I am often asked “how much does it cost to start a photography business?” It is a question that makes perfect sense although it is never straightforward to answer. I have loads of examples of people with big budgets and those with smaller budgets all of whom have been successful. That is actually good news for anyone starting out as it proves that you can make it either way although you will need to take different paths.
I generally ask photographers who I work with on my photography mentor programme to calculate if they are either:
Cash rich / time poor or Cash poor / time rich
Depending upon their answer they need to tackle establishing their business in different ways however there are some fundamental questions & costs that you need to consider when starting out with a new photography business venture.
What kit do I need to become a professional photographer?
Everyone wants to know what kit should they buy when starting out with a photography business. Most new photographers have little idea about what kit to buy and how expensive photography kit is. When you first look into photography kit the costs look exorbitant and it is hard to know where to start. I can tell you this that ultimately mosts professional photographers end up with the following kit:
- Camera body – approximate cost £2.5k
- Camera lenses including: 24-70 2.8 & 70-200 2.8 – total cost approximately £2.5k
- Flash gun – cost approximately £300
- Studio lighting – cost approximately £1000
The above is a complete generalisation ( and should set off a load of rude comments) however in my experience over the years this is basic photography kit for full time working professionals across a range of industries. Now the good news is that you don’t need to have this kit and much of it can be brought second hand from great shops such as MPB. Your choice of lenses allows you to take different types of images so when you start out you need to identify what your style of work will be and then choose your kit around that.
You don’t need to have the very best kit to start with, I know plenty of startups that have worked with a simple camera body and a 50mm prime lens (one that doesn’t zoom) – you will have a strong sense of style to your images you just shouldn’t over promise to your clients.
I would say in my experience the average start up budget for lenses and camera body would be around £1500 with the photographers shopping around for the best deal to suit their budget. The addition of flash comes later and that works well.
Do I need insurance to become a photographer?
Yes you do if you are going to become a professional photographer and this is just to protect yourself. There are two types public liability (protect the public from tripping over your bag type stuff) and professional indemnity. The second is the more expensive one and covers professional mistakes etc. In total you can get deals for around £100-£400 depending upon the cost of your kit and how much work you are doing – to start with it should be pretty cheap.
Do I need a Mac to become a professional photographer?
Now this is a loaded question – my answer No, you don’t need a Mac to become a professional photographer. Sure, you look the part with a mac but in my experience of using pc’s and macs I gained surprising little benefit from moving to a mac. When starting out with a new business venture you have lots to learn and think about so I am not sure you need the headache of learning how to work with a new operating system. A decent Mac can set you back £1500 whilst you can get a very good pc for under £900. I would invest the most money you can afford on computing equipment as your work will be processor hungry but don’t feel it is vital to buy a Mac.
With regards to other costs here you need to think about a hard drive to back up your work and possibly card readers to get data from your camera – total costs here £150.
Do I need a website to become a professional photographer?
Well you are going to need a website although some guys do rely on social media. We will talk in a bit about software and if you sign up for a plan with Adobe for editing software then you get a decent Behance.net website which works just great.
For many new photographers they look at WordPress, Squarespace and Wix when starting out, all of them are valid and offer you control over your website but remember that there is a reasonable amount of maintenance with all of them (WordPress more so) and some cost. My pick is WordPress – it takes some learning and plenty of upkeep but Google loves it and it offers the most flexibility. Annual cost of a WordPress site including hosting – £300.00.
Do I need to use Photoshop to become a professional photographer?
Another question that will get me in trouble. No professional photographers don’t need to buy and use Photoshop although over time I think you will. For me you can’t beat Adobe Lightroom, you pay £10 / month roughly and get great editing software which is simple and easy to use. You may find that you have some other software available on you computer or fancy getting hold of free kit such as Gimp but in my experience the adobe products are the best and most versatile. if you look online you will also notice that you can get external help on editing from freelance editors – take a look at fiverr for more help.
Does a professional photographer need an accountant?
At the very least you are likely to need some help with your book keeping from a book keeper and unless you have the skills you will benefit from a professional accountant looking over your books – they can probably advise on how to save some tax which will offset some of their fees so it is worthwhile. You can’t dodge the tax man and please don’t work for cash as you need to measure how well your business is doing which the accountant can show you.
In the early days factor in £300 for some financial help with an accountant.
How do I market and promote my new photography business?
The single biggest mistake I see with new startups is by relying on spreading the word by relying on facebook. Well I have news for you – if you start by offering free / cheap work on facebook then your family and friends will be delighted to help you out. The bad news is that as soon as you try to charge proper fees then these same people will not be interested and the reason is that they were never your customers. You need to cast your net wide and this generally costs. Facebook now charges you to spread the word through paid advertisements and Google also charges if you want to quickly appear on the front page of its rankings.
Family and friends are a great way to get the ball rolling and to start to spread the word of your photography business but it is not a long term strategy. Invest in advertising, try to find other ways of getting your name out there – it all costs so budget for it – you can easily spend £1000 / year early on getting your name know, measure how you spend it and what you get back.
What is the cost of setting up a photography business in the UK?
How much you spend on getting a photography business up and running varies enormously, if you tally up all of the above and include:
- cameras, lenses, flash
- computer equipment
- professional services
then it looks like you are going to need approximately £4-5k, however there are plenty of people that have started out with a borrowed camera, an old tired computer and plenty of enthusiasm. It might be a longer route and take a bit more time but a strong desire and need to succeed will win every time.
if I was starting out now I would try to borrow the best camera I could or buy second hand. I would get a good camera body for approximately £800 and then buy second hand lenses totalling about £1000. I would try to work with my existing computer equipment as long as it could run Lightroom. I would get some insurance and try to find a qualified family / friend who could help me with the books – try to trade some photography for the help. I would use social media and Behance to start with but save up to invest in some marketing. Finally I would start to learn how to use WordPress to run my own site.
If you would like any more help on setting up your own photography business please get in touch or why not start the ball rolling by booking to come on either a beginners photography course or a professional photography course.