Are you an aspiring photographer still pursuing studies or working on a job that you are not passionate about? If you are thinking about choosing photography as your career, then pursuing Freelance photography can be a viable option for you. Many photographers work full-time as freelancers and earn their living successfully. In today's digital age, photography is being used in different ways by a range of people and businesses. As such, the demand for professional photographers is increasing with many opportunities across photography genres like commercial, fashion, product, travel, weddings, etc. So, it is essential to find your niche. What makes you stand out as a photographer? What makes you stand out from the crowd? Once you figure out your USP, work on it.
What is Freelance Photography?
Freelance photography falls under the category of self-employment. As a freelance photographer, you would take up client projects, work on multiple projects at the same time, and fulfill clients' photography requirements, primarily relying on your skills. It is like being a one person company; you are the boss, the marketer, the photographer, even the office boy. Freelance photography comes with a lot of exciting challenges and hurdles. It allows you to be self-reliant and have creative freedom. You have to dedicate time, energy and all that you have, to build your brand and clientele. Draw the attention of people to your work, have people remember your images, and remember you when they see them. If you love your independence and have an entrepreneurial streak, nothing is more exhilarating than facing these challenges that come with being a freelance photographer.
Here are a few questions you will need to answer before you begin your professional journey as a freelance photographer:
1. Why do you want to take up freelance photography as a career?
So you are insanely passionate about photography and want to pursue it full-time. Here are a few reasons why you might want to:
1. Freedom and independence it brings to the table
2. Love shooting pictures all the time
3. The flexibility of work hours and location
The downsides are that freelancing does not guarantee a steady source of income. It requires a lot of work, to begin with, but remember, you are working for yourself and doing what you love.
Starting your venture is always risky; you wouldn't have thought about risk in detail when you were wondering on how to be a freelance photographer. The risk is not limited to freelancing. Even if you plan to start a new company with a few friends, the decision always has a chance of backfiring. Freelancing is not that different. All we are saying is to tread cautiously. Make sure your efforts count.
If you are planning to start freelancing while working another job, get ready to get busy. If you are lazy, freelancing might not be the thing for you. While you have total flexibility on work hours and project operations, you will still have to work within deadlines which needs discipline and focus. Once you are into freelance photography or any other kind of freelancing, you always have to be moving, literally and figuratively.
You get to choose the people you work with. You have the power to refuse to work with people with whom you don't vibe well. Doing this guarantees higher levels of productivity due to less friction between you and the client.
The law protects freelancers and gives them complete ownership of the work they create.
We have already mentioned the 'flexibility' aspect of freelance photography, but this one deserves a special mention: flexibility of location. You can work from home, a coworking space, a trendy cafe, or at your client's location. Whatever floats your boat.
2. What are your goals?
You need to introspect and chart your goals. Define what you want out of freelance photography. Figure out how much time you are willing to give to freelancing. Is it a full-time venture or a part-time pursuit? These are some of the points you need to consider before you begin something substantial. A clear mission and vision are the first steps to success. If you ignore these, chances of failure will be very high.
3. What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
Once you are clear on what exactly you want out of your freelance photography career, plan how you will communicate your ideas and business model to other people. How will you sell yourself? Write down your unique selling points or USPs.
Say, for instance, you want to become a commercial photographer and have an interest in street photography as well, think of what makes you unique. Maybe, you can shoot in a way that you incorporate urban streetscapes in the pictures.
Define your style of photography, your strengths, and weaknesses, the kind of equipment you are comfortable with, the amount of work you can do within a specific time frame, etc. Learn to talk to people and engage them in conversations.
4. Are you a hustler?
Like any other entrepreneur, you would also have to hustle as a freelance photographer. It's about generating work, pursuing opportunities, and marketing yourself. Don't be afraid to go out and get exposure. Ask for referrals, get feedback on your work, ask for a job, look out for a collaboration. If you don't, opportunities will not be forthcoming.
There is no limit to what you can earn as a freelance photographer. The more you work, the more you will earn. More importantly, all the money belongs to you. So get ready to hustle!
Do read our 10 step handbook on how to start a photography business.
Turning Freelance Photography as a full-time profession
Once you have clarity on the above questions, let us look at how to make money and be successful as a Freelance Photographer.
1. Buy the right equipment
Before starting anything, you will need to invest in essential photography equipment. Along with a good camera, which suits best your requirement and the type of freelance photography you want to pursue, you need a sturdy pair of lenses (for short and long distance) and a tripod. A laptop with the right configuration is also required; 4 gigabytes of RAM is a minimum to run software like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom (for editing). To add to all of this, you might need a handy bag to carry your camera and its charger anywhere you go.
Some of the suggested cameras you can buy for your freelance photography are the Canon EOS 200D/Rebel SL2, Nikon Z6, and the Cyber-shot RX100 Mark IV by Sony. When it comes to laptops that are best suited for photo and video editing, the Acer Predator Helios 500, 15" MacBook Pro and the Dell XPS 15 can be good options. Make sure your equipment is not obsolete and can deliver the requirements that a professional freelance photographer demands.
2. Figure out your pricing strategy
The amount of money that you will charge is one of the most important criteria that will define your success or failure in freelance photography. When you are starting, you might have to work on a breakeven model where you earn nothing and keep your freelance photography rates accordingly. In the beginning, building a client base matters more than getting your pricing right and making money. However, sustaining yourself is also vital. Start small and charge less. Scale gradually building networks with the right people. Once you are confident in your business style, you can start charging more and earning the money you deserve.
3. Find Potential Channels
Although we will discuss this in detail further on, you need to decide what kind of clients you want to work with, and what your target audience will be based on the sort of freelance photography you wish to pursue. Note down the various channels you can generate client interest from. Create client groups based on different parameters like the industry they come from, the amount of money they can spend, their geographical locations, etc.
Practice your art. Roam around the streets and capture random moments. Work on your frames and your color compositions. Build a database of your photographs and organize them. Watch tutorials and practice what you learn to get better. You need to know the rules before you break them! It might get monotonous at times; we know you love doing it yourself, and listening to another 'expert' might be boring. But everyone knows something unique. Learn from other people and learn from your mistakes — practice, practice, practice.
5. Working with Clients
As a freelance photographer, you won't be employed in a full-time job. The freelance photography jobs you will get will be for a limited period. The assignments will entail fulfilling client requirements, which can be diverse, such as;
1. Product photography and catalog creation for e-commerce portals, social media shops, and offline shopping magazines.
2. Event photography for both professional and personal get-togethers like weddings, seminars, conferences, etc.
3. Photography for MSMEs (micro, small, medium enterprises).
4. Capturing pictures for food blogs and designing restaurant portfolios and menus.
5. Travel photography is one of the most sought after service for which companies hire freelance photographers. You can click the pictures for hotels in tourists' hotspots, nature magazines, travel agencies, etc.
6. Photography also has a high demand for journalism. Media houses are always on the hunt for talented photographers who can pair with journalists and cover events and stories worth publishing.
7. For textbooks and magazines, visual content creation can be another application for freelance photographers.
8. Fashion - Big modeling agencies prefer freelance photographers to cover photoshoots, turn complete apparel lines into catalogs, click pictures of models for magazines and websites, and much more.
Each requirement demands slightly different expertise.
You know better about which elements are accessible for you and which ones don't interest you.
As a freelance photographer, you can choose the projects you want to work. You will be expected to:
- Know how to deal with clients from different fields of work.
- Handle equipment and use lenses and filters fluently.
- Know how to work around different lighting scenarios. Know how to use light to your advantage.
- Have in-depth knowledge of the fundamental laws of photography.
- Have editing skills and be familiar with some professional editing software like Adobe Photoshop.
- Be familiar with the complete workflow of freelance photography; from lead management to conversion, project operation to project delivery, and all that is encompasses.
Having looked at the opportunities available to start, lets read on to find out how to become a freelance photographer using your exceptional talent paired with technology.
To convert your freelance photography skills into a thriving business, you need to adopt a marketing strategy.
1. Build a Portfolio Website
You can tell people what you do as much as you can, but nothing speaks more loudly for an artist than their portfolio. As a freelance photographer, you need to showcase a well-oriented, adequately structured portfolio, to impress your audience with your repertoire.
Make sure that your photography portfolio website covers all these important points:
• Works well on mobile devices
• Has a minimal, clean and modern design
• Showcases your images in beautiful layout for a quick overview but also enables viewers to enlarge pictures to have a closer look.
• Includes an "About Me" page and contact information
• If you have videos and commercials, do add them on your website.
• Have clear contact information, make it easy for people to reach you.
• Connect with your social media account and start a blog to share photo stories.
For all the genres of photography that you do to make a living, you should have a small collection of your best shots. These pictures will be the face of your business; the content people will see when they visit your website or business page on any social media channel. It is always recommended to update your collections once you have better photos to replace the older ones. Your photography portfolio website is your window to the world out there.
Read The Essential Guide: How to Create A Photography Portfolio Website that would help you grow your photography business here.
Pixpa enables photographers to create and manage a portfolio website easily. Try it out with a 15-day free trial.
2. Create your brand
As a freelance photographer, you would be working on creating and enhancing the brand equity of your clients through various creative mediums and projects. What better way to prove it than to build your brand to present your photography portfolio. Creating your logo is the first step to establishing your brand. Follow this through with a consistent visual language for your portfolio website, resume, and even your business card. Here is the guide for how to make a resume website.
3. Start a Blog
Blogging is one of the most effective ways to tell the world that you are a freelance photographer. If you want to showcase your portfolio and reach out to potential clients, blogging is a great way to start.
Blogging enables you to create your brand and form a two-way channel between your leads and you. There are plenty of opportunities; all it needs is a middleman to connect the client and the vendor.
You can write about why you chose this field of work and the kind of experiences you have had working on different projects. You can share photography tips with them and your style of work. Another great way is to show your portfolio and share the story behind each picture. You can also write motivation blogs, create photography challenges, or even jot down a listicle.
Tutorials are an excellent way to showcase some of your distinctive works. This timeless content will attract more readers. You can also go one level higher and consider adding videos to tutorials.
4. Reach out on Social Media
Social Media plays an essential role in marketing, especially in creative vocations. A freelance photographer can use social media to increase recognition and reach out to potential clients.
Here are a few simple tips on how to use social media strategically to grow your photography business.
Start Small, Start Right
The very first thing that any photographer does is make a Facebook business page, and an Instagram account, followed by more elsewhere. However, the trick is to find the platforms that work best for you and devote a little more energy there.
Facebook already has thousands and thousands of photography pages, and a lot of good photographers do not get enough views, and their pages get lost this ocean of photography pages on Facebook. Both hobbyist and professionals have Facebook pages.
Now, since you are professional, you need to have your page stand out and be different from the other amateur and hobbyist photographers. Give it a simple name – it could be named after you only, but don't go over the top. You can put up your best shots on your page. Since it is a business, you should also add contact information and contact timings, your business location, and all other related info.
Share the page with your close friends and tell them to invite others too. Once you have over a hundred or more followers, you can bring Instagram into the picture.
Use Instagram Correctly
Make sure that your Instagram account and Facebook Page have the same brand name so that people can find you on both platforms. Instagram, in its most basic form, is an online gallery and is the best platform for photographers. You can create a business account and upload all your pictures. It is a great way to gain audience feedback too. With well-defined captions and hashtags, Instagram can prove to be the ace in your approach to freelancing success.
To take your Instagram account to the next level (and save heaps of time) you need to use an Instagram scheduler like Hopper HQ. With a scheduler, you can upload, manage, and schedule your photos to Instagram in advance, all from your desktop!
Other than Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr provide a great platform to design a stunning portfolio to send it to your leads. Since you are getting into professional freelance photography, a LinkedIn profile with endorsed skills and previous work experiences will add to your credibility and show potential clients that the work you deliver or plan to provide is of superior quality. Before beginning to collect leads and start promoting your freelance photography outfit, these are the crucial precursors that will guarantee a strong foundation for your future in the industry.
Pictures speak a thousand words. But writing good content is very important to promote your photography business. A photo with a proper caption engages more users and can tell a story better than just the picture itself. So, when you upload a photo on your Facebook page or Instagram account, write a couple of description text or captions.
Start a YouTube Channel
A YouTube channel only makes sense if you are making occasional tutorials. Vlogs do not attract as many viewers as tutorials do. Time-lapse or hyper-lapse videos are a great way to get more viewers and earn from YouTube too.
Make your Content Discoverable
Now that you have multiple social media accounts and your portfolio website, make sure that all of them are interlinked so that people can find them easily. Make sure your website has links to your Facebook page, your Instagram account, your blog (in case you are blogging using a different platform) and your YouTube channel.
Share content on various platforms, so that people know you are active in all of them. Use social media sharing widgets and tools on your website to enable users to share your work easily.
Use social media management tools
There are a lot of social media management tools available now that can make your life easier when it comes to managing multiple social media profiles. Most of these tools let you create posts and publish them on various platforms in one go. You can also create posts in advance and schedule them for later. Check out this list of the top 20 social media marketing tools.
Be Active Everywhere
This is probably the most challenging part – maintaining all those online accounts all at once, being active everywhere. If you are the only person in your business, then maybe you can take some time off and make at least one update daily. Alternatively, you can always have someone else to help you manage your business online once it has grown enough.
5. Get in Touch with Influencers
Reach out to influencers in the photography industry through social media. Try to contact them personally in some events or send them emails and take their advice on your work. Send them the link to your portfolio website and samples of your work.
6. Free Marketing
The first few days or months after entering freelance photography can be a little frustrating but hold onto your belief. Promotion is the key to capturing leads and creating a credible presence. There are two ways in which you can approach online advertising: unpaid and paid.
Before we discuss the vast realm of online promotion, there are plenty of ways to market yourself without the help of the internet. Meet as many people as you can, and tell them what you do. Visit free events and gallery openings where there are people who have similar interests. There are charity events you can go to; open seminars and political events can also have great opportunities. Talk to the event organizers and tell them about your photography. Always carry some of your photographs with you; and share a link of your online portfolio website.
Upload your photographs on platforms like Shutterstock and Pexel, which have an extensive repository of free pictures that anyone, can use. Such images are called stock photos.
When it comes to online promotion, the unpaid methods require more skill and precision than the paid plans. Search Engine Optimization or SEO is one of the best ways to improve your ranking on search engines like Google and Bing. If you have a website, designing text-based and visual content is the primary target. Write content based on SEO rules. The more relevant keywords your content has, the higher are the chances of improving your ranking on search engines.
Unpaid marketing on social media falls under the category of SMO or Social Media Optimization. SMO demands your social media pages to be up to date and frequently updated with engaging posts and stories. Use relevant hashtags and stick to your points. Create content which is crisp and direct, which is especially important since you are dealing with freelancing and freelance photography. Use images and videos to impress your followers. Every social media platform is slightly different than one another. Per example, the posts you share on Instagram might not be suitable for LinkedIn and vice versa. If you know a digital marketer, talk to them about how you can promote yourself on the internet without shelling the big bucks. With a planned roadmap, you can achieve a lot without paying anything.
7. Paid Promotion
We know that you are just starting and beginning to think about taking up freelance photography, so the budget you have in mind is not that impressive. So we'll keep it short. We won't ignore it altogether, because the results of paid marketing are better than the unpaid marketing, and you might want to try some of the options once you can assign some of your budget entirely dedicated towards promotion. All social media platforms have a paid advertisement option that you can use to promote your posts and stories by spending some money. The more you pay, the higher your reach will be. Another great way of marketing by paying is Google Adwords. You can promote your blog, your website, or your online portfolio via Adwords and give your freelance photography a boost.
Google provides a few free credits when you create an AdWords account. You can test your ad campaigns using these credits. You can also watch videos on how to create ads and reach desired audiences based on their location, age, and interests.
A final word of advice before we continue with the tips, always remember that content is king. If your content is of mediocre quality, any amount of effort, either paid or unpaid, will not help. If you are in freelance photography, visual content is paramount. Make sure your pictures are stunning!
Your First Few Clients
Once you start turning a few heads, it is important to step forward smartly and carefully. Your pitch should be crisp and to the point. Stay honest and do not over commit. Let your portfolio do the talking. Ask your leads the relevant questions and keep them engaged and interested. You need to start acting like a salesperson. If everything goes according to plan, you will close your first deal very soon.
Do your work honestly and make sure your quality is steady. Stick to deadlines. These first few clients will define your future. Serve them well. "Under commit and over deliver."
Make sure your portfolio is updated, manage your website and your social media, meet potential clients. We did not even mention the actual job: photography. Always be on a war footing. As a freelance photographer, you will be entirely responsible for your shortcomings and failures. It'll get real, real fast.
The last thing we would like to mention is that a successful freelancing outfit might take years before any visible profits some up. It requires a lot of patience and a calm nerve to handle dark times.
The scope of freelancing in general and freelance photography, in particular, has increased multiple folds. According to a survey conducted in late 2018 by PayPal, the percentage of income created by freelancers has increased by 47%. In India, the freelance industry will grow by 20 billion USD in the next five years. There is no denying that freelancing is a vast goldmine waiting to be explored, but you need to know the right steps.
Prepare yourself, be passionate, and give it your best shot.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is freelance photography legal?
Of course! Freelance photography is entirely legal. In fact, a good number of photographers work either primarily on a freelance basis or take freelance jobs on the side.
- How do I become a freelance photographer?
All you need to become a freelance photographer is a camera and an online photography portfolio. A camera is obviously important since it is the primary tool of your trade. You also need an online photography portfolio website so that you can display your photography skills and sample work to potential clients to market yourself and actually get jobs.
- Does a freelance photographer need an LLC?
As a freelance photographer in the US, you can register yourself and your business as a sole proprietorship, an LLC or as an S corporation. All of these designations come with different levels of paperwork, tax benefits and liabilities. For countries other than the US, it is always a good idea to check your local laws to figure out the best arrangement for you and your business.