To get the lowdown on how to set up a photography business Steve Fairclough spoke to two successful photographers to get their best advice

What you’ll learn

  • Crucial considerations for an imaging business
  • How to market yourself
  • The key mistakes to avoid
  • Top tips for young photographers

What you’ll need

  • A reliable, genre-specific camera with a backup body
  • A high-quality hard drive to back up your work
  • A computer with enough memory to handle editing
  • Online and marketing skills

Whether you’re a self-taught photographer who’s considering a career change or a young student straight out of photography college you’ll need to make many key decisions if you want to set up a photography business. To help you to make those choices Camera Jabber spoke to commercial photographer and filmmaker Rick Bronks and the wildlife photographer and photo equipment inventor Will Burrard-Lucas to get the benefit of their experiences…

Branding and target markets

Interestingly, Rick Bronks doesn’t market himself under his name but via his company Satureyes – see www.satureyes.com He explains: “Consider your brand. This is very important for me. I’ve never been a fan of ‘first name last name’ photography. I had my logo and colours sorted before I had any clients. You might find this works better in that you appear already more established before you go out there.” 

On the flip side of that Will Burrard-Lucas does name himself at www.burrard-lucas.com but his business also includes his Beetlecam and Camtraptions inventions; both designed to enable photographers to get closer to wildlife than they ever could physically.

Will advises: “It’s not just about taking photos. Being entrepreneurial and learning how to effectively market yourself is just as important. Think about what your target market is and devise your products and services for that market. Then figure out how you can best reach your chosen audience through your marketing. Of course, it is a given that you will already need to be a proficient photographer with a strong portfolio of work under your belt if you want to be taken seriously.”

Rick Bronks echoes the point about the target market: “It’s important to think about your market, where you will operate and what your ‘reach’ will be. Of course, you also need to decide what you really want to be shooting!”

He also points out that you should consider if you plan to stay local or to travel for work, something wedding, event and sports photographers would be expected to do. Rick notes: “If you want to stay local then you need to look at other photographers in the area and see if they are doing something similar. You’re going to have a tougher time getting work if there’s a gaggle of photographers all vying for the same client base in the same fields. What will you do differently? More competition will drive budgets down, so you might want to look further afield but charge more.” 

Mistakes to avoid

With the benefit of their experiences in business we asked Will and Rick what were the biggest mistakes they’d made in their careers?

Will Burrard-Lucas admits it was “not focusing.” He adds: “First of all you will need to focus on a speciality, e.g. portraits, wildlife, landscape, travel etc. However, focus extends further. Try to focus on personal projects. For example, photograph one particular subject in great depth over a long period of time. A body of work with depth is much more likely to get noticed than a string of great unrelated photos with no context or continuity.”

How do I start a photography business?

Elephants photographed with a remote camera-buggy (BeetleCam). South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

As for Rick Bronks, his major problem concerned value and pricing. “Under-valuing myself was a big issue when I started. I looked at the competition and thought ‘I can’t charge this’, so started on lower rates. It takes longer to increase your rates from a lower rate than it does to drop your rates from a higher rate. Be aware of under-selling yourself.” 

How do I start a photography business?

A Santa shot grabbed whilst covering a Virgin Atlantic Xmas party © Rick Bronks/Satureyes

He continues: “You need to value your time as much as you value your lens. It’s taken a long time for me to accept that my clients are hiring ME as ME and not ME as my camera kit. Taking lots of small, low paid jobs isn’t always the best idea. It’s very easy to feel pressured and to take stuff on that you know deep down you don’t want. The worst feeling is shooting somewhere you don’t want to be and not getting the right fee to be there.” 

Best advice for young photographers

It’s understandable that young photographers freshly armed with qualifications and a hunger to take on the world won’t necessarily be patient, but Will Burrard-Lucas cautions: “Don’t expect it to happen overnight. Always work at your photography but also work on your personal brand. Establish your web presence through a website, blog and social media and then consistently work at pushing out content through these channels. It will take years before you start to gain traction but play the long game then and have faith that you will get there eventually.”

Tesni Ward on life as a professional wildlife photographer

Rick Bronks advises: “Don’t be bullied into offering freebies. Don’t be lured into ‘exposure’ for free shoots. Don’t get beaten down on price and stand by your principles. Avoid the low hanging fruit… it might appear to be easy money but chances are it isn’t. Always reach higher even if it means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself. Say ‘yes’ to jobs you’re not sure you can do and shoot as much as you can… all the time!” 

He concludes: “Be human and be yourself. Taking photos is only a part of the job. You need to be able to communicate with people as well as take photos. Don’t get too hung up on being ‘internet famous’. Don’t stress about Instagram followers, but think carefully about what you share and how you share it.”  

To sum up, Will Burrard-Lucas says: “Keep experimenting. Experiment to find your style, experiment to find images that resonate with your target audience, experiment with your products and services and experiment with your marketing. You are unlikely to get everything right first time, so experimenting is the only way to find what works.”

Don’t forget the ‘nuts and bolts’

Aside from Rick’s and Will’s the top tips there are many other ‘nuts and bolts’ considerations you must take into account when setting up a photography business. For example, do you need insurance? Do you have exactly the right kit for your style of photography? Do you need to invest in a web or SEO expert to help with your online presence and/or social media? Are you setting up as a limited company, in partnership or as a sole trader? Who will handle your admin and accountancy? How do you attract new clients?

These days photographers have to be many things rolled into one – photographers, image/video editors, marketeers, social media gurus and so on – but perhaps the most crucial thing to remember is that YOU are the driver of your brand. Ultimately, if you are professional in all aspects, believe in yourself and deliver quality work that should eventually translate into success in your career.

*Top Image: Spotted hyenas, Liuwa Plain National Park, Zambia ©Will Burrard-Lucas

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How do I start a photography business?
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How do I start a photography business?
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How do I start a photography business? Steve Fairclough catches up with Rick Bronks and Will Burrard-Lucas to find out how they made the leap.
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Camera Jabber
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