Reflections on My First Year in Business as an American Photographer in France

Paige Gribb first year as full-time photographer recap

Yesterday marks one year since I first registered my business in France.

Happy work anniversary to me!

One year in business—wow. And I almost let it go by without noticing. This has been a weird, hard, major learning curve kind of year. And I’m not done learning.

I was thinking yesterday about everything I’ve learned—the mistakes I’ve made, all the aspects of running a one-woman show that I’ve been figuring out, all the things I feel like I’ve done well at or let fall through the cracks.

But I kept coming back to one main thing: a lot of my first year as a professional, registered-in-France-and-in-it-for-real photographer was about doing new things and meeting new people. It was about expanding.

I started this journey after not taking a very cool, tailor-made-to-me branding/marketing job for a startup here in Paris.

It was a crazy thing to say no to, especially given the way the French job market works, and I agonized over it… but I wanted to be growing a photography business. So instead, I applied for a different French visa and jumped into the deep end.

I still can’t believe I’ve somehow managed to become a photographer in France.

In addition to maintaining personal photo blogs for about a decade now (ack!), I also incorporated photography into every job I could. So I’ve had different photography jobs over the years.

As a publishing intern for a nonprofit in Maine, I brought my camera with me whenever it made sense. I had a recurring summer job at a river rafting company in California, and my work eventually became wading into the water to take pictures of the groups that were about to paddle off. 

During my master’s program in France, I worked in digital marketing and community management, and I managed to spend a lot of my time planning and doing photoshoots (and occasionally video) for all the company’s marketing and social media needs. 

That job gave me a crash course in photography branding, and I found out that I loved taking branded lifestyle photos for a company’s products and team.

That’s the kind of photography I started this business wanting to do. 

It’s still one of my favorite things to do. I love working with companies to create lifestyle imagery that fits their brand personality, that communicates effectively with their community, and that has a natural energy that goes way beyond basic “product-on-a-white-background” types of photos.

And getting to be a lifestyle photographer in France—for businesses or anyone, really—is a really special privilege. Paris is just too beautiful!

paige gribb behind the scenes with camera during a photoshoot in paris
Me with a camera in my face, as captured by model Loïs Huchot.

But this has also been a year of trying new things.

I’ve been learning a ton and figuring out what it is that I want to spend my time on. Of taking on anything that seemed exciting, and of seeing where it could take me. A year of saying yes (Shonda Rhimes-style).

  • Yes to my first Eiffel Tower portrait session, where I got to create timeless memories with someone visiting Paris. And yes to lots more travel portrait sessions in Paris after that one.
  • Yes to taking engagement photos for one of my best forever friends, and squealing a bit when I got a save the date card with one of those pictures on it. And then yes to more beautiful, love-filled couples sessions after that, which bring me so much joy every time.
  • Yes to trying boudoir photography with a close and very patient friend… and then doing it for other people, too, and loving every minute.
  • Yes to joining the Paris chapter of Rising Tide’s TuesdaysTogether and finding an awesome group of mentors and friends. I’m so glad to have met other Paris photographers like Rachael LaPorte and Tara Lengyel, who have inspired and supported me on this journey. And working alongside and supporting other creatives and entrepreneurs in this city has made life so much nicer.
  • Yes to working as a photography-videography team with Tara, and providing full-service coverage of amazing events and companies.
  • Yes to a huge photoshoot collaboration for a good cause, which brought the wonderful Michelle of Ruffled by Grace into my life.
  • Yes to learning about being an elopement photographer from Michelle. And yes to getting to spend more time with couples who are just so in love. (I literally cried while editing photos from the last elopement I did with her. No shame.) And yes to photographing my first full-on wedding later this summer. (Yeek!)
  • Yes to covering street style for Paris Fashion Week with the awesome Malak Laraki, Esosa Cheryl and Whitley Isa. And then to learning more about fashion and editorial photography as I go. 

When you start a business, the one thing everyone will tell you over and over again is to pick a niche.

That is probably excellent advice. And I love the niche I started with. And I’ll expand and then narrow down the other stuff as I go along, I’m sure, to the things I truly want to spend my time on.

But that said, I am not a purely niching-down kind of person. At least, not right away.

You know what I’ve loved most about all the work, studies, and hobbies that I’m drawn to? I get to be interdisciplinary.

I can draw from a lot of different fields and make connections and jumps between them. It means I’m always learning, and I rarely get bored.

So I’ve been expanding and learning this year, in more ways than one. And I can’t wait to see where it all takes me.

What’s your take on niching down vs. expanding? If you work for yourself, what was your first year in business like? Drop a comment below and let’s talk!

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  1. There is so much I am sure you could advise me on. I am looking to start a photography business in the Alps (France), an area I consider the most beautiful in the World. And I have discovered my niche (visit my site to see). I have heard all kinds of horror tales on establishing a business in France, that it’s a bureaucratic nightmare. So any suggestions here would help. Thanks, Garry

    1. Hi Gary, congratulations on getting ready to start a business—that’s a big and exciting step!

      There is certainly some bureaucracy involved but for me it was absolutely worth it. How you go about getting set up depends a lot on your specific situation and goals, so it’s tough for me to give you advice from afar, but I would recommend looking into the different business types to see what fits (eg. micro-entreprise, EIRL/EURL, etc.). If you are not an EU citizen you will also have to consider how your immigration status comes into play. I am not an immigration expert, just a person who has been through the process, but generally speaking if you have a blanket residency status like vie privée it is normally quite simple, whereas if your status is tied to your work you may have to change it to match your new entrepreneur/self-employed/freelance status——this could also change or negate your ability to work under a standard employment contract, so if that’s your case definitely consider it carefully! As always I’d recommend contacting an expert to get official advice, and best of luck!