One of the biggest mistakes for beginners, when they begin their photography business, is not knowing enough before they dive in.

If you have a camera and can take a nice image, that’s great. But that doesn’t mean you’re ready to run a photography business. It’s an entirely different set of circumstances from landscapes, pictures of kids playing soccer, and even impromptu family portraiture. And knowing the business side of it is just as important. There’s not a lot of room for error.


The best way to obtain an education in the business of photography is to job shadow a photographer in your area you admire and has a good reputation. Then ask if you can assist. Carry their bags, help set up lights, swap out batteries, etc. This will give you a first-hand look into a small part of the work portion.

Once you’re done with the job shadowing and assisting, ask to sit in on the culling and editing process. The shooting part is fun. The culling and editing are what takes its toll on most photographers. If you find you have the focus and attention to detail to sift through all your images to find a selection of the best images and then perfectly edit them, you’re off to a good start.

After assisting on a few sessions, and if the photographer gives you the green light to practice shooting during the times he doesn’t need your assistance, ask for a review of your work. And if you get some favorable feedback, ask if you can participate in a shoot. This will help you not have too much pressure of being the primary shooter, but you still have to perform. Ask the photographer if they will cull through your shoot with you and to give you a critique.

You’ll probably need a half dozen or so sessions under your belt as a secondary shooter. But once you go through this process, you’ll understand the amount of time, effort, communication, and observational and people skills you need to manage a session on your own.


Now the other part of this response ties into the business side — KNOWING YOUR NUMBERS.

I mentor photographers who are just getting into photography and most don’t know what it takes to run a business. The industry term for these numbers is the cost of doing business (CODB).

Most come to me and think that if they’re shooting a one-hour session for $50, or a five-hour wedding for $500, they’re making a great hourly wage. But there is so much more that goes into this than an hourly wage.

Do you have insurance? If not, you could be in for a heap of trouble. At the very least you may not be able to shoot a wedding because the venue requires an insurance rider from all the vendors. Liability insurance will protect you from accidents and errors and omissions on your contracts if something goes wrong.

Are you paying taxes? If not, the tax man will find you if you’re not putting back the money you need to cover your taxes — roughly 30 percent of your take.

How are you backing up your images?

What are the hard costs involved in your production and product delivery?

How much time do you truly have invested in a session?

Do you have processes and subscriptions in place to manage your clients’ accounts and deliver their images?

How much does that photography website cost you every year?

Are you advertising on Facebook, Google, blogs, or wedding vendor listing services?

How are you keeping track of your money in and out of the business? Accounting software at the very least will make you and your accountant’s life easier and help you plan your business strategy more effectively.


Let’s take wedding photography for example.

It’s easy to come up with more than $500 a month that your company will take off the top of your two wedding month.

And back to that $100 an hour figure. You’re probably thinking, “Well if I shoot two weddings at $500 each and it costs me $500, I still end up with $500 for 10 hours of work. That’s $50 an hour!”


Between calls, emails, text messages, site visits, timeline planning, collaboration, shooting (about nine hours worth for me), importing, culling, editing, exporting, uploading, album design, product ordering and delivery, and follow-ups, on an average wedding I’ll have invested between 40–60 hours.

For you, you may be what the industry calls a “shoot and burner” who doesn’t have a lot of customization in their offerings, and doesn’t deal with product designing and ordering. Let’s take out five hours for that, another four hours of shooting time to get you to that five-hour mark. And maybe you simply take the money and show up with no collaboration. We can remove another 11 hours. That’s still 20 hours for a five-hour wedding. Two five-hour weddings a month, for 40 hours of total investment to clear $500 a month. Congratulations, you’ve secured yourself $12.50 an hour. Not nearly enough reward for being a business owner. And you definitely won’t retire on that wage.

Being a photography business owner is an awesome career to have if you are built for it. The shooting part is only 10 percent of the formula. It’s all the education, planning, number crunching, collaboration, and editing that seems to derail most people who are just beginning in the trade.

Find a mentor, know your numbers, and never stop pushing yourself to learn and do better and you’ll find a long career in the photography industry.