equipment. But that has never stopped me from enjoying “the art of photography”.

  14. 14
    Margaret says:

    I sort of did the same thing last year, and didn’t commit whole-hog for the same reasons you posted. Also, I was pregnant (horrible timing to start a business). At first I felt guilty for not making this very expensive hobby profitable, but now I know that I can give it a few years and the option will always be there. I have small kids, and I use my camera almost daily. I’ve grown so much in my style and talent, and I have areas I still want to grow in. I’m trying to enjoy photography for the fun it is and not so much for the recognition.

  15. 15
    Nancy says:

    Thanks for this article. I took up photography a year or two ago and love it. But somehow the fact that everyone else I know who has taken it up has also immediately started a “business” has left me feeling like my talent is somehow suddenly worthless because I am not doing something professional with it. I loved your line about it being OK to keep a gift a hobby. Somehow it is validating and comforting. It is reassuring to be reminded that just because I am only taking pictures of my own kids, I don’t have to feel my talent is worthless — and I don’t have to be paid to make it a gift and skill. Thanks. I needed that.

  16. 16
    Stephanie says:

    Great article!! I have always loved doing photography and videoing events. Now that I am semi-retired I can pursue the photography part of my hobby. I am now able to meet with clients easier, do editing more easily and enjoy what I am doing.

    Keep the comments coming!!

  17. 17
    Sarah C says:

    Thanks for being so open. I’d like to add that having business knowledge is HUGE! I’m not so good at the business and marketing side of it, and it can be frustrating sometimes!

  18. 18
    oread says:

    cute

  19. 19
    Alice C. says:

    What a great post! i totally agree that I think some people rush into starting a business and then get burned out and lose their love for photography.

  20. 20
    guest says:

    pretty

  21. 21
    Buffi says:

    What’s wrong with a canon rebel? It’s also not what you shoot with! So tired of hearing that! All my teachers tell me my cameras perfect! Guess what, I also shoot for gap kids with my rebel!!

  22. 22
    Megan says:

    The only way I want to make money on my photos is to sell prints! Of course my preference is fine art photography, so unless someone commissions a picture of their favorite flower, I shoot what I want.

    Even then I worry about the fun going out of it. :)

  23. 23
    Greg Flint says:

    Good points about what was fun becoming work, taxes and the like.

    One other thing to consider is that it is easy to pick the low hanging fruit – for example, when your friends want photos of their wedding (which they probably want at no or low cost – which is why they went to you in the first place) or somebody wants you to take pictures of their kids.

    Great – but you can’t make a living on work like that – there is simply not enough of it. Soon you have to advertise to pull in enough business to pay for equipment upgrade and repairs, the advertising itself and all the other expenses (e.g., any travel costs and vehicle wear if you aren’t always in your studio, rent if you’ve grown large enough to need space outside of your home, and so on) that will crop up.

    Hustling jobs is probably the least “fun” part of their business for any self-employed person I know and yet it eventually (if you want grow) becomes one of the most time consuming.

    Unless you are serious (or only want a part-time income), starting up a photography business is a lot harder than people think – as the original poster pointed out.

  24. 24
    Jenny Mandarin says:

    Thanks so much for the great article. It is very helpful! My brother is starting a photography business and he would like some pointers? He asked all the questions to himself. And still would like some pointers. Anyone got any?

  25. 25
    Dan Waters says:

    It’s all about the sales and marketing these days. If you want to become a professional photographer you need to know what to say when someone says “I know someone who can take decent wedding photos for £200″. Photographers need to know how to meet these questions in a friendly way that also helps the person understand why your photography is more valuable than someone else’s. This side of the business is just as important as the photography – probably more so.

  26. 26
    stephanie says:

    thank you for all this information, just curious which photography courses did you take? while mine taught me a lot Instill feel like something is missing

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