Starting a photography business is not as easy as one may think. Having a camera and calling yourself “John Smith Photography” doesn’t mean you’re in business, yet. Having a camera and a business name is only the beginning. I’ve been asked and have seen this question so many times, how do you start a photography business? There are a few steps to take and they might look overwhelming at first but take it one step at a time and you’ll be on your way.

Choose a Name. This is simple if your are naming your business after your own name because you always have the right to your own name. However if you want a business name like “Wedding Bliss Photography,” you need to do a few things first. Step 1 is to check and perform a TESS trademark search. Simply type in the business name you want to use and if the search results show no results, so far so good. You need to do additional searching to see if any business names are similar as this can lead to potential issues down the road. Google the potential business name and see what results show. You want a unique business name so if Google is bringing up companies with similar names it’s best to choose a different name.

LLC or Sole Proprietorship. Time to protect your assets. It’s important to decide which business entity you want to establish. Here is a great link to help you know the differences.

EIN Employee Identification Number. Whether you’re setting up a business account, filing taxes, or getting business insurance, companies will ask you for your EIN. This part is super fun because this means you’re officially in business!!

Separate Finances. No matter what type of business you are, this is so important! Keep your personal finances separate from your business finances. Let me repeat that. Keep your personal finances separate from your business finances! It’s so important to stay organized in a business especially when it comes to finances. Having a separate bank account for business is a great way to keep things separate and therefore organized. You should also have a business credit card, an app or log to keep track of every single business mile you drive, and an organized way to pay yourself consistently.

Sales Tax. This is the number one most-skipped step by photographers. If the IRS catches you, it comes with the biggest penalties. Each states sales tax laws are different making it tricky to know what to do especially when you live close to several other states. For example, some states may allow you to itemize your services so you collect sales tax for the print sales but not for the service of the session. Fines for failure to pay sales tax can be HUGE and photographers are great targets for the state sales tax commission because photographers rarely understand how sales tax works.  Every photographer needs to do this step–even if you are just a sole proprietorship. If you aren’t sure what to collect sales tax on, just collect sales tax on everything you do. I’ve never met a sales tax commission who got upset about being overpaid. To pay sales tax, you have to first register with the state. Google your state sales tax commission and there will be directions on how to get a Sales Tax ID and how the process works in your state.  It’s really not hard. Some states don’t have any sales tax but most states charge about 5-6%.  So you’ll need to update your pricing page with a little asterisk and a note that says “All sales subject to state sales tax.” Then when you send a client an invoice, you’ll have a sales tax itemization at the bottom making it easy to see how much sales tax you collected and how much you need to pay each quarter or month.

Insurance. Insurance is important for all businesses. I work with newborns and weddings so my insurance is more expensive than if I were to just work with weddings or just work with newborns. Insurance not only protects me but also my clients and my gear. Can you imagine if someone got hurt at a wedding by tripping over your lighting and you didn’t have any insurance? It’s always best to protect yourself and your clients.

Contracts. Did you know that 99% of law suits would never happen if the photographer and the client had a clear contract?  There are so many resources online where you can buy contracts making this part of the process even easier!! I now sell my contracts that have been carefully written through my time as a photographer and reviewed by my lawyer to ensure nothing was left out. You can buy your contract here.

We’ve been through a lot of information, and I know it seems daunting but trust me, you got this. Once your business is set up with all of the legal details perfectly in place, it’s time to shoot some photos!

Go get em!!

Sarah Botta is a Northern Virginia based wedding photographer whose work can be described as organic, natural, and timeless. Sarah specializes in capturing people’s stories and building connections with each client to help tell their story. Sarah has photographed over 55 weddings across Virginia and Maryland from rustic outdoor ceremonies to elaborate estate mansion receptions. Her natural timeless style shines brightest with outdoor locations. Sarah is available for travel and is passport ready.