How to name your photography business

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on September 23, 2010

in This is Business

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Between the anxiety of deciding on a business logo and name, it’s a wonder photographers (and most entrepreneurs) ever get their dreams off the ground.

Paralysis by analysis has been well-covered in other blogs, and I’ll share in a future article my own thoughts on the issue and how it afflicts photographers, but it’s something that strikes us creative types with unusual force.

Many thanks to reader Bill M. for spurring me to write this post – naming your business can be a huge stumbling block when you’re trying to maintain the momentum of launching your part time photography business.

I’ll give you my Number One solution for the problem, and then offer a few other options for folks who may not appreciate my flair for simplicity.

You Are Your Business

Let me get this out of the way: The name of your business is bloody irrelevant.

Xerox sounds more like an alien planet than an office equipment company.

Google isn’t even spelled right.

If you kick ass and take names, if you better your art with every shoot while treating people right and getting your name out there, you’re going to do business – no matter what name you go by.

If you have a few million dollars in startup capital and you’re trying to establish a completely unique brand identity in the worldwide market, then by all means, pay a consultant six figures to create a brand identity for your new empire.

If you’re starting a part time photography business to serve your hyperlocal market on weekends, then cut the crap: name your business after yourself.

John Doe Photography.

Jane Smith Photography.

When people buy into your business as a part time photographer, they’re buying into you as an artist. They want your style, your personal attention, the art and experience you create for them.

You now have permission to get past the paralysis and go do something that will create results: make art and market yourself.

But Jaaaaames…

Okay, okay, naming your business after yourself is really easy, and truly my best advice for a new photographer, but it wouldn’t be a James Taylor post if I didn’t explore the issue in some depth.

If you’ve got a cool name that just screams “Brand!”, you’re not reading this article, so what if you have a really weird or unfortunate name?

Goodenough Photography might not send the right message. Slaughter Portraits could go the wrong way. Ball Photos? Just…ya know. There’s potential confusion.

But really, coming from a small Texas town settled by the Polish and featuring a host of middle European names (Kuykendall, pronounced keer-ken-doll, for example), I can honestly say I have never run into a business of any sort that I turned away from just because of their name.

If you look at the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) elite, the Waldens, Sarah Petty, their name is their brand – it carried them way beyond portrait photography and into the education and speaking sectors.

Nobody hires Sarah Petty because her name is Sarah Petty. They hire her because she can rock awesome photos.

If you’re struggling with naming your business, name it after yourself and get on with being a photographer.

After all, you can always change it down the road if you want.

I’ll wait for the grognards to catch their breath after that one.

When you talk about changing things – your prices or your business name, usually – all the fatalist advice of the grognards comes pouring in.

“Oh noes! If I change my name or my prices, my customers will hate me or forget who I am! Any decision I make now I have to stick with for the rest of my life!”

Shaddap. No you don’t.

Datsun seems to be doing just fine as Nissan. Many folks have never heard of Relational Software, but anyone who’s been on the Interwebs for a while will recognize Oracle. Even the biggest brands can change names, merge with other companies, or get swallowed whole and still do good business as usual.

Don’t be so self-absorbed as to think the name of your business – and its longevity – will make or break your business.

Your business name will have little long-term affect on the success of your business, and a name change down the road won’t kill it off, despite what you may hear elsewhere. If you have a good thing going, a recognized and beloved brand in your market, think long and hard before you change it – but if you really want to, never forget, you’re the boss.

My own business is a prime example. I started out as Taylor Photography and ran my company as such for seven years. As I began to branch out into other fields – publishing, freelance writing, web site design, etc. – I made the change to Outlaw as my overall brand, making my portrait business Outlaw Photography.

Bandera, Texas, where I’ve grown up, graduated, and enjoyed my careers in journalism and photography, is the self-proclaimed Cowboy Capital of The World. A great deal of the community’s identity is wrapped in cowboy hats, boots and spurs, and the Western experience.

When I launched the Outlaw brand, I didn’t lose a single customer – that’s not what they care about, no more than I cared when Billy Gene’s Restaurant changed to Brick’s River Cafe. I care about my chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. Your clients care about your photography.

So why did I make the change? Because I wanted to. It made me happy.

As I’ll always advise you, it’s your business – toss my advice out the window if your head or heart tell you to go a different direction. If you truly feel your name is not the best option for your photography business, here are some other fun ideas to play with:

Everything Else

  • Your Town: This is another no-brainer option. Just name your business after the town or county you do business in. Bandera Photography would work just fine here in Bandera. In most communities it’s kind of cliche, but it works, and it gives you both immediate name recognition and placement in the market, as well as the best keyword combo for local search engine optimization. A play off of this is your local school mascot. Bulldog Photography would do just fine here in Bandera. Bobcat Photography wouldn’t be out of place in Medina.
  • Specialty: You guys and gals know I’m all about ‘scratching the niche,’ and naming your business after your specialty will give you instant credibility with your target market. If I want a portrait of my dog, Taylor’s Puppy Portraiture will get an automatic look from me. If I want someone to photograph my daughter’s youth soccer game, Taylor Sports Photography of Bandera will probably be my first stop. Whatever it is you want to do – weddings, pet portraits, quinceaneras, senior photos – including it in your business name can give you a foothold in that market.
  • Style: If you have a unique enough business or artistic style as to be known for it, you might consider implementing it in your business name. What traits could warrant this? Maybe your black and white portraiture is to die for, so you step up and name your business Taylor Black and White Portraiture. Perhaps your work imitates the look of fashion magazines, so Taylor Fashionable Photography it is. Aric Hoek of Solaris Studios is the Master of Shadows. I’m the Outlaw Photographer.
  • Local Flavor: If your community has certain flavor or overarching theme, you can play off of it for your photography business name. Bandera is the Cowboy Capital, Fredericksburg promotes the hell out of its German heritage (every third store is named Opa’s this or Oma’s that), Austin is proud to be weird, and so on. Tap into your community’s identity and sense of self for inspiration.
  • Something Wholly Unique: Be the next Xerox, Google, or Flickr. Especially since the boom of Internet businesses, weird but unique names have exploded and become much more common than ‘name names’ like Ford or Trump. If you can come up with one that doesn’t sound like you’re choking on a chicken bone, turn it loose.

God help me, but I’ll say it: you can also go the cutesy, clever, or punny route. Just reference any small salon in America: A Cut Above… The Hairy Times… Hairbrained Barbershop… Curl Up N’ Dye… Stop’n’Chop… Hair Apparent… The Hair Port…

I’m gonna be sick.

But if that’s your thing – if that sort of shenanigans fits your personality and makes you giggle all the way to the bank, again…don’t let me stop you.

Legalities of Naming Your Photography Business

Alright, I hate to spoil the fun with caveats, but there’s some due diligence you want to undertake before falling in love with your new business name.

Easy: Plug your business name into Google. See if the name’s already in use. If so, do they own the domain for it? Do they claim a trademark on the name? If they do, you may still be able to use your preferred name if the conflicting business doesn’t sell in you area. If there’s a possibility for confusion in the exact same market, it’s probably best to go for something else.

For example, there are actually several companies named Outlaw Photography across the United States, and in fact, goes to one fellow’s site and goes to mine. Has it ever hurt either of us? Of course not – we are in completely different markets.

Easy: Whatever name you choose, you’ll need to visit your county clerk and file a Doing Business As with your new company name on it. As a part of this process, they’ll show you where to look to make sure your chosen name isn’t already taken in your county.

Less Easy: Do a trademark search on the appropriate web site. I may be daft, but I’ve had almost random results using this online trademark search engine. But it’s worth a visit.

If you really are John Smith reading this, there may be a heck of a lot of Smith Photography studios across the country. Frankly, who cares? If you capture just a fraction of the photography business in your own community, you’ll stay booked solid with as much work as you care to handle. What another John Smith named his business two states over from you is irrelevant.

Next Steps

  • Ready? Set? Go! I’ll give you three minutes to pick a name for your photography business. Like, seriously. You’ve got three minutes to get this over with. What are you waiting for? Get out a pen and paper and start writing. Be done before you read any further.
  • Now was that so hard? Okay, it can be excruciating to make that call, but congratulations on making it. You mind is now released from the torment. Take a deep breath, accept your decision, and let it be.
  • Brainstorm Session: Now give yourself permission to be completely unhindered. Write down every funny, cool, or weird name you could have named your business. You’ll find your creativity is much more active now that you’re not being serious. You never know – you might just come up with something brilliant. File this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • Jump on Google, do a trademark search, and go visit your clerk’s office to finalize your name check and file for your DBA. Congratulations! You’re official!
  • My writing at exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to Subscribe at the top-right of any page of this site.
  • How did you decide on the name for your photography business? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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