Making the decision to start your own photography business is a big step. There are a lot of things to consider and, as with all decisions of this size, you need to think carefully about it and make sure you’re prepared for all eventualities.
Although it’s easier than ever to take and share photographs, learning how to make money with photography requires skill, dedication and commitment. But it can also be a rewarding career that allows you to express your creativity, work your own hours, meet different people, and attend events you wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to.
While freelance photography does have a wide range of benefits, the initial cost of equipment can be a hefty one. It’s something to consider carefully if you are thinking of setting up your own photography business.
The nine steps below will help get you started on your road to becoming a self-employed photographer.
9 steps to starting a photography business:
Know your stuff
Focus on one area of photography to work in
Pick a name for your business
Work out your phorography business plan
How much do photographers make?
Register your business
Make sure your photography business is insured
Build up a client base
Enjoy your new venture!
1) Know your stuff
Starting a photography business in the UK isn’t a cheap undertaking. Purchasing all the necessary equipment to begin a professional business and to make money with photography can be expensive especially considering that you’ll need back up equipment in case anything breaks while you are working.
All professional photographers carry several spare memory cards and battery packs as standard – these are essential. But most will also have a spare camera body and a variety of lenses in their kit bag. It’s always wise to plan for the worst to happen. If you can’t afford to buy a variety of camera bodies and lenses outright, there are lots of companies you can rent them from. This is a great way to save money when you are just starting out. Lighting equipment can also be hired, which can save a lot of money if you won’t need a specialist lighting set up on every job you do.
Technical know-how is essential to becoming a successful freelance photographer.
It’s not all about f-stops and shutter speeds, learning how to use professional editing software is also essential for producing saleable images. You’ll need to master editing techniques in various image manipulation software – YouTube tutorials can be useful for learning the basics.
2) Focus on one area of photography to work in
This will depend on your interests and skills. There are many areas of photography to choose from – you may want to set up as a wedding and event photographer, or you might decide working for magazines suits your skills best. Research all possibilities carefully and, if you can, talk to people already working in these fields to figure out if the requirements and working hours are a good match for you.
3) Pick a name for your business
This will likely be the first thing potential clients hear, so make sure you choose a name that isn’t too long and clearly represents your business. Once you’ve decided on the name for your photography business, check online to ensure there isn’t already someone using it and register the domain for yourself. If you plan to use social media for marketing purposes, you’ll also need to check the name is available on the platforms you plan to use. Now you have a registered domain name, a website to showcase your work is essential.
Your name is your brand, so make sure you’ve considered the impact it will have with our guide on How to style your brand.
4) Work out your photography business plan
Your business plan should carefully outline all the details of how your business will operate. This will include all the services you offer, the type of business you will operate (whether you will be a sole trader or a limited company) your unique selling points (USP), how you will manage your finances, and how you plan to market your business. You’ll need to work out your pricing structures, considering the cost of equipment, travel, supplies, and how much you will charge for your time.
Deciding whether to set up as a limited company or a sole trader depends on what works best for your business. There are of benefits to both, so it’s important you carefully consider which will work for you.
Setting up as a sole trader
This is the route most freelance photographers take as it is the most straightforward and doesn’t involve any set-up costs. It means you will need to register for self-assessment with HMRC, fill out your tax returns on time every year and pay any tax you are liable for. It involves keeping detailed records of your business expenses and earnings. This can be done using accounting software, or you might prefer to hire an accountant to deal with this for you. As a sole trader you will be responsible for any earnings you make, as well as any losses or debts that can accrue, and these will come directly from your personal finances, which means it’s important to make sure you know exactly what is happening with the financial side of your business.[i]
This could be the route for you if you plan to become a wedding or events photographer and won’t need a studio to work in.
Setting up a limited company
This could be the right option for you if you would prefer to keep your personal and business finance separate. If you decide to register as a limited company, you will need to pay a fee and register with Companies House, who you will need to file your accounts with every year with Companies House. Along with this you will need to file your accounts, company tax and corporation tax with HMRC annually. It is also more costly to employ an accountant as a limited company. However, if you choose this route it means any debts or losses the company make aren’t directly tied to your personal finances, so your assets aren’t usually at risk if your business goes into the red.[ii]
5) How much do photographers make?
A freelance photographer’s salary can vary depending on the type of work they do and how many hours they are able to put in. According to PayScale, the average salary for a photographer is around £20,757 per annum[iii]. This number can vary from £14k to £34k depending on experience and the services you offer – being able to take on extra editing work, for example, can help to boost a photographer’s salary.
6) Register your business
Once you have worked out your business plan, you will know whether being a sole trader or a limited company is best for you The next step is to register your business with HMRC to ensure you are paying the correct amount of tax on your earnings.
7) Make sure your photography business is insured
You will have invested a lot of money into your new photography business- so, what would you do if one of your cameras is damaged? You might not have the funds immediately available to replace it and, effectively, you could end up losing money as you are unable to take on new jobs without the correct equipment. To protect yourself in the event this happens, choosing the right business insurance is essential.
Hiscox offer specialised insurance for your photography business. As a small business owner, you need to make sure you are covered for a range of eventualities that could occur. For example, if you photograph a wedding and the client isn’t happy with the service you provided – perhaps they claim the quality of the photographs isn’t as good as they expected – professional indemnity insurance can cover any legal fees you may incur.
Public liability insurance can cover you in the event a member of the public is accidentally hurt, or there is damage to property as a result of your work. For example, if you have the lighting set up on location and a member of the public accidentally trips on a cable and injures themselves.
8) Build up a client base
Word of mouth is one of the most important marketing techniques available to a freelance photographer. Your photography business depends on your reputation, and happy clients will be more than willing to pass on your name to their friends. Always make sure you are on time, professional and friendly while you are working, as these are the things people will remember. And, of course, you’ll need to be certain your clients are happy with the finished photographs. It’s worth saying that you should be as accommodating as possible if you receive any complaints too.
9) Enjoy your new venture
Once you begin your new career as a self-employed photographer, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. This is especially important if you are working at business events or important family events, such as birthdays, christenings and weddings. You are there to do a job, but you are also an integral part of how your clients feel the day went, so be friendly and cheerful at all times. This will also help with the all-important word of mouth marketing mentioned earlier.
Working as a freelance photographer can be a challenging decision and will mean you have to be motivated and committed to your business. But, it’s also a wonderful way to express your creativity and make a living from your passion. If you are committed to putting in the time and effort, becoming a professional photographer