Thinking About Starting Your Own Photography Business?

Jen wrote me an email asking if I have any tips for someone wanting to start out in photography, as several others have done before. Instead of letting her email rot in my inbox (sorry to all those who wrote me back in JUNE, I really want to get to your emails someday) I figured the best way to address this would be to write a post about it and then just direct people to the post whenever they ask.

I actually have plans to write a series of posts about things I’ve learned while starting my business, including the steps I’ve taken and mistakes I’ve made, but I think I’m not going to get to those for awhile, so I’ll do my best to answer Jen’s question publicly for now.

Portfolio Building

I think a lot of people don’t know that I did free sessions for months when I first started. Over a two month period I did 10 engagement sessions, 3 bridals, 1 headshot/portrait, 1 short Catholic ceremony, 1 rehearsal dinner, 1 tea ceremony, 1 newborn session, 1 bridal shower and was a guest at two weddings where the photographers let me take pictures. Every single one of these shoots was completely free for the subjects involved and I mailed them all a disc of all the images (usually about 100) once I had them processed.

It was, to put it lightly, the most extreme version of portfolio building imaginable. I didn’t make a dime from it directly, but indirectly the benefits have been huge. One of the free engagement sessions is hiring me from their wedding and I just got a call yesterday about a wedding guest who was at one of the weddings I guest-shot at and would like to interview me for a November wedding.

Overall I put in about 3 months of full-time work with no pay, which sucks. But my business has grown faster than I could have imagined and I attribute that in large part to all of those free sessions I did.

How did I get them? I advertised on the classified section of Weddingbee that I was doing free sessions and had all of those free sessions booked within just a few days. If you are wanting to find your own free sessions, first decide on your target market. If you are interested in weddings/engagement/bridals then advertise on wedding sites. If you are interested in the child/family market, go ahead and bug all of your friends. Hardly anyone is going to turn down free photos, especially of their kids.


I subscribe to many, many photography blogs. I spent a lot of time as a bride browswing photography blogs and learning to distinguish between what I thought was good photography and bad photography. I see a lot of new photographers who fall prey to “fads” that date them, and I believe it’s because they miss this crucial step of expanding their viewpoint concerning what photography is and can be. Exploring the style of different photographers can also help you better understand what direction you might like to head with your own photography.


Your name. Your colors. Your website. Your photos themselves. Your interaction with your clients. They should all speak toward the brand you are developing for yourself. If you want to grow quickly, you will start with a firm idea of what brand you want to portray, and every decision you make will further the brand you plan to develop. In my opinion, photographers with incredibly strong brands include Jasmine Star, Jose Villa, Elizabeth Messina, Justin & Mary, Max Wanger, Heather of One Love Photo, and Sarah Rhoads. There are countless books and blogs by experts and wanna-be experts on this subject if you would like to learn more.

I could go on and on, but these are the three areas I think new photographers don’t give enough thought before launching (myself included).

12 thoughts on “Thinking About Starting Your Own Photography Business?

  1. This is some amazing advice :) and thank you for posting it. I especially love that you point out branding. It’s so easy to forget, and yet so very important. I’d like to add Martha Stewart (love her or hate her) to the branding example list. That lady has built a freaking empire on what she loved to do. And she’s been super careful about portraying her brand, which is built around her own name.

    It’s really important to remember that whatever you do publicly can reflect on your business. Over the course of a week, I saw the same SUV with a Day Care name emblazoned on the back, which was speeding recklessly twice on the freeway during rush hour. I was so disgusted that I posted this observation on yelp. My advice is to be mindful, while there may not have been children in the car, my impression of that business is still not good. And with the internet making everything so accessible, it’s easy for a poor impression to impact your business.

  2. Thanks for posting this! I am slowly trying to start a photography business & right now I am trying to build my portfolio. The actual business side kind of intimidates me, but I just keep telling myself I can do it :) Can’t wait for more.

  3. Thanks for this AMAZING advice. I am probably one of those annoying little people mailing you – oops!

    I am currently focusing on my branding – I did a logo and decided it wasn;t how I saw myself in a few years time so am starting from scratch. I think your branding is really fantastic as it can be fun and quirky as well as sleek and classy.

    I haven’t booked as many portfolio shoots as you (yet) but between now and December 5 I am doing 4 engagement shoots, 2 bridals (one mock), 2 weddings (2nd shooter), 1 reception and a bunch of family and baby shoots. I am trying to get more engagements and events as that is my focus area but I am hapy to do anything for now as I am building my shooting skills as well. I actually just got one PB booking through a link from this site, so thanks!

    Thanks again – this advice and the lovely replies you have sent me via email in the past have been endlessly useful.

    Kristin (Miss Quiche) Reply:

    Good luck with your upcoming shoots! I’d say that looks like you have quite a bit of things lined up to get your portfolio going!

  4. Thank you for the amazing shoot you did for us! I just had some of your shots printed in our guest book- they look fantastic. I still get so many compliments on your work.

  5. If I add it all up, I think I’ve put in about a year of full-time work with no pay, combining all my unpaid internships that I’ve done to get experience. The pay sucks but the benefits are astronomical.
    I just booked our photographer, whose website had very little in the way of a gallery, for our e-shoot and I know I am taking a risk (but the e-shoot is only $30, so it’s not an enormous risk). She’s a fledgling photographer too and I think she could really benefit from your advice. I’m also thrilled to be able to help her build her portfolio, and am contemplating dropping your URL when we do our shoot so she can get some inspiration.

  6. Great tips! These tips can also work for other creative businesses (such as interior design, etc) & I am filing this away for when I have time to get my design business back on track. Fingers crossed that it happens sooner, rather than later!

  7. Great advice! I find that subscribing to photographer’s blogs has helped so much with me as a hobbyist photographer.

  8. Thank you so much for posting this in response to my email! It is definitely helpful!

    I did have one other question – how did you go about setting up your business (legally and for tax purposes?) I started reading about sole proprietorship and all of the steps that go along with that & am kind of overwhelmed (and not sure what is the right thing for someone like me who is just wanting to get started…slowly). Any advice you could give would be great!

  9. Just curious, do you have an opinion on blogging every session in the beginning, or only blogging work that’s representative of the style you want to keep shooting? I’ve read great arguments for both, and I’m still on the fence, but leaning towards only blogging the sessions that feature my target demographic.

    Jenna Reply:

    I blog every session of certain types (ie engagement, maternity, etc), but when I do things like kids/families that I don’t want to focus on I won’t blog them, because I think people will inquire for the sort of things they see on your blog (SEO matters too). Also, brides don’t want to have to sort through a bunch of kid/baby shots to find the wedding ones.

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