In this guide, we’ll be discussing freelance photography.
“Guitar is good John, but you’ll never make a living out of it,” said Mimi Smith to John Lennon before he was famous.
It has been a common joke that the arts do not make money, and even if they do, you cannot exactly make a living as an artist.
Though this might have a little truth to it, we think that the reason artists don’t make money is not that their art isn’t worth it, but because they don’t communicate how much value they can bring.
And they do not know how to use their art for commercial purposes.
Photography is one of those things that are often misunderstood. If you are a photographer, you probably know how difficult it is to take a good photo.
It takes many observations, preparations, and substantial knowledge to do so.
What is Freelance Photography?
Freelance photography means you are the ‘lens for hire’, and different clients employ your services. Sounds simple enough, but there are some things that you need to know:
If you want to make money, becoming a freelance photographer is one way to go.
Communicate Through Photography
As we have told you before, photography is more than merely taking photos.
The photo itself must be worth something or have intrinsic/artistic value. As a photographer, you must learn to re-contextualize an object.
It is a combination of technical and conceptual thinking: making something look a certain way and having it communicate a message – this is the way to be an impactful freelance photographer.
The message can be made by being intentional with how a photo looks, and then confirming the message in the editing or caption.
This way, you can communicate through pictures – something that is often neglected by photographers.
When your client says, “This photo is good, but it doesn’t sell”, they’re actually telling you that the photos you are taking, though artistically good, aren’t communicating their intended message.
Perfecting your communication skills can help you to be a commercial freelance photographer.
How Do I Start Freelance Photography?
Photography is an art, and it is inevitable that the artist will heavily influence the art himself.
So, in becoming a freelance photographer, there is merit in finding your niche right away.
For example, f you are comfortable with foods and understand saturation settings that can make them look tasty, it makes sense to be a food photographer.
If you do not like being in an office and performing regular duties, then corporate clients might not be suited to you, as they often require certain templates to be created.
By starting off in the right market, you can still maintain idealist artistic views that are in line with your client’s needs.
Therefore, you would be supporting them and not contradicting what they want or need.
The right market also allows you to comfortably build chemistry to forge a long-lasting relationship with the client.
To further explore this topic, check out our guide on photography niches, and check out this video on how to find your niche by Tin House Studio:
Where Do I Start as a Freelance Photographer?
As a freelancer, it is important for you to network and position yourself in order to create new opportunities and attract the right clients for you.
This is what we know as the cold-calling period, or that time you will connect with the people you want to offer your services to.
This can be done by performing free work at church, doing a gig at a relative’s wedding, and general volunteering.
This way, you can gain new clients and build your portfolio. Join a Facebook freelancers’ group, and actively look for potential clients on platforms such as Fiverr and Freelancer.com.
Newspapers, businesses, and influencers often look for photographers there too!
Positioning is the art of taking up a position in the market so that you can attract clients instead of chasing them.
Make sure you have a relevant portfolio hub. Be it Instagram, Facebook, or even better, a professional website, you are showing people that you can handle artistic photos with commercial relevance.
Write a post on LinkedIn and tell people about your vision or share technical ‘how-to’s’ to make people see that you are a proficient and experienced photographer.
Join a group and be a prominent member there, this way people will talk about you and that itself is a form of promotion.
Freelance Photography Tips
Entering freelance photography is easy. But becoming a successful freelance photographer is not.
I have witnessed many friends quitting their freelance careers as a photographer.
To prevent the same fate from happening to you, I have compiled 15 tips to achieve success as a freelance photographer.
Most people working in freelance photography work as individuals. These Independent self-employed people face many hurdles but also enjoy working on exciting projects with their clients.
It’s not an easy path, but let’s start with the first tip!
1. Knowing Your Niche
Transitioning from a part-time photographer into a full-timer is a lot of work. It also becomes more punishing if you are a jack of all trades, a master of none.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a “jack of all trades” myself. But, I have my own particular niche in freelance photography. This makes me more distinguishable among my many competitors.
Finding a niche is an enjoyable process. It should all be about having fun while figuring out what works best for you.
There are many niches available to explore in the world of freelance photography.
Some of the most common ones include portrait, wedding, and landscape photography.
However, there are so many more available.
Perhaps you can consider becoming a food photographer, a journalistic photographer, an astrophotographer, or even a sports photographer.
The more obscure the subject the less work there will be available, but the higher the rate is likely to be.
Making a name for yourself in a very narrow niche can be incredibly rewarding.
2. Create a Portfolio
Everyone in the freelance photography business has a portfolio.
These are essential for attracting potential clients! If you are still new to photography, search for “work for free” projects to build your portfolio.
Find win-win opportunities with local models or people with similar goals.
Either make it as a pdf or upload it through a website, the choice is yours. With social media ruling the world, you must at least have an Instagram account.
LinkedIn is also useful for finding new business opportunities even if it is not the most common portfolio location.
Patreon is also great if you wish to monetize your images.
Try to make your portfolio unique. Curate it in a way that has not been seen before and that attracts people’s attention.
3. Buy the Necessary Equipment
You do have a fitting budget, right?
Maybe it’s time to replace your old laptop notebook with a machine that can handle post-processing faster and better.
Assuming you don’t have a quality camera, consider upgrading the camera for your expertise.
Get the correct lens for bokeh, a tripod if you need more stability, lighting, and the list goes on. So, prepare your budget, and a list of essential equipment, and buy them!
Many freelance photographers end up taking out loans or maxing out credit cards to get started.
Try to avoid this if possible. A business with debt is never a good start.
If you are lucky enough to have a few clients on the side while working full-time in another industry, try not to spend your photography income.
Use this money to invest in the equipment, website, and marketing tools you require to grow your business.
To further explore this topic, check out this video on starting out as a photographer on a budget by Lizzie Peirce:
4. Create a Pricing Strategy
If you do not have strong branding, it is unlikely that you can set a high price for your service.
Recognize your position in the business and price accordingly. Many regulars in freelance photography use a “package” system.
Package A for 10$, package B for 15$, and package C for 20$. These strategies are common in platforms such as Fiverr.
Some people purposely make the first package uninteresting to bait clients into picking the much more expensive packets.
You may also have different pricing for distinct types of clients. For example, B2B work may be priced differently from B2C pricing.
When developing your pricing scheme, also consider the expenses and travel costs/time associated with a shoot.
These can quickly build up. If you are engaging an assistant, make sure the pricing fits with their fees too.
To further explore the topic of pricing, check out this in-depth video by Jessica Kobeissi:
5. Adopt a Marketing Strategy
Clients cannot find you without marketing, which makes advertising relevant!
Your online portfolio on your website can be counted as one way to advertise your services.
Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are the usual social media platforms to promote business.
If you prefer the door-to-door approach and email/visit potential clients, then do it!
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is also critical. This means making an informative website that has written content as well as photos.
A regular blog or article about your work and techniques will be a surefire hit.
6. Create a Work Schedule
Adjusting your work schedule may be challenging for first-timers in freelance photography.
Sitting on the couch, and relaxing is very tempting, yet work must be done.
Your schedules can look like a simple 9-5 with rest in between. I recommend making a more detailed schedule that includes necessary breaks and daily activities.
While getting out and about is a little hard during the lockdowns, as the world re-opens, don’t be afraid to get out there and meet people.
Business is based upon personal relationships, so if you do not build friendships in the industry you are likely to struggle.
As the saying goes “it’s who you know, not what you know that matters”.
7. Determination and Finding Potential Clients
Specializing and reaching out to potential clients that need your service is essential.
Let us say you do amazing portraits, then contact a local business and offer your services!
Aligning your views and style with their needs will make you appear more trustworthy.
Knowing the ins and out of your potential clients allows you to pick up circulating trends.
Allowing your business to keep up and get more clients.
Reputation is everything in this industry, so make sure your rep is one of the good ones!
Being known as that “rude photographer” is never a good look.
8. Respond to Your Emails and Messages ASAP
Checking your daily inbox for emails is always a daunting task. There will always be cases of people asking questions in a lousy manner.
Either way, take your time in the morning to check emails and messages. Answer them in a friendly yet professional manner.
Give your special/returning client your phone number so you can keep close tabs on them.
Another cool tip is informing your clients how often you check your email, and when. This relieves the pressure to check your email 24/7.
If you are going to be away on holiday, it is also a good idea to let your clients know this too.
Otherwise, that last-minute shoot they need may be given to your biggest rival.
9. Keep Track of Projects
Nobody is perfect. One way or another, we forget something, or in some cases, projects.
To keep track of the projects you have, write them down on an application or designated space.
Make sure to place them somewhere you always pass by or look at.
Tools like Trello are a fantastic way to organize your work and keep a clear record of the work you have performed.
It is also a really easy way to interact with your clients to receive new jobs without masses of emails that need keeping on top of them.
10. Deliver Consistent High-Quality Photographs
To keep a good rating/reputation make sure to be consistent with your photos.
You are only as good as your worst photos.
Consistency matters a lot, with high-quality photographs over the board everybody wins.
Clients enjoy their gorgeous pictures, and your reputation grows even further.
While it is good to post a new pic every day or two, never post a bad image.
It is much better to post nothing than a bad picture.
It is usually a good idea to have a reserved batch of images waiting for upload in the event you have no fresh content or are on holiday.
11. Create a Fast/Optimal Workflow
Use whatever software helps you the most.
But, please note that some software is better than others when it’s about workflow.
Editing using a preset allows you to spend less time manually adjusting it.
But make sure your presets are good. There is nothing worse than a bad preset!
I recommend using Lightroom for optimal workflow speed. Use photoshop only when fixing your client’s imperfections.
It is also possible to make some additional income from selling presets too. If you do this, do not sell your signature look. Develop presets specifically for sale.
12. Be Prepared for Any Situation
Well yes, maybe you can finish 3 projects by Thursday.
But what if your laptop randomly breaks down?
Always expect the unexpected and take your time.
Even if you could promise a one-day finish project, you should still take your time to take care of other matters in life.
Take your time and be prepared.
Never over-commit. If you know you will fail to meet a deadline, do not commit to it.
You will only end up disappointing your clients. It is much better to underpromise and over-deliver.
Build up a network of close contacts with other freelance photographers.
Finding someone you really trust is a great way to know if there is a real emergency you have someone to call on to cover for you (in the case of a shoot) or help out with post-processing.
But be careful, there is always a risk the client may prefer your stand-ins work to yours!
13. Keep Learning and Perfecting Your Craft
Learning photography and the basic blocks and the more advanced theory may be seen as too much effort.
Yet, you can only go so far in your career with limited knowledge.
There are a ton of places to learn your craft: YouTube, Square Space, and even good old books.
Find materials to either perfect your basic techniques or to learn more about your niche.
Collaborating with a real-life master is one of the best ways to really learn your trade.
Try to find an experienced mentor whose shoots you can tag along on to really learn from the pros.
But be careful that you do not simply become a free intern!
14. Practice Makes Perfect
Learning theory and practicing them in real-life situations are vastly different.
Some books and even tutorials have managed to make things sound so easy.
Even if you have the best equipment in the world, it won’t guarantee quality photos.
The only way to prove your ability in your niche is by practicing.
Try them out for yourself if a method suits your style.
Not everything works for everyone, so have fun practicing and experimenting!
15. Be Confident
Things do go south from time to time. Life is hard, and there will always be ups and downs in your career.
Failures become lessons, and learning from them is a good thing. Be confident and avoid making the same mistake twice.
After all, the best sailors always arrive from the harshest seas.
Just be careful not to develop an arrogant streak.
Many clients will take offense to this type of personality.
However, saying that, some of the best artists in the world are the most arrogant.
Just make sure your skill makes up for it!
How do Freelance Photographers Find Work?
1. Communication Agencies
There are many types of agencies in the fields of Public Relations, Branding, Advertising, and Social Media.
They are in constant need of content, and a large part of content marketing involves photography. These agencies can be your prospect.
Get on Google or LinkedIn and search for people who work in agencies, then send them your portfolio and profile.
Ask them to contact you should they need photographers. These agencies often prefer individual photographers rather than teams because individual workers are paid cheaper.
But for that individual worker, it is quite a hefty price compared to average earnings.
Other than looking for people, you can also look for jobs on Freelancer.com, Fiverr, and other freelancing platforms.
2. Company Marketing Division
Marketing divisions, especially in product-based companies like retail, dairy producers, and food chains, are constantly in need of photos of their products for marketing purposes.
This can be your opportunity. These days, the online space makes it much easier to connect with them.
Company marketers are usually in contact with professional and seasoned photographers that have significant reputations.
Our tip here is to make sure that you communicate their message.
Check out our guide on corporate photography that touches on this.
Many photographers forget that their clients need something that captures attention, even though it has been promoted several times before.
Yes, this one is a booming market. Influencers often need the services of personal photographers to take pictures of their collections, as well as themselves.
Most influencers that use photography services are beauty influencers and urban influencers.
Just note, that working with influencers is good for practice and networking, but it might not make you popular.
Check out this video by Jessica Kobeissi who dives into this subject a bit further:
4. Beauty Influencers
Beauty influencers are more likely to require portraits. If you have a particular interest in portrait photography, this might be the job for you.
Beauty influencers often have specific styles that you will have to emulate in their photos.
This can be cutesy, sexy, or elegant. Other than that, some products that they might endorse include dresses and cosmetics, so you will need to be able to photograph those, too.
5. Urban/Hip Influencers
Indie singers, rebel personalities, indie rappers – these are people that aren’t normally associated with being in front of the camera but for promotional purposes, they need to market themselves within their niches.
These kinds of influencers also need portraits quite often, so you will need to have some skills in portrait photography and, ideally, a love for the genre.
6. Retainer Option
A retainer is a freelance worker that is contracted for an extended period of time.
If you are hearing about a retainer opportunity, it is an excellent choice that allows you to get a steady income while still being a freelancer.
Retainers are often sought after by big companies or agencies that need a specific job done for campaigns and big projects.
It is a good balance to have one retainer project and several other freelancing projects.
How Much Do Freelance Photographers Get Paid?
Everyone wonders about their average freelance photographer’s salary.
They should be making decent pay with their fancy gadgets, right?
PayScale mentions on its website that the average hourly pay is $25.32 at the time of this article being published.
The results may differ depending on your location and experience. Remember you will not normally get paid for travel time to a shoot.
So next time you see a great ad for a shoot in a neighboring state, think about the time, costs, and expenses involved with getting there.
It may actually make you more money to perform 2-3 small jobs in the same time period as one big job.
Although if you are looking for serious portfolio pieces, it may make sense to take a bigger more prestigious job. It is not always about the money!
Another consideration you may think about is the need for a manager. At some point, the admin overhead may start to detract from your creative work.
If the budget allows, consider hiring a manager.
How Do I Become a Freelance Photographer With No Experience?
Simple, get some experience!
Offer free shoots for family and friends, and slowly build up an Instagram, Flickr, or Facebook portfolio.
Use this portfolio to apply for small freelance jobs on sites such as Upwork or Fiverr. With time the jobs will get bigger and bigger.
Starting full-time in the freelance photography business is not easy.
As well as taking great photos you must start to begin to understand the business side of things.
These tips listed above should help you with starting out.
There is no need to rush out and quit your day job to become a freelance photographer. Start by doing it as a side job in the evenings and weekends.
This way you will have time to develop your skills while earning money to buy better equipment.
Marketing yourself is one of the most important tasks you face.
If people are not seeing your work, they will never know to hire you. Make sure it is out there for the world to see!
There are many ways to get involved as a Freelance photographer. If there is one tip to hold onto for life, it is to always bring value out of your photos and create the right messaging.
Gear matters less than your skill when it comes to bringing the best out of your client’s brief.
Remember that aesthetics without relevance will not help you survive in the new economy.
Keep reinventing and training yourself.
Nate Torres is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and photographer and writes mostly on those topics. Nate runs his own professional photography business called Nate Torres Photography. Nate enjoys learning about new digital marketing strategy and new ways to think creatively. He is also a photography speaker and author on Photofocus.