Creating a freelance photography business can be a rewarding work with flexible hours and a sense of unrivalled freedom. However, like most freelance jobs, you need a real plan to make it into a profitable business. In this ultimate guide, I’ll go through how to start a photography business in 2022.
Feel free to skip to straight to each section.
- 1. Do your research
- 2. Own your niche
- 3. Write a business plan
- 4. Find a mentor
- 5. Plan your equipment
- 6. Make a portfolio
- 7. Pitch to clients
- 8. Self reflect
- 9. Be consistent
Let’s get started.
How to start a freelance photography business
It is getting harder to stand out from the crowd when it comes to being a photographer. Today, everyone is fighting for attention on visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok, and the competition is fierce. Plus, today’s equipment is so good (even priced at a low level) that the barrier for starting is almost zero. However, very few people start with a real strategy, which means you can gain a real edge on the competition.
Follow these simple steps to get started.
1. Do your research
Most businesses fail in 2022 because there simply isn’t any demand for them. Normally, a founder has an idea and charges full throttle into it, without pausing to reflect on the market, or their customers.
In the case of a photography business, we already know there is a market.
However, it’s also an extremely saturated space, where the barrier to entry is low, and the competition is high. To give yourself the edge, you’ll want to do some research around the appetite and market for your particular niche.
How to research a particular niche:
One clever way of finding untapped niches is through a keywords tool that I use called ahrefs.
You can search for a generic word like ‘photography‘ and you’ll be given all the words that rank for that word, along with their search volume.
It also shows how difficult that key word is to rank for, with the lower numbers in green meaning they are easier to rank.
This can help you find words where the demand is high, but the competition is low. Ultimately this may mean that you’ll find it easier to get clients as the space will still be lucrative, but much less crowded.
Here’s one example I found earlier:
As you can see, product and food photography are predictably high, but there are two slightly different search queries with people searching for photographers to take professional shots of their newborns.
This makes sense since people often like to send out cards, or capture those special early moments. In both cases the competition is surprisingly low – which indicates this might be a good niche to choose.
Another trick for finding lucrative sectors is to use ahrefs once again.
But this time, look closely at the CPC (cost per click). This shows the cost that people are willing to pay for every click, which shows which niches have the highest value.
Here’s an example:
As you can see, from these key words, product photography has the highest value.
This is logical as it’s likely to be companies paying for it, which can be very lucrative. You can find plenty of high value but low competition keywords using the same methods.
2. Own your niche
The first mistake people make when starting out is to spend too little time developing their own unique style.
Your uniqueness as a photographer will define you, so even if you choose to go into popular niches like weddings, then remember that you’ll still need to put your stamp on your photos. Practice a range of different shoots until you feel your enthusiasm and excitement growing around a single style. You might be defined by your colour palette, or composition. You might love portraiture or landscapes. It’s crucial that you develop your taste ands style before pitching for real clients.
If you are a hobby photographer or a professional, then this is the time to start thinking about what kind of business you want to establish.
3. Write a business plan
Yes, you’re a creative – and no, that isn’t an excuse for not having a business plan.
Most enthusiastic photographers don’t pause to think about their plan, but if you treat it like a business from day one then you’ll be in a far better position down the road. Even though it may not be on your radar at the moment, planning is a vital step in developing goals. Having a strategy can help you set realistic expectations for yourself and your company.
A good plan will include all of the details of your business, including your start-up expenses, achievable goals and long-term aspirations. It should also have a section that explains how and why you will be profitable.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that photography is all down to what you do with the camera. A photography business contains a wide range of skills, from accounting and pitching to presenting and networking.
4. Find a mentor
Finding the right mentor is essential in any creative pursuit. Not only will they help to inspire you, but they also provide a blueprint for what can be done, and help give you a realistic vision about what you hope to achieve.
Plus, everyone makes mistakes along the way, and your mentor will be able to give you the benefit of their experience so you don’t make the same ones they did. A mentor can also be someone you turn to when times are tough, or your business isn’t growing as quickly as you would like or expect. Having someone whose experience you access is absolutely key.
You can find mentors at exhibits, or even online if you strike up a conversation about your work. There are plenty of successful photographers who will happily give you their advice if you ask.
Feel free to build relationships with several different mentors, especially ones in your niche.
5. Plan your equipment
For most photographers, this is where it gets more fun. However, rather than blazing ahead and buying the best equipment you can find, plan your purchases beforehand – especially if you’re in a budget.
Your camera equipment is a vital investment for any business, and it is important you have the fundamentals such as the lenses and accessories you need, as well as a tripod.
Don’t overlook the digital purchases you’ll also need, such as photo-editing software, a MacBook, and any digital subscriptions that you need to do your job.
Your photography style might also incur extra costs. For example, f you’re a wildlife photographer you might have to invest in outdoor equipment such as tents, sleeping bags and warmer clothes. If you’re planning to be a travel photographer then flights, hotels and other travel costs need to be included in your business plan.
6. Make a portfolio
Your portfolio will show who you are as a photographer and who you’ve worked for. It will also show your ideas, philosophy and past experience. You should put your work out there on:
- Your own website
- Social platforms like Instagram
- Web platforms like Behance
- Photography sites like Unsplash
If you are lacking experience or working on a limited collection of images, then it may be time to explore new areas and build a portfolio that is related to your chosen specialty. This might require working for free, and that’s your decision. In some cases it may be necessary to prove that you can work efficiently and effectively through previous experience.
You should create a web portfolio as soon as you can. A well-designed and unique website template will set you apart from the competition and show your work in its best possible light.
Write passionately about your work, and don’t forget to include your contact details and any social handles where you’re exhibiting your work. Sync up your social media accounts to be active across multiple platforms.
Why buy a domain
You should always seek to buy a URL with your photography name, because unlike other types of portfolios, such as Instagram or Facebook, you will own the space. Your domain will be your personal space on the web to do what you want with it without being at the mercy of a social algorithm.
Best social platforms for portfolios
Instagram is the most visual and appropriate social platform for aspiring photographers. it will also allow you to grow a following and reach out to other photographers in your niche, including potential mentors. The key to a great Instagram feed is consistency – people like to know what they are going to get.
Here is a great example:
Brandon Woelfel has 2.6 million followers – but look at how beautifully his grid works, with the colour tones and shades bleeding from one photo into the next. He has a well-refined and consistent style.
Aside from your own website and social platforms, when you start a photography business, you can also experiment with different platforms.
Unsplash is a free photography site, and while your photos can be free to distribute, it can lead to some excellent opportunities.
Here’s a great way to use Unsplash to your advantage:
- Upload your high-quality photography with the relevant tags.
- Wait until your images have a significant number of downloads.
- Reverse image search your images in Google, and you’ll be able to see all the sites that have used them across the web.
- These are your prospects! You can contact these people to pitch to them for a job, since they already like your work enough to use it.
- Or, you can ask for a link or image credit to your website, which will grow your authority as a photographer and help you get more traffic.
7. Pitch to clients
Eventually, you might be in the enviable position where word of mouth alone is enough to sustain and grow your business. Until then, you will have to do a LOT of work.
Share your work and connect with everyone who is interested in what you do. Make sure you’re active at any exhibits you can get in to.
Exhibiting your work at exhibitions can cost money, since it’s a sales opportunity. However, my personal experience from exhibiting artwork is that these exhibitions always have left-over slots at the very end. If you’re flexible and able to react quickly, then no exhibitor wants empty slots, so you might be able to get in front of an audience for a bargain – or even for free!
Reach out to potential clients and potential customers by researching photography projects and services on the internet, and make sure you engage with other photographers who might be able to share a client with you, or use you to help them on a bigger project.
Luckily, the web is an extremely visual place, and most people respond well to visual ideas and materials, so getting your work shared is definitely possible as long as you don’t give up too early.
8. Self reflect
After winning some clients, it’s time to look back and assess how far you’ve come and what you want to achieve in the future. Are you happy with your progress? Are you learning new things? Can you support yourself through your new photography business.
Every few months it’s key that you look back and assess where you are. The actions you took on day one might no longer be appropriate. You might be excelling with the photos, but editing them poorly.
Have an honest conversation with yourself and plug any gaps. Make sure you constantly rethink what you could be doing differently. For example, if you’re in need of an editor, consider hiring someone to help free up some time for shooting or improving your marketing efforts.
9. Be consistent
As the saying goes, ‘It matters more what you do every day than what you do every once in a while’.
Being consistent is the hallmark of a successful business, and photography is no different. A great example is the owner of Aquabumps in Bondi.
Every single day there is a new update. Every morning he gets up and photographs the beach at around 6am, capturing the daily weather. I subscribe to his newsletter, which features a daily blog, which also get uploaded to the website.
THAT is how he’s built over 37,000 email subscribers, and it’s a perfect blueprint into building an engaged audience.
How to start a freelance photography business: a conclusion
How to start a photography business in 2022 requires real consistency, and to treat your new venture like a proper business from day one.
Photography may be your hobby, but like anything else, if you don’t start earning money fairly soon after starting, your enthusiasm can wane and you’ll give up before you know it.
a proper plan will keep you focused, and a network of people around you will help you maintain that early enthusiasm.
How to start a photography business – here is a recap of the top nine steps to follow:
How to start a photography business: FAQs
Depending on the business you start, and the sector you’re in, you may have a number of questions that haven’t been answered above. here are some of the most common.