Photography is a Business: Act Like It

Marco Tenaglia photographed by his daughter Maria Claudia while checking his photography business plan
My daughter, Maria Claudia, took this photo of me while checking my plans

When I first embarked on my career in photography, I had blur dreams, and barely a vision of the kind of life and career I wanted, and to make it worse, I didn’t have any plan for how to get there. The art of photography came quite naturally to me, but navigating the intricacies of the commercial side was a whole different challenge. Mistakes were made, lessons were learned, and eventually, I grasped that there was a critical part of photography many of us would rather ignore: running a business.

The industry has taught me that while artistic flair is vital, so is your business acumen. If you’re thinking of turning your love for photography into your livelihood, heed some advice from someone who’s been around the block. You’ve got a knack for capturing the perfect shot, but can you capture a market? That’s equally important. Decide what you’ll be recognized for. In my case, it’s fashion and portrait photography with an erotic edge. Your focus might differ, but make it your own and own it fully.

I’m not talking about a 50-page business plan that no one will read. I mean the basics: Who are your customers? What are your costs? How will you get the word out? Business plans aren’t about creating a binder to collect dust; they’re about laying down a simple road map. When people look at your photos or interact with you, what do they feel? That’s your brand. Keep it consistent across your website, social media, and how you handle yourself in emails and client meetings. And for the love of God, make it professional.

Yeah, you might need a high-end camera, but also invest time in learning the business ropes. Get savvy about marketing, customer relations, and even the legalese of contracts. Your skills as a photographer will only take you so far. You’ve also got to be a savvy businessperson. Your prices aren’t just numbers; they say something about the quality of your work. Know what you’re worth, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Handle your money smartly, because the line between a profitable month and a disaster can be thinner than you think.

You’re going to screw up. Clients will bail. Campaigns will flop. Roll with the punches and learn from it. On the flip side, when you nail it, take a minute to pat yourself on the back. Networking isn’t a dirty word. It’s how business gets done. Share advice, offer referrals, and keep an eye out for opportunities to collaborate. The photography world is tight-knit; make friends, not enemies.

Being a photographer is not a one-man show. It’s not just you and your camera against the world. You’re a business owner, and that comes with its own set of rules. It’s not just about being good with a camera; it’s about being good with people, smart with money, and strategic with opportunities. Get all this right, and you’re not just an artist; you’re a successful entrepreneur. So keep snapping, but also keep growing your business. Both are part of the same picture.

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