The Survival Guide for the Freelance Photographer

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

In a world where everybody has a high resolution camera right inside in their pocket, freelance photography has been a challenge for many. Fortunately, there are ways to make it easier. Let me explain.

Once you make up your mind to be independent and walk the freelancing path, your biggest pressure will be: How do I get paid? You’ll need to find clients quickly, and the golden rule for a freelancer is to have a surplus of small income sources. This is better than having one or few bigger clients. Bigger paying clients may look good on paper, but what if you lose all three because they went bankrupt? Or they get a better deal as part of a service package? In that case, having plethora of smaller income sources will protect you and allow you to continue your activity without any huge let downs. 

Here's some more pieces of advice for survival in the jungle of freelancing photography: 

1. Always work.

You won't always have paying customers, but that shouldn't stop you from working. Go out and photograph anything you can. Find important public events and notice your city, whether it's architecture or street photography. Your home town has plenty of subjects you haven't covered yet. Try the conceptual photography if you feel tempted, experience fine art maybe. Anything you can photograph will be useful someday.

2. Get yourself out there.

Get serious about social media and your web presence. If you are having trouble finding clients, perhaps they'll find you via social media. Build an online portfolio and a social following. Without these, you don't exist as a photographer.

3. Get passive income.

Whether you have paying customers or not, passive income will always be there for you. The best way to get a steady flow of passive income is to build a stock photography portfolio. You'll see how useful those photographs I talked about in point one really are.

4. Do some networking.

Get as many contacts as you can from every place or situation you get yourself into. The more online and offline contacts you have, the more chances you’ll have to succeed. 

5. Invest in yourself.

You're your own boss, so don't expect someone else to invest in your business. With each paying job you get, direct 10-20% of the income to improve your equipment and your presence. Always try to buy better lenses, a better camera, better looking clothes, better business cards, better online promotion, etc. Set the percent you want to invest and stick with it, even if you need to cut some personal expenses for it.

6. Be informed. 

Always be in-the-know to what's going on around you and in the world. Go to industry-related fairs, workshops, read blogs, buy books, and follow your competitors' feeds. If someone is looking for a photographer in your area and you didn't see the ad, you don’t get the job. It’s as simple as that. Information is power, but even more importantly in the freelancing world, information is money. 

7. Identify needs.

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. Don't spam people with your offers, but try to think constructively and identify potential buyers' needs. Is the local basketball team having a good year, but fans are missing their games? Maybe their online presence is weak, or maybe they don't communicate with the community very well. Write them and offer your services as a photographer. It won't work every time, and it doesn't apply to every situation, but you should always try to identify a need and come up with an offer. Isn’t that how the economy works anyway? Wherever there's a need, there will be an offer. And it better be yours.

8. Keep it legal.  

Try not to skip any legal requirements for conducting a photography business. You have competition, and even if they’re friendly, they won't hesitate to put you out of business if that means getting a chunk for themselves. You’re on your own, so if anything goes wrong, no big corporation with expensive lawyers will have your back just to keep their image clean. Contracts, insurance, releases for models – get everything in order! 

9. Be awesome and over-deliver.

You’re scheduled to be there at 10am? Be there at 9.30am. You need to deliver 50 photos? Deliver 75. They expect decent photos? Deliver awesome photos. Make them talk good about you, make them be your marketing agents.

10. Be jolly.

Yes, be a pleasant person. Smile, be polite, and try not to talk back even if you're right. Avoid internet beef, recommend other people when you can, and offer your advice only when you're asked. Everybody's trying to surround themselves with good people. Be that good company that everyone is looking for!

About the Writer - Viorel Dudau

Viorel Dudau, Photo Editor for Dreamstime 

Never in his life did Viorel think he would become a photographer. It all started as a small business, in a small town, for small money. He bought his first digital camera to shoot graduation photos for high schools. He began to take his digital camera everywhere he went and shot everything he saw. Photography soon became his passion, his career, and eventually, his life. Visit his personal page.

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