Quick Legal Checklist: How to start a photography business (the right way!)

Apr 17, 2024

Starting a photography business is exciting, but setting up a business is so super important!

We need to make sure you’re on the right path!  

This high-level checklist is great for EVERYONE. 

  • The hobbyist considering going legal
  • The newbie wanting a guide
  • The advanced photographer running their yearly audit

These are the steps you need to make sure you have on lockdown to have a professional and protected photography business.


Let’s get started. 

#1 Choose a legal name

What do we mean by that? Can’t I just pick the name I want?


You want to make sure you’re not violating any Federal or State trademarks, as well as ensuring your name is available. Don’t want to get kicked out of business for a mere issue with the name.  Or worse, you have to hand over all of your profits for the time you were using someone else’s name. PLUS you’d have to rebrand in the end.

Quick steps:

  • Search the USPTO office
  • Search your local State website
  • Google (but don’t rely on people’s SEO)
  • Check social media handles
  • Hire a firm to do the proper searches for you

Let’s make sure we don’t spend time + money + energy building a business on a name that we aren’t legally allowed to use!


#2 Set up your legal entity

What? Can’t I just start soliciting clients and call it good?

Well, you can. But you can also have your personal assets, including ANY monies you make (whether from photo biz or another job) on the line should an issue happen.

You can choose from Sole Proprietor, LLC, C Corp, S Corp, and Partnership structures.  Choose the one that fits your plan – not just what everyone else is doing!  As you can see from the list below, Sole Proprietor isn’t a recommended option as you have no protection.

More helpful reading:


Setting up your legal entity is important for the following reasons:

  • limited liability protection – protect your personal stuff
  • demonstrates professionalism to clients
  • tax benefits (which may vary by specific circumstances)


Don’t forget that setting up your LLC/Corp is not all you need to do. There are the federal name checks (see #1 above), and drafting of Operating Agreements/Bylaws as required by State law.

Resources to help you:


Caution: DO NOT follow the advice of Small Business Association offices – they can’t provide any more than we provide here generally. Suppose they try to give you specific, individualized advice you need to have this checked by a lawyer. They are not allowed to provide legal advice.


#3 Make the appropriate tax elections with the IRS (if applicable)

You could be saving more money on your Income Taxes through special elections – be sure you’re doing it! 

More helpful reading:


#4 Get your sales tax permit

Remit your sales taxes if applicable and be sure you know WHAT products and/or services to charge on.

Careful if you’re doing all-inclusive collections without breaking out sales tax that may be a state law no-no!


#5 Get other appropriate licenses and permits for your jurisdiction

Don’t get shut down for simply not getting the right licenses and permits for shooting.  Licenses can include extra business licenses on top of your formation.  Permits can be for specific shooting areas (see Shooting on Private Property)

Note: A license is permission to do a certain activity.  License is NOT the formation of an LLC or Corporation. That is a legal entity, as seen in Step #2 above.


To get the rest of the checklist + more resources – download here.

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