How to Build a Successful Portrait Photography Business

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Starting a successful photography business from the ground up can be challenging. However, with these tips you can be well on your way to starting a successful portrait photography business!

how to start a portrait photo business

Photo captured by Lizzie Kimball

First thing’s first: you will need a camera. I recommend starting out with a digital SLR (dSLR) camera. Yet, there are so many dSLR camera’s on the market, how do you choose a great camera? Research. Conduct online research by reading consumer reviews from multiple blogs and websites, search professional photography forums, and ask professional photographers for their advice. You shouldn’t choose a camera on a whim and you shouldn’t purchase one simply because it’s on sale: doing your research will pay in the long run!

Next, learn how to properly use your camera and edit your photos. If you want to run a successful business and produce images prospective clients are willing pay for, you will need to take your camera off of “auto” mode and learn how to control the settings yourself in manual mode. I have found online search engines and photography forums the best places to learn how to use your camera in manual mode. Additionally, many professional photographers write photography tips and FAQ blog posts, so do an online search and visit the blogs and websites of local portrait photographers to get an inside scoop on how to use your camera. Several photographers teach workshops and/or offer mentor sessions, so contact your favorite photographers via email to see if they are willing to provide a mentor session or workshop to assist your learning.

Once you’ve learned how to use your camera, practice! Gather your family and closest friends and offer free mock-portrait sessions in order to provide you practice on how to use your camera and allow you to become more familiar with shooting in manual mode. Use these images to build your portfolio and gain experience.

professional portraits

Photo captured by Lizzie Kimball

Once you’re comfortable with using your camera and are happy with the results you have been getting, evaluate. Do you still want to start a business? If so, it’s time to start taking legal steps before you officially start a business and begin charging for your work.

Get legal. Search for the requirements to legally run a business in your city and state. You will need a business license, sales tax license, and fulfill all requirements set forth by your city and state. Make sure all of your licenses are approved before starting your business!

Optional: protect yourself and your equipment. As a business owner, it’s smart to protect you and your assets. Once your business is legal, protect yourself by purchasing business liability and equipment insurance. This covers you if your client trips and falls during the portrait shoot and lands in the hospital (potential lawsuit!) or if your precious new lens crashes to the ground during a lens change. You wouldn’t want to start a business just to go bankrupt, thus, this optional step is highly recommended to be successful!

Decide what to offer how much to charge for your services. This is an important and often overlooked step: don’t choose a starting price based on what other photographers are charging or a random price you feel is fair. Carefully calculate the money you’ve spent starting your business (equipment, software, education, licenses, insurance, business cards, website fees, etc), how much it will cost to maintain your business, evaluate many hours you spend on a session (time spent driving to/from the session, shooting, editing, backing up and posting files, etc), calculate how much of your income you will have to pay to sales and income taxes, and how much excess you will need above all of the factors listed above to pay for the cost of living and still earn profit.

artistic portrait busines

Photo captured by Lizzie Kimball

Most new photographers start out charging too little; once the joy of starting a new business wears off, many photographers find themselves unable to stay financially afloat and resent owning a photography business, ultimately closing their doors in less than a year. Start off right and remain successful by creating a firm price list for your services that keeps your business profitable and brings yourself value.

Now that your legal ducks are in a row and you know how much to charge, it’s time to start getting clients! Build an online presence by starting a website and blog. There are several websites that offer insight on how to purchase your domain and start a website, so turn to your trusty search engine for help. As a photography business, it’s important to make your images stand out on the web; photography website and bog templates are available and are a wise investment to be seen as a professional to your prospective clients. Website templates will save you time and money if you are unfamiliar with coding and web development. A great way to extend your online presence is by creating a Facebook business page; however, it’s important to have your own domain website in addition to a Facebook page to be understood as a professional.

Of course, you’ll need business cards and marketing materials to advertise your business. Conduct a quick online search to find a company to print business cards and flyers for your business. Hand these out to family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and anyone you come into contact with! Give your family and friends an abundance of cards so they can pass them on to their friends as well.

starting a photography business

Photo captured by Lizzie Kimball

Taking the proper steps to starting a business is key to your success. Owning a photography business can be a very fulfilling venture if it is started correctly, and these steps will allow you to be well on your way to success!

About the Author:
Lizzie Kimball ( is a professional photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona.

“Preserving life in photographs is what inspires me to be a photographer: I want to capture every little emotion & detail that tells your story, a story that will forever be cherished in your family.”

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  1. Gavin says:

    If only it were that easy … I have a marketing degree, and minored in communication, plus I have a photography degree and let me tell you in theory this sounds good, in practice it take years and years of work, skills and practice to become a competent photographer.

  2. Really Informative. And Good Pictures. Loved it.

  3. Rick says:

    I’m sorry but this article is hardly helpful. It amounts to telling people to google everything! Most people will do that anyway (and end up here, wondering what the point of this post is).

  4. Steve says:

    This is one of the worst articles I’ve ever read. The only reason I can think it exist is to attract click revenue. Telling someone they need to buy a camera to start a photography business is up there with telling people how to get out of bed in the morning. Overly simplified piece of junk writing.

  5. John says:

    Steve and Rick are correct. This article was written by someone who knows next to nothing about photography and even less about business.

    If you want to write Web articles, first get a computer….

  6. Chuck says:

    Forgot to mention, Only shoot in the evening and try to get as much backlit sun-flare as possible. Auto mode does this very well so no real need to learn how to use a camera.

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