Top 8 Essential Things to Buy When Starting a Photography Business

It takes money to make money.

That being said, some things will make you more money and get your business off the ground a lot faster than others. You’ll find that some purchases end up being a waste of money, and when you’re first starting out it’s easy to make those regrettable purchases.

So here’s a list of the Top 8 Essential Things to Buy When Starting a Photography Business.

1. Your own domain name and photography blog

The photography blog is your storefront. While there are numerous free blog sites out there, it screams “unprofessional newbie” to have “” or “” as your web address. It implies that you’re not established on your own yet.

Thankfully, it’s not that difficult to set up your own site and it’s relatively inexpensive to do. Once you’ve decided on your domain name, you’ll need to buy it and find a web hosting site. You can get a domain name for under $15 per year and you can buy hosting for about $5 per month.

Once you get your website and hosting, I highly suggest installing a WordPress blog. The WordPress platform is free, and it’s one of the easiest blogs out there to use. Select and customize a template for your blog, spend about 30 minutes doing these quick things to make you show up better in internet searches, and start blogging!

2. Business Cards

Business Cards are another essential tool for getting your name out there and bringing in new business.

Their use is fairly obvious, so I’ll leave you with these tips. Always give out more than one card and tell them to pass a card along if they know anyone who might be interested in your work. Also, carry them with you all the time. Give them to your spouse to carry as well in case they are talking to someone who is interested in hiring you. Hand them out with Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters (or not, but seriously get them out and about as much as you can.)

The nice thing is that business cards are super-cheap. I buy mine through ZooPrinting, and they do a fabulous job and offer green paper options at no additional cost.

3. A good accountant

Find an accountant that you can trust that really knows their stuff. They are invaluable tools and are worth every penny.

Consult with them about what business structure would be best for you to use to protect your personal assets and to help create the most profit.

Pay them to do your taxes, and take any tax advice they give.

Have them help you set up a system for tracking your business transactions. Personally, I think it is worth paying for their accounting software as it makes life easier. I use Quickbooks Pro, which has a high learning curve but really makes it a breeze at tax time once you get the hang of it. Don’t let this one slip – you’ll be hating yourself in a few months if you haven’t put together a great system for tracking everything. (And I do mean everything!)

4. Adobe Lightroom or Aperture

Unless you’re shooting film exclusively, you’re going to need editing software for your photos. I highly suggest Adobe Lightroom 3, as it allows you to catalogue your images, edit them, create slideshows, and lots more all within the same seamless program. While photoshop is awesome, I probably do 95% of my editing in Lightroom and find that to be much faster.

Apple’s Aperture will also do many of these same things, but I’m a Lightroom user simply because I started on PC before switching over to a Mac. Aperture would be just fine to use as well.

5. PPA Membership

The benefits of this membership are huge. From discounts on a ton of products and services to their additional insurance and legal advice, the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) is one organization that is well worth it’s price. They also offer sample contracts to use with clients and have a wealth of information about topics such as copyrighting your images and industry data. Their monthly magazine is a nice read full of great photos and business advice as well.

6. External hard drives

You MUST back up your images in at least a few different places. External hard drives are cheap – definitely pick a few of these up and back your work up often! You’ll be thankful one day when one of your drives goes down, which is fairly likely to happen if you stay in business long enough. I highly suggest using an external hard drive from Western Digital.

7. At least one really awesome lens

Yes, eventually you’ll need and want more than just one, but I think you need at least one good lens to start with besides the lens that came with your camera. This is sufficient for just doing portraits, although this is NOT ENOUGH for shooting weddings!

Unless you bought your DSLR body and lens separately, chances are you have a “kit” lens that is a piece of junk. I’m just going to say it like it is. Yes, it is versatile and can zoom, but unless it gets down to an aperture of at least 2.8, it isn’t going to look professional in most scenarios unless you’re a master at controlling your own light.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DSLR Portrait Lens

Thankfully, you can buy a really awesome lens for around $100-$200 that will be great for getting you that beautiful professional-looking portrait. Both Canon & Nikon offer a 50mm f/1.8 lens in that price range that makes your backgrounds blur (it’s called bokeh) when shot at an aperture of f/1.8 and your subject nice and sharp. Considering many pro lenses run between $1500 and $2500, this is a cheap but amazing lens that is vital to any starting photographer. (Note – if you are shooting with a Nikon D5000 or lower, I’d suggest you actually get a 35mm f/1.8 as the 50 mm does not support auto-focus and you’ll have to manually focus it.)


8. Insurance

Insurance is one of those things where you hope to lose money each year. I suggest purchasing Inland Marine coverage for your gear (most home owners policies will not insure your gear if it is used in business), General Liability coverage in case someone gets hurt on a shoot or you break something at a venue and you get sued, and Errors & Omissions coverage, which is the photography equivalent to malpractice insurance. You may also need Commercial Auto coverage if your personal auto coverage does not insure you if you’re driving on the way to or from a photo shoot. Some do and some do not, so it is important to look into it. The last thing you’d want is to have a major accident and have to pay for it all yourself because you were driving to a shoot and it wasn’t covered.

Living up to the term “Professional”

While it’s tempting to skip out on some of the items above, you’ll only hinder yourself and your business from growing by doing so. Don’t run your business like an amateur – if you’re going to be a business owner, do it responsibly and professionally. There’s lots of other expenses that are extraneous that can be cut, but these are worth every penny.

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19 Responses to Top 8 Essential Things to Buy When Starting a Photography Business

    • I can totally see why you could get away with not having business cards or being in the PPA since you’re more of an international photographer, but I’m curious what you use to edit. Do you do all your editing directly in Photoshop?

      • Hi Jamie, I believe Kyle uses Photo Mechanic and Capture One Pro, then Photoshop. I agree with your premise though that LR or Aperture are the easiest to start out with and use until you find something else that might fit your style and workflow better.

      • I actually use Capture One for raw-jpeg conversions and then Photoshop.

        Capture One completely changed the way I do post processing. I love it!

  1. Great advice Jamie. Good accountants are really hard to find, I went through a few before I found a decent one. Also, not being in the US, I’d skip #5, but add that one should have backup gear. If you’re shooting a wedding and a body fails (or you drop it in a fountain –, your clients are going to be REAL happy when it doesn’t affect the end product.

  2. Great advice. So much appreciate that you are sharing this knowledge with us.
    I guess its time to follow it and finally get that pro website going and get rid of “”

    • Well thanks for taking the time to stop by! I was amazed at what a big difference it made moving from a free blog to a real blog. It was significant. I wish I had done it sooner. If you need any help, William Bay is awesome and can help you get it up and running in no time. :)

  3. I agree with all your points…especially the accountant part. I got an accountant because I wanted to make sure I was doing things the right way, and she ended up saving me thousands. Bonus! :)

  4. I found your site in a google search, as I’m a 14-year professional photographer from the Chicago area. I’ve shot weddings, portraits, and currently do fashion photography. Your site intrigued me, so I did a little research, and here is where I’m confused…

    You haven’t even been a photographer for a year. In fact, public records seem to indicate that photography isn’t even your main “job” as you have a regular full-time non-photography job. So where do you bring all of this vast “knowledge” you claim in many of your posts? Your pictures and your attitude about photography carry that “ashton-kutcher-point-and-shoot” air about them. You are a young fledgling photographer who has barely even started, and you’re trying to market your advice to people as if you’ve been doing this as your calling for years and years.

    • Well, your research has failed you in some regards. I’ve been a legally established business since 2008, although I have been working full-time in the corporate world as well. I’m not hiding that at all. We’re taking the plunge and going full-time this summer, both myself and my husband. We’ve grown enough to replace our entire household income, so we want to share what we have learned so far to help others achieve that as well.

      I don’t claim to know everything, but I have learned a LOT through experience as well as through conversations with other photographers. If you disagree with any of the information that I’m sharing with people, I’d love to hear specific criticism in the comments of the post so we can all gain from your knowledge and avoid any mistakes you think we’re telling people to make. My goal for this site is for people to learn and grow both from my self and from others, so if there’s something you think is totally wrong, by all means let us know! Just use your real name, next time. 😉 And while I have a thick skin and can blow off insults pretty easily, they won’t be tolerated if they are aimed at anyone else, just an FYI. Thanks for caring enough to voice your opinion.

  5. Great info!! I just retired and plan on attempting to sell some of my work I have shot over the years. I shoot B&W film and do all the processing my self. I have negatives from all over the world most recently Nepal and the Himilayas. I am looking forward to this new adventure..

    Any advise is welcome..

    Thanks, Mike

    • Hi Mike!

      Honestly, I don’t know much about marketing your photography as art. You may try etsy or the forums there – I have a friend who does that and makes some money. I don’t know a lot about it, though. Sorry! I’m best at giving advice when you’re selling a service, not just a piece of art you already created.