How to start a carrier in Photography?
A few years ago, I started a photography business and through much time, effort, and perseverance, I am at this stage where I can say I will be having a full time career in photography.
I wanted to open this post by talking about this because I think it is very important. It’s important for me personally. But it’s also important for you if photography is something you are passionate about and would like to do it for a living. It’s important to hear that it is possible, and that you can live a life of your own choosing.
What Led Me Here
Back in high school (…over 16 years ago now!), I had made decisions for my future that were significant. I decided to go the traditional college route, picking biotechnology study that would lead to a comfortable job. I had thought about pursuing a degree in photography but decided against it because I didn’t think it was realistic to get a job in the field. I heard it back then, and you probably hear it today: “photography is over saturated.”
During my masters internship at Berlin, I landed at a great company thanks to my professor and fellow team members. I went straight from college to working full time 9-5 at a place close by with a comfortable salary. I had plenty of great perks, too: great coworkers, benefits, holidays, stressless work, a good work/life balance. For most people – this may have been enough to be happy.
But I was not content with where I was…
Flash forward to now, I’ve gone from a beginner photographer to a professional photographer with their own business. And a successful one at that!
Within months, I had been getting in touch with others photographers in social media. I setup meetings to just ask questions about what it’s like to be a photographer. Over time, I clicked with a few people, and started assisting and second shooting weddings. By this point, I was already getting exposed to doing photography as a job, and I actually liked it!
For the rest of this post, I’m going to talk to you about some opportunities in photography, how you can get started, and weigh in on some thoughts about the future. It’ll be filled with “real talk” – looking at mistakes that have been made and challenges you can expect to face, as well as the benefits of actually making it.
What Career Opportunities Are There in Photography?
There are many opportunities for careers in the field of photography, but not all are created equal.
Most photography related jobs will be entry level and low paying.
The easiest example of some of these would be working as an employee of a big box store that has a photo department like WalMart. This type of role would be suitable if you’re just starting out, want to work part time, or just need some sort of income now to supplement your lifestyle. It is definitely the case that some people see photography as a means to make some extra “money” – and that is totally okay!
The phrase “gig economy” has been bouncing around a lot lately and offering a photography service in some form is a way to get some work for a lot of people. Even at the start of our photography business, we hustled to make extra cash by working for other established photographers.
The higher paying opportunities will be the result of hard work.
The real heart of a photography career comes from being able to do what you love while being fairly compensated for your expertise, skill, and time.
One of the more traditional routes to go with this is to become a photography professor at a university. Teaching about photography to younger generations is a worthwhile pursuit for sure. Of course, this direction has high education level requirements – with most college professors having a Masters or PhD. Not to mention, limited positions of this nature available to fill.
Less traditional and more flexible is starting your own photography business. Most working photographers today fit into this role. You can offer photography services far-and-wide, control your pricing, and make a name for yourself while enjoying photography as an art form that people can enjoy.
It’s not an “easy” solution, but it is a worthwhile one as we have experienced.
We’ll talk to you more about this route shortly!
Create an Action Plan for Success
With a good sense of what types of job opportunities are out there – the next step is to really lay out how you are going to take action to make it a reality for yourself.
The problem many of us have is that we have all these great ideas in our head, but never turn those thoughts into something real.
There have been countless times in our lives where we thought to ourselves…”I could become a photographer” but never did anything to make that thought a reality. It was only a few years ago where we transitioned from the day dream to something tangible and real.
Having a successful photography business offers a lot of freedom to explore in ways that I was just not able to when tied down to a day job. While no single resource can teach you everything, we’re going to highlight some of the most important things here.
6 Photography Business Tips – Detailed and With Examples
Photo Business Start Up Tip #1: Identify Your Target Market
The most successful photographers specialize in a certain type of photography like:
Fine art photography (Mine fav)
By homing in on a particular niche, you can target your marketing efforts specifically to people looking for this type of service.
This doesn’t mean you can’t work in different niches, though, as I do wedding photography, portrait photography, family photography, and even some landscape and commercial work.
It’s likely you already have a sense of what you want your subject(s) to be, so now it’s time to move to the next step…
Photo Business Start Up Tip #2: Incorporate Your Business
Once you’ve solidified your business plans, it’s time to make it official.
Registering your business as a legal entity like a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or Corporation provides many important things to you including:
Legal protection of your personal assets
Ability to register for business insurance, a bank account, and a credit card
Separation of your personal self from your business
An ability to start tracking expenses and writing them off on your taxes
In the case of my business, I set it up as an LLC partnership with my husband. I will admit, it’s not a “fun” process – but it’s necessary to be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, many photographers make the mistake of not registering as a legal entity – and end up paying consequences as a result.
Photo Business Start Up Tip #3: Figure Out How You Will Pay for Gear and Services
If you happen to already have the gear you need, then you can skip this tip. For the rest, this may be one of the more challenging parts of starting a photography business.
Unfortunately, camera equipment and business services are not cheap. At least, the good quality stuff you will need to help you create professional work.
I know this from first hand experience.
I own Sony Alpha a7R III. Prior to this, I was using a cheap beginner camera kit – not bad in its own right, but not high enough quality to support providing photography as a service. After talking it out, I caved in and bought one with our (limited) savings, and it served as the catalyst for us to invest heavily into my business.
Over the course of 2 years, I ended up buying thousands of dollars of gear we needed to produce the photography I wanted. I also spent quite a bit (and still do) on professional services to help manage our business and client relationships.
The BIGGEST MISTAKE you can make is to think you need to get everything in one go. By purchasing one piece of equipment at a time, you will get to learn how it will directly benefit your photography requirements.
I bought our necessary equipment and services only when I had money available (or it was projected to come in a future payment).
Photo Business Start Up Tip #4: Get an Online Presence
You need an online presence for your photography service. There is no way around it in the modern age.
The most important things you need are:
A photography portfolio website
Social media accounts like Instagram and Facebook
Fortunately, getting these set up is easy to do and very inexpensive.
We put together a few resources talking about these for you:
I attribute our ability to grow our business to the connections we’ve made as a result of our online presence. We connect with people frequently through Instagram – with about 80% of our new clients finding us through that platform alone.
Photo Business Start Up Tip #5: Build Relationships
The first few photography business tips provided here help you to lay a stable foundation. However, those things are just the tip of the iceberg.
The single most important thing you can do to pave a way for a career in photography (whether you want to have your own studio or not) is to get well connected and have relationships.
You should aspire to form great bonds with people such as:
Small businesses in your area
Fans of your work
Having solid relationships with all types of people is not only beneficial to your business (you may receive referrals for example) but is great on a personal level. This is especially true if you want to pursue a photography business as a full time career because it’s easy to get stuck by yourself much of the time and having people you can interact with and connect with helps to make things easier and fun.
Photo Business Start Up Tip #6: Grow Your Portfolio (The Most IMP)
Your portfolio will be the lifeblood of your photography pursuits.
I host my portfolio on our website and showcase even more curated images on social media (you can find Nayan Chapla Photography on Instagram and NC Pictures on Facebook). Setting up the portfolio is the easy part, having enough images to share is often more difficult for those just starting out.
The best way to rapidly grow your portfolio is to go out and take pictures. Crazy, I know!
A few ways you can do this depending on your subject matter:
Portrait Photography – enlist family and friends to have their pictures taken by you, and offer inexpensive photo services to people to for the purpose of portfolio building
Wedding Photography – second shoot with another photographer to help them out and grow your portfolio, consider photographing styled shoots as well
Landscape Photography – go and take pictures of jaw dropping landscapes!
Real Estate Photography – contact realtors and offer to take photos of houses, and consider photographing your own house and those of friends/family as an example
Ultimately – your portfolio should be about quality of work instead of quantity.
The Future of Photography as a Career – Discussion
For this final segment of this post on photography as a career choice, I want to talk about what the future will look like. After all, the world has seen booms in some industries that have then fallen by the wayside as they’ve been replaced by new alternatives. For sure, I would not want to recommend photography as a career choice to you if I didn’t feel it was a viable way to live in the long term.
The photography industry is HUGE.
While some projections, see careers in photography to decrease dramatically over the next decade (by 6%) – this doesn’t paint a full picture.
What is happening in the world of photography is a movement away from paid full time jobs to using freelance photographers.
This is why we emphasize throughout this post today going the route of starting your own business – as it will give you the most long term potential.
In addition, photography has become more accessible than it has ever been.
For example, in the wedding photography industry, some clients are hiring dirt cheap photographers to take their pictures on budget equipment, low levels of experience, and so on.
As frightening as these things might sound, they are actually realities for virtually any industry today.
The availability of full time work in most industries is limited – with even large corporations in finance, retail and health care opting to hire temporary employees instead of full time. This is a significant change as even 20-30 years ago, full time employment with a good salary and benefits could be achieved even by people with low levels of skill and education.
As it stands, it is my opinion that photography will be around for a long time. People will always want great photographs for a variety of purposes. Be it to capture memories at an event, capture headshots to use on professional websites, and so on.
No doubt, some roles that were once pivotal like photo journalists working for the New York Times or National Geographic will go by the wayside. There may be a few – but they will be in high demand and quickly filled. But, in most other facets of the photography industry, a viable career is possible to achieve.
You just need to be willing to make it happen!
If you want to make photography your career, there are so many opportunities to make it happen. I don’t promise it will be easy, but most great career choices aren’t. But, it will be worth it.
My wife and I are “normal” people. We went the traditional route – and discovered it wouldn’t work out for us. We took the gamble on making photography our lifestyle and career, and now get to reap the successes.
If you really want a career in photography, I wish you the best and hope you’ll stick around to follow our blog as we continue to talk about the great topics related to photography and business you should know about.