We all have things we can’t live without. And it’s no different when it comes to building a six figure photography business.
Professional photographers use hundreds if not thousands of tools and resources every day to get the job done.
And while my list has changed during my 23 years in my photography business, these 66 land in can’t-live-without-’em territory.
Sure, there’s a ton of fun, shiny toys out there for photographers to play with, but I’m not big on investing in tools that don’t increase my profitability.
So I’ve divided my favorites into a few categories to make it easier for you to hunt for what you’re looking for.
Here we go!
Equipment & Software for the Six Figure Photography Business
1. A Professional Camera
This one goes without saying. A photographer without a camera is like a sculptor without clay. I adore my Canon 1D-X Mark 2.
2. A Portrait Lens
Portraits are the “bread and butter” of many photographers. While I use several, my 70-200 is the workhorse of my portrait lens collection.
3. Adobe Photoshop
The best photos may seem magical, but they have help. Adobe Photoshop is my go-to tool for retouching images.
4. Adobe Lightroom
Whether you’re a wedding photographer or shoot in volume, Adobe Lightroom offers an easy way to cull images. The benefit? Less time post-processing.
5. An Ink Jet Printer
Photography is an art, but you’re running a business. A simple ink jet printer is a must when it comes to client forms and other paperwork.
6. A Laptop
If you’re anything like me, you’re always on the go. I don’t leave home without my 15” MacBook Pro.
Retouching without this productivity-booster is like trying to write with my left hand. It makes good photos even better, and is especially amazing when it comes to fine detail work.
When it comes to modifying light, every photographer needs a reflector. My fave? The 42″ x 72″ Larson Standing Reflector in Super Silver.
9. Compact Flash Cards
You never know when you’re going to need more memory in a pinch. I keep a handful of Sandisk 16 GB compact flash cards around at all times.
10. A Card Reader
Good luck getting your images off of your camera with one of these. My favorite is from Lexar.
11. Extra Camera Batteries
Boy Scouts aren’t the only ones who are always prepared. Make sure to extra camera batteries.
Despite being fully charged before a session, I know my battery always fails at the worst moment. Double and triple check your camera bag for extra, fully charged batteries before heading out to a session.
12. Time Machine
Not A Time Machine. (Although that would be nice.) A backup software application, like Apple’s Time Machine. No one wants to be the photographer who loses images. Spare yourself and your clients! the heartache and headache by backing up your files.
13. Cloud Photo Storage
Files are huge. Cloud storage offers an extra level of safety. Because is there anything more valuable than that when you’re responsible for someone’s wedding photos or newborn images?
14. External Hard Drives
If your computer crashes, an external hard drive may save the day. Here’s one I use.
15. Jump Drives
Are you sensing a theme here yet? I always back up my images and files. Then I back them up again. Here’s a jump drive I use.
16. A Canon REALiS WUX500 Projector
Your in-person sales presentation is one of the most important steps in the boutique selling method, so it makes sense not to skimp on a projector that won’t do your images justice. Whenever I do my in-person sales presentations, I use my Canon REALis WUX500 to project vibrant, stunning images on the wall. The projectorpeople.com is my go to resource.
17. Financial Management Software
Let’s face it: Most photographers don’t get into the business because they love math. But if you’re going to get to six figures and beyond, there are numbers you need to know. Whether you use QuickBooks or an industry-specific products, financial management software will keep get your books in the black.
18. Database Software
This is the little black book for your business. I have over 20 categories in my database. Here are a few: for current clients, prospects, past clients, mistakes, vendors, co-marketing partners, media, friends & family. When I need to drum up business, I have the information I need in one spot.
19. 4 x 6 Photo printer
Small projects call for a small photo printer to show client holiday card comps and more.
Business Basics & Forms for the Six Figure Photography Business
20. Photography Style
Here’s where it begins once you get your first professional camera. Developing your personal photography style that SCREAMS you took this image. Not your competitor.
Understanding your unique style and conveying that to clients is priceless when it comes to building a six figure photography business.
Once you have it, it becomes easier to attract clients and charge what you’re worth. Your potential clients will see your work and identify you as the artist.
Sure this takes time, but it’s something that makes you YOU and makes it harder for competitors to copy.
Struggling to find your photography style? This can help.
21. A plan
Now I’m not talking about an old-school 30 page business plan used to convince a bank or investor to fund you.
Instead, I’m talking about a simple spreadsheet that lays out how you’ll achieve 6 figures this year.
It’s can be as easy as looking at how many sessions you’ll photograph and at what sales average.
So, if you want to photograph 50 sessions this year, you’ll need to have a $2,000 average order to hit your goal of $100,000 in gross revenue.
Here’s a blog post that goes into a little more detail on planning if you need help here.
22. A Professional Logo
Think quick! How many leading businesses can you think of that don’t have a logo?
The takeaway: You need one.
Your logo is the face of your business and essential to separating yourself from less professional competition. But remember: Not all logos are created equal. To build a six figure photography business, I recommend a timeless logo that is professionally designed. Another tip: avoid trendy fonts and symbols that 10 years from now would date your business.
23. A Color Palette & Graphic Standards
You don’t hear the world “McDonald’s” without seeing the signature yellow and red, or “Coke” without it’s iconic Pantone PMS color red. They never stray from their brand standards using the same formulated PMS colors in their branding.
Deciding on a color palette further bolsters your brand and ensures consistency when customers come in contact with your brand. Just be sure to stick to it once you select it. A professional graphic designer is a great resource for developing your color palette and graphic standards.
24. Key Questions
How do you know which clients to book? By asking the right questions! I always refer to the same list of questions on the very first client phone call. This ensures that I’m only booking clients willing to invest more than $1,500 in my services.
25. Model Release Form
Who knows what photos you’ll want to use in future marketing pieces? Save time later by making model release forms a standard part of your business.
26. Cost-of-Sales Calculator/Pricing Formula
Pricing should be simple…and profitable. Base the price off your own overhead and income requirements, not what you see on the internet by shoot and burn photographers.
27. Philanthropy Partners
I love my business, my community and my life. Giving back is a huge part of that. Having charitable partners also shows clients that you’re a real business as well as a responsible business owner.
28. A Business Networking Group
When I was first getting started, my local chamber of commerce was a huge help. Another awesome networking resource if you’re new to your market or just getting started? Business Network International.
Marketing Tools for the Six Figure Photography Business
29. A Business Facebook Page
While your personal Facebook page is great for sharing selfies and food pics, keeping things separate is part of keeping things professional. Avoid blurred lines by setting up your own business page on Facebook. You also need a strategy for keeping it updated.
30. A Professional Website
Think a Facebook fan page is enough? Think again. A professional photography website legitimizes your business and attracts new customers. But not just any website will do.
Your website also needs to be current, relevant and mobile optimized. Research shows that you have a few seconds to convince users to stay on your page. So if it doesn’t catch their attention from the get-go, they’ll just click away, taking their business with them.
PhotoBiz got my Sarah Petty Photography and Sarah Petty Seniors websites up and running, and continues to work with us to make sure it’s just right. But why take my word for it when you can see for yourself? I’ve even got a discount code for you. Just download the complete list to receive it.
31. A Domain Name
When it comes to branding consistency, nothing beats a spot-on domain name. Check out GoDaddy to find the perfect one for your website or if you use PhotoBiz, they handle it for you. For example, my studio domain which can be easily searched and found is www.sarahpetty.com. One tip? Avoid abbreviating your business name in the URL it’s a branding disconnect.
32. A Professional Email Address
Let’s be honest: A Gmail address doesn’t scream professionalism. If you’re aiming for a six figure photography business or larger, your email address should match your business name. I use firstname.lastname@example.org, which makes it super-easy for my clients to find me. Your website company should be able to help you set this up.
33. Business Voicemail
When your friends want to get a hold of you, they call your personal number. But if you’re running a six figure photography business, you need a dedicated business voicemail.
34. A LinkedIn Profile
The end-all-be-all of professional networking sites, LinkedIn is one way to establish a professional presence. This isn’t as much about marketing as it is about brand-building. Nothing fancy, but be sure to have a professional head shot and bio of what you do that makes you different simple works.
35. Seamless Paper Rolls
I love paper rolls from Savage Universal because they can give a studio ‘feel’ to any space you shoot in. As an add on upsell to almost every session, I shoot, I put the kiddos on a bright colored paper roll backdrop and shoot through the ring light.
Presentation matters and when my clients come for their pick-up appointment, I want them to have yet another experience that makes them say “I’m Worth Every Penny.” My clear velum bags with a pocket for a favorite session image are supplied by Gorhams, Inc
37. A “Dog Whistle” Marketing Piece
I don’t even use business cards. Why not? Because they don’t prompt any action or response by clients. Instead, I rely on the power of dynamic dog whistle marketing.
I order my dog whistle marketing pieces from Marathon Press.
38. A Silent Auction Display
You’re not just donating a session or two. You’re also building your brand. Make sure your display is durable and looks amazing. (Skip the poster or print.) I use an attractive metal display from WHCC displayed on a stand crafted by a local artisan.
39. Photo Note Cards
Press-printed notecards from WHCC are a great way to share joyous occasions with clients and prospects. Note writing is a huge part of how I market my six figure photography business and something I teach my Boutique Breakthrough students how to do, too.
40. Co-Marketing Partners
This is a big one for me! Why go it alone when you can work with others? Marketing is all about relationships. In fact, some of my best clients have come to me as referrals from co-marketing partnerships. Build them and use them.
Photography Products to Show and Sell for the Six Figure Photography Business
41. Products to Sell (besides digital files)
I don’t sell digital files without a physical product.
Why? Because I don’t think it’s a sustainable or scalable business model.
It’s not in my clients’ best interests to walk out with digital files they will never print or worse, will print a low quality product that an untrained eye hasn’t color corrected or balanced. That would reflect poorly on my brand.
So when my clients hire me, they hire me as a full service professional photographer who creates artwork for their homes. I make sure that the quality of the product I offer isn’t something they could get on their own at Walgreens, Costco or online. My prints, canvases, books and other tangible products are purchased at WHCC. This is not only another way to generate revenue, but also keeps clients from looking elsewhere.
42. An Album You LOVE
Do you want clients who are willing to pay more for your products and services? The trick is in offering them something extraordinary. FINAO’s gorgeous high-end albums deliver. If you love your album, chances are your clients will too.
43. Frame Corners
Clients want to know how their images will look framed. Why tell them when you can show them?
44. Shareable Video Software
People love video because it brings their session to life. As a value-added incentive for clients whose investment reaches a certain level, I create a video like the one below of favorite images using Animoto software. This makes it very easy for my best clients to share their images on social media (BONUS, my branding is all over the video). I know that the more my images are seen by people in my target audience, it’s ‘free’ marketing for me. That’s how I use Animoto video slide shows to generate referrals.
Tools for In Person Selling for Photographers
45. Price List
Today’s consumers want information, but they also want that information delivered in a compelling way. Nothing screams “amateur” like an ink jet-printed price list on flimsy 8.5 x 11 paper.
I use separate 5×5 press-printed folded cards from WHCC for each client category (pet, senior, kid/family, etc.). Each displays client-specific products and pricing and positions me as a specialist in each niche I photograph.
46. Consultation Forms
The personal element is crucial in a boutique six figure photography business. I won’t pick up a camera without first conducting an in-person consultation.
Collecting crucial information from the get-go helps me understand what my client wants me to create for their home and saves me a ton of time in planning and shooting their session. I created my own method for conducting an in-person consultation, to which students in my Boutique Breakthrough course get access.
47. A Clipboard With Order Forms
Don’t even think about scheduling in-person sales appointments without these. This handy tool ensures that the process flows smoothly. After all, it’s easy to get carried away during appointments. Order forms help you stay organized and on track.
48. Sales Software
If you’re not selling, clients aren’t buying. I love ProSelect, which lets my clients see what their homes will look like with my images on their walls. This convenient software also lets me pull up similar images side by side so they can choose their favorites.
49. An In-Person Sales Process
No matter how good your photography is, it’s not going to sell itself. You need to have a sales process in place. I’ve developed my own five-step selling process that works quite well in my photography business.
50. Royalty-Free Music
Music sets the scene during sales presentations. From indie to iconic, Songfreedom’s carefully curated selection of tunes makes it easy.
Save big on some of my favorite tunes when you download my free guide here.
51. Beverages for Client Meetings
Whether or not clients are actually thirsty, offering them a drink is part of being a gracious host.
Educational Resources for the Six Figure Photography Business
52. A Business Mentor
Just as a good coach makes all the difference to an athlete, so can a mentor impact a professional photographer. Taking the time to learn from others is the key to accelerated success. It’s the single-largest investment I’ve made in my business.
I recommend two different mentors. One who can help you grow as a photographer and another who will help you grow as a business owner.
53. An iPhone or iPad
Because I believe in lifelong learning, I’m always challenging myself. Sure, you can listen to music, but why not try a business education audio book or podcast instead?
Professional Vendors for the Six Figure Photography Business
54. A Professional Photography Lab
White House Custom Color (WHCC) gives new meaning to the phrase “above and beyond.” Think of the best service you’ve ever experienced, and that’s what you get with WHCC. I love their products, and so do my clients. In short: I couldn’t do what I do without them.
55. Professional Framer
Growing your business means always evolving. While I used to frame in-house, outsourcing became a better choice when my studio manager cut back her hours after having her second child. But whether you frame in-house or outsource, selling your portraits professionally framed is a consideration if you want to take your photography business to the next level. Not only does it help your art look the way you envisioned it, but it also protects it for generations and separates you from shoot and burn competitors. Professional framing is also a smart technique for increasing your average order.
56. An Accountant
Even if you’re a math whiz, an accountant is a vital part of making sure your numbers are right. With taxes and other responsibilities as a business owner, you’ll save time and money in the long-run.
57. Mailing List Broker / Lettershop
I do several big mailings a year to stay at the forefront of my clients’ minds. Using a mailing list broker helps me secure the lowest postage rates and get each mailing out in the most efficient way.
58. A Graphic Designer
A consistent, compelling brand conveys how much you’re worth to your clients. A graphic designer is an integral part of translating your vision. You’d sooner eat Brussels sprouts than let an amateur retouch your photos. So why would you let one handle your graphic design? Leaving this critical task to the professionals also frees you up to focus on what you do best.
59. Business Insurance
Just getting started? Professional Photographers of America (PPA) can help you with the ins and outs of getting insured and legally protecting yourself.
Secret Tricks and Tools for the Six Figure Photography Business
Yes, you read that right. And here’s why: Smarties don’t melt or make a mess. If you photograph kids, these pastel colored candies are your new best friend.
61. A Red Clown Nose
Dealing with a particularly smile-averse client? This cheap yet effective prop is always good for a laugh.
62. Squeaky Toys
They’re not just for pets anymore. Kids and adults, too! love a good squeak.
63. A Treasure Chest Full of Trinkets
If you work with kids, you know it takes talent. It also takes trinkets. Lots of them. I have everything from fake mustaches to silly glasses in my treasure chest.
64. Unique Backdrops
Backdrops can completely alter the look of an image. I have a few favorite resources here.
When I’m feeling in the mood for something different, I’ll hit up Chicago Canvas & Supply and let my creativity flow.
And I love the bright color seamless paper rolls from Savage Universal, too.
In every shape and size. Stools, stools and more stools!
66. An Amazing Junk Shop
Looking for stand-out props that no one else has? There’s no better place to find them than at you local junk shop or auction house.
I showed you mine. Now it’s time for you to show me yours.
Do you regularly rely on any tools and resources in your own photography business? Share them along with why you love them! in the comments section below.
And since you’ve now got the lead on 66 items essential to building your photography business, you probably want to stock up. Well, I’ve made it even easier for you.
Click here to download the complete list of 66 tools. Which brings me to another smart way to grow your photography business: Save money every chance you get!