Understanding Freelance Photography

Almost everyone has dreamt of “being their own boss”. Why not? It means that you are in complete control of your workday, your pace, and how far your career might take you. Of course, it also means that you are going to have to take care of most of the “details” that are often managed by a few additional staff members. This applies to people in the creative industries just as much as it does to “everyday” businesses too. For the purpose of this discussion we will consider the many factors involved in freelance photography, including the administrative, sales, organizational, and marketing work that is a huge part of the creative work of the professional photographer.


Be a Professional First

Here we have just used a very significant word – professional. Yes, you want to enter the field because you are passionate about your photography, but you must understand that you need to keep a roof over your head and food on your table. This means that you must deliver the product you guaranteed at a quality that exceeds expectations, and always according to schedule. You must never adjust pricing, unless your client changes the terms, and you must always strive to give them what they need rather than what you want.

This last point is a particularly difficult one for many start-up freelance photographers. Understand that it is entirely acceptable to have your own vision or style, but a huge majority of the work you will do as a freelance agent will be for individual clients, and these clients are always going to have visions of their own. Work to give them what they need, at an extremely competitive price and at the quality you demand of yourself, and you are sure to succeed.

Defining the World of the Freelance

Before going any farther, however, we may want to take a moment to understand exactly what it means to be a freelance photographer. First of all, you are going to be considered “self-employed” and this means you must establish yourself as a legally operating business entity. Often this is done under the official heading of “sole proprietorship”. You will need to research the business and tax codes in your specific state or region to understand exactly how you need to get formally organized (usually this means getting a Tax ID and registering with your Secretary of the State or local business office). Don’t skip these steps because they will allow you to enjoy tax deductions and will keep you in line with official government agencies and local business organizations too.

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This means that you will have to plan ahead, participate in the business around the clock, and remain extremely organized if you want to work for yourself in the field of photography. Fundamentally, you must realize that as a freelance agent you will have to “wear many hats” and this means you are going to be a business professional just as often as a creative artist – if not more so. Some freelance photographers admit that only 25% to 30% of their workday goes to the actual photography and that the rest is bookkeeping, promotion, management and sales.

Selling Your Work

How do you sell freelance work? The modern world of the Internet makes it possible for you to live in almost any location and still sell your work all around the world. Consider that you can sell:

Via your own website – this will allow you to post galleries of work that can be sold as downloadable files or even as high-quality prints. You could use self-publishing sites to make your own books and calendars too (many savvy photographers travel around their local area and make annual calendars of regional photographs by this approach). A website is also a great way to promote your specialization as well. Whether you are a wedding photographer, photojournalist, travel specialist, or someone who prefers portraiture you should continually update galleries of your work to show potential clients what you have to offer them;

Through stock websites – many freelance photographers eventually establish a very steady and consistent stream of income through these sites which allow all kinds of people to purchase and download copyright-free photographs. Consider that many advertising agencies, publishing firms, graphic designers, and even large corporations use stock imagery on a daily basis. This means it is a fantastic way to get your proverbial foot in the door and to develop an ongoing audience; and

Through networking – don’t think that you are crossing some line when you promote your work through such things as a Twitter or Facebook account, because this is currently one of the most financially viable ways to market any type of business.

Realistic Goals

Lastly, there are many successful professionals in all kinds of industries who speak about the value of realistic expectations. This applies quite strongly to freelance photography because you can only meet your goals by approaching them with a realistic attitude. It will take time to develop the tools you need to get more and more clients, but if you really want to reach this goal you need only set your mind to it.

Top image by Mike Baird

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What Our Readers have to say

  1. Katja Nina says:

    Great article, thanks!

  2. nice article, thanks for sharing friend.

  3. Excellent and informative! Thanks!!

  4. deeznia says:

    very informative
    thank you

  5. Thanks a lot for this interesting article. I’ve discovered this website only recently, but I appreciate every word on it. It is really well done, and the articles are indeed very informative!

  6. Sabrina Gwizdala says:

    I was just reading this, and it helped out a lot. I am quite young, but I am a determined person, and I want to achieve my goals; so why not start young? I am 16 if that was your question. Anyways, I was wondering what school is required to be in this business. Thank you!

  7. Joe Nowak says:

    For those pros here in california, as a freelance photojournalist, do I need to get a permit from the State Board of Equalization. I recently retired from the telecommunications industry and have decided to get back to doing what I was doing years ago. Photography. I graduated from photography school many years ago but kept up with the profession part time after I left the Navy. I want to get back into photojournalism as a freelancer. What do I need to do?

  8. Emily Knapp says:

    Hey, thanks for the article. I am only 15 and really want to be a photographer. I even have my college picked out (Morningside College) and know how to pay for it and now, I know that I’m going to be a freelance photographer! Thank you so much!

  9. Bill Jones says:

    Go for it Emily! Sounds like you have a plan!

  10. Great advice! Thanks

  11. Diogo says:

    Does anyone know an Europe based, self publishing website meant for photographers or that sells photo merchandise?

  12. Swamykant says:

    Photography skills with good marketing and networking , you can be successful freelancer.

    Nice post

  13. Holly says:

    thank you SO much! i had a project for this type of photography and you helped me big time! thanks again!

  14. Bredd says:

    Nice Photography….thank you so much for sharing….

  15. Craig Smith says:

    I suggest a couple good books ASMP has a great book on photography as a business. Also check out Best Business Practices for Photographers. All good knowledge for a freelance photographer.

  16. Akbar says:

    Nice and vey informative article..

  17. hellscall says:

    I believe, successful professional photographers manage to make the local market first. I don’t think people would be so much interested in buying the photos unless untill the seller has a good gravity in the market. So it should be better to start locally, rather than on internet!
    My Recent blog on Photography : Digital Photography:Quick-Start Guide

  18. I have been always interested in Photography since I was a Senior in High School in 1966 when I graduated. I was drafted into the Army in Septempter 1967, at the time I was unable to do what I always wanted to in my Army career, over 17 seventeen years after I was Medically Discharged from the Army. Now that I am retired at the age of 66 years old, I have all the time in the world to be a professional instead of a part hobby. I have already researched on a Photography School for twenty-four weeks on the Internet. I want to thank a very dear friend that sent me the article by email, this was very interesting and very useful in the information, that I needed to make a very serious decision to what I really loved to in my life.

  19. Babaganoosh says:

    Hey y’all.

  20. Chris Betancurt says:

    Wat type of camera do I need to take professional shots or start off with as a pro Photogropher please help @ laplebada.com

  21. Theo says:

    Great article, short and to the point. Thanks!

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