Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional photographer, you likely already know how tough it is to wade through the many options of equipment, software and services to find the just-right tools for you as you grow your skills and your business. It takes time, energy, and often a lot of waffling before deciding. And sometimes, what you decide on can be a disappointment.
That's why I'm providing a toolkit that will hopefully help save you some time and headache in searching.
Here, you'll find the tools I use in my own photography business.
Everything listed here is something I find essential to my photography field work, my editing workflow, and my company as a whole. This list is carefully curated, so check back every so often. When I discover new tools, or change my mind about recommendations, I update this toolkit so that you're sure to only find those things I love most, and use myself.
Build Your Photography Kit
MindShift by ThinkTank: #1 for Camera Bags
In 2014, I bought my first MindShift backpack… and I've never looked back. Since putting that bag through the test, I now use only MindShift and ThinkTank products to cart my gear around from Alaska to Africa. I'm especially fond of their Backlight Series, which fits all my big gear and fits my small frame. It's the most comfortable camera pack I've evert used to carry gear during long hikes. And the bags are SO durable – my first bag is as solid as the day I pulled it out of the box, even after all these years of abuse. ThinkTank, and their MindShift gear, are where it's at.
BorrowLenses: #1 for Equipment Rental
For the last 9 years, BorrowLenses has been my go-to for renting equipment. From renting big glass for special trips, to testing out equipment before deciding to buy, BorrowLenses has made it easy to get the exact equipment I want when I want it – all with a seamless customer experience. I've also purchased their used equipment and love that I can get gently used gear for a very fair price.
Adobe Creative Cloud: #1 for Editing Software
I can't imagine running my business without Adobe Creative Cloud. From cataloging to editing images, to designing ebooks and print products, to crafting social media posts… the products from Adobe are the foundation of my digital photography workflow. And they just. keep. getting. better. I've never experienced a technical or support issue in my 16 years of using Adobe products – and that includes using all the apps offered inside Creative Cloud. So, it is with confidence that I recommend Adobe Creative Cloud.
Build Your Photography Business
Squarespace: #1 for Starter Websites
If you're just getting starting building your first photography website, Squarespace is my top recommendation. It is very affordable, has plenty of themes customized for photographers, has a ton of functionality for displaying portfolios and keeping up a blog, and the drag-n-drop page-builder is perfect for folks new to designing a website. It's the best platform for getting a straightforward website up and running in record time. I've built quite a few websites from the ground up on many platforms, and this is always my recommendation to clients who want a simple yet gorgeous website with easy upkeep.
WordPress: #1 for Full-Feature Websites
If you want to do more than display photo portfolios, and are ready for a serious website with functionalities from selling stock images to running an automated online print shop, to offering products like workshops and tours, then I recommend going with the robustness and flexibility of a WordPress website. There is a little more learning curve, but you'll be able to build anything you can dream up. When I got serious about my photography business, up upgraded from Squarespace to WordPress and haven't looked back.
Flywheel: #1 for WordPress Website Hosting
Keeping your website online, running at top speed, and backed up is absolutely critical. Flywheel provides that AND a user-friendly dashboard for backups, updates, staging sites and security. Plus, they have the best customer service of just about any company (of any kind) out there. In those moments when I've accidentally broken my websites, or one goes offline for some reason, I can chat with customer support and be up and running again in minutes. Flywheel is outstanding, and gets my glowing recommendation for WordPress hosting. (Also, a WordPress site is included with your Flywheel plan.)
Namecheap: #1 for Domain Hosting
I've been using Namecheap for 10 years now after switching from other domain hosting companies. Namecheap has an easy-to-use dashboard and excellent customer service. I know that choosing a domain host seems like a really boring part of building your business, but it is important – especially if you're new to setting up a website, or you know you'll want to use subdomains or connect multiple sites. Every time I look under the dashboard of other domain hosting companies while working with clients to build their websites, I'm always reminded of how much I love the quality and ease of use of Namecheap.
WooCommerce: #1 for Online Sales
WooCommerce is definitely an essential tool for me for all of my websites. I use it to sell workshops, portfolio reviews, private consultations, to accept and track photo tour bookings, and of course to sell products in an online shop. It is a free plugin with a ton of useful paid add-ons for handling everything from booking events to automatically calculating shipping on products. Easy to get started with, WooCommerce has all the robust features you need whether you want to sell prints, book clients, or anything else you can dream up. I can't imagine running my online business without it.
Stripe: #1 for Payment Collection
Offering multiple payment options is important to ensuring every customer is comfortable with their check-out process. So I use Stripe as a highly secure and trusted credit card processing company. This is the perfect solution for customers who don't want to use PayPal to check out. Stripe has high level security measures and developer capabilities, yet for a non-techy business owner like myself, I appreciate their easy-to-navigate interface for tracking incoming payments, transferring funds to my bank account, issuing refunds, and running reports. Its popularity for online commerce means many other services offer integration with Stripe, making it easy to set up credit card processing with whatever platform you're using.
TermsFeed: #1 for Custom Legal Disclaimers
NextGen: #1 for Website Galleries
Photographers know how important high quality image galleries are for photography websites. NextGEN by Imagely is the best gallery plugin I've found for fully customizing the display of your galleries – from the look, to the navigation, to the functionality for the viewer (including disabling right-click-save capabilities). Commenting, deep linking, social sharing and more can all be turned on or off for individual galleries you display on your website. It also allows you to add in ecommerce settings with automated print fulfillment, so viewers can purchase prints directly from the gallery view without any added workload for you. I use NextGEN galleries in my businesses for everything from displaying portfolios to selling stock image licenses.
NOLO: #1 for Self-Help Legal Education & Business Structure Guidance
For the last two decades, NOLO has been my resource for learning the legal ins and outs of everything from business structure to taxes to contracts. An incredible library of updated information, NOLO offers print and digital books and forms. I'm constantly recommending this as a resource for photographers, and imagine I'll do so for as long as the company exists.
Some of the NOLO resources in my library:
- The Tax Guide for Gig Workers explains everything gig workers need to know about taxes. This book provides an overview of everything you need to know about being a gig worker.
- Make your business an LLC: Form Your Own Limited Liability Company provides you with the instructions and forms you need to create an LLC in your state.
- The Essential Business Desk Reference: Sign any contract with confidence, armed with the plain-English information & explanations, specifically written with non-lawyers in mind.
- Form a nonprofit in your state: Start and run a nonprofit in your state with this complete guide. Get step-by-step instructions.
- Get Your Contract in Writing: Whether you're an independent contractor or a business hiring one, it's important to put your agreement in writing.
- The Small Business Start-Up Kit: Your one-stop guide to starting a small business. Get your start-up off the ground with the financial & legal tools & advice needed to set up & run a small business.
Cradoc's FotoQuote: #1 for Licensing & Assignment Price Quotes
This is possibly my most-recommended tool. I'm often asked by students, clients and friends about the “right” amount to quote for an image license. And to answer their questions – and figure out my own quotes – I turn to FotoQuote. This tool allows you to select the parameters for an image license (in a magazine, a brochure, a billboard, social media…) and provides you with a pricing range that reflect the most current standard rates for that type of use. Not only does it help you figure out an appropriate quote, but you can also track all your licensing agreements to know what is licensed to whom, and what licenses are up for renewal. FotoQuote has helped me to confidently setting pricing for image licenses – and confidently stand behind my quotes during negotiations. It is a true game-changer (and I don't say that lightly!).
Get a 10% discount on full version stand alone and bundled products when using my affiliate code “JHP-0420“
FreedCamp: #1 for Project Management
The daily driver of my business is FreedCamp, where I plan out my projects, tasks, appointments and everything else I have to track to stay on task and meet goals. There are a lot of project management tools out there that are perfectly wonderful and plenty fancy. But fancy isn't my jam – I care about functionality. FreedCamp has a robust set of tools, a straightforward user interface, and it continues to get better and better as the developers pour their efforts into designs. All that for a super affordable price (and even a free version for getting started!).
AppSumo: #1 for Discount Software
There are quite a few tools I use in my business that I have either discovered, or have been able to purchase at a crazy-low price, thanks to AppSumo. This company partners with top software companies to provide jaw-dropper pricing deals. It's kind of like the Costco of software. I've saved hundreds of dollars on programs that I use in my businesses – including getting lifetime deals for programs that are normally annual subscriptions. For conservation photographers who are already working hard to make ends meet, AppSumo is an awesome resource for getting high quality tools at the lowest possible price.
Envato: #1 for Digital Assets & Website Themes
This is my top resource for finding gorgeous themes for my websites. I love that I can search through themes, explore them in live demos, and easily renew support for themes whenever needed. There's a LOT that Envato Market provides that I haven't even scratched the surface of – including video and audio assets for filmmakers, codes and plugins for web designers and more. While I haven't explored those products much because they aren't my jam, what is certain is that I return to Envato Market again and again for beautiful themes for my business and project websites, and have never once had a problem with customer support. It's been my go-to for years, and will remain so for years to come.
Build Your Audience
ConvertKit: #1 for Email Lists
Build your email list with the best email service provider out there. I have tried many ESPs over the years and ConvertKit has my heart. It is easy to set up, intuitive to use, and the tools are truly robust – yet not confusing. That's a big deal. But my favorite features are actually all the tutorials ConvertKit creates that help us grow our audience and business, and the fantastic customer support that has walked me through every question and sticking point as I've grown my email list. This company truly cares about creatives and has our backs.
Listen to Episode .. all about how to create, launch and grow your email list (and why an email list is so critical – even if you aren't a professional!).
Creative Market: #1 for Creative Templates
Build your professional presence with beautifully designed tools. I use Creative Market to find templates for everything from presentations to pitch decks, from eBooks to website themes. They even have unique fonts. I have zero design skills and very limited time, so Creative Market has become my go-to resource when I want to build something fresh and beautiful, with someone else doing the heavy lifting of the design work.
Canva: #1 for Social Media Assets
Canva is a fantastic resource that I use constantly for designing ads, social media posts and the leading images for articles. With a ton of templates and plenty of editing tools, I can create images for my ads, announcements, Facebook banners, Instagram stories, and so many other social media posts. I have zero design skills, and Canva helps me make beautiful products in a matter of minutes.
Zoom: #1 for Online Meetings
There's no way I could run Wild Idea Lab without Zoom. It is how I host our happy hour hang-outs, interviews and Q&A sessions, our mastermind groups and, well, basically all our live events and trainings. Plus, it's my go-to resource for meetings with clients, from consultation to portfolio reviews. Thank goodness for Zoom!
Demio: #1 for Online Workshops and Webinars
Zoom is amazing for meetings. But when it comes to hosting masterclasses and webinars all while growing my email list, Demio is where it's at. It is easy to set up one-time or evergreen events, customize registration pages, and integrate events with your email service provider. And cherry on top is they have truly fantastic customer service for troubleshooting set-up or account settings. If you host online workshops, I definitely recommend checking out Demio as your platform.
Patreon: #1 for Simple Membership Subscriptions
I'm constantly talking with conservation photographers about strategies to monetize their photography projects. Finding funding for your project on your own is always tough, yet there are a lot of people who want to support creatives. So make it easier on yourself by setting up a way for those supporters to financially back your work, all while earning rewards. The easiest platform to use to accomplish this is Patreon. There are a ton of photographers who are earning recurring monthly revenue by running a Patreon membership account for their business, as well! Check out the Patreon membership I set up for Urban Coyote Initiative for an example of what you can create for your project or business.
Screenflow: #1 for Screen Recordings
Screenflow is a screencasting and video editing software for Mac. It can capture the audio and video from the computer, edit the captured video, add highlights or annotation, and output a number of different file types. I create a lot of masterclasses for my Wild Idea Lab members, and I rely on Screenflow to record my Keynote slides as I present material, or record my screen as I demonstrate how to do something in a software program. It is very easy to learn and use, and is my #1 tool for creating training videos. You can even start with a free trial to ensure you like it before you buy.
Screenflow: #1 for Facebook Live Events
I love to do Facebook Live events with other people, whether it is interviews, Q&A sessions or panel discussions. And the best software to accomplish this is BeLive. BeLive allows you to schedule your live events, add your own brand logo, change custom colors and overlays anytime during your show, share your screen, and – most importantly – bring on guests and show up to four people on the screen at the same time. You can also easily download the recording of your live session to repurpose it on YouTube, your website or other platforms. It's the tool I now use for all my Facebook Live sessions in my groups and on my business page.