Financial Risks of a Photography Business

Financial Risks of a Photography Business

Running a business always entails risk, and photography businesses are no exception. Let's explore the various financial challenges we face and ways we can protect ourselves and our livelihood.

Liability, Property Damage

In last week's article, I wrote about the dangers of certain photographic professions, with real estate photography providing a recurring source of concern with personal safety. Let's explore another concern: the financial risks involved.

For photographers who work on-site in either residential or commercial spaces, one of the biggest liabilities is  property damage. In the Real Estate Photographers Facebook page, one photographer recounted an incident in which his assistant caused several thousand dollars worth of damage simply by resting gear on an unfinished lighting fixture attached to a wall. Luckily the photographer's liability insurance covered the damage in full.

Actually, such insurance should not be left to luck; it's a must-have for all photographer. PPA and other companies and organizations offer both liability and gear insurance for photographers.

 Incidents from this Facebook group describe other staging mishaps: a 120-year-old Florentine ceramic fruit bowl crumbling in a photographer's fingers, curtains crashing down, a candle being knocked over and red hot wax dripping onto a white carpet - these are just a few examples of accidents that have left photographers on the hook for damages.

Image by via Pexels

Photographing Events

Spatial awareness is clearly important when you’re on on private property, but it's also crucial during events. I have personally knocked over two decorative vases with both my large gear backpack and my double-camera sling. Luckily both decorations were caught on the way down.

Another thing to be careful about on event shoots is the placement of gear bags. Always store them as far out of the way from foot traffic as possible, and tuck the straps in so as not to trip anyone walking by.

If you're running cables for on-site printing and lighting, it's imperative to have gaffer's tape on hand to avoid people tripping over cables and the lawsuits that can follow such accidents.

Lawsuits Are Sadly Commonplace, Especially in the Wedding Photography and Paparazzi World

Always be aware of privacy concerns, and never publish an image of someone that could harm their career or put them in other jeopardy. That peril could come right back to you in the form of litigation.

Over recent decades, paparazzi have irritated celebrities to the point that some photographers have been sued for stalking or harassment, and often the celebrity wins. Just a few examples:

Wedding photographers can turn into news stories when emotional newlyweds or their families take issue with the timeliness or quality of their images.

Sometimes though, this can backfire on the brides.

As Murphy's Law notes: "If something can go wrong, it will go wrong". Memory cards and hard drives can fail us, causing emotional and financial distress to photographers and their clients.

There are horror stories on the net about botched weddings due to failed memory cards or other technical and human errors. For this reason, you should always back up your files and ensure you are shooting on two memory cards at a time in case of a corrupted card.


We all need to be familiar with the liability risks associated with operating a drone.This subject warrants a future article of its own. In the meantime, be careful and smart.

From government fines to property damage, a lot can go wrong when flying those buzzing cameras on wings. If you plan on taking drone photographs or video, you need to have all the proper training and licensing in order to stay out of legal trouble.

Image by Pok Rie,


A photographer's reputation can be ruined overnight due to questionable work or behavior. Earlier this year, I covered a photographer who was accused of cultural appropriation. This isn't the first time a photographer has been shunned for work that was even mildly provocative.

Sometimes a lack of common sense or appropriate behavior lands photographers in hot water, bringing down the image of photographers as a whole. This article about Terry Richardson provides a cautionary lesson on the importance of human decency.

Unstable Income

Freelancers in our profession face an inescapable risk: This is not the most stable job in the world. Freelancing can take us on a rollercoaster of emotions: excitement, disappointment, feast then famine. One day you wake up and land a big job, and momentarily you feel like a king. Then busy season ends and you start to doubt yourself, the state of the industry, and your own financial security. For this reason, it's important for freelancers to be resourceful and continue searching for ways to keep income flowing as well as reduce overhead costs.


Specific health issues affect photographers. The most common one is excessive sitting. For every hour of shooting, many of us spend an hour or more editing. "Sitting is the new smoking," they say, as more and more research is published on how detrimental prolonged sitting can be on the body. Taking regular breaks to move about as well as alternating with a standing desk can help mitigate these health risks.

Issues can arise while on the move during a shoot as well. We lug around heavy equipment, putting strain on our skeletal system. Sometimes, our necks take on strain while we're crouching for the perfect shot. Those of us with knee issues aren't doing any good when we kneel on a hard floor for a unique perspective, and all the crouching and hauling wears on cartilage. All of this compounded can all be quite hard on the body.

For those of us experiencing them, back spasms, arch pain, and carpal tunnel are a few things that can make long shoots excruciating if and when they flare up.

It's also quite easy to become dehydrated on a shoot: when you're snapping away, you often carry several pounds of gear, walking long distances. It's always good to slow and ask yourself: "Do I need a snack? Am I hydrated? Should I sit for a minute?" This is given that we have the time needed to do so.

Mistaken Motives

Last year, while going through airport customs, I was briefly detained by TSA for a flash grip that somewhat resembled a pistol handle. Luckily I had my speedlight flash in the same bag and was able to quickly demonstrate the grip handle's true use. (That’s the last time I'm bringing this handle in my carry-on photo bag.) My shooting partner and I saw it coming and had made a little bet on whether I would get stopped over the grip. We had a good laugh about it afterward. Situations like this are not always laughing matters, however.

Photographers can seem suspicious to people who don’t understand their work. Not only do we carry long bags that could be mistaken for a rifle carrier; a camera, tripod, or speedlight flash could be mistaken for a gun.

It doesn't help that some of the best natural light is in partial darkness, making vision less clear for those observing us. A photographer was recently shot after a police officer mistook his tripod for a rifle.

Be mindful of your presence in a public space, and that extends to your bags as well as camera equipment. We sometimes photograph in public spaces, which means we're naturally hauling gear bags, and unless a cart is involved, we're placing them around us. An unattended bag can raise alarms, so never leave even an empty bag unattended anywhere, even for a bathroom break.

I hope this article has been informative and has given you some precautions to take to make your shooting safer and healthier. Please comment below with any personal experience you've had.

Lead image by Vadislav Reshetnyak via Pexels.

Scott Mason's picture

Scott Mason is a commercial photographer in Austin specializing in architectural imaging.

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Other than things that can be easily addressed by proper insurance coverage, I think photography is actually a pretty low-cost business to create. Yes, other businesses can be even cheaper, such as dog walking or selling other people's items on eBay for a percentage. But other than insurance, most non-studio photographers can get started with about $10,000 worth of gear and work out of a spare bedroom for clients that require only on-site work. (Obviously, studio photographers have a significantly greater investment requirement that is more consistent with people I know who have started businesses like a physical therapy center or a retail print outlet or a car repair shop or a kitchen and bath design firm or a home security service.)

That being said, to me the greatest risk to a photography business is the ever-changing world of photography, where people think that just because smart phones take shots with good color and exposure and contrast, they can do the work themselves.

Even $10K is unnecessary to get started in the biz. A decent computer and camera/lens system with some accessories like batteries, memory cards, and hard-drives can be had for all under 5K or less if youre clever and get used gear. Upgrade as you grow.

Be VERY careful when shopping for insurance. I had what I thought was very comprehensive commercial insurance and they denied my claim of theft from my car as they would cover "inventory" but not "tools". None of this was actually articulated on the policy and they sent the disclaimer to my agent who was astonished that they had the temerity to deny my very valid claim.
I actually use PPA these days and feel confident (no one knows until you need it) that my coverage is tailored to photographer needs.

Thanks for sharing this bit of advice, Mark. I absolutely recommend asking a lot of questions to insurance agents before signing up, such as the exact scenario (Is theft covered when I'm away from home?).

Tripped over a DJ's uplighting head secreted behind a table. Completely fell and broke a lens.
Tripped and fell at an older hotel venues dimly lit side entrance with a half step entryway. Fell and broke a flash.
Was on a stepladder shooting group formals. Went to step off and a guests toddler was at the bottom step. I had to jump over rhe toddler to avoid stepping on him. Fell into a wooden pew side totally wrecking my ribs and camera.