Steps to start and grow a photography business

Are you ready to pursue new opportunities and new goals? Perhaps you have a goal to improve your photography or start a photography business or even up level your photography career. If so, then you have come to the right place. This year marks 12 years for me as a professional photographer and I can safely say it has been a wild ride. Every time I teach a photography class or participate in a photography panel, I always get questions around how to start a business, and more specifically around how to make money from said business.

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Photo By Karthika Gupta

So, I decided to address this burning question in the hopes that it resonates with so many other photographers, who are thinking the same thing. The good news is that you are not alone. The bad news is that you are not alone. What this means is that while there is a lot of competition in this field, there are some steps you can take to be successful, the right way.

#1 Take that first step

If you are thinking about starting a photography business to such a large extent that you cannot think about doing anything else, then just start. Go ahead and take that first step towards making your passion your career. Remember that “done” is so much better than “perfect”.

Photography skills are always evolving and changing. There are some technical things that you need to understand and some creative skills you need to follow but for the most part this is a subjective field. If you wait to be a perfect photographer, you will be waiting a long time. Skill is very important but a lot of that will come with practice. It took me almost two years to call myself a professional photographer simply because I was afraid of what other people would say. It didn’t matter that I was already having paying clients and had a business. If you are considering learning the craft and the art of photography, then there is no better time than now.

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Photo by Karthika Gupta | I worked as a second shooter for a wedding photographer when I first started, and she taught me so much and gave me so many opportunities to grow as a photographer and a creative.

# 2 – Practice Often

Photography is an art form with many different nuances. Each aspect of photography has many different interpretations and to really excel in photography, you must know and understand the basics.

Light, color, composition, emotion, and movement are all critical aspects of a good photograph. You must learn them, practice them, and then put your own spin on them to make your own photographs go from good to great. There is no time limit for learning photography. The only way you can get better is to keep at it and photograph every chance you can get. Set up some goals and target dates/times when you want to achieve those goals. I am creating goals with respect to my photography and my photography business. Some are technical like learning film photography, mastering creative double exposures while others are business related like getting published in a national magazine, or landing the cover shot of a local publication.

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Photo By Karthika Gupta | Photoshoot outings are a great way to practice and make friends; and to create some special work when you are not under pressure with a client.
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Photo by Karthika Gupta | I still use this work from a shootout in my portfolio because I really felt I created something special – moody and emotive images.

Along those same lines, here is a practical tip on how you can practice more. Take your camera with you wherever you go. I carry my camera everywhere I go. I have been doing this for so long that it’s second nature now and I don’t think twice about it. Sometimes I will only shoot ten to twelve frames and sometimes I will shoot several hundred. But what I tell myself every time I bring the camera to my face is that this time, I must try something different and create something I have not created before. It might not work all the time, but it does get me into the mindset of creating for the sake of creating, for me!

#3 – Market & Showcase Your Services

Marketing is crucial to any business but not all of us put much into it. Somehow, we feel like if we produce quality work, then it must speak for itself and bring clients knocking on our door. How many of us wait for work to find us, rather than finding work ourselves? The photo industry is one that has a very small barrier to entry (a.k.a smartphone photography) and many people don’t understand the need for professional photos. So as photographers it is up to us to educate clients and potential clients on what is good photography and why they need what we can provide.

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Photo by Karthika Gupta | I routinely work with tourism boards and destinations to create imagery and hence market to that audience every chance I get.

The more you think about promoting your work daily, the more effort and heart you will put into your marketing. And remember, marketing takes a lot of time. Very rarely does a marketing effort pay off immediately.

# 4 – Use Social Media

Social media has exploded over the past few years in terms of the number of people who are using it for business, no matter what business they are in. Because so much of social media is both visual and text, photographers and writers have a slight advantage in terms of creating and sharing quality content.

So as a photographer, it behooves you to take advantage of the channel at your disposal. But the whole point of social media is to be social online. So don’t post and run. Stay and engage. Follow other artists and creatives. Comment and share their work – engage with them genuinely. Showcase your work and share your narrative. It is one of the relatively inexpensive ways to make yourself known and recognized.

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Photo by Karthika Gupta | I love Instagram and think it is one of the best tools out there, especially for photographers. It is so visual and by engaging the right way, you can get a loyal following, new clients, and industry contacts. But like anything else, it takes time and a concentrated, thoughtful approach.

#5 – Use Your Network

Unless you live in a personal bubble, you have a network. Networks can be social (i.e. friends and family), professional (peers or work colleagues), or industry related (other businesses that support photography).

So I challenge you to look at your network and figure out who are all the people that you can reach out to and tap into for work. They might not be your direct clients, but they may know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who is looking for a photographer. Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth marketing.

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Photo by Karthika Gupta | Word-of-mouth and referrals are the best kind of marketing you can ever invest in and they are free (for the most part). Your only expenses – making genuine connections and friends among your networks. I regularly collaborate with other creatives – florists, stationary designers – and create work that is shared by all.

#6 – Do the Work

As much as we like to think otherwise, there truly isn’t anything as a free lunch. There are no shortcuts. Those who take the time and do the work, are the ones who reap the benefits in the long run. And this game of making it as a photographer is a commitment that you need to be willing to endure.

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Photo by Karthika Gupta | Collaborative shoots are another way to build your portfolio and your brand.
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Photo by Karthika Gupta

Photography, like any other profession, is extremely competitive with a relatively low barrier to entry. This means you must hustle that much harder and longer to make an impression and to have an impact on your business bottom line. If you are starting out, try all forms of photography. Practice often and improve your skills. Unleash your creativity to find out what feels right and feeds your soul. Give it your all and eventually, you will reap the benefits.

#7 – Share

Share your work, your knowledge, and your expertise. The more open and willing you are to share among your peers, your competitors, and your clients, the more satisfying the journey to photography business success will be.

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Photo by Karthika Gupta | I now teach at photo conferences around the country and love the creative community that I get to be a part of.

Self-Check Quiz

  1. What is the first step you need to take to start a photo business?
  2. Is it important to make friends in the industry? Why?
  3. What are a couple of free marketing ideas for your photo business?
  4. What is the one thing you have at your disposal to market your business?
  5. Should you carry your camera everywhere you go? Yes or No – and why?

Cover Photo by Karthika Gupta

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