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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The cost of being a photographer

When I was an on location photographer, I really didn't have a lot of expenses. I used the outdoors and I do a lot of weddings, which don't require anything other then equipment as well. I really didn't do a lot of newborns because I didn't like doing them at my house, nor did I want to go to client's house.

When I decided to make the move to rent a studio, many things changed for me-and quickly! I realized that I didn't have squat when it came to props. I have started to figure out what I want to do for advertising as well. I really only have been doing word of mouth and a website. I have no trouble getting weddings booked, but now that I want to get into newborn and maternity photography, you have to get creative in getting the word out. Let's just say that I've been walking around with a headache this month.

The cost of running a photography business is more then one would think. I know there are hoards and hoards of photographers these days, so competion is stiff. You need to make yourself stand out from the crowd more then a photographer might needed to just a couple of years ago.

Let's hit the basics of what it would cost to start a photography business:

Camera equipment

Yes, you need to get this first. The most important part of this business. lol Depending on what you think you need, there are many options for camera equipment. You could jump right in and get the best camera like the big guys do, or you can either work your way up, or find something that you like and does what it needs to do. I am a firm believer that you don't need a 5D to be a professional-and don't let anyone tell you any different!

So, if you invest in a $1000 camera and get some good lenses and a flash to start out with, you are probably looking at around $3000-4000 in camera equipment. Down the line, you will pick up more lenses, another body probably too-but, that's later.


Depending on whether you will be a natural light photographer or use studio lighting, studio lighting can be found at decent prices on ebay and discount sites. I found mine on ebay for $250 I think and it was a package deal.


For some reason, backdrops are crazy priced. I'm not an expert on material cost, but this has been the biggest expense other then camera equipment. I don't know if merchants are taking advantage of this hot trend to be a photographer, but I'm thinking that I might need a business loan to get all the backdrops I want to get. I would say to start out, you'll need a large white backdrop, a large black backdrop, and three to five fancy ones. I use paper backdrops from BHPhoto (they are great!) and very fair priced starting at $24. I still need my fancy backdrops, but they seem to run at least 150-200 a drop. Ouch! (tip: try looking at fabric stores and price the size you want. I found a cool vinyal material thats only 7.99 a yard!)


Props. Props. Props. All photographers need them. The cooler, the better. I can't give you a price on props because I don't know what you need and there are so many merchants out there selling them. I would have to say that if you want to do newborns, you'll need a bean bag, blankets, hats, bowl and baskets, flooring, etc. I think it's a costly start, but if you can get good at it and specialize in it, it will pay off.

So, maybe to put a rough estimate, maybe $500-700?

Children props can cost a pretty penny as well. Get creative. Look at thrift stores and garage sales!


I do a pretty simple packaging. I give the cd in it's own case with covering, my referral cards, thank-you card, my business card, a treat like candy and it all goes in a bag, tied with a black and a pink ribbon. I have it figured to around 5.50 per bag. Not too bad. I know some photographers get really elaborate. My clients love my packaging the way it is and I keep more profit-woo hoo!
You need to decide what you want to do with your packaging. Just make sure you adjust your prices to include the cost. I would only start out with a small supply of material until you get more steady customers.

Record keeping material

I use a folder per client with a copy of their receipt, expenses for that order and profit. I also make a cd of their session and keep it with the file. All except the cd was purchased at my local dollar store. I don't use a lot of dollar store stuff, but their paper products are awesome and cheap! Don't feel you need to start out with a file cabinet and fancy desk. Start small!


Duh, I almost forgot. You'll need a computer and a good photo editing program. Now, you don't have to jump right into Photoshop-exxxxxxxxxxpensiiive!!!! Try one of the cheaper programs if you can't afford it.


This is a personal decision. So far, I only have had to use free ones, or I just do it manually. I want to get into textures for a romantic look for engagements, or cool senior photos. I'm not sure what the average cost per action or texture or whatever else is out there. Do I think it's a necessity if you are just starting out? No. In fact, if you look at photographers like Jasmine Star or Scarlett Lillian (my favorite photographers, BTW) I don't think they dazzle up their photos with anything-I could be wrong though!

Advertisement cost

I hate this subject. Some like marketing. I hate it. Not because I don't want to go talk to anyone, but because I have a hard time finding out the best way of marketing. I still have that fantasy that I some day I won't have to market and I will be flooded with clients without having to lift a finger. Maybe some day!

For right now though, it's tough and can be costly. I would suggest taking an ad in the phone book, making brochures or post cards, lots and lots of business cards, and of course a website that is optimized with keywords. Price? You can use Vista Print for most of your materials and they are pretty inexpensive. I know they make their money off of shipping -watch out, they'll tell you one date for delivery and then tell you a different date after you hit "pay". That's the one thing I hate about them. So, to put a price on advertising, it probably could vary between $200-400 and a lot of your time. Look on photography help blogs for marketing ideas. Some even selling marketing plans.

Am I forgetting anything? Oh yeah. Studio, or no studio? If you have money to burn, then by all means, get a studio. Otherwise, if you can get away with going to client's houses and doing outdoor photos, I would strongly recommend starting that way. You can always do it in your home to if you have space.

Am I trying to discourage anyone from starting a photography business? No way. I love to see artists fulfilling their artistic need. I also know that us artists are always trying to live the romantic life and sometimes reality has to bite us in the butt once in awhile to bring us out of the clouds. :)


BellaVida said...

Great post, very frank and informative. People don't often fully understand all of the details of running a business.

Bella Vida by Letty
Have a great day.

Tara said...

Great post!

Ilva said...

This is a great post, people usually don't realize that you have to invest quite a lot of money into your photography business if you want to get anywhere!

Scarlett & Stephen said...

Thanks so much for the kind words Tess!