Startup costs for your photography business.

January 14th, 2022
Startup Costs for your Photography Business - Camera gear

It’s no secret that starting a photography business requires a lot of time and energy, but it can also take quite a bit of cash. When you think of photography startup costs, you likely think of acquiring the right gear. This may include:

  • A camera (approx. $1,000-$2,000).
  • Lenses ($1,000+ per lens).
  • Lighting and studio backdrops ($200-$800).
  • Flash ($100+).
  • Reflectors (up to $150).
  • Studio space (approx. $100 per hour).

And the list goes on. In fact, it’s estimated that starting a photography business can cost an average of $10,000 to $15,000. Camera gear alone can cost upwards of $10,000 without taking into account the administrative expenses that are necessary to run a business. That’s why it’s important to create a photography business checklist of startup costs, so you have a realistic estimate of how much you’ll need to get started, and how to price yourself accordingly to cover the ongoing costs of doing business.

Here, we’ll dive into some of the lesser-known photography startup costs to help save you from surprise expenses down the road.

Photo editing. 

The ability to edit photos is arguably just as important as the ability to take them. To edit, you’ll need editing software and a computer with enough processing power to run it. 

When looking for a laptop, pay attention to the quality of the graphics card and the RAM speed, as both are factors that will impact your editing sessions. Your time spent behind the computer screen quite literally has a price tag; make the most of it by getting a computer that won’t leave you waiting on slow loading times while using your editing software, again and again. Unless you’re also a pro bargain hunter, you should be prepared to spend about $1,000-$2,500 on a laptop purchase.

When it comes to editing software, some popular choices among photographers are Luminar ($79 for a lifetime license), Photoshop and Lightroom (an Adobe bundle of both is currently $9.99 per month). 

startup costs laptop and editing software

Business registration and licensing.

Beyond the creative costs of your photography business are the expenses of running the business itself. One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is the kind of license you want to run your business under. 

Having a business license comes with a variety of benefits. When you license your business, you’re designating it as a separate entity from yourself. This means your business is taxed separately from you as an individual, which allows you to write off business expenses. It can also protect your personal assets if your company is sued.

The main cost of starting an LLC is the filing fee. This fee varies by state, but it’s typically between $50 and $100. 

The costs of starting an S Corporation vary based on the complexity of your business. Generally, you can expect:

  • Between $100 and $250 in fees for the articles of incorporation.
  • Roughly $500-$800 in annual state reporting fees.
  • A few hundred dollars in legal fees to process the legal documents.

No matter the type of license you choose, you’ll need to understand the tax laws your license provides. And don’t forget to budget for costs related to accounting services for taxes and business reporting.

Business insurance.

Speaking of unexpected costs; it’s always best to be prepared for the worst. That’s where business insurance comes in.

Business insurance offers protection against unpredictable circumstances, whether you’re at fault or not. This could include damage to your equipment, privacy breaches or business interruptions (looking at you, COVID). It can also cover liability issues that may or may not arise.

General liability insurance typically runs between $40 and $70 per month, though the price can go up depending on any additional coverages you elect. While any coverage is usually better than none at all, consider looking into policies that are specifically available for photographers. Especially if you are already a member, the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) is a great place to start your search.

An up-to-date website.

To help potential clients find your business and review your work, you’ll need a well-designed website. Startup costs for a DIY website builder typically range between $100 and $500. This doesn’t include a custom domain name, though, so be sure to leave about $20 per year to buy and renew your URL.

When looking for a website builder, look for a solution that provides all the tools you’ll need to create a compelling portfolio. Make sure it includes the ability to:

  • Choose from multiple layouts and templates, so you can make changes as your business grows.
  • Create and share photo galleries, both for portfolio and client purposes.
  • Customize with your logo and brand colors.
  • Connect to your social media.
  • Create an online store for selling photo prints, products, and custom packages.
  • Adapt to all device sizes, including cell phones and tablets.
  • Enable security features that protect your work.

It’s also recommended that you look for a solution that offers digital marketing assistance, with built-in search engine optimization (SEO), automated marketing campaigns, email templates and visitor email capture.

startup costs portfolio and client gallery website

Bookkeeping software or an accountant.

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to include bookkeeping or accounting in your photography startup costs checklist. This could mean hiring an accountant (approx. $100-$300 per hour) to manage your cash flow and taxes or downloading a DIY tool like Quickbooks. Quickbooks’s monthly plans for small businesses start at $25.50 per month and go as high as $180 per month, depending on how many features you need.

Before officially starting a photography business, you might want to consider hiring an attorney to draft up your legal documents and contracts. At the very least, you should consult with an expert to help review any contracts you draft for fine print you may need to be aware of.

Luckily, this can be a one-time fee. These services will likely cost you somewhere between $300 and $1,000, depending on the complexity of your contract.

Little-known expenses.

In addition to all of these startup costs, you’ll want to think ahead for any expenses you might encounter on an ongoing basis. Creating the right balance of session pricing and number of sessions is key to covering these costs going forward. This list could include: 

  • Costs for travel and gas heading to and from shoots.
  • Mileage and car maintenance for heavy use of your car.
  • Marketing materials and expenses like business cards, promotional items, product samples and paid social ads.
  • Hard drive storage and memory cards to store (and back up!) all of your large photo files.

Starting a photography business can be expensive, but it can also be financially rewarding. Set yourself up for success by preparing for startup costs now before they become unwelcome surprises later.

Eliina has an extensive background in illustration and design. She has been working at Zenfolio for the last 2 years helping photographers meet their business and website needs.

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