How To Start Your Career in Freelance Photography

When everyone can be a photographer thanks to smartphones, how can you stand out from the crowd? Easy. Being a photographer is about so much more than just capturing a good photo. 

Whether you’re capturing someone’s memories, handling a photoshoot or taking landscape pictures, photography matters. It captures something in an instant and that moment, you’ll never get it back. For many people, the memories captured by photos – whether people, places or a combination – are irreplaceable. And if the house was on fire, you bet the photo albums would be among the things taken out first. 

As the saying goes: a picture tells a thousand words. 

Becoming a freelance photographer

Starting a photography business isn’t just about making sure you have a camera and a bank account. Of course, it depends what kind of photography you want to do, but there is quite a bit more work involved. 

If you haven’t done any studying, it’s probably a good idea to get something under your belt. The great thing about photography is that a lot of it can be done online, especially thanks to advancements in technology meaning photographs can be sent to course teachers instantly. Through an online course, you’ll learn how to work a camera, how to compose a picture including how to interpret light and colour, introducing texture, creating a visual language through photojournalism and even promoting yourself as a photographer. 

Studying online also means you can fit your studies into your life, working the time around your existing commitments. It also tends to be a tad cheaper than face-to-face courses. 

Once you’ve received certification, it’s also about getting some experience and building a portfolio. It’s all well and good to say you’re a great photographer, but potential clients will need to see evidence of your skills. And of course, there are the actual set-up costs. 

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Buying the equipment 

While you’ll likely be required to purchase equipment (if you don’t have it already) before starting an online course, there’s more to your business than just one camera. Many professional photographers actually suggest having two cameras and multiple lenses to accommodate the differences in shots. You’ll also need multiple memory cards, external harddrives, a computer with sufficient memory and the right software, and potentially some lights depending on what kind of photography you’re thinking of doing. 

Then, of course, you have the costs that aren’t equipment related. This includes insurances and the right contracts that you’ll need clients to sign, marketing costs if any, design costs and payment systems. 

Building your reputation

Starting your business is more than just the equipment. You need to brand yourself properly, find your niche and build your portfolio. Make sure your online presence is clean. Remember, once someone hears your name, it’s almost certain that they’ll start Googling. Make sure, also that any images you publish online reflect who you are as a photography business and always keep your language positive. 

You’ll also have to decide on your pricing structure. Build in travel time, editing time and the time spent communicating with the potential client. And make sure you request a deposit. This not only legitimises your business but also protects you should bookings be cancelled at late notice. 

Finding the work

Studying photography doesn’t always mean you have to be a photographer. It can also lead to graphic design work, magazine editing or work in television. But if photography is where your heart lies, there are several avenues you can use to find work. 

Of course there’s the wedding or portrait market. What’s important to consider here, especially when it comes to weddings, is that you have limited time and in most cases, only one shot, to get everything right. With portrait photography, it is a bit more flexible. 

If that’s not your preference, there’s also stock photography, where you can sign up as a contributor to websites such as Shutterstock. You can also get some contract work where you are only a monthly retainer for clients, work with real estate agents, help businesses with their commercial photography, cover sports or news, or get involved with product or food photography. There really are so many options. 

The gig economy

Working for yourself is scary, and being a freelance photographer can be nerve-wracking when it comes to your income, simply because it’s not steady or guaranteed work. But being part of the gig economy can be a wonderful thing, providing freedom to take on whatever jobs you choose, when you want to do them. Just be wary though that plenty of photographers will say they’re part of the gig economy when all they have is a camera (or even a smartphone) and some lights. 

Photography is an artform, even if it’s just taking photos of someone’s shoe. There is a way to make that photograph stand out and it’s the qualifications you have and the experience you’ve gained that makes you stand out. 
Ready to take the plunge and become your own boss? Embrace your love of art and photography and start your online learning today.

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Gladys is the Associate Director of Admissions & Student Services with over 10 years of experience at the International Career Institute.