flat lay of a desk - starting a family photography business

Starting a Family Photography Business Checklist: Everything You Need to Know

So you’re ready to start your family photography business but you’re not sure where to begin. I get it, I was once at that place. And at the time, there weren’t many resources for family photographers online yet to help me so I had to learn the hard way. It took years. But my hope for you is that you’ll take this family photography business checklist and start your journey into owning a profitable business much faster and smarter than I did!

I’ll start by saying that this guide isn’t about how to become a better photographer. I’m assuming you have already gotten the shooting part down and are ready to start charging for your beautiful work. This is about the business side of things, which sometimes gets pretty ignored because we all just want to create wonderful art, am I right?

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Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links, but only for products I use and love (seriously, I only included them if I was obsessed with them!). If you buy through them, I’ll earn some cash for coffee (or tea). But don’t worry, I’ll use that energy to create more helpful content for you!

Checklist for starting a family photography business

Here is a quick checklist for starting a family photography business, which I will cover more in detail in this post:

  • Deciding on your style
  • Who is your ideal client
  • How to price yourself
  • What gear you need
  • What to name your photography business
  • The legal stuff
  • Create a Google My Business account
  • Best website for photographers
  • Model calls
  • Delivering images to the client
  • Keeping track of clients
  • Getting a mentor
Portrait of a family of four playing near a river throwing rocks into the water near portland oregon

Decide on your style and what sets you apart

This might be the hardest part, and it will evolve and change as you grow. And that’s okay! But before you start your business, it would be helpful for you to have an idea of what types of photography services you want to offer, what your editing style looks like, and what makes you different from other photographers around you. 

Who is your ideal family photography client?

Before you can market your services, you need to know who to market to. You want to know their age, income, the places they shop, things they are interested in, what kind of photography they want, etc. Knowing these things will help you figure out what to say when you post on social media and how to word your messaging so you are attracting the right kind of people.

maternity photo of family by a river at sunset | how to start a photography business

How do you price yourself when you’re just starting out with your photography business?

A mistake that beginner photographers often make is to start out charging really low prices. They think that because they don’t have a lot of experience, they can’t charge as much as other photographers do. But the reality is, you’re still doing all the work. You’re taking tons of time to communicate with your clients, prepare for the session, shoot the session, and edit photos. You deserve to be compensated fairly for that time!

A great option is to show your goal price that you plan to charge, but have an introductory price that is lower. That way people know what your prices will be, and they won’t be shocked later when they go up.

There are tons of Cost of Doing Business(CODB) calculators available to help you figure out what to charge in order to be profitable. This number will be different for everyone because we all have different expenses and goals. There is also an amazing podcast episode from This Can’t Be That Hard called The Donkey, the Workhorse, and the Unicorn that I found particularly amazing on this topic. It’s episode 38 if you want to take a listen.

What gear do I need to start a photography business?

When you’re just starting a family photography business, don’t stress your gear! Your checklist for gear is pretty small! Make sure you have a DSLR or Mirrorless camera that can produce a quality image (I’m going to suggest the Canon 6D or the 6DM2 as they are entry level full frame DSLRs and I have owned both of them), and a decent lens. And by decent, I mean you can start out with a cheap Canon 50mm 1.8 and still take beautiful photos! That’s the lens I started with and as my business grew, I slowly upgraded my equipment. After that, you could think about getting a 35mm 2.0 or 85mm 1.8, as those are good mid-level lenses that are on the cheaper side. There are plenty of photographers who are incredibly successful and typically only use one lens the entire session (personally, I could use my 35mm 1.4 exclusively and be just fine!).

You also want to decide on equipment based on the type of photography you will be doing. If you’re planning to do lifestyle photography in-home, then you will most likely want a wider angle lens like a 35mm so you can work with tighter spaces. If you plan to do more posed portraits, then an 85mm is the perfect portrait lens. And if you will be doing family sessions outdoors, then a 35mm or 50mm is great.

Closeup of couple closing their eyes and touching foreheads with sun shining through

What should you name your family photography business?

When deciding on your photography business name, you will want to consider a few things. First, you will want to decide what type of photography you will be offering. If you’re planning to only take children’s portraits, then you can get away with using a cutesy name that sounds more kid-like. But what if you decide to offer headshots later on down the line? Your business name will not work well in that market. So you definitely need to consider that before deciding on a name. 

The easiest option is to name your business after your own name. This is will create the best brand recognition because people don’t need to try and remember your name as well as your business name. If your last name is harder to spell, you could also use your first and middle name (that is what I did because no one can say or spell Lueck right. P.S. it rhymes with Buick).

Try to avoid a business name that will confuse your clients. I have a friend who named her business after her daughter, and everyone always thinks her name is her daughter’s name. 

Whatever name you decide, you will want to check and make sure it hasn’t been taken already. Check Facebook, Instagram, and the internet first and make sure your name is available in all places. Also check with the US Patent and Trademark Office to be sure you have chosen a name that you can legally use.

Okay, I know you don’t want to see this on the checklist, but if you’re going to be starting a family photography business, you want to do it right. If you’re charging, then you will need to check with your state and see what the requirements are for starting a business. You will need to register your business, and pay taxes on your earnings. 

You can choose to set up your photography business as a sole proprietor or an LLC. Sole proprietor is cheaper and easier but an LLC protects your assets so research it and choose the one that is right for you.

Something that has helped me keep track of expenses is Quickbooks Self Employed. It’s great for keeping my earnings and spending organized, and I can also log mileage traveled when I go to sessions or out on business-related outings (like shopping or location scouting). It links to my bank accounts and then all I need to do is mark it as a business or personal transaction and choose a category.

Another thing you will want to do ASAP is get insured! I remember feeling like this was going to be a big expense, but then I contacted my insurance agent (same one I use for our cars and home) and I found out that it was only a couple hundred for a year! That’s super cheap, and I’m covered if anything were to happen.

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Get a Google Business account

Setting up a Google Business Page is an important step and one that most new photographers don’t know about. This will help you be found on google searches, and create a place for clients to leave reviews, which will help establish you as a business.

You will need an address to set this up, but don’t worry, you don’t need to make this address public. When you set up your account, you will have the option to select a service area, rather than display your address. You do need to wait for Google to send you a postcard in the mail to verify your address, and once you do that, you’ll be ready to go!

Make sure to add your best work to the photos section, and add as much info as you can in your profile. And remember to ask all your clients to give you reviews! I also wrote a blog about getting the most out of your Google Business Profile if you want to learn more.

black and white photo of mom kissing her newborn baby by a window | starting a family photography business from scratch

What is the best website for photographers?

The absolute best website platform is self-hosted WordPress (wordpress.org, not .com). But it’s definitely not the easiest. If you’re a beginner when it comes to websites, I’d suggest either hiring someone to set it up for you, or go with a different platform. I would recommend getting a Kadence theme (you can get the free version!) and then adding StyleCloud because they have created a bunch of beautiful themes and blocks using the free version of Kadence. Not only is it beautifully designed, it’s also very lightweight so your site speed is very fast. They will also teach you how to use it and have incredible customer service.

There are tons of other options out there that aren’t quite as awesome (WordPress truly is the best choice if you care about ranking well on Google) but are still worth looking into, especially if you need something easy. Some other website builders are Showit, Pixieset, Squarespace, or if you need a free option, Adobe Portfolio comes with your Photoshop/Lightroom monthly subscription if you have that already. I wouldn’t recommend Adobe Portfolio for the long term but if you need something low-cost until you start earning an income, it’s a good option.

You are also going to need hosting, especially if you decide to get a WordPress site. My recommendation (as well as leading experts in the industry) is Cloudways. Their hosting is very fast and easy to use. It’s not worth it to pay for cheaper hosting if the site speed isn’t going to be great. All you need is their cheapest option, too.

Building your family photography business with model calls

The best way to build your photography portfolio is to do model calls. That way you are in control of everything and you will get the kinds of images you need. First, make sure you are prepared with a list of prompts and poses that you’d like to use so you don’t get stuck. I have prompts and poses digital cards available here.

How can you have a successful model call? When I first started doing model calls, I did it all wrong. I’d put the word out on my business page asking if anyone wanted a free session with me as long as they were okay with me using the images for advertising. Okay, cool. But then they would show up in all the wrong clothing and they wanted those super posed images that didn’t represent my brand, and I ended up with images I didn’t love. Don’t make this mistake! Be super specific about what you want, and make it clear to the models from the beginning. I’ve got a guide for you that will explain how I do model calls and get images that I love from them. Grab my Guide to Successful Model Calls here!

Pregnant mama in orange tassel top holding her toddler

What is the best way to deliver images to photography clients?

I’m pretty sure that the days of sending discs and USB drives are over. Plus, it’s way too much work and I’m all about making things easy. 

I know that a lot of people who are just starting out will try and deliver their images via Dropbox or Google Drive because it’s free. But did you know that there are gallery services that are free? You’ll want to give your clients a really great experience, so having gallery delivery software is kind of a must. Pixieset is free up to 3GB, but my favorite is Pic-Time which gives you 20GB of storage for free. You can use the code 4ZE3RN if you decide to get a larger paid plan and you’ll get an extra month for free.

How do I keep track of all the families I photograph?

When I was first starting out, I’d just write it down in a notebook. This was fine when I didn’t have that many clients each month, and there are free downloads out there to help you keep track. But once you get busier, that system isn’t going to work for you anymore and you will risk forgetting something important. So eventually you are going to want a CRM to help you keep everyone organized. This saves you so much time because you can set up auto emails to remind clients of their sessions, and a lot more. You can also send invoices, contracts, questionnaires, and even have clients book their sessions directly from your calendar. If you’d like to get my free guide to CRMs and learn what e-mails I send my clients and when, you can grab that free guide to workflows and CRMs here.

The CRM that I use is 17hats and I love it because I have tons of control and don’t feel limited, but there are lots out there and everyone has a different opinion on which is best for them, so do your research before you decide. Most have free trials so you can have a look around and try it out first. Some other popular choices are Dubsado, Honeybook, Tave, and IrisWorks.

And don’t forget to make sure you write excellent emails when you do communicate with your clients!

Preteen girl in an orange Joyfolie maxi dress with green grass and charry blossoms behind her - starting a photography business tips

Lastly, consider getting a mentor!

Something I really wish I had done when I was starting out is actually getting a photography mentor. Without one, you learn everything at a snail’s pace. Having a mentor is so valuable because you can learn so much in such a short time. A mentor can look at everything you’re currently doing and help you figure out how to help you in the exact way that you need. I offer online mentoring for family photographers, and I’d love to be the one to help you and your business really take off!

And if you’re curious about how I edit, my presets are for sale in my shop (or get them for free when you purchase more than one mentoring session with me).

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