Do Freelance Photographers Need a Business License?


Serving individuals or companies in the studio or outdoors, the profession of a photographer is by nature versatile.

Creative at heart and endowed with a real “eye”, you will be able to compose art with your various models and decorations. A perfect mastery of the material is also essential to highlight your subjects in any situation. But what about a business license?

Do Freelance Photographers Need a Business License?

The short answer is that it all depends on where you live.

Most states in the US do NOT ask freelancers to have any business license whatsoever in order to operate as a photographer.

However, some US states DO ask for a business license.

As the law may change overnight, especially since the pandemic hit (many countries around the world are revisiting their laws for freelancers to further enrich their state cash funds), it would be most advisable to check out whether you need a business license in your area.

This can be done in two ways:

  • The first and most preferable method would be to pick up your phone and call your city hall. Asking for direct information about such laws is always recommendable. It only takes a few minutes (in case you didn’t hit the lunch break).
  • The second method would be to check your local government’s website and look for info. Why the first method is better? Well, the websites may not be up-to-date. Besides, sometimes it can be a tedious job to look for such info – like looking for a needle in a haystack. But, in case you cannot make a phone call, the other method should suffice.

Types of Freelance Photographers

1. The Photographer-Author

Also known as an art photographer, they will have to photograph all the subjects of their choice: landscapes, living things or objects, etc. but always with creativity and originality. Attention to detail and artistic talent are essential assets for this highly prized profession, where elected officials remain rare.

The photographer-author can only generate Non-Commercial Profits. As an artist-photographer, their remuneration consists of copyright, when they transfer ownership of their work. It is up to them to determine the amount.

As a photographer-author, you will be able to:

  • take photographs for which you will assign the rights of use to companies or image banks,
  • sell original prints, within the limit of 30 numbered and signed copies, all formats. Beyond that, your photograph will no longer be considered as a work of art but as a commercial product.

As an author-photographer you will not be able to make “social” type photographs, providing services to individuals such as, for example, wedding services, shooting, photo training, birth, pregnancy, etc.

The photographer-author cannot exercise this profession under the status of self-entrepreneur. On the other hand, they can quite combine this activity with that of an illustration photographer, which is compatible with self-entrepreneurship!

2. The Press Photographer

This photographer works for the print media or the internet as well as for press agencies. They can either work alone and therefore write the articles themselves (they will then be a photojournalist), or collaborate with the editor whom he will accompany in the field.

Travel will be frequent and its availability essential. The press photographer must also have a good sense of analysis and an inquisitive temperament, to capture the original shot that will best illustrate a specific situation.

They can also carry out photo reports in complete autonomy and then offer them to different media.

As a press photographer, you can practice your profession either by being a freelancer, where you collaborate with several media, or by being an employee, where you work for a single press company. You then receive a salary and depend on the general social system.

3. The Illustration Photographer

They practice so-called “social” photography. This brings together multiple services:

  • identity, class, wedding photographs, etc.
  • advertising, publishing, fashion, real estate, or tourist photographs.
  • air photo.
  • production of videos for events: weddings, meetings, etc.

You can also do film processing:

  • development, printing, and enlargement of photos or films made by customers.
  • photo and film development and printing laboratories.
  • slide assembly.
  • photoshops with development in one hour.
  • copying, restoration, and retouching of photographs.

Unlike the art photographer, this activity is a service: you take pictures but they do not belong to you.

As an illustration photographer, you will be a craftsman under the Commercial Industrial Profits (BIC) tax regime. You can exercise this activity under the auto-entrepreneur regime.


It is possible to combine two or three of these professions. You can sell your prints but also have a self-entrepreneurial activity to be a freelance press or illustration photographer.

You can also be both a salaried photographer and supplement your income by working as a photographer-illustrator or art photographer.

How to Become a Self-Employed Photographer

When you start working as a professional photographer, you will need to be patient and tenacious. The competition is indeed very important and it will take time for you to succeed in finding your place.

Starting with the status of self-employed will allow you to exercise your passion while keeping a salaried job if you have one.

This status also covers many services, it will allow you to diversify your offer, both to make yourself known and to enrich your portfolio.

As a self-employed photographer, you will also be able to combine the provision of services and the sale of products. You will thus have the possibility of making so-called “social” photography while selling photos for commercial reproductions (postcards, posters, etc.).

Here are a few ways you can prepare yourself to be self-employed as a photographer:

1. Invest in Quality Equipment

In order to be operational, you will need to invest in quality equipment and budget for it. Most photographers have at least two cameras (to deal with battery failure), several lenses, a computer, and image processing software. Among the other compulsory purchases: flashes or artificial lights and several memory cards.

You will also need to fully master your equipment and the various techniques of photography (contrast, focus, framing, etc.) as well as image processing software.

2. Make Yourself Known

A real online showcase – a personal website will allow you to publicize your work. Your potential customers will discover your photographic style, your various services as well as your prices. Social networks (Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn in priority) are also a good springboard to make yourself known as an illustration photographer. And if you are targeting a local clientele, you can also opt for flyers and brochures.

As a novice photographer, you don’t necessarily have a very large portfolio. To fuel it, you can initially offer collaborative photoshoots at preferential rates, or even for free, in order to showcase your work and your style. This book is there to highlight the quality of your skills. It will also be able to highlight your specialty, real added value in a very competitive field.

3. Test the Image Banks

You can also sell your photos on the internet, to image banks, or online “microstock”. These play the role of intermediary between you and the buyers (companies or individuals). Note that they generally grant themselves fairly high commissions (from 30% to 60% depending on the case).

Do you need a diploma to be a professional photographer?

This is an unregulated activity. For the purpose of being a photographer, it is not necessary to provide a diploma or professional experience of 3 or more years.

However, several schools offer invaluable courses that will improve your skills, plus enrich your “office wall” and consequently attract more customers. Needless to say that these diplomas can be an asset in this highly prized profession.

With or without a diploma (you will then have to present your portfolio), you can also become an assistant photographer. A full-fledged profession, it will allow you to continue training while being paid. Alongside an experienced photographer, you will perfect your practice by helping them in particular during the setting up of the various shootings (planning and equipment management, coordination between the various stakeholders, etc.).

Article by:

RunGunShoot Team

Our detailed review has been contributed to by multiple members of the Run Gun Shoot Review Team to ensure the best research and highest standard of quality. Have a good or a bad experience with one of the products? Please let us know, we love the feedback!

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