Photography with Kristen Duke~Starting and maintaining a Photography Business

Hello friends!  Happy New Year!  Though the month is halfway over, this is my first time chatting with you on The Idea Room.  I loved coming weekly, but my crazy schedule just didn’t allow it AND I needed time to keep coming up with great topics for you.  Glad to share some time with Clean Mama:)

I thought I’d talk about business stuff since it seems many of you on here have a photography business or are interested in having one.  It’s the new year, time to shake things up, and I get questions about this a lot.  January is always a time of reflection, evaluation, and getting things in order, so I thought it was the perfect time. I have SO much to say on this topic, I will try to be concise. Since this will be a lot of wordiness, I will sprinkle some recent images I’ve taken to break it up.

First of all, let me just say I am not super business savvy.  My business does not keep our family afloat, and I’m so grateful I don’t need to worry about that.  I can’t imagine the stress of needing a certain amount of clients in order to pay the bills.  So if you are planning on something like that, you need a lot of business sense.  Plus, photography is an elective luxury.  People don’t NEED it like they need food.  I have seen many full time photographers suffer in these hard economic times because people are cutting back and many believe that is a luxury that can wait til later. 

I never planned to have a business.  Sometimes I laugh to myself when I stop and think that I started a business all on my own.  Little old me.  I’ve always felt pretty mediocre.  Not down on myself for being so, but recognized that is just the way it was.  School was difficult for me.  I did graduate with my Bachelors, but I really had to work for it.  I never aspired to “work” when I grew up.  I wanted to get married and have lots of babies (yes, I’m one of those).  But I’ve always had this insatiable craving to take pictures.  Seriously, you should see my photo albums from my youth–volumes!  I had no clue what to charge people when they asked me to take pictures.  I charged a little and was completely happy.  Really, I wasn’t very good back then, so the two go together.  I spent many hours on the computer trying to figure things out, camera, photoshop, etc.  My husband gently told me it was taking over my time.  I had to re-evaluate (and do so ALL the time) and prioritize my time.   Sometimes I wonder if I should just stop it all…but I’ve decided I love it too much.  Not just taking pictures, but meeting strangers and taking their pictures.  It all brings me so much joy.  So I limit what I take on, and I am mindful of my computer time.  I still don’t identify myself as having a “job” because its’ just doing something I love and I happen to get paid for it.  My “work” hours are naptime and after bedtime. When it does trickle over into family time, I become cranky momma, and I don’t like her and neither does my family.

It has been difficult for me to figure out what I want to charge. I am a SUPER thrifty person.  We don’t have cable, rarely eat out, still have an old school tv, hubby drives a 1996 car, I buy furniture at good will or craigs list and fix it up…I am a “diy” kinda gal.  All that said, I am not the photographer for the thrifty person, and I’ve become ok with that (though I felt guilty for quite a while), taking into account that it takes time away from my family. When they are strangers, they pay full price.  They have sought me out, and they are willing to pay. To make it less awkward on myself, I don’t do business with those in my church congregation, but will do a professional trade or refer them to my other photographer friends. I even had a school friend show interest, tell me I was out of her price range, and I referred her to a friend who is just starting out.  I have no problems doing that–I get it!  I want people to have great pictures, but I just can’t do it all.  I have never charged family members a penny, and many close friends I gift on my own accord.  It is my favorite gift to give those I am closest with. Once again, hubby has to remind me that though it is good to be giving, I simply can’t give all that I want to.

Moving on….those unsure whether or not this is a business for them, here are what sucks your time:

A lot of people don’t realize that a shoot is a lot more than just a shoot. There are so many things and many hours that go into just one session, so here is a breakdown of what each shoot consists of:

Time Spent…

1) emailing back and forth to set the date, time, location, clothing suggestions, etc. (this could be 2 or 3 emails….or it could be 20 or more).

2)  driving to and from each session

3) actually shooting at the session
4)  depositing checks

5)  editing/prepping images for the sneak peeks on my blog

6) weeding out the not so great and editing the rest of the images
7)  uploading all of the photos to the online gallery

8) emailing the client the gallery with all of the detailed info

9)  working on any additional edits that the client has requested

10)  packaging orders
11) Setting up a delivery/pick up time

12)  backing up client files to external hard drives and burning backup discs

And to run a business, here are things you will need:

-professional camera (I don’t think a Rebel will do since so many amateur’s have them) Do you want your      clients to have a newer model than you?

-Variety of lenses, flash, extra batteries/ flashcards

-photoshop/other software

-Web presence—anything, but more professional as a .com not a blogsite

-Tax id

-Professional lab

-Stationary: welcome packet

-Packaging prints clear bags

-Gift bags to hold print orders

-stickers: I put these on prints, envelopes, gift bag

-Pricing list online and/or in print

-Accounting software/accountant (every business must pay taxes)

-professional looking Gift cards (I give them to teachers and some people buy as gifts)

-Model release, you must get permission from clients to post their images online, some don’t want it

-Client info form:  gather info like address, cell number, childrens ages and birthdays

-Cd’s/ cases/where to print:  If I sell a digital collection, I have a card that informs how to care and where to print

-Copyright info:  Many people don’t realize it is illegal to scan professional images, good to inform

-Thank you card (mail after session or delivery of prints)

-Biz cards:  can never have too many of these.

-Facebook account:  social media is HUGE for word of mouth.

-Open a business banking account


-Ppa membership

-Charge/pay taxes

-External hard drive

Are you overwhelmed yet?  I am. Online forums helped me a TON!  I have been a member of ProPhotogs for nearly 5 years now.  I used to go daily, now I only go about once a month just to look up something or see if I can help someone.  So many patient people answered my questions along the way and I had to learn to be tough when my not-so-great images were critiqued. Clickin Moms seems to be for those that may not want a business, but just great images.  I’ve made many great photographer friends along the way…online…on the phone…and locally.  I couldn’t even begin to list the people who helped me with specific techniques that I’ve never even met. 

I love it, I love it, but I love my family more. My goal is to not let it overtake my family, and most days I feel pretty good that it isn’t. Aren’t they adorable? I think so.

Please let me know if you have any further questions!  To see more from the sessions of the images here, hop on over to my little part of the web.


  1. says

    Very Awesome Kristen!! I love, love, love your work!! You take fabulous pictures and I look forward to your posts! I don't want to be a photographer for profit but I do want to be a better photographer. I got a great Nikon DSLR camera for Christmas last year and I still live in AutoMode. My goal for 2011 is to learn about the fundamentals of digital photography so thanks for inspiring!!

  2. Nancy says

    Thank you for expressing all of this. I'm finally coming to a point in my own photography career of recognizing what is and is not worth my time. It is so freeing to start taking myself a little more seriously and to see how that influences the way my clients treat me. Keep these great posts coming!

  3. kristin says

    I have been blog lurking your posts on The Idea Room, but this one was super helpful. I have been getting asked about when I am going to start a photography business that I sort of fell into by accident. Not sure if I am actually good enough to start taking on lots of clients though. I think there is still so much I need to learn, so I am still on the fence about starting up and running a business, but this post has definitely gave me some things to think about.
    I think your work is fantastic! Thanks for sharing your wisdom. It is greatly appreciated!!

  4. Haley K says

    she is one talented woman :) I can't get over how much I love that 2nd-to-last shot of the family on the bed pillow-fighting…all the feathers everywhere are magical! :)

  5. Carmie of the Single Nester says

    Really heartfelt post. All I ever wanted to be was a wife and mother and all these years later, it has not happened and might not – ever. But, I still need to "be" something. And, I need to figure that out.

  6. Kerryanne English says

    Great post Kristen. As always, very helpful and although I don't want to be a professional, I find your photography tips invaluable.
    Thanks ~ Kerryanne

  7. Lyndee @ A Recovering Craft Hoarder says

    Your pictures are amazing! I think one of the hardest things is the setting. I would love to be more creative in that area.

  8. Coconut Queen says

    I really like your work. You're very talented. I'm just starting to read about photography, it's very interesting. This post that you wrote is very good read. I love to know the insides of these kinds of things. Very cool.

  9. ash and ry says

    I love reading all of your posts and your work is really inspiring. I have been doing searches on professional printing labs though and it's been overwhelming. Do you have any that you can recommend? Thanks!

  10. Kristen Duke Photography says

    I use a few different labs depending on what i am ordering and if they have sales, etc. (american color imaging) i've used for years and love them. Recently i've ordered more from (white house custom color) and they have a few labs, one in texas, so if i order monday before 11am, it comes via ups (or fedex) on tuesday!!! i also use mckenna (get my cd tins here, they also have lunch boxes) and millers sometimes.

  11. Divine Photography says

    Hi Kristen! I am a photographer, 2 years in, with still plenty to learn and grow! I'm finally at a place in life where I can be a bit more aggressive with it, so I am EXTREMELY grateful for all your honest, helpful posts! I was wondering if you wouldn't mind emailing or sharing your wording on the release you give with a disc of negatives. Mine is currently too general and I can't find any better examples online. Thanks again!
    [email protected]

  12. Jeanne says

    Very wonderful and informative post. I wanted to be a mom too, and have been blessed with 5 kids, and some of them are beginning to share my love of photography. I wish I had the talent of my 15 year old when I was her age, maybe my tons of photos from my youth would be better!
    The balance of family and craft is something I am trying to figure out though. I am starting to realize that it's not good to ignore it, but I don't want to ignore my kids either. I do a lot of drive by photos around town though and those are nice drives with my kids through the rural parts of our Idaho town.It's good practice and we all keep our eyes out for animals. (horses, birds, deer, whatever)

    I have so much to learn, but some days I think about maybe trying this stuff out for some money… very uncomfortable having friends and family pay though too. I think that's up to your discretion because there is so much we cannot repay them for really.
    This has been very nice to read. Maybe I stumbled on this post for a reason? Thanks for taking the time to write it and lay it all out.

  13. Judy says

    Thank You! I have been wondering for months how to start all of what you posted here! I was in business but apparently not doing it right. Then I had a two year old and one on the way and I needed to focus on them. So, I shut down shop and now I am wanting to start back up again and do it the “right” way. I felt like you were talking to me! If you have any additional tips, please let me know! Thanks again!

  14. Angela says

    Great post, I love my family and photography too so I can relate. I have to disagree on one part though, the part about the Rebel camera. Its not always the camera that matters but the photographer. A client might have a more up to date camera but that doesnt mean it is “better” and they may have no idea how to work it other than push the button on auto. I know several like that. :)

  15. Deidra Ross says

    Kristen, what camera do you use?
    I just upgraded from a Canon Rebel T3, which took great photos. To a Canon 70D.


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