Starting a photography business takes time, patience and planning. This article is going to become a series of articles walking new photographers through several required steps to getting your photography business up and running. What do you do first starting a photography business? How much should you invest in camera equipment? What camera equipment is best to start out with? What legal paperwork do you need for a photography business? This article addresses these questions to help you get started today.
Photography Business License
The first step you want to make for your photography business is to get your proper business license. 99% of new photographers will start out as a Sole Proprietorship. A sole proprietor essentially means you are the sole owner and operator of the business. Most photography businesses are sole proprietorship's because they are the easiest to establish with state and local agencies. In most areas you can go down to your local county office and fill out paperwork to operate as a sole proprietor. Photography is a relatively easy business to startup because you are not operating with any manufacturing or chemicals, and your product is often sold in digital form or printed off site. The only special licenses you may have to go through for your business is if you are using a fictitious name (i.e. Fabulous Photography - unless your name is actually Fabulous). If you intend to use your real name you do not need to do anything special to operate. To operate your photography business with a fictitious name most often you need to run this name in your local newspaper for a required number of weeks.
Remember that starting your business is an investment. Photography is often viewed by most as a side or hobby business and aspiring photographers may be hesitant to invest the proper amount in camera equipment because they say (and I hear this all the time): "I will upgrade later when I get consistent business". In my opinion this would be a mistake. If you are looking to start your new photography business and are passionate enough to give this 100% effort - my advice is to start with a pro level camera. Obviously, the specific camera you purchase depends on your type of photography. Sports photography is an entirely different beast, but if you are starting in portrait photography I would recommend one of only three models:
Nikon D800 (my personal favorite since I shoot on this exclusively)
Sony a7r (an excellent portrait camera with the same Nikon sensor)
Canon 5D Mark III (Canon's pro level camera and a solid investment)
My $.02 would be to narrow your selection between the Nikon D800 and the Sony a7r only because of recent industry trends and that Canon has been slow to release a new body that can compete within Nikon and Sony's price and megapixel range. However, Canon is an excellent brand and the 5D is undoubtedly a pro level camera.
The best investment you can make for your new business is to invest in a pro level camera body and build your stock inventory of lenses around that body. I would not go out and buy a cheap lens, throw it on a D800 and hope it shoots well. But you can find high quality lenses without breaking the bank.
If you are looking to get into portrait photography you will also want to invest in at least one speedlight flash, one light reflector and one light diffuser. These three pieces will get you on track for portrait lighting and you will be able to shoot 90% of your desired portraits by using effective and well placed lighting. I will cover more on portrait lighting for new photographers in a separate article.
Remember that when working on a budget early in your photography business you may want to consider renting additional equipment rather than buying. There are a number of online camera rental companies where you can rent camera bodies, lenses, lighting and accessories. This is always an excellent option for trying out a new lens before buying or working on a larger scale photoshoot for which you may not have all of the equipment.
Starting A Website
This is tricky because most photographers want to run out and design a website right away. I have always thrown caution to the wind here because you do not want a website filled with low quality photography. Don't be afraid to build your market through social media and word of mouth, or old fashion advertising - but be patient designing your website. Clients often judge a photographer by browsing their website for 15-30 seconds. If your website is filled with low quality pictures you will turn away more business than you may bring in. This is a bit of a double-standard, how do you build high quality pictures if you can't build a market or client base? The answer is to practice, practice, practice on your own. In my early portrait photography days I often had to pay models out of my own pocket to practice portrait photos. If you need to invest $100 for a weekend to shoot 10-15 different poses for your website - in the end this will be a worthy investment.
View your investment in hiring models or renting equipment to take photos for your website as an investment in your business. Again, remember that a poorly designed website is worse than no website at all. If you only have enough photos for one static page that directs traffic to your email and phone number - then only create one static page! A cleanly designed static page with well written SEO, keywords and a description of yourself will serve a useful purpose until your website is ready for full release.
As you can see I use SquareSpace to run my portfolio website and now my blog site. I am in a bit of transition after years of using SmugMug and WordPress. I would be happy to discuss this switch with any photographer out there as there are advantages and disadvantages of SmugMug, WordPress. Zenfolio and other photography based websites and blog sites.