Starting a photography business


This post is my opinion.  Some will agree with me others will want to argue about it, but it is my opinion.  It is one of the few opinions that I am currently not open minded about to change.

Introduction to the problem

When are you a “business”?  My opinion is when you want to become a business.  Agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, your state, county, and city all have various regulations when you are considered a “business”.  Does your “business” have to be a full-time job that pays you a living wage?  No.  The IRS may consider your “endeavor” a hobby but your state, county, or city may require you to register as a business.  I’m not here to advise you on when, how, or if you should “register” as a business.  That is a job for lawyers and accountants.  If you are required to register as a business and fail to do so there may be some legal repercussions as a result of this failure.  Again, I am not going to advise you on when, how, or if you should register, check your local and federal regulations, consult an attorney and your accountant.

So, what is this post about?  I’m glad you asked.  I see posts frequently on Facebook and other social media sites talking about “you’re not a business”, “you’re a momtog/dadtog/mwac/gwac”.  (Definitions if you are not familiar with the acronyms;  Momtog, usually a stay at home mom who has a camera.  Dadtog, a dad with a camera.  MWAC/GWAC; Mom/Guy with a camera).  When I see these it is generally my belief that it is an attempt to glorify or make the author feel superior to others.  In my experience, most of the time I have seen these posts they are not in response to a question about starting a business but rather as a rant.  It is often followed by a series of supportive comments and those who offer a different opinion are quickly assailed.  Often the arguments are, “they won’t be in business in 3 years”.  According to the SBA (Small Business Administration), 52% of small businesses are home-based and only 1/2 remain in business for 5 years and only 1/3 remain in business 10 years. (Source: SBA Frequently Asked Questions ).   So here is my response, “Who cares, how does this hurt you?”   If you bother to ask “how does this hurt you” you quickly get “they are KILLING the industry!”

I will also add that I have been guilty of these comments in the past.  I have reflected on my stance and determined it doesn’t make a difference to me.

They are killing the industry

I just love this argument because those that say it just have to blame someone for the problem.  “They” are not killing the industry of photography.  It isn’t that simple.  There are a number of factors that have created an environment of a more competitive photography industry.  To name just a few; inexpensive cameras (starting with the Kodak Brownie which was introduced in 1900), digital photography,  the internet, cost reduction strategies.  The marketplace has changed.  In 1982 the Commodore 64 personal computer was introduced at the price of $595 ($1,461 in today’s money).  The Commodore 64 had impressive specs:

MOS Technology 6510/8500
@ 1.023 MHz (NTSC version)
@ 0.985 MHz (PAL version)
Memory 64 KB RAM + 20 KB ROM
Graphics VIC-II (320 × 200, 16 colors, spritesraster interrupt)


Today, you can get a computer for less than $200 you can get a computer with 32,000 times the memory not counting the advances in graphics, computing power, etc. The computer market has changed.

There are a lot of things that are “killing” the industry, or more correctly changing the industry.

You have to cover your costs and make a profit

Not to get political but our President claimed a loss of nearly $1,000,000,000 in 1995 (today it is 2016) and continues to use that loss to cut his tax obligations.  Does this mean he hasn’t made a profit?  What if I only want to recoup part of my costs?  The IRS considers me a hobby but I permits are required, tax obligations locally, be required to have “business” insurance.  So am I a business?   Again, my response is what difference does it make to me if you call yourself a business.  What if you don’t pay any of those things?  Once more,  what difference does it make to me?  I would suggest getting those things because it may cost you.

There are many people like me.  I have another source of income that pays my bills.  I can live on that source of income.  I run my photography as a supplement to that income.  So if I only make $7 an hour that is $7 an hour I didn’t have before and I like photography more than “flipping burgers”.  (Note: I do make more than $7 an hour doing my photography.  I chose that number because that is near or below the mandated U.S. minimum wage).

You can do crap and still be a profitable business

I have seen this said more than once.  While it is, in fact, true the thought of it bothers me more than the person who runs their business and is not profitable but provides quality.  I am more concerned about the quality than I am about profit.  Don’t take this wrong, I love money and getting paid a decent amount but I offer the same quality when I do the trade for time shoots with models as I do when I get paid.  To me, it is all about reputation.  I would rather be known as a good photographer than a great business person.  This may result in me never truly becoming rich or well-paid but that is my choice so don’t try to bully me, make me feel like I am less than you, etc.  You run your business, I will run mine.   If I get asked a question about business, I don’t mind sharing my thoughts or insights but ultimately it is a decision you have to make for yourself.

Final thoughts

  1. There are different business models.  Choose what works for you.
  2. There are certain regulations, many based on local requirements.  Ignoring them may cause you problems.  Many on the internet may offer sound advice, however, consult experts in your area for the real facts.
  3. According to the Small Business Administration home-based businesses account for 52% of all small businesses.  73% are sole proprietor style businesses and 78% are non-employer businesses.  Only 1/2 of the new small businesses last 5 years, so even if you do things “right” there is no guarantee.
  4. I don’t care if you call yourself a business or not.  This doesn’t mean I don’t care.  I do.  I love momtogs, dadtogs, mwac, gwac, weekend warriors whatever you want to call them.  I like to teach photography and they are often the people who seek me out as an instructor.  You may think I do a disservice because of my opinion voiced in this article but I will tell you that we do talk about business. I am not a business coach, lawyer, or accountant.  I am a photographer who runs a small part-time home based photography business to supplement my income.  This is what many part-time photographers do.  They aren’t looking to quit their “day job”.
  5. If these part-time photographers are threatening to you I don’t know what to tell you except don’t be a bully, braggart, condescending, or otherwise an ass-hat.  These people are not going away.  The industry has changed.  Get over it.
  6. I do care about the feelings of others.  I try very hard to not say things in a condescending manner, to be egotistical, to make myself better than anyone else because I’m not.  It has nothing to do with being “politically correct” or “everyone gets an award”.  I call it being polite.  I may give my honest thoughts and opinions on photography, art, and other things but I really try to not be insulting, rude or condescending.
  7. Let the hate mail begin.  I know I’ll get some.  That is fine.  I’m here for all the momtogs, dadtogs, mwac, gwac, weekend warrior, beginner photographers, or whatever else you want to call them.


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