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Getting a Photography Business License and Insurance: A Simple Guide

6-minute read

Mariah Bliss

Mariah Bliss

11 September 2020

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Thinking of becoming a photographer - but not sure what licenses or insurance you need to be “official”?

It’s not exactly the most exciting topic in the world, but trust us, getting your business license and insurance squared away early can help you acquire customers much faster.

In fact, if you’re thinking of specializing - like being a wedding photographer - you’ll find that a lot of venues require you to have this documentation.

Let’s take a look at the photographer business licensing and insurance requirements you need if you want to become a photographer.

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Insurance and Licensing Info for Photographers

Why is it important to get my photography business license and insured?

Would you trust a doctor that didn't have their medical degree?

Okay--we admit, it's not exactly the same thing. But you're a professional! Prospective customers want to know that not only are you certified to do your job for them, but also that they're protected from mishaps that may happen along the way.

Just as customer testimonials and years of experience contribute to giving you authority, proving that you have a license for your photography business and business insurance to cover it, could go a long way for some folks when it comes to building clout.

Of course you don't need to announce to every prospective customer that you speak to that you're licensed and insured, but you could disclose this on promotional materials, such as fliers or your website.

If you do need proof of insurance to put your customer's mind at ease, there's always the option of showing a Certification of Insurance (COI), but we'll cover that later on.

Getting Your Photography Business License

Whether you want to be a wedding photographer, work on-call for a brand, or a freelance photographer with a variety of specialties, having a business license is key for getting folks to hire you. And we don't just mean prominent names!

If a customer is investing money and time into working with you, they'll want to be put at ease that their money is going to a professional whose business is protected.

As we said above--it's all about building authority as a trusted and experienced photographer.

Think about it: Many wedding venues may not allow you on their premises if you’re not licensed and insured. This is a day that happens once (hopefully) in a couple's lifetime. If something goes wrong--treasured memories could be forgotten.

And the same goes for brands. If you're aiming to be hired by prominent brands for promotional work, then they may be cautious about hiring you for projects if you don’t have a photography business license.

A lot rides on those photo shoots, too. Say a brand is promoting a product they'd like you to shoot. At the last minute, if something goes wrong and you have to reschedule, they could lose out business to a competitor, whose photographer was able to meet the deadline.

This is their brand's reputation (and its checkbook) that's on the line.

And depending on which state you’re located in you may even find yourself getting into legal trouble if you don’t have your business license. Of course this is different in each state, but if avoiding legal trouble could be as easy as licensing your photography business, why not?

And it really isn't too complicated.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to determine if you need a business license for your photography business:

Check your location-specific requirements

The best way to find license requirements in your area is to head to the Small Business Administration’s website and search for your location. Doing so will allow you to see any state and city requirements around the business license.

Make sure your business is legally set up

If you are required to apply for a photography business license, make sure you already have your business’s name and tax structure established before you apply. There are several tax laws that exist, so take your time to read through the details.

Complete and submit all forms required by your state.

This may take time and we admit--it isn't fun. But not every part of being a business owner is. This is simply one of those administrative tasks that can't be delayed or swept under the rug.

Pay your business license fee

The fee to license your business could range from $40 to $400, based on where you’re located, and there may be additional fees associated with obtaining your license.

These fees could make your eyes bulge a bit, but trust us when we say they're worth it. If you're having a bit of sticker shock, there's always the option of applying for a small business credit card.

How long do I wait for my photography business license?

Once you’ve applied for your license, you should receive it within one to two business weeks. This will depend on the efficiency of your local municipalities.

If you’ve checked if your state requires a business license and nothing comes up, it doesn't mean that you don't need a license. It never hurts to double check-- you can always check with your city or town hall to verify that's the case. If it's possible, we recommend getting a confirmation either way in writing.

Getting Your Photography Business Insurance

Once you’ve applied for your business license, we recommend shifting gears and looking for photography business insurance.

Insurance for photographers is a type of small business insurance policy that specifically protects your photography business from claims of third-party damages, accidents, or even negligence and copyright issues.

There are two types of photography business insurance that you could consider.

Commercial general liability insurance for photographers

General liability insurance] helps to cover costs associated with bodily injury, property damage, or third-party incidents that occur while working; it may also help protect some of your equipment if it's ever stolen during work.

For example, let’s say you’re hired to take several family portraits in a very nice home. In the home there are several priceless pieces of decor and objects. They'll be beautiful accents to your photos

During the course of the project, your client trips over the cord for one of your lights. In doing so, they fall, hitting a table, and accidentally knocking over and breaking a vase. Your client hurt her wrist in the fall and needed to go to the hospital. They also informed you of the vase's worth, and it's expensive.

Without general liability insurance, you may be required to pay for that vase and your client's medical bills out of your pocket, which may end up dipping into your personal finances, or negatively impacting your business's accounts and cash flow.

However, general liability insurance may help cover some of your client's medical costs, as well as reimbursement from the broken vase.

Having general liability insurance can also help when it comes to protecting your reputation. Your client's opinion of you may be impacted if you aren't able to help with the damages. You don't want to risk losing a customer.

Professional liability insurance for photographers

Professional liability insurance can protect you and your business if your customer claims that you were negligent in doing your work.

Let’s say a customer accuses you of plagiarizing another photographer’s work. (We hate to bring this up, but especially with the technology in the photography business, there's a chance an accusation could happen!)

Even if the claim is baseless, it will still cost money to go to court and defend yourself and your photography business's name. That’s where your professional liability insurance policy can come in handy, as it can pay for your legal costs, as well as any claims you may be ordered to pay.

Since you take your business seriously--as you should--we won't beat around the bush: business insurance is no joke.

To protect your business and set your photography business up for success, you have to have it.

What Sort of Business Insurance Should I Start with for My Photography Business?

There's a lot of complicated t's to cross and i's to dot when starting a business. And it can be frustrating. After all--you just want to do what you love already!

Don’t worry, you don’t need to damage your eyes looking at hundreds of varied policies for your photography business. Most photographers should opt for a professional liability policy and a general liability insurance policy.

Especially if you're working at properties other than your own, like the wedding or brand shoots we spoke of earlier, both of these coverages are a good idea to have to protect your business.

You can find and compare quotes for both types of policies at Simply Business.

We specialize in small business insurance for photographers, so you can get personalized coverage at affordable prices. All you have to do is provide a few details about you and your photography business — we’ll take care of the rest.

If you’re nervous about choosing your policy, check out our advice on how to pick the right insurance coverage for your business.

If after that, you're still unsure, then our team of licensed insurance agents are available and happy to help!

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Mariah Bliss

Written by

Mariah Bliss

I love writing about the small business experience because I happen to be a small business owner - I've had a freelance copywriting business for over 10 years. In addition to that, I also head up the content strategy here at Simply Business. Reach out if you have a great idea for an article or just want to say hi!

This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer

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