How to Become a Pro Photographer: Part 2 - Getting Started

How to Become a Pro Photographer: Part 2 – Getting Started

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Image by Romain Guy

Getting started

Once you have the intention and the funds (see Part 1 of Becoming a Pro Photographer) in place it’s time to consider the legality, rules and regulations and all the red tape of what you need to do. In the UK the government provide a range of free half-day training sessions to help self-employed people get up to speed on everything from paying your taxes to health and safety (visit http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/bst/advice-team-events/work1.htm if you’re in the UK). Another great port of call is www.businesslink.gov.uk who run a plethora of free (and some paid) business course, catering for everything from web marketing to brand building, to assessing customer body language! A quick trawl of the internet should reap some similar courses in other parts of the world too (feel free to suggest resources for your part of the world in comments below) – sometimes these are subsidised by the government. Something else to give great care and consideration is to getting yourself properly insured. Join us again in a few weeks when we will reveal a complete guide on photographer’s insurance.

Paying tax

As inevitable in life, as death – there is no way to avoid paying tax if you want to work. The rules, rates and deadlines will vary massively from country to country so ensure you fully explore what it is you need to do in your own part of the world, and if unsure always employ the services of an accountant who can check you aren’t paying too little – or too much. Regardless of where you work it is advisable that you keep a solid record of your accounts, expenses, income, invoices and receipts. It is recommended that you back up any digital records stored on your computer and also keep a secure paper copy. There are hundreds of software packages out there that can help with the accounts side of your business or – again – employ an accountant to help. This won’t also be useful for ensuring your tax return is correct, but may also help you secure a bank loan or help you to sell or franchise your business down the line.

In the UK as soon as you start earning through freelance methods you will need to register with the Inland Revenue to ensure you pay any appropriate tax and national insurance contributions.  However it is worth bearing in mind that self-employed people here can deduct many allowable expenses (i.e. those items purchased exclusively for the business, including printing paper, inks, stationary, parking tickets etc) from the sum earned that financial year to reduce the amount of tax paid. What is more; currently self-employed folk can claim 40p for every business mile travelled using their own vehicle and there are even other allowances for “capital” items such as new equipment. How much tax you pay will depend on whether your income is greater than your tax allowance after expenses have been deducted for that year. For more information on taxes and NI Contributions see www.hmrc.gov.uk.

As in most countries around the world tax evasion in the United States is also illegal, and doing so could lead to you being fined or serving a stint in jail. However thanks to the online payment system (which we also now have in the UK) filling in the tax form return is relatively simple. If you’re just starting out as a self employed person in the US then most of the questions won’t apply. Remember to register as self employed though and you’ll need to pay the basic national insurance stamp over the course of the year which can be made through direct debit.

Amounts vary across the world on how much you are required to pay, but as a good measure of caution in the UK and US, it is ideal to set aside 30% of everything you earn. This should cover your tax bill come the end of the financial year and whatever is left will be a nice little bonus!

Contracts

When you work as a freelance photographer there will be times when you are asked to sign a contract so be prepared to read the small print carefully before signing. There are plenty of little details to watch out for, such as ownership and copyright laws. Don’t try to ignore these issues as you could end up losing you money, or worse your rights to the images. If there is something you don’t understand, always ask for clarification or take it to someone outside of the company for an objective opinion before signing.

Equally you may need to consider creating a contract for your clients or models to sign. Be sure to cover anything you deem necessary such as; payment demands, copyright issues, details explaining that you may wish to use the images to promote your business etc. Again, having an objective pair of eyes – or even a legal representative check over the document will be incredibly helpful. There are hundreds of templates online that are available to use and mould to suit your own business, just find something that suits what you are attempting to achieve.

Invoicing

Knowing how, what and when to invoice can be confusing at first – but there are many templates online that you can use and change to suit your business, but essentially invoices can be as simple as stating your contact details, addressee details, a quick description of the work done, fee and details of when payment is due. Be prompt and organised when it comes to getting paid – otherwise you won’t eat. Keep a detailed spreadsheet in digital form as well as backed up with a paper copy and chart when you dispatch invoices and receive payment.

Join us for Part 3 when we will discuss marketing and brand building concerns. Subscribe to dPS to make sure you get it.

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Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) is the former editor of Digital Photographer magazine, and is now a freelance journalist and photographer who has written for dozens of photography and technology magazines and websites over the last decade. Recent author and tutor too.

Some Older Comments

  • Rich October 4, 2010 11:49 am

    @Christine,
    I looked into the hobby deduction briefly to answer your question and here is a link that says it better than I could in this space: http://www.ehow.com/how_2183916_hobby-expenses-hobby-income.html. I can't guarantee that it is all correct, but it looks reasonable. It's really for a hobby that might make a few bucks, or might not really pay for its own expenses (like photography), rather than a really personal hobby that couldn't earn money. I'd say you could deduct for your lenses, but only up to $500, and remember that it is only deducting from your taxable income, not reducing your taxes by $500.

  • Christine October 2, 2010 04:29 am

    @Rich: (or anyone else who can answer): I'm curious about the "avocation" expenses tax deduction. I'm not on the verge of going pro, but am starting to develop a 1 year plan to test the viability of becoming a freelance/self-employed photographer and would like to know more about this deduction and what expenses it covers. Could I expand my selection of lenses using this?

  • Victoria September 22, 2010 05:40 am

    "Business & Legal Forms for Photographers" by Tad Crawford is a great book for those starting in the photo business. The title is self-explanatory. It also comes w/ a CD with all of the forms to be downloaded and revised to suit your needs.

  • Rich September 17, 2010 11:37 pm

    I'm not a pro and not quite on the verge of going pro...yet. However, I am trying to earn a few dollars to support my habit. This article gets me thinking that with just a little record keeping, perhaps I could perfectly legally deduct many of my photography expenses as I ramp up my abilities and develop my portfolio. Essentially, I'm in a business development stage, otherwise known as a "business loss" for tax purposes. I mean, if I was creating a brick and mortar store that took a year to set up, I would record all my expenses as as a loss and deduct them.

    By the way, I'm in the US and I have taken advantage of the $500 tax deduction for a "avocation" expenses - essentially a way to deduct for a serious hobby.

  • Guess the Lighting September 9, 2010 01:03 pm

    It's so much more than just snapping shots, isn't it. Thanks for laying out the real deal.

    Cheers,
    GuessTheLighting.com

  • Karen Stuebing September 5, 2010 08:37 pm

    This article is geared toward the UK where taxes and rules are different than the US. While I am not a pro photographer, I did run a home business for several years and it's not really as complicated as it sounds.

    For tax purposes, if you are working alone and are not incorporated, you use your social security number for your EIN. I did my own taxes including the home office deduction.

    You can write off any equipment you buy against your income. You can use travel mileage and other expenses. It is all on the IRS website .

    Keep records and receipts. Set up a spreadsheet.

    Another resource is Small Business Administration .

    As for invoicing and what to charge, copyright, getting paid, etc., you do need to address that. I know some professional photographers who set up galleries for clients online where they can access the photos and choose the ones they want and then pay via Paypal which offers some measure or protection if you don't get paid.

    It is not that hard these days to set up a website and add Paypal.

  • Paulo Sacramento September 5, 2010 08:01 pm

    Excellent article! Thanks. :)

  • simon bunting September 4, 2010 06:09 pm

    Whoa I didn't realise there was that much red tape to it :( ! I suppose I was a bit naive.