Today’s professional freelance photographer is going to be a bit of a “jack of all trades” because they will have to run a business and provide all of the merchandise for it too. Because the merchandise is often creative and somewhat demanding, most photographers look for a few “no-fail” techniques for their work process. Often this means that they develop a distinctive look or approach to their work, and rely on photo editing techniques and software to a great extent as well.
For the purpose of this discussion, we will consider the ways in which a freelance photographer can position their work to be the most saleable and profitable, and all with just a few simple tactics.
Photo by Brooke Novak
Just Take Pictures!
First of all, the key technique to great photography is rather basic, and is simply to get out in the field and take as many shots as possible. Even the greatest professional photographers admit that they made dozens and dozens of exposures before they were able to create the optimal shot. Of course, this means that a good photographer will end up with volumes of files; and not all should be kept forever.
This leads to the second no-fail technique, which is to never delete an image from the camera while in the field. Firstly, not all LCD displays are large enough or good enough to allow the photographer to make the right decision. Secondly, you need to take a quick look at each image on your optimized computer display to see if there are any redeeming factors.
For instance, could a series of shots be put together to make an HDR (high dynamic range) image? This often layers substandard exposures to create a dramatically clear and brilliantly lit image. Maybe a bad shot could be used as a special effect or a background? Don’t just chuck images that are unsatisfactory to the assignment or the project because they might be recyclable for another time.
If, however, the image is bad and unworkable for the future, discard it right away. You never want any potential or existing client to accidentally get a copy of a terrible exposure or lousy shot, and keeping them with the good shots is very risky business.
Photo by James Vaughan
Get Used to the Computer
The next no-fail technique has more to do with your mindset than anything else, and it starts with the acceptance of a few simple facts. The first fact is that a modern consumer is already well aware of the capabilities of photo editing software, and they will expect you (as the professional) to be able to use it to the fullest degree. This means they will anticipate access to optimized JPEG files, truly “clean” shots that have been edited before being sent on to them, and even some artistic touches that are reflective of the style demonstrated in your portfolio or online galleries.
This takes us to the next no-fail approach to marketable photographs, and that is the development of your personal style. How do you light an image? What “ideas” do you express in each of your shots? How do you position the subject? There are lots of technically superior photographers in the world, but not all of them make stylish photographs. Go ahead and master your camera, but be sure that your work is saying something about your style.
Developing Your Style
How do you develop your style? If you asked famous and successful photographers they would all be likely to admit that they have been inspired by others. For example, many keep folders or even scrapbooks of images, ideas, and shots that they love. Some photographers find that their style is reflective of a famous painter’s, or that their work seeks to emulate the emotional qualities of another artist.
A good photographer is one that has passion about their work and their area of specialization. This means that they are going to continually seek to implement new techniques and to establish a recognizable style, and this can only come from practice. So, the next no-fail technique is to develop a book or folder of inspirational imagery and ideas, and then to assign yourself the task of implementing them in your work. Do some self-assignments and then see how they turn out!
You may find that you start relying heavily on photo editing and digital manipulation in your personal style, and that is fine! Photography, even when it is purely for commercial purposes, is always going to be an art form, and you should feel free to experiment as much as possible. Often, the different filters and effects available in photo editing software can become a major part of your work flow, and may even begin to appear in your day to day work.
Correct Formats to Use
Finally, the most significant of the no-fail techniques has to do with the format of the files you create. Almost any freelance photographer is going to encourage their peers to shoot in RAW. This is going to provide the largest amount of control over the end results, and is a great way to get optimal levels of flexibility which can lead to remarkably unique and marketable work.