Do Freelance Photographers Need a Business License?

Disclaimer: Please note that this article contains general legal information and doesn’t contain legal or tax advice, and isn’t intended to constitute legal or tax advice.

In many jurisdictions around the world, including many states in the US, a business license is required to run or operate a photography business legally. However, in many cases, a business license isn’t the only thing you have to consider before starting as a freelance photographer.

In this article, you’ll find out what to watch out for before starting your photography freelance business.

Do Freelance Photographers Need a Business License?

Whether you’re required to obtain a photography business license – and if yes, which one – may depend on where and which photographic activities you’re planning to perform. Check your location-specific license requirements with your local government. In the US you can find what license(s) you need in your area or how to obtain them on the Small Business Administration’s website. In the EU each country has its own existing national regulations, so you’ll need to do your research depending on where you plan to work.

If you’re unsure if a business license is required in the region where you’re starting your freelance photography business, I strongly recommend contacting a local lawyer specializing in small businesses and freelancing in your area.

Keep in mind: you may even need more than one type of license depending on the photographs you plan to take. For instance, if your work involves taking photos of children (and storing them), this can require additional permissions in certain countries or states.

Depending on your local regulations, running a photography freelance business without a business license may result in:

  • Your pool of potential clients shrinking
  • You being restricted from certain locations or specific types of events
  • Decrease of your business’s credibility
  • Exposure to legal and financial consequences

Freelance Photography Business License – The Basics

As a rule, a photography business constitutes any person operating a business involving the taking, and/or developing of photographs or videos for profit or reward. As a result, if you’re being compensated in any way for your photography services, your business activity is subject to some obligations, including tax liabilities, accounting, and registration requirements.

Before you start as a freelance photographer, it’s crucial to set up the proper legal structure for your freelance business. You should think carefully early on about which structure is best-suited to your current needs and best reflects your goals for the future. The choice of the business structure will directly affect your accounting, level of personal liability, tax, and business responsibilities and arrangements, as well as the regulations you must follow. Find out which is the best business structure for a freelancer.

Do Freelance Photographers Need Contracts?

As a freelance photographer, you should ensure the protection of your business from late payments, unwanted liability, and client disputes. To do so, you’ll need business terms and conditions, and contracts that clarify working relationships with your customers. Contracts will set out what you will and definitely won’t do for the client as part of any particular assignment.

Client agreements should include, in particular:

  • Details and the scope of your services, especially how many photographs or how many hours’ worth of footage you’ll provide, and the format of the deliverables (whether digital, hard copy, a photo album, prints, etc.)
  • Payment due date and terms
  • Exclusions to your liability (e.g. in case of bad weather during the photoshoot etc.)
  • Potential dispute resolution
  • Information relating to the copyright of your photographs and intellectual property

In practice, this process of drafting the terms of your services often helps you identify exactly how you want your business to operate.

If, apart from offering photography services, you also have a website where you publish your photos, you should consider having website terms of use containing provisions on privacy and intellectual property. In the case of collecting user data (which can happen automatically in many ways on your site) – you also need a privacy policy.

If you want an e-commerce store to sell photography-related products, remember about sale terms and conditions for your customers. This can be provided online via a “clickwrap agreement” where the client has to click-to-agree before proceeding to purchase.

Your Business ActivityLegal Document You’ll Need
Photography services• Client Agreement
• Business Terms and Conditions
Website• Website Terms of Use
• Privacy policy 
Shop/E-Commerce Store• Sales Terms and Conditions

If you’re wondering whether going freelance is worth it, check our article on the advantages and disadvantages of freelancing.