Navigating the Cost of Doing Business as a Portrait Photographer in Charleston, SC

As a portrait photographer operating in Charleston, South Carolina, I understand the financial considerations and investments required to run a successful photography business in this vibrant city. Let’s delve into the various costs and expenses associated with being a professional photographer in the Lowcountry.

Business License Requirements and Fees

In South Carolina, both state ($50 per year) and local business licenses are required for your photography business. Charleston County imposes a business license tax based on gross income, with fees varying depending on the classification of your business. Annual renewal fees apply. Every business in South Carolina must have an up-to-date business license or EVERY zip code that they provide business for. Thats one for Mount Pleasant, One for Charleston, One for Isle of Palms, one for Summerville, One for North Charleston…and so on and so on. The average cost of each license is $200 every year.

Permit Fees for Photography

When photographing on private properties such as historic plantations or event venues, photographers are required to obtain permits or pay usage fees, in addition to the price of admission and parking if applicable. These fees can vary widely depending on the location and the scope of the photography session. Boone Hall charges $500 a year and requires an appointment that is usually hard to get. Magnolia Plantation charges $250 per day. Charlestown Landing Charges $25 per visit.

Business and Liability Insurance

Business insurance, including liability coverage, is essential for protecting the photographer and their clients in the event of accidents, property damage, or legal disputes. The cost of insurance premiums will vary depending on factors such as coverage limits and deductible amounts. Business Insurance through the Professional Photographers of America is $30 every month. Liability insurance (required by venues and commercial businesses) through Hiscox Insurance Company is $40 a month.

South Carolina Sales Tax Law

As a service-based business, photography services in South Carolina are generally exempt from sales tax. However, tangible goods such as prints, albums, and digital files may be subject to sales tax at a rate of 6% for the state, and another 3% for the township that the sale takes place in, in my case: Mount Pleasant. If a service results in a tangible product, then the service must be taxed as well.

Cost of Software and Equipment

Professional photographers rely on a range of software tools for editing, accounting, and scheduling. Costs can include monthly subscriptions to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom ($25 a month), accounting programs like QuickBooks ($200 a year), scheduling systems like HoneyBook or ShootProof($200+ a year), and digital file delivery programs like Pic-Time ($20 a month).

In terms of equipment, investing in high-quality gear is essential for delivering exceptional results. Here are some price points for professional-grade equipment commonly used by portrait photographers:

  • Canon EOS R5 camera body: Approximately $3,899
  • Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens: Approximately $2,699
  • Extra batteries and memory cards (CF and SD): Approximately $200-$400
  • Profoto B1 flash system: Approximately $2,095 per unit, most photographers require 2-4 units
  • Umbrellas, softboxes, and modifiers: $100+ each

Like automobiles, Cameras and all the gear wear out with use. Most photographers are replacing their gear every 5-7 years. And this isn’t even HALF of the equipment required. Backdrops, Props, Computers, phones, studio space, marketing, milage….and more.

Calculating Session Fees

To bring home $30,000 a year as a portrait photographer doing one session a week, you would need to factor in all expenses, including business overhead, equipment costs, and taxes. Assuming each session takes approximately 3 hours (including shooting and editing time), you would need to charge around $780 per session to achieve this income goal.

In Conclusion

Running a portrait photography business in Charleston, SC, requires careful financial planning and management. From business licenses and insurance to equipment costs and sales tax considerations, there are many factors to consider when determining pricing and setting session fees. By understanding and accounting for these expenses, photographers can ensure the long-term success and sustainability of their businesses. If you find a photographer who is wildly less expensive than the competition, then you know that they are running an illegal business and/or they are using consumer-grade equipment which impacts the quality of their work. Even if someone is just starting, their expenses are the same as someone who has been doing this for 10 years. There is no escaping it, the government does not give sliding scales. This is why legitimate photographers get upset about the “cheap” photographers. They take business away from the tax-paying photographers who do the right thing and have expenses to pay.

Ways to keep overhead low:

  1. Run your business/studio out of your home. I do this.
  2. Work alone. Don’t hire assistants or editors. I do this.
  3. Have a spouse who can support the family alone. I am blessed to have this, but it is tight. A $200 unexpected expense would put us behind…so I still need the work!
  4. Take care of your gear. I do my best! I shoot with Canon EOS R, Canon 24-70, Godox Flashes.
  5. Work more! I’m trying!!!!!
  6. Get a part-time job. I do that when things get tight. If you need a date night babysitter, call me!

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