What you need to start a part time photography business – Startup Series, Part 2

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on July 11, 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?

There are four things you’re going to need to start making money through part time photography:


Here’s where the equipment snobs will try to work you over with a sack of credit cards. Or they’ll at least try to get you to max yours out.

What you have is what we’re going to start out with. Whether that’s a little point and shoot or a dSLR, it makes no matter. We’re not going to start out aiming at the framed 20×30 crowd. We’re looking squarely at the 8×10 and under client set, and anything over 1.3 megapixels should work just fine.

If you’re trying to judge the value of your camera, nowadays, odds are if it’s made by one of the name-brand manufacturers (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Kodak, Pentax, etc.) it’s probably worth what you paid for it. A $50 camera will give you $50 photos and options for taking pics, a $200 camera will give you $200 photos and options. I would hope you’re at least starting with something other than your camera phone, but whatever the case, we’ll make it work.

The more expensive your camera gear, the greater control you will have in taking photos – playing with depth-of-field to blur a background, manually adjusting the shutter and aperture for tricky lighting, better low-light performance for shooting indoors or at night, etc.

But even a basic point and shoot can make photos good enough for our startup purposes. Again, the business model we’ll work with makes every shoot a no-risk, buy what you love situation for you and your clients. The more good photos you make, artistically and technically, the more money you will make, but even with the most rudimentary equipment and skills, you can start making money today.

(Such as: any Canon PowerShot or Nikon Coolpix – dSLR beats point and shoots, more expensive P&S beats cheap, but nearly anything sold today can make a decent 8×10)


You will need a computer with which you can download pics from your camera, do some post-processing on them (brighten, add contrast, crop, blemish removal), show to clients during their sales session, and to post photos on your blog.

What you have is what you’ll use. So long as you have a computer capable of at least running any of the free image editing packages out there (GIMP, Picasa), you have everything you need.

The faster and more modern your computer, the more efficient your workflow will be during post-processing. Faster = less time, less frustration.

A laptop is better than a desktop computer for our part time photography purposes. This will allow you the freedom to process photos anywhere, to do viewings in clients’ homes or at Starbucks, and basically take your mobile office anywhere you want.

I love to set up at the local diner, eat pecan pie, and process photos. I often get comments about my photos while I’m working and get to hand out some business cards.

(Such as: whatever laptop is on sale at Newegg – get more for your money by opting for a heavier beast with a medium to large screen)


Software will be the first thing you’ll spend your hard-earned part time photography money on. But, as always, you’ll start with what you have – or at least with freeware off the net.

The top two free image editing packages are GIMP and Picasa. GIMP is powerful but has a dry interface, and Picasa is very newbie-friendly but not as powerful. Try them both and see which you jive with. I’ll write my reviews and tutorials for how to use each for our purposes in the near future.

Other than the image editing software itself, you’ll need a good system for organizing photo shoots in folders, backing up those folders, presenting photos to clients during your sales session, and posting photos and information to your blog. I’ll cover all these subjects in future posts.


The great majority of the marketing we’ll do is going to take advantage of free services on the Internet – Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Blogger, Craigslist, Flickr, etc. Most of your on-your-own educational opportunities outside of PartTimePhoto.com will also be through online tutorials, courses, webinars, blogs, and photography forums. We’ll also use online labs for making prints.

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve got this base covered. You can take advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots and libraries if you don’t have access to the net at home, but hopefully if you have a computer, you have at least dial-up net access, which is all you need.

As with your computer, faster internet = less time, less frustration. A slow computer, slow camera, or slow internet access won’t kill your money making opportunities with part time photography.

(Such as: AT&T or any local providers – ask friends or neighbors for recommendations; broadband beats dial-up, but costs 2x-3x as much)

The lesson here is that you can start getting paid today as a part time professional photographer with the tools you already own or have free access to. This is Dave Ramsey-style business financing: bootstrap it, start with what you have, invest what you can as you earn it.

If you are missing any vital piece of this equipment puzzle, watch for my upcoming buying guide which will give solid recommendations across the board for any budget – including $0.

In Part 3 of our Startup Series, I’ll make sure you have your legal bases covered for accepting money in exchange for your services.

Next Steps

  • Brainstorm session: Write down a list of the equipment you have right now to start your part time photography business. Are you missing any of the above-mentioned necessities? Write down who you can beg, borrow, or steal from to fill in the gaps until you earn enough to buy what you need. File in your Brainstorms folder.
  • Read PartTimePhoto.com every day to make sure you don’t find yourself lacking at your next photo shoot. You’re invited to click the “Subscribe” link at the top of any page on this web site.
  • With the equipment you own now, could you start your own part time photography business? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather April 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I know this was written quite a while back, but I have just found it and I think it’s so well written and helpful. I have had my first DSLR for about 3 months now, and had my first ‘paid’ shoot for a friend last week. Trying to figure out how much legality is actually neccessary for me this early on. I love the Dave Ramsey comments πŸ˜‰ We took FPU through our church in August 09 and proudly say that we are debt free, except for our moderate mortgage and one small car payment! I stay home with our two small boys, so hoping that my DSLR can add blessings to our family! Thanks again for these articles!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Thank you so much Heather, I appreciate your readership! And congratulations on battling down debt! This life is so much more enjoyable and stress-free when you don’t have debt riding your back.

Professional portraiture can be a great blessing, both to the photographer and his or her clients – congratulations on taking the step to becoming a paid photographer! As you ramp up your work, you’ll only see exponential gains in your confidence and talents as a photographer and businesswoman. The social side is fun, the artistic expression is a necessary release, and the financial bump doesn’t hurt at all.

Please do keep me posted on your adventures and successes this year!


Heather April 29, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Will do! Thanks so much for the encouragement. I am having a blast learning and it doesn’t feel like work, so I suppose I’m at least heading in the right direction! πŸ˜‰


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Surely! I enjoyed visiting your Facebook page tonight! Your art is lovely, and your photos of those little redheaded girls is just precious. You do wonderful work. πŸ™‚


Heather April 29, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Very cool! Thank you Sir! Those red headed twins were so much fun. I graduated high school with their mother, and they were my first official clients πŸ™‚ I am experimenting with a couple of different editing programs. But we’re getting there.


larissa salton July 25, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Dear outlaw
Wow cant thank you enough for your inspiring thoughts
And no how. I live in Australia and came across your wesite
On the hunt to start my own photography buissniss
And hear you are the no bullshit approch I love it. You talk like your in
The same room as me. Looking forward to reciving/reading your help.
Cheers Larissa


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 12, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Thank you so much for your readership and kind words Larissa! I’m so glad you’ve benefited from the site! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures there in Australia! I’d love to hear how the remainder of the year treats you in your business and art!


Kristen Williams August 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Hey Outlaw!
I can’t thank you enough for all of your invaluable information!! I only just recently found your site and have been spending hours on it since! I used to be really good at photography when it was film…In the last two years I took the leap to digital photography. I now shoot with a Nikon 5100. It’s more than enough for me! I also recently bought lightroom 4 and photoshop elements. I loved your reference to Dave Ramsey! I did his FPU and now my only debt is my mortgage! I appreciate that I can use what I’ve got and what I’ve got is paid for!
I’m in the process of adopting a 5 year old girl from India. Teaching is my daytime gig, but I would really, really love to be able to transition to photography and be able to spend as much time with my soon to be daughter! I did a photography fundraiser last fall for my adoption and I charged people $125 for the time and the disc. I used piknic to edit but they are no longer- I think they are picmonkey now. Anyway, I got a good base of clientele to start with and I LOVE your idea about no session fee, no minimum order, buy what you love. I agree with you that customer service goes way farther than product. Plus, since I’m trying to master the Manual mode, that takes the pressure off! I just did a photo shoot of 3 year old twins- it was a ton of fun but I was exhausted afterwards! I laughed when I read your post about being in shape because I felt it after that shoot!
My page on facebook is Rambling Rose Photography. My two boxers are my headline photos πŸ™‚
Well, I just wanted to thank you profusely for all of your advice and wisdom! This chica is learning so much from you! The website I gave is my adoption website, but there are some of my photos on there. I am in the process of getting my website up and running. Your website is now part of my morning coffee time πŸ™‚
Β‘Muchisimas gracias!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor October 8, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Thank you for your comment and kind words Kristen! I appreciate your readership.

Congratulations on staying lean in your business! When your focus isn’t shackled by worries of debt and getting the bills paid “or else,” you can concentrate on growing your talents and business to their full potential.

Oh man, 3-year-old twins! That will drain you quickly, but what good fun it can be – and what cute photos, no doubt! If you can wrangle children or animals for good photos, girl – I assure you – you have everything it takes to be a dang good professional photographer.

I enjoyed visiting your blog tonight! You have a great well of talent to draw from, and obvious great passions in life! You have beautiful dogs, and with calm waters and fair winds, it sounds like a beautiful daughter from India soon!

I am honored to be a part of your morning coffee time – thank you again for your kind words! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures, in both photography and in your adoption efforts! I look forward to hearing your stories!


Natalie Smith September 4, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Hey Outlaw!

I just recently happened upon your blog via Pinterest, and I’m completely obsessed! As a soon-to-be “professional” photographer, there is one thing that I was hoping to find in a blog post, that I havent yet seen mention of: where to have my professional photos printed? I love your guidelines as far as pricing, no session fee, no minimum purchase, but Im completely clueless as to what the wholesale cost of good prints are. Any recomendations?


Stephanie November 5, 2012 at 8:48 am

I just stumbled upon here. I have had a passion for photography for a long time now and my dream is to make a living at what I do. I have always thought that I had to wait until I had “everything” I needed to get started. So thank you and Dave Ramsey for reminding me that I don’t. I can start right here right now.

What I do have.
DSLR Olympus E6 (kit lenses)
Adobe Creative Suite 5
Photoshop Elements
some filters, reflectors and release cable, light meter, natural light and the outdoor “studio”, free of course πŸ™‚
So now what?


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor December 30, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Thank you for your comment and readership Stephanie!

You have more than everything you need to start doing professional portraiture work. Camera body, lens, a battery, a memory card, and you’re truly set. Everything else can be had with time, but sounds like you’re already set up with some great kit.

Now what? Take photos! Then sell them! Study and practice your art and marketing skills daily (or as often as you can), and take small steps daily (kaizen) to create progress, momentum, and success in your business.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures in 2013!


Jessica January 9, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I’m so glad I found your site! I feel like you’re giving me that extra push I needed to dive into part-time photography! I just have one issue… In 4 months I’m picking up my whole life and moving to a different state. So my problem is do I start now or wait until I’m in a more permanent location? I’ve tossed around the idea of fine tuning my skills and learning as much as I can in these next 4 months and just getting everything ready for when I do move? Do you have any suggestions? What are some of the best educational resources out there?

You’ve made me realize that I do indeed have the right tools to get started. My equipment includes: Canon T3, 4 lenses, shutter release, external flash, various filters, laptop, external hard drive, Adobe Lightroom 4, Adobe Photoshop CS6, and of course an Internet connection.

Thanks again for posting all of this wonderful information! Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated πŸ™‚

Thank you,


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 17, 2013 at 1:17 am

Thank you for your readership and kind words Jessica!

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

In four months time, if you work on improving your art and business one step at a time, day by day, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come by the time you move.

You’ll lose your client base when you move, but not the portfolio you’ve built in that time, nor the experience you’ve gained, nor the money you’ve made, nor the testimonials you’ve earned and collected. Getting a kick-start now before your move will only put you that far ahead when you make your move.

I would suggest setting up a temporary business name and web portfolio for your interim work, though – that way when you are in your new home, you can start up your “official” photography business under its proper name and location. If you started Fuzzy Bunnies Photography now, then moved, there could be some confusion on Google’s part as to where your business is located and you may experience a long lag in getting that fixed.

As far as educational resources, the best for your art is any combination of learning and practice. You can buy photography books, magazines, read blogs and tutorials – then go out with a friend, family member, or even client, and practice what you’re learning. Don’t get stuck in the trap where you spend all your time reading, and no time practicing – 80-20 rule, 80% practice for 20% study. You can also seek out a professional photographer to mentor you (the grognards will snub you, but keep searching until you find a good photographer willing to truly be helpful). The same goes for Photoshop and post-processing work. Study, practice, ask for help.

For business, I love small business authors like John Jantsch and Michael Port, and inspirational authors like Steven Pressfield, Guy Kawasaki, and Seth Godin. Tilt your reading heavily toward marketing, and again – put into practice what you read. If you don’t have a business background, almost nothing makes sense the first time you read through. Read it anyway. Practice what you learn. Read another book, and practice. Read another, and practice. Eventually things start to make sense, and you can move from blind faith to purposeful marketing.

Your equipment list is robust! All of your gear is years newer and leagues better than what I use every day. Put those tools to work!

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


Photo Expression by yeni January 31, 2013 at 11:49 am

Hi, Thanks for all the information. It has answered many questions.
Can you tell me where would I print the photos? The places I have found cost more money than what you recommend charging.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 21, 2013 at 2:27 am

Thank you for your comment and readership Yeni! I greatly enjoyed viewing your portfolio tonight – you do beautiful work with light painting! I’d love to see your portraiture work incorporating light painting. It takes a special kind of patience and imagination!

I use Miller’s Imaging for printing. Their consumer division is Mpix.com if you want to try them out. Any of the big labs should do great work for you for a reasonable price.


Syrian April 18, 2016 at 9:11 am


Great Articles. I am starting a new part-time online photography business and I am encountering a lot of snags. I am trying to find out if I need a business permit but when I called my local county Dept of Consumer Affairs the person didn’t know and said that I should contact a CPA. Any information that you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Many Thanks.


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor April 24, 2016 at 6:55 pm

Thanks so much Syrian, great question!

A few paths to your answer:

– Ask another local photographer, someone you have a relationship with and won’t see you as competition. May as well skip the line and find out from someone who knows!

– Contact your local municipality, city hall, county clerk, chamber of commerce, business association, economic development corporation. There’s some group local to you or nearby that exists specifically to help new businesses get off the ground, and they should be able to help.

– CPAs often give free first consultations; give one a call and find out! Take advantage of that free advice – they know it’ll come around when you become a client in the coming couple of years.

– Here in Texas, I opened my business in a rural, unincorporated community, so I only needed a sales tax permit from the state comptroller. To open a business checking account under my business name, I had to file a DBA (Doing Business As) with the county clerk. To open my retail studio in the City of Bandera, I had to pay for all kinds of permits, fees, and inspections. So what you need to ‘get legal’ depends heavily on your local government.

Get on the phone and keep calling folks until you get the leads and information you need. Be tenacious. The art and business you have to bless your community with are worth the work! You can totally do this.

Let me know what you find out, and please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


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