Discover the best practices for maintaining and growing a photography business with insight from fifteen top contributors and creative agencies.
The overall effect of COVID-19 on small businesses has been devastating. However, according to a new survey from Facebook and the Small Business Roundtable, many remain resilient. Amid uncertain circumstances, fifty-seven percent of small business owners and managers report they are either optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future of their businesses.
The situation is dire. But at the same time, small business owners —photographers among them — are getting creative and adapting to the situation using online tools and planning ahead.
“Commercial photography is a business just like any other,” Californian photographer James Baigrie tells us. “Manage your business well and the rest will follow.” In total, fifteen creatives and photographers weighed in on their best tips for doing just that.
16 Stock Photography Business Tips from the Pros
Tip #1: Understand the Costs of Your Business
“One of the biggest things that you need to be aware of (and this may sound obvious) is your cost of doing business,” Auckland-based photographer Josh Griggs explains. “Make a spreadsheet, and add up everything you spend on photography — rent, subscriptions, gear cost, insurance, vehicle costs, office consumables, etc.’
“See what the number is, it’s probably higher than you thought. From there, you can work back to find out what it costs for you to be in business per day, and also how much you need to charge in order to just break even.’
“Having a firm idea of those numbers makes quoting and figuring out what the business can and can’t afford so much easier. If you are looking at a new camera, add that into your ‘cost of doing business’ spreadsheet, and see how it affects the numbers. When it’s all right in front of you, it’s a lot easier to make informed business decisions.”
Tip #2: Set Aside a Marketing Budget
“You can be the best photographer in the world, but if you don’t know how to market yourself properly, you’re not going to last long in this very competitive market,” Italian-based photographer Rido admits. “For that reason, my best advice would be to make sure you know how to keep your business sustainable over time. Plan and allocate a budget for your marketing activities, and keep them going consistently.’
“Remember that nothing happens immediately. Initially, you can consider your jump into the photography business as a half-time job, keeping another form of steady income that will help to pay the bills. Building your network and nurturing your client list will be a long-term journey that you will continue over the course of your entire career.”
For more marketing tips, be sure to check out our recent article, Expert Tips on How to Market Your Photography Business.
Tip #3: Know What Your Photography is Worth
“Value your work, and don’t work for free,” Spanish photographer Eneko Aldaz warns. “I think this is one of the most common mistakes beginner photographers make. It is so important to know when to say ‘no.’ It might be hard to do, but it will help you in the long-term.”
Tip #4: Maintain as Little Overhead as Possible
“My biggest tip is to take on as little debt and overhead as possible,” Northern California-based photographer Shea Evans urges. “It’s usually impossible to avoid in the beginning, but try to be smart with money.’
“I’m glad I invested in quality equipment and software at the get-go. It was more upfront, but I haven’t had to ‘rebuy’ nearly any gear from when I started. I’ve made upgrades, of course, but far fewer than some other folks who started with cheaper gear that was more likely to break or produce so-so results.’
“Keep a chunk of cash on hand at all times — a minimum of three months of overhead in your bank account. It’s a big hill to climb if you’re used to a steady job and a steady paycheck, but work can be uneven in this business, and you need those cash bridges to cover you until more comes in.”
Tip #5: Be Prepared to Negotiate with Clients
“Always ask a client what their budget is and negotiate from there,” Vermont-based photographer Caleb Kenna suggests. If you have fixed rates, go ahead and publish them on your website. You don’t want to leave potential clients guessing.
Tip #6: Keep Your Business Organized
“Be sure you have a strong workflow and backup system in place,” Brooklyn-based photographer Sara Wight urges. “I use ShootQ to keep track of my leads and bookings, as well as key client communications. You can create templates to use for any sort of client interaction, so this keeps responding to inquiries timely and professional. Quickbooks is my go-to for invoicing and bookkeeping and allows a seamless method for clients to pay.”
For more tips on staying organized as a freelancer, check out this article: How to Make Deadlines and Stay Organized
Tip #7: Study the Market
“I was a bartender six years ago and didn’t know anything about photos or videos,” Cristian Negroni of oneinchpunch recalls. “Now, stock is my full-time job. At the start, I suggest focusing more on the production value rather than expensive gear. It’s so important to analyze what the market needs, at any given time, before planning any photo/video session. Your concepts need to fill a commercial demand, and learning what that is requires effort, research, and consistency.”
Tip #8: Follow Artists You Admire
“The first thing I’d suggest to the emerging photographer is to draw inspiration from colleagues you admire,” Spanish photographer Lucia Romero says. “Follow their work, stay plugged into the culture at the moment, and then create your own content. I’d also recommend starting with simple but direct, clean images. Sometimes less is more.”
Check out these fellow photographers for inspiration:
- Artist Series with Photographer and Blogger Dani Lyn Ayee
- Artist Series with Food Photographer Joanie Simon
- Featured Interview with Adventure and Commercial Photographer Michael Overbeck
Tip #9: Plan Your Shoots in Advance
“When you’re starting out in stock photography, the one thing that you need to be at peace with is that the real business is in selling a high volume of your photos,” Mexican-based photographer Antonio Diaz tells us. “It is very possible to make a living from stock photography, but you have to know what you’re getting into and how the business works.’
“You won’t get rich overnight, and you need to invest a lot of time and work. If you want to give stock photography a try, use what you can, invest a little, and get organized. You really need to see this as a business. That means organizing and planning shoots, collaborating with businesses and models, etc., retouching your photos, and uploading constantly. That’s when you start seeing results.”
Check out this article to help plan your shoots: Using Shutterstock’s Shot List to Plan Your Upcoming Photoshoots
Tip #10: Set Deadlines for Yourself
“Get organized, and manage your time well,” Italian photographer Maurizio De Mattei advises. “I would suggest creating weekly plans in order to stay on track. For instance, maybe three days a week are reserved for shooting sessions and post-processing, one is for updating your website and social networks, and one is for contacting new customers and responding to new inquiries.”
Tip #11: Build a Team of People You Trust
“In my line of work (interior, food, lifestyle), the success of a shoot has a lot to do with the team you assemble — including stylists, assistants, and producers,” NYC-based photographer Mark Weinberg explains. “Find your team, and let everyone do their job. As a photographer/director, I am responsible for the outcome at the end of the day, and while sometimes course corrections are necessary, nobody likes being constantly micromanaged.’
“Communicate with your team, but let them do what you hired them for. Be clear and communicative with the client and team before, during, and after the shoot. There is nothing wrong with saying, ‘We are having a technical difficulty. We need five minutes to solve it.’ The clarity in that statement beats the stress of trying to hide the problem, and the client wondering what’s going on.’
“The teams I work with on a regular basis have great insight and often suggest a way of doing something that is beneficial to the shoot and that I wouldn’t have thought of. Be open and encourage that. Working together is a lot more fun. Laugh, and listen to great music. Stay hydrated, and keep everyone fed.”
Tip #12: Collaborate with Models
“I think one of the keys for great stock photography is collaborating with models,” Aaron Amat of Krakenimages.com in Spain tells us. “When you start, you usually don’t pay anyone, and you work with mostly friends and family.’
“That’s great because it gives you a good starting point, but soon you’ll want to branch out. My advice is to learn everything you can, improve your craft, and build your portfolio so that when the time comes to start paying professional models, you’ll be able to pay them well.’
“Finding great models and paying them well will lead to higher production value. More than sixty different models pass through our studio every month — of all ethnicities and backgrounds — and I think that’s one of the keys to our success.”
Check out these tips for working with models:
- 9 Photographers Share Tips on Shooting Real People as Models
- 8 Pro Photographers on How to Approach Potential Models
Tip #13: Be Considerate of Others
“Be nice to people on your shoot,” James Baigrie advises. “Be on time, and don’t take out your stress on the crew. Clients love to believe that you are relaxed and in control. Put down your cell phone, and stay present. Finally, reach out to your clients after every shoot to say ‘Thank you!’ Your clients want to know that you are excited by their projects.”
Tip #14: Collaborate with Your Local Community
“I’m always looking for people to collaborate with, and what works for me is maintaining a great reputation locally,” Antonio Diaz tells us. “When I want to collaborate with a local business or model, I take a proactive approach and just reach out to them. I offer them free photos (this is big!), show them my portfolio, and give them my business card.’
“An offer of free photos is rarely refused. And, the more experience you get, the bigger and more varied your portfolio will be. Businesses are usually happy to collaborate for high-quality stock photos for free. This is my number one strategy. One last thing, though, is that I always pay models. If you find a good stock model, treat them well and pay them — they can be some of your greatest assets in this business.”
Check out this article for more tips on how photographers work with models for free.
Tip #15: Be Patient- Stock is a Long-Term Game
Here’s one more tip that several artists mentioned — any business takes time to grow, so keep at it. “Stock photography is a long-term game,” Mirko Vitali of View Apart tells us.
“What I suggest to emerging photographers is first to analyze the market. Look at what clients are searching for and what’s in demand, and then shoot in that direction. That means getting inspired by, but not copying, others’ work.’
“Also, being meticulous and accurate on all aspects of your workflow — including concepts, models/location choice, timing, editing, keywording, and uploading — is crucial to getting everything running smoothly. And, last but not least, consistently add more photos to your portfolio.”
Tip #16: Keep Learning
“The best advice I can give to emerging photographers is to dedicate a moment of every day to studying photographic techniques and experimenting with them (YouTube is great for this),” Italian photographer Romolo Tavani explains. “You never stop learning in this business. Another tip I have is to pay attention to post-production. Photo editing can turn a great shot into a bestseller.”
Cover image by Alex Eggermont / Image Source
Learn more about starting (and growing) your photography business here: