The Biggest Reason Why Most New Photography Businesses Fail

PIN - #1 reason most failIn the last post, I talked about the big question that most of us have when thinking of starting a photography business, and the four keys to overcoming that fear and reaching success.

Today, I want to talk to you about one thing that could make or break your photography business…

…In my experience, this is the biggest reason why most new photography businesses fail, fizzle out, or simply never reach real levels of success.

Hint: No – it’s not your photographs themselves! (Assuming you’ve done enough learning and practice to be taking photos at a reasonably professional level.)

But before I fill you in on what this is, let me ask you a question…

…If you could have your dream photography career, what would it look like?

  • Would you open a boutique studio that you’ve carefully decorated with lush furniture and canvas wrapped gallery prints on the walls?
  • Would you work out of your home, allowing you to travel to new session destinations and work from the comfort of your home office on post-production days?
  • Maybe you would schedule yourself long weekends each week, so you could have an extra day to spend full-time with your kids?

Now that you may have a vision in your mind, your next thought is probably….

But how do I get there?!”

If you read the first article in this series, you know that I was in the exact same boat. Figuring out how to get started was overwhelming and confusing for me.

But I did fight through the overwhelm to start a successful photography business…

…I had to – I simply couldn’t bear the thought of looking back one day and wondering what life would have been like if I had only taken a chance and at least tried to create my dream career.

Although the thought of creating a new business from the bottom up scared me, the idea of going to work for years more at a company that I didn’t love scared me even more.

One thing I knew I could build off of in the beginning was passion. If you’re here, you probably already have the passion side down.

While passion certainly isn’t necessary for a successful business, it can definitely help drive you and keep you from giving up when times get tough.

But, there’s a lot more to business than just passion!

That’s where following a clear-cut plan comes in.

Today, I want you to get started on that journey with this one big thing that I mentioned could make or break your business.

Choose a niche that will set you apart

Let’s take a look at a couple examples of extremely successful photography businesses to set the stage.

As you read through these, try to think of what these photographers are doing that has set them up for such success.

Example #1: Jose Villa

joseJose Villa is a renowned wedding photographer. His work has been featured in every wedding blog you could think of, and in magazines from Martha Stewart Weddings to The Knot. On top of that, he is able to charge a very high premium for his work.

What makes Jose so successful? Let’s take a look at his work and his angle.

From Jose’s bio:

“I am a fine art wedding photographer. Ultimately, my goal is to create fine art images that are as unique as the people in the photographs.”

What can you take away from this?

  • Jose sets himself apart as a fine art wedding photographer rather than a documentary-style wedding photography
  • His work has a very consistent feel to it. The look of his photography has a very film-like feel. By creating a specific look for his work, he’s able to further set himself apart from competitors
  • By positioning himself as a “fine art photographer”, Jose is able to immediately filter out customers looking for a cheap wedding photographer by conveying the sense that his work is high-end. As a result, he is able to command very high-end pricing.
  • Jose does offer many other types of photography (editorial, children, and more,) however he makes it very clear that he specializes in weddings.

Example #2: Amanda Holloway

amandaWhen you type “Senior Photographer” into Google, Amanda Holloway is one of the first names that come up.

Amanda is a very high-end high school senior photographer. One glance at Amanda’s site and you’ll understand why she can charge such high prices for her senior experience.

From Amanda’s site: “What she promises to her clients is a couture photography experience that focuses on their true beauty – inside and out.”

  • Amanda’s website is all about the branding. From the styling of her logo to the wording of her information, her brand is so modern and bright that it appeals perfectly to the female high-school senior crowd.
  • She uses the right buzzwords to increase the perceived value of her work: “couture,” “vogue,” “experience like no other,” etc.
  • Amanda charges not just for photographs, but for a full-on model-style senior experience. When glancing through the testimonials on her site, it is clear that her clients rave over the entire experience rather than just the images themselves.

The takeaway:

So many photographers fail to choose a niche for their business, and as a result, their business fails!

This is the number one thing I mentioned that can make or break your business.

But what does it mean to choose a niche?

Basically, it means getting very specific about what you offer and who you offer it to.

How many photography studios have you seen pop up in your area that “specialize” in children, seniors, commercial, weddings, families, pets and babies?

Now, think about it this way: put yourself in the client’s shoes for a minute…

…Imagine you’re looking for a photographer to photograph your newborn…

…You can choose from the children, seniors, weddings, families, baby photographer and pay $75 for a session right down the street…

…Or, you can pay a little extra, say $125, and work with the fine art baby photographer that has a knack for getting babies to relax, a town over.

Who are you going to choose? For most, the answer is pretty simple!

People want to work with professionals who specialize in just what they are looking for, even if it means paying a premium or going the extra mile to get it.

This is what it means to get niche with your business. You can make yourself stand out and you can charge more by becoming a true specialist…

…Even though you’ll be serving a smaller market, you’ll be able to reach more of the right people by doing this.

Your Turn!

For today, I’d like you to do one big thing for your business – choose your niche!

In the comments below, write down the ONE photography area you would like to specialize in and become known for. (Don’t worry, this can always change!)

Next, write down two complimentary areas that you’d like to be your sub-specialties.

There is just one rule – make sure they compliment each other!

For example, a good compliment for wedding photography is engagement photography. A good compliment to children photography is family photography.

Think of how you can set yourself apart from the local competition by positioning yourself as an expert in this specific area of photography!

When I first started my children were only three or four years old, so I naturally gravitated toward photographing young children and families.

As the years went by those children grew and before I knew it I was photographing many of these former little kids’ senior portraits.

Now a days, we are well known for our senior portraits, but it was a natural progression for us. Our niche started as children, and grew to become high school seniors.

What will yours be?

  • Jeffrey A McDonald

    Hi Scott,

    I’ve been wallowing away trying to get work from several different angles, however I haven’t been able to attract (until recently) opportunities to work with clientele in the area of photography that I’m most interested in. My main focus is product photography (leaning toward beverage), and I am constantly focused on taking my work in to the next level. However, I’ve been struggling with finding clients, as the mom and pop’s places don’t have the budget, and the larger clients work through an ad agency. The agencies all take a look at the portfolio, but I’ve yet to make a solid connection with one that will use me.

    I’ve also shot a decent amount of food and interior/exterior of restaurants as well, which has just brought me to hotels. I recently shot the first of 3 sessions for a large hotel chain near me. It’s all architectural and food, which seem to go hand in hand. I would like to do more of this work as well.

    So with that being said, I would like my main focus to be Product/Beverage, with the sub categories being Resort/Food.

    Thanks for the great post. If you would like to see my portfolio and offer any suggestions, my site is at

  • Thanks for sharing, Jeffrey!
    I just checked out your portfolio – WOW! Extremely impressed!
    Product & Beverage and resort seems like they compliment each other very well. I have no doubt you will be able to make that work!

    You may, however, have to go after clients outside your community! It looks like your work is definitely high enough quality to appeal to larger clients – would you be willing to reach out to ad agencies outside your community and travel if needed?

  • Jeffrey A McDonald

    Absolutely!! I’ve been toying with the idea of joining Wonderful Machine, Workbook, or even trying to put an ad in a periodical suck as Lutzier’s or Communication Arts. They’re all quite pricey, and I’m not sure about the risk/reward ratio. I would definitely travel, I’m just not sure where to start making those contacts yet. I have some new projects I’m starting that are bizarre kinds of shots that get more attention. A play on words if you will. Those would work better in the periodicals I think. I just haven’t budgeted for those yet. Business is just getting legs if you know what I mean.

  • Have you worked with Facebook ads? May be worth a try – you could target specifically restaurant owners, for example, and have the ad lead back to a page detailing some sort of food photography package?

  • Jeffrey A McDonald

    I haven’t tried that yet. Had a bad experience with Google Adwords. There’s no way to contact them to get them to stop taking money from you. I literally had to close my bank account. That’s why I haven’t tried Facebook ads. I have to research it a little better before I let them tap into my bank. If it looks good I would probably target Hospitality businesses. They seem to cover food and resorts as well. Good idea!!

  • Yes, Facebook is much more user friendly. You can stop ads at any time. Also allows you to be much more targeted, and costs much less!

  • Karen Hearn

    Jeffrey before you start a recurring change like that again, I have a suggestion. Go open another checking account that you can transfer money into easily, but not linked to your main account. That way you can close it easily and it doesn’t interfere with anything else. There are a few accounts that all you have to keep in the is $5 and tell them you do not want any overdraft protection at all. That way if a charge try to go through that you didn’t want our plan for it won’t go through.

  • Kristy Gallagher

    Hi Scott,
    First, thank you for offering such a wealth of helpful knowledge. Secondly, my niche seems to be first in the genre of sports, followed with Seniors. I have kids still in school so I have shot a variety of sports from peewee to varsity. The problem I am having seems to be getting past everything being expected. I have given photos to the yearbook because had I not there wouldn’t have been any sports action pictures in there, and well what would a yearbook be without those 😉
    Anyway, with all the pop up professionals your there sports seems to be one area no one at least in this small town USA not many have a great deal of interest in but, how do you market is and be taken seriously. (I have some pics on my personal Facebook, as well as

  • Hi Kristy, you are certainly not alone in feeling this way. A lot of new photographers struggle with the transition from giving everything away to charging profitable rates.

    The important thing is that you begin to set boundaries for yourself. Create rules that will allow you to say “no” politely when people come to you asking for everything free. People may be sad about it at first, but they will then respect you greatly for valuing your own time and skill.

    As far as marketing goes, we do have a series on how to get seen in your community. It starts here:

    Hope that helps!

  • Stephanie Derreth-Beverungen

    don’t know my niche yet, but i’m selling on several stock photography sites to see where the interest is from buyers. i have a low end older digital camera, and hope to acquire a large format high end camera, but logistically need to refine my “niche” before choosing a specific model. I have images on shutterstock, istock, fotolia, dreamstime, 500px, viewbug and guru shots. i’ve also posted some on my twitter site, pinterest page and a fun page i created with my facebook account. my user name for most is smilesbevie and my domain is website once uploaded will be sistersmilesphotography (i already own the .com domain for that and for sistersmiles). take a peak…any guidance or thoughts would be appreciated. it is my hope one day to refine things into a professional role. ideally stock would work with my lifestyle as i love to travel, but i am open to constructive criticism…. stephanie

  • Natasha Petzer Van Wyk

    Hi Scott,
    Wow this was so hard for me as i dabble a little in so many photography areas, but when i looked at my website everything said newborn photographer… I guess the subs on that would be the pregnancy and cake smash photography creating that pre and post photography for parents before they would start thinking about family photos ext.

    I have a question though…. i have my studio set up from home… saying i am a fine arts photographer specialized in Newborn Photography almost sounds “fake” especially because i work from home and don’t have the fancy studio…. my bub is 3 months old and as much as i want to be full on with my photography i would be happy with doing 4 shoots a week for now as she us my main focus but i do want to also grow my business…
    could i ask that you please look at my website and give me some feedback ….

    looking forward to your feedback

    Greetings from out of Perth Australia

  • Thanks for your comment, Natasha.

    Don’t let your situation hold you back from feeling like a professional! You can absolutely create fine art without having a fancy studio or props.

    Judging by your website it looks like you certainly have talent and are off to a wonderful start. Positioning yourself as fine art should help you create a premium image in the eye of your clients.

  • Hi Stephanie, thanks for your comment. Stock photography can be fun but also can be very tough to make a decent living from. If you’re looking to do photography full time you may want to consider doing some one-on-one work as well. Best of luck with the stock work!

  • Lacey Beldock

    I have two businesses, family and boudoir photography. I would like to specialize in boudoir and compliment it with maternity photography and senior photography.

  • John LaGuardia

    This is really a tough one for me. Thank you for your article and I see the importance of honing in on a niche. This is not easy to do. I really enjoy outdoor lifestyle (adventure) photography which is the main focus of my website right now It blends well with landscape photography which I also enjoy. At this point I am not encouraged that I could make a living just doing these areas.

    I also have an interest and have received some photography commissions from architectural photography. This has been more on the real estate side, but I have an interest in architecture of all types. I started a second website at as well for this. I have thought of going into the commercial side and making my focus fine art architectural photography and matterport 3D spaces. I love photographing the more expensive homes in residential real estate and the fancier buildings like OtterBox on the commercial side. It seems that if I could focus on the higher end of real estate and architecture, that could work well together.

    I have been dabbling in product photography too. Jeffery’s site is really good BTW. I really like his product photos. Recently, I was hired to do nutritional supplement product photography and help a company with images for their website. I was able to mesh this with the outdoor lifestyle images on the site as well. This has been a fun project as well.

    There are so many areas that I enjoy and I think that is why I am having a difficult time narrowing it down. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

    Thanks so much for your great content!

  • Amanda Blevins

    Hi Scott, thanks for the info! I’ve been struggling in this area majorly. I would LOVE to specialize in fantasy/cosplay photography, nothing makes my heart sing more than coming up with wonderful themes, costumes, and makeup for these types of shoots, only problem I see is that the niche is extremely small and so I don’t know how to get it to translate into a full time job, or what I should offer to go with it, especially since I’m a natural light photographer. I love doing kids, seniors and family’s, especially with themes, but hate doing weddings and events. Any advice?

  • Amanda Blevins
  • Darryl Barnes Sr

    Hello Scott, thank you for such good information. A slump indeed and headed to the “poor house.” I really do enjoy fashion photography and product shooting. Just finding it hard to get into the game. I’m not a quitter and it has taking me 4 years to finally figure out what I like shooting best. I would love to shoot weddings but…another challenge is getting someone to hire me?

  • Nichole Stoll

    I greatly appreciate the time and effort that you pour into your educational outlets. I look forward to reading and learning from each and every one. I’m really new at this as the idea hit and I took off running this past November. I enjoy children the most and could easily compliment it with family and school portraits. I’m very excited with the idea of honing in on school portraiture as a business woman this feels smart for creating a stable income.

  • Amanda Kerr

    Thanks for the amazing information. I wish I had found your blog sooner.

    I am a complete beginner in photography. I have always appreciated the beauty of nature, however, I have love the beauty of the human form. My mom used to think I had a passion for fashion because I collect magazines just to look at the photographs. Not because of what they are selling and not for the articles. I collect them because of the people in the pictures. I have always loved the art of a photograph. I went to college for Graphic Design and love to incorporate my design abilities with my photographs. However, after thinking a lot about it I would love to work in Boudoir photography with Wedding and Maternity as my sub specialties as I think they compliment each other well. My other passion has been to photograph for book covers… mainly the romance genre and this selection falls in well there also. Now to just get started.


    Pet portraits and dog related sports.

  • Lydia Lacerda

    Hi, lifestyle newborn photography is my passion! Natural positions, natural light. Complimentary areas would be the milestones of a baby -4months, 8 months and 1year and either Maternity or Family portraits.

  • Jill Nissen

    I am a lifestyle photographer specializing in on-location portraits for families, entrepreneurs, and performing artists.

  • Jill Nissen

    Your photos are beautiful, Natasha! I think if you are CREATING fine art, it isn’t incumbent on a fancy studio. I did notice a few things about your website design itself, and since you did ask for feedback I will share my observations and opinions, but please remember these are just my opinions so feel free to incorporate what works for you and ignore what doesn’t. Unless “Gallery” is spelled differently in Australia it is misspelled in your menu. “Client Photo Review” sounded to me like I would click to find testimonials, but instead this is where you are showing your Proofs, so you might want to change the title to “Client Proofs” and as a rule, I try to avoid the word “shoot” with clients, preferring the word “session” instead. Finally, Your header area is so large that I have to scroll down to see your portraits. Since the images are hopefully why people are coming to your website, I would consider making your logo area about 50% shorter.