Should You Open a Photography Studio?

Some photographers think all they need is a decent digital camera, a pro photo sharing or micro stock online gallery and some business cards to pass out. Yet others seem to think you need a degree in photography, $25,000 worth of photography equipment, a fancy photography studio, and a comfortable savings in the bank to make it work. My best advice is to work with what you have, and just do your personal best with it. Your talent, hard work and relentless determination, combined with people skills, and customer service are important keys to success. But you can't always do everything yourself, and if artists have a weak spot generally it's the business side of the studio. Therefore one of the most important talents you'll need is the ability to surround yourself with a good team of professionals. 

Here, we are looking at a typical home based business photo operation, with an emphasis on portrait and wedding photography, because that's the type of photography studio that most photographers are likely to start. Of course you may pick up other work along the way like product shots, publicity photos and team shots, however the bulk of your business will be high school seniors, children and family portraiture.

Do you have what it takes to become a professional photographer? Before you start a business, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Do you have the photography skills and talent necessary? Have you ever looked at a compelling image in a magazine or advertisement and thought to yourself? I could do that! The truth is, you could get lucky and pull off a great shot now and then, but you probably can't do it consistently time-after-time, day-in-day-out, day-after-day, year-upon-year, well not yet anyway. The bottom line is that most amateur photographers, and photographers fresh out of photography school are not ready to hop in and start a photography business. There are exceptions, and although you may be one of them, they are few and far between. It's just that, like most home based businesses you don't really know what's going on till you have been in the photography business for a while. Shooting friends, family or models in a classroom is very different than photographing a real paying customer. That being said, the good news is that it's something you can learn and get better at. How? Consider an apprenticeship with a pro-photographer with work you admire. Learn the ropes from the inside of a working photography studio for like a year before you go out on your own. If that's simply not an option, don't fret and don't give up - read, read, read!  Oh yeah, and shoot, shoot, shoot like crazy! Go out and start producing like a pro photographer. By that I mean knock out 500-1000 images per day, and if possible find a pro photographer with discriminating taste (and time) to act as a mentor, critiquing your work, and listen-up, nobody is perfect but we all can improve, it's for your own good. Also, talking to other pros is a good way to get a handle on what it's like out there. Use this experience to find the right niche for you and the local market in your area, whether it's children, team shots, weddings, commercial etc. Develop your particular artistic style, know what you want out of each and every shot and get to where your shooting a consistently high percentage of quality images.
  2. Do you have the necessary funds to pull this off? It's going to take some cash to do it properly from the start. Not only for photographic equipment, but to set up your home/mobile photography studio too. How Much? To get a good idea of what it's going to take you'll want to assemble your team of professionals and use their expertise to help determine the best course of action. First, seek an SBA qualified banker that actively caters to small business needs. Second, search for a good small business accountant, they are expensive, but they can save your rear. Third and lastly if it's a partnership or your planning on incorporating, secure a lawyer that specializes in small business to help you get your legal and financial ducks in a row, so to speak. Then, use your team evaluate your wants and needs to prepare a financially sound business plan and systematically carry it out. Take your time and use care to thoroughly interview perspective professionals for just the right ones for your particular needs.
  3. Do you have the business savy necessary to create, promote, market, price, and sell? This is perhaps the most important part of owning a small business. Now-a-days it's essential to build a nice photography website for showcasing your unique photographic style. Feature examples of your artwork, a bio about yourself and define your photographic specialty. Include session, print, enlargement pricing and contact information. Then, promote your photography website online in photographer directories, and with reciprocal linking. Promote your site in offline advertising too. This builds name recognition in your area. Keep in contact with clients and promote your services with the email list you build. You should also advertise in local magazines and newspapers that your perspective clients are likely to read. Be outgoing and don't be afraid to sell yourself.

This is an exciting time to venture out into the wonderful world of selling images for a profit and thanks to ongoing technological advancements in digital imaging technology, the field of digital photography is quickly evolving to the point where you can start a photography business relatively easily. If your going to compete with other local photography studios, your going to need these skills and more to succeed with your home based business. If your certain you have what it takes, your mind is made up, and your going to do this one way or another, then good luck navigating the obstacle course! Sure, there is always that chance you'll make some wrong turns along the winding road to success, but hopefully you'll learn from them, and bounce right back onto the right track again. If your extremely self-motivated, you may find a way to make it work. If you carefully plan and execute a professional photography business your time spent should be totally worth it. If it works, you'll be rewarded with a great deal of personal satisfaction, because you'll be living the creative artist lifestyle you have envisioned for so long!

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