Photography is a career that blends technical, emotional, and aesthetic expertise. It is an exciting and fulfilling career, one that can be approached in many ways. However, the most common approach photographers usually take is through freelance or contract work.
As a freelance photographer, you get to choose what jobs you take; you have the creative liberty to express your vision; and you have the freedom to travel and explore the world. But there are a few things to keep in mind when pursuing a career as a freelance photographer.
Things like finding a particular niche to work within, networking with other professionals, and learning your way around contracts are vital to freelance success. It may feel like there’s a lot to learn, but you can’t go wrong with a few good foundational skills.
Find a Niche
Freelance photographers today have a variety of niches to choose from. Some of the biggest categories include event photography, social media photography, and portrait photography. Within each of these, there are subcategories as well.
As an event photographer, you may want to specialize in wedding photography or live music events. For social media photographers, consider working with a single platform like Instagram, working with promotional materials, or delving into new fields like that of mobile journalism. Each of these subcategories holds its own unique challenges and benefits.
Finding a niche can help you build a dedicated following and hone your skills, moving you toward becoming an expert in your field. Although versatility can be extremely helpful down the road, building a solid foundation in a particular style or format can help get your freelance career off to an excellent start. Many artists, photographers included, build faithful clients through word of mouth, and the more you build your expertise within one area, the more clients you can attract.
Before you take on any clients or agree to any jobs, make sure that you know the nuts and bolts of freelancing. This includes proper practices for invoicing, having a basic contract that you can lean on, and tracking clients and jobs properly. This can seem all very overwhelming, and rightfully so. One of the biggest challenges of being your own boss is staying organized; without organization, you’ll lose a variety of opportunities. If you want to deal with multiple clients, you’ll need organization skills, especially when using a contract.
Contracts should always be used. This sets up expectations between yourself and clients. Additionally, it provides payment schedules and parameters that your client must agree to before you begin work. Working without a contract can result in a lack of payment, dissatisfied clients, and unmet expectations on both sides. Although a contract may seem stuffy to the more artistically inclined, it is a tool that protects freelancers and clients alike.
Figuring out how to track your expenses, making sure that clients pay you in full and on time, and navigating your freelance status during tax season is a massive amount of information to process. Reach out to other professionals in your industry to get their recommendations, and learn from their experiences.
Networking is important for anyone looking to enter or advance in any industry, but it can be especially important with freelancing. Because freelance photographers do not work within an organization, they need to build contacts with other photographers, both for support and for potential work. Professional networking can lead to jobs, apprenticeships, and new clients.
A professional network can be especially handy in circumstances when a freelancer must turn down a potential job. Typically in this situation, the client will ask for recommendations of other photographers whose work they can trust. By working with and developing relationships with other photographers, you can exchange work and build a network of colleagues who are happy to recommend you to their clients.
In addition to professional support and creative assistance, networking can help you develop your skills in the back end portion of your business. By cultivating colleagues who have been in the freelance photography industry longer than you, you can talk to them about what has and hasn’t worked for them in their careers. From contracts to attracting clients, building a professional network can be instrumental in building a successful career.
Being a freelance photographer can let you build a career that is varied, fun, and successful, but you have to know what you are in for. Freelancing can be hard, but if you set yourself up for success, it can be incredibly rewarding.