Today, it’s becoming more and more common for the average person to strike out on their own as a self-starter. We’ve never had so much technology at our fingertips, and with that, it’s never been easier to launch a successful business with very little investment other than your time and energy.

Portrait photography isn’t easy — after all, it’s an art form. It takes plenty of skill but, beyond that, it takes a knack for the process. However, if you have the creative eye to capture people at their best, then your professional photography career can start with some online learning and a few thousand dollars spent at B&H Photo. After that, you’re free to build your empire as big or as small as you’d like.

how to start a portrait photography business

How much money does it take to start a photography business?

It’s never easy to try and write down what you can expect to spend on starting a business. However, the tools of the trade of a photographer are fairly straightforward so it’s a little easier to try and forecast your initial investment.

Business News Daily recommends an initial investment of $10,000, spread across the following purchases:

  • Two cameras: $1,500 to $2,000 each
  • Multiple lenses: $1,000+ each
  • Two flashes: $700
  • Multiple memory cards: $50+ each
  • Two external drives: $120 each (keep one backup off-site)
  • Computer or laptop with sufficient memory: $2,000
  • Website (Wix, PhotoShelter, SmugMug and/or Squarespace): $60+
  • Lightroom and Photoshop subscription: $120 per year
  • Business licenses: $150 (varies)
  • Insurance: $600 per year (varies)
  • Accounting: $300+ per year (varies)
  • Contracts: Free to $1,000+ (varies)
  • Online proof gallery, such as ShootProof: $120 per year
  • Business cards: $20+

Yet, it’s important to remember that the amount of money you spend is entirely up to you. If you think you have the skill to get by on one camera and one lens, then, by all means, test the boundaries of that setup. You’ll be surprised what a little innate talent and a lot of gumption can do in place of money.

How does a portrait photography business make money?

Portrait photography, like any artistic profession, makes money by providing a service to individuals who require your product but cannot produce it themselves. For you, that product is professional portrait photography.

Your job as a photographer is to sell your service and sell it well. However, profits are a numbers game, no matter how much fun you’re having.

To turn a profit as a portrait photographer, you need to set for yourself an annual salary goal. Let’s say you want to make $40,000 in a single year. With that knowledge, you’re then meant to forecast the number of clients you expect to have in that year.

With a basic knowledge of your overhead and recurring expenses, you can then set a session price that will, assuming you have the clientele, get you to that salary goal.

how to start a portrait photography business

How to start a portrait photography business, step by step

Understanding how to start a portrait photography business with no experience and answering the question, “what do I need to start a photography business” is both easier than ever to accomplish thanks to the expansive online resources available. But some of us just want a step-by-step guide to easily breakdown how to start a portrait photography business.

Create a business plan

Any successful business starts with a thoughtful plan. At this stage, you should see both the big picture and the fine details of your business model. It’s at this point that you want to set your salary, budget for your equipment investment, and have a detailed understanding of your forecasted costs so you can end the year in the green.

If you’re too shortsighted or don’t do the work to create a business plan, then you’re leaving your success to hunches, assumptions, and sheer luck.

Invest in equipment

Once you have a great understanding of your business model and your budget it’s time to invest in the equipment that will start making you some money. I’d suggest you consult the list I posted earlier to figure out exactly what you need. Just remember to start slow and invest slow.

You don’t need to have everything at once. In fact, on your first day on the job, you might be surprised to find yourself getting by just fine with a camera and a lens. As you expand your reach and deepen your scope you’ll find natural opportunities to broaden your toolkit.

File for the correct permits

As a portrait photographer, you may find yourself in a studio much of the time. However, outdoor portrait photography is just as compelling if not more so. However, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb taking photos of your model out in the public with your expensive camera and zoom lens.

Furthermore, you may attract the police who will ask you if you have the appropriate permissions to shoot in certain areas. Rather than face embarrassment or even a fine, get permits for the most popular places you shoot in.

Cultivate a brand

You’ll be nothing, no matter how talented, without some kind of cohesive “brand” that you can call your own. While the term is thrown around a lot, it really just boils down to understanding your personality and style and building an intentional veneer around it.

Any professional will tell you that looking professional is the first step toward being a professional.

Get your name out

You’ve done the work of creating a business plan, investing in the right equipment, filing the proper paperwork to be able to take your models to some of the more compelling spots in the region, and have even created a cohesive and thematic style around your photography that can be easily represented to potential clients. Now’s the time to actually get clients. A hybrid of advertising yourself locally and online can work wonders — sites like Craigslist and Facebook can be hyperlocal hubs that will easily spread your message.

If you keep sending signals out eventually someone will answer back. And when you show them just how capable, thoughtful, and professional you are as a portrait photographer, the rest will be history. Understanding how to start a portrait photography business is about creating for yourself a deliberate path that you can easily follow. The more you leave up to chance, the harder it is to succeed.