Startup Costs

Startup Costs to Consider for a Retail Photography Business

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If you’ve been thinking of moving your home based photography business to a retail store front or if you’re starting a new photography business and just want to dive headfirst into the retail world, you will soon come to realize that moving into a brick and mortar retail business is not an easy or inexpensive endeavor. In fact, if this is your first time operating a business in a retail environment you may not even be aware of the large number of the startup costs that you need to take into consideration before making the transition.

If you are working on your startup photography business plan and are looking for information on possible costs, we’ve included links to some of our favorite places for each item listed below at the end of this article. You can also grab our book on Amazon, the Startup Photography Kit, to gain access to our full resource list to help you in starting your photography business. You can browse their websites picking items you want and getting an idea for the cost that you can plug into your business plan.

Your Physical Location

A big decision you will need to make for your business is to whether or not you will rent or own the building you will be using as your photography business storefront. Renting is of course the least amount of risk, if things don’t work out in the business, it’s much easier to get out of a rental agreement than it is to try and sell off a piece of equipment fast. Depending on the location, you may be able to obtain a rental space for a fairly inexpensive amount. Something small and out of the way will be easier and cheaper to obtain compared to something in a historic downtown area with main street premium views. The area of the country you live in will also determine your price. The best thing you can do is talk to a real estate agent and tell them exactly what you want, and your budget and usually they can help you find just what you need.

Utility Services

Just like your home, you will most likely face standard utility services such as water, electric or gas. Be careful when choosing older downtown location as they can sometimes be very inefficient in the way of utilities like electric when air leaks are present.

Your Legal Structure

Once you move to a retail location, you may decide that incorporating is a good option for you. Incorporating helps to protect your personal assets from being touched in the case of any suits that may come in front of your business. You can hire an attorney to take care of this for you but that can get fairly expensive. The second option is to do it yourself online at places like LegalZoom, that have inexpensive filing packages available starting at $99. We can provide you with some general information on types of corporations you might consider, but ultimately, even if you don’t have them do the actual filing yourself, you should still consult with an attorney before making any final decision.

Business Insurance

You will need to contact an insurance agent who specializes in retail insurance. I would highly recommend ensuring that the coverage you obtain include insurance against theft and damage of your equipment and inventory. Pricing for business insurance will vary based on your location and how much coverage you are after, but generally speaking, you can obtain an average insurance plan for less than $1000 per year.

Marketing Collateral Materials

This will be a big startup cost for you and will most likely stick around with you as your business progresses. Having professionally designed marketing pieces will be crucial to your startup success and should be sync’d with the rest of your brand as a photographer. When deciding on collateral materials, you should consider a professional logo design, business cards, letterhead, brochures and handouts to leave at your photography displays at other retail locations. You can easily get your feet wet with a $1,000-$1,500 budget for collaterals but will quickly grow as your deplete your inventory of them.

Demos and Samples

Every photographer will need high quality samples to show off to prospective clients. Take for example, if you are a wedding photographer. Most likely if a bride comes to see you, she will want to see plenty of beautiful black leather albums filled with wedding photos. A family may want to come in for a family photo, but can you imagine if they walked in with no samples on the wall? Of course not. Get plenty of samples for your new location to ensure you can market your work properly. Depending on the size of the retail building you obtained, you could plan on spending $1,000 or more on albums, frames, sample prints, etc.

Studio and Photography Equipment

If you are already working out of your home, you may not have many needs in the way of studio equipment. However, if you are just starting out or need to upgrade and expand there are a few pieces of equipment (aside from your camera and lens) that you will need. If you plan on doing studio work, you will need a good light setup, which can range in price from $1,000 to $5,000 or more! You will also need some basic backdrops, typically some nicer quality backgrounds can range in price from $100-$400 per background. Photography props, posers, chairs and other items will be necessary for studio photographs.

Remember, when it comes to studio and photography equipment you do not have to go all out to start with. You can buy a few pieces to get started and add to your inventory as your business grows and becomes more successful. You also shouldn’t be afraid of buying used. Other photographers in your area or even places online such as Ebay and Craigslist will often times have photographers selling their equipment either due to upgrading or going out of business.


Your technology needs will vary based on how you plan to conduct business. If you plan on proofing your sessions to your clients with paper proofs, you may need only the computer equipment needed to edit your photos and send them off to the lab. However, if you plan to project your photos onto a large screen for large scale views and hold actual in person sales presentations, you will need to purchase a projector and screen and most likely furniture for your client to relax in while you show off your images. A good projector can be purchased new for around $1,000, or a used one can be purchased for much less.


When it comes to running your photography business, software will play a crucial role in your daily activities. For editing purposes, the industry standard is to use Adobe Photoshop. It’s a fantastic tool and with all the available plugins, filters and brushes available, will allow you to retouch your photos to exactly the style you prefer. In the past, owning Photoshop meant a large upfront purchase of several hundred dollars, but Adobe has now switched to the Creative Cloud, which let’s you license Photoshop on a monthly basis making it much more affordable. Their plans currently start at $9.99 per month for Photoshop and Lightroom.

On top of your editing software, you will also need to purchase accounting software to manage your photography business. There is once again an industry standard: QuickBooks. Like Adobe, QuickBooks has the option for a monthly subscription fee starting at $12,95 per month but they also have the option to make a one time purchase of it for $250.

Another important software purchase you will make will be your studio management software. This is what you will use to track your appointments, enter in your orders, customer information management and more. Tracking all of this on paper or in Excel is possible but very time consuming and not very organized and streamlined. There are some fantastic studio management software options available ranging from free to thousands of dollars to own. Be sure to demo some of the ones we have listed below and view their online pricing to see what’s in your budget.

As you work on your business plan, you will undoubtedly come across more startup costs for your photography business. This is just a starter guideline to get you headed in the right direction and should cover most of your major purchases, leaving only smaller value items to consider. Be sure to check out the resources below for a detailed list of items and places to buy.

Photography Equipment

Photography Props and Specialty

Misc Suppliers

Photography Management Software

Logo Marketing Items and Packaging (Collateral Materials)


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6 comments for “Startup Costs to Consider for a Retail Photography Business

  1. January 16, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    What a great list of resources for photography businesses specifically, plus not too shabby as a start up checklist for any business!

    • January 20, 2014 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks Lynda! Definitely could be used for other businesses as well…much of it anyway. :)

  2. January 16, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    If anybody is in the market to start a retail store, you’ve got a great checklist here to follow to make sure nothing gets overlooked in the process.

    You’ve done a great job with the resources!

  3. January 17, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    Great advice for starting any business Misty! I’d also add that the physical location of your competitors is important and this type of business would want a location with good visitor traffic. Nothing like someone passing by your shop daily to keep in in their memory banks.

    • January 20, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      Definitely. Also, the more “viewable” the location, the price will most likely go up as well. My first studio was on the backside of a building, completely unnoticeable (it was also above a chinese food place, yuck!) and I think I paid around $300 per month. Moved to a more “front” location in a strip mall and it went up to $2,000 per month. Makes a big difference!

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