Three business questions new photographers often ask.

January 28th, 2022
Three business questions new photographers often ask

The magic of photography draws in multitudes of people. It has always been an accessible way to express oneself, as well as an entry into many different fields. 

Once photography gets its hooks into someone, questions begin to arise about how to transition their hobby into a paid gig, and become a professional photographer, either part or full time. In this post, we’ll answer three common questions photographers ask as their creative passion also becomes a business endeavor.

  • Do you need a degree to be a photographer?
  • Do photographers need a business license?
  • Do photographers need insurance?
  • Photography business FAQ

does a photographer need a degree

Do you need a degree to be a photographer?

Getting into just about any field requires one (or both) of two things: experience and training. That’s the easy answer. Digging deeper, things get a bit murkier. Considering photography specifically, there are many types of photography ranging from fine art, to more commonly thought of roles such as portrait photographer or wedding photographer, to highly specialized types of photography.

Now back to the degree question. 

Do you need a degree to become a photographer? Simply stated, no. In contrast to being a lawyer or doctor, there isn’t an educational requirement necessary to be a photographer. 

Requirement vs. realty

That said, most working photographers have a degree; usually a bachelors but sometimes an associates. The focus of that degree varies greatly. For example, while you may find photographers who majored in fine art, photography, or visual design, you will also find those with other majors – often with little connection to photography. 

A better way to look at this question for someone considering a move into photography professionally would be, “what skills does a photographer need to succeed as a full-time professional.” Then, consider which of those skills you lack. 

You may find that the skills that you need might be in marketing, business or finance. Depending on the type of photography, it might involve something entirely different. 

In closing, a really good way to get actionable direction is to join a photography community, either in person or online, and ask photographers who do what you are looking to do. There is no single path in learning to be a better photographer and business owner; the key is finding the one that suits you best. Another great route is to talk to the admissions department at a school you are considering. The more information you can arm yourself with, the better your approach and success will be.

do photographers need a business license

Do photographers need a business license?

While most cities in the United States don’t require photographers to have a professional license to operate a photography business, a (very) few do. That’s in contrast to a job as a doctor or lawyer, for instance.

As a small business, however, most local governments require photographers to have a business license or permit to operate that business. If the business is being run out of a home there may be an exemption, however.

The best way to find out what’s required is to consult the city and county regulations in your area.

Note: Those new to business sometimes mistakenly think a business license is akin to an LLC or sole proprietorship. LLCs (Limited Liability Corporations) and sole proprietorships are types of business structures. A business license is something different altogether which allows your business, regardless of its structure, to legally operate in a given area.

Professional photographer certifications

While a photography-specific license or certification isn’t required, they do exist and can be highly beneficial. The Professional Photographers of America (PPA) offers two certifications, a Certified Professional Photographer and a Certified Drone Photographer.

Certifications like these can help photographers stand apart in a crowd, justify pricing and show your commitment and proven ability.

Sales tax certificates

One other thing to look into is whether you will need a sales tax certificate or license. Unless you live in all but a couple of states, you will need to charge tax for some of the activities photographers do for clients (and pay that back to the government). 

Sales tax is a whole conversation of its own which we’ll cover at a later date. You can learn more about the sales tax requirements by contacting the revenue agencies for your state and municipality.

do photographers need insurance

Do photographers need insurance?

Photographers are not required to have insurance to legally operate, but insurance is highly recommended. For just about any photographer operating a business, general liability insurance and equipment insurance are a must.

Insurance for photography equipment

As the name alludes to, the value of equipment insurance is continuity of business. Policies should include loss due to theft, weather or other accident. Of course, cameras and lenses and photography equipment should be covered. But, other equipment vital to your business like a laptop or other computer, for instance, should be included in a policy, too.

Photographer liability insurance

General liability insurance is an umbrella policy which covers photographers against various legal actions. Some photographers will need more general liability insurance than others. How much varies depending upon the type of photography. As an example, a photographer who primarily shoots skydivers (or scuba divers, for that matter) might need more than one whose work centers around portraiture.

There’s no shortage of types of insurance. General liability and equipment insurance are a starting point. Others that may be worth looking into include short and long term disability insurance, property insurance and life insurance.

We mentioned the PPA earlier regarding their certifications. They also offer insurance options tailored specifically to the needs of photographers.

Well, we hope we’ve been able to shed some light on these three questions. Undoubtedly you’ll have more as you build your photography business – and we’ll be ready! 

Photography Business FAQ

What degree does a photographer need?

While many photographers have an associates, bachelor or postgraduate degree, a formal education is not required to become a photographer. This doesn’t mean that having a degree or other formal education doesn’t help you as a photographer or as a business person, however. It just isn’t required.

What insurance does a photography business need?

A photography business should have general liability insurance as well as have a policy that insures equipment. These two policies prevent a photographer in the event of a lawsuit arising from a client or other business relationship as well as ensure continuity of business in the event equipment is lost, stolen or broken.

Do freelance photographers need insurance?

Yes. A freelance photographer is a self-employed role that faces the same risk that any other photography business faces. Those risks include damage or loss of equipment, client disputes, injury and property damage.

Do photographers need an LLC?

In most cases, a photographer operating as an individual can do business as a sole proprietor. An LLC is an option which makes a clean separation between personal and business related assets. The best advice is to check with an accountant or business advisor to determine which structure best fits your photography business.

Do photographers need a license?

While there isn’t a specific photography license required to start a photography business, there are state and municipal requirements that govern operation on all businesses. The most common requirements include a permit to operate a business as well as a sales tax certificate. Check with your local and state government to get the requirements in your region.

Do photographers need to be certified?

No. Photographers are not required to have a certification. There are photography-specific certifications that can be beneficial to photographers, however.


  • 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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