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Realistic Cost of Starting a Photography Business

April 23, 2019

It’s not just me right? Every day there’s a new kid on the block with a new camera and an instagram handle that says they’re a photographer.

Realistic costs of starting a photography business @meganhelmphotography

 

I’ve been asked before by my clients if that frustrates me, and honestly the answer is no! I love it, because I love photography and this community of creative and encouraging people. But I also know that it takes a heck of a lot more than just a new camera to grow a successful photography business.

Photography is an expensive hobby; at least, that’s how I started. Yup, I had no idea this could actually be a source of income, and as a matter of fact, I didn’t even realize all the costs that go into it at first. Over the years I’ve been able to learn and grow my business, and in doing so, I’ve seen so many seasons for me and this bis.

I’m going to share this blog with my professional level gear, not the t3i Canon Rebel with lens kit that I started out with because I don’t even want you to go out and buy it. I’m doing this because it takes a lot more than a Costco camera to do what I do now. If you’re like me and you’re aiming for wedding photography, you need to have quality gear to do your job well.

I will always say this; I firmly believe that it’s not the gear, it’s the photographer. That being said, a cheap camera only gets you so far, especially with weddings.

 

**Please note that the costs listed here are the prices that I paid for this gear when I purchased it. The prices are subject to change based on the seller and this article is not to be taken as a guarantee of price.

 

Total Startup Cost: $15,540

Canon 5D Mark III – $2400 each

This camera has been discontinued by Canon and is replaced with the Mark IV, which is about $3000 last I checked. Also, you do not need two cameras when you’re starting out, but I have two and I love that they are the same because when I shoot weddings it can keep my work very consistent throughout the entire event. You can still find the Mark III used and *See my tips for buying used gear here*

Canon 35mm f/1.4 L II – $1700

Canon 50mm f/1.2 L – $1300

Sigma Art 85mm f/1.4 – $1200

Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 – $1400

If I had to choose one camera lens to start with, it would be the 50mm 1.2 because it takes amazing portrait photos and is still wide enough to get a wide angle shot. I will say I much prefer my 35mm for wide angle photos and I use that lens mainly for getting ready photos as well because there’s usually a limited amount of space in the getting ready rooms so I need that wider focal length.

Camera Flash Gear – $250+

See my flash set up and learn how to get started with Off Camera Flash (OCF) here!

Macbook Pro – $2300

2 CF Cards and 2 SD Cards – $70 & $25 each

My camera has 2 card slots, and I do use both so that I always have a backup copy of your photos.

External Hard Drive – $150

Backup Hard Drive – $375

This is where I backup my external drives as an additional backup. *see all my backup & storage tips here*

2 Extra Batteries – $60 each

Client Management Software – $400/year

I use Honeybook for my client management, and you can click here to save $200 off your first year. Honeybook allows me to track my clients from inquiry to project completion. I can set up workflows to communicate automatically with them, making sure my clients feel valued throughout their entire experience. I set reminders for different project due dates before their wedding. When tax time comes around, I can easily run a report to show my income for the year, and I can keep track of my monthly goals to see where my business stands at all times.

Website Hosting – $300/year

I use Showit for my website. It’s essentially a drag and drop kind of design system, and no coding is required. If you can dream it, you can do it! Other options are WordPress, Wix and Squarespace. I used to use Squarespace and felt it was a lot easier for me to design it myself, but when my business required a more sophisticated design, I made the switch to Showit and am so glad I did!

Domain Name – $20/year

This is your website name. Mine is meganhelmphotography.com

Camera Backpack – $200

Holdfast Camera Harness – $200

LLC Minimum Tax – $800/year

Business License – $25 (varies by city)

 

I also have monthly costs around $795 which totals $9540 annually

Studio Rent – $350/month

Lightroom/Photoshop – $10/month

Marketing on sites like Wedding Wire & The Knot – $300/month

Image Hosting with Pixieset – $50/month

Liability Insurance – $75/month

Quickbooks – $10/month

 

Some of these items like my different lenses or more sophisticated softwares have come after I’ve been able to build up my business and save money to make bigger investments. This did not all happen overnight guys, so don’t be scared off by the numbers. But you should also not be jumping in without considering the financial risk when making that investment into a business. Do your research in the gear you want and the way you want to manage your business.

This is nearly $16K in just startup expenses.

Plus my annual operating expenses are around $10K. This doesn’t include subcontracted services like second shooters, travel costs, and other business expenses. If you’re charging $1000 per wedding, you’d need to book 25 weddings just to break even, that doesn’t include paying yourself. That’s 25 weddings, 25 weekends away, countless hours, mileage and more without even paying yourself a cent! It’s not cheap guys.

 

Paying Yourself

According to the BLS, in 2017, the average woman earned $39,988 annually (this is gross income). So now you’ve got to put 35% of that away for taxes so you’d be taking home $25,350. You may have different income needs, but for the sake of easy numbers, let’s say you want to pay yourself $1500 every other week, so $39K a year.

 

Startup Cost + Monthly Costs (annually) + Paying Yourself

$15,540 + $9540 + $39,000 = $64,080

 

In order for your business to pay yourself the salary above and cover your startup costs, you’d need to bring in $64,080. You can see very quickly that if you’re charing $1000 or even $2000 for a wedding that this is not going to cut it. At $2000 per wedding you’d need to book 33 weddings to meet the financial needs of you and your business. That doesn’t even cover the cost of any items you included with that $2000 package; things like a second shooter or flash drive. I’ve been in business for 4 years and the most I’ve had in a season was 17, and that was 2018. Now my starting prices are higher than $2000, but they weren’t always that way.

 

Being a full time photographer sounds amazing right?

You get to travel all over and have fun with amazing couples. You get to eat at new places, stay in cute Air BnBs, eat dinner with your clients or take them out for drinks, and photograph gorgeous wedding venues! What could be better than that?

The reality is though that it take a heck of a lot more to make it as a small business owner. And you also have to think about things like retirement planning and health insurance costs if you don’t have a full time job that offers a 401K and/or health insurance. As you can see, the expenses of daily life can really add up quick!

And clients, if you’re reading this, maybe it gives you some insight into why photography can be so expensive.

*Photogs, if you want to read about how your pricing could be hurting your business, check out my blog here*

Thanks guys for tuning in! If you made it this far, congrats. I hope you found this to be a little insightful whether you’re planning to open a business and think photography is for you, or you just are curious as to why the heck we are so expensive! Comment below and tell me what you want to hear about.

 

 

*Cover image courtesy of @KateMaxStock

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