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Why Do So Many New Photography Businesses Fail?

Updated: Jun 27

a sad photographer

Diving headfirst into the world of professional photography can be likened to exploring a vast, complex ecosystem teeming with both opportunities and pitfalls. Year after year, we see an impressive influx of eager creatives launching their own photography businesses, drawn to the allure of turning a beloved hobby into a flourishing enterprise. However, the harsh reality often uncaptured in this picturesque dream is that the majority of these businesses do not survive past their first five years. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, approximately 50% of all new businesses fail within this critical timeframe.

One might wonder, why such a high failure rate? At the crux of the matter, there's a complex interplay of factors that sabotage these fledgling enterprises, a number of which often go unnoticed until it's too late. Many of these reasons stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what it truly takes to operate a successful photography business, which, let me tell you, involves much more than a keen eye for composition and a camera.

Behind every stunning snapshot, there's an intricate framework of skills and knowledge that is integral to the survival and prosperity of any photography business. Just as it is impossible to create a captivating boudoir image without understanding the interplay of light, posing, and trust, the same principle applies to running a successful photography business. As someone who's navigated these murky waters, I've observed that failure often ensues when photographers underestimate the skills and expertise needed to maintain a profitable business.

A lot of fresh faces in the industry make the costly mistake of equating passion for photography with business acumen. The reality is far from this misconception. Without mincing words, the industry can be as harsh and demanding as it is rewarding. The first step in circumventing these pitfalls begins with understanding their origin. Let's delve into this journey together, pulling back the curtains on some of the most critical stumbling blocks that lead to the downfall of many promising photography businesses.

a sad photographer

The Misconception of an Easy Business

The siren song of running a photography business is irresistible to many. The allure of converting a hobby into a thriving enterprise, the freedom to be your own boss, and the possibility of earning while doing something you love, can be beguiling. However, beneath this captivating surface hides an often underestimated reality — the photography business isn't as easy as it might appear.

Let's start by shattering the first glass ceiling: the notion that photography is a quick route to making money. While it's true that the global photography services market is expected to grow from $32.36 billion in 2020 to $36.42 billion in 2021, these figures don't mean easy money. They reflect the industry's potential, but tapping into that potential is a game of skill, persistence, and shrewd business tactics. Much like an iceberg, most of the mass lies beneath the surface; what you see is just the tip.

Contrary to popular belief, running a photography business isn't merely about capturing beautiful moments. The process behind the scenes involves mastering lighting, understanding the nuances of composition, juggling multiple clients, scheduling shoots, managing finances, keeping up with market trends, and continuously learning and upgrading your skills. You're not only a photographer, but also an entrepreneur, bookkeeper, customer service representative, and marketing executive.

Too often, I've seen budding photographers seduced by the thought of turning their passion into a business, only to be disheartened when they stumble upon the gritty realities. For instance, according to a survey by The Creative Independent, 61.8% of surveyed photographers spent 0-10 hours a week on their creative work, while the rest of their time went into non-creative aspects of running their business. This could be quite a shock to those envisioning a business that primarily involves creating art.

Without a deep understanding of these challenges, many new photographers struggle to keep their businesses afloat. They quickly discover that their passion, while essential, isn't sufficient to conquer the myriad of obstacles that come their way. The portrait of success in the photography industry is multi-layered, requiring a balance between creativity, technical prowess, and business savvy. The path to a prosperous photography business is filled with hard work and persistence. It's not for the faint-hearted, but for those who dare to dream, persevere, and adapt, the rewards can be substantial.

two stressed out looking photographers

Insufficient Technical Skills Among New Photographers

Navigating the realm of photography requires more than just a fondness for snapshots and an artistic eye. The nuts and bolts of this industry demand a substantial degree of technical proficiency — an area where many newcomers find themselves coming up short. --And as a boudoir photographer, I see this lack of skill as an all-to-common trait of new boudoir photographers. These days, with the increasing accessibility of high-quality cameras and editing software, it's easy for anyone to take up photography. But to excel and create memorable images that stand out in a crowded market requires honing one's craft to a professional standard.

In a PPA (Professional Photographers of America) survey, 68% of professional photographers agreed that technical skills are crucial to delivering quality services. Yet, a disconnect exists between this recognition and the reality of skill levels among many new photographers. Many are quick to label themselves "pros" after a handful of decent shots, failing to realize that the path to professional-grade photography involves relentless practice, learning, and improvement.

Imagine setting up a shoot and struggling to find the perfect lighting or failing to understand how different lenses can impact the image's depth and detail. Or worse, having taken several shots, you realize that the color balance is off and the composition is unflattering. These situations are common among those who rush into the business without thoroughly understanding the technicalities of photography.

The impact of such gaps in knowledge is significant. Customers expect professional photographers to deliver high-quality images consistently, and anything less can tarnish the business's reputation and lead to lost clients. According to a study by BrightLocal, 87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2020. Imagine how one or two bad reviews citing poor image quality can impact a business's reputation and potential client base.

To mitigate these challenges, budding photographers must invest time in learning and mastering their craft before venturing into the business aspect. This includes understanding camera settings, mastering lighting techniques, knowing when to use which lens, and honing post-production skills. In a world overflowing with imagery, creating unique, technically sound photographs can mean the difference between blending into the crowd or standing out.

This journey may be demanding and time-consuming, but the results are worth the effort. By combining passion with technical prowess, new photographers can lay a solid foundation that supports not only their artistic expression but also the longevity of their business.

 a sad female photographer

Marketing Challenges in the Photography Industry

When the curtain falls, and the photoshoot ends, the work is far from over. In fact, one of the most critical facets of a successful photography business is just beginning: marketing. Your entire life as a photographer is marketing. In this highly saturated field, standing out from the crowd and catching the discerning eye of potential clients is a colossal task. One that requires more than just exceptional photography skills.

Sadly, a significant number of aspiring photographers trip up in this area. They may excel in capturing breathtaking images but struggle to effectively showcase their talent to the world. A report by Visual Objects revealed that 22% of small businesses do not use any digital marketing, and 17% do not invest in traditional marketing. Given these figures, it's clear that marketing tends to fall by the wayside, especially for businesses in creative fields.

The question that arises is, why is marketing often overlooked? One reason could be the misconception that good work will automatically bring clients through word of mouth. While recommendations are a significant source of new business, they aren't sufficient to sustain growth in the long term. In today's digital era, having a robust online presence is critical. A survey by BrightLocal found that 93% of consumers used the internet to find a local business in the last year, and 34% searched every day.

Moreover, not all marketing strategies are created equal. Just like how every photograph tells a unique story, every photography business caters to a unique audience. Hence, it's crucial to understand your target market's nuances to develop an effective marketing strategy.

It's not enough to just flood your social media feeds with your work. That's not marketing. You need to engage with your audience, showcasing not just your skills, but also the story behind each photograph, your journey, and your brand's personality. A successful photographer not only captures moments but also encapsulates emotions and narratives that resonate with their audience.

On top of that, staying up-to-date with changing marketing trends is crucial. According to Statista, as of 2022, there are 4.48 billion active social media users worldwide, with individuals spending an average of 2.4 hours per day on social media. Leveraging these platforms effectively and staying informed about the latest algorithms and features can provide a significant boost to a photographer's visibility.

To sum it up, marketing is an indispensable element of running a successful photography business. By recognizing its importance and investing in acquiring these skills, photographers can ensure their beautiful work gets the recognition it deserves and helps their business prosper.

 a photographer practicing to improve his work

Lack of Business Skills Among Photographers

It's a common sight in the world of photography — passionate individuals captivated by the allure of turning their favorite pastime into a full-time business. However, too often, these enthusiasts forget that beyond the creative aspects, photography is, at its heart, a business. And like any business, it requires a certain level of acumen to navigate its intricacies effectively.

Unfortunately, many new photographers find themselves unprepared for the world of balance sheets, invoices, tax compliance, and other financial aspects that come with running a business. According to a U.S. Bank study, 82% of businesses that fail do so because of cash flow problems. So, even if a photographer can capture stunning images and market their work effectively, without solid financial management, their business could still be on shaky ground.

Then there's pricing, a key business element that many new photographers struggle with (and boudoir photographers are exceptionally horrible...) It's a delicate balance between not undervaluing one's work and remaining competitive in the market. According to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, photographers earn a median pay of $36,280 per year as of May 2019. This relatively low figure might be due to many photographers' struggles with setting a price that truly reflects their work's value.

Another overlooked aspect is customer relationship management. It's crucial to remember that photographers don't just sell pictures; they sell an experience. Clients expect a smooth, professional interaction from the initial consultation to the delivery of final images. In a study by PwC, 73% of all people point to customer experience as an essential factor in their purchasing decisions. Yet, many new photographers, focusing solely on their creative output, tend to neglect this vital part of the business.

Furthermore, operating a photography business involves understanding legal matters such as copyright laws, contracts, model releases, and more. A lack of knowledge in these areas can lead to significant issues down the line, further underlining the importance of having well-rounded business skills.

Finally, like any business, strategic planning is crucial in photography. It's not just about the here and now, but about anticipating future trends, planning for growth, and knowing how to adapt to changing market conditions.

To encapsulate, running a successful photography business is about juggling several balls — creativity, technical expertise, marketing skills, and crucially, business acumen. By understanding the importance of these aspects and seeking to improve in each, photographers can better equip themselves for success in this competitive industry.

a photographer working on a laptop

Other Common Challenges

Beyond the core hurdles we've already discussed, a cornucopia of other challenges often ambushes the unwary photographer-turned-business-owner. These obstacles might appear less daunting at first glance, but their cumulative impact can deal a devastating blow to the vitality of a fledgling photography business.

One such issue pertains to the ever-evolving technology in the world of photography. The advent of high-quality smartphone cameras and the proliferation of free or inexpensive editing software have democratized photography like never before. Statista reported that in 2020, the global shipment of smartphones with dual and multiple cameras was around 700 million units. This proliferation of photography technology presents a unique challenge to professional photographers, who must now differentiate their services from an army of casual shooters.

Moreover, there's the challenge of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The boundaries between personal and professional life can become blurred when you turn your passion into a business. According to a study by The Creative Independent, 45.4% of photographers feel that they never stop working. This incessant grind can lead to burnout, reducing both the quality of the work and the joy derived from it.

Another crucial challenge revolves around maintaining a consistent style and brand. Photographers need to create a unique, recognizable aesthetic that sets their work apart in a sea of images. However, it's all too easy for new photographers to fall into the trap of emulating popular trends, losing their unique voice in the process.

There's also the challenge of dealing with competition. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 4% decline in the need for photographers from 2019 to 2029. This decline is primarily due to the increasing use of freelance photographers and the proliferation of non-professionals with access to digital photography. New photographers must find ways to stand out and offer value that distinguishes them from their competitors.

Lastly, dealing with the unpredictable nature of the job can also be a significant challenge. Photo shoots can get rescheduled, equipment can malfunction, weather can interfere, and clients can be unpredictable. All of these aspects require a level of resilience and adaptability that many new photographers might not anticipate.

In conclusion, photography as a business is a labyrinth of challenges, some apparent and others hidden beneath the surface. However, each obstacle offers an opportunity for growth and learning. By acknowledging these challenges and seeking ways to overcome them, photographers can refine their craft, build a sustainable business, and keep their passion for photography burning brightly.

a smiling photographer


In the kaleidoscopic realm of photography, the dream of turning a passion into a successful business can often blur the harsh realities of what it takes to thrive. The allure of being one's own boss, coupled with the thrill of creating art for a living, can lead many budding photographers down a path paved with unexpected challenges and complexities.

Transforming a hobby into a successful venture requires more than just artistic talent. It demands a harmonious blend of technical prowess, marketing aptitude, business acumen, resilience, adaptability, and a healthy dose of realism. Despite these hurdles, there are countless photographers who carve out successful, fulfilling careers by meticulously honing these skills.

In the digital era, where anyone with a smartphone can become a 'photographer,' professionals in the field face the uphill task of distinguishing their work from an endless sea of images. However, armed with a deep understanding of their craft, coupled with a unique voice, they can elevate their work above the ordinary and command the attention and respect they deserve.

The journey may be arduous, fraught with obstacles and setbacks, but it's also filled with opportunities for growth and learning. For those willing to embrace the journey in its entirety, the rewards can be fulfilling, both artistically and commercially.

As we navigate this ever-evolving landscape, let's remember that every challenge, every hurdle, is a stepping stone towards mastery and success. So, let's keep shooting, keep learning, keep growing, and most importantly, keep capturing those fleeting moments that make this journey so worth it.

For all its trials and tribulations, the world of professional photography offers an unparalleled opportunity to make a living doing what we love. And at the end of the day, isn't that what it's all about? Turning your passion into your profession is the ultimate dream, and with the right skills, mindset, and perseverance, it's a dream within reach for every dedicated photographer out there.

It's Your Turn...

Embracing the challenging but rewarding journey of professional photography starts with taking a step forward. One of the most effective ways to navigate the myriad challenges we've discussed is to continually educate yourself. Sign up for photography business workshops, or look for online courses that cover the business aspects of photography. There's a wealth of knowledge out there waiting to be tapped.

Networking is another invaluable tool in your arsenal. Join local or online photography communities, engage with peers and experienced professionals, and don't hesitate to ask questions. Remember, we're all on this journey together, and there's no better teacher than someone who's already walked the path you're on.

In conclusion, I invite you to take these words not as a deterrent but as a challenge. A challenge to surpass the average, to push beyond the boundaries, and to make your mark in this dynamic industry. It's a journey that requires patience, resilience, and constant learning. But rest assured, the rewards - of creating, of making a difference, and of living your passion - make it all worthwhile. So take the plunge, arm yourself with knowledge, and start crafting your unique path in the world of photography.

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