Starting a Photography Business? 8 First Investments – Plainfield, IL Family Photographer

Some time last summer I was bit by the photography bug and became all consumed with the dream to start my own business.  Technically the ‘love of photography bug’ bit long ago.  But the desire and the spark to make it a career came last summer.  It was part true inspiration and part necessity.  Twins with preschool tuition.  Rising cost of living.  A desire to maybe, someday go on that family vacation to see the Mouse before the boys are, I don’t know, twenty.

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I remember naively telling a few close friends and confidants, “I have a decent camera and have taken a few classes.  I love taking pictures so much.  I think I could launch this thing with minimal start up costs.”  While I knew I still had a lot to learn,  I thought I just needed a little to invest.  And I was sure I had the drive and the passion to make it happen.  A year later, I am finding that I was 2 for 3.  I had (and have) a lot to learn and I do have the drive and passion.  But the whole “minimal start up costs” thing, well.  Yup.  Missed the boat a little bit on that one.

But, the good news is (and I remind myself of this daily as the hours get long and the budget gets tight), that I’m still in the two-year start up period.  Two years until it’s profitable.  This is good advice I’ve heard on a few occasions from trusted folks in the business.  Two years to work my tail off to cover costs.  Two years…

So just over one year in, I’m compiling a list of my essential start-up costs.  Partially for myself, and partially for anyone who is currently in the shoes I wore a year ago.  Because although I’m not sure that it would have deterred me from starting down this path, I do think it would have been a good dose of reality to have from the start.   Of course, this list might look slightly different for everyone, but for me, they are my most important.

8 First Investments for Starting a Photography Business


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1.  Equipment –  I learned to shoot on a good old Rebel T2i and a nifty-fifty prime lens.  When my kids were born and I decided I wanted a camera that would take good pictures (on Auto), I asked everyone I knew what they recommended.  Two good friends had and loved their Rebels.  And so, to Amazon I went.  I loved my Rebel, too.  And the nifty fifty.  I still have both.  But they pretty much just hang out in an old camera bag these days.

So what do I shoot with for client sessions today?  Again, after reading every review, website, and blog in the book, I decided on a Canon 6D and an 85 Prime.  I love, love, love both.  For the cost, that 85 MM is ah-mazing.  But then sometimes I found myself needing a good lens for indoors (Lifestyle Newborn Sessions, for example) and I added a (gulp) Sigma Art 35 Prime (available for both Canon and Nikon) to the line up.  My only problem now is that I love them both for different reasons (the 85 for the bokeh and the 35 for the story-telling ability), so I’m trying to work them both into most of my sessions.

Canon 85 MM


Sigma Art 35 MM


Of course, a camera and a lens or two are essential.  But they are definitely not the only equipment needs.  A quick run down…

  • Canon 6D
  • 85 mm Portrait Lens
  • 35 mm Sigma Art Wide Angle
  • Backup Hard Drive
  • Memory Cards
  • Computer capable of running editing software such as Adobe Creative Cloud (Lightroom and Photoshop) – Let’s just say my laptop didn’t cut it.  😉

And I’m pretty sure this is a bare-bones list compared to a lot of other working professionals.  I already have a running wish list to add to this for sure.  So, if we’re keeping track here, #1 alone runs us a coupla-thousand or so…ish.

2.  Insurance – A word of advice.  Get the insurance *before* you drop your camera.  Because you are probably going to drop it.  Or it will have lens sensor malfunction in October.  Or a lens will shatter when it falls out of the camera bag.  I mean, none of these things have happened to me.  (Ehem.)  But if they did, thank goodness for insurance.  All $600 a year.  Phew.  (That $600 also covers liability and not just the equipment.)

3. Website and Hosting – Okay so now you’ve taken some pictures of some clients.  How are you going to deliver them?  Dropbox is one option.  Pixieset is another.   But how are people going to find you when they ask Google for a local photographer?  Zenfolio is a good option for both the presentation and  delivery of client galleries as well as a business website, blog, and storefront.  I currently use (and pay annually for) Zenfolio for my Holli Long Photography website as well as my client galleries and store front.  {Looking to start your website?  Use this link for  10% off your subscription and use code “HolliLongPhotography” – Yes, Please!  10% off Zenfolio}  Oh!  And then we need somebody to host our site.  I currently use Bluehost for both my HLP site and for my personal blog here.  All together, the website and hosting runs me another hundred-ish or so a year.

4.  Continuing Education – When I first purchased my Rebel when my kids were born, I signed up to take just about every one of Amy Tripple’s Sweet Shots classes.  They were exactly what I needed to start to get to know my camera, to experiment off of “Auto” and to starting getting some images of my own kids that made me feel all warm and fuzzy.  Plus, bonus, many of these are in-person classes (yay for being local!) and Amy is a gifted teacher and ray of sunshine on top of being an amazing photographer.

This past winter, I took the plunge and also joined Clickin Moms to seek out some additional continuing education opportunities.   In a word, Clickin Moms and CMU is fantastic.  The workshops are phenomenal.  I plan to take another one or two this winter when things slow down.  And the breakouts? Well, yes please.  I would like to buy them all.  (I seriously have to budget myself with these…so good.)  Worth every penny these classes.  But they are a lot of pennies.  😉

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5. Community – In all the craziness of starting and growing one’s own business, it can be easy to lose sight of why you started it in the first place.  For me, it was my own kids and family – both the love of photographing them and the need to help provide for them.  My children are my muse.  There is simply nothing better than capturing the joy of childhood.  It is one of my favorite things about working with clients – to be able to snag a shot that truly captures a child’s personality – and it is one of my favorite things about photographing my own children.  Enter  Shoot Along.


The Shoot Along forum is the collaborative project of Heidi Peters and Amy Tripple and is my daily reminder and inspiration to grab the camera and focus on my own family throughout the year as well.  The monthly lessons and assignments are often the spark for many of the blogs posts on this site.


It is such a great community of parents – from novice to pro, DLSR to iPhone – sharing a passion for photographing and documenting their families.  Shoot Along 2016 will be my third year in this forum.  If you are interested in joining, click on through and sign up for the newsletter.  You get an amazing (free!) display guide with lots of ideas on how to display your photos in your home.  And…you might just see a familiar face.  😉

6. Print and Product Samples – For much of the past year, I have been testing out a number of products and prints from professional labs.  While we recommend our clients use MPix for any prints they would like to make using digital images they purchase, I also want to offer my clients a great option for purchasing professional quality prints.  Print labs do matter.  There are countless blog posts out there comparing different professional and consumer labs such as this one and this one, and it is easy to see the difference in quality and color from consumer and professional labs.  When a client wants a large print of a favorite photo to frame on their wall and to look at every day, I want to provide them with great color and lasting quality.  This is why I’ve tested many professional labs and use a color calibrated monitor (love my Spyder Calibrator) to ensure that option.  I also take extra time to prepare each image ordered – final touch ups, color check, and cropping and resolution prep – before sending them off to my professional lab.  And, while we’re on prints, we’ll need to ship them in some quality packaging.  I love my most recent order of boxes from Design Aglow and USPS has online options for priority mailing boxes which are super convenient!  I think my last order of boxes (pretty as they were) ran me over $100.  I had to just laugh (nervously) as I rang it up on the business card.

Product Collage

7.  Props – I don’t use a lot of props.  I like simple.  But I’ve easily spent $500 in props, so far.  And I don’t use a lot of props.  😉


8.  Marketing Materials – Most of my marketing at this point has been via word of mouth (a HUGE “Thank You!” to my awesome clients) and Facebook.  I will occasionally pay for sponsored ads and have seen a decent return on this.  Facebook is tricky though, and always changing, so I try to keep updated on the latest recommendations and policies as best I can.  I have also utilized Etsy a few times for some fantastic templates for ads, business cards, gift cards and more (I even found a designer for my logo here).  I love being able to support other small business owners in this way.  (And there is SO much out there for photographers!)

Anyone keep track there?  Two years in and we’re quickly approaching somewhere in the $10K mark on the business expenses.

I know this is not an all-inclusive list by any means.  I’ve already thought of a number of things I’ve forgotten to mention, such as equipment for my simple new home studio, our custom USB’s which we use to deliver our digital images, my recently purchased Portriature Editing Software, oh – and finding/hiring/begging someone to do and file taxes!  (A shout out to my “CFO” husband for taking on this task in his free time.)  But, it’s a start and hopefully something helpful for anyone looking to open up shop.

PS… That little list there I forgot?  Add another thousand to our tab.

Finally, I will leave you with some items I hope to add to my business expense list for next year.  I’d love to hear what is on your “first investment must haves” or wish list, too!

Business Expense Wish List

  • Hiring an office manager…aka, being able to bring my awesome assistant on more than just very, very part time.
  • Back-Up Camera (Canon 6D, or Mark III)
  • 70-200 MM Zoom Lens – (And yes, I will keep dreaming on this one for a bit.)
  • IRIS Works or 17Hats for office management.  Currently testing both on a trial basis.
  • Sarah-Beth Photography Workshop – Always want to keep learning from some of the best of the best.  UPDATE!  I will be attending a SBP workshop in June.  I have a few more continuing education wish list items for 2016 including a Newborn Workshop and some additional small business training.
  • All the CMU Breakouts – This one I mentioned before, but worth saying again.





  1. Did you end up liking 17 hats or iris works better ? I’m debating between the two.

    • Hi Caroline,

      I am currently using 17Hats. Both have some really great features. I ended up going with 17Hats for their e-mail integration. (I can pull up all my communications with clients from my dashboard which for my workflow, is so helpful.) I think this is a feature that Iris may be adding in the future as well though. Both offer trial periods which is great, but it does take some time to really get enough information set up to see what all the features can do. I’m still learning 17Hats and I’ve been using it for a couple months now. I do love it though! Good luck deciding what works best for you!

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