How to be a Freelance Photographer Online

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Freelance photographers make a living taking extraordinary photos. There are of course some upsides and downsides to living as a freelancer and working for yourself, but for most creatives, this is the dream!

We’ve all had those Mondays at work where we day dream about trekking mountain peaks and laying around on the world’s most stunning beaches. Well, travel photographers can live that life and get paid for it.

Whether someone is already dabbling as a hobby photographer or still planning to buy their first professional camera, there are certain steps and tools that are helpful when chasing this dream.

Before we dig into all that and talk about how to get into freelance photography, let’s look at what a freelance photographer is…

What is a Freelance Photographer?

A freelance photographer is self-employed and usually works on a project or contract basis for a series of clients. In some cases, there are set projects and timelines, and the freelance photographer is responsible for meeting those deliverables on an agreed upon deadline. In other instances, they might sell their own creative property with just a transaction.

For people who want to know how to become a freelance photographer, they should first know this: it’s a hustle and finding consistent clients is top-o-the-list. 

A freelance photographer might work on multiple projects at one time or have some gigs lined up for a few months. They also might not have any work for a matter of weeks to months. Having sustainable income is never guaranteed, so a freelance photographer will need to keep this in mind, especially when first getting established.

Unfortunately, this lifestyle does not come cheap either. This career might have some investing up front to have all the professional gear and software needed to be competitive in the field. But ask any freelance photographer and they will probably say the investment is worth it.

There are those who are willing to give up a baller salary at a job they don’t love to work for themselves, travel to beautiful places, have flexibility, creative freedom, and live their optimal lifestyle. 

Pros:

  • They are their own boss
  • Flexibility and ability to travel
  • Creative freedom & fulfillment

Cons: 

  • Constant hustle
  • Investment upfront
  • Financial instability 

Freelance Photographer: A Day In The Life

A freelancer photographer might wake up in San Francisco or South Africa with a project for any number of publications. They might be on a contract to photograph the world’s biggest kangaroo. They might have 10 weddings lined up for their freelance photography business and that can make the bulk of their money for the year.

Depending on the niche and lifestyle of a photographer, their day could look quite different. And for the same photographer, depending on the project, the same can be said. One month they are photographing local musicians, and the next day they are in Brazil covering Carnivale.

But it doesn’t all have to be wild travels and running around. Plenty of photographers make a living doing family portraits and staying more local, and in their spare time sell photos to stock image sites like Gettyimages or Adobe Stock, publications, or businesses for specific use. 

The responsibilities of a freelance photographer are many. Some of those include the following:

  • Getting all the gear: It’s the photographer’s job to invest in their own equipment. And, it’s not going to be super cheap. Most professional cameras are a minimum $600 and up from there. Plus, there are the zoom lenses and the software. A nice laptop, perhaps a desktop. This is just to get them going! Later, there can be more expenses such as studio space, lights, backdrops etc.
  • Negotiating rates and contracts: A freelancer is responsible for setting their own rates. This can look different depending on the scope of the project. They should negotiate appropriate rates and set realistic expectations for the timeline and workload. They should have a contract template for their business and always make sure to have everything in writing before starting or completing the project.
  • Marketing & selling themselves: They are responsible for marketing their own business. After all, they are their own boss. And bosses think about the business strategy. They should find ways to display their work whether it’s a portfolio, a website with their work, or social media sites. They need to pursue clients, and sell their skills. 
  • Staying organized: A freelancer needs to stay self-directed and organized. They have tons of things to juggle all at once, especially if working for or pursuing multiple clients. A great way to do this is by using a task manager like Trello or Google tasks. Lists lists lists!
  • Paying income taxes: Another thing that freelance photographers should remember is that they are self-employed, therefore, they need to pay their own income taxes. They should research and seek help to understand exactly how much to withhold before tax season rolls around.

Freelance Photographer Jobs

People often want to know how to make money as a freelance photographer and what jobs are available. Like we mentioned, there are plenty of gigs in all shapes and sizes. Projects can vary greatly, but a specific niche is likely to help them achieve their target clients. 

A freelance wedding/portrait photographer will focus on people. Almost all their photos will be event related, or the occasional family or couple photos. They can typically branch out, but if this is their niche, they should own it! 

A freelance travel photographer will obviously focus on landscapes and cool travel spots. They might get really good at street photos, monuments, and perhaps even dabble in vlogging or video. Travel photographers sometimes invest in equipment like GoPros or drones so they can achieve those epic bird’s eye shots. 

A freelance product photographer will focus on commercial photos and need to be able to photograph brand items for catalogs, sites, and brochures etc. They are essentially working in advertising, and need to know how to sell a product. The same goes for a fashion photographer, except they might be less focused on advertising, and focused more on the content curation and portrait. 

This is certainly not the only photography job available, but focusing on a niche will narrow down all the job options out there.  

Becoming a Freelance Photographer in 2020

People who are still wondering how to start freelance photography businesses should check out the following steps:

Start Taking Photos

The first thing a freelance photographer should do after they have all their equipment and gear is take amazing photos! These can be great ways to learn how to use your gear and take great shots. 

This can be on simple nature hikes or some great shots while traveling around. Or, it can mean taking photos of your dog or your neighborhood graffiti. The best thing to note is that having a diverse portfolio is good, but finding a niche is also helpful.

So if someone already has a niche or passion, they can get really good at that one thing and get more competitive gigs. If they dabble in a few different things, say fashion, nature, and family photos they might spread their energy too many places. 

Either way, some people are taking wonderful photos of everything all the time to practice, and there’s no harm there! 

Become an Editing Wizard/Witch

Another thing a freelance photographer should do is get really good at editing their photos! This means they need to get a great editing software, like Adobe Lightroom, and know it like the back of their hand. There are tons of videos online and even in Lightroom that can teach you how to maneuver the software. 

Photographers spend a bulk of time editing, and this can get really tedious and monotonous. Creating and setting presets (the settings of your specedit) might be beneficial for this purpose. 

Now, thanks to many excellent photo editors, you can also purchase presets which can be helpful for bulk editing for example 100 of nearly the same photo. 

The editing of a photo can really make or break it, and all the best photographers are pros at this. 

Build a Sexy Portfolio

The next step is to build an awe-inspiring portfolio. Whatever niche they focus on, it should be laid out and captured in the most epic way possible. This can be done by launching a website, having a Flickr page, or some other platform with a collection of images. 

They will also want to have lists of places their photos are published, if this is applicable. A really well curated social media page will also suffice, but having another way to see high resolution images is ideal. 

Market Market Market

That’s right. Marketing their work is a critical part of freelance photography that sometimes feels burdensome, especially for those who enjoy the creative part but dread self-promotion. 

First, if someone is starting out, they should do tons of research. They should know what is a reasonable rate to charge, and the scope of work. Then they should reach out to potential clients with their portfolios and links to their webpages. 

Tons of freelance sites out there like Upwork and Problogger are good places to look. One can also sell their work on stock image sites and get discovered that way!

Either way, marketing their photos is just as important as taking them.

Do It to It

The hustle is worth it for many freelance photographers who love what they do. So to become one, all it takes is some passion combined with the steps above, and they’re ready to go! 

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