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This post is part of the series, The Ultimate Guide To Being A Wedding Photographer — advice for running a successful wedding photography biz. Click here to view a list of all the posts in this series.
This post contains affiliate links… but I was gonna recommend them anyway — so, hey… might as well get paid for it!
What’s the difference between you and Uncle Bob, with the expensive DSLR and telephoto lens… that he spent too much money on, and doesn’t really know how to use? Well, my friend, you are a pro.
A professional photographer that is.
And a big part of being a professional (instead of just “somebody with a fancy camera”) is that you are running a business. In fact, you’re running a legal and legitimate business.
Listen, I know the word legal is like super scary. But I think we overreact to it sometimes… (kind of like every time I pass a cop car parked on the side of the road and want to cry… even though I’m going 5 under the speed limit).
And I know what you’re thinking… We’re photographers. We’re not lawyers. Or accountants.
It’s not our job to know all that legal stuff.
Listen, I’m not saying you need a law degree. But as far as your business goes, you do need to make sure you are DOING business legally.
Here are my top tips for making sure your biz is legal:
Now, every state (and really every county and city) are going to have different interpretations of what that means. But, the bottom line is, you want to make sure you establish your business, as a business, according to your state and local government… so that you can do business there.
Whew! That was a “mouthful”…
You can actually do business as an individual (instead of a separate business) and this is called a Sole Proprietorship. But you’ll still want to set up a DBA (or “Doing Business As”) so you can set up a business bank account, under your business name.
For example, if Mary Lou Smith opens “Mary Lou Photo” as a sole proprietorship, she will need to register “Mary Lou Photo” as a DBA so she can then open a business bank account and accept checks made out to “Mary Lou Photo.”
As a side note, even if you’re doing business as a sole proprietorship, you should still set up a separate business bank account to help keep track of all of your expenses and accounting.
Sole Proprietor is just one example, but there are several different types of business entities:
And there are even more variations within those options above. Each type has its own benefits and drawbacks, and its own legal and tax implications.
You will have to choose the option that is best for you and your business. (Speak with an attorney or accountant, who can help you make that decision).
For more information about business entities, check out this page from the Small Business Administration.
Beyond establishing your business structure, you will want to research if your state/county/city requires special licensing for your business. Some do, some don’t.
You will also want to see if your state/county/city require you to collect sales tax for your type of business/service. Some do, some don’t.
I’ve talked about contracts a lot before because they’re really, really, reallllly important.
Especially if you want to run a legitimate business. Use a contract, every time you do a shoot. Even if it’s a free shoot for a friend. Use a contract.
This is why they’re so important:
As a photographer, or creative entrepreneur, the thought of hiring an attorney to draft all the different contracts your business needs, can seem a little overwhelming. Especially when you’re just starting out.
Fortunately there’s another solution: The Contract Shop!
Founded by attorney, and fellow female business owner, Christina Scalera, The Contract Shop sells legal templates and courses for creative entrepreneurs, online course creators, consultants, coaches and more.
Here are a few contract templates I think every wedding photographer needs in their biz tool box:
We all start our businesses with bright eyes and big dreams. But no matter how hard we work, or how careful we are, sometimes stuff just happens.
So you need to protect yourself. And your biz.
Along with having the proper contracts to protect your biz, you also need to get your business insured.
Most wedding venues won’t even let you photograph there, without proof of insurance.
And don’t think you’re excluded, just because you’re “only second shooting right now…”
Nope, you still need insurance.
The photographer you’re working for? Their insurance won’t cover you, unless you are their employee. But 99.9% of the time second shooters are working as Independent Contractors — which means they are working as a separate “business.”
There are different types of insurance you’ll want to consider. But I think the two most important (and absolutely necessary) for wedding photographers are Liability Insurance and Equipment Insurance.
First and foremost is liability insurance. This means that if you cause harm to another person (i.e. they trip over your camera bag and break their arm) or damage to property (i.e. you knock over a candle in the church and it starts a fire) you have insurance to cover it.
Most liability policies for photographers cover you upto $1 Million. And that is what most venues are looking for. So you’ll want to start there (you can always get more coverage too).
The second type of insurance is equipment insurance. This will cover you if you equipment is lost, damaged, stolen etc.
A lot of photographer’s mistakenly think that their homeowner’s insurance will cover them in the case of equipment loss/theft. Different policies have different coverage and stipulations, and if you’re using your equipment for a business, and the loss/damage/theft occurs on the job (or not), they probably won’t cover it.
That’s why you need equipment insurance through your business.
Hopefully I’ve shed a little light on the legal side of running a photography business — and hopefully it’s not as scary anymore.
Because you know what’s really scary?? Shooting a wedding without a contract or insurance.
OMG. goosebumps…. Seriously. Don’t do it.
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and I am not providing legal advice. This post is based on my own research and experience. Always consult an attorney and/or accountant when making legal and financial decisions regarding your business.