This is a question I receive in my inbox on a regular basis.  My typical response is “it depends” and I know that doesn’t satisfy the reader who is awaiting a response.  Here are a few things that I personally believe should be evaluated and achieved prior to entering on the scene as a “professional”.

Do I still squirm at the thought of calling myself a professional photographer? You betcha! It’s a tricky question to answer but nonetheless here are my thoughts on the subject from someone who entered as a “professional photog” without any of the following.

There is no set timeline, some achieve these quicker than others. It’s all personal discretion.  That being said, personal discretion also requires learning from others experiences.  I have admitted that I was one of those “open the box and start charging to cover my costs” photogs forever ago. It was WRONG. I cringe now at the thought, even though I can now tell people truthfully “I’ve been there, I get it.”  Understand this post is to humbly put myself and my faults before you, to encourage you a path that I found was a proper way to enter the industry.  Not everyone is going to agree, and that is okay.  That’s the beauty of running your own business. So without further adieu, , here are a few things that I personally learned!


Technical Proficiency

Oh this is such a loaded one. I see forums split on manual vs. stock modes and whether someone amounts to a professional utilizing these.  I won’t make the blanket statement that you must shoot in manual, some greats dont. However, it is IMPERATIVE that as a professional you have a complete understanding as to the exposure triangle and understand how your equipment works.

Consistent Product

Clients typically hire based on work they have seen you produce.  They will demand reproduction of the same quality.  For instance, I know the quality that Apple has for its iPad.  How sorely disappointed would I be and what disservice Apple would have done me if I order an iPad 3 and it’s an old brick similar to the Zach Morris phone from the 90s?  Producing consistent product meets client expectations. Without clients you have no business.


Legitimate Business Formation

Any time money and/or products exchange hands there should be a legitimate business formation in existence and proper tax paid.  By not doing so is not only breaking the law but is undermining the legitimacy of professional photography.  Yes, there are thresholds before tax liability may kick in but don’t let the internet or your friend tell you this. Let your taxation agency be the one to tell you that you don’t owe anything. That’s better than being fined.
Further, by taking time to adequately build your skills without the hassle of business (YES hassle of business, I love it and it still stresses me out!) you have a higher opportunity of gaining proficiency at a quicker rate. By being able to shoot freely (for free) without the business monkey on your back you are able to be creatively free.

Without going further into it the legit business formation should also include the proper acquisition of insurance (Liability, equipment, etc).

Total plug. IF you’re completely overwhelmed on this my BusinessREVAMP online workshop offers personalized legal research – I wish I could offer this advice to every one who needs it but each jurisdiction is so specific and you don’t wanna mess with legal stuff!
Adequate sized portfolio
Oh man this one I did and I see so many do.  If your portfolio is full of only your own kids, you’re not ready.  There are SO many people out there willing to let you take their pictures for free. Who doesn’t want free?  I’ve heard variations on the numbers of pictures you should have in a portfolio. Do I know the right number? No.  I just believe it should be of adequate size to demonstrate a variation in locations, lighting and technical requirements.
Understanding of the Cost of Doing Business
This is such a big one.   Do you know your true cost of doing business?  This is more of personal one. If you don’t know, you’re going to undervalue your services and will get burned out. Why would you wanna do that before getting off the ground?

I’m often told ” but I can’t afford to shoot for free”.  In my opinion, you can’t afford NOT to.  In the state of Texas, specifically, for every day you take any funds and hold yourself out as a business you can be fined $500 PER DAY.  I know even now I couldn’t afford that, let alone starting out!
Photography, like every other business, requires start up. Requires investment to begin.  By telling yourself that you are putting the funds back into the business so it’s “legit” without reporting is still not legit (with exceptions that are beyond the scope of this post). Don’t get caught. Not only do I think it is wrong, but it could potentially destroy your business before it’s really off the ground.   I want everyone to succeed. I’m not stating that these are the be-all-and-end-all requirements to being a professional photographer – just a few things that I have learned along the way.
In fact, this past weekend I posted an example of my “before being legit” and “now”. The example is above. I had NONE Of the above in the first picture, and it clearly shows on so many levels.   Am I 100% on the “now”? No. I have plenty of room to grow.  I was blessed enough that my very first maternity client had faith to come back to me!
We never stop growing, but having the foundation of the items above is going to set me up for success more than not having them. I want everyone to succeed. Competition facilitates growth.  Helping each other facilitates a better industry.  Don’t let obstacles get in your way. Develop a game plan. These are just miniums to starting a biz, take from this and build on it!


Disclaimer: The information provided in this site is not legal advice, but general information on legal issues commonly encountered. Rachel Brenke Photography, LLC is not a law firm and is not a substitute for an attorney or law firm. Communications between you and Rachel Brenke Photography, LLC are protected by our Privacy Policy, but are not protected by the attorney-client privilege or work product doctrine. Rachel Brenke Photography, LLC cannot provide legal advice and can only provide self-help services at your specific direction; Rachel Brenke Photography, LLC cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation to a consumer about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies.

Fort Hood Texas Photographer  |  Fort Bliss Texas Photographer  | Austin Texas Photographer  | Dallas Texas Photographer

About Author

Rachel Brenke is a lawyer, photographer and business consultant for photographers. She is currently helping creative industry professionals all over the world initiate, strategize and implement strategic business and marketing plans through various mediums of consulting resources and legal direction. Disclaimer: I am a lawyer but I'm not your lawyer! View my entire disclaimer here /// Download free contract form!


  1. Alisha Pendergraff on

    Rachel, as always you with your heart, business and your self out on display for the sake of sharing your business lessons so that others might not have the growing pains that you did. I HOPE that people quickly realize what a wealth of information you have to offer, but more so that they REALLY grasp what you are “giving” to them. You are an amazing young woman and I admire that you are willing to put yourself out there time and time again…. You get NOTHING but love from this Okie!!!!

    <3 Alisha

    p.s. Thank you and you are SUCH a positive, wonderful addition to this industry!!!

  2. Angela Asaro on

    Thanks for going out on a limb to post this Rachel. I completely see what you’re coming from and since I am starting up this year I have made the conscious effort to save all my receipts for tax purposes, now mind you I haven’t gotten my EIN yet. This is actually where I wish someone had something Photography 101 related. Taking the love you have of photography to the next level…like a beginners book/booklet. Something as simple as starting with the purchase of your camera, to 2 weeks after you should have this, 1 month later you should have this, etc. I tell you this is the one thing for me that I would be the most grateful to have. I am going to check out the blogs you added to this post, but I want to thank you for all the guidance you give and all you give of yourself to not only help you grow, but help others with the same love of photography to grow as well. :)

  3. Nicole Proulx on

    I just LOVE YOU! it seems every time im wondering about something, or have questions; there you are with another post to answer all my questions 😀 THANK YOU. thank you. thank you! You have been so helpful to me in this process. <3

  4. Great post, so many important things to consider. Also, wow congrats to you on your progress and your gumption to put yourself out there like that. Your work is beautiful!

  5. GREAT POST! Nice, but to the point. Not saying “you have to do it my way” but generally advising the best way to get into the business. I started completely free. I uploaded photos to and provided a link for people to order. I also did CDs (very cheap method). Once I got some experience I started offering prints at a VERY low price. Now I’m still probably not pricing myself high enough, but I’m still not to the point yet that I think I need to charge that much – we are our own worst critic. I’ve had other pro’s tell me to raise my prices… but I personally just don’t feel I’m there. Like you said, this is a personal decision, but it should be a well educated, properly made decision. :)

  6. I’d also like to add – I shot my first wedding as a second shooter. I don’t think anyone should shoot a wedding as a primary without experience… too much is at stake.

  7. Your post was so informative. And there are so many in the position of “how much?” “When?” “Where?”. I’ve seen many photographer friends struggle with this. So many people limit themselves and allow themselves to be limited by others’ thoughts on “when am I…?”. Thank you for this post! <3

  8. Very informative and should give people looking into getting into this or any other business a lot to think over before hand!

  9. I’m so happy to read this. This is the kind of manual that needs to be given and not the accidental misinformation that’s at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this best doc. 525685

  10. Susan Freeman on

    Photography has been my passion since about 7th grade and I am getting ready to retire from teaching after 32 years. My youngest son is going to school for photography and has aked me to go into business. I am flattered but not sure if this is the answer. we could be good together as our strengths tend to complement one another and we both have a “good eye”. Still pondering…..

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  19. Such great advice! I’m just absorbing it all bit by bit. I have a couple questions – when do you get a watermark on your pics and how do you accomplish that? Do I have to have fancy editing software?
    Although I’m no professional I would like to have credit for the pics I do take and post online, etc.
    Have you had anyone pick apart your pics? I.E. Just the other day a person said they didn’t like the little bit of goober (I thought it was cute) on a baby’s chin in a pic I took. It kinda hurt! Do we have to be super tough to do this professionally? Thanks! :)

  20. I just wanted to say THANK YOU! I have wondered how to really open the door to starting my own business. I’ve had so many questions in the back of my mind that have been brought to light and answered on your website. THANK YOU for being willing to share your knowledge. I’ve run into so many friends who’ve had success with their photography, but they won’t share ANYTHING, from the lens and settings, to how much they charge (unless of course I’m paying them). It’s all been a big mystery and it’s something that I love so I’m very grateful for your willingness to be open and honest.



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  24. Rachel, I have read (very possibly on your own website) that it’s always necessary to have an attorney in your own state to review contracts such as those you sell on here, I am just now noticing you are based in Texas, are these contracts made to abide and follow within laws in Texas? Basically, if I am doing business in Texas is it still necessary to have an attorney review these. Thank you!

  25. Rachel Brenke on

    Hey Monica,

    I always recommend review by an attorney to ensure it suits your business policies and local laws -but I am barred in texas yes :)

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