How I Started a Photography Business With No Money

In the world of bland posts about starting photography businesses, I’m going to do something different. I am going to share my journey from struggling photographer starting a photography business with no money to successful, full time photographer who wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

Photography is easily one of the most popular hobbies around. It’s true when you hear that “everyone is a photographer” because of how accessible cameras are (hint: they’re in our phones, which are on us 24/7). When people travel, they take out their phones and take pictures. At weddings, mom-and-dad take out their phones to document the day. 

Photography is truly alive now more than it ever was. 

While many people take photos, few take this skill and hone it to create truly beautiful works. Fewer still go the extra steps to turn their photography into a product that other people would want to buy from them. 

If you’re one of those few just thinking about starting your own photography business, but maybe strapped for cash, I can help you turn that dream into a reality. 

couple in wedding attire looking towards the camera while a leaf falls from a tree

My journey into professional photography – no money to good money

I got started with photography as a hobby early on in life. During high school, it was something I was passionate about. I’d take photos of my friends and nature when I went on hikes. It was a simple beginning. 

About 8 years ago, I started getting lured towards taking my photography skills and doing it professionally. When I married my wife (who is a lovely part of Shoot & Thrive and you can read about us here), it really started to click that wedding photography could be a career for us

My wife and I learned a lot during 2016, when we took on a few 2nd shooting gigs for other photographers and submerged ourselves into reading everything we could about becoming wedding photographers. 

In January 2017, we decided to officially register our photography business legally. By taking that step, we were committing to the dream of being photographers. It was a dream we’d soon learn was challenging, but hugely rewarding. 

At this time in our life, we didn’t have much money. 

We did not grow up particularly well off financially and worked jobs for other companies to pay our bills. 

Still – I made a plan for our business that required us to work, make money, buy the gear we needed (our “startup costs”), then grow from there. 

Without much money to spare, every booking we got, we would take that money and reinvest it into getting the best camera gear we could. In our first year in business, we made $45,000 – not bad for basically winging it and working our business as a 2nd job. We reinvested most of this. 

By our 2nd year, we had purchased all of the key equipment we needed, and now we could settle into a simpler business where we just had some recurring expenses (like paying to file our taxes and for our mile tracking app and online gallery storage). 

By our 3rd year, we were profiting over $100,000 – and have consistently earned for ourselves relatively high salaries since then. 

I’m an example that when starting a photography business, having extra money to spend early on is hugely valuable, but not a necessity. 

10 Tips & Tricks for Starting a Photography Business with No Money

Reinvest the money you make through photography

The simplest solution for starting a photography business is to take any money you earn, and reinvest it. Whether you’re photographing portraits, weddings, or something else – you can easily find yourself cashing checks for your clients. 

As you earn money, you’ll be able to dedicate funds towards the specific things you need until you’ve finished your start up. 

Of course, the key is to invest in the right things early on. 

When starting a photography business with no money, any money that you do have come in needs to be applied towards things that are essential to operating your business (like good quality camera equipment) and towards things that will make you more money in the future (like SEO and blogging for photographers). 

Separate required costs from things you’d like to buy

Photographers can easily get carried away with thinking they need 20 different camera lenses, when in reality they could get by with a small amount of gear. We recommend making a list of necessary purchases you’ll need to make, and a separate list of those things you’d like that could make things easier or fun. 

Rent camera equipment before you buy

With professional camera equipment typically costing thousands of dollars, it can be a good idea to rent things to get familiar with them before committing to them long term. Some camera rental companies also have options available to rent, then buy at a discounted price if you decide to purchase. As a result, this can be a smart way to try out equipment, then purchase it if you decide it’s right for you. 

A few camera rental places we suggest:

  • Lens Rentals
  • Borrow Lenses
  • Local mom-and-pop camera shops (if you have one near you)

Let the purchases you do make tick multiple boxes

Okay, this one may need a little explaining. 

When starting a business, you will need to spend money. There’s no real way around it. However, you can spend money on things in a way that is smart and allows you to spend less money. 

For example, when purchasing camera gear – it could be a good idea to invest in zoom lenses (like a 70-200mm) instead of a prime lens (like an 85mm) because you’ll end up with similar results, but more scenarios where you can use the 70-200mm. 

When considering buying a CRM, check for ones that offer the most bang for your back. There are a lot of great, photographer and creative centered CRMS like Honeybook, Tave, Dubsado and Sprout Studio just to name a few.

Hold a day job until your photography business can support you

If having money to start your photography business journey is a problem, then you’ll need to supplement it until things take off. 

I worked an office job until I was able to go full time with professional photography. Many photographers are in a similar position, dreaming of this career path and working towards it, while still needing to pay the bills. 

Related: When can you go full time as a photographer?

Network with other photographers and industry professionals

One of the best things you can do for free to advance your photography career is network. Meet with other photographers and learn how they do things. If you’re looking to get into wedding photography, you have an even larger net to cast – go to meet ups with other wedding professionals and network. 

Referrals from your network can be a great way to get new business. 

Focus on getting organic traffic through SEO

Don’t want to pay for ads because you don’t have a lot of money as it is?

Search engine optimization is a great solution to get found by clients – for free. You can read some of our SEO Tips for more specific suggestions. 

Create a great client experience

Another thing you can do for free that will pay back later is work on refining your client experience. Having a solid client experience in place will help you wow your clients. So whether you’re looking to book your first photography client or your 100th, this is something that is essential. 

Partner with another photographer

While this strategy will not work for everyone, one solution for making starting up a photography business without little to no money easier is to go in with someone else. You can split any start up costs with a partner, saving you some upfront expenses. 

While this can work well if you have a friend or someone you’ve networked with, this is a great choice for husband and wife photography teams. My wife and I chose to work together, and as a result were able to tackle costs more effectively. 

Take advantage of free education resources

Here at Shoot & Thrive, we are constantly sharing free resources with our audience to help them grow their photography businesses. You can read through our blog for a ton of content. 

One of our best is our free mailing list, where we share a consistent flow of education and insights. Sign up today using the form below:

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It is possible to start a photography business with no money. Most of the things we do in our businesses do not require money at all. As photographers, we can do a lot to get our businesses going just by taking advantage of search engine traffic, social media and networking with others in the industry. 

Whether you’re just starting out with your photography business or have been in it for a few years, we can help you grow even faster. We support photographers in creating profitable businesses. If you find yourself needing some help to get that extra leg up, get in touch!

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