The legalities of starting a part time photography business – Startup Series, Part 3

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on July 13, 2009

in This is Business

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The 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?

With the disclaimer made that I am neither a lawyer nor an accountant, let’s broach the topic of legalities you’ll need to be aware of as you kick off your part time photography business.

All of the thoughts I share here are from my experience over the past 10 years as a part time professional photographer in a small town in Texas. The language, terms, and governmental entities you have to deal with in your state or country may go by entirely different names. At the end of this article, I’ll provide some sure-fire advice as to how you can rest easy knowing you are completely covered as a working photographer. The peace of mind is worth the research.

DBA – Doing Business As

When I launched Outlaw Photography, I was required to go to my local county clerk (found conveniently at my local county courthouse) to file a DBA or Doing Business As form. This just makes a recorded connection between you as a person and your business.

You’ll spend a few minutes going through their records to ensure your business name isn’t taken (in a future article, I’ll show you how to name your business in five seconds flat), then fill out a form and pay a filing fee. Mine was $25.

To accept checks in your business name, most banks will ask you to show them your DBA, and will require you to open a separate account. My local Wells Fargo branch did not have this requirement, but the bank I now work with does. Expect to pay a monthly fee for this second account.

It’s sound business advice to always use your business checking account for business income and expenses.

Sales Tax

Next up you’ll need to go to the web site of your state’s sales tax enforcer and find their sales tax application.

For me, I went through my state comptroller’s web site and completed the free and easy application online. You’ll get your sales tax ID # slip of paper in the mail, which you’ll want to keep displayed where customers can see it. Unless you have a retail studio space or home office open to the public, just slap this in a file which you can show customers if needs be. No one has ever asked to see mine.

When it comes to collecting sales tax, the rate you collect from customers and later deliver to the state will depend on where your business is located. When I worked out of my rural home I collected 6.75-percent sales tax – now that I have a retail studio in an incorporated city, I collect 8.25-percent sales tax. Your taxing entity will provide you with the rate you should charge.

To answer the age-old question of what services or products you should collect sales tax on, I charge it on everything. The wisest advice I was given was that professional photography is considered manufacturing a product and thus you collect sales tax on parts and labor both. See my advice at the end of this article regarding the Your Mileage May Vary aspect of this point.

In Texas, you hand over the sales taxes you’ve collected on an annual basis unless you collect in excess of $xxxx amount, in which case you pay quarterly.

Income Tax

You will need to report all of your business income and business expenses come tax time. I’ve always trusted my numbers to H&R Block, of which we have a local branch with local people who take care of me any time I have a question and have given me great advice and peace of mind over the years.

If you enjoy filing your own taxes form by form, you’ll need a Schedule C. That’s honestly as far as my knowledge goes in that realm. There’s some good advice over at the Keeping Nickles blog for the do-it-yourself’ers out there.


The last legal requirement you need to worry about is the zoning of your property if you live within a city and plan to work from home. This should only ever be an issue if you have clients visit you at your home, either for shooting in your home studio or doing photo viewing and sales sessions there. If you shoot entirely on location and do viewings at Starbucks on your laptop, you should never have an issue.

If you do plan to host clients, visit with your friendly secretary at City Hall about what permits or restrictions you may face working from your home. If you live in a subdivision, visit with your Home Owner’s Association. Part time portrait photography is a very low-traffic business, so most associations will have no problem with you doing part time business from home.

Making sure your butt is covered

God bless the spirit of the bootstrapper, but even I will say that the legal issues of starting and running your part time photography business are no place to be chintzy. Talk to a local CPA (Certified Public Accountant), preferably one recommended by a fellow photographer so you know they know your business. Even the shortest consultation will help you understand your legal position and needs, specific to your business, city, and state.

Your second option is to visit with other photographers in your city or state via online forums. I’m a big fan of my state’s best photography forum, Join your state’s forum and search their archives in the Business section for startup advice. This won’t guarantee your butt’s covered, but it’s the fastest way to get a good idea of what you need and where to look for more information.

While you’re there, search for recommendations for a CPA you can trust and talk with.

If you have any lingering questions that you can’t find from searching your forum’s archives, don’t be afraid to start a thread and ask dumb questions. Down the road when you’ve made it big, you’ll be the one on the other side of the Internet helping newbies get their start.

Your third option is to visit with your local Chamber of Commerce or business association. They can give you good advice and resources to explore.

In Part 4 of our Startup Series, I’ll show you what success looks like, and we’ll answer the underlying question of, “Is this something I really want to do?”

Next Steps

(Lots of Next Steps at this juncture – don’t be intimidated; this is where you are able to guarantee yourself the peace of mind you need to run your business without stress or worry.)

  • Search Google for your state’s premier online photography forum. Join (should be free) and search their business archives for threads on startup issues and questions. Take the time to read over each one and as you go along, make notes of what you need to do or investigate further to ensure you’re legal. You should be able to answer most of the above-noted questions here. (A couple of good lists for general photography forums can be found at Doug Plummer’s blog and Amazon’s Askville.)
  • If you have a question that hasn’t been answered, or need clarification on something, PM (private message) one of the seemingly knowledgeable photographers who was providing answers in the forum. Tell them you’re an aspiring professional photographer and ask your question. Keep in mind some people are jerks and don’t let them wear you down if they aren’t encouraging. If they won’t answer your question or aren’t encouraging, PM someone else.
  • Search the forum for a recommendation for a good CPA. If you can’t find a recommendation, ask one of the knowledgeable posters in the forum. I suggest making contact with this CPA, finding out about prices, and finding out what the cost would be for an initial consultation.
  • If you can afford it, arrange for an initial consultation with your CPA of choice. This is the best money you can spend on starting your own photography business – the peace of mind of knowing you’re covered is worth far more than what you’ll pay.
  • Brainstorm session: Using what you learned in the forums and / or from your CPA, write down a list of all the things you need to do, all of the people you need to contact for more information, and make a plan for getting it all done. This is one of the hardest parts of starting your photography business, but the costs will be minimal, and there are no stupid questions. This will be the test of whether or not you have it in you to start your own business. Trust me, speaking from experience, it is way easier than you think it is. Go through the motions and within a day or two, you’ll have or have set in motion everything you need to legally start your part time photography business.
  • I write and post new articles for daily to help you become successful as a part time professional photographer. If you like what you see here, you’re welcome to click on the “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this site.
  • What legal issues have you run into while starting your part time photography business? What have you found to be unique to your city, state, or country? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Dana Jacobs November 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm

You are amazing! I stumbled upon this site last night and was up until 4:30 a.m. reading. I still haven’t gotten through everything, but I am finding your writing to be clear, informative, and perhaps most importantly, encouraging. I’m so very grateful to have found such an amazing resource. You make the dream of being a working photographer seem attainable. I do have one question, though. I’m wondering if you have info on model releases. Is there a standard model release form that can be used to allow the photographer to use the photos of the client for future ads, portfolio, etc.? Or is this even necessary? Have you covered this already, and I just haven’t found the post yet? Or can you point me to another resource on this subject? Thanks again.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor November 27, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Thank you so much for your comment and kinds words Dana! Really enjoyed looking at your site today, the mailbox project looks so cool – like a colorful reminder to smile every day when you fetch the mail.

Being a working photographer can most definitely be done. It is indeed work, which scares away a lot of would-be photogs who didn’t really have the passion or desire to be professionals – and that’s okay, it helps thin the uninspired from the market. So it is with any pursuit.

The New York Institute of Photography has a perfect, simple model release for download and use: – simply adjust wording to taste. I have every person I shoot sign a model release, because I never know when or where I’ll use their images. It’s good to both cover my butt and to help them know ahead of time their photos may be used in venues they didn’t expect. And if they have an objection, they’re the paying client, I don’t argue.

I hope this helps! Thank you again, and please do keep me posted on your adventures as a professional photographer!


Dana Jacobs November 27, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Thanks so much! You are so very kind. I’ll keep you posted!


Dana Jacobs December 6, 2011 at 2:30 am

Hey. Just wanted to update you really quickly. I recently did a photo shoot with a friend and co-worker. She is trying to get into modeling and I’m trying to get into photography, so we’ve been practicing together. I’m hoping to use the resulting photos to start building a portfolio. I posted the shots on my blog today and thought you might be interested in taking a look. I’d be incredibly grateful for any constructive criticism you may have to offer. Thanks so much!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor December 11, 2011 at 6:03 pm

What an awesome kick off for your portfolio Miss Dana! A great set of images to work from. For constructive criticism, here’s just a few thoughts:

– I would back away from anything to processing-heavy in Photoshop – the sepias, the orange glows, the heavy vignetting. Early on it’s easy to want to try to spice up photos with extra processing, but often it just comes off as trying to obscure an otherwise sub-par photo. For example, photos like 23, 53, 22, 27 – these need no obfuscation, they’re absolutely lovely. Compare to 17, 26, 60, 8.1, where an image that might otherwise have not made the cut is given a heavy dose of post-processing to try to be made stylish. Especially for what you put in your portfolio and share with potential clients, you want to only show your best – if you shoot 500, show a client 50, and put only 1-5 in your public portfolio.

– Somewhat related to the above, it looks like you tried a lot of different processing techniques on these images. Pick any two or three for a given shoot, and pick only the best photos that have a purpose for being given such processing, and get very good at processing those images those two or three ways. On almost all of my paid shoots for clients, I show 90% color images (with simple, accurate processing) and 10% black and white copies of my favorite shots.

– That said, of course when you’re doing fashiony-type work, you have latitude to play around and experiment; certainly experiment as much as you can, certainly get feedback and adjust as you see fit. But so far as what you show a client, and even more selectively, what you show in your portfolio, ensure that every image has a purpose, to both be shown in the first place and to be processed in the fashion you have.

– I would reduce the breadth of scenes in this given shoot, and spend more time working each scene for great expressions, different poses, etc. It looks like you shot at several different locations, different outfits, but I’m seeing a lot of the same posing and expressions. Your subject is lovely, I’m sure she could provide all manner of looks – smoldering, sassy, fun, funny, quirky, smirky, etc. One trick I use to loosen up my subjects, especially high school senior girls, is a series of “nine silly face shots.” I tell them the purpose is to help them relax and have fun with the shoot, and tell them I’m going to count from one to nine, taking a photo with each number – and they have to come up with nine completely different, totally off-the-wall silly faces for each one. This is the fun stuff, what gets laughed about and shared on Facebook later on, at least with the right kinds of clients. Give your subjects the motivation and inspiration they need to relax, have fun, and really show off the full spectrum of their personalities in front of the camera.

That’s all I see! Lots of great images, great ideas, and technically well-executed shots in this set, Miss Dana – you’ve got everything you need to do great in this industry. I hope I provided a few ideas to help focus your talents. If you have any questions or if there’s anything more I can do, please don’t hesitate to let me know! And please do keep me posted on your adventures!


Marcus November 12, 2017 at 9:49 pm

How important is it to buy a domain name or is it ok to use the website’s domain?

Debbie A February 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm

My husband and I are considering opening up an old time photo business in Oklahoma. Do you have any idea how much we should invest in the beginning on costumes, props, and a building?
Any advise would be appreciated.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 5, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Hey there Debbie, thank you for your comment!

Let me preface my suggestions with the fact that I am an extremely frugal bootstrapper of a businessman – I very much so lean toward starting very, very small, and earning your way to investments in better gear, props, etc.

I have no personal experience with the Old Timey photo studio business model, so I can’t give very good specifics about what you truly need to get started. What I would suggest is to look at other such businesses in your area, and figure out how you can imitate their success as inexpensively as possible. How few costumes and props can you get away with in the beginning? Can you get by in the beginning with just a few props and outfits? What if you just did 3/4 shots from the waist up, could you get by with western coats, ties and hats?

I’m tempted to actually suggest you start a basic portrait photography business up first (where the onus of wardrobe and props lies with the client), let that build some steam and get you paying clients in the door, and then use the profits from that business to launch your Old West division.

My thinking is always, “How can I start making money with this with the least investment/risk?” Nine times out of 10, creativity and flexibility are the necessary ingredients to a successful start, not an outpouring of money.

If you want to go all-Old West to start, I’d suggest starting with young kids – the sets / scenes are smaller, the wardrobe is less expensive, the props can be hand-made or purchased inexpensively at yard sales and antique stores.

The most successful Old West portrait studio I’ve come across locally is Tootins McGrootins Antique Portrait Studio: So far as I’ve seen, they actually just have a small trailer full of props and wardrobe that they haul to rodeos and other events, then set up on-site and do Old West portraits. She seems to do very well in her business – she may even be a good person to visit with and try to glean some tips from.

It’s obviously a successful business model, but to jump right in might be pretty expensive – again, I would start with a small location portrait business for a few months and then use the profits from that very inexpensive business model to fund the investments you’ll need to get your Old West photo business up and running.

Thank you for your comment and your readership! Please keep me posted on what path you guys decide on, I’d love to hear of your successes and adventures!


Stephanie May 7, 2012 at 2:45 am

Oh my Gosh I am SO glad I came across this website!! You are amazing Mr. James Taylor, and so much help!! I’m reading crossed eyed as its 3:43 am here.. but I can’t stop reading all your helpful posts! I am just starting in the photography business, I’ve taken a DSLR and Photoshop Workshop.. and I am currently in a Business Workshop with Rachel Brenke to get my business up and running legit, and legally! But, I am always searching for more resources, inspiration and helpful posts- again, SO glad I found this!! God Bless You, and Thank You!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 14, 2012 at 12:57 am

Thank you so much for your kind words Stephanie! It sounds like you’re building a great foundation for your business – please do keep in touch and let me know of your successes and adventures this year! If you let yourself, I promise you will enjoy the journey as you take on the role, responsibility, and rewards of being a professional photographer. It’s more fun than we should probably let on!


Lindsay June 19, 2012 at 9:11 am

I love your site and all the advice! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m not looking to start a business just yet, but was wondering if you might be able to answer my question – I do portraits for family and friends as a hobby. They may or may not tip me for my work. I do put them online to share, with a simple logo that says Photography by Lindsay. Should I should be worried about getting in another photographer’s way if they’re doing business as “Photography by Lindsay”….(even though I don’t have a business)? I don’t really want to go through all the trouble of registering a name and getting a tax ID if my work hardly makes part time. (Are there any annual fees or taxes if you don’t have any income?)
I notice a lot of photography hobbyists don’t worry about checking the availability of the name, but I just want to keep away from any court cases.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 12, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Lindsay, thank you for your kind words and your readership!

As with any kind of advice like this, I Am Not a Lawyer, and your best course of action is to consult a professional.

That said:

– If you accept payment for your work, even tips, you have to get your tax ID And remit sales taxes to the state (which may be different in your state). Even if you only book $1 a year in sales, the state wants their 8 cents (again, varies by area).

– I would suggesting doing business as your full name + Photography, such as Jane Doe Photography, or Doe Photography. You can do this forever, or just until you pick a different name and get a DBA (Doing Business As). When I set up my business, I was able to either avoid a DBA by doing business as my own name, or I could get a DBA and use a different name (which I did, as Outlaw Photography). So long as there is no other photographer that actively serves your market under the same name, you shouldn’t have any problems.

– There should be no fees or taxes if you don’t have any income.

– I would suggest just doing work for free, politely refusing tips until you’re ready to deal with the (minor) hassle of collecting and remitting sales taxes and counting the income on your tax return. If the money’s insignificant, you won’t miss it; if it’s substantial enough to miss, it’s worth filing the appropriate paperwork and staying legal.

I hope this helps! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures, and if there’s anything more I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Janice July 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm

hi James!

I haven’t had the chance to comb through your website but i just wanted to say hello and let you know that from what i’ve read, you are amazing! Thank you for all of this helpful information..I look forward to talking with you soon!

PS- a friend & I are looking to start a photobooth business. More like a Theater Booth set up. This is how I found you, via google. πŸ™‚


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 12, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Thank you so much for your kind words Janice, I’m so glad you and your friend are enjoying the site!

I’ve seen some really cool work done with high-end photo booths at weddings and birthday parties. I have to admit, at a recent 13-year-old’s birthday party that I was hired to photograph, the photo booth service was by far more exciting to the attendees than my coverage! But my role was more as a documentary / event photographer.

The booth at this party had an attendee who made sure everything worked as it should, and collected and handed out the prints produced by the booth. The kicker though was that the booth had a live-feed TV on the outside, so other party attendees could watch the people inside the booth as they made funny faces and poses, creating a much more interactive and social feel. Combining something like this with live-posting shots to the Facebook event page would be a super cool way to integrate social media into the offering.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Elliott October 16, 2012 at 12:10 am

Hi!! Thank you so much for all your help on this site. Every article here is amazing. Well i get right to my questions.

1. Can I set up social media and start promoting myself without going through the legal stuff just yet? I haven’t got paid yet, I just want to start building my image and get myself known.
2. I have taken my initials (EP) and put photography New York next to it. There are plenty of EP Photography around the world and US but I believe there is none in NY; would you assume that I won’t have a problem with this?

Thank you!!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor October 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Thank you for your comment Elliott!

To answer your questions (with the usual caveat that I Am Not a Lawyer):

1. Yes, you can get set up on social media, as a business, with your marketing, etc. At least in Texas in my experience, the state doesn’t care what you do, so long as you aren’t receiving payment or compensation for your work – at which point, you’re a business, and they want their cut via sales taxes. Until you’re paid, it’s just a hobby, even if you present yourself as a professional.

2. Unless EP Photography is trademarked, and assuming there are no other EP Photography folks in New York, you should be safe. For myself, I’m Outlaw Photography in Bandera. There’s another Outlaw Photography in Wisconsin (and several more have popped up around the world since I started). But it’s never been an issue – we’re all just local businesses, serving local clientele, so there’s no overlap in our markets – and that’s the real question, if your business name could cause confusion with a similar business in the same market.

I hope this helps! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Kellie October 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I’ve been pouring over this blog for a few days now, and I am so very thankful for you! Your candid voice and straight-forward advice is so refreshing after trying to sift through this sort of information on different photography/business forums. I’m sure I’ll have more questions as I continue to read, but I’d like to ask one now. I am just starting to schedule some paid shoots after about a year of doing photos for friends/family for free or bartered services. I plan to charge a flat rate for now, which would include the photo session, post-processing time, and download of high-res files. I’m making it very clear that after some time (probably 4-6 months or so?), I will be raising prices and possibly restructuring my pricing system (maybe selling prints, or selling individual high-res files). Another very popular family photographer in the area (who recently moved) used to do only flat-rate with a disc of images, so I’m basing this idea off of her. I think my style will be a lot different than hers, though (she was very basic, even a little gimmicky, using the same handful of locations & poses every single time…but that’s what made her so affordable!), so I think I’ll have to change it up later once I get people familiar with my style!
ANYHOW, my question: If I’m just starting out and only charging for my services (essentially “giving” the images away, although I’m saying it’s included in the service fee), do I need to collect sales tax? Do some photographers simply include the sales tax when they set a flat-rate fee, and then pay it later when it comes time to pay the IRS? It seems to me that would be okay, but in that case, I’m still not sure about the whole tax ID number thing, etc. The website for my state is very confusing, so I guess I’ll have to call someone for that! I’m really just wondering if it’s okay/common to just include sales tax so that your price is straight forward (and you don’t have to add “plus tax” to everything when you quote a price). Thanks so much for any insight! I’d love for you to check out my meager portfolio, too, if you have time (hah!). So grateful for your experience and wisdom!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor October 18, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Thank you so much for your comment and kind words, Kellie!

With the caveat that I Am Not a Lawyer:

If you’re receiving any compensation for your photography at all, for labor or files or prints or anything, you have to collect sales taxes.

It was explained to me that photography is considered manufacturing, so the labor is taxable, as well as any products purchased.

My best advice is to do free ‘portfolio builder’ shoots until you’re set up with your sales tax ID. There’s no reason in the interim you can’t be building your portfolio, practicing your art, and building an appreciative client base.

As far as price + tax or tax included in price, you can do it either way – whatever seems to go over best in your market. If you include the sales tax in your price, you do need to mention that when quoting any prices. My prices are very reasonable to start with, so I do not include sales tax in my product pricing.

Sales taxes are also supposed to be kept in a separate account from your business and personal funds, as well. It’s a small additional fee for the monthly charge on the account, but it’s a cost of doing business.

You can call your state comptroller’s office to ask anything you need to know about sales taxes – they have plenty of employees whose sole job is to help make sure you’re collecting properly – it’s in their best interest, and yours. Don’t be afraid to draw upon their expertise.

I hope this answers your question! Please don’t hesitate to write if there’s anything more I can do.

I also enjoyed looking at your portfolio! Your art is just lovely, you really have obvious talent and experience. I love evocative images, portraits that make me feel something upon viewing them, and you have that artistic skill in spades. You definitely have salable art, now you just need to jump those few hurdles between you and turning an honest profit from your talents. Go for it! Your clients will be blessed by your art.

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Kellie October 18, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Thanks so much for the awesome compliments! πŸ™‚ I really appreciate you taking the time to view my work as well as answer my question. Thanks so much!
I didn’t realize the bit about the separate banking account, but I’m sure I can set that up fairly easily when I set up a separate account for business purposes anyhow. I will definitely give my state tax people a call and make sure all my ducks are in a row! I have a few weeks before my first paid shoot, so I’m hopeful I can have it all set up by then. Regardless, I’ll be keeping good records to cover my butt! πŸ˜‰
Thanks again for this wealth of information on your blog! I’m so glad I found it!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor December 30, 2012 at 11:17 pm

You are most welcome Kellie, thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your first paid shoots! I’m sure you’ll have great stories to tell.


Eric Nicholson December 18, 2012 at 10:45 am

Great website! Lools like I’ve got a lot of reading to do. I’m on the verge of starting a part time photo business. To start with, I’ll be shooting business interiors and exteriors. What I find interesting here is that there is no mention on your website regarding insurance (theft, damage, liability, whatever-else-a-money-grubbing-insurance-company-can-come-up-with). Any comments?

— Eric


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor December 31, 2012 at 12:15 am

Thank you for your comment and kind words Eric!

Insurance is never a bad idea to have, but it’s also wholly optional. I’ve never carried insurance in 13 years of shooting, except for the PPA indemnification trust coverage for my wedding work, when I was a member.

For folks who shoot more often or have more invested in gear, insurance may be a greater concern. But I can’t give good advice about something I’ve not had a need for after so many years of shooting.

I will be doing interviews for PTP this year talking to professionals related to the photography business, including insurance agents – I’ll have much better information to share then!

Thank you for the suggestion, and for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures in 2013!


Jake January 29, 2013 at 10:17 am

Thanks for such helpful articles! What do you do in terms of insurance for the business? Where do you start?


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 21, 2013 at 2:23 am

Thank you for your comment and readership Jake! I have never taken insurance for my business. My gear is humble and my shoots are on location. A wiser man would at least invest in business liability insurance, should the worst befall him. I’d start with your insurance agent. I’ve sold advertising to many insurance agents in my years as a newspaper man, and almost every one of them sells every insurance imaginable. Don’t be afraid to shop around. Ask other professional photographers in your area, particularly ones who do what you want to be doing (location versus studio, retail studio versus home studio, family photographer versus pet photographer, etc.).

Back when I took wedding clients, I was a PPA member and had their indemnification trust to draw on should bad things happen, but I never had to. I don’t have a lot of love for the PPA, but I do respect and see the value in their indemnification trust.

The insurance question is a popular one on forums, a couple of Google searches may give you the right questions to ask your insurance agent.

Thank you again Jake! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Eric January 29, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Assuming you have car and/or homeowners insurance, start with your agent. My insurance agent (car and house) suggested theft and $1 million liability, to the tune of ~$350/year. A trusted colleague and mentor suggested theft and $2 million liability.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 21, 2013 at 2:25 am

Great advice Eric, thank you for your comment and readership! $350/year is a small price to pay for peace of mind and a big safety net.


Hope February 21, 2013 at 12:58 am

I prefer not to file a DBA form. If you just use your name with photography do you have to include your last name? As in first name last name photography or can it be first name middle name photography?
I love your site by the way, very informative!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 21, 2013 at 3:21 am

Thank you for your comment and readership Hope!

I Am Not A Lawyer, but yes, what you’re saying is what was explained to me about doing business here in Texas. I do not have to file a DBA if I do work as Taylor Photography, or James Taylor Photography, or James Taylor, Photographer. But as Outlaw Photography, I do have to have a DBA, both for sales tax purposes, and for opening a business checking account under that name (so I can accept checks written out to Outlaw Photography).

As always with specific legal / accounting questions, ask a lawyer or CPA. Nobody believes me, but they really are worth the cost of that consultation!

Thank you for your kind words! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Lisa February 24, 2013 at 12:58 pm

How come you don’t have insurance for your portrait work? A lot less things can go wrong than in wedding photography, but can’t things still go wrong? Do you not worry about it?


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 11, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Thank you for your comment and readership Lisa!

There is no good reason not to insure yourself for liability, and even for theft and other business-related claims. It’s truly a personal decision – some folks want the safety net enough to pay for it, others like myself don’t. I don’t think it’s good advice to say you don’t need insurance – there’s risk in any business – but I don’t think it’s good advice either to make a blanket statement like “You’re not a real photographer if you don’t have insurance.”

You can go either way – follow your heart. Visit with your insurance agent to ask their advice – I’ve found most agents are very honest about what you really need or don’t, and especially if your agent is familiar with service business insurance, they may be able to provide real-world examples they’ve seen of the usefulness – or not – of different coverage.

Thank you again for your comment and readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Kim January 2, 2014 at 5:25 am

Hello. First, let me say thank you for all this information. It is very helpful and I am glad I found it. I was wondering what the difference is between being a photographer as a sole proprietorship (schedule C) and filing as a business and going through all the processes you have been discussing on this forum? I am at the point where I’m considering registering as a business since my husband and I just relocated to another state and my goal is to make photography my main source of income. I don’t have any clients here yet, so not sure if it’s worth it to file as a business yet or continue to file as a Schedule C until I can get situated. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor January 2, 2014 at 10:30 am

Hey there Kim, thank you for your kind words and comment! Your best bet is to visit with a lawyer or CPA, who can give you expert advice – I have only ever filed as a sole proprietor, so I have no experience otherwise. Dan Heller has written extensively on the topic at, and that may be just the resource you’re looking for.

Congratulations on the big steps you’re taking in launching your business! You’re going to look back at the end of 2014 and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Kim January 2, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Thank you so much James! I’m in the process of finding a CPA who knows the business here so I will definitely continue on that path before I do anything else. Also thank you for the link. I will check that out as well. Happy New Year!


Jessica Crist June 5, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Wow this is very informational! However, I am still getting confused and I want to make sure that I am not doing anything illegal. Do I need to apply for a vendor’s license to do a small photography business from my home?


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor June 6, 2014 at 7:13 am

Jessica, thank you so much for your kind words and readership!

I greatly enjoyed visiting your portfolio tonight! You have some awesome children’s portraiture on your page, keep the ball rolling!

I Am Not a Lawyer, but whether you need a license or permit for working from your home is more up to your local ordinances than anything. Start with your free resources: city hall, your local chamber of commerce or business association, other small business owners, and ask about what they needed to do when setting up their businesses.

Truly, as I implore across PTP, you’ll find no better investment early on than a visit with a CPA and with a lawyer. We artists will drop hundreds and thousands of dollars on gear, but are hugely resistant to investing in a rock-solid legal foundation for our business.

I can tell you that here in Bandera, Texas, my only requirement was a Sales Tax Permit from the state. I mostly shoot in the city park when I shoot within the city limits, but neither I nor any other local photographer has needed a permit to do so. This is a small, rural town though, so your mileage may vary elsewhere.

I do hope this helps! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Jessica Crist June 6, 2014 at 8:45 am

Thank you for your quick reply! Also, thanks for looking/liking my Facebook page! I really appreciate that! I am going to check into those things. It sounds more simple than others are making it. Thanks again!


OHSAS 18001 January 17, 2016 at 1:22 pm

I appreciate, lead to I found just what I was having
a look for. You’ve ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day.



Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor February 4, 2016 at 8:38 pm

My pleasure to help! Keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Amanda April 24, 2016 at 6:42 pm

I’m wanting to do photography as a part time work like a side thing , I live in tx do I need a business license along with getting a tax I’d number


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor April 24, 2016 at 6:47 pm

Hey Amanda, thanks for your comment. Great question!

I Am Not a Lawyer, but you’ll have to check with your local government re: a business license.

When I opened my photography business in rural Tarpley (unincorporated, so no city government), I just needed a sales tax permit from the state comptroller.

To take checks under “Outlaw Photography,” I had to get a DBA (Doing Business As) with the county clerk and submit that to the bank to open a business checking account under that name.

When I opened my temporary retail studio in Bandera (an incorporated city with city government), I had to get all kinds of permits and have inspections done, etc. That can all vary by municipality.

If you’re outside an incorporated city, you probably just need the sales tax permit. If you’re inside the city limits, call or go by your city hall and ask – they’ll tell you everything you may need and the associated costs.

Let me know what you discover, and keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Amanda April 24, 2016 at 7:12 pm

πŸ‘ thanks


K.P. McDermott-Hotte November 2, 2016 at 10:39 am


We relocated to the sleepy/small/Canadian capital of Ottawa (suburb, actually), from the busy/hectic/cosmopolitan Greater Toronto Area 15-months ago. We did so to exit the corporate rat race after 25-years and to enjoy a less-hectic pace, with more of work-life balance.

For 3-years, while our Daughter was in Grades 1-4, I worked P/T, in before and after-school daycare, even though I’m equipped with an MBA. I just left that job on October 31st and hope to start-up a P/T Photography Business, over the next 6-months. I have read lots of articles/publications and want to ensure that all my ducks are in a row, before opening-up the floodgates.

Question: To ensure that I do, indeed, remain a Part-Time photographer, do I really need a website? Or, can I stay local and rely on my “best work” great “no session fees & buy what you like” and “referrals”—to ensure that I’m not fielding calls/emails/contact requests from all over Eastern Ontario and Southern Quebec?

I have been taking photos since the age of 10, watching intently while being “subject matter” for my Dad and his beloved Voightlander rangefinder camera. I started out with a KodaK Instamatic Camera and then moved my way up to a Minolta SLR and then a Nikon SLR (both were film cameras). At that point, when I wanted to upgrade my camera and skills, I was presented with a Leica M3 (from my Great Uncle). When I needed reading glasses to wear with my contact lenses, I knew that I could not longer effectively focus rangefinder cameras. So, I took a break from photography (portrait) for 2 years.

Since early 2013, I have had a Nikon 5300 for several years and will upgrade to either a Nikon D7500 or its Canon equivalent, sometime within the next 2-3 weeks.

Do I really require a website…or can I set up a business Facebook or Instagram Account, coupled with Business Cards, which are large enough to have 2-3 photos on the back?

I want to remain local, as in 2 western suburbs of Ottawa (Kanata and Stittsville). As well, I want to market my talents to the parents of Catholic School children, of which our Daughter is one. There are 10-Catholic Elementary Schools in these 2 suburbs and 3 Catholic High Schools. Stittsville is predominantly Catholic and does not have a Public HS, to boot. Each HS class size is roughly 300 students, by the way, for a population of 1000 children per grade. 3 Catholic Church Parishs serve these areas.

I am on the School Board (PTA) at our Daughter’s School and am an active member of our Church Parish, as well.

Our Daughter’s School Photo “Proofs” came home yesterday and they were atrocious! Fly-away hair and shadows galore and hands not folded properly and ugly backdrops/backgrounds, complete with the Canadian Flag in toe! I know that I can be a better alternative, here…..

I would welcome and appreciate your comments—as I want to ensure that, within 2-3 months, I’m not fielding inquiries which would require me to be more than a P/T LOCAL Child / Family Portrait Photographer (No maternity sessions, no infant sessions and no weddings, which take more time, dedication, traveling and liability insurance than I am able to think about…now and in the future). I want to have fun and ensure that local families have more professional looking nice photos of their children, during their formative years). For the past 5-years, I have taken thousands of fabulous photos of our Daughter (adopted from Russia, just past her 5th Birthday), and I feel that I can take photos of other children, now, and be paid for my love of the art!

Thanks much,
K.P. Lee McDermott-Hotte


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor March 2, 2017 at 12:42 pm

Great questions K.P.!

You can absolutely run your business without a web site, social media, or any kind of online presence. In fact, too many photographers starting out spend more time worrying about their online profiles than they do meeting and getting to know people in person with whom they would like to work. A great web site is no good if you don’t know how to get local folks to go look at it!

And if you do add a web site or social media profile to your marketing mix, you can either be very clear that you only serve clients within a certain geographic region, or you can make it worth your while by adding a large travel fee for out-of-area shoots. When I stopped enjoying weddings, I didn’t turn down the work, I just raised my prices so high that if a bride said yes, the income alone would serve as all the motivation I needed to put my best effort and attitude toward the work.

What an awesome background story on how you got started! Your work is a blessing to your clients and community – keep it up!


Olen Tauscher March 2, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Oh my goodness! a tremendous article dude. Thank you Nonetheless I’m experiencing situation with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting equivalent rss downside? Anybody who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor March 2, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Thanks so much Olen! Try this for the RSS feed:


Paul May 4, 2017 at 4:16 pm

So just about how much money is needed to get the tax permit & business/name registration in TX? & is it better to do business as a solepropiertorship or LLC & what’s the average pricing on that?


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor June 19, 2017 at 9:34 am

Hey Paul! Back when I set it up, I believe it was around $25 for the sales tax permit and the same to set up a DBA at the county so I could take checks in my business name. I’ve always been a sole proprietor, but LLC is a good way to go too – but I think that’s a better fit when you’re making money with your work so the tax prep fees don’t eat your profits. Ring any CPA in your area and they should be able to do a free consult and give you specific numbers.


Paul June 19, 2017 at 10:25 pm

Thank you so much for your response!


America Naito June 19, 2017 at 9:01 am

Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as nicely


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor June 19, 2017 at 9:31 am

Thank you so much America!


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor November 13, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Great question! I’d submit that if you’re far enough along in your business to need and make use of a web site, you should be able to afford the ~$20 a year for a domain name. If not, focus on doing enough paid work, even at $1 a photo, to earn the $20 – instilling that hustle will pay off even better than the domain name. πŸ™‚


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