You want to become a freelance photographer, but you do not know what steps to take. You’ve come to the right place! Photography is an art that you can turn into a hobby or a career.
While freelance photography is a career field that can give you freedom, happiness, and flexibility, you need to treat it like a business. It takes know-how behind the camera, confidence, consistency, training and business skills.
What Is a Freelance Photographer?
A freelance photographer provides photography services on a contract basis. Unlike employer-hired photographers, freelance photographers are responsible for reporting and paying their taxes, managing their contracts, marketing their business to new clients, and booking their own shoots.
You must plan for your freelance work just as you would plan before opening a business.
Advantages of Being a Freelance Photographer
Freelance photography comes with many benefits. You can pick your niche and do something you love. If you are working for someone, you have less input on what type of work you do and when you do it, therefore you may not enjoy it as much.
In addition to being your own boss, being a freelance photographer is also rewarding when it comes time to watch a client’s face light up when they look at the end-product. Photographers allow even the most self-critical client to see their beauty.
As a freelance photographer, you get to pick your hours. You can schedule your clients around your personal life. This is especially helpful if you have a family.
You can plan work around your children’s school activities, soccer practice, family vacations, and even around your spouse’s work outings. It allows you to lead a healthier life, by giving you the flexibility to exercise regularly during your days since you can block off certain times for that.
Another benefit of freelance work is that you can choose your clients.
If you work for someone, you may have to put up with any client (even abusive ones). As an independent contractor, if you run into a client who makes life miserable for you, then you don’t have to accept the responsibility of working with them.
Additionally, you receive the maximum benefit from your work, rather than having others take the lion’s share of what you have brought in through your services. Not only will you enjoy the satisfaction from what you do, but you will also enjoy keeping all the profits.
You will then can grow your business the way you see fit. As your client base increases, you can decide whether you want to expand your business, work more hours, hire assistants or maintain your current client base.
DISADVANTAGES OF BEING A FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER
Just with any occupation or business, things are all rosy. There are things you have to consider before going into the freelance world.
You may not have steady work. You may go through dry spells when you have little work and other times you may have a steady flow. Also, if you do not work, you do not get paid.
You must have the discipline to counteract such challenges by budgeting and forecasting so you can be prepared for unreliable “lean” periods.
As a freelance photographer, the lines between personal time and work time is easily blurred. You may find yourself working to accommodate clients or to make the most out of busy seasons. Consider setting business operation hours.
Remember that your friends and family are essential. Schedule regular outings and make time for not only your loved ones but yourself, as well.
Consider collaborating with other local photographers so you can accommodate your clients’ needs and still make time for your family. Otherwise, it’s easy to fall into an imbalanced work/life situation.
Being a freelance photographer also means you — and only you — are responsible for everything. You have to keep up with your accounting, marketing, sales and advertising, in addition to actually fulfilling the photography portion of your business.
Plan and prepare before launching your business. Having a business plan will help you anticipate your needs. You’ll be proactive rather than reactive.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of all is not having employer benefits. You will not have compensated vacation time, sick time and, worst of all, you won’t have health benefits. Have your spouse add you (or keep you) on his/her health coverage policy.
You will need business insurance. If you don’t have spousal coverage, incorporate your health benefits along with your business coverage into your pricing. Health insurance is expensive; not having it is even more costly.
Gear And Equipment
Your equipment will be your biggest expense as a freelance photographer. You will need a great camera, camera lens, background, diffusers, reflector, and other tools, depending on your specialty.
More equipment means you can handle a wider array of photo requests.
CAMERA AND LENS
The two most important pieces of equipment you need for your business are your “eye” and skill. If you have a pretty decent camera body already, focus on investing in camera lenses instead of another body.
Do not get yourself into unnecessary debt.
If you are a freelance portrait photographer, purchase either a 35mm or 50mm prime lens. You can find a quality prime lens for an affordable price.
Consider getting a utility lens with a focal range between 14mm and 70mm.
Budget for your camera body and lens. That should give you more than enough to get the professional equipment you need.
Plan to spend on the rest of your accessories (assuming you are on a tight budget or you are being a shrewd business person and want the business to pay for future upgrades.) You will need a sturdy tripod and a camera strap.
The straps that usually come with your computer aren’t typically sturdy enough for heavy usage.
Have a backup drive on hand and one in the clouds. Invest in editing software such as Lightroom.
Trust us, because it’ll pay for itself in no time. It cuts your editing time down, so you can have a faster turnaround time for your clients. They will value this and so will you. You’ll also need a few basic reflectors and some filters to protect your camera lens.
If you are a studio photographer, invest in or make your own gray card. It will help you get the white balance right every time. Consider painting your studio a neutral color to save on background materials.
Photography is an art that allows you to explore your creativity. Put on your creative hat as you decide what equipment you need. Not only will you save money, but you will also attract clients with your unique offerings.
HOW TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER
Photography is fun! You get to capture elements that would go unnoticed if it were not for a camera and someone with a good eye. Remember to treat your freelance photography like the business it is.
It requires professionalism, technical skills, and business skills.
Your success depends on repeat customers and new customers. New customers will ask for recommendations. Professionalism is one of the critical elements of a successful freelance photography business.
To keep clients coming back and doing you a favor by spreading the news about your talent through word-of-mouth, follow these tips on professionalism:
- Keep your word
- Show up on time
- Handle issues right away.
- Manage your client’s expectations
- Treat all clients with respect
- Don’t take things personally
- Practice honesty, integrity, and transparency
If you are new to photography, make sure you gain photography skills before you try to run a freelance business. While a smartphone or an automatic push-button camera may have you feeling like a pro, you should realize that is a mere drop in the bucket of the knowledge you will need to know.
You have work to do.
Photography is a science (and some math) as much as it is an art. You have to consider your equipment, the light source, the angle the light hits your subject, how far you are from the subject and how to set the right mood for a photo shoot.
As if that weren’t enough, you also have to get your subject comfortable with the camera and consider any features your client wants to hide or highlight.
There are other skills to consider. You must have basic computer and internet skills. Photography software like Lightroom eases editing struggles; but, there may be an initial learning curve.
It can take months, even years, to become truly proficient in these editing software programs. Don’t forget you will need to have basic business skills to run your freelance company successfully.
Here are a few tips to help you stay ahead of the curb and on top of your game:
- Stay up-to-date with your industry
- Take ongoing photography classes
- Allow time for exploring your camera
Business acuity is your ability to see your business vision and work toward that vision. Know your industry and always conduct a shoot with your vision in mind. What problem are you solving for your client?
How do you want them to feel after the shoot? Every shoot you do must consider the end goal.
Business acumen deals with your insight and ability to make judgment calls with that insight. Your intuition, training and industry knowledge is key to your ability to react quickly to changes in the industry, environment or trends.
If you want to be a successful freelance photographer, then you also have to make time for the following activities:
- A fresh website with access to your portfolio
- Daily social media posts
- Timely responses to emails and phone calls
- Keep up with local events and your marketing strategy for them
- Regular blog entries
After reading this, are you nervous or reconsidering your decision? If you are, that is not a bad thing. Still, do not let it stop you from following your dreams. Photography can be emotionally and financially rewarding.
Don’t lose the fun from photography — just take the business aspect seriously.