How to become a successful freelance photographer

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by David Em
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If you want to turn photography into your full-time living, learn how to become a successful freelance photographer.

Photographer sitting down and looking at her camera in a studio.
Photo courtesy of Canva.

Freelance photography means that you have a business making money from photography. You can be taking on clients or selling your photos.

Related: How to start a portrait photography business

The best part of being a freelance photographer is that you can make money doing what you love.

You’re making a living from your passion. Plus, you have a choice when it comes to the jobs you do.

Related: 45 inspiring photography quotes

While freelance photography sounds like a dream job, it’s not always easy. Being your own boss and finding clients is easier said than done.

However, almost every successful freelance photographer started where you are today. They started and stuck with it.

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So, learn the steps you need to take to start and become a successful freelance photographer.

Photographer with text overlay.

How to get started

To increase your chances of success as a freelance photographer, understand where and how to start. Before diving into the steps, evaluate where you are at this moment.

Photography is an art, and doing it well requires skill. So, how would you rate your work?

Be realistic about where you are, and remember that everyone can improve.

Related: 12 best Canon lenses for wedding photography

It may also be helpful to get feedback from successful photographers you respect or people from the industry you want to serve.

If your skills are good enough to be monetized, take the following steps to get started with freelance photography.

1. Create a business plan

Person writing in a notebook next to a laptop.
Photo courtesy of Canva.

The best place to start is with a business plan. It’ll guide you through the entire process of creating and running your freelance photography business.

Aside from being a path, it ensures that you think through all of the different aspects of owning a photography business.

There are many types of business plans and most of them differ based on layout and information.

To create your business plan, open a document or grab a notebook and do the following steps:

  • Write a description of your photography.
    • What’s your niche?
    • What makes you unique?
    • What are your credentials?
  • Write your short-term and long-term goals.
  • Consider how you’ll make money. What kind of service or products will you offer?
  • Do competitive analysis and figure out who you’re competing with.
  • How will you set up the legal company structure and finances?
  • Create a marketing strategy.
  • Start-up costs.
  • What your days will look like.

There are many things to include in your business plan. The key is to include as much information as possible to make an educated decision about whether it’s worth pursuing.

Chances are, the business plan will take you several days or weeks to complete. However, it’s worth it because a business plan will give you a path and help you stay on track.

2. Invest in high-quality photography equipment

After creating a plan, you need to invest in your photography equipment. You must have high-quality and professional-level gear if you’re going to be charging clients.

Now, it doesn’t mean you need to spend a bunch of money that you don’t have.

Instead, make sure you have a good camera, high-quality lenses, a laptop or desktop with photo-editing software, lighting equipment, memory cards, and backup storage.

3. Choose a niche

Hands holding a camera showing a couple outdoors.
Photo courtesy of Canva.

With so many types of freelance photography, choosing a niche allows you to build a brand and produce a steady income stream. The goal is to become the go-to photographer for the niche that you choose.

Having a niche ensures that you have a focus, and it helps you understand who your ideal client is.

The following photography niche examples to consider:

  • Portrait and family photography.
  • Wedding photography.
  • Sports photography.
  • Event photography.
  • Product photography.
  • Photojournalism.
  • Real estate photography.

There are other types of photography that you can do. However, you must choose one niche and build a solid brand around it.

At the beginning of your journey, you may need to try different types of photography to see what you’re the most passionate about, which is most profitable, and what you’re good at shooting.

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4. Build a website and curated portfolio

A website with your portfolio is essential. If you optimize it well, clients will find your website, and it can lead to bookings.

It’ll also be like a digital business card. When you meet someone, and they ask to see your work, you can refer them to your site.

When you’re building your portfolio on your website, make sure you only show your best photos.

Also, show what you want to shoot. Meaning, showcase the best photos in the type of photography work you want to do.

Along with a portfolio, be sure to have a compelling about page, a blog to gain traffic, and a way to contact or book you.

For a platform, the best options for building a website are Squarespace and WordPress.

WordPress requires a bit more work to get started, but it’s the best option. You’ll need a web hosting service, and BigScoots is the best overall choice due to price, security, and performance.

Squarespace offers beautiful templates and is good if you want to take the fastest path to get a site up.

5. Network

Photography is a sales and service business. You can sell your photos or offer photography services.

Regardless, networking is one of the best ways to build your brand and get leads. It’s also a low-cost way to market your business, as the investment is your time.

Build connections with other photographers, business owners, and join local groups, such as a chamber of commerce.

Even if the person you meet doesn’t need your services, they may know someone who does.

An easy way to network is to talk to as many people as possible.

While it’s not a networking event or traditional way to do it, by talking to people you come across in your everyday life, you can quickly build a network.

Start by complimenting people or asking how they’re doing. Be ready to answer “what do you do?”

6. Learn marketing

Marketing spreads the word about you and the services you offer. It’s how you’ll get more clients.

There are many marketing strategies. However, the following are examples of proven freelance photography marketing techniques:

  • Create a Google Business profile.
  • Search engine marketing.
  • Referral program.
  • Social media marketing.
  • Partner with other businesses related to your niche.
    • If you’re a portrait photographer, collaborate with a make-up artist.
  • Find ways to get featured on social media and websites.

Marketing is the key to standing out from other photographers and getting clients. So, make marketing a priority.

7. Increase your income streams

Relying on one income stream can feel risky and stressful. So, diversify your sources of income.

You can sell stock photos, fine art, and have a presence on many platforms that lead to clients.

When you find ways to increase your income streams, you can make more and feel less stressed.

8. Develop a workflow

Your workflow determines your efficiency. While workflow typically refers to post-production, it’s better to look at it as the entire process of a photoshoot.

Outline what you’ll do before, during, and after a photoshoot.

By solidifying each step, you can confidently focus on capturing great images and providing a wonderful experience. It also minimizes the risk of things going wrong.

If you’re unsure about where to start, the following is an example workflow for a freelance portrait photographer.

Before the photoshoot, make sure your batteries are charged, all of your gear works, have a shot list, and you can get to the photoshoot location punctually.

During the photoshoot, go through your shot list and focus on capturing incredible portraits.

After, backup the original images, and edit them in software, such as Lightroom. At this point, only send your client the best images. You can upload them to a gallery or email them.

How much do freelance photographers make?

Photographer holding a camera in a studio.
Photo courtesy of Canva.

According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual income for a freelance photographer in 2021 in the United States is $57,806, equivalent to $27.79 per hour.

However, you can make less or more. That’s the beauty of being a freelance photographer.

Your income is also determined by the type of photography you do. On average, wedding and event photographers make more than portrait and product photographers.

Remember, these are averages. The amount you make depends on how many jobs you get and how much you charge.

Freelance photography pricing

Pricing determines how much you make. It requires a lot of thought because there’s so much that goes into it.

When deciding on how much to charge, factor in the cost of your equipment, travel, expenses, and time. You must be able to cover all of your expenses and pay yourself a good living.

Another factor to consider is the industry standard. Research how much other photographers in your niche and location are charging. You can also see how much clients are paying.

Be firm in your pricing after you set it because you don’t want to do a lot of work for a little-to-no profit.

It’s also easier to start with higher prices and lower them than to start with low prices and raise them.

Managing all aspects of your business

As a freelance photographer, you’re in charge of every aspect of your business. While taking photos is a part of it, finances, legal, and marketing are equally important.

Make sure you’re tracking your mileage, expenses, and hire help if you need it. Accountants and attorneys are excellent resources to ensure you’re doing things properly.

Conclusion

If you love photography and desire to make money with it, consider becoming a freelance photographer. It can become your full-time gig or a way to make extra income.

Success with freelance photography requires grit and perseverance. It won’t always be easy.

By taking the proper steps to build a solid freelance photography business, you’ll have a better chance of success.

Remember, continue to improve your skills and expand your knowledge. Never stop growing.

Featured image courtesy of Canva.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.

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