Are you pursuing a photography career? Bravo! You have made the right choice. If you have the passion and patience to learn, go for it. But then, do you need a license to be a photographer? Here is a question we’re going to address here. 

Becoming a photographer isn’t only about getting a good camera and studio. You need to take care of the business’ legal side, if there is any, by the way. 

We will be sharing information you need to know as you journey to become a professional photographer. Continue reading for more details. 

Do You Need A License To Be A Photographer?

The majority of the states don’t have this requirement. You can become and operate as a photographer in these states without a license. However, a specific city may request a photographer’s permission. 

The laws are never the same from one state to another or city to another. So, check with your state licensing board and city hall to know if you need a license to operate as a photographer. 

In Milwaukee, a photography license is required. Some places also require a business license to let you operate your photography business. The sales tax license is another thing you need to run a photography business. 

Most of the cities in the United States require sales tax payments. The only exception is Montana and Oregon. 

You don’t need a high-level qualification to become a photographer. A bachelor’s degree or even a high-school diploma is enough to become one. 

A Handy Tip: You might have a strong urge to open your photography studio since you now have a professional camera, register your business, and have gotten all the legal paperwork done. 

However, remember that the photography business is more than possessing a professional camera. You need experience, knowledge, and skills. Creativity is also an essential ingredient in the industry. 

The best way to position yourself for success is to intern for a few months or weeks. Take it seriously, and you will go far when you eventually start your photography business.   

What You Require To Set Up And Run Your Photography Business Legally

Besides acquiring photography skills and experience, you need to take care of the legal aspect of your business before starting. What are the things you need to do? Check them out below. 

1: Get your sales tax license:

You may not need this information if you live in Oregon or Montana. Why? These cities don’t require photographers to have sales tax. They consider photography as a service, not a physical product.

You can enter the keyword on Google search “get sales tax license.” Don’t forget to include your state. The registration process to obtain the license is a breeze. It takes less than 10 minutes. 

The sales tax license aims to help the state determine who’s paying sales taxes and what they’re paying it for. So if the state you’re operating your photography business demands a sales tax, be ready to provide it. 

2: You need a business permit:

The business permit is also called a “business license.” So let’s keep using the word “business license.” Is that okay? Of course, many photographers don’t want to hear about this. Anything that would cut one’s profit in half shouldn’t be newsworthy.  

But the reality is that you have to get a business license if you want to operate in your locality. Why is this license relevant?

The business license is relevant to the local government authority, not you. How? They use it to generate revenue and ensure businesses are zoned to specific areas. This makes it easier for potential customers to access businesses. 

How long does a business license take? You may have to wait 2 – 4 days to get your business license and start operating.    

Do you need a license to operate a home photography business? It depends on many factors. 

However, most local governments won’t bother you if you operate your photography business at home. But don’t jump to conclusions unless you’re sure. 

Speak to your local authority to find out if you need a business license to run your photography studio at home. In most cases, you may not need one. 

Even if the local authority doesn’t bother you, be wary of the Homeowners Association. They may be against operating photography or any business at home. 

Why Is A Photography License Important?

I thought about some important reasons to consider getting a photography license that I want to share with you. So, is a photography license relevant? Here is what you need to know. 

1: Having a license puts clients at ease:

There is nothing more rewarding than making clients have confidence in a business. It puts them at ease. 

Imagine hiring someone who doesn’t have legal permission to run a photography business to cover your wedding. If anything happens, your pictures are gone! You may not have the chance to recapture those sweet moments you shared with your spouse and guests. 

So, many clients will feel more confident and comfortable hiring a photographer that has a license. They assume such photographers are more qualified (even though that’s not the case) since they have passed all the hurdles to acquire a permit. In addition, the clients will be confident that the photographer is operating legally and won’t run away with their money. 

You can make more money if you have a license. Most clients are ready to pay a premium for your services too. 

2: Defends you from any legal consequences:

Running a photography business doesn’t exempt you from legal battles. However, you’ll have better coverage if you have a license than a photographer who doesn’t have one. 

Your license shields you from legal consequences the local authority might bring your way. 

3: Increases career opportunities:

A license will help bring more career opportunities to your doorstep, whether you’re an on-call photographer or a freelancer. People will take you seriously and rate you highly. 

But keep this in mind. The quality you deliver is of utmost importance. You can’t have a license and deliver poor-quality work. It doesn’t make sense. 

4: A requirement to access most venues:

If you don’t have a business license, you cannot access most event venues. Keep that in mind. 

Most venues request business licenses from photographers before letting them into the premises to do their job. So, even if the event owner has hired you, the event center may deny you entry if you can’t provide a license.

It will also interest you that some event centers even request other documents, such as insurance policies. These centers expect you to have an insurance policy and license. 

5: Qualifies your business for an annual tax return:  

If your company has a license, it means one thing: it is qualified for tax return. So, get a permit if you can and want to operate legally. Not having a license will restrict you in places that request one. 

6: Clients are ready to pay a premium:

Most clients are ready to pay for the security and value you offer as a licensed photographer. They’ll feel more confident paying you the requested amount and waiting for you to show up on the due date. 

What Long-Term Career Prospects Do Photographers Have?

You can build a successful photography business with strong artistic and technical skills. These skills and sound business acumen will put you ahead of other professionals in your industry. 

Your portfolio is one of the things clients consider when hiring photographers. Thus, gaining photography experience is essential to boost your earning potential and opportunities. 

One easy way to gain experience and skills is to join an internship. You will also gain experience the more time you spend working as a photographer. 

Your experience will attract more prominent and high-paying clients. These include:  

  • A personal photographer for a celebrity, business owner, etc.
  • Photographer for a wedding
  • Work for newspapers and magazines (regional and national)
  • Corporate clients

How Much Do Photographers Earn?

Photographers’ hourly wage in the United States as of June 2023 was $36.16. However, some photographers still make around $15 per hour.  

Your earnings increase with experience, skills, and a strong portfolio. Having a business license can also add some weight to your qualification. 


So, do you need a license to be a photographer? In most states, you don’t need a permit to operate as a photographer. However, some states require photographers to obtain sales and business licenses before operating. 

The only exception is Montana and Portland, Oregon. You can call your local authority to find out if you need a license to operate your photography business. 

Even if you plan to operate it from home, find out from the local authority what their positions are.