An easy way to generate income while discovering your photography service niche is to upload your test subject shots to stock photo sites. The rates for most stock photo sites are low, but they will give your work some exposure and help you build momentum as you execute your business plan.
While a lot of technical know-how goes into creating a business, if you’re passionate and determined, you will find success. Your most important asset as a fledgling photographer is your passion. Don’t let a lack of experience deter your ambition of starting a photography side hustle because all photography services have to start somewhere.
Is Professional Photography for Me?
What makes a photographer ‘professional’ depends on who you ask, but you would be surprised to hear that the title has little to do with actual photography skills. Photographers are generally considered professional when they make money from their craft. In contrast, amateur photographers typically spend money to practice their craft.
The goal of starting a business is to make it profitable, but it takes more than a desire to make a profit to create a successful photography business; it takes passion for the craft.
Anyone can make photography their side hustle, regardless of experience or skill level, but if you don’t enjoy photos or the art of photography, building a business that provides photography services will be a difficult and unfulfilling venture.
To be successful in photography, you have to work with a variety of people who will have different personalities and working styles than you. You will have to spend long hours behind your camera and computer. You will have to work upwards of twelve hours some days and then be ready to do it all again the next day.
Success comes more slowly in photography than in other businesses, but there’s no better way to spend your time if you love it. However, if you’re wondering how to become a freelance photographer just because the lifestyle of a photographer seems more attractive to you than the nuts and bolts of offering photography services, then starting a photography side hustle or business may not be for you.
If you are learning how to start a photography blog and you’re positive that starting a photography business is your life’s ambition, great! This article is full of information on making that dream a reality.
What Equipment Do I Need?
It can be easier to spend money than earn it when you first start a photography side hustle. So before you consider purchasing photography equipment, ensure that your personal finances are in order.
As a fledgling photographer, you can get away without using many of the special devices that more experienced professional photographers use. Still, there are a few pieces of equipment that you must have before you launch your photography business plan, namely a camera body and lens.
Remember, any camera gear you purchase should facilitate the execution of your vision, not inhibit it. Less is more in photography.
Many photographers fall victim to the idea that their photos will turn out better if they buy more camera gear or more expensive camera gear. I’m here to tell you that that’s not true. Purchasing an expensive camera will not make you a better photographer.
Buy a Camera Body, Something Versatile, Yet Economical
“You date your camera, you marry your lens,” so the saying goes, and it’s true.
Camera bodies wear down over time, but lenses (the ones worth buying) are meant to last a lifetime, so don’t worry too much about what camera body to buy. You will likely be buying a new camera body in a few years anyway. You may be surprised to hear that in many cases, what type of lenses a photographer wants to use will dictate what camera body they buy.
Fuji, Canon, and Sony are three camera manufacturers that make high-quality cameras that will work for various commercial applications. When you first start looking at cameras, you will soon realize that they come with many specifications, but don’t be discouraged. They don’t matter when you’re just starting out.
Research your camera before buying it, but don’t torture yourself with technical details. So long as your photos look good, clients won’t care about how many megapixels are in your camera.
Speaking of megapixels, the first camera you purchase for your photography business should be digital. Unless you work for chic fashion clients in a major city, you will be working digitally. Don’t get me wrong. Film cameras are awesome, but they are impractical for most commercial uses.
While digital cameras may not look as cool as old film cameras or have the same tactile feel, they are much more versatile and useful tools to have when starting your photography business.
Whatever camera body you decide to buy, first shop around on the pre-owned market before buying it new. Many camera stores, such as B&H and Adorama, both of which have impeccable reputations for their customer service and quality products, have a large selection of pre-owned cameras at economical prices.
What Lens Should I Buy?
What lens you buy will be determined largely by the brand of your camera body.
Quick Facts About Lenses
- Lenses come in two styles, fixed and zoom.
- A fixed lens has a single focal length, whereas a zoom lens has a range of focal lengths it can shoot at.
- Focal lengths, measured in mm, determine how much of a scene you can capture with your camera lens.
- Both fixed and zoom lenses come in a variety of focal lengths.
Lenses are a lifetime investment, which is why I mentioned that some photographers prefer to buy a lens before a camera body. Since your lens (or glass as it is colloquially called) will be with you for years to come, it is important to spare no expense.
While clients will be unable to tell the difference between a crop or full-frame sensor in a camera body, they will notice the use of a poor-quality lens.
Think of lenses as eyeglasses. How clearly your camera sees will depend on the quality of your lens. If you buy cheap glasses made of poor materials for your camera, then it won’t be able to take the best pictures it can.
While they are expensive, lenses are one piece of equipment you shouldn’t compromise on. Just be sure to keep your receipt. Then, come tax time, you can claim the cost of your lens as a business expense.
Since your lens is arguably the most important (and expensive) part of your camera, it is important to purchase something versatile, but what makes a lens versatile?
Zoom lenses are versatile tools for new photographers because they allow you to vary how much of a scene you capture without moving your body. The versatility of a zoom lens also allows you to work with various subjects, which will help you develop your style and understanding of photography.
Aim to purchase a zoom lens with a range of 35mm-80mm or something comparable. 35mm-80mm covers the most common focal lengths. The more you shoot, the more you will learn about focal lengths and which ones you prefer, at which point you should consider purchasing a fixed focal length lens.
Like camera bodies, you can purchase lenses second-hand, as well. Save yourself a few hundred dollars by shopping around for a pre-owned lens from a reputable dealer like B&H or Adorama.
- Expensive equipment will not make you a better photographer.
- Keep your photo gear simple to focus on the important work of taking photos.
- Ask friends and family if they have old cameras you can use.
- Lenses are lifetime investments. Invest wisely.
- Don’t worry about granular, technical detail when starting out.
- An older DSLR camera with a variable zoom lens will meet most start-up businesses’ needs.
- Shop for second-hand gear from reputable vendors like B&H and Adorama.
- Save your receipts! You can claim equipment costs as operating expenses on your taxes as a business owner.
Now that you have a camera and an understanding of how to use it, it’s time to pick a subject.
Anything can be a subject, but some are more common than others. Some examples of common commercial photography subjects are people, sporting events, real estate, or consumer products.
If you already have an idea of what kind of photography services you want to specialize in, such as wedding photography, you may already have an idea of what to shoot and where to find it.
However, if you’re a beginner, it can be difficult, not to mention uncomfortable, to take photos of people or things in public.
If the idea of taking photos in public terrifies you, then consider asking a friend or family member to pose for you, either in private or public. Photographing someone you are familiar with alleviates some of the stress of shooting and gives you the freedom to play with your camera’s settings.
Finding Your Niche
Most photography businesses specialize in one or, at most, a few niches. A niche can be as specific or broad as you like, but it is good to practice photographing everything before choosing a niche.
Every subject you photograph will teach you something about your equipment and the art of photography. In general, try not to limit yourself too much when learning photography.
If you’re at a loss for what to photograph or have no idea what your niche might be, take a step back and try to have some fun with your camera. Go out for a day of shooting and see what you get. Which ones do you like? You might find that you are naturally drawn to one subject over another, and voila, you’ve found a path to discovering your niche.
An easy way to generate income while discovering your photography service niche is to upload your test subject shots to stock photo sites. The rates for selling stock photos to sites are low, but they will give your work some exposure and help you build momentum as you execute your business plan.
As you work, be sure to maintain a fun and curious approach to photography. Doing so will help you through creative slumps and make your photography side hustle more enjoyable.
Build a Website or Portfolio
You’ve had your camera for a few weeks, and you’ve taken some photos you’re really proud of. Now it’s time for you to know how to make a portfolio for photography and showcase your work by building your own website.
Photographers, in large part, rely on the quality of their photos to land their work, so it is important that you have a place to showcase your images.
I know. You have to develop a business plan, obtain a business license, learn photography, AND build a website. It’s a lot. Luckily, website building platforms like Wix, SquareSpace, and WordPress, make creating a website easy. Yes, I do mean easy. If you use social media, you can create a website.
Building a website is a lot like deciding on what camera to buy. There are many options out there, and you can easily get caught up in technical details. Don’t spend too much time deciding on a platform; all major hosting platforms provide roughly the same services. Research all of them and pick the one that best suits your budget.
Designing Your Own Website or Portfolio
Your website or portfolio should be a professional, organized, and easy-to-understand extension of you. Website is also a very effective way on how to get photography clients.
While your website is a place to show off your personality, it is important to remember that you are also a business. Clients will be put off if you come across as too casual or too professional on your website. In addition to great work, clients want someone easy and fun to work with. Remember that as you build your website.
When building your website, be sure to include who you are, what you do, examples of your work, how to contact you, and client reviews, if you have any. Information in addition to that listed above runs the risk of distracting your clients. When in doubt about whether or not to include something on your website, remember that less is more.
Client reviews are valuable, and you should have a few on your website to show potential clients that you are a serious professional.
If you are having difficulty getting client reviews, consider performing pro-bono work for a company you like. It might seem counterintuitive to work for free when you are trying to start a business but trust me, building good client relations will put you miles ahead of the competition.
Develop Your Photo Editing Skills
Editing photos is a big part of running a photography business. Almost all of the photos you take will require some level of retouching before you can deliver them to clients, especially if you work in niches like wedding photography.
Learning to edit your photos is an important skill that will better help you understand photography’s nuances. The most common photo editing software photographers use is Adobe’s Lightroom. Some alternatives to Lightroom are CaptureOne and Skylum Luminar.
Responding to Criticism
Feedback should never be taken personally. Part of running a photography business is responding to feedback, but not all feedback is created equal. All feedback, positive or otherwise, should be used as a tool to improve your photography.
Accept that criticism comes with running a business, but realize that it does not define your practice. Becoming a go-to photographer means producing excellent work and handling criticism well. Nothing gives clients a strong, professional impression like responding positively to criticism.
When you first start your photography business, you will live, eat, and breathe photography. Not only that, but you will be learning how to run a company. It’s a lot of work, which means that your photography side hustle has the potential to stop being fun.
It’s alright. Burnout is normal, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. On the contrary, burnout should be taken seriously. Bad cases of burnout can tank months of hard work, so be sure to schedule downtime during the week or make room for other hobbies in your schedule to keep your motivation up.
Another way to beat burnout is to seek inspiration. Try going to a museum and studying some of photography’s greatest practitioners. If you’re reeling at the idea of looking at more photos after a day working on your business, try going to a music show. Inspiration can strike anywhere, at any time, so stay receptive.
Once you finally understand your equipment and have a productive workflow down, it is time to experiment. Photography is a living art form; it changes constantly. Therefore, the best way to run a successful photography business is to develop and challenge your skills with experimentation.
Experiment with different equipment, subjects, and environments to push your photography to the next level. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a new niche of photography that you want to pursue further.
- Research and Invest in a camera body and lens.
- Choose a subject and photograph it.
- Download editing software and practice editing your photos.
- Experiment with different tools and subjects to push your photography to the next level.
- Build your own website that introduces who you are, what you do, examples of your work, and client reviews.
- Build an income with stock photo sites.
- Seek a community of like-minded photographers or study photography’s greats to maintain creative inspiration.
- Don’t take criticism personally.
- Have fun!