Starting a photography business on the side: Tips for balancing your full-time job, personal life, and growing your business.

April 6th, 2023
woman taking photo near tree

Are you an inspiring photographer who dreams of turning your hobby into a business, but you’re not quite ready to give up the stability of your day job? Want to find out how to successfully run a photography business on the side without burning out? In this blog post, we’ll be discussing strategies for managing your time and money, plus tips for marketing and branding a photography side business that could eventually transition into your main source of income.

night star and cloud reflection on water with sailboat

The essential skills every professional photographer should possess.

Being a professional photographer requires a wide range of technical and artistic skills. One of the most important skills is the ability to operate a camera and understand how to use its various features, such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. A professional photographer will want to be comfortable selecting and using the appropriate lenses, and in some situations flashes, reflectors, and other equipment to capture high-quality images. In order to create consistent work in their own style, a photographer will want to be proficient in using photo editing software for enhancing and refining their images.

In addition to technical skills, a professional photographer often also possesses strong artistic abilities. They are able to compose visually compelling images that are capable of telling a story and capturing emotions. This requires an understanding of color, light, and composition, as well as the ability to share their unique perspective on everyday scenes and objects. A professional photographer has an eye for detail and is able to recognize small things that can make a big difference in the final image.

Another valuable quality for a professional photographer is the ability to work with people. This includes communicating effectively with clients to understand their needs and preferences, as well as directing models or subjects during photo shoots. Making their subjects feel comfortable and relaxed, and being able to adjust their approach to suit their different types of clients is an important part of the job.

Finally, business skills such as marketing, networking, and managing finances are key to having a profitable photography business.. The ability for a photographer to market their work effectively, build a client base, and manage finances will help to ensure success. Overall, the combination of technical, artistic, interpersonal, and business skills is what makes for a truly exceptional professional photography career. 

If you don’t possess all of these skills yet, don’t let that hold you back. One of the most effective things any business owner learns is how and when to delegate. Most people are not absolutely amazing at everything–knowing your strengths, weaknesses, and what tasks you enjoy most can guide you toward finding the right help for your business. Outsourcing some of the work can help you avoid burnout, too. Whether this means hiring a tax consultant, social media manager, or simply outsourcing your editing, there are many people with the necessary skills to help your photography business become the lifelong career you love.

young woman wearing yellow dress and red scarf

How to know when you’re ready to turn your passion for photography into a business.

Making the transition from an amateur photographer to a professional one can be both exciting and daunting. Having a strong portfolio that showcases your skills and style is one of the best ways to determine if you are ready. A professional photographer should have a portfolio that demonstrates a consistent level of technical and artistic ability, and showcases a range of work that appeals to their ideal clients. Use your portfolio to highlight your unique style and vision, and demonstrate your ability to capture the essence of your subject.

Another important factor in determining readiness to go pro is a thorough understanding of the business side of photography. This includes knowledge of pricing, contracts, licensing, and copyright laws. To build a sustainable business, a professional photographer will want to clearly communicate their services, stand behind their pricing, protect themselves and their clients with contracts, and have some understanding of how to manage finances and taxes. There are also the administrative tasks associated with running a business, such as marketing and client relations––again, don’t be afraid to hire qualified people for some of these tasks.

Finally, being ready to go pro as a photographer means having a strong commitment to the craft. This involves a willingness to continually learn and improve your skills, stay up-to-date with the latest technology and trends, and constantly seek out new opportunities and challenges. Challenging yourself with a 365 or 52 day personal project is a great way to improve your overall photography skills. 

A professional photographer should be ready to adapt to changing conditions and client needs, and be willing to put in the time and effort required to build a successful career. Ultimately, the decision to go pro should be based on a combination of factors, including a strong portfolio, business knowledge, and a passion for photography. Make sure you create a business plan for your new photography business.

sony camera and lenses

Essential equipment to invest in for high-quality results.

Starting a photography side business requires some fundamental equipment beyond the camera itself. Along with a DSLR or mirrorless full-frame camera, it’s smart to invest in one or two lenses that suit your photography style and needs. While a general-purpose lens, such as a 50mm prime or a kit zoom lens, is a great place to start, you may want to consider adding specialized lenses as your business grows. For example, a portrait photographer might want to invest in a portrait lens like an 85mm, while a landscape photographer might want to consider an ultra-wide-angle lens like a 10-20mm.

In addition to lenses and a camera, it is important to have multiple memory cards to ensure that you always have enough storage space for your photos. It’s also a good idea to invest in high-quality memory cards that can write images quickly and have large storage capacity. For a side business, two or three 64GB or 128GB memory cards are usually enough. It is also a good practice to add the purchase or first use dates on new cards and plan to replace them at least every couple years, depending on your shoot volume.

Another crucial piece of equipment for a photography side business is a computer or laptop for editing. Editing is an integral part of a photography business, and it’s key to have a device that can handle the demands of photo editing software. A laptop or computer with a fast processor will allow you to edit images efficiently, store large amounts of data, and handle other business tasks such as managing finances, updating your online portfolio website, and communicating with clients.

Photo editing software is also an investment that is hard to avoid unless you plan to outsource your editing. While there are a variety of software options available, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are the most commonly used. These programs provide a range of powerful editing tools, from color correction and exposure adjustments to more advanced techniques such as compositing and retouching.

Finally, creating an online portfolio website or using an image delivery platform is indispensable for showcasing your work and delivering images to clients. It’s worthwhile to choose a platform that is easy to use and visually appealing, with features such as online galleries, password-protected image delivery, and client proofing. Zenfolio and Format are popular options that offer a range of features for photography businesses of all sizes.

man and woman kissing with toddler on their knee

Affordable and effective ways to market your new part-time photography business.

Starting a new part-time photography business can be expensive, but there are several affordable and effective ways to market your services and reach potential clients. Here are three easy and cheap ways to market a new part-time photography business:

Social media: Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are excellent tools for marketing a photography business. You can create a business page or account and showcase your work, share your services, and engage with potential clients. By regularly posting high-quality images and using relevant hashtags, you can reach a wider audience and attract more clients.

Referral program: Another effective way to market your photography business is through a referral program. Offer your existing clients a discount or a small incentive for referring new clients to your business. This approach can help you build a network of loyal customers who are willing to recommend your services to others, thereby increasing your exposure and credibility.

Collaborations: Partnering with other businesses or individuals can be an effective way to market your photography business. Reach out to local businesses or influencers who may benefit from your services and offer them a discount or a collaboration opportunity. You could also collaborate with other creatives in your area, such as makeup artists or models, to create new and unique content that you can share on your social media pages or website.

bride and groom standing on the street during daytime

Tips for pricing your photography services and products as a new photographer.

Pricing your photography services and products can be challenging, especially when you are a new photographer. Here are five tips on how to price your photography services and products:

Research your competition: One of the best ways to price your photography services and products is to research your competition. Look at other photographers in your area or niche, and see what they are charging for their services and products. This information will give you an idea of what your market can bear and help you set a competitive price.

Consider your costs: Before setting your prices, it’s essential to consider your costs. Calculate your expenses, including the cost of equipment, software, printing, and other expenses. This calculation will give you an idea of the minimum amount you need to charge to cover your costs and make a profit.

Turn your images into income.

Sell your photos online from your own custom store. Set up is quick and your clients will enjoy a seamless shopping experience.

Set clear pricing packages: Consider creating pricing packages that are clear and easy for clients to understand. This approach will help you avoid confusion and make it easier for clients to choose the right package for their needs. Consider offering a range of packages that cater to different budgets and needs.

Charge by the hour or project: Charging by the hour or project can be an effective way to price your photography services. This approach allows you to charge for your time and expertise, and it’s easy for clients to understand. Be sure to set clear expectations around how long the project will take and what is included in your pricing.

Adjust your prices as you gain experience: As you gain experience and build your portfolio, you may find that you can charge more for your services and products. Don’t be afraid to adjust your prices as you grow your business and gain more experience. However, be sure to communicate any price changes with your clients and give them plenty of notice.

Monkey and her baby on a hill top in kodaikanal

Time management tips for balancing your side photography business with your full-time job and personal life.

Balancing a part-time photography business with a full-time job and other responsibilities can be challenging, but with some time management strategies, it’s possible to find a balance. Here are some tips for managing your time and balancing your part-time photography business with your full-time job and personal life:

Set realistic goals: One of the most effective ways to manage your time is to set realistic goals. Break down your larger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks, and set deadlines for each one. This approach will help you prioritize your time and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Create a schedule: Creating a schedule can help you manage your time more effectively. Set aside specific times for work, photography, and other activities. Make sure to include time for self-care and family time, too. A schedule will help you stay organized and ensure that you have time for everything that’s important to you.

Outsource and automate: Look for ways to automate tasks and free up more time. For example, you can use booking and scheduling software to book sessions and automatically create client galleries. When you use an online portfolio website platform like Zenfolio, you can both implement a booking workflow and use integrated professional print labs to create a customized online shop, taking client orders, collecting payment, and order fulfillment off your plate. This approach will allow you to focus on the most critical aspects of your business while still having time for other responsibilities.

Prioritize self-care: As a photographer, you need to be in the right mindset to capture beautiful images. Make sure to prioritize self-care and take breaks when you need them. This might include exercise, meditation, or simply taking a walk in nature. Taking care of yourself will help you manage stress and be more productive in your work.

Set boundaries: When you’re juggling a full-time job and a part-time photography business, it can be challenging to know when to stop working. Set clear boundaries for yourself, such as not working after a certain time or on weekends. This approach will help you avoid burnout and ensure that you have time for other important aspects of your life.

Learn to say “No”: As your photography business grows, you may receive more requests for your services. While it’s tempting to say yes to everything, learning to say no can be a necessary time management skill. Prioritize the requests that align with your business goals and values, and politely decline those that don’t. This approach will help you avoid overcommitting and ensure that you have time for the most critical aspects of your business and personal life.

Starting a photography business on the side is a smart way to turn your passion into a profitable venture without risking your steady income. As a professional photographer, possessing a combination of technical, artistic, interpersonal, and business skills will help you to succeed. Knowing when you’re ready to turn your passion into a business involves having a strong portfolio, a thorough understanding of the business side of photography, and a strong commitment to the craft. As you grow, investing in quality, reliable equipment such as lenses, memory cards, a high-speed laptop or computer, photo editing software, and an image delivery platform is essential for your side business. 

By balancing your full-time job, personal life, and growing your photography business with these tips and strategies, you can build a sustainable and successful career as a professional photographer. Remember to continuously improve your skills, stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technology, and maintain your passion for photography. With perseverance and determination, your photography side business could turn into your main source of income, and you could enjoy a fulfilling career doing what you love.

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  • Cheryl Dell'Osso

    Cheryl is the Director of Content Strategy at Zenfolio and the Owner/Photographer at Portraits by Cheryl and Seniors by Cheryl in Raleigh, NC. Cheryl has mentored countless new photographers looking to build successful photography businesses.

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