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  • Writer's pictureAbdul Qudoos

How to Start a Photography Business With No Experience: Complete Guide

Updated: May 19

how to start a photography business

You have a passion for photography, but no experience. No problem.

You can still start a photography business that rocks. All you need is determination and some smart planning (we'll tell you that in this awesome 9-step guide).

In this guide, you’ll learn how to:

  • Find Your Niche

  • Get the Right Gear for Less

  • Master the Basics of Photography

  • Showcase Your Best Work

  • Market Yourself Like a Pro

  • Price Your Services Wisely

  • Handle the Legal and Admin Stuff

  • Grow Your Client Base

  • Deal with Common Challenges

By the time you finish this guide, you’ll have a clear plan to launch a photography business that matches your style, skills, and goals.

Ready? Let’s go..

Step 1: Decide on Your Niche

The first step is to determine what photography niche you want to specialize in. The niche you choose can directly impact your success, so give it careful consideration.

Some popular options include:

Portrait Photography

Capturing beautiful shots of people like graduation, family, maternity, boudoir, or corporate portraits. This requires skills in lighting, posing, and making clients comfortable.

Wedding Photography

Photographing weddings is fast-paced with no chance for a redo. So you need to produce great photos while coordinating group shots. Wedding photography has huge earning potential.

Real Estate Photography

Real estate agents need high-quality interior and exterior property photos to market listings online. This is a flexible niche with consistent local demand.

Product Photography

E-commerce brands always need photos for websites, catalogs, and ads. Offering product photography services allows you to work from a home studio at flexible hours.

How do you pick the best niche for you? Use these criteria to narrow down your options:

  • Personal Interests: Do you love what you do? Your passion will show in your work.

  • Market Size: Is there enough demand for your niche? Check Google, job boards, and competitors to find out.

  • Client Budgets: Can you charge enough to make a living? Corporate clients tend to pay more than individual ones.

  • Income Potential: How much can you earn in your niche? Consider the scope, volume, and rates of your projects.

  • Skills Required: Are you willing and able to master your niche? Practice makes perfect. 

By focusing on one niche, you can build your reputation and authority faster. You can charge more than generalists. You can deliver so much value that clients won’t look elsewhere. 

💡Pro Tip: View local photography job listings to gauge demand for certain niches in your area. Identify gaps that your business could fill.

Step 2: Obtain Essential Photography Gear

photography rquipment

Every photographer needs dedicated gear to succeed, especially when starting. Avoid relying solely on a smartphone camera or inconsistent secondhand equipment.

Invest in these photography essentials to deliver professional results:

Entry-Level DSLR Camera and Kit Lens

A DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera gives you more control over your settings and image quality than a basic point-and-shoot or smartphone camera. You can get a decent one for under $1000. Some of the best beginner-friendly models are:

  • Canon EOS Rebel T8i - $699.99

  • Nikon D3500 - $649.95

  • Sony a6100 - $599.99

Pair your DSLR with a 10-18mm or 18-55mm kit lens to get a versatile wide-angle and mid-range focal length at an affordable bundled price.

💡Pro Tip: Buying refurbished/used DSLR gear can save over 50% for those on a tight budget. Or rent lenses initially until you determine which ones you use most.

Additional Lenses

Most later photography upgrades should go towards lens purchases targeted to your niche.

Portrait Lens

50mm or 85mm Prime - Flattering focal length for headshots plus excellent bokeh.

Real Estate Lens

10-18mm Wide Angle - Captures full interior spaces.

8mm Fisheye - Unique property viewpoints.

Product Photography Lens

60mm Macro Lens - Meticulously details small retail items.

Wedding Photography Lenses

24-70mm - Flexible focal range for ceremonies and portraits.

70-200mm Telephoto Zoom - Isolates distant candids during receptions.

High-quality lenses capture superior photos and also retain resale value well should you ever switch brands.

Support Gear

Don’t forget these accessories to complete your photography gear kit:

  • Lighting - Flashes, reflectors, and LED panels

  • Tripod - For stabilization, especially in low light

  • Backdrops - Seamless paper, muslin, vinyl backdrops

  • Remote trigger - For sharper hand-held camera activation

  • Cleaning supplies - Sensor swabs, microfiber cloths, cleaning solution

  • Spare batteries + memory cards - Have backups available

Step 3. Learn Key Photography Skills

A DSLR camera is not enough. You need skills and knowledge to make the most of it.

Don’t just point and shoot. Learn the basics of photography, such as:

Shooting Modes

  • Manual (M) - You control everything: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

  • Aperture priority (Av/A) - You set the aperture, the camera does the rest.

  • Shutter priority (Tv/S) - You set the shutter speed, the camera does the rest.

  • Program (P) - The camera decides everything for you.

The Exposure Triangle

  • Aperture - How wide the lens opens, measured in f-stops like f/2.8. More light, more blur.

  • Shutter speed - How long the sensor captures light, measured in seconds. More time, more motion.

  • ISO - How sensitive the sensor is to light, measured in numbers. Higher ISO, faster shots.

💡Pro Tip: Use Manual or Aperture/Shutter priority modes for more creative control. Understand how changing one element affects the others.

Composition Techniques

  • Rule of thirds - Divide the frame into thirds and place the subject at the intersections.

  • Symmetry - Balance the elements on both sides of the frame.

  • Leading lines - Use lines to guide the viewer’s eye to the focal point.

  • Depth - Create a sense of distance and perspective with foreground and background.

  • Framing - Use objects to frame the subject and draw attention to it.

  • Patterns - Find repeating shapes and colors to create visual harmony.

With these fundamentals, you can take stunning photos that are both technically and artistically brilliant.

Step 4. Build an Eye-Catching Photography Portfolio

photography portfolio

Your photography portfolio showcases strengths that set you apart from competitors. Here’s how to make such a portfolio:

Custom Website

Don’t settle for a generic template. Create your own website with your logo, colors, and fonts. Show the world that you are a pro, not a hobbyist.

Cohesive Theme/Style

Less is more. Choose 15-20 of your best images that match your niche and skill level. Swap them out every few months to keep things fresh.

Optimal User Experience

Make it easy for your visitors to navigate your website. Group your images by themes and categories. Add captions to give some context.

And don’t forget to include a call-to-action on every page. You want them to book you, right?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

You have a website. Great. But can people find you online?

Use keywords that describe your niche and location (e.g. “Portland Wedding Photographer”) throughout your copy. That way, you’ll show up when they search for local photographers.

💡Pro Tip: Use portfolio site builders like Squarespace or Wix for stunning templates. They are easy to use and look great. And please, avoid social media galleries. They are not professional.

Follow these tips and you’ll have a portfolio that showcases your strengths and attracts your ideal clients.

First impressions matter. Make yours count.

Step 5: Market Your Photography Business

marketing strategy

After all of this, you need clients. How do you get them?

Here are some proven strategies to make your business boom:

Social Media

Be yourself. Be awesome. Show off your work and personality on your business pages.

Post stunning photos, irresistible offers, and fun behind-the-scenes shots. Engage with your fans and followers.

Instagram and Facebook are your best friends. Use hashtags and location tags to get discovered by your target audience.

Spice things up with social contests. Give away free sessions to lucky winners. Ask them to share their photos and tag you. Watch your reach grow.

Local Networking Events

Get out there. Meet people. Hand out your business cards and special deals to potential customers.

Ask them about their photography needs and how you can help.

💡Pro Tip: Find events on Eventbrite that match your niche and location. Craft fairs, cultural festivals, trade conventions, etc. are great places to network.

Follow up with everyone you meet with a personal email.

Google Ads

Pay to play. Get your website on top of Google when people search for keywords like “real estate photographer Austin”.

It’s worth it. You’ll get more clicks, more leads, more conversions.

Step 6: Set Your Photography Pricing

How much should you charge for your photos? That’s the million-dollar question. And the answer is: It depends on a lot of factors.

You want to make a profit, but you also want to be competitive. You don’t want to undersell yourself, but you also don’t want to scare away potential clients. You need to find the sweet spot.

Here are some things to consider when setting your prices:

  • Specialty - Some niches are more demanding than others. Do you need special skills or equipment to capture them?

  • Overheads and gear expenses - How much does it cost to run your business and maintain your equipment?

  • Travel and production costs - How far do you have to go and what do you have to spend to get the shots you need?

  • Image licensing/usage rights - How will your clients use your photos? Different platforms and purposes have different rates.

  • Experience level - How long have you been doing this? What’s your reputation and portfolio like?

  • Post-production efforts - How much time and effort do you put into editing and enhancing your photos?

Your prices should reflect your value and quality. But they should also be realistic and fair. You want to attract clients who appreciate your work and are willing to pay for it. But you also want to be accessible to those who are new to hiring a professional photographer.

So how do you do that?

Create pricing tiers. Offer different options for different budgets and needs. Make your prices look premium, but not outrageous.

And make sure your prices are clear and transparent. You don’t want any surprises or misunderstandings. You want your clients to know exactly what they are getting and what they are paying for.

So put your prices and your licensing terms on your website. And include the details of your services, such as location, edits, turnaround times, etc.

Step 7: Make Your Photography Business Legal

You’re a photographer, not a lawyer. But you still need to take care of the legal stuff.

Trust us, it’s worth it. It will boost your credibility and protect your assets. Don’t skip this step, even if you’re just starting out part-time.

Here’s what you need to do:

Pick a Business Structure

You have three main options:

Sole proprietorship - The easiest option. No need to register anything. But there’s a catch: you and your business are one and the same. That means your personal assets are on the line if something goes wrong.

LLC (Limited Liability Company) - A bit more complicated, but safer. You get to separate your personal and business assets. Plus, you have some flexibility in how you pay taxes. If you’re the only owner, you can file as a sole proprietor. If you have partners, you can file as a partnership.

Corporation - The most complex and costly option. But also the most secure. You get the highest level of protection for your business. This is better for big, established photography companies.

We recommend going for an LLC. It gives you the best of both worlds: legal protection and easy setup. But if you’re just testing the waters, a sole proprietorship might work for you.

Register Your Business

Once you pick a structure, you need to register it with the state and the IRS. This will make your business legal and legitimate. Don’t skip this step, or you might face some hefty fines.

Account & Pay Taxes

You know the drill: keep track of your income and expenses, and file your taxes on time. You might want to hire an accountant to help you with this. They can save you a lot of headaches and money.

Get Insurance

You never know what might happen during a photo shoot. You might break something, injure someone, or mess up your work. That’s why you need insurance. It will cover you for any mishaps or mistakes.

There are three types of insurance you should get:

  • General liability insurance - This covers you for any property damage, injuries, or other incidents that happen during your sessions.

  • Product liability insurance - This covers you for any issues with your gear, such as malfunctioning or breaking.

  • Professional liability insurance - This covers you for any errors or omissions in your work, such as missing deadlines or delivering poor quality.

💡Pro Tip: Join a photography association like PPA. They offer low-cost insurance plans, legal services, and education resources. It’s a great way to get support and grow your skills.

Step 8: Grow Your Client Base

You’ve got the skills, the gear, and the passion. Now you need the clients. Without them, your photography business is just a hobby.

But how do you attract and retain them in a competitive market?

Here are some proven strategies to grow your client base and boost your income.

Seek Referrals

Word-of-mouth is the best marketing tool for any business. Happy clients are your best ambassadors. They will rave about your work to their friends and family.

But you can also encourage them to spread the word even more.


Offer them referral rewards, discounts, or print credit. Make them feel valued and appreciated. They will be more likely to share your name and leave positive reviews.

Offer Customer Incentives

You want to turn your one-time customers into repeat customers. You also want to attract new customers who are looking for a great deal.

To achieve this, offer them customer incentives that make them feel special.

For example, you can offer:

  • First-time session discounts

  • Loyalty programs

  • Client appreciation giveaways

But don’t go overboard. You don’t want to cheapen your services or lose money. Find the right balance between value and quality.

Stay Visible on Social Media

Social media is a powerful platform to reach and engage your audience. But you have to use it wisely.

Don’t just post your photos and hope for likes and comments. Be strategic. Be consistent. Be social.

Some tips to stay visible on social media are:

  • Post regularly and at optimal times

  • Use relevant hashtags and keywords

  • Share behind-the-scenes stories and tips

  • Ask questions and start conversations

  • Respond to comments and messages

  • Collaborate with other photographers and influencers

  • Run contests and giveaways

Enter Photography Contests

Want to get more exposure and recognition for your work? Enter photography contests that match your niche and style.

There are many benefits of entering photography contests, such as:

  • Winning prizes - gear, software, exhibition space

  • Getting published and raising your profile

  • Interacting with esteemed judges and photographers

  • Building a portfolio with winning entries

But don’t enter any contest you find. Be selective. Enter paid contests and the ones that are not very popular. Why? Because there’ll be less competition, better chances of winning, and you’ll get quality feedback.

And guess what?

We, The Artist Gallery, also arrange contests for photographers like you. We not only offer cash prizes but also promote you on our blog, social media, and email newsletter.

So, what are you waiting for? Participate in open contests today and start growing your client base.

Step 9: Overcoming Early Photography Business Challenges

challenges in photography

Launching any venture inevitably involves unforeseen hurdles testing dedication and skills. But don't let setbacks deter long-term aspirations if you possess the passion and drive toward success.

Follow these techniques advocated by photography veterans when facing adversities:

  • Learn from failures - Failures are not the end. They are opportunities to learn, improve, and grow. Don’t ignore them. Analyze them. Learn from them. And then move on. Fail fast. Grow faster.

  • Balance finances - Money keeps your photography business alive. You need to be smart with your finances. Track your income, watch your expenses, and try to maximize your profits.

  • Outsource weaknesses - You can’t do everything. And you shouldn’t. Some tasks are better left to others. Especially if they bore you, stress you, or confuse you. Hate accounting? Hire a freelancer. Don’t like marketing? Outsource it. Focus on your strengths. Delegate your weaknesses.

  • Maintain support community - Other professional photographers uniquely understand this business' realities. Seek motivational communities and mentors already successfully established within your niche.

  • Embrace patience - Building photography clients and profits take immense, consistent dedication over several years. Avoid comparing your progress to others. Stay confident during temporary dry periods through continually improving skills and offerings. Recognize client growth as a long game requiring patience and perseverance.

Final Thoughts

Starting any business is a wild ride. So expect wipeouts as you self-teach unfamiliar turf like marketing, accounting, or HR.

But view flops as a chance to level up faster. The more failures under your belt, the savvier you become. Persistence pays off.

Connect with peers and mentors to swap war stories and find encouragement during the inevitable dark days. Some solopreneurs sink, while others gain altitude by relentlessly honing their niche focus.

So can a passionate photographer really start from zero and scale a studio into a thriving full-time business? Absolutely. With concentrated specialization, continued skill development, and an obsession for quality, lucrative gigs will steadily start rolling in.

Just buckle up and get ready for the ride of your life! It will be well worth it in the end.

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