Ana Tavares, January 7, 2019
Today I’m going to walk you through the step-by-step process I used to grow my photography business from a part-time hobby into the successful business it is today!
Actually, correction... the step-by-step process I wish I used to grow my photography business.
When I started my business, I didn’t follow any guides or processes.
All I had to begin was a passion for photography and a desire to get paid for doing something I love.
Over the years, I navigated through a number of experiences from successes, to challenges and mistakes.
But here’s the good news:
My journey taught me critical lessons that I get to share with other photographers who are just getting started.
So let me rephrase:
Today I’m going to walk you through the step-by-step process I wish I had when I started my photography business.
Before we dive into how to build a business and make money, it’s important to start by reflecting on your own passions, talents, and lifestyle.
You can accomplish this, by simply taking the time to ask yourself questions. You'll find below 5 simple, yet essential questions to help you connect with your inner photographer.
Tip: Copy and paste the following questions into a Google Doc. Take the time to type out honest answers will help you get started on the right path.
Question 1: What type of photography do you enjoy the most?
Even if you don’t have much experience, list out the things you really like capture. For example: food, landscapes, people, events, animals, and architecture are all great answers. If you love photo editing or combining images together in Photoshop, add that in too.
Question 2: What are your strengths?
Make a short list of your strengths and split them into two categories: photography and business.
This can be a hard question to answer, so sometimes it can be best to chat with friends, family or colleagues.
Photography strength examples:
Business strength examples:
Question 3: Are you good with people?
Understanding this early can really help you best align with clients and projects. If you love people interaction you may enjoy your day-to-day more if you are surrounded by other such as in wedding and event photography. On the other-hand, if you prefer to work alone with as little interaction as possible then something like landscape may be more interesting to you.
Question 4: How much time do you have to invest in your business?
When are you available? Nights? Weekends? Full-time?
Your availability plays a role determining what type of photography you may be most available to do. As an example, events often happen on evenings and weekends, and so you may be getting calls to work on those schedules. It will be easier to say yes to projects, if you are available during those times.
Question 5: What equipment do you have?
Take a moment to list the equipment you currently have: cameras, lenses, drones, lighting, tripods, etc.
In step 3, we will go over if it’s time to add-in additional equipment.
There are many ways to make money as a photographer.
We can summarize these unique money-making methods into three main categories: taking pictures, teaching photography, and selling photos.
Most first-time photographers start here.
There are so many different things you can do. Here are just a few examples:
So how do you choose what to do?
This is exactly why we went through step 1!
By reviewing your answers, you will have a good idea of what most interests you.
I’d highly recommend doing some additional research to figure out if your schedule, experience, and overall style matches what you want to do.
Note: Doing one particular type of photography doesn’t hold you back from doing another. Start small, you will be able to improve quickly and don’t need to immediately buy all kinds of equipment.
As you gain more experience, workshops and courses can be a great way to earn additional income.
Unlike most photographers, I created my first workshop very early in my career.
At the time, Instagram’s popularity was on the rise and I had a talent for taking pictures with my phone. So I decided to create an in-person workshop to teach people what I knew.
It quickly became a success and really helped to skyrocket my photography business. More on that later.
If you’re interested in teaching photography, I’d recommend participating in courses and workshops yourself to get a feel of what you like, don’t like, and what would be required as a teacher to create that experience. This will help you determine if it’s a good option for you.
Keep in mind that courses and workshops can be delivered in a variety of formats, such as in-person workshops, live webinars, and Youtube videos monetized through advertising.
Recurring revenue can really help make photography a sustainable career and allow you to plan and invest in yourself and business as you grow. There are many ways to do this, a few options includes getting clients on retainer and you can also create this by selling your photos.
Every month, you can be getting money deposited into your account based on the number of stock pictures or prints you sold. It’s pretty cool!
With increasing competition and numerous free stock image resources now available, it can take a lot of time to make and a large portfolio to make a consistent income online.
If you’re just getting started, I’d recommend that you consider the sale of your stock images as additional income, instead of your main focus.
Here are some of the top places you can sell your stock photos online:
Before officially launching your photography business, you need a plan for where you are going.
Now I’m not talking about a complicated business plan like you might find online. No need for a SWOT analysis or human resources plan here.
The idea is to create a working document that helps you understand the viability of your venture while serving as a guide for your upcoming business decisions.
Your business needs a name for multiple reasons: branding, your domain name, legal incorporation, etc. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Many photographers use their name or their name + photography.
For my business, I went with Ana Tavares Studios.
Who are you targeting? For example, if you decide to offer real estate photography services, your audience might be real estate agents and professional home stagers.
For some people, it might be a little early to determine packages and prices.
A great way to do this is to work backwards by understanding first your costs of living, your business costs, profit margins and taxes. With the number of hours you expect to work a month this should help you understand what your minimum hourly rate should be.
This will set a standard for the quality of your work. Just make sure that there is demand at the price you’ve set.
Here is a quick scale to help you get started:
You might have previously heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time bound). I specifically recommend using SMART goal planning, as it is simple and easy to follow, but allows for actionable and realistic business planning.
Here’s an example of how realistic goals can help ensure your business plan:
Goal: “I want to make $50K this year photographing weddings.”
If you were planning on charging $1,000 per wedding and most weddings take place on weekends, are you willing to be available for 50 out of 52 weekends in the year? Do you have contacts with wedding planners or other photographers to help you get fully booked?
Questioning your goals and ensuring their legitimacy can help you better structure your business for success.
The idea is to be realistic, while also setting a goal that excites you and lifts you forward!
In this example, maybe you change your pricing structure (with the right experience) or include additional offerings like family and lifestyle photography sessions to increase your income outside of weekends freeing up some weekends while still meeting your financial goals.
You are more than a photographer, you are also a business owner!
To help you succeed as a first-time entrepreneur, remember to set aside some time every week to growing your photography business. Whether it’s working on your website, posting on social media, learning a new skill, or simply experimenting with new photography techniques.
Starting a business costs money (especially one that requires you to have a lot of equipment!). Depending on the elements you may already have to start with, keep in mind there maybe additional things you need or would like to have! Also, make sure to have a small budget for last minute surprises!
Here are just a few things you will need to consider in your business plan:
*prices in USD
You will want to choose a camera and lens based on the type of photography you’re going to be doing.
Depending on your situation, you might already have a camera a camera that you love, or as you’re going pro may be considering an upgrade!
Either way, here are a few things you need to consider when looking at camera specs:
The resolution of an image is determined by how pixels (px) it contains.
For example, a standard HD TV screen is 1920 x 1080 = 2,073,600 pixels.
This converts to 2.1 MegaPixels (MP).
Don’t get too caught up with how many MPs a camera has without considering how the camera will be used. Generally, there are two reasons you’d want a camera offering a high resolution(more MegaPixels):
If your main focus is the Web, your camera resolution won’t need to be as high as the examples above!
If you’re going to be photographing in low light or using depth of field (DoF), you will need to consider the aperture (or f-stop) of your camera lens. You can calculate this number by dividing the focal length of the lens by the diameter of the opening in the aperture diaphragm.
f = focal length / aperture diameter
(image credit: Blackfox 1985)
The lower the f number, the “faster” and better the lens can perform for both low light and depth of field photography.
In easier terms, high quality lenses usually have a larger range of f-stops than more entry-level lenses.
Shutter Speed is the amount of time that the shutter is open while taking a photograph. The slower the shutter speed (½ for example) the more light you will let in. This is great in low light, but a slow shutter won’t work well if your object is moving.
Any modern camera will give you a variety of settings when it comes to shutter speed. Typically, the better the camera, the more control you will have over the specific shutter speed and the available range.
(image credit: ShootTokyo)
Some cameras and/or lenses offer in-body stabilization that allow you to use a slower shutter speed (for lighting) while reducing the blur effects of motion photography.
Pro tip: Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO (related to sensitivity of image sensor) make up the Exposure Triangle. All three elements are interconnected and affect how cameras can perform in a variety of conditions.
Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras have been around since the early 90’s. Because they use a mirror to reflect the light into the viewfinder, they are extremely fast as they show you exactly what is being shot. The downside is that they are much larger and heavier than “mirrorless” cameras.
Thanks to advancements in technology, mirrorless cameras are becoming super popular. They use a digital preview of the shot, without the use of a mirror. More than just being smaller and more compact, they are often much better for filming video and outperform in low-light conditions.
The only downsides to Mirrorless cameras are their lens selection, slightly shorter battery life, and, in earlier models, slower Electronic Viewfinders (EVF) which means a delay in what you were seeing.
Here's a handy infographic to help you quickly pick the best camera for your style:
(details about the specific cameras and lenses are below)
Beginner cameras / lenses:
Intermediate cameras / lenses:
Advanced cameras / lenses:
Lenses make a tremendous difference, you will be the most happy with the images you are creating if you are using the right lens. Lenses have such an enormous contribution to how your images will turn out that my personal recommendation when starting out would be to spend less money on a camera and invest in higher-end lenses.
This way you can dramatically change the look of your shots and really experiment with primes vs. zooms and explore different focal lengths to find your style. Lenses can get very expensive if you are just getting started, so if you have friends that are interested in photography and share the same lens mount you can share lenses or borrow theirs. You can also often rent lenses from local photography stores to test out before making your investment.
Lenses can be explained in few ways. To keep things simple, there are two categories:
These are lenses that have a single focal range (eg. 50mm lens). With these lenses you will need to “walk to zoom” in order to get closer to or further from the subject. That just means you will have to physically move to get the framing you’re looking to capture.
These are lenses that have multiple focal ranges (eg. 16-35mm or 70-200mm). “Zooms” have the advantage of being more versatile. You can stay in a single place and get closer to or further from your subject by simply adjusting the lens.
This choice might be easy for you if you buy your camera in a kit with both the camera body and the lens. If you were purchasing separately a couple recommendations to look at:
Every manufacturer produces an inexpensive 50mm lens of decent quality, with a f1.8 aperture. Canon, Nikon, and Sony can all be options as a starting point for prime lenses.
The next level up from the “nifty 50s” gets you a larger aperture (typically f1.4) and more focal ranges (35mm, 40mm, 50mm, 85mm, etc.). For general photographing, the 50mm is still the most common prime lens you’ll find, but other focal lengths can also give really fun looks. Canon and Nikon make great options in this range as well.
When you go to the higher end of the prime lenses you get can get some incredible imagery. Canon makes 50mm and 85mm prime lens that have an incredibly large f1.2 aperture! In this higher-end category there are also reasonably priced options, such as Sigma’s Art line. These are available for different lens mounts and include all the major prime focal lengths.
When starting out with zoom lenses, you’ll usually find that the standard focal length from all manufacturers is 18-55mm. For a beginner, this will give good range and will allow you to determine your ideal focal lengths for the kind of photos you are creating. Canon, Nikon, and Sony all have great beginner zooms to get you started.
Note: It is good to know that these lenses might not even fit on the higher level of camera bodies. You’ll want to compare lens mounts and ensure that if you have a full frame camera sensor you get a full frame lens.
There are many available options as you move up in the world of zooms. If you want to get images really close to wildlife, Nikon makes a 18-300mm zoom that will do just that. Alternatively, if you wanted to get wider shots around town something like the Tokina 24-70 works great for Nikon and Canon cameras.
When you want the highest image quality you can get breathtaking images with high-end zoom lenses. My personal favourite is the Canon 24-70mm f2.8, which allows me to take both wide shots and beautiful portraits. If you were looking for more zoom, each company (Canon, Sony, Nikon, Sigma) makes a 70-200mm zoom that is great for nature, portraits, sporting events and everything in between.
Now that you’ve got a viable business plan and amazing gear, it’s time to turn your idea into an official business venture.
Here are the things you will need to take care of:
Most website-building platforms offer a free domain name with annual subscriptions. So don’t buy the domain until you figure out how you’re going to build your site.
If you’re opening a studio or will be working out of a physical location where clients go for pictures, you may want to create a business profile that appears on Google Maps.
For tax purposes, you should always separate your personal and business expenses.
I use Honeybook. It has everything you need to manage projects, book clients, send invoices, and get paid.
Because cameras and lenses can get very pricey, you will definitely want to invest in some insurance. In some cases, you might be covered through your standard renters or homeowners insurance. It’s best to call them to make sure.
However, in most cases, you will need to get separate insurance that will cover your gear as well as yourself when working on location. Insurance prices and coverage will vary greatly based on your country, state, or province.
Your portfolio can contain thousands of images, while on your website you really want to showcase your best work!
From the beginning, I’ve been using PASS Gallery for managing my portfolio and for sharing albums with my clients. On top of being free for basic use, PASS comes with a lightroom integration, a mobile app, and social media manager that makes my job so much easier.
When it came to building my website, I wanted a tool that gave me complete control over how everything looked. This is why I decided to build my site with PageCloud. Unlike other site builders, I can design freely without having to write any code. Additionally, they offer automatic image optimization, unlimited storage, and world class support to help with anything related to my site.
Here are a few tips if you’re building your first website:
As a photographer, it seems like there are a million things you can do to market your business. To keep things simple, here are some of my top tips - all of which have worked for me.
Put your best pictures on Instagram, even if nobody paid you for them. Invite your friends, family and networks to follow your account. Having followers and stunning images will make you look credible to potential clients. With instagram being so popular, photographers are really using it at a second portfolio and as a way to connect with potential clients and customers. Remember, it’s not so much the number of followers, as the interactions you have with your followers.
Aside from finding new clients, I’ve been able to benefit greatly from my interactions within online communities. For example, there are many local and global Facebook groups dedicated to photography and photographers.
When I need to rent or borrow a prop or equipment, I typically reach out to some of the local Facebook groups. On the other hand, if I need some tips or advice, I’ll like to reach out in global groups as photographers on the other side of the planet who may be willing to give additional insights.
Take lots of pictures! Not only is it great practice, but it helps build out your portfolio. Feel free to reach out to events or charities to offer your services for free. Not only are you giving back to the community, but you’re making great contacts that might refer you down the road. Make sure to get tagged in the photos and ask for some social media love!
When I started my course on how to take pictures with your phone, I wanted the workshops to be catered, but that was rather expensive. So I reached out to local restaurants and catering services and offered to take professional photos in exchange for the food. Talk about a win-win; I was getting free food for my workshops, building my portfolio, and making meaningful connections with local businesses - they were getting beautiful pictures that may have otherwise costed thousands!
When you’re starting out, most of your clients come through referrals. Don’t be shy to ask a happy client if they know other people who might be interested in your services.
Every business needs photos—some more than others. When you see an opportunity, jump on it. For example, if there’s an amazing restaurant you love, but their social media photos and website are not hitting the mark, introduce yourself and leave a business card. You could also show them some of the work you’ve done for other similar businesses!
Whether it’s in person or on social media, it’s important to ask for the sale from time to time. Far too often, we hold back because we don’t want to seem pushy or promotional. The more you time your “ask” with people's needs, the better. For example, if you do graduation pictures, remember to remind your audience to book before school is over!
Here are my favorite spots to learn:
The advice mentioned above should help you jumpstart your photography business. I tried as much as possible to offer you actionable tips that can help you whether your business is already active or yet to be launched!
In the beginning, it will be scary, you will wish you did things better and that is exactly as it should be! It means you are growing and improving as a photographer. There is a wonderful joy to getting paid doing what lights your soul and fills you with joy. Take the time you need and trust yourself, little steps are just as important as big ones!
Want to work together? Find me on Instagram :)
If you’re ready to start building your photography website, start your free trial with PageCloud!
P.S. Their support is amazing!