The 5 Foundations I Wish I’d Known When Starting My Photography Business

August 22, 2023

When I first picked up a camera almost 15 years ago, there was so much I didn’t know. Not only was I learning a brand new skill through endless YouTube videos and blog posts (#selftaught), I was also figuring out how to turn this new passion into a business. I knew this: I wanted to […]

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The 5 Steps I Wish I’d Known to Turn My Photography Hobby into A Business

When I first picked up a camera almost 15 years ago, there was so much I didn’t know. Not only was I learning a brand new skill through endless YouTube videos and blog posts (#selftaught), I was also figuring out how to turn this new passion into a business. I knew this: I wanted to tell stories through beautiful photos, but I didn’t have the business foundations to take that vision and turn it into a profitable, scaleable career.

All these years later, there are so many things I would’ve done different to save myself time, stress, and money. And, to ultimately kickstart my business the right way, so much more quickly. Hindsight, right?

So in the hopes of saving you some time, I want to share the 5 things I’d go back and do FIRST when taking my photography from hobby to business.  While starting a photography business can be challenging, taking the right steps can set you on the path to success.

Business Foundation #1: Define your niche and brand identity.

Before launching a photography business, it’s vital to identify your niche and establish a strong brand identity. Consider the types of photography you’re most passionate about, as well as what’s in demand in your area. For me, I knew I wanted to document couples and growing families.

Whether it’s weddings, maternity, portraits, landscape, fashion, or commercial photography, narrowing in on a specific niche will help you stand out and attract your target audience. Work to develop your very own unique style that sets your work apart from competition.

At the same time, the brand identity you portray is just as important as your work—as in the vibe that your messaging, stories, branding, voice, and aesthetics showcase to your audience. Make sure that your brand identity is reflected consistently in your portfolio, website, logo, and social media presence.

Business Foundation #2: Build a professional portfolio.

A well-curated portfolio is the best way to advertise your skills and attract potential clients. Compile your best work that aligns with your chosen niche, brand identity, and dream clients. It’s all about quality over quantity here, especially early on in your career. 

Aim for consistency and creativity in your portfolio. You can use a professional website or portfolio platform to display your images in an organized and visually appealing manner. If you’re still getting started working with clients, you might want to offer a trade or a free session or two to people who would resonate with your ideal audience, just so that you can begin building out a legit portfolio.

Business Foundations #3: Consider legal and financial aspects.

Transitioning from a hobby to a business involves legal and financial responsibilities. Register your photography business with the appropriate government agencies in your area, and obtain any necessary licenses or permits. Decide on a business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.) that suits your needs; I even recommend consulting a legal professional if you want or need more guidance.

You’ll also want to start a business bank account to keep your personal and business finances separate. And last (but certainly not least), develop a pricing strategy that covers your costs, overhead, and desired profit margin. Make sure you’re factoring in expenses like equipment, software, marketing, insurance, gas, and your time.

RELATED: How to Set Business Goals as a Photographer

Business Foundations #4: Start your marketing strategy.

A lot of people want to start a photography business for the creative aspect, but a successful business also needs effective marketing to attract clients. Get an online presence going through social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest, where you can share your work and engage with potential clients.

I recommend creating a content calendar to consistently post high-quality images, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and personality-filled captions. (Having a calendar and plan will help you stay on top of posting!) You should also do some research into search engine optimization (SEO) to help your website ranks well in search engine results. Consider collaborations with other professionals in your niche, like wedding planners or influencers, to expand your network and reach a wider audience.

Business Foundations #5: Deliver an exceptional client experience.

Providing high-quality customer service is such a huge part of building a solid reputation and garnering repeat business. Communicate clearly and respond promptly to inquiries and client requests. It’s also helpful to create a streamlined workflow that includes simple booking, contracts, scheduling, photo sessions, editing, and delivery. If you can deliver a seamless client experience from start to finish, you’ll become known for so much more than your beautiful photography.

Transitioning your photography from a hobby to a business is an exciting move that requires careful planning and strategic execution. There’s more to it than just promoting your new services on social media, but if you can chip away at these steps above, you’ll be well on your way to turning your passion into a thriving photography business. I wish I had this very blueprint when I was getting started so that I knew what to focus my energy and efforts on first, so I hope it’s helpful to you on your journey!

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I’m Jillian Goulding, a photographer and educator raising babies and building my life in Sacramento, CA.

Over the years, I’ve transformed my side hustle into a thriving photography business that has taken me and my camera to the beaches of San Francisco Bay, the pages of People Magazine, and the screens of Extra TV.

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