August 30, 2018

How To Start a Photography Business Without Going to College

“Yay, Cait, you’re blogging again!” Yea, yea, it’s been a hot second since I’ve blogged. Running a biz is hard y’all! I was a hobbyist/semi-professional photographer for 6 years until last summer when I decided to revamp my business and get more serious. And by “more serious” I mean that my youngest nanny child was off to pre-school soon and I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living other than photography. I knew I didn’t have to go to school in order to make a living from photography, but that I did need to work my butt off if I wanted to be successful. So, alas, I’ve spent the last seven months trying to figure out this whole “being a full-time creative” thing.


Which brings me to tell you about the first blog post since forever ago! I wanted to address this question because so many younger gals (and some of my peers) have asked me this: How do you start a photography business without going to college?

Me in 2011, when I started my photography journey!

After struggling with and celebrating this process for seven years, I’d say my experience and advice is valuable. If you’re a beginner or hobbyist photographer looking to go pro or at least make some side cash, here are 10 things I recommend:


  1. Buy equipment! You don’t have to start off brand new, that stuff’s too expensive. Go used. Buy a used (in good shape) DSLR camera, a new external flash (for the love of everything good, DO NOT USE THE BUILT IN FLASH, external flashes are literally $40 on, buy a few different used lenses (18-55mm, 50mm f/1.8, 70-200mm are what I started off with), and a tripod.
  2. Buy an editing tool. Editing apps on your phone are great but if you don’t have built in wifi in your camera, you have to put your photos on the computer and convert the files anyways. Adobe Lightroom is what I use! No need to buy the entire Adobe Suite just starting out, it’s something to invest in down the road if you want it.
  3. Learn your camera! Please don’t shoot in Auto mode, that won’t get you anywhere. Play around with the buttons and see how they affect your shots! Know what aperture, ISO, and shutter speed are. Google, Pinterest, and YouTube were my biggest help when I was learning!
  4. Practice makes perfect. I know this is a cheesy phrase but it’s so true! You can learn your camera but if you aren’t practicing, you won’t grow as a photographer. Try different compositions, different subjects, different lighting settings!
  5. Have a digital portfolio. You are a digital artist so have a platform where you can show off your work! If you don’t want to go the website route (I do highly recommend this at some point), go the Instagram route! Just have somewhere where people can view your work.
  6.  Find your niche! It might take awhile before you actually figure out what you like to photograph. Just because everyone and their brother is a wedding photographer doesn’t mean you have to be a wedding photographer too. As industry leader, Shay Cochrane taught me, to find your niche you have to go further than “I’m a wedding photographer”. Here’s a brief example (I’m going to use wedding photography for simplicity’s sake):
    1. I’m a wedding photographer
    2. I’m a wedding photographer in the Cleveland, OH area
    3. I’m a wedding photographer in the Cleveland, OH area who works with couples that are planning intimate, small weddings

Now you don’t want to get to narrow as in “I’m a wedding photographer in the Cleveland, OH area who works with couples that are having small, intimate weddings with animals included in their springtime ceremony.” That’s a little cray-cray and will shut you off to potentially amazing clients.

  1. Reach out to a few people and offer them a free session in order to build your portfolio! There will be a lot of people wanting free sessions from you. But be confident and stand firm. Only reach out to people who you think will bring in actual clients for you. Maybe that’s a local blogger in your town with 50k followers. Maybe it’s a friend who owns a business. There’s no shame in doing free sessions, just make sure you’re strategic about it so it benefits you as well!
  2. Have your systems in place. And keep them simple. Write up a contract or purchase one from online (see below), know what forms of payment you take and when you take it, know how many photos and how you’ll be delivering the photos to your clients, etc. Basically, just have all that in place before you get your first paying or non paying client!
  3. Network! I hated this term because it seemed so scary in the beginning to my introverted-extrovert self. Simply put, the more people you know and meet, the more potential you have to expand your clientele. Join local creative groups on Facebook, go to community events with your camera, reach out to friends of friends!
  4. Be confident! Everyone starts somewhere. I know too many people who have pulled the plug on their dreams just because they started comparing themselves to others. You’re probably not going to be the best photographer starting out. That’s ok, just don’t give up! A confident (not cocky) photographer makes clients happy!


I hope this post encourages you! There’s always a process and journey in whatever you do and being in the creative field doesn’t mean it’s any easier. It’s like anything else, if you work at it you’ll grow and there are certain things you can do to ensure that growth! I wish you all an exciting and fulfilling photography journey, I love when people find their calling and pursue it! As always, I’m here to answer any of your photography and/or business questions to the best of my ability. Below are some resources I think you’ll find helpful!



Contracts for photographers-

External flash for DSLR cameras-

New & Used camera gear- ,

Editing apps for your phone- VSCO, Over Edit

Planning tool for Instagram posts- Planoly

Website hosts- ,

Client files and booking tool- Honey Book