30 Things you Should Know to Help you Start a Photography Business

30 Things you Should Know to Help you Start a Photography Business

Kasia Zachwieja/ J'Aton  photo: Gina Milicia

Kasia Zachwieja/ J’Aton photo: Gina Milicia

In this post Gina Milicia – author of our brand new eBook, “Portraits: Making the Shot” shares 30 lessons for those wanting to get into the photography business.

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” – Joseph Campbell

1. Find the best photography course or workshops that work for you

If you are going to invest in a photography course/workshop do some serious research first.

It’s a huge investment so find out who the teachers are. Are they industry professionals that are going to be teaching you relevant styles and techniques?

Is the style of teaching suited to your personality and photography?

Who are the ex students that have gone on to create successful careers?

Consider weekend workshops and online courses held by experts in their fields.

2. Find a great mentor

A mentor should be someone who has had a successful career, whose work you admire and is passionate about what they do. They should be available for at least one hour a month.

3. Get as much industry experience as you can

Intern with as many different photography businesses as you can, both large and small. My first interning gig was with a food photographer. I’ve also worked with high-end commercial product photographers, car photographers, and fashion and wedding photographers. I came away with valuable skills that I still use today.

4. Be Flexible when looking for an internships

When you are looking for an internship it’s often easier to offer your services on a casual daily basis or weekends or even nights rather than trying to find someone who will commit to a long-term internship.

5. Sweep the floor and scrub the toilet

I landed a full time assisting job with a fashion and celebrity photographer because he noticed I scrubbed his toilet and cleaned his studio when I had nothing to do

6. Hang around with people who inspire and support you

Some of your friends and family are going to try and talk you out of pursuing your dreams.
They have good intentions but it’s your dream not theirs.

7. It takes 10,000 hours of work to become a master of your craft

If you spend 3 hours a day photographing and editing photos you will become a master at it in 10 years. There are no short cuts or magic formulas, just hard work.

8. Photography is not a job it’s a passion

When you love what you do it never feels like work.

9. Learn to embrace failure

Some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs had spectacular failures before they found success.

Henry Ford had 5 businesses fail before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company.

Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times trying to invent the light bulb and after the 10,000th time; he succeed

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

10. Your uniqueness is the most important asset you have

The photography industry does not need another Ansel Adams, Annie Leibowitz, or Alfred Stieglitz. Develop a unique style that sets you apart from everyone else

11. The most common cause of failure is quitting

Most people give too early. Building a business takes years, there will be set backs. Commit to the long haul.

Fact: the average entrepreneurial millionaire has been broke or nearly broke 3.2 times

12. There is no such thing as overnight success

It took me 5 years to actually make a profit. It took me ten years before that profit was enough to afford me a decent lifestyle

13. Having a full time or part time job while you build your business is a great idea

I worked full time in an Italian restaurant for the first 5 years

Having another job while I built my business had the following positive effects

  • It gives you something positive do everyday while you are waiting for your first breaks
  • It removes that “desperate” energy around you. Trying to find new clients in this headspace is really difficult. Nobody wants to hire someone that appears desperate it makes them wonder what is wrong with you.
  • Your part time job may be the source of photography leads or your first big break. It was for me.

14. You will constantly be surprised by where your big breaks come from

I landed my first paid advertising shoot from waitresses I worked with. She introduced me to her husband who ran an advertising agency. One day he asked me to do a shoot for his agency. It was a simple product shot that should have taken an hour. I worked on it for 2 days, made a loss but earned a very happy and lucrative client.

15. Every time you are rejected means you are one step closer to success

Collecting new clients is a numbers game. In my early years I discovered that when I was showing my folio to Art Directors and Editors I was getting 30-50 “no’s” to every “yes”.

It took me many, many years to work out that this rejection is never personal. It often just comes down to potluck if you meet with someone on the same day they happen to have an assignment that suits you.

There are some very famous examples of people who experienced countless rejections before they achieved success

  • Author, J.K Rowling’s manuscript Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before she found a publisher
  • Walt Disney was knocked back 302 times before he got financing for creating Disney World
  • Several record labels rejected The Beatles
  • Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC had his famous secret recipe knocked back a staggering 1009 times

16. Seek constructive criticism and learn from it

One of my greatest learning periods was during a 3-month stint working in a photo lab printing Black and white prints. Yes, last century when we marveled at the new mobile phone that was the size of a small refrigerator and twice as heavy.

I was shooting models tests all weekend and bringing them into the lab to print and process during the week. Two of my co-workers were 30+ year veterans who would critique my work and give me suggestions on improving technique and style.

Show your photos to as many industry professionals as you can. Ask for constructive criticism and learn from it. This is a great time of growth and learning.

Be grateful for all the praise your family and friends will always give your work but remember they will always love everything you do and may find it difficult to point out any faults.

17. Dress to impress

If you want people to take you seriously then you should take your appearance seriously.

18. Always read the fine print

Never sign a contract before reading the fine print. If you don’t understand it then find someone who does.

19. Work your strengths, hire your weaknesses

Aim towards outsourcing all the things that take you away from earning money for your business like book keeping and web design. Your time would be better-spent blogging or marketing.

20. Social Networking

Blog, tweet, flickr, facebook, instagram, google+, linkedin do it all and do it often.

Share your work, support other artists whose work you love and be generous with your information.

21. Shoot personal projects that inspire you

Unless you are lucky enough to be working for cutting edge magazines or alternative clients who love to push the envelope shooting only paid work will give you a very generic looking folio.

Shooting personal projects give you a chance to test new lighting styles, lenses, locations and it’s a brilliant way to showcase your personality.

22. Have a consistent workflow

Name and number and file every shoot in a consistent way. If you’ve ever spent hours looking for an image or even worse lost files you will understand the importance of this point.

23. Back up twice

Keep one hard drive on location and another off site. Hard drives fail. Protect your files.

24. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys

Use professional assistants. Having a great assistant means you never have to sweat the small stuff. Everything is taken care of. This means you can focus on getting the shot

25. An inexperienced make up artist or stylist can ruin and entire shoot

Work with a variety of different Hair and Make Up artists and Stylists till you find the ones that compliment your shooting style.

26. Always shoot in RAW

A RAW image file contains all the original data that the camera censor captured.

A JPEG is a compressed file that only retains about half the data of a RAW file.

Give image the best possible chance from the start. No excuses. Just shoot RAW.

27. Never store your memory cards in your back pocket and don’t shoot an entire job on one card

Pockets get holes in them and cards fail. I found out the hard way.

28. Be quiet

If you depend on your creativity for your living, then your most valuable piece of equipment is your mind. Taking time out everyday is a great way to do this and

29. Make friends with other photographers

The best advice on equipment and technique has come from spending time with other photographers. Social networking makes it really easy to connect with different photographers from all around the world.

30. Just start. Today

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The first thing I did when I decided to become a photographer was to get business cards printed that said Gina Milicia PHOTOGRAPHER. Even if I wasn’t 100% convinced I was ready or good enough the simple act of printing cards made it real to me.

I started out with a basic SLR camera and a cheap zoom I borrowed from my brother. I photographed only in daylight for the first 2 years because I could not afford flash gear and worked hand held because I also could not afford a tripod.

There will never be a time when you are 100% ready. There will always be something missing. Just start. Today.

A few great books that inspired me.

Gina is the author of four dPS eBooks including:

You can buy one for $19.99 or grab the whole bundle for only $49.99 (save 38%) from any of the links above.

Read more from our category

Gina Milicia has been a professional photographer for more than 25 years. She has photographed some of the world’s most high-profile people including royalty, billionaires and A-list celebrities. Often travelling the world, Gina also runs photography workshops and private mentoring sessions. You can sign up for her free ebook on "Portrait and Post Production Essentials" and see more of her work here. Check out her podcast “So you want to be a photographer” on iTunes.

Some Older Comments

  • Mimi June 11, 2013 06:05 pm

    The Best Advise I ever get
    Thank you:)

  • Kim June 10, 2013 10:46 am

    These are some great tips I especially like tip #7 "It takes 10,000 hours of work to become a master of your craft" I still have quite a long time before I'm a master. Thanks for sharing!

  • Doug April 11, 2013 04:47 pm

    These are lots of general comments that are good for most businesses, but not much on how to make money in photography. What about getting started in stock photography? Or landscape photography like John Shaw? Or how to market you photos? Or how to make and sell greeting cards or calendars? Or how to market your photos as fine art? How does one really get started SELLING photography?

  • Gina Milicia March 10, 2013 07:17 pm

    Thanks Aries, really pleased to know you will keep following your bliss!

    Leon L. Nery , thank you so much. That really means a lot to me.

  • Leon L. Nery March 4, 2013 11:44 pm

    Hi Gina Milicia! It's a keeper! I will frame it and hang it on the wall beside my Desiderata. It will have a great positive in my life. Thank you 30X!

  • Aries March 1, 2013 06:34 pm

    This is a very article. . I almost give up until such I read this.Thank you very much for having this. More power to you!

  • Gina Milicia February 26, 2013 10:13 am

    Thanks for your comments Moin and Iban.

    Great point about not taking out loans Karen. I also took this approach in my first ten years. Thanks for sharing.

  • Karen February 25, 2013 01:58 pm

    I started my studio over 15 years ago and found success following many of these suggestions. I would add that for me not taking loans was critical. I needed to know I could financially walk away at any point if I was going to sleep at night. As suggested, I had a side job to support myself so I could put my studio earnings back into growing my business. Good read.

  • iban_g_g February 25, 2013 07:15 am

    Really great tips Gina, Thank you!!
    All the best!

  • Moin Ally February 24, 2013 10:21 am

    very good article ..
    liked it a lot ..


  • Gina Milicia February 24, 2013 09:51 am

    Hi marius2die4 thanks for your comments

    Calin, finding a good mentor takes time. Perhaps you can broaden your search to include successful artists whose work you admire. You might also try taking workshops or find a professional mentor.

    Secondly your best mentors may not necessarily be other photographers. I have some great business mentors who are not creatives.

    Deb Scally The only way you will ever know for sure is if you actually try.

    Yes I had doubts, still do.
    Yes, I was afraid,
    Yes, I worried about not being able to pay rent.
    Yes, there were times when I wanted to give up (several)
    I'm not saying this is easy, It's not. The best advice I can give you is to follow your gut. It's never wrong.
    Perhaps you could keep your day job and start taking on paid jobs on weekends and after hours. This is how I started. Good Luck Deb.

    Hi Jay Larson, that's great to hear and thanks for your book suggestions, I'll check them out.

  • Joey Fernandez February 24, 2013 12:01 am

    I was amazed at how you started photography business, like borrowing lenses from your brother, shooting in daylight only coz u cant afford a flash and even a tripod..... wow!....you ignited a light at the end of a tunnel for me.
    Thanks for sharing your tips and most especially your personal story.

  • Dave February 23, 2013 05:06 pm

    Great post! I just started my photography journey and realize how I need to start today acting on my passions. It was good to hear from a professional and reinforce some of the things I've been thinking about doing: internship, mentorship, and classes. Thanks for the motivation!

  • Tom February 23, 2013 07:38 am

    Nice tips, but the most important of these are the books at the end of the post. Reading these can improve several aspects in your life.

  • Jay Larson February 23, 2013 02:05 am

    Just got my first break and my business license is still in the mail. The simple act of just jumping in was my only hold back.

    Excellent article. Thanks for emphasizing business logic.

    2 book suggestions:
    Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques - Michael Michalko
    Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done - Larry Bossidy

  • Deb Scally February 23, 2013 01:17 am

    This was a really good post, with lots of motivational points! I am right on the brink of trying to decide whether to take the plunge into photography as a side business, and while I feel my skill level is ready (30+ years of serious amateur photography) I am not sure whether I should pursue the business side, or just continue to enjoy my passion for myself. On one hand, it seems crazy not to try and monetize something I thoroughly enjoy doing and I am confident I can do well...on the other side, I worry about the business side eventually draining my passion. Did you ever have these kinds of self-doubts?

  • Bruno February 23, 2013 12:21 am

    Greatly enjoy your forum and despite the fact that I have been a photographer for 35 years, I'm still learning from other photographers. Keep doing that good job
    Bruno L'Hoste

  • Calin February 22, 2013 08:25 pm

    I find it hard to find a mentor. Also, I find it hard to learn from other photographers, offline. It's easy online, but cannot break this online barrier.
    Very good article. Very good points. Plain and simple.

  • marius2die4 February 22, 2013 07:22 pm

    Very inspiring article to read.


  • Gina Milicia February 22, 2013 07:13 pm

    Thanks for your comments and support. I really enjoyed writing this article and so pleased you all got so much out of it.
    Timgray, Thanks for your comment. I started my business while I was still incredibly green. I made a lot of mistakes, learnt from them and kept moving forward. After 25 years in the business I have worn out several shutters and still have a long way to go but I'm glad I didn't wait.

    Abhishek Banerjee There are many excellent free podcasts and blog posts that explain post production techniques.I have hundreds loaded onto my ipod that I try and watch whenever I have free time. I agree it is tricky at first and I'm afraid the only way to learn a new skill and master it is to put in the hours.

    Maria,Kari,Mridula,Michal France,Bridgette H,Toeknee,Alejandro,Liz Thanks for your positive comments and insights.

    Cathy, thanks for your comments... I must have been distracted mid #28 :) It should read

    28. Be quiet

    If you depend on your creativity for your living, then your most valuable piece of equipment is your mind. Taking time out everyday is a great way to do this. Some of the worlds most creative minds start each day with 20 minutes of silence.

    Regan, thanks for your comments. I love the Karate Kid analogy!

  • Barry E. Warren February 22, 2013 05:15 pm

    You have some very good pointers, about 30 of them. Thanks you helped a lot.

  • Wil February 22, 2013 03:55 pm

    Gina... Thank You!! Thank you for putting this into perspective. I've already started and my journey is just beginning.

  • armando February 22, 2013 02:44 pm

    thank you very much..i really appreciate those advices,very inspiring to me,im a beginner

  • Liz February 22, 2013 09:47 am

    Thank you so much for this very encouraging articles. At least i know i'm on the right path as i read through and checking each box things I should do/know before starting a business. Thank you kindly again.

  • Alejandro February 22, 2013 09:31 am

    Great article! Really motivational words for those of us that are working to do something in the industry! I myself have just started snapping away at all I can any chance I get and working to progress to a higher level each time. I have just started posting in certain social media and trying to get my work out there to get some feedback! Thanks again for the motivation to keep working at it!!

  • Regan February 22, 2013 09:23 am

    #7- When I was in a martial arts class, the instructor referred to a study that it take 5000 repetitions of a manual task with multiple movements to be able to perform it subconsciously. Think of the movie, Karate Kid; "wax on, wax off". How many times I found that my ISO was too high/low, shutter too fast/slow, ƒ too open or closed after the moment arrived and passed! The people that learn photography in schools have the advantage of a teacher standing over them to re-enforce those disciplines, and with regular shooting, the habits of a professional take root. Finding mentors, which means people with more experience than me, is what propels me along. I can repay them with referrals and assistance in their projects. Thanks for inspiring me with this post!

  • Toeknee February 22, 2013 08:37 am

    Thank you for this article! It's so hard to tell yourself "it takes time" when part of you wants to do, know, be everything NOW! I can also see the difference with surrounding yourself with people who have the same interest compared to just family or "regular" friends; it gives you motivation to have others as excited as you!

  • Michal France February 22, 2013 06:01 am

    Thank you for this great article! It gives quite an image of the difficulties of running into Photo-business. And I love the idea of following the dream despite of failures and refusals. Truly inspiring and not only for photography!

  • Bridgette H February 22, 2013 05:35 am

    #7 really hit home for me. I'm not there YET, because I havn't paid all my dues, but I WILL get there with continued hard work. It's a huge relief to know it takes that long. I will stop thinking I should be better at this by now.

  • Kari February 22, 2013 04:05 am

    I love taking pictures. All my friends encourage me, nearly daily, to start getting paid. Thank you so much for this advice. My biggest issue is my self-confidence. I just don't believe I'm good enough to quit the day job (that I'm not particularly happy with) to pursue this full time. So this gives me the start of a path forward toward doing something that I think I'll love.


  • Cathy February 22, 2013 03:19 am

    Thanks for this, very inspiring and suits so well to the situation I am just now. Very well written and put. The item 28. lacks some words?

  • Mridula February 22, 2013 02:48 am

    Even though I do not intend to go into photography business I liked a lot of what you said. Like finding a great mentor and having a full time job!


  • Maria Assia February 22, 2013 02:30 am

    Really good advice. As with any art it's 1% talent and 99% hard work,and the business side of it can't be ignored. Networking with colleagues also is something that should not be underestimated in importance since they can also be a great source of work with referrals. And most importantly, follow your vision and inspiration and continue trying new stuff all the time. It will always inject something new into the images you take.

  • Abhishek Banerjee February 22, 2013 01:31 am

    It was very inspiring to read your article. I wished to pursue my dreams for quite a sometime now. You have given me the courage to start.

    I would like to know a thing from you..
    How do one knows when one is skillfuly ready to be a professional. My photos are just about good and I am very poor in post production. How do I get about the postproduction thing. I do not seem to understand what should I do with a photo to make it look awe-inspiring..

  • timgray February 22, 2013 01:25 am

    Wear out the shutter on a camera to the point it stops working WITHOUT using burst mode, then you are ready to think about starting a business.