How to Become a Freelance Photographer in 2023

Becoming a freelance photographer is a lot of work. Thankfully, that work is often gratifying if you have the right approach and mindset. Realizing that it’s a long process is the biggest hurdle for most beginners.

how to become a freelance photographer

The idea of pursuing freelance photography tends to intimidate many for various reasons. Good planning, discovering a niche, developing a workflow that works, finding clients, retaining clients, understanding the market, knowing how to market yourself, and several other aspects all play a role in a freelance photographer’s success, and understanding them is critical.

In this guide, you’ll learn all the basics and the initial steps on how to become a freelance photographer so you can get your photography career off to the best start possible!

What to Begin Preparing

Preparation is the most crucial element of any freelance photographer’s success. It allows for the best chance for a stress-free workflow and work environment and consistent creation of the highest quality work possible.

Stress is no good for any profession, but in freelance photography, where you are your own manager, you cannot expect to succeed long term if you’re continuously operating under large amounts of stress. Long-term success is only achievable through consistent quality work, and it’s challenging to maintain a high level of quality in your work when you’re working under stress.

Taking the time to prepare is the best way to alleviate any factors weighing your state of mind. Of course, this is not to say that you must plan out every step of your freelance photography career. Instead, developing a practical roadmap is what good preparation looks like, and we’ll cover the cornerstones of a solid roadmap below.

find your niche

Find Your Niche

Finding a niche is a double-edged sword for every person looking to get into freelance photography.

Most people fall into one of two categories. Either they already know what niche they want to pursue or have little to no clue what particular content areas interest them. In the latter case, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying out a bunch of different niches to see if you find one that appeals to you, only to eventually give up.

Finding a niche can prove incredibly challenging depending on who you are, and many guides on how to become a freelance photographer fail to highlight this point.

If you’re taking on freelance photography for fun, it’s sometimes easier to find a niche because you only have to worry about going into a niche you genuinely enjoy. On the other hand, if you’re becoming a freelance photographer in part to have some form of stable income, then your enjoyment of a niche is still significant, but so is the income you can get from a niche.

For example, if a photography client is willing to pay you a lot of stock photography, you need to weigh whether the money is worth more than doing something you genuinely enjoy doing, like landscape photography.

It’s a tough predicament that many beginner freelance photographers encounter, and the only way to move past it is with patience and persistence. If you’re struggling to pick a niche, the last thing you want to do is rush the process by going into a niche that does not satisfy you or meet your work standards, leading to the next major point of your roadmap.

Develop a Workflow That Will Satisfy You

When it comes to professional photography work, there are always jobs available if you know where to look, but availability will do you no good if you don’t have a satisfying workflow.

Let’s say you initially plan to work five days a week and put in the typical eight hours on each day. That being the standard does not mean it will satisfy you, even if you found it satisfying with previous jobs.

Remember, you are your own manager. That is one of the most significant benefits of being a freelance photographer. You dictate the type of work you do, when you do it, and how much you do. And unlike a niche, a workflow is far easier to adjust whenever you feel like it, so don’t hesitate to experiment.

You may want to have Thursdays and Fridays off so that you get a longer weekend, in which case you can work a little more on the other weekdays to compensate. Or there may come a time when you have to adjust your schedule because you are unable to work on certain days of the week.

The flexibility is something you may not fully appreciate or utilize initially, but that will change once you start working many jobs and gain experience.

Do Your Homework on the Different Types of Photography Equipment

Do Your Homework on the Different Types of Photography Equipment

Once you have a reasonably good idea of what niche you want to commit to, it’s time to start looking into the equipment you’ll need for the job. You don’t want to do this step before deciding on your niche, as not all photography equipment is the same. For example, different cameras specialize in different areas of photography.

You would not want to take photos of landscapes with a camera that is primarily for taking portrait photography. To avoid that type of situation, you have to do your due diligence in researching the various types of cameras that exist.

There is no need to go overboard in the beginning. The best method is to opt for the most popular and widely recommended equipment in whatever niche you choose. Reading articles for cameras on specific niches is generally the easiest and most effective way to go about this part of the process, as you don’t want to spend an overabundance of time on it.

Your knowledge of cameras will gradually improve over time, so you will eventually develop an eye for what cameras best suit your needs without needing to consult outside sources.

Learn the Ins and Outs of How to Market Yourself and Your Work

Since starting a freelance photography business means you have all the control when it comes to getting clients, you’ll have to overcome the challenge of learning how to market yourself effectively.

Marketing yourself to a client is very similar to applying for a job at a company in that 90% of the time, you are not the only person looking to take on work from a client. This means that you have to find ways to set yourself apart from the competition enough to make yourself stand out.

This is where having an expertly crafted resume and portfolio comes into play, and we’ll talk more in-depth about how you should put your resume and freelance photography portfolio together in a bit. Just know that you won’t get far as a freelance photographer without understanding what strategies are best for attracting clients.

As a beginner, the best thing you can do when starting is looking at what other successful freelance photographers have done and emulate their work. Specifically, look at freelance photographers working in your niche. You shouldn’t copy their way of doing things, as you want to have your own identity that stands out, but take some general cues on their work.

Look at how they use social media to promote themselves and see what type of content they post on their accounts. Check to see if they have a website and make notes on its construction. To help with the previous point, try and find out what kind of equipment they use and what types of cameras they recommend for specific shoots.

If you want to learn as much as possible, you can even contact professional photographers and professional freelance photographers directly and ask questions. Because every photographer comes from a humble beginning, many are open to giving upstarting freelance photographers advice that will go a long way, so take advantage of this.

Build Your Brand, Resume, and Portfolio

Build Your Brand, Resume, and Portfolio

A brand is something that every business needs, regardless of whether it’s a business owned and operated by one individual or many.

Building your brand will involve the development of both a resume and portfolio first, as they are the foundations on which your brand will sit initially. Think of your resume and portfolio as the qualities and skills you have to offer to potential clients. These include hard skills, soft skills, and work that exemplifies them well.

However, the average client will not take the time to look into the work that showcases your skills if you don’t package it into a digestible format. In this case, that digestible format is your brand.

This is another area where you can significantly benefit from taking inspiration from other freelance photographers in your niche. Look at other photographers’ brands and take notes on how they focus their personality, create a mission statement, and use specific color schemes to create a theme that appeals to their target audience.

A good brand will contain a mixture of all those elements. It will also include the highlights of what work and achievements you choose to have from your resume and portfolio. Those will act as the hook that brings a potential client in for a closer look to see if you offer all the things they are seeking.

Most importantly, you should update your resume and portfolio as often as possible because all clients prefer freelance photographers that are actively working. It won’t be impossible to find a job if you try to attract clients after not doing work for several months, but it will prove more challenging.

Naturally, the more you add to your resume and portfolio, the stronger your brand becomes and the easier it is to get more work. However, remember that the development of a brand never ends, since you can always build upon what you currently have and make it better.

Set a Goal

The final step of the preparation phase is to set a goal for yourself. Don’t start with something far out there, like becoming the world’s most successful freelance photographer. Instead, aim for something more feasible that you can achieve within a reasonable time frame, like working a specific number of jobs in a month.

Think of the goals as checkpoints that will keep you going along in your freelance photography journey. Not everyone needs them, but they are an excellent way of motivating you to keep working towards something.

A strong drive is a fundamental trait to have as a freelance photographer, so aim to pull it from wherever you can find it.

Turning Preparation Into Action and Getting Started

Once you’ve gone through all the above points, it’s time to start putting them into practice to get your freelance photography career off to a strong start.

The following sections will cover some of the key things you can do to expedite this process.

Establish Connections

Establish Connections

To get work, you’ll have to actively seek it out, and a large part of that process involves establishing connections with clients and photographers alike.

Ideally, you should always strive to make new connections with both groups. Other freelance photographers may not provide you with work directly, but they can potentially recommend you to new clients.

Generally speaking, the more people you know in the industry, the easier it is to find work. So, putting yourself out there as much as possible can only prove beneficial to your business in the long run.

This is also the part where social media knowledge comes into play a great deal because social media will act as your primary way of forming connections. Don’t make the mistake of limiting yourself to a single social media platform, either. The more platforms you establish yourself on, the greater the number of new opportunities you can come across.

Aside from some of the most popular social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, many freelance photographers also utilize other platforms that cater specifically to the needs of photographers. While you don’t have to start using these platforms right away, the sooner you start, the better.

Decide on Your Rates/Pricing For Photography Services

Your rates will likely change over time, yet it’s vital to determine how much you’ll charge clients for specific services before you start taking on work.

Before coming up with any prices, look at what other photographers in your niche charge clients and use that as a template for picking your rates. Many photographers charge by the hour, so that’s a safe method to start with if you’re unsure how to decide on pricing.

Remember that the price structure you come up with will sometimes have to adjust if a situation calls for it. In these instances, work with your client to negotiate a fair price, but don’t let a client convince you to charge significantly less than your standard rate.

It’s natural for clients to try and talk you down, especially if you charge them more than a photographer they previously worked with. Again, it’s okay for you to negotiate to a slightly lower price, but assuming you did the proper research on the standard prices for the services you provide, you’ll know what a fair price is for the work the client wants.

There’s also an endless number of clients out there for you to get work from. So, for each client that does not want to pay you what you are worth, there is one that will meet your asking price without issue.

Adhere to What Your Client Wants

Adhere to What Your Client Wants

Once you find a client that is ready to work with you, it’s best to go with the “the customer is always right” approach.

When starting, you should focus on ensuring the quality of your work is as high as your abilities can make it. That’ll leave a positive impression on your clients. It will also make them more likely to return to you for work and increase the chances of them recommending you to other potential clients.

Networking is the name of the game no matter where you’re at in your freelance photography career, and making clients happy is an excellent form of networking outside of using social media. You won’t make every client happy, but you should always do everything you can to meet their needs.

The only time this does not fully apply is for clients who make significant changes to the work they initially hired you for. In these cases, your ability to adapt is paramount, but if the client expects you to do an unreasonable amount of work in a short period or tasks you with work outside of your specific photography niche, there’s only so much you can do to satisfy them.

That is the nature of freelance photography work. It is often wildly unpredictable, so sometimes you’ll have to try and make the most of an otherwise unideal situation. These situations don’t occur a great deal but prepare yourself for them regardless.

Widen Your Breadth of Jobs

Another practice you can take up early in your freelance photography career is exposing yourself to as many different types of freelance photography jobs as possible.

You don’t want to keep all your eggs in one basket, though, as that will limit the amount of work you can find and potentially stunt the growth of your photography skills. Even if you want to stay within your niche, every niche has a large variety of work. So, open yourself up to as much of that variety as possible.

Work jobs that are short and to the point or that are a string of longer projects that take place over a more extended period, and always work jobs that challenge you in new ways.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice Makes Perfect

Photography is like every other skill in that it requires constant practice if you want to see improvement in your abilities.

Consider investing in some books on photography, reaching out to photographers who have more experience working in the freelance photography world, and looking for other resources you can learn from. Be a sponge that’s constantly soaking up quality information, and then apply that information to your work.

Also, think about what you can do better as a photographer in every job you take. Don’t go into each job looking to get it done in the same way as the last job. Strive to actively improve upon your previous work, as the more you apply yourself, the more you’ll start to see improvement in your photography skills.

Be Proactive

Go out and get clients. Don’t ever wait for them to come to you.

Because so many freelance photographers already have themselves established, you won’t exactly be a magnet for clients at first. You must earn that level of status by consistently putting out high-quality work over a long period. The best way to shorten that period is by being proactive about your work.

There is such a thing as being too proactive, though. It’s fine to give yourself breaks when you are feeling overworked, but outside of that, always keep your eyes set on the next job ahead. The most successful freelance photographers have strong work ethics, and it’s difficult to develop those later on, so start growing them at the start.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Whether you had a poor interaction with a client, failed at a job, or just aren’t feeling like your work is at the level you want it to be, don’t ever let yourself get discouraged.

Be aware of your weaknesses as a photographer and work to improve upon them. That’s the best way to minimize your chances of having poor interactions with clients or failing a job. However, these things will still happen now and again, no matter how good a photographer you are.

Don’t get hung up on these experiences by viewing them as huge negatives. Instead, focus your time and energy on analyzing what factors led to the incidents happening and work to eliminate those factors in the future.

Enjoy Yourself

Enjoy Yourself

Becoming a freelance photographer is a lot of work. Thankfully, that work is often gratifying if you have the right approach and mindset. Realizing that it’s a long process is the biggest hurdle for most beginners.

Depending on your expectations, it can take many months and even years to get to where you want to be as a freelance photographer. Because of that, all the above guidance won’t do you any good if you aren’t practicing the most important lesson, which is to enjoy the time and work you put into your craft.

Have fun. It’ll help you stay ambitious about your freelance photography career, which will go a long way. Also, clients love a photographer who’s got an evident passion for their work, so let that passion be on full display.

Did you find any of these tips helpful or have your own advice to beginning freelance photographers? Let us know in the comments!

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