How to start a photography business – the Startup Series

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on September 1, 2010

in This is Business

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Here’s a compiled list of links to the full Part Time Photographer Startup Series:

Part 1: How to make money as a part time portrait photographer

Part 2: What you need to start a part time photography business

Part 3: The legalities of starting a part time photography business

Part 4: What does a successful part time photographer look like?

These articles get you prepared to launch your new venture as a part time professional photographer. My writing centers around portrait photography, which I feel is the easiest, least expensive, and most rewarding way to get your photography business launched. I hope this series gives you the tools you need to answer the question, “How do I start a photography business?”

No matter what your level of art or experience, of photography or business acumen, you can start making money with part time photography today. With some time and TLC, you can grow your photography business as large as you want it, earn as much as your market will provide, rise head and shoulders above the competition, differentiate as an artist and business, and enjoy the fun, financial freedom, and flexibility that professional photography provides.

The best time to start was yesterday – but the second best time is to start today.

Learn something new.

Act on it.



Next Steps

  • When in doubt, make a list! Read through the above articles and make a list of To-Do’s to get your career started as a part time professional photographer. Start at the top and work your way down, one step at a time. Take one step an hour – or day – or week, but take steps with consistency. Don’t lose your momentum. Before you know it, your business will be off the ground and bringing in paying clients.
  • Brainstorm session: Why do you want to be a part time photographer? Write down your basic reasons, then delve a bit deeper, and really explore the benefits of taking action and making this happen. File this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • 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 click the free “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this site.
  • What will be the greatest reward you’ll enjoy in your life from starting your part time photography business? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jaron September 2, 2010 at 9:18 am

Thanks for a great series! It’s been very helpful.



Outlaw Photographer James Taylor September 2, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Thank you Jaron! I appreciate your readership. I look forward to adding many new articles soon. If you have any specific problems or topics you would like to see discussed, please don’t hesitate to let me know!


Kam Jackson November 30, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Hi James!
I’m a serious amateur nature photographer. I don’t own a business or have my own website (yet). I have tons of images on my facebook page and some photos on I do sell photos to friends, family, co-workers and recently was given the chance to sell images at my first Gallery show . My photos have been on the last 3 out of 4 covers of a magazine called Kentucky Mountain Living. My question is, I live in Kentucky and have access to hundreds of beautiful horse farms and beautiful country-side. I would like to shoot some photos of a local horse business–the grounds, barns, horses etc. for them to use as postcards etc. How do I charge for something like that? do I charge a flat fee for my time and photos and turn them over so they can print what they want? or do I print the cards myself and sell them to the company? The company is The Thoroughbred Center and is owned by Keeneland Race Course. Do I need to go through the parent co.? I’m not sure where to start. Would appreciate any tips you have.
Thank you,
Kam Jackson
Richmond, Ky


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor December 3, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Hey there Kam, thank you for your comment!

I’ll be the first to admit, commercial photography like you’re talking about is outside of my specialty. Portrait photography and commercial photography, are really two distant worlds apart, from culture and skillsets to equipment and business models.

Here’s a few of my philosophies and how they might apply to your situation:

First of all, the biggest question is whether or not there’s a market for what you are offering – does anyone buy or sell postcards of these locations? Is there a big enough market for such a product that these horse farms would pay you hundreds of dollars to come out, shoot, and sell them the images or cards themselves?

If it’s an untested market (no one else is doing it, in other words), then the only way you can really find out is to either ask or do a job on spec and see how it turns out. I’d approach some of the horse farms and see A) if they have a need for what you’re looking to do, and/or B) how they could otherwise use your services.

A commercial photographer would get an idea of what the client wants, come up with some varying options for satisfying that want, then contract the shoot around the end result – usually a certain number of images to be licensed for a specific use for a specific length of time. This gets into all kinds of pricing and contract issues that go far beyond anything I have ever cared about exploring as a photographer. But it is the “right” way to do it.

I do it the wrong way.

Doing business in a small, rural Texas town, my commercial clients are almost exclusively small business owners – often they’re the owner, president, COO, deliveryman, dish washer and maid, all wrapped into one or two people. A handshake is a contract in their world – so introducing page after page of usage rights, can-do’s and can’ts, just turns them off.

My commercial clients also usually double as portraiture clients – I may shoot their brisket one day and their family the next.

So my method is to keep it simple – I just sell them digital photos on CD the same way I do my portraiture clients. Flat rate per image, includes caressing in Photoshop, no session fee, no minimum order. I charge the same rate for a hi-res file as I do an 8×10.

I don’t do day rates or half-day rates or limited licensing or anything like that. I find out what they need, I build a shoot around those needs, I deliver images they love, they only buy what they love, and if I do my job right, they buy plenty.

This works great for me, it’s dead simple for the client, and both on commercial shoots and as portraiture clients, the small business owners I work with beat my typical portraiture client average sales / profit hands down. And of course, with such a simple offer on a product that (I believe, artistically) is worth more than I ask, one-time clients more often than not become many-times clients.

I think your best bet is to come up with some great ideas for how those horse farms could use your images – postcards, web site, brochures, marketing materials, even wall hangings for their offices and facilities – put together a nice package and a short presentation, then visit with several of them to show your ideas and see what their interest is. As you do so, whether they bite or not, continue to ask them what their needs are so you can better understand what they really care about and really want to spend their money on. If a need exists, you can begin to massage your package/presentation to position yourself as the best way to meet that need.

As for pricing, estimate the total time – presenting, shooting, processing, delivering – you’ll spend on the project, and figure out what you’d like to be paid for your time. If you’re breaking into a new market, unless your art is just out of this world (and it may well be), I’d suggest starting humbly and raising your prices as you get your first few clients under your belt. With an expanded portfolio and real life experience with doing this exact work, you can command a higher price and get similar jobs more easily.

I hope this helps answer your question. Definitely check out resources via ASMP (the American Society of Media Photographers) if you want to delve neck-deep into the world of commercial photography. For myself and my photography business, however, simplicity is both enjoyable and profitable.

Thank you again for your readership!


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