From Amateur Photographer To Starting A $10K/Month Product Photography Business

Published: February 23rd, 2023
Sepideh Maleki
Founder, Digital Cohort
Digital Cohort
from Lynnwood, WA, USA
started November 2014
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, My name is Sepideh Maleki. I am a photographer based in the Seattle Metro Area, WA. I started my business as a Product Photographer in 2014. I do product, clothing, jewelry, and Lifestyle photography for Amazon sellers and online store owners.

I have recently added Website development to my services with the help of my brother, Alex.

Our business, on average, generates around $10k per month, and it is growing.


Try to find a problem first and then think of a solution that can benefit me as well as my customers.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I used to do photography for a couple of years before starting my business, but it was more about taking photos of the beautiful nature of Washington State and British Columbia. In 2013, I became interested in eCommerce after taking some workshops. So, I set up a store on Shopify and started selling wicker baskets with personalized liners.

That was the point that I became familiar with product photography. I had a professional camera, and I only needed some macro lenses and lighting equipment. So, I started shooting my products for a year, and then this idea came into my mind that product photography itself could be a good business opportunity.

So, I started being a service provider for online sellers. One advantage of this business for me was the low cost of entry. I already had the basic photography equipment, and I only needed to buy some lighting equipment to start my work.

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

I started taking photos of my products (wicker baskets and gift baskets). I was familiar with photography, but product photography required some extra knowledge, skills, and a lot of practice.

My first product photos were not looking good enough. There were always some colors in the background that I didn’t know how to remove. That was the start of the process of learning how to do product photography, and this process continues after 9 years.

The image below shows the difference between my first photo in 2014 and another one in 2022.


Starting a product photography business requires an initial investment that could be significant. I think at least $20,000 is needed to buy the equipment that can deliver professional photos. Lighting is a very important part of this investment. Without good lighting equipment, your photos cannot showcase the best aspects of your products.

You should also consider a budget for replacing or repairing your photography equipment. (On average $2,000/year)

Five years is a reasonable lifetime period for photography equipment. So, we should consider that each year, 20% of your equipment will be depreciated.

It is much easier and more affordable to retain an existing customer than to acquire new ones. That is why I do my best to keep them happy. This includes sending thank you letters, birthday cards, and coupons.

Describe the process of launching the business.

My first product photography business name was “Coconut Studio WA”. I used GoDaddy WordPress web hosting to set up a website, and I purchased a pre-built template and customized it with my business logo, pictures, and info. I also started learning SEO, Google Analytics, and Google Ads.

After a while, I noticed that my GoDaddy WordPress was way too slow (at least at that time), so I switched to SiteGround hosting and the service was much faster.

I also rebranded to “Coconut Product Photography”, because I thought it was better for my site's SEO. I also started using “Divi” to redesign my website from scratch. It was such an exciting experience because I had more control over my website using WordPress + Divi.

It took me a while until I could get my first order. I didn’t have a big portfolio, and I was not ranking well on search engines. I was more focused on acquiring local customers. My focus was mainly on Craigslist Ads, and I think I got my first customers from that channel.

My initial goal was to get one order every week. I offered “One free photo” to new customers and a “100% satisfaction guarantee” on all orders. I believe people did not care about my “One free photo” offer, but the “money-back guarantee” worked better for me.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I think here, the most important thing is having a plan for customer acquisition. This could be a part of your business plan that determines how much traffic of any kind you need to get to meet your goals.

The screenshots below show how I initially planned for my traffic and revenue projections and this helped me to have a more clear expectation of the profitability of my business idea.

My goal was to acquire 5% of the organic traffic market in the US in 5 years.



And here is the summary of traffic and revenue projection in my business plan.


You can see the details of my business plan and download the template from my website.

I am mainly focused on organic traffic from local customers. I do advertise on Google Ads, Facebook, and Craigslist. However, the majority of the traffic comes from Google organic searches in the Seattle metro area.

The image below shows the traffic for that area from last year. (I have attached an image from a few months ago, before rebranding to our new domain).


Google My Business is also a major source of free high-quality traffic. I think every local business needs to consider having a profile there. In my case, I have 3 - 5k profile views that generate about 10 leads per month. Only from this channel.


It’s also very important to have as many 5-star reviews on Google Business. It acts as social proof that your clients are happy with your work.

I also believe that Craigslist is another affordable source of traffic for local businesses in North America. For just $5/month, they put your Ad in their directory. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide much information about how many visits/clicks your ads get but based on my experience, it does generate local leads.

Currently, more than 80% of the orders we get are from our returning customers. It is much easier and more affordable to retain an existing customer than to acquire new ones. That is why I do my best to keep them happy. This includes sending thank you letters, birthday cards, and coupons.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

During the pandemic period, there was a boost in orders for product photography, and I think that was a result of increased demand for online shopping. Now people are going back to work, and my business is not as good as a year ago, but it’s still generating decent revenue.

However, regarding the rapid development of artificial intelligence and machine learning, I believe in the future, people will be able to take professional photos of their products without expensive equipment. That is one reason that I am trying to diversify my business to mitigate this technology risk.

My main expenses are advertisement (around $500 on Google Ads and $50 on Craigslist), and retouching fees that I pay to my part-time employee. Also, there is a depreciation cost for photography equipment and my home studio overhead costs.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I have learned so much from running a business. Setting up a website, Google Analytics, bookkeeping, business setup rules, marketing, copywriting, etc.

I also had so many mistakes that have taught me great lessons. For example, in my first eCommerce business (selling Wicker baskets), I offered free shipping, and I under-estimated the shipping cost by assuming that most of my customers would be from the West Coast, but it turned out that wicker baskets were much more popular in the East Coast. So, I had to ship so many heavy parcels from Seattle to New Jersey, New York, Boston, etc.. This mistake deprived most of the profit and I couldn’t compete with other competitors in the market. So, I had to shut down my business.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I used WordPress + Divi + WooCommerce for many years, and I loved them. Recently, I joined my brother to add a website development service to our business and he suggested moving to Django so he can take control of the website operations.

Now, we are using Django on an AWS EC2 server and AWS RDS for web hosting. I am also using Mautic for marketing automation, ShootProof for photo gallery management, and Paypal as my payment gateway.


What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I usually go to to take courses and learn new skills. Youtube is also my main source for short courses or for finding answers to my questions.

As an entrepreneur, I sometimes need to stay motivated. So, I read books about personal life philosophy and entrepreneurship. I am a big fan of Jim Rohn's books and speeches.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Many people are trying to get on the wave of the hottest technology in the market. But, in my opinion, people are much more willing to spend on technologies that can solve their real-life problems. So, I would try to find a problem first and then think of a solution that can benefit me as well as my customers.

Also, I think attention to detail and consistency are the keys to operating a business. After a while, business operations become too boring and you need to be mentally prepared for that stage, otherwise, you might quit.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I am working remotely with a photo editor in Bangladesh. He handles the retouching and editing process of my photos. But at this time, I’m not looking for new hires.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!