Is opening up a photography business the next step?
Lifestyle

Yesterday I did an interview with Seshu from Tiffnbox which I will share the link when the interview goes live. He asked me what trends I saw in photography and I have been wanting to write about this topic.

starting a photography business
This is not a post about how “moms with cameras are ruining the industry” because I do not believe that is the case. If you have a passion for photography and WANT to own a business then please do that. You should follow your dreams. If you can consistently produce the images in that are in your portfolio and want to be a business owner, rock on! I just want to let people know you don’t HAVE to start a business.

I get emails every week from people telling me how everyone has told them how great they are and they should go into business.

I get it. You spend a lot of time learning photography, you practice and practice and perfect your editing. It is wonderful to have those around you notice. Many people think the next step in their photography journey is to start a photography business. That may be the next step for you and that is awesome. However, it doesn’t have to be.

Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you need to start a business.

When I first got my DSLR, I too had people tell me that I should start a business. I had no idea what I was doing but I had a fancy DSLR. Luckily, I didn’t listen to those people. I would have been a hot mess because my images were not consistent, I didn’t know a thing about editing and don’t get me started on my lack of knowledge about business.

I have spoken with many photographers who started a business and realized there was so much more to it than taking pictures of clients. Owning a business is a lot of work. You have to get all the legal paperwork – business license, insurances, contracts and more. Then there is the marketing, social media, website, and don’t forget book keeping, client orders, and paying taxes.

As a stay at home mom, I wanted something for me and a way to document my children. Enter photography. I LOVE it. However, after doing a few sessions for friends, I quickly found I didn’t enjoy posing people, editing, and getting them their photos. In fact, one of my sweet friends has been waiting two years for some maternity photos I took for her. Clearly, I shouldn’t own a photography business.

If you have a passion for photography and are thinking you don’t want to start a business that is fine. I want to say, there are plenty of us out there. I’m a hobbyist. I could list hundreds of photographers I admire who are hobbyists as well.

You may be thinking, but I would like to make a little extra money to either pay for my hobby (we all know it isn’t cheap) or to help out my family. I get it. There are different ways you can make money off of photography without owning a business.
– Sell your images to stock companies like Gettyimages.com
– Sell your own images on Etsy
– Sell your images to brands to use in marketing (this is easier if you have a working relationship with a brand if you are blogger)
– Teach local photography classes
– Food photographer? Take photos for a cookbook

The possibilities are out there for you to make money through photography without starting a typical photography business.

Again, I am not trying to discourage you from starting a business because I’m a firm believer in following your dreams. This is not a discussion if you are ready or not because that is a personal decision. I just wanted to offer another option for you.

Tell me in the comments –
Do you feel the only next step is start a business?

If you own a business, do you love it?

What other ways have you found to make money through photography?

Please be respectful of everyone and their responses.

42 Comments
  • Christina
    March 6, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    Thank you for this post. I have people tell me all the time I should start a business but I have no desire to! I feel like it would ruin it for me. The only thing I have a hard time with is saying no to people once they find out I take pictures. I tell them I’m not in business but I guess they don’t really understand. My favorite thing to do is get together with local photographers for a photo walk with awesome models. I enjoy not having any pressure and the freedom to try new things!

  • Jennifer
    March 6, 2014 at 11:00 AM

    I struggle with this. Photography can be an expensive hobby. I’ve wanted to take my photography–I love portraiture–to the next level, meaning better lenses (L glass=$$$$), lights, software, etc. But because we’re not independently wealthy, I do feel like I should at least try to make some money taking photographs. I happen to be a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother, but I was taking pictures long before I had children, back in the days of film. So I’m not sure.

  • Kristin White
    March 6, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    Oh this is why I love your blog so!! Thank you for sharing this. Every time I read something along these lines I just want to scream, “YES!! Thank you!!” I love being a hobbyist but I sometimes get the itch for new gear and a business would help that… BUT then I realize everything that goes with it would outweigh the benefits.

    So, thank you again!!

  • March 6, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    I constantly hear, “You should be in business.” Even my husband says it all the time. I do love taking photos of other people and their kids, but I do not think I am at a place where my work is consistent and at “pro” level where I feel like I could ask for money from people. However, my friends who do not blog stalk photography websites just see the blurry background and think that it is pro quality. I’m a lot more picky! I may go into business one day, but I definitely want to wait until I am ready, not when others think I am ready.

  • Julie
    March 6, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    The way I found to enjoy photography without having a business is to second shoot for wedding photographers which has helped me to love photography more and fund my hobby. I get asked to do photos of families and children way too often and have problems saying “no” but won’t do it for anyone who isn’t a close friend. I’ve got to know and follow a lot of local photographers who I refer people to when they ask… I want to help others succeed that did decide to go the business route!

    • March 6, 2014 at 11:05 AM

      Second shooting is a great idea! Hadn’t thought of that. I love the idea of referring them to other photographers. I do that too. Pay it forward :)

    • Lori
      March 6, 2014 at 6:56 PM

      Excellent idea!

    • Aga
      April 28, 2014 at 9:14 AM

      Julie, How do you find the second shooters adverts. I have asked a few local photographers but I had no response at all. I later found out from my photographer friend who does fashion that they wouldnt asnwer as they are afraid of competition and possibility of you taking clients from them (which would never be the option anyway) but this is how this industry is so competitive!
      I would love to be in business although I dont think I am ready yet. I was always been business person plus I love photography – the only thing is that I am too demanding and too picky myself and I am aware I am not good enough so being a second shooter for me would be ideal to practice photography in business . Thank you

      • April 29, 2014 at 3:12 PM

        Aga,
        If you would like to get your feet wet in the wedding photography industry maybe approach a photographer and offer to pay them for mentoring. This could help you form a relationship where you would have the opportunity to second shoot for them. Just a thought.

      • Julie
        May 16, 2014 at 12:23 PM

        Aga,
        The girl I primary work with I found on Craigslist a few years ago but the other couple, I’ve replied to Facebook posts in search for seconds.

        When I started, I feel like Facebook Photography Groups weren’t as popular. But now, I feel like every other day I see primarily photographers in the search of second shooters.

        It took me a while for someone to give me a chance! I had reached out to one of my husband’s cousins who was in need of an assistant and she turned up her nose to me and my equipment. I didn’t let it stop me… I feel very lucky! I’ve done a handful for free or for very little pay just to get the opportunity and help build my portfolio as a second shooter.

        I’d keep reaching out and keep your eyes open on Facebook and Craigslist. Someone will give you a chance! :)

  • Heather
    March 6, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    This post is spot on!
    I HATE being a photographer but I LOVE photography! Don’t get me wrong. My favorite thing to do is children…. or more specifically, one child. I have a passion for bringing life into “school portraits”! But NOBODY wants “school portraits”! They want ‘family portraits’ which I loath taking or worse…… the dreaded WEDDING!
    When I began my photography business I started it with the idea in mind that I would create my own brand, my own style and for a while I did…. but so many people wanted something else, something I hadn’t bargained for…. models have come banging at my door often for more head shots, pregnant women want their bulbous belly shots, brides want engagement portraits!…. All fine, but not what I enjoy. I have taking a “break”, a step back from my business to evaluate the pros and cons, the good the bad and the ugly… to figure out how I went from “school portraits and senior pictures” to doing everything in between and not really enjoying it, and how to find my way back to doing what I really love…..

    • Teresa Gutgesell
      March 7, 2014 at 12:15 AM

      It sounds like you need to get back to where you started! Do what you love…and learn to politely say “NO” to the rest. That’s okay! Offer to refer them to another photographer that specializes in what they are looking for, then the rejected client will be happier and so will you! Also, be sure you are charging appropriately for your work, time, all expenses etc. Not just a “break even” price list. Pay yourself first!
      Then you will fall in love again!

  • March 6, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    Great post! I think being a great photographer and being a great business owner are two totally separate skills. I will note one more thing to consider: using photography in your job. In my “real” job in marketing, I’ve been able to use my photography skills rather than hire a photographer which is great for my budgets :) So, add photography to your resume!

  • Heathere W
    March 6, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    Unfortunately I too went down the path of starting up a small business with photography and found that it sucked all of the life and soul out of my photography. I liked the money but started to dread doing shoots and loathe the editing process. Recently I decided that I do not want a photography business and am recovering from my experience, trying to fall back in love with what I started out having a passion for, which is documenting my own family and bartering or gifting photo shoots to friends and family. I do still have a few families that I have worked with over the years who feel like friends and family so I will keep them on, but I feel a huge weight off of my shoulders now and am ready to get back into my passion!!!!

  • March 6, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    I have tasted the business side and I want nothing to do with that!

    I think the next step is the one you want to take.

    I have moved into the art relearn where I am submitting prints and trying to get work in magazines.

    I want to do big huge things and soar. While collecting a paycheck. If I got hired to work for magazine if my choosing I would be so happy.

  • Terri
    March 6, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    This is perfect! I always struggle and think hmmmm….but then I realize my joy is doing it for me. on my time. at my pace. And if out of that I get requests great! But I think if I were to go to the business side I’d lose that joy.

    This post “let’s me off the hook”. Thanks!

  • Cynthia
    March 6, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    I am pretty good at photography. I see a lot of ppl starting businesses in it though that I think hmm I take way better pics I really should start up something. But no.
    I am super busy, I work full time, I have 4 kids, 2 dogs and 3 cats and a husband. And take online courses often in animal related things, which is what my field is. I love capturing all the moments with my family and I take a ton of pictures and really enjoy it. I simply do not have the time to take another step in photography right now. But if I did, I would use my skills a different way. For animal charities,adoptions and fundraisers, where I would provide my skills for free. I see a need for this area and being so involved in animals I see it as a way that would help animals get adopted, there have been studies on better pictures increasing adoptions, and charity fundraising for shelters and rescues, where a good photography does pet photo shoots are a great way to raise money for them. The commitment is lower and the reward in my opinion is much much higher :)

    • Meghan
      March 6, 2014 at 12:46 PM

      What a great Idea– about the pet pictures to increase adoption. I can totally see how better pictures would lead to more adoptions. Another great way to give back

  • March 6, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    I’ve thought about trying my luck at stock photography. Has anyone else? Is it hard to get into?

  • Bri
    March 6, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    I love learning from you and I think you’ve got great suggestions. Do you have any resources to recommend to learn more about the business side of photography? I think if people knew what they were getting into, that might help. Thanks so much!

  • March 6, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    After 2 years of being in business (which was a terrible step for many reasons, including lack of consistency) I realized it just wasn’t for me. I loved meeting new people, contributing to my family financially and the dream of getting paid to do something I love was beyond amazing but it slowly turned into just another job that I hated. I decided to swallow my pride and just go back to being a happy hobbiest. It’s the best thing I ever did for my photography, I’m so free now and can be creative again and shoot what I want. I love not having a photography business. Now I do mentoring for other local ladies that are interested in starting their own photography business and teach them, through my experience, about starting a business and marketing and editng and anything else they need to know before jumping in so they can decide if it’s really something they want to turn into a business.

  • March 6, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    Great post! I enjoy photography but have no desire to ever start a photography business. For one thing, at this time, I’m nowhere near consistent enough, although I do hope that will eventually improve. Aside from that, I just don’t enjoy taking pictures of other people. I love taking pictures of things (my products, food), but just not people. It’s too stressful and they don’t have the patience that inanimate objects have. I love that with things I can take 50 shots if I want to and no one gets bored! I do think for folks who don’t want to go into a traditional portrait or event shooting business, product or food photography could be a good field. I have recently hired someone to take some pictures of my products, and it’s turned out really well.
    I also think you make a great point that just because people say “you should start a business” doesn’t really mean you should. First, when people say that, often they have only seen the top 10% of my photos and have no idea how many shots I take to get those few really good ones. Secondly, there is so much more to running a business than just taking great photos. I run a business making planning and organizational products and I would say that only about 40% of my time is spent actually making those things. The rest is spent on all sorts of other business related things, and I imagine the same is true for a photography business.

  • March 6, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    Here’s where I get stuck: I am a full time teacher and coach of the State Champions Speech and Debate Team at my high school…as you would guess, this takes LOTS of time and energy and weekends! I love photography and love learning and growing and have done photographs for my family and very close friends almost more as a learning mechanism. So, what do you do when other people ask you to take pics and then ask what you charge? I don’t know what I charge… there are lots of really talented photographers in our city and when a fellow teacher says, “Hey…would you take photos for us?”… of course I wouldn’t mind in the least as long as I’m having fun…but I really don’t want a business…but on the flip side…my husband says I should probably get paid a little something by these folks who aren’t my family as I am spending time editing, etc. Combine that with the part where there are lots of awesome people in my area who take amazing photos… and to be honest…I take some pretty awesome and consistent photographs, but if I don’t want a business…shouldn’t they get the business? Sigh.

    • March 6, 2014 at 2:55 PM

      That is tough. If you are taking money then I believe legally you are in business and need to make sure you are doing it correctly. I completely understand what you are saying about wanting to cover your time. It is such a tough when you start taking photos for friends. I know if people outside my tight circle of friends wanted photos done then I would refer them to a local photographer who was in business. But if you want to gift your friends with photos you can definitely do that as well :)

      • March 6, 2014 at 3:12 PM

        Do you have any recommendations of literature, etc. re: potentially starting a part-time business? Though…I’m digging the gifting friends with photos idea…but maybe in the future…??

  • March 6, 2014 at 1:56 PM

    Courtney, this is a great post.

    Years ago, I did listen to friends and family and started my own business. I thought that it would be great to do something that I love and make money to help support my family. Looking back, although I’m grateful for the experience, I was not ready for it. I was so focused on trying to please my clients, that I lost a bit of myself in the process. After several years of being in business, I lost all motivation to take photos and actually put my camera down for several months.

    Starting a 365 project brought back the love and passion that I have for photography. Now I focus on my own personal projects and only take on projects for others if I feel that doing so will benefit both the client and myself. I just stay true to myself, honoring my own needs and photographic style in the process.

    Courtney is right. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean that you need to start a business. You need to take the time and decide if starting a business is right for YOU.

  • Amanda
    March 6, 2014 at 2:45 PM

    For those of you who are saying you tried it as a business and hated it, do you think maybe the problem was that you took too much on (too many shoots that you got almost buried and it lost it’s joy) or perhaps you didn’t find your niche? I mean, even the things we love can become burdensome if we are devoting too much of our time to it to a point where other areas of our lives suffer. There has to be a balance in every area of life. Or perhaps whatever you were photographing wasn’t the subject matter that really spoke to you and fuelled your love for the art? I love the blog and I love the articles but this one was kind of discouraging (although I totally understand it wasn’t meant to be :) ) I guess you won’t actually know if you enjoy being in business until you try… right? My plan is to start off super slow.. I am also a stay at home mom so my family is number 1 (well, the Lord is #1, my family #2, lol) But I don’t plan on taking a ton of clients at once, I am ok to turn shoots down and make sure I am not overloading myself with more than what i can handle that it will eventually suck the life out of me.

    • March 6, 2014 at 2:53 PM

      I think it’s great that you have a plan. By setting those boundaries, I think you are setting yourself up well :) Like I said, if you have a passion for owning your own photography business I am not trying to discourage you. I just wanted to let people know you didn’t have to go that route.

  • March 6, 2014 at 3:45 PM

    I appreciate this article because you’re right, not everyone is cut-out to go into business for themselves. I love photography and sure take SOME good photos but certainly not enough to make a business out of it. I love your other suggestions to make some money, like selling images.

  • Katie
    March 6, 2014 at 7:42 PM

    I am so happy to see a post like this on your site! Just when I start to feel that this site is intended beyond the scope of a serious hobbyist (i.e.: ME!) something like this comes along to reign me back in. Thanks for understanding the plight of us perfectly happy non-business owners!

  • March 6, 2014 at 11:53 PM

    Awesome post Courtney! Thank you!
    I read an article on the Clickin’ Moms blog a couple of months ago (of course I can’t find it now) about one of the CMPros who volunteers and photographs children with disabilities and their families. There was also a link to other ways to “give back” with photography. I’d love to be able to do something like that when I’m ready :-)

  • March 7, 2014 at 4:22 AM

    I owned a business for 4 years (in two states) and I did love it. However, I took only two or three clients a month and all were from word of mouth advertising. This set limits, but also gave me some goals. You can have all the passion in the world and be amazing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to start a business. Also, people telling you you should go into business does not mean you will be successful. I’ve seen horrible photographers (even photography instructors!!) who have tons of clients/students and I’ve seen amazing photographers who struggle.

    When we moved to Korea, I decided not to continue the business and focus on specific photography goals. When I need my portrait photography fix, I photograph friends who take our families out for Thai or Indian food in return. Score! The more I think about it, the more I like the barter system! Once in a while I even get bribed with Noonday. ;)

  • Becca
    March 7, 2014 at 5:45 AM

    This was a great article and I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments as well. I am nowhere near good enough at photography to have a business and have no desire to do so. I worked for my uncle’s wedding photography business for years which was interesting but also exhausting and I didn’t even do most of the work.

    However, I do knit a lot and have heard many times that I should sell what I knit. And there are certainly avenues like Etsy to do this. My sister-in-law is a great baker and people tell her all the time that she should start her own shop. Neither of us think this sounds like an attractive idea. First, most people couldn’t pay me enough for what I knit to make it at all worth it. The hours of work would make even minimum wage too much. I learned this really fast the first time coworkers wanted to pay me to make something for them. I knit now to give gifts to those I love and that is all.

    Secondly, as has been said, if you are good at something it doesn’t mean you should run your own business. There are so many avenues that be taken and some great ideas here.

    I also think that if you are good at something people who know you should not take your skills for granted. To paraphrase a favorite author, what people pay for they will value, what they get for free they will take for granted and eventually come to expect. I think it’s really important to set boundaries and not let your time and skills be of little value either. Bartering is a great idea and donations and gifts are wonderful. So many creative people I know get taken advantage of though, especially women who are incredibly gifted hobbyists.

  • March 7, 2014 at 7:46 AM

    I’ve had many people ask me to take family pictures for them, but I always refer them to other photographers. I might consider sports photography after my kids are out of the house…action shots…not team pictures…but right now, I would hate to miss my own kid’s games to take pictures for another family. I do take photos of everyone on the field at the games and put them on my Smugmug site for the other parents and I have on occasion created a book of the season. But I really don’t like posing people, and I don’t know enough about editing at this point to call myself a “pro.”

  • March 7, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    I have dabbled in wedding, portrait, newborn, and senior photography. Even did boudoirs once. I have the skills, and my images have been well received. I love photography but I knew I wasn’t the type to have a business when I realized that when it becomes work it is no fun. I would rather take awesome photos of my loved ones and for free because that is when its so enjoyable for me. The next step for me is definitely not to own a business. I have a career which pays for my glass and I have no desire to burn the midnight oil doing something I dread. I don’t understand why anyone would want a photography business. I can’t think of anything I would rather not do! The next step for me is to keep exploring, keep thinking critically, working on creativity, and continuing to learn. This semester I have been developing and printing my own black and white film in a darkroom, and that is a blast.I may pursue a certificate in photography from my local college, not because I need photography credentials, but because I love taking the classes and having access to all the equipment!

  • March 7, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    Thank you for posting this. I just recently started my photography business, but am finding that the business side is taking all the joy out of it. I think I loved the “idea” of having a photography business…I love the branding and marketing process of setting up a business, but the nitty gritty is what’s driving me nuts.

    It’s like you lose your freedom of shooting and having fun when there are so many other thing to worry about. I’ve recently signed up for an artistic photography course and have found that it’s helping with keeping me creative and giving me a new outlet to possible make some money from my photographs without necessarily doing shoots all the time.

  • March 9, 2014 at 3:39 PM

    Thank you for posting this! I’m a happy hobbyist who feels a constant external pressure to start a business. I love photography, I’m fueled by the challenge of learning everything I can and I’m thankful I have the ability to document my family’s daily life. Do I want to do that with strangers? No way! How will I ever get my shot if I can’t bark at client’s kid who’s messing around or bribe them with ice cream?

    The best decision I’ve made is NOT going into business. By keeping my amateur status, I am free to explore all sorts of photography. If I had become a family or event photographer, I never would have discovered my true passions, interiors and commercial photography (no people!). I’ve found a whole world that exists beyond my skill set and I can’t wait to learn more. Does this mean I’ll never open a business? Never say never! If I do hang my shingle, it will be for something I’m deeply passionate about. The longer I wait, the greater my skills will be, the more research I’ll have done and the more likely I will be to succeed.

    My wish for all existing and aspiring professionals is a career that inspires daily and rarely feels like a burden. Do your research, know your stuff and go get ’em! My wish for fellow hobbyists is the strength to ignore external pressure and follow your instincts.

  • Carolyn
    August 23, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    Im a bit confused on the hobbyist vs business. In one comment it is said you can sell your art work and remain a hobbyist but in a mother it says if you take a family picture and take money it’s a business. I recently started my small business and to be honest I hate it. We probably have 35 photographers in a 40 mile radius. Of those Id say only 10 a really good. It’s hard to compete and esp when some are actually friends.
    In all honesty it hasn’t made me happy and if I could have a website and just sell my art work and make enough for workshops and gear I would be over the moon happy!

  • August 23, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    I started out a hobbyist and now I feel I’m semi-pro, I’m lucky I have a job I really enjoy. I photograph rodeo evens ad equine portraits and I’m lucky to be in a target area of north Texas.
    I like selling photos to help me purchase more equipment but not knowing the business sometimes can be pretty intimidating

    I am trying to learn everything I can in case a full time pro opportunity comes up

  • August 23, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    I do own a photography business and I’m so thankful for it…well, NOW I am. The first two years I worked my butt off day and night (and often well into the night) and didn’t earn a penny. I lost that time with my children that I’ll never get back. I’m in my 3rd year now and it’s finally paying off financially. And Im learning how to better balance my business and family relationships. Thank heavens for my supportive husband and all Ive put him through! I think you made some great points that anyone thinking of starting a business needs to consider.

  • August 23, 2014 at 11:35 PM

    A portrait business does seem like the logical step – but definitely not for me. I even thought about working at a photography shop…not a fit me. It would take the joy out of it.

    For me photography is like therapy. Plus I prefer to do nature photography.

    What I have done is put my photos and digital art up for sale on Fine Art America which also has a licensing side (like Getty). I haven’t made any sales, but I have barely marketed my images.

    A hobby photographer and digital artist I happily remain (for now ;)

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