So you want to build an elopement photography business? That’s awesome news! Elopements are on the rise and an increasing number of photographers coming into the industry are looking to specialise in these intimate wedding days.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to assume you’re starting your elopement photography business completely from scratch, rather than pivoting your existing business.
This post will cover the steps you should take and the tools I recommend in order to set up your business as a legitimate business entity. Below is a list of the main things you’ll need to do.
Please note – the exact process will be different in every country, and state. However this post should help give you a rough overview of the most important things you need to cover.
Setting Up A Legal Elopement Business
Get A Business License
If you are accepting money or any form of payment in return for photography, you are running a business. This means you need to register for a business license and for taxes.
This process is very different around the world, but it’s important that before you start marketing your services and taking payments, you have done this step.
What type of business should you set up?
This also isn’t a straightforward question to answer, as it depends on where you live.
Some people set up initially as a sole trader, which means they are doing business under their own name. The benefits of this is that taxes are generally much lower. The downsides are that you are your business, so if your business has financial or legal troubles, you and your business are essentially the same person.
The other option can be to set up some kind of limited liability company (Ltd, LLC). While this does limit your personal liability, the taxes can be much higher, so this may not be your best option if you are just starting out.
The best people to advise you on on the best business structure for your business would be your local Chamber of Commerce and/or a tax consultant.
Deciding on a Business Name
Depending on where you live and how you want to set up your elopement photography business, this may have some impact on what you can name it. Do you want to run your business under your name or under an ‘artist’ name. Check whether you need to have a “Doing Business As..” if you market your business under a different name to the legal name in which you are set up as a business.
Some things to consider when choosing a name for your business:
- Is this name available to use?
- Are there any copyrights or trademarks against any part of the name I want to use?
- Does the name align with the vision for your business?
- If using your own name, are there any other photographers already with the same name?
- Does the name contain any unusual spelling? Is it easy to spell? If someone said it in conversation, would another person be able to write it correctly?
- Is the .com domain and social profiles still available?
- Do any of the words have double meanings? Be aware that names including words such as ‘shoot’ can throw up red flags as there is an obvious negative association with this word too.
- Any cultural implications linked to words or phrases used.
Get A Tax Number
This also may vary depending on where you live, but in many countries, you’ll need to apply to your tax authority for a tax identification number for your business. This is for your business tax returns.
In Europe you’ll also have the option to register for VAT. Check what the VAT threshold is for your country of business residence. In the first couple of years of doing business you may not need to register for VAT if you are under the threshold for VAT.
Get Business Insurance
If you’re running an elopement photography business, you need to be insured before you start working with couples, whether that’s paid or for free. Nobody likes to think about things going wrong, but sometimes shit happens. It could be a client tripping over your camera bag and injuring themselves, or corrupted data meaning you can’t deliver everything you promised in your contract.
Depending on where in the world you live, the insurance you need may have slightly different names. It’s most commonly known as:
- Business Indemnity Insurance
- Business Liability Insurance
- Errors & Omissions Insurance
There are companies that provide insurance specifically for professional photographers. The main ones are:
Depending on the value of your camera equipment, you may want to consider insuring that too, as it may not be covered on your home insurance if you are using it commercially.
> Read more about photography business insurance
Destination Weddings & Elopements
Lots of photographers starting their business have the dream of shooting destination elopements. One thing to bear in mind before you start marketing and taking bookings for elopements around the globe is your ability to work in these locations. Make sure to research the visa/permit situation before accepting bookings overseas.
Preparing To Book Clients
Get A Photography Contract
Whether you’re taking bookings for money or doing free portfolio-building shoots, you should be getting every person you work with to sign a contract with you.
Contracts are there to state exactly what is expected of each party as part of the agreement. They are there to protect both parties.
A huge mistake a lot of photographers make when starting out is to not sign contracts when they are doing free shoots or offering special rates for friends and family. Even for free shoots, clients need to sign model release contracts and agree to the terms of the photoshoot as set out by the photographer.
I highly recommend working with a tax advisor from day 1 of your business, as they will explain the rules and regulations for taking payments and paying taxes in your country of residence.
With that being said, here is some advice from me:
Open A Separate Bank Account
Your business finances should be kept separate from your personal finances. Depending on your business setup (sole trader or limited company) may depend on the type of account you can open.
Tip: If you’re happy with an online bank account with 0 fees then check out N26 which is available for USA and a number of European countries.
Invoicing & Getting Paid
There are a few different options out there for sending proposals and invoices. The free option is something simple like a GoogleDoc, but you quickly find the process isn’t streamlined.
There are a number of CRM (studio management tools) for photographers that allow you to send proposals and invoices. I use one called Dubsado.
The most common ways to accept payments are by direct bank transfer, PayPal, and Stripe, which can be linked with platforms like Dubsado. PayPal and Stripe are the most convenient ways for clients to pay, but you will be deducted fees from the payment you receive.
Receiving International Payments
I use Wise – formally TransferWise to my clients who are making payments from a different country and currency to what I’m invoicing in. There are no fees and the exchange rates are usually much better than Stripe or PayPal.
Learn About Leave No Trace
If you are taking clients into natural outdoor spaces, and outdoor ethics are important to you, then I recommend doing some reading around Leave No Trace and also educating your clients on it too.
Marketing Your Business
Build Your Portfolio
One of the keys to attracting the types of clients you want to work with is to build a portfolio that reflects the type of work you want to shoot. So if you want to create an elopement photography business, you should be looking to build a portfolio that resonates with couples who want to elope.
Attending a workshop with a styled shoot element can be a great way to meet other photographers and develop your skills whilst also getting some shots for your portfolio. The main drawback of workshops however is that you won’t be the only photographer with pictures of that couple in their portfolio.
Another great option is to organise your own shoots. These can be great fun, and you have full creative control over the whole look of the shoot. If you care about diversity, this is a great time to start thinking about it.
Create A Website
Every photography business needs a website. Your website is your shop window to sell your awesome services to the world.
While there are lots of options out there to build your website, in my experience there are really only two options worth considering:
WordPress Websites For Photographers
WordPress.org (not to be confused with wordpress.com) is hard to beat when it comes to SEO (search engine optimisation). But the learning curve with building a WordPress website can be steep when you’re just starting out.
If you choose to build a website on WordPress.org you’ll need the following:
- A domain name (.com is best unless you want region-specific, like .co.uk)
– Cheapest: Bluehost / Siteground
– Green Energy Hosting: GreenGeeks
– Fastest: Cloudways Use CLOUD5 for 5% Off
- WordPress Theme
– Cheap & fast loading: Kadence
– Designed for photographers: Flothemes Use code AWA20 for 20% off
Squarespace Websites For Photographers
If you don’t want to spend hours learning how to use WordPress before you’re even up and running then I’d recommend going with Squarespace instead. Squarespace is easy to use with a drag and drop website builder, and you don’t need to organise separate hosting. You can get your domain free in your first year with them too.
For Squarespace, use the code PARTNER10 for 10% off your first year.
If you want something more special than the Squarespace free templates, Squaremuse templates are designed specifically for photographers and creatives. Use the code ADVENTURE25 to save 25% on themes.
If you decide a few years down the line that you want to move to WordPress, it is possible to migrate a Squarespace website to WordPress.
Claim Your Business Social Media Profiles
While you might not yet know exactly which social media platforms you want to use to market your elopement photography business on, I recommend claiming the usernames for your business for the main platforms. Even if you don’t intend to use them, it means nobody else can take them.
The platforms you should create accounts for are:
- Instagram Business Account
- Facebook Business Page
- Pinterest Business Page
I recommend setting these up as business accounts as it doesn’t cost anything extra but you get additional features that you wouldn’t get on a personal accont.
Other platforms you might consider creating an account for (depending on your target audience):
Want to learn more about marketing? Read these posts:
Plan Out Your Business Workflow
Enquiry, Booking & Client Workflow
Map out the enquiry & booking process for your elopement photography business. Create templates for emails, contracts and invoices to save time. Sketch out for the whole process from when an enquiry lands in your inbox to when the booking is confirmed and even right up until you deliver the final images.
What steps will you need to go through with the clients? What documents will you need? Templates can be a lifesaver here, as they will save you so much time. Make a checklist you can go through so you never miss a step, or use a CRM like Dubsado* which can you can automate and ask it to send you reminders when things are due.
*use the code ‘wildconnections’ for a discount on your Dubsado subscription
When your elopement photography business starts to grow you’ll start shooting more regularly. This means higher volumes of images. So finding ways to speed up your editing workflow is essential.
Personally, I couldn’t work without Photo Mechanic to cull my images. It’s much quicker than culling in Lightroom. But when you’re starting out, it’s not essential.
I edit everything in Adobe Lightroom CC. It’s super easy to batch-edit, and copy/paste settings across images with the same lighting which can save hours.
I also use presets to help speed up the editing process and give the images that extra pop. I adjust the white balance and exposure as needed, apply the preset and then make any final adjustments as needed. My favourites are from Archipelago Presets.
How you deliver the final images is part of the overall experience the clients are getting from working with you and your elopement photography business.
Some things to consider when you are thinking about how you will deliver your final images:
- How many images will I deliver?
- Edited or unedited?
- What file format? Jpeg or RAW?
- What resolution do I want to deliver?
- Do I want to deliver digital only or also prints and albums?
- USB, WeTransfer, Online Gallery?
This is where every photographer has a different business model. Some include prints, a USB or an album with their packages. Others include a limited number of digital files and clients can upgrade to a full gallery. There are many options and you can choose what works for you and your clients.
My personal preference is to include an edited selection of high resolution digital files, delivered via an online gallery which is online for 1 year. The clients have the option to buy prints from the online gallery and they can choose to pay to keep the gallery online after 1 year is up.
I use Pic-Time for my online galleries as I find the potential to make extra income from print sales enormous with all the sales automation options they offer. Start a free trial and use the code ‘Q65R3Z’ for 1 extra month free when you start a paid plan.
Part of being a professional photographer means having a backup plan. Sometimes memory cards or hard drives corrupt. That means that from the moment the images is taken you should have multiple backups. I’ll touch on equipment in a separate post, but if you’re working professionally you should be taking precautions at every step to make backups of the images.
My backup process looks like this:
- Photograph elopement on cameras with dual memory card slots, recording to both cards simultaneously
- Raw files get backed up onto 3 external hard drives immediately after the elopement (two SSD, one RAID).
- Memory cards are kept safe and not formatted until images are delivered
- Edited images are exported as jpeg files and uploaded to cloud gallery & delivered to clients.
- Copy of edited files, Lightroom catalogue & RAW files archived in a folder on an external hard drive and kept forever.
Sometimes even with a great backup process, shit happens and files can get corrupted. That’s why you MUST have insurance. Most insurers will cover the cost of hiring a data recovery company to try and get the data back, and may pay compensation to the clients if you can prove you did your due diligence and it happened nevertheless.
Choosing Your Photography Equipment
As I touched on above, when it comes to choosing your equipment for starting your elopement photography business, the most important thing is to be prepared for any situation. Be prepared that if something stopped working, you could still finish the job and deliver what you’ve been hired to do.
I’ve written a full post on my favourite camera for elopement photography but the basics of what you need if you’re running a business are:
You should have at least two, and ideally they should both be able to record to two memory cards. Don’t get too caught up on the full frame vs crop debate. I shoot on crop sensor cameras and I’ve won international awards for these images. Sensor size isn’t everything 😉
Whilst it is possible to shoot an entire elopement on one lens, again, think about what would happen if that broke. I usually take 3-4 lenses to an elopement, depending on the situation. I have my main 2-3 favourite lenses that cover a range of focal lengths plus an ‘all-rounder’ that works as a backup.
Most photographers I know prefer working in natural light. But there’s nothing worse than being somewhere so dark that your camera can’t focus and you’re on ISO One Billion. A small video light or compact speedlite in your bag can get you out of a fix in these situations.
Spare batteries & memory cards
Have more spare batteries and memory cards than you think you’ll ever need. There’s nothing more anxiety inducing than knowing you are down to your last battery or getting a ‘card full’ message flash up mid-way through the day.
Invest In Education over Equipment
As you start your journey you’ll probably be learning from a number of sources. As you progress in your business, don’t forget to keep investing in your education. Even when you’re tempted my the shiny new model that your camera brand has just launched.
Work on Business Skills as well As Photography
The more you shoot, the more confident you’ll become as a photographer. You’ll grow, find your own style and voice and learn to trust your intuition more.
Where a lot of photographers struggle is that they are so focused on their craft (which they are masters of), that they neglect to learn the vital business skills they need to run a success photography business. Because you also need to learn to run a business in order to get paid to do that thing you love to do. Otherwise it’s just a darn expensive hobby.
Find Communities That Lift You Up
Online communities can be awesome but also overwhelming at times. Find ones that lift you up and help you thrive, like the Summit Society. And try if you can to attend some in-person events once a year and meet other photographers in person too. Sometimes the people you meet at these events become your support networks too.
Consider Getting A Mentor or Coach
Trying to find the answers to your questions and getting different responses from multiple people can be frustrating when you don’t have time to waste on trial and error tactics. Getting a coach to guide you through the process of building your business can help bypass some of the speed bumps that many new business owners have to go over. Click here to learn more about coaching with me.