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Basics of Starting A Portrait Photography Business

By Edited Aug 18, 2016 2 0

portrait photographer

Are you more and more consumed with photography? Maybe thinking of earning income with it? There a plenty of business models available for both long term profitability and growth as well as short term success for the weekend warrior with no long term goals.  Here are some things to think about for longer term profit.

Technical and artistic skills: know your camera. Know the different settings and how to photograph various lighting scenarios. Understand natural light and flash and find what works for you. Understand pros and cons of various lenses. Be aware of colors and color combinations. Be deliberate in the learning process. Each of these areas has its own world of information so you'll never be bored!

Business: Be legal, get knowledge and be wise!

Check with a CPA familiar with the business of photography for your state. Be aware of the needs in your state such as:

  • Sellers permit: Not all states will require this. California requires one. 
  • Business license:  Is this necessary in your state?
  • Legal backing: There is wisdom in connecting with a good attorney to draft some contracts based on your photographic needs.
  • Insurance: Protection for damaged equipment regardless of the type of photography you do.

overall... have integrity and be legal

Types of portraiture and very basic logistics:

  • Lifestyle: the photographer is hired to spend a day or several hours at a time photographing people in a candid style as they spend time together. Usually there is a flat rate for the session, a pre-ssion consultation, and a scheduled time to view the images. The photographer usually takes in the hundreds of images during that time and shows the clients anywhere from 30 - 100 plus.
  • High end boutique: the photographer usually spends 1 - 2 hours with the client(s), includes a pre-session consultation, often an 'in person' meeting for viewing the images and choosing products. The products are beautifully packages and there is usually a lifetime guarantee.
  • High end (non boutique): A little less of an investment from the boutique level.  Otherwise very similar.
  • High volume: Taking photographs of several hundred people on a particular day; usually snapping 2 - 4 images of each subject. The goal is quality images with a high volume number of subjects for very low investment per subject. Examples of clientele are:
    • dance studios
    • public and private schools
    • sports teams

Pricing: Determine how much net income you desire. If you do portraiture, determine how many sessions you wish to do each month or year. Consider your time and expenses and charge appropriately to keep yourself in the financial black zone. Remember to consider how many hours of driving, editing and consultation time you invest. Add those hours into the fee.

  • Do you want to offer packages?  If so, plan your lowest price as the least amount you need for the profit you determined. 
  • Do you want to offer A La Carte? If so, do you prefer using incentives, discounts or minimum charge to remain in profit?
  • Expenses: The market standard for higher end portraiture for long term profit leading to growth, is for 'costs of goods sold' to be about 15 - 25% of your retail charge to clients.  Here are some potential expenses to factor in.  
    • Time you invest editing, driving, meeting with clients.
    • Price for the camera and other equipment and supplies (include batteries, memory cards, shipping, packaging, etc.). You'll want to take a percentage of these costs and include the percentage in your fees.
    • Mileage
    • Insurance
    • CPA
    • Legal
    • Software
    • Education

When you've paid these expenses, how much will you need for yourself?  Consider re-investing in gear, samples or education. All things being equal it's wise to re-invest for some sort of improvment.

Sales: Once you have a strong idea of a pricing schedule that will help you profit after your costs of production (including your time), you have to learn how to answer questions and provide information. Find out what people want, in order to determine if they are the appropriate clients for what you want to provide in terms of product and prices. Determine from the first communication if you and the potential client are a good fit with the same expectations.

Marketing: Once you have the pricing and you know how to provide information, you can get the word out that you have something to offer. The most financially successful photographers share a common thread of year round marketing. Each month they plan marketing campaigns for various programs that they offer regardless of how busy or slow they might be. By planning per month, they maintain a cycle of campaigns to keep business rolling in, even through the slowest months. Keep in mind that it doesn't have to be costly, you can always talk to people or use email and social media. Consistency is the key.

Receiving payment: I'll keep this simple since I already mentioned a sales permit. Whether you use paper or software, keep detailed records. You'll be so thankful during tax season!

Overall. . . have integrity, knowledge, be willing to help people, and again. . . be legal!

If you want more information about this, please let me know in the comment section.  



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