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12 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Photography Business

Ok, let’s get started.


1)  You are not just a photographer

At the beginning of your photography side hustle, you will quickly realize how many extra skills are needed. 

Here are a few that come to mind;  Bookkeeper, marketing director, social media manager, graphic designer, website designer, customer relations, wardrobe consultant, and treasurer.

When you’re just starting out you don’t need to be an expert in any of these things. If you struggle with graphic design work, you can find someone on to do it for you or where you can easily do it yourself.

Most are things you will learn as you go. Just be aware that it’s not all photography. 


2)  Find something to shoot in your off-season

When I started out shooting figure skating I found out in spring that I didn’t have anything to shoot until the next winter. I hadn’t even thought about it and it took me a few weeks to get some portrait bookings.

If your niche is seasonal, find something to shoot in your off-season. Try to fill your year with bookings.

Now if you shoot weddings and need the winter to get over the trauma, I fully understand. 


3)  Don’t buy unnecessary equipment

This is something 99% of photographers suffer from. It’s a technology-rich market and we all need those special features. 

I was a major buyer of unnecessary equipment, and I still am from time to time. Before I started shooting weddings I bought a rain cover for my camera. My lenses were waterproof but my bodies weren’t. It didn’t occur to me that a bride wouldn’t want to be out in the rain. So the rain cover wasn’t used until I tried it at a dog agility event. It turned out to be a pain to use and it’s now stuck in a box somewhere. 

So my advice is to start shooting, find out what you need and then buy. Remember, your side hustle needs to make a profit. 


4)  Be Different

You need to stand out from the crowd. Check out the websites and work of your competition but don’t try to copy them, try to identify what they don’t offer.

If they don’t offer Black and White portraits, then you should. Offer images that your competitors don’t. I used to do a jump shot at weddings, where I got the wedding party to jump and I tried to capture them airborne. These were very popular and memorable. No one else in my area was doing this and I stood out from the crowd. The last jump shot I did was the groom and three groomsmen wearing kilts. I still haven’t fully recovered.

If you shoot family portraits check to see if any of your competitors are using a drone. Imagine the shots you can get, like in winter a family doing snow angels shot from above. Or the family sitting on the end of a jetty being photographed from over the water. The options are endless, and if you are the only one in town offering it, you win.


5)  Dream big & Set Goals

I think I suffered from squirrel syndrome when I started out. It wasn’t until I set goals that I started getting some traction.

Now the downside of setting goals for me is breaking them down into bite-size pieces. I never complete them, and the goal just sits there. I much prefer thinking about the big goal and aiming toward it.

Remember these are your goals and there is no punishment for failing to achieve them. Aim high, like shooting 8 sessions in your first month. If you only shoot 6 don’t worry, you’ll do 8 or more next month. 


6)  Streamline the customer experience

The easier you make the booking and product purchasing, the happier your customers will be. This is where a good website is needed. If they can book you and pay the session fee in one visit to your website, you’ll get more bookings than if they need to call you and discuss it. Make it as easy as buying from Amazon.


7)  Never stop learning

When I was getting into using flash I was doing a Fall shoot for a young couple. That’s Autumn to you Brits. They showed me a photo in a magazine that they wanted me to copy. Luckily I had read about reverse engineering lighting the week before. 

I gave it my best shot and they were really happy. Afterward, I realized how lucky I was. If it had been 2 weeks earlier I would have failed miserably. So keep expanding your photography knowledge, it’ll make your job easier.


8)  Your time is valuable

Don’t give your time away. If you are booked for a 1-hour session, you shoot for 1 hour. If the customer wants you to keep shooting they need to know it’ll cost them X amount. It’s not your fault they were late or one of their kids had a meltdown halfway through the session.

Every time you extend a session and don’t charge extra you are reducing your hourly rate. You end up taking more photos that take more of your time to edit.

Value yourself.


9)  Hire an accountant

Accountants love what they do. They are experts in all things tax relatable, and can probably save you money by preparing your taxes for you. 

So stick to being a photographer, hire an accountant, and get lots of sleep.


10)  Ask for referrals

This is something I didn’t do for years. I knew getting referrals was important, but never thought of asking for them.

Try setting up a referral system. If someone refers a new customer, they get a $50 credit off their next shoot. Offering a reward for a referral can reduce your advertising costs. Give it a try.


11)  Market, market, market.

This is a constant in your business. Marketing Easter shoots in January, Fall shoots in July, and Christmas sessions in October is a never-ending rotation.

When I started out I had very little marketing going on. Generally, I was always too late getting the word out. 

If you shoot commercial photography, find out when a corporation is holding its Annual General Meeting and start your marketing 3 or 4 months in advance.

Wedding photographers market year-round. Sports photographers need to market a couple of months before the season starts.

Whatever it is you shoot, you need to think about when the decisions are made and hit them with your marketing in advance.

You need to market your business to grow.


12)  Start building a list

This is the big one. Building an email list is easy to do, and allows you to let people know about your latest offers.

You need to set up an email list as soon as you have a website. If you don’t have one already, set one up today or as soon as possible.

To get website visitors to sign up for your list you need to offer them something. As a photographer, you can have a signup form that offers them all your latest special deals.

Then every week you send out a special email offer, like a free 8×10 print or $50 off if they book a family session before a certain date. It can be anything you want to offer. Whenever you need bookings, start sending emails, it’s so simple.

The best company to use at the moment is CovertKit. You can have up to 300 people on your list for Free. I think 300 is enough for most photographers. I’ll put a link in the show notes.

Ok, so number …

1 was “You are not just a photographer”

2 was “Find something to shoot in your off-season”

3 “Don’t buy unnecessary equipment”

4 “Be Different”

5 “Dream big and set goals”

6 was “Streamline your customer experience”

7 “Never stop learning”

8 “Your time is valuable”

9 was “Hire an accountant”

10 “Ask for Referrals”

11 “Market, market, market”

And 12 was “Start building a list”


Those are the 12 things I wish I knew before starting in business.