Many professional photographers start as hobbyists, all the while building up their portfolio and credibility. Perhaps you are one of those who have developed a keener eye for taking pictures, and you want to make money out of that talent. Technically, there are no established regulations for the practice of this profession. Unlike doctors and lawyers, a photographer like you doesn’t need to take board examinations or licensure tests before you get a “license” to practice your professions. All you really need is to know how to load your film, hold and point your camera towards your subject, and click. That’s it. That’s photography in its barest essence.
However, if you do want to earn your bread primarily through photography, you might want to register it as a business - for taxation purposes. More specifically, you might want to register your photography business as a sole proprietorship. Most photographers doing business do so under sole proprietorships.
Just like any other registered business forms, a sole proprietorship gives your business a legal entity that allows you to obtain a business name or business identity, open a bank account named under your business name, and hire people as your employees. What distinguishes sole proprietorship from other forms of businesses is that you are the sole owner of the business and all profits - as well as liabilities - go only to you.
How do you go about registering your photography business as a sole proprietorship? The steps are very easy, but they can vary across states, counties, and cities. So, the most important first step that you need to take is to ask your County Clerk’s Office or your city hall for advice regarding sole proprietorship regulations in your area.
You will definitely need to register your business name. It can be a fancy name or a catchy name (e.g., Lights and Shadows Photo Expert) that will be used to identify your business. Make sure that your business’ “fictitious name” does not include your last name to distinguish your business name from your name as an individual. Your business name is also as your DBA (“doing business as”) or trade name. Thus, if your name is Jane Doe, you’re “Jane Doe DBA (doing business as) Lights and Shadows Photo Expert.” Make sure that the trade name you choose for your own business has not been registered before by anyone else. Getting your business name officially registered usually just takes a few days. You will also need to pay a small fee for your business name registration.
After you have registered your trade name, it’s time to apply for a business license. Having a registered business name alone is not sufficient for you to legally start making taxable money out of your photography hobby. You need a license to operate your business. To apply for a business license, go to your city hall and check whether the area where you want to run your business from belongs to a commercial zone. Some areas allow only certain types of businesses to be run. So, check first if a photography business is one of those allowed in your area.
Ask for the forms for business licensing and fill them out accurately. Make sure you provide honest and accurate information. If you are unsure about how to fill out the forms, ask for help. You will also need to pay for a small license application fee. Fees vary across different areas, so it’s probably best to ask how much you will be charged.
Once you’ve completed all the applications, you can start running your photography business as a sole proprietorship.