Our Ultimate Guide on How to Start a Photography Business will give you a hand on the step by step process for building a photography portfolio, how to start a photography business with no money as well as with no experience. This guide will also help you create a checklist for starting a photography business.
How to Start a Photography Business
One hurdle that every new photographer faces when starting a business is how to build a portfolio. Let’s face it… you can’t bring in new clients if you don’t have photos to show them.
I sometimes see new photographers using stock images in their welcome guides because they don’t have any images of their own to use, and while I understand that the effort is sincere, this is not something you should necessarily be doing.
For example, what if a potential client asks where a photo was taken or they request that a similar photo be taken for them. Would you be able to deliver? Your portfolio is one of your biggest assets as a photographer and is essentially the product that you’re selling. If you were in a store, your portfolio would be your physical products, but since you’re selling a service, your potential customers will be looking at your portfolio when deciding whether to hire you or not.
Now that we’ve established just how important your portfolio is, let’s look at some ways to start building one.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
STEP 1: How to Build a Photography Portfolio:
- Start with what you have. Using friends and family to build your portfolio is one way to get started, but only if they represent your ideal target audience. For example, when I first started out as a wedding photographer the only examples that I had of my work were a few shots that I took during my internship at a newspaper, which was clearly not going to resonate with the prospective clients I was meeting with. I had to make use of the resources I already had. So I got my daughter involved. I put her in a cute flower girl dress and had her pose for some shots. I also used my own wedding rings and set up some styled detail shots.
- Shoot for free. Before you get upset about the thought of working for free, keep in mind that I said “shoot for free”, not give them everything for free. This is an approach that a lot of new photographers take when starting out. Let your potential clients know that you’re willing to give your time for free and that the images will be available for purchase afterwards. Make sure you put limits on how much time you’re willing to offer at the shoot. After the shoot, be sure to schedule an in-person sales session so that you can sell, sell, sell. Taking this approach is like having an opt-in trip wire in your business. Think about the restaurants that have specials that let kids eat for free. It’s a way to get customers through the door and chances are, the parents will end up ordering too.
- Hire models. If you’re going to go this route, I wouldn’t recommend using websites where models exchange time for prints, they’re usually not that professional. Rather approach a professional modeling agency and look through their portfolio in order to find someone who fits in with your target audience. There is no need to pay for an entire day of work either. If the model is truly professional, they’ll already know how to pose, and will possibly also do their own hair and makeup, which saves you time and money. If you’re going to go to the effort of hiring a pro model though, I would make sure that their hair, makeup & clothing will be professionally styled too. The money you invest will come back to you many times over if you do this right. Ensure that the model has a few different changes of clothing available and that you have the option to shoot in a few different locations. These photos are great for your online portfolio but you should also look at using them as sample canvases, in your ads and on social media.
- Attend a workshop. If you’re starting out as a professional photographer, chances are you’re going to be attending a few workshops in order to improve your skills. A photographer never stops learning. Workshops are also amazing for networking so choose your workshops wisely. Choose workshops that include a shootout or a model photo session but make sure that you ask ahead of time whether you’ll be able to use these images in your portfolio, or submit them for publication in magazines to make it worth your while. Some photographers might argue that if they use these images in their portfolio, people will see similar images on other photographer sites and know they’re from a workshop. My answer to this is that it doesn’t matter because it shows that you’re honing your photography skills and that you’re capable of taking good shots. If you’re still concerned, try and attend workshops outside your immediate area.
- Have a co-op or styled shoot. Make this a win-win for everything. Reach out to vendors that compliment your business and have everyone donate something that relates to their business. For example, if you’re a child or baby photographer, reach out to a local children’s boutique store and ask them to donate a few items of clothing for the children to model in. A salon could donate some time to style the kids hair and you could even approach a resort about using their venue as a shoot location. After the shoot, you’ll have some great images for your portfolio but you’ll also have made some great connections for future shoots and marketing. When using the images, make sure that you credit and tag all of the businesses that were involved. You could even put a cute welcome guide together for your business and only include the images from that shoot along with some info on all the vendors involved. Give a few copies to the relevant businesses to display in their stores in order to upscale your marketing efforts.
HOW TO GET MORE PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS
Once you decide to start a photography business there are a variety of ways to find new customers. Not all of these methods involve spending money but I see a lot of photographers not including marketing and advertising in their budgets when they should be. Not all of these methods work for everyone either as your genre of photography, your market, where you live and your personality all play a role.
Personally I think having your own marketing materials set up in a professional way is what will really set you a part from all of the others. Think of ways you can use these materials that aren’t your norm…think outside of the box. Can you leave them at a Pediatricians office (if your clientele is family/children?) can you have a professional email set in place that SAVES YOU TIME?! but looks oh-so professional? Think of ways you can simplify, save time but truly be professional. Here are a few resources I highly recommend MagazineMama and her resources, she’s ALWAYS running a sale and you can snag some amazing resources.
Remember that launching a business or website doesn’t mean that clients are just going to start coming to you. You’re going to have to make an effort to get to them, especially in the beginning stages. Hopefully the below ideas will give you a good start.
GET NEW CLIENTS AS A PHOTOGRAPHER
- Advertise on Facebook. I hear so many photographers rant about the fact that no one sees their posts or photos but they aren’t willing to pay for people to see their images. When you’re in business, advertising needs to form a part of your budget. Facebook is a great platform because you can target a very specific audience, which helps ensure that you’re putting your images in front of the right people. When you advertise make sure that you are leading people to a page where they can enter their e-mail address so you can contact them later. You’ll likely need to offer them something for free in exchange for their e-mail address. This could be a free guide with tips for their photo session or a free consultation with you.
- Advertise in magazines. This works really well for wedding photography. It’s actually how I got started in my wedding photography business. After working on building my portfolio, I took out an ad in one of our local wedding magazines. If you decide to go this route, make sure that the ad package you purchase offers access to a lead list because having an ad in a magazine alone is not going to get you all the business you need.
- Attend trade shows. This is a great option if you’re an outgoing person who loves to talk to others because trade shows require you to engage with people. If you’re more of an introvert, I wouldn’t recommend this as an avenue for finding new clients. On a side note, if you’re paying to advertise in a magazine that will be distributed at a trade show, you might want to focus your marketing efforts elsewhere as your brand will already have a presence at the show. It’s an added bonus if the magazine collects names and emails at the tradeshow that are then distributed to advertisers. Think of all the time this will save you. It’s like having your own marketing assistant.
- Network with other vendors – good old fashioned networking. If you’re an outgoing person, go round to your local vendors and introduce yourself. Make it brief and be sure to leave a few business cards or welcome guides from your studio. If you’re more of an introvert, you may want to stick to sending a brief email. I do think that in-person networking is more effective because they can put a face to your name. Another way to network with other vendors is to get on their social media pages and start commenting and engaging with their posts. You can also choose to attend networking events in your area.
- Facebook Live. I think this one’s really effective. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen a lot of photographers use this to get clients and to be honest, I haven’t even tried it myself yet, but I think it’s a great way to connect with prospective customers. It helps them to get to know, like and trust you. You can use Facebook Live to talk about how you prepare for a photo shoot or have a Q&A session. You could even go live at one of your photo shoots and let people see you in action. Tell them to follow you to see the finished images from the session they just watched.
- Offer amazing customer service. Give each customer great service and soon you’ll be getting more business than you know what to do with. This approach might take a while since you’ll only have a few clients to begin with but use that extra time to give them an amazing experience in order to get the word-of-mouth ball rolling.
- Get new clients from current clients. Offer referral incentives. This could be anything from credits towards an album or canvas to a free photo session. You could even develop a rewards system or a frequent customer punch card. Get creative with it and maybe offer something like the fifth photo session for free. This will not only encourage them to refer friends but keep them coming back too. Using welcome guides such as these *HERE* would be a wonderful way to encourage them to share and show their fellow friends about your business.
HOW TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL PHOTOGRAPHY BLOG
When I started my photography business back in 2008, I was so excited about my new found passion and that I could create a business out of a creative medium. But then I hit a plateau. I had photographed all of my friends and family and had no idea how I could get brand new clients for my photo business.
Secondly, how do I market my business without any money to invest in advertising. A friend suggested I follow a few blogs for photography tips but soon I found that social media and blogs were a great place to learn about marketing.
Social media was my answer because number one it was free, number two I could network with vendors online and number three I could showcase my work. I began reading and learning more about how I could get found online and I discovered the power of blogging.
Blogging opened new doors for me to rank in Google and to showcase my brand and voice. Many photographers view blogging as a huge hassle and have gazillion excuses why they can’t blog. Let us first tackle these excuses then share some tips how you can blog like a photographer boss!
HOW TO HAVE A PHOTOGRAPHY BLOG
Excuse #1. I have no time to blog. But is this true? Because you have time to watch cat videos, baby videos, movie trailers,and sad videos. You may also have developed FOM’s ( fear of missing something) like missing latest drama on Facebook groups. You can carve at least half an hour or more just by spending less time on Facebook. If you are having a hard time with self discipline then install the app called Self Control which will block out certain web addresses you tell it to for a said period of time. Furthermore, with the right tools and schedule you can get your blogging game on pointe.
Excuse #2. I am not a writer, I am a photographer. I can totally relate to this one. Indeed there are some posts that if I can write 100 words, I am lucky. Well I do struggle a bit at times but the I discovered the power of using our clients words. You can use questionnaires pre and post shoots giving you large amounts of text that you can use for blogging. If you are portrait photographer, you can ask where did they shop for their outfits, or props? Which photo is their favorite and why? Also any tips they have for other moms wanting portrait photos. If you are a wedding photographer you can ask why they chose the venue they did, what was their favorite part of the day and any advice they may have for future brides planning their wedding. You will get way more text this way then you actually writing the posts.
Excuse #3. I am new or don’t have any shoots to blog about so what do I do? To think that your blog is only a place to talk about your work is a misconception. You need to view your blog as your home base and your voice. This is where your brand will shine but it is also where your ideal client and things they love need to shine. By that I mean there are a ton of topics you can blog about besides client work. Download this freebie blog post idea sheet here but some ideas are: Think of the top questions you get about your services and products, events in your town, show your products and process. Think about topics that your client would love and are probably looking for that information anyway.
Now lets you get you blogging like a photographer boss.
- First you need to have a pre-plan. Take yourself out for coffee and set aside at least ten minutes on the clock with note cards. In those ten minutes you will write out every blog post title/idea you have. Get some ideas from the free blog post guide and write away. Now you will have what i like to call a library of ideas.
- Secondly let us clean up your categories. When I first started blogging I treated categories sort of like tags making up cute names along the way. I thought it was way to help readers find topics but did not realize that ideally one should not have more than 8 categories. So go to your blog and check your categories. Can any be combined? Are any similar? Are any just some cute name you have created? If so, I recommend making it more a general name that new readers will understand what that categories entails and so will Google. You can also check any categories that have very little posts in them and decide where those posts will go. If you are in WordPress you go to Posts >>>> Categories then delete any category with 3 posts or less . Don’t worry your posts won’t get deleted, they just go to uncategorized.and you can then reassign to new categories.
- Set up blogging goals and schedule. Some bloggers love to commit to certain days of the week and do series so for example every Monday they will do a post on motivation or do a Tuesday Techy post etc. After falling off the bandwagon too many times in trying to do series, I have decided to keep it simple. I have a goal of two blog posts a week. Then I made a process which is batch processing for my blogging. You can read about my process here. You see blogging should not be open your blogging platform and just write a blog post but needs to be scheduled and organized. I write all my posts in Google docs and have different days for different things and I batch process. On writing days I just write, than on editing days I just edit and fix links. On that day i can add photos too and on publishing days i schedule out social media.
- Use great tools. A few tools to help you blog like a boss: First Google Docs because you can blog on the go or even via your phone. Secondly, a social sharing scheduling tool so you schedule out posts in an organized way. This will help focus on things that matter allowing for time to do other things you need to be working on. For me I use a paid tool called coschedule ( affiliate link) which you can read more about here. But there are free tools like Hootsuite or Buffer so you can schedule out your posts. If you use twitter I recommend you tweeting your post once a day for at least a week at different times. Then do a mini post version of your blog post on places like Instagram and Facebook. Another great tool for Photographers and blogging is Blogstomp. Blogstomp is a desktop software that allows you to watermark your images and do collages. It also has social media sharing and even SEO features making it a top favorite blogging tool for photographers. A few other tools are plugins. I use are Yoast SEO plugin, Facebook commenting plugin and Click to tweet plugin.
- Less is more. One big mistake I see photographers making in regards to blogging is they blog too many images. This can work against your because it can make your site lag and it will be harder to do Image SEO so what I recommend is try not to blog more than 15-20 image files ( if using blogstomp that this could be more photos because you are doing collages so one image file can have like 4 photos etc. For weddings don’t do more than 40 image files and just add a slideshow at the end of the post or link to full gallery if you want folks to see more. I know it can be hard to blog less photos but it will help your reader, client and your site. If you want to learn more about Image SEO, I have a five day free email course you can find here.
Overall blogging can be a great marketing tool for your business and it is just a matter of getting organized and intentional when it comes to blogging.
HOW TO RAISE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY PRICES
Chances are when you first started out in your photography business, you charged way less than you should have for a number of reasons – fear, lack of confidence, had no clue where to start, just wanted to get people in the door, the photographer down the street was charging those prices. Whatever the reason, you’ll most likely need to change and raise your prices over time to support your growing photography business. Here are a few things to consider!
- Evaluate your current pricing and goals- Take a good hard look at your current pricing and your sales goals. Does it support your business and allow you to pay yourself what you want to make (this includes paying taxes)? If not, it’s time to raise your prices and set some new goals. If you need some help with that, I walk you through it here.
Small increases vs big jumps-
If you’ve crunched your numbers to find you really need to double or triple your prices to get your business where it needs to be, you have two choices – increase your prices slower over time or take a big jump to higher prices.
Increasing your prices gradually over time will help your current clients ease into your higher pricing along with the people they are sending your way. Let’s say they are telling their friends they had a great session with you for $150 and bought a beautiful canvas of their family for $350. Then their friend inquires a month later to find you are now charging $500 for the session and $800 for the same canvas, it will definitely be a big shock. If you slowly increase over time, it’s easier for your current clients and potential clients to wrap their heads and wallets around your increasing prices.
If you take a big jump to higher prices, you’ll need to factor in the amount of time it will take to build up your client base again. Chances are you’ll lose a lot of your current clients. They might not be ready to pay 5x as much as they were before. This is ok! You will have priced yourself into a higher paying ideal client. Your branding, client experience and products will need to fully support your new higher pricing to attract the right kind of higher paying clients to fill your calendar.
You may have the fear of loosing your current clients but as Modern Tog says “If you want to keep your current clients, but still raise your prices, The slow and steady method is the way with patience required, but less risky”.
3. Set a timeline
No matter which direction you go, create a timeline for your price increases. There are so many things in your business that will need to be adjusted for higher prices – your website, your price list, your invoicing system, your inquiry process to educate potential clients, your client goals, your business budget and your marketing strategy to support your growing prices to name a few.
- You don’t need to announce it to the world.
The only people that really need to be aware of your price increase is your current clients. They know you better than all the people following you on social media and they obviously love your work because they’ve paid for it before. Letting them know about your price changes is a great way to keep the lines of communication open and you can even schedule a few last minute sessions on your soon-to-be-old pricing to say thank you for letting me be your photographer and I hope you’ll stay with me through this price increase.
- No grandfather prices
Personally, I don’t recommend grandfathering current clients into your lower pricing structures as you increase over time. That can get very difficult to keep up with as the years go by. Not to mention, what happens if two years down the road, you fill an entire month with clients at their much lower grand-fathered in prices? You might not be able to cover your new higher business expenses or pay yourself or employees if you have them.
I know it’s so hard to tell clients that you love that your prices are going up but it’s part of doing business and what’s right for your business. Yes, you might lose some of your current clients. If they aren’t ready to grow with you and your new prices, that’s ok. You can still be friends!
Using these tips should help you raise your prices in your photography business when the time comes. You can’t be fearful of raising your prices if it’s what you need for your business to move forward. Just make sure all the other parts of your business – brand, client experience, marketing – support your increasing prices.
WHAT PHOTOGRAPHY PRODUCTS TO SELL TO YOUR CLIENTS
Choosing what to sell to your photography clients is an important part of your business. It’s what your clients show off from their session with you to their friends and family. What they buy from you will be around for many generations to come. How cool is that?!
So how do you go about choosing what to sell to your clients? Choosing products and then pricing for those products is fun but can be tricky. There’s no one perfect product line. Your photography business is so different than anyone else’s. Your clients are different. Your market is different.
So let’s talk about choosing products for your photography business!
PHOTOGRAPHY PRODUCTS TO SELL
- Define what you want to sell.
What makes you happy to create for your clients? If you hate creating something you have 2 choices
- Don’t offer it.
- Find a way to love creating it either through outsource or simplifying your workflow.
Here’s an example, ALBUMS! I loved seeing the final product of an album from my newborn sessions. At first I hated how much time it took me to create but they were a best seller and my heart sang when they came in the mail. So I found a way to love creating them. Instead of using templates in Photoshop (SO time consuming and tedious), I found Album Stomp which cut down my creation time into a fraction of what it took me in Photoshop. Now the happiness of selling albums to my clients was effortless because I loved creating them AND seeing the final product. If I wouldn’t have been able to simplify my workflow, I could have outsourced. But I didn’t want to cut it from my product line because they were a best seller.
WHAT PRODUCTS TO OFFER:
- Define what they want.
What your clients want to buy is just as important as what you want to sell. Get laser focused on getting to know what your ideal clients wants to buy from you. If your sales are lower than you’d like them to be, it might be because you don’t offer what they are really looking for. If you’re not sure, just ask them. Maybe they like the albums ok but they’d really like to the option of an image box with all the images as a 4×6. You could add that to your product line and still make sure there’s a great profit margin for you too! No matter what you do, the next step is most important.
- Keep it simple!
When I first started my studio, I was so excited to offer a ton of products with every finishing, sizing, add-on option possible. Just thinking about it all makes my head hurt. And that’s exactly how my clients felt too.
There were too many options and my clients instantly felt overwhelmed with choices. So guess what most of them did? Not much! My sales were really low even though my clients had the money and wanted to spend it on custom products. I was making it too complicated.
But something magical started to happen when I only offered 7 different kinds of products – prints, storyboards, canvas, mini album, regular album, image box and digitals and 1 package option – with no extra decision making needed. My sales went through the roof! They didn’t feel overwhelmed with choices so they were able to purchase what they really wanted.
SO keep it simple. Keep your product line and menu easy to digest and make choices. Instead of offering a 5×5, 8×8 and 10×10, just offer the 10×10 album with a set number of pages at a premium prices. Your album sells will thank me for that!
- Keep track and tweak.
And the last little piece of advice I have is keep track and tweak. As you make sales, keep track of the number of each kind of product you sell. At the end of the year, look to see what your most popular products are and what are your least popular products are. If you have some products that are selling a ton, that means the demand is high and you can probably increase your prices a bit there. If you have some that aren’t selling that well you can either cut them from your product line to simplify even more or you can increase your marketing around those products if you really think it’s something that increases your client experience.
When you’re choosing your product line and pricing, stay tuned into what you want for your business and your clients and not what you see your competition doing. The way to stand out and create a photography business you love is to do what works best for YOU, not everyone else!
If you need a fun little worksheet to help you lay out your product line, you can download that here!
HOW TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO GROW YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS
Are you looking to see How to Use Social Media to Grow your Photography Business – through social media strategy for photographers use this road map to help you grow your photography business.
As a photographer.
wait…maybe we should start over….
As an entrepreneur…
Oh wait…lets try that again…
as a marketer
SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS
YES! That’s how we should start, as a marketer for your photography business or any small business it’s a constant, daily and sometimes minute by minute task. Well it’s a task if you make it a priority and you really should in the day in age we live in. Marketing has always been around…whether it’s word of mouth, billboards, ads in newspapers, ads at the beauty shop, a sign in a yard, a telephone ad, tv ad, mailbox flyer…oh and what about the flyer that gets placed on your car window at the store.
Did you ever think about the ads that are everywhere in stores, cars, t shirts, pens, notepads, bags and well you get my point the list goes on. We could spend every dime we make on marketing and advertising, right? Yep we sure could. Would you see a return, yep you would. Would it be the return you want…I don’t know, that’s a whole different topic for a different post.
You first need to know….
Once you can define that your marketing will get even better and more successful.
Again we aren’t really talking today about defining the who, what, when and where. Rather we are talking about avenues on social media that you can capitalize on for your photography business. Let’s break it down and not get too techy, ok?
We all know that there is…
but lets keep listing the most popular social media channels.
Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat, Google+ (really not popular but it’s there I guess)…any others I’m missing? No. I think these are the most popular that will be around and not fade like, well the days of Myspace…yeh that’s long gone.
I’m going to highlight the three I think are most beneficial in our industry, not to say the others aren’t beneficial I just don’t find them to benefit the MOST and be the most affective for my time.
HOW TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO GROW YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS
Facebook Business Page
USE it! Here are a few tips and ideas:
- LIVE. Go live and create some hype around when you will show up and be live. Like what time and begin to tell everyone so they know when to catch you. Then become consistent with this.
- Post a lot. Remember that not everyone sees what you post every time you post. So create a schedule and post 5-6 times a day. Some say more, so you could but on a conservative note go 5-6 times.
- Schedule your posts. Save yourself some time and being on your computer all the time. Schedule your Facebook posts
- Don’t just post your work. Post something personal. Everyone likes YOU, not your clients all of the time.
- Post your work, post something inspiring, post about a location, a product, a tip for choosing a venue if you are an event/wedding photographer, post tips on what to wear for the mama’s stressing out about family portraits. Get creative and POST.
- As PixPa says create and maintain your portfolio – so important on all channels of social media!
- Post. Ok don’t be one of those IG users that you see post once in a blue moon, who likes that? No one. They won’t get connected with you.
- Post daily. Really more than that kind of gets old, in my personal opinion. Ok the exception proves the rule but as a scheduled task, daily is plenty.
- Stories. Yes use stories to let your audience connect with your daily life. Your work. Where you are for a shoot. When the happy mail arrived with the newborn hat. When the adorable kids are opening the present you gave them. The personal things. Use it. Plus Instagram likes you better for it and will rank you higher, so I hear!
- Interact with others and have them interact with you.
- Use hashtags properly. Don’t use a hashtag that’s irrelevant, please!
- Use your professional camera for the pictures. Let’s really show our work, not the iPhone camera quality, because we can! We are photographers!!!!!!!!
- Use this to create beautiful boards according to your niche. So if it’s newborns create boards around posing, blankets, props, studio look, natural look, outdoor settings, family poses, sibling poses, outfits, ideas. If you are a wedding photographer create boards for your brides i.e. bridesmaid gifts, groomsmen gifts, venues, floral arrangements, poses, sweet gifts for each other, food, cakes the list goes on.
- Set up a board for your work. Set a board up for each niche you shoot.
- Keyword your pins and your boards
- Pinterest is second to google as a search engine, locals will start using it to search local services. Get ahead of the game on that one!
- Pin often and use pins that are pretty and good quality!
I don’t find Twitter to be a strong way to connect in a professional way and the same with snapchat. I maybe c-o-m-p-l-e-t-e-l-y wrong and if I am please share and let me know so I can learn!!!!
Hi I’m Erin a Southern mama from South Mississippi, owner and chief editor of Sixth Bloom a blog helping mom-tographers capture their kiddos and life, talking all things home, parenting and how we navigate through life. You will find me living life to the fullest with my mister (aka husband) and our little one year old, Miss E, in our 500+ sq foot cottage as we build our dream house on our two acres! We are blessed beyond measure, love to travel, involved in ministry at our church and in between all of that I run three successful businesses! Follow me at: WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | PINTEREST