For Photographers

How to Legalize Your Photography Business

July 26, 2023

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When you love photography, taking photos is almost never a chore or a burden at all. Buuuuut if you’ve tried to turn your passion into a business, you’ve discovered the truth: it takes more than creative passion to launch and grow a successful business. Figuring out how to legalize your photography business can have most of us pulling out our hair within minutes!

I’ve been there. I know exactly how you feel. So this fall, I’m sharing a comprehensive guide to getting started. Whether you’re just beginning your photography career or you’re ready to finally grow your business in a way that works for you, this series is going to help you get there. If you haven’t yet, check out the first blog in the series,  How to Create Your Photography Business Blueprint. In it, you’ll find every foundational question you should be asking to create a business you love from the ground up. 

Once you’ve mapped out the plan of your dreams, it’s time to make sure you’re good to go with the government. Legal work might not be your idea of a good time, but I promise, it’s worth it! And I’m here to guide you through every step of the process. If you’ve ever wondered, “How do I make my photography business legal?”, this is the blog for you. 

Nail down your business name.

I always recommend taking this step right away as a photographer. Here’s why: imagine that you pick the perfect name for your business. It totally suits you, so you secure your social media handles, start to grow your brand, and book some incredible clients. After it becomes clear that this is going to be profitable, you decide it’s time to turn this thing into a legal brand… only to discover the name has already been taken by someone else. 

To avoid trademark or copyright headaches like this, decide on a name and make sure it’s available. Thankfully, finding out is simple: just do a basic word mark search here. Once you’re in the clear, you can register your business so you are the one with the trademark. 

Register your business. 

Most photographers register their businesses as a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company (LLC). If you’re just starting out, a sole proprietorship is the most common choice! However, if you plan to make this your full-time job, it’s wise to discuss your options with your accountant. They’ll be able to advise you on which choices make the most financial sense for your specific needs.  

Get your EIN. 

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is helpful for many photographers. It helps the IRS quickly identify businesses for tax purposes. This quick checklist will help you determine if you need to apply for you. (Spoiler alert: if you plan to employ anyone else or you plan to operate as a partnership or corporation, you’ll need one.) You can determine your eligibility and apply for an EIN online in just a few minutes. 

Calculate sales tax.

In most places, you’ll have to pay state taxes, so it’s important to factor that into your photography pricing!  Most photographers charge flat rates to their clients with sales tax built in, which I highly recommend. But how much tax you’ll need to factor in varies pretty widely by state. You can Google the percentages for your state or talk to your accountant. (Also, since I’ve mentioned it a couple of times already: if you don’t have an accountant, get one. They are absolutely life savers in businesses like ours, when income can be inconsistent and nontraditional!) 

Prepare for federal taxes. 

There’s nothing worse than being hit with a massive tax bill at the end of the year – especially if you didn’t plan for it. To keep yourself in the clear, I recommend setting aside 30% of your income for taxes. It feels like a lot, I know – but it will give you a much-needed buffer during tax season. If your income is relatively “guessable,” you may also want to talk to your accountant about paying quarterly estimated taxes so that you’re not left shocked by a dollar sign next April. 

Set up solid contracts. 

Here’s the truth: it costs money to set up your business well. But investing into resources like accountants and contracts can literally save your business down the road. It’s worth the spend – I can’t emphasize this enough! 

Contracts are a foundational tool for every photographer. Thankfully, there are incredible resources for our industry today, so you don’t have to get an attorney to draw up your terms from scratch. Personally, I think The Legal Paige and The LawTog offer fantastic contract options — all you have to do is purchase and customize them. 

Now that you have your business trademark, tax details, and contracts squared away, you are READY to get back to the creative work you love! As your business grows, you’ll be so glad you took the time to start things out on the right foot. Best of luck — you can do this!

how to legalize your photography business

This blog post is part of a series for BRAND NEW photographers! If you want to start your business off RIGHT, this guide will help!

  1. How to Create Your Photography Business Blueprint (aka Business Plan)
  2. How to Legalize Your Photography Business
  3. How to Manage Your Finances as a Photographer
  4. Must-Have Equipment for Starting a Photography Business
  5. How to Price for Profit as a Photographer
  6. Why You Should Start Marketing Your Photography Business
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