Today, photographers are in high demand, and the competition is fierce. The global photography market is expected to reach up to $44.07 billion in 2025. This makes one thing clear: if you dedicate yourself to your craft, there’s a path for you to make it in this industry. In this article, we’ll highlight some key considerations for crossing the threshold from an enthusiast to a successful freelance photographer!
Tips on How to Become a Successful Freelance Photographer
- Identify Your Genre and Find Your Niche
- Build Your Brand
- Find a Mentor
- Invest in Your Photography Education
- Avoid Burnout
- Get the Right Gear
- Practice Like Your Job Depends on It
- Create a Website & Market Accordingly
1. Identify Your Genre and Find Your Niche
The very first thing that you need to do on your journey to becoming a successful freelance photographer is identify your genre and find your niche. For example, you might consider yourself a portrait photographer, but you can take it further than that. Do you specialize in headshots, or do you prefer capturing senior portraits? How about maternity, newborn, or family photos? Engagement and wedding photographers also identify as portrait photographers, but as you can see, there are several areas that fall under the portrait photography genre.
Deciding on a particular niche or sub-genre might depend in part on how much income you expect to earn and how often you want to shoot. Wedding photographers, for example, may take on fewer events in a calendar year, but the admin side of running a wedding photography business can prove time consuming. A headshot photographer, on the other hand, will likely have to take on many clients to rival wedding-level income, but this genre may not require the same level of time to cover administrative duties (client communication, post-production, etc.).
There are also other considerations. For instance, working in the wedding photography genre will also require networking more with other photographers as wedding photographers typically hire second and third shooters to help cover an entire wedding.
While you have a bit of room to test different genres early in your photography career, it’s important to remember that you’re competing against established professionals who specialize. This holds true in all genres. Specializing not only allows you to market more effectively but also to build your skillset with laser focus. It also gives you a laser focus in terms of your web design, portfolio and web marketing efforts.
Build Your Brand as a Freelance Photographer
Photographers, like all businesses, benefit from efforts to build their brand. Brand building is not a sprint, however. It is a marathon that requires strategy, patience, and persistence. It’s worth the effort, however, as it will allow you to build a loyal following. Think about your favorite companies and consider the branding those companies use to win and/or keep your loyalty. Why would someone choose to shop at Target, for example, rather than competitors like Walmart or Kohl’s? It likely has to do with the level of quality they associate with that brand, as well as the prices and other factors that influence shopping habits. Photographers can borrow these same tactics and use branding to strengthen their place within the industry.
Here are some steps you can take to begin building your brand:
- Name Your Business: Many photographers include their own name in the business name. You might opt for a more general studio name, depending on your plans for scaling the business, but using your own name is fine. If you’re struggling to think of a good name, consider asking some friends and family to help brainstorm, or try out a business name generator tool, and don’t settle for a name until you know it’s perfect!
- Design a Unique Logo: Logos are important. Again, in case you missed that, logos are important. Don’t be afraid to hire somebody if you lack prowess in the field of graphic design.
- Target the right audience online: If you’re a family photographer, for example, you’ll likely want to target mothers with young children and place your ads accordingly on sites and in groups that draw your target audience.
- Set competitive pricing: You don’t want to underbid for gigs, which can negatively impact the industry as a whole, but you shouldn’t charge premium rates if your ideal clients don’t fall in a high-income bracket. It’s best to take a look at your direct competitor’s rates – in your area – to get a good feel for where your pricing should land.
- Build a quality portfolio: Use your portfolio to put your best photography foot forward and limit your selection to images that highlight your services. Don’t share images that have no relevance to the type of photographs you plan to capture for your clients. Also, don’t put up so-so photos just to “fill out” your collection. While a certain quantity will help establish your consistency, we would argue that quality outweighs quantity when it comes to your portfolio.
Find a Mentor
If you want to survive as a new freelance photographer, it helps to have a mentor. In fact, it’s hard to overstate how helpful mentors can be. You can learn many technical aspects of photography, such as how to use your gear, online. But, if you want to learn the ins and outs of working as a freelance photographer, an experienced mentor is your best resource. They can point out the potholes in the road and help guide you towards success. As we mentioned in a previous article on how to break into wedding photography, one of the best ways to access a mentor is to work as an assistant for an established photographer working in the same genre. You can find these mentors through online searches or photography groups based in your area.
Invest in Your Photography Education
Photographers, especially newer ones, focus primarily on gear, which we’ll talk about below. More important than gear, however, is your education, specifically in regards to photography. You do not necessarily need a college degree to work as a freelance photographer, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t focus on photography education. You can start with free tutorials on YouTube to build a foundation, and then look into more established sources like CreativeLive, SLR Lounge, or F-stoppers for quality courses taught by professional photographers.
Avoid Burnout as a Freelance Photographer
It is necessary to set a strict schedule for work and maintain a work-life balance. Photographers are notorious for burning out, especially those who work as wedding photographers. If you get overworked, it can affect your health in a bad way, especially your mental health. Eventually, it will also affect the quality of your work, and you may experience a dip in your performance.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, keep your mental health top of mind. Don’t overbook yourself. For those inevitable busy seasons, take steps to relieve your stress. When you begin to feel stressed, take some deep breaths, do some meditation (maybe even use a mental health app for some guided meditations), go for a walk, or find other activities that help you calm down.
Get the Right Gear
This is the major areas in which many new photographers tend to make mistakes. To capture great pictures, you won’t need all the latest gear and gadgets. Gear is something you can invest in over time, growing your inventory as your skills and professional needs expand. For beginners, a good phone camera (iPhones these days have extremely good cameras), is all you need to start exercising your creativity and mastering basic composition skills.
In the event that you DO need professional gear but your budget is limited, consider renting cameras and lenses. Then, when your budget allows, go ahead and purchase a proper camera (most likely a newer mirrorless camera, as the tide is turning that way), lenses (start with zooms and move to primes later), and other accessories (lighting gear, tripods, etc.).
Practice Like Your Freelance Photographer Job Depends on It
The ultimate “secret” to becoming a successful freelance photographer has much to do with how much you practice. Again, this is true in photography, just as it is in so many other areas in life. Even as a working professional photographer, it’s important to keep practicing.
Trends in photography evolve. Sitting idly by and not exercising your creativity will quickly place you behind the frontrunners and your brand of photography will fall out of fashion. This doesn’t mean you have to copy the latest trends. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Practicing will allow you to not only sharpen your skills but also innovate in your profession. Always analyze your work, consider your “mistakes,” and push yourself to try new things. You don’t want to avoid shooting in a certain style simply because you don’t know how to do it.
Create a Website and Market Accordingly
Opinions may vary on this topic, but building a website should be high on your list of to-do’s. A website provides a great way to display your portfolio, your pricing, your availability, and all other information relevant to your clients. It gives your business a stable online home.
Once you have a website, you can start attracting visitors through SEO, social media ads, Google ads, and via emails. Include a blog on your site for posting recent shoots, and be sure to tag vendors (if applicable) to build your network and drive more traffic. You can also use a blog to share photography tips with clients and fellow photographers.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how to become a successful freelance photographer. The current demand for photographers has opened the door for new photographers to break into the industry, but to succeed as a freelancer, you’ll need to follow the steps we’ve outlined above. Ideally, you’ll be able to turn your passion into a profession without losing the love you have for photography.