How to launch a successful photography business in 48 hours or less
Hint: The photography is the easy part.
Moshe Zusman first got involved with photography while shooting weddings in his hometown, the coastal city of Haifa, Israel. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 2004 where he set up his own wedding photography business. Fast forward 12 years, and he’s one of the most popular photographers in the D.C. metro area shooting weddings, portraits, food and fashion. His work has appeared in the New York Times, People, D.C. Magazine and others.
He was shooting 40 weddings per year when he and his wife found out their first child was on the way and he realized it was time for a change.
“I was getting that undeniable urge that my life needed an all-in moment to make a better life for my family and me. That’s when I decided it was my photography that needed to change,” said Zusman, who attended the University of Haifa in Israel and Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts.
So, he built a new website and rebranded himself as a headshot photographer. In a very short time he went from slaving for weeks over a wedding to making $500 an hour shooting headshots.
The key to his business is a streamlined workflow and a good marketing plan – techniques that Zusman said anyone can learn. In fact, he teaches them in his workshop Headshot Bootcamp with fellow wedding photographer Vanessa Joy.
Zusman and Joy first met on the speaking circuit; they began doing shorter classes and workshops together. Their bootcamp gives participants an intense look at what it takes to set up a successful headshot business. There are three primary steps: learning what to do with the camera, developing a business plan and streamlining your workflow.
“The first thing you have to do is master your craft,” Zusman told From the Grapevine. “That’s what we focus on during the first day of the workshop – all the technical stuff. How to run a smoother photo shoot and how to quickly and successfully end it so that you can move on to the next client.”
You also need a portfolio, but in the case of headshots, you can build that in a day. All you need are 10 or 12 faces, which you can easily cull from your friends, family or former clients.
But the photography is the easy part.
“A lot of people pick up the camera thinking ‘cool’ – and that’s the majority of photographers out there. There are a lot of great photographers with zero business skill. I think that’s where the term starving artist came from: People who are good with a camera but won’t be able to make a dime because they don’t know how to run a business.”
So on the second day of the workshop, Joy teaches a range of business, marketing and social media classes.
The third aspect of creating a successful photography business is mastering your workflow. “You have to figure out what kind of workflow works for your business, what you want from your lifestyle,” said Joy.
In Zusman’s case, he’s managed to set up a system whereby it only takes about an hour of total time for a client to book a headshot session, for him to shoot the photographs and deliver the final product – he selects the images in the studio with the client present and outsources his post-production.
“That kind of workflow is key to headshots – you run the business rather than it running you,” Joy said.
There’s also a financial investment to be made to get your business started. Zusman and Joy say you could put together your equipment – camera, lens, laptop and lights – for as little as $5,000, but caution that you’ll likely be ready to upgrade at least part of that within a year. But for an upfront investment of around $12,000 you’ll likely be set for a very long time.
The equipment they recommend includes the new Canon 5D Mark IV camera with a Canon 70mm–200mm f/2.8 lens, a MacBook Pro laptop and a set of Profoto studio lights.
Having your own studio is not absolutely necessary, but it is an advantage.
“A 10-by-30k space is really all you need. I’ve done headshots on location, but having a studio gives me more flexibility with weather and time of the day,” Zusman told us.
Joy added that having a studio also adds credibility to your business, especially if you want to do high-end headshots and be able to charge more than other photographers.
In the end, while it does take some level of talent to become a successful photographer in any genre, it’s the business acumen and human skills that can really set you apart.
“What’s unique about our workshop is it’s the only one that doesn’t just tell you how to take a better headshot. We are helping people understand how to run a business with those skills,” Zusman said.
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