How do I start a photography business? – Part 1


I have seen many young photographers who buy their first dSLR, or are given one as a gift, and decide that they want to become a full time professional photographer, but who fail miserably after a couple of months. Why is this? The main reason is that they start with cheap photography which cannot cover the costs of survival which ultimately results in a failed business. You could have the best talent for taking photos on earth, but if you do not combine this with a sound business model you are doomed to failure.

Young photographers starting out in the world of photography generally tend to make up an arbitrary amount that they set as their photography rate without putting a business or income model into the equation. They do not even investigate the market to see how much business is really available to them for their geographic location and eventually end up with too little photographic work to bring in an income which is enough to sustain them.


How much money do I need to survive?

If you are a young student living with your parents you may not need much, but eventually you need to get out there and live on your own, so look at real world examples. In South Africa the cost of living is fairly high and the below figures are a conservative survival guide only.

  • Rental for a small home: R 3 500.00
  • Water and Electricity: R 1 000.00
  • Car Repayment: R 1 000.00 (tiny beat-up second-hand)
  • Groceries: R 3 000.00 (realistic minimum)
  • Fuel: R 800.00
  • General Expenses: R 700.00
  • Total: R10000.00

If the above seems like a lot consider that insurance, medical aid, maintenance (home and car), replacement and upgrade of equipment, entertainment, advertising and numerous other expenses have not even been added! This survival figure can grow rapidly.

So let’s stick with R10000.00 as a minimum survival value.


How much should I charge for a photo shoot?

Let’s start off by looking at how many working days there are to do photography. Rounded a general working month has 26 days if you take Sundays as a day of rest. 26 Days at 8 hours a day gives you 208 working hours. So if you need R10000 to survive you need to generate a little more than R48.00 per hour. It is impossible to do 8 hours of photography a day continuously for 26 days so you CANNOT charge R48.00 per hour! You realistically have a daily target of R384.00

Let’s first look at what providing photos to a customer entails. We assume you will be working without a studio and do all shoots on location. If you decide to start a studio there are even more costs you need to bring into your equation, but for the purposes of this article we will not be working with studio costs.

For a 1 hour photo shoot you need to consider the following:

  • Get to location and back: 1 hour
  • Do the shoot: 1 hour
  • Edit photos: 3 hours
  • Write to disk and prepare for delivery (printed disk and cover): 1 hour

Assuming you take just 100 photos (which is really conservative as you could take 200-300 in an hour) and spend just 2 minutes per photo adjusting colour, exposure, contrast, white balance and do small edits, you end up with 200 minutes of work! This is actually over 3 hours, but I am being conservative and adding the extra 20 minutes to other things. This means a 1 hour shoot takes 5 hours to complete the work as a total.

If the customer then requests prints or your package includes prints you can add another hour (drive to print shop, have prints done, collect and return home). Keep this in mind as it affects your working total which is excluded from this article!

If you only provide photos on disk you are looking at 5 hours work if you are only supplying 100 photos. When you take your initial R48.00 per hour as a working hour value you need to multiply it by 5 hours to end up with a 1 hour shoot value of R240.00

But since we are working on 8 hour working days you are still short 3 hours work to make your daily target of R384.00, but let us ignore this for a moment and work on a shoot value of R240.00 per hour.

You still need to make R10000.00 for the month, so at R240.00 per 1hour photo shoot you will need to do 42 photo shoots for the month just to survive. To get 42 photo shoots you need a constant stream of customers. You will need to advertise heavily to achieve this which will add additional cost which will raise your shooting cost again. Assuming you start advertising like crazy for free somehow it is unlikely you are going to get 42 customers to achieve your survival target. Let’s thin the available photo shoots down a little to a real expectation of 21, which is half the number of photo shoots, then you need to double your per hour shoot value to R480.00 to survive.

Here you then end up with a realistic photographic shoot value of R480.00 per 1 hour session supplying just 100 edited photos on a disk provided you get at least 21 customers in any given month.

Consider that we are working on a survival value which provides no option for expansion of business in terms of equipment upgrades (lenses, flashes, camera bodies), repair or replacement (camera bodies all fail eventually and flashes do die!). If you venture into the studio photography business arena the costs go up even further!

So, here is the answer to the question: How much should I charge when starting out as a photographer? – R480.00 per hour is a start

If you are charging anything less than this you are shooting yourself in the foot… repeatedly. And if you are photographing less than 21 customers in a month your business as photographer WILL go under. This is not meant to discourage you, but to realistically show you that becoming a photographer is very hard work and becoming a “cheap” photographer who charges less than R480 per hour is not sustainable if you want to become a successful photographer!

Though I plan to write another article later on “How to become a Wedding Photographer”, this calculation for survival will still apply. A wedding of 8 hours will produce 800 edited photos, based on the above shooting and editing guide, and your working total will be R480.00 X 8 which is R 3 840.00 (excluding any extras such as printing or albums!). And you will need to cover at least 3 weddings in a month to survive. The rest of your week will be spent EDITING photos day and night! Wedding photo editing generally takes 5 minutes per photo (you bridal couples are a lot more picky), so 800 x 5 = 66+ hours editing!

Keep a lookout for follow-up articles on this subject. This is a very wide field and the business behind it is actually a lot more complex than it looks to cover in a single article.

Part 2

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