Establishing yourself as a freelance photographer is not as easy as the Instagram profiles make it seem.
Starting an independent photography business involves choosing a specialization in some form of photography. Depending on which part of the world you live in, you might have to get the necessary licensing/registration and of course pay the taxes on time. There’s a whole host of different obstacles that often go into registered photography work.
But once you establish yourself as a brand, freelance photography jobs can be extremely rewarding.
Compelling, breath-taking, beautiful images have an immediate effect on their viewers. It’s not without reason that people go the distance to hire the services of a professional photographer. The social media age has further led to an increasing market for a skilled photographer who can capture not only fantastic pictures for advertising but also for an extensive list of personal events and functions.
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Being a self-employed photographer can, if done properly, be quite lucrative. Self-employment leaves room for creative freedom, a much-desired component of artistic professions. The emergence of photography as a popular trend can be further highlighted in the growing number of institutions offering specialization in photography-related courses.
Social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, are witnessing an ever-increasing number of photographers who create their social media handles on these sites in order to showcase their work to a broad group of potential clients. Being a professional photographer is as much a marketing gig as it is a skilled one, compared to past years.
Here’s a few strategies that can further bolster your prospects of getting photography opportunities in a crowded marketplace.
Create a Compelling Portfolio for Finding Freelance Work
Having a portfolio is a given for any photographer, yet, an online portfolio is equally critical. This stands true for both amateurs and professionals alike. The presence of an online site ensures that your work is available to a wider audience. For prospective clients, the portfolio itself is a proof of your specialization and skillset and immediately helps them and others become familiar with your work. The power of images showcases your potential in a way that mere words never can and can help you find more freelance photographer jobs.
So, even before you launch yourself as a freelance photographer, it’s important to create an impressive online portfolio website.
The design of your webpage can be another pitfall – keep easy navigation in mind and use an image size which allows for the photographs to take centre stage. Make sure that your contact details are featured prominently. Keep in mind that while e-mail correspondence may be widespread, some people will still prefer calling you on the phone.
Similarly, link up to all of your relevant social media profiles – and start building a social presence.
If you have experience in different kinds of photography, it’s a good idea to have separate web domains for them – for example, travel and landscape photography on one site and event and wedding photography on another. That way a client who is interested in baby pics of their newborn will not be turned off by your albums of exquisite Harleys. Your best photos should be the first one that a potential customer sees.
When they’re looking at a dozen candidates for their event, you need to give them a reason to remember you and make it easy for them to reach out to you.
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pele
In addition, you need to do SEO work on your website so that you’re the first one in the area to show up when people are searching online for the type of photography that you do. Investing time in this pays high dividends – consider hiring a professional SEO specialist to do an audit, they’re usually worth the $$$.
Choose Your Speciality for Freelance Photography Jobs
The internet’s allowed an exponentially higher number of photographers to present their work, which is exactly why your style, personality, and services need to stick out. Despite what most people might believe, broadening your range does not guarantee success in terms of getting more jobs or contracts.
Instead, narrow your range and specialize in a specific kind of photography.
Identify a speciality – wedding and other familial event photographer, wildlife photographer, portraiture, automobile photographer et.al. – hone your expertise, and pursue it intently. This enables you to separate yourself in the crowd of photographers which in turn allows you to charge more and build an oeuvre overtime.
Names such as Diane Arbus or Helmut Newton have become synonymous with portraiture photography, or Ansel Adams with landscape photography. These behemoths owe their success to the specialized forms of photography they practised.
Otherwise, standing out would have been difficult even for them.
Sign Up on Freelance Job Boards
When you have established your portfolio and speciality, the next step is to sign up in relevant freelance job boards to streamline your client’s reach. This is particularly advisable for photographers who are starting out in freelancing and want to broaden their client base – it’ll take some time to grow your organic reach and find freelance photographer jobs.
While the contract rates might have to be compromised in the early stages, it ensures that you come across business opportunities which you might not have had access to otherwise. Such forums allow you to find an unexplored client who might end up becoming a long-time associate. Since freelancing is initiative-driven, meaning that you have to look for projects yourself, these platforms which connect potential photographers with prospective clients, are your playing field.
Establishing a presence in these spaces must become second nature to you. Many such job boards are free and don’t carry a membership/signing up fee, hence making signing up all the more alluring. If nothing, you can experiment and see for yourself if signing up for such freelancing work is profitable.
There are numerous such job boards available online, and a generic Google search for the same will yield promising results. Some of the more well-known global freelancing platforms include names like Upwork, Hubstaff, Freelancer and Guru, among others. The only catch in these platforms is that you need to be noticed by a buyer and this becomes easy when you gain a few customers, and if your profile gets a few favourable reviews.
However, on a brighter note, this does ensure a steady flow of more or less quick projects in the long run.
Promote Your Work on Social Media to Find Freelance Photographer Jobs
If you want to make it as a freelancer photographer, you need to level up your social media game.
Many photographers find a high positive correlation between the amount of time they spend promoting their work on social media, and the inflow of work and contracts they receive. Promoting yourself on social media means tracking your Instagram or Facebook photography pages, and keeping abreast with weekly statistics of unique followers and visitors becomes part of your routine job. The number of followers and likes does not immediately ensure a robust business, but these numbers affirm the popularity of your work and thus increase the opportunities you might get, sometimes even from strange or unexpected quarters.
Seasoned social media managers advise posting almost every day to keep your Instagram or Facebook page visible and relevant.
Experienced photographers likewise recommend others to invest a part of their income in advertising (Facebook Ads, Instagram ads) as part of their online publicity tactics. While this is a bit of a subjective opinion, the takeaway is that active engagement in promoting your work is a necessary strategy for photographers with the objective of ensuring a steady inflow of work and overall popularity.
However, it’s crucial to continue focusing on your specialized area and targeting prospective customers directly (human outreach!).
As part of their promotional strategies, a few photographers suggest having a blog (and many photographers do have one). While a blog can be a time-consuming affair, it facilitates driving traffic to the concerned website, where a combination of text and personal anecdotes allows the visitors to have further insights into your style, aesthetics, and origins.
Build a Professional Network and Relationships
Social media’s promotional power can sometimes be exaggerated. Although establishing personal relationships with your clients over time is invaluable, the only disadvantage to this is that it needs time.
It is private networks which ultimately enable word of mouth promotion for a photographer. Even though this is a more traditional way to get a recommendation, this has an effective way of building trust among clients who might become lifelong associates. In addition to promoting your work on social media, concurrently building personal relationships can strengthen online advertising too.
Word of mouth is the single greatest way to get early business.
The most significant advantage of word-of-mouth recommendation is that it’s highly valued despite being completely free of cost. Consumers always prefer recommendations from friends and family since they’re always considered to be a trusted source of information.
The long-term association that establishing trust with your clients leads to can turn out to be self-sustaining, and as this association keeps on growing you can expect to reap its benefits and increase your freelance photographer job opportunities.
Make Your Work Visible on Offline Platforms
Photography is a visual art, and as much as online dominates, don’t forget the tangible.
As much as it is essential to make your work available online for prospective clients to view, and subsequently request your service, it is important to diversify the ways they can access your work. There is something about the physical texture of a magazine especially, that brings pixels to life– the colours are striking; the expression becomes palpable – the photographs become come alive when printed on the glossy pages of a magazine.
Hence, you should keep an eye out for magazine calls, or better still, target a few magazines as potential clients, where you have your works regularly published. It is one of the sure-shot ways to channelize your offline work visibility and to open another avenue to boost your earnings.
You can even think of generating visibility by publishing photography books (most often when there is an impressive oeuvre to showcase).
Sometimes, traditional methods of making your work visible can go a long way. Some of these outlets can be opening booths in flea markets and fairs, where you can display the prints of some of your best photographs. It allows you to not only get a platform to present your work in the open, but also provides you with the possibility to get converse with people face-to-face about your work. It can be one of the stepping stones to generate a strategy to build personal networks. For the customers too, this is an easy way to become familiar with your work, and with you as a person.
Print Business Cards
Often, it’s the small stuff that makes the biggest difference in getting off the ground.
While the printing of business cards may seem redundant, this is a pivotal strategic move for both established and up-and-coming photographers to generate presence, and to invigorate your job prospects.
As with any other profession, for a freelance photographer like you it’s imperative to attend personal and professional networking conferences, industry gatherings, and job fairs, to promote your work and ensure a steady flow of projects. Business cards come as a handy accessory for both these events and others. Printing business cards designed in a way which reveals your aesthetics and your specialization can go a long way in getting that call or email from a prospective client.
And let’s not forget the last point: business cards are a perfect opportunity to show your skillset in a tangible way… so get creative!
A photographer who carries business cards additionally shows preparedness, professionalism, and the ability to generate a personal connection with the exchange of that one tiny piece of paper. Usually that paper lies around, and all it takes is for someone to say “hey … what was the name of that photographer again?”
Take Up Pro-Bono Assignments
In order to more jobs, you might need to do a few free assignments, particularly at a stage in your professional career where you are growing or expanding.
A few paragraphs back, we talked about the value of personal relationships and word of mouth recommendations for generating job prospects and ensuring the possibility of getting more contracts. Pro-bono assignments for friends and families can sometimes act as the first step towards building such relationships. Covering the wedding photography for a friend, or a birthday party for a nephew, are occasions which allow people in their respective networks to get familiar with your work as a freelance photographer.
So, when the bride gushes that her photographer friend, you, captured the beautiful moments of her special day, chances are her friends might request your services to cover their weddings.
Additionally, to increase your marketing possibilities, approaching specialized businesses such as event planners and wedding planners, or entering a tie-ups with a local bakery known for their wedding cakes can go a long way. Doing promotional photo-shoots for their products would allow you to get access to prospective clients particularly for specialized event photography.
Enter Relevant Photography Contests
For any creative pursuits, sharing your work with the world at large is a core motivation.
One of the best ways to let the world know about your work is by participating in contests. For the photographers, this becomes even more important because such participation allows for a number of things to work in your favour. If your work is accepted, it immediately increases the value of your art. Your work received as part of any competition is viewed by a significant and vital section of people, including other established photographers. A new fraternity thus becomes familiar with your work.
If you happen to win the competition, it brings you attention from other prospective clients and their accolades – both monetary and otherwise – will help you gaining more credibility and value, both contributing to increased business and for demanding increased rates.
Most of competitions either require membership to the organising body (leading to more networks/fraternity reach), or payment of a registration fees. Some of the most popular photography competitions are International Photography Award, Prix de la Photographie, Leica Oskar Barnack Award, and the National Geographic Photography Contests, among others. The prize money in these competitions usually range from $100 to $30,000 and beyond.
By now you know the most important factor for freelance photographers to get more gigs, is to gain visibility.
Your work needs to get displayed offline, online, discussed among friends and families (thus generating word of mouth publicity), exhibited in industry gatherings, get publicised through contests, and be showcased through your personal profile, social media, and everywhere possible.
As the online and offline spaces help more and more freelance photographers to promote their wares, it makes the market more competitive and challenging. The final strategy must then account for all the other visibility methods which seal the deal and makes the announcement that separates the photographer from the amateur. A photography exhibition – where the architecture of the gallery attracts both art aficionados and business prospects, might be the solution you need.
But most importantly, it recognises your opus, your association with the profession, your growth, and your arrival as an artist.
“I’m so drawn to photography because you can convey a complex story in a single frame.” – Gia Coppola
While landing a photography exhibition might not necessarily mean it will change your destiny overnight, it does help bring added recognition from the extended photography fraternity for your body of work, which you might have been developing over the years. Additionally, if the exhibition turns out to be a success, it can bring you closer to the possibility of entering a future “Hall of Fame”.
Key messages for you to take home from this: while nothing beats a good portfolio to drive a freelance business for a photographer, word-of-mouth recommendations, though time-consuming, have long-term benefits that cannot be provided by online promotions alone. A photographer like you needs to recognise and build speciality areas, participate in related contests, and other industry networking gatherings to generate and establish a significant presence in the business, and thus ensure that more contracts and freelance photography jobs are coming your way.
No one can deny the growing social media-obsessed environment, saturated with images of all forms and kind, where everyone is a photographer and publisher, armed with a phone camera. Even in this age, or perhaps, because of the times we live in, good photographers are in demand, and photography gigs can be found everywhere. Stock photos, brand photos, personal photos, nature photos, news photos, you name it, and somebody somewhere probably needs it.
It comes as no surprise that good photography skills are treasured in this image-obsessed era.
However, at the end of this all, the golden rule is always being impeccable doing fantastic work with passion and prospects. Nothing beats drive and passion in your pursuits, and when that is achieved, these strategies are guaranteed to amplify your job opportunities.
Making money and shooting photographs are not mutually exclusive – follow your passion, work ridiculously hard, and you’ll slowly carve out your niche and make a living through your art.