How To Become A Freelance Photographer (& Start Making Money)

Man holding 2 cameras surrounded by other cameras, wearing a name badge that says he's a freelancer.

Becoming a freelance photographer can be an excellent way to make some money while enjoying your photography passion. But if you’ve never dabbled in the world of self-employment before, you might be wondering what it takes to start a freelance photography career.

The 8 steps to becoming a freelance photographer are:

  1. Nail down your photography skills
  2. Invest in the right gear
  3. Choose your style/niche
  4. Create a website and portfolio
  5. Build out your online presence
  6. Set your freelance rates
  7. Market your freelance photography services
  8. Start growing your network

Below, I’ll go into more detail on each of these steps and provide some additional tips and tricks. I’ll also talk about some of the challenges of becoming a freelance photographer, and what you can expect to earn. But first, let’s quickly detail what the role entails.

What Is A Freelance Photographer?

Freelance photographers are self-employed entrepreneurs who offer their services to a wide range of clients, including individuals, businesses, and organizations. They have the flexibility to choose their niche or specialization, whether it’s portrait photography, wedding photography, fashion photography, wildlife photography, or any other area of interest.

They also handle the business aspects of their careers, such as marketing, client communication, invoicing, and financial management. While it’s therefore not without its challenges (more on them later), for those who are passionate about photography and willing to put in the effort, freelance photography can be a fulfilling and profitable career path.

The 8 Steps To Becoming A Freelance Photographer

1. Nail Down Your Photography Skills

Becoming a freelance photographer begins with a strong foundation in photography skills. Whether you’re an amateur enthusiast or a seasoned hobbyist, honing your craft is crucial. The beauty of freelance photography lies in the freedom to express yourself through your lens, but to do so effectively, you need to be confident in your abilities!

Start by immersing yourself in photography resources. Books, online courses, and workshops can be invaluable tools for refining your techniques. Take the time to understand the fundamentals of exposure, composition, lighting, and post-processing. Practice consistently to build your skills, and don’t shy away from experimenting with different styles and genres.

Tip: For help with the freelancing side of it (rather than the photography fundamentals), check out our list of the best books for freelancers.

2. Invest In The Right Gear

While you don’t need the most expensive camera on the market, having equipment that suits your chosen photography style is essential. Consider factors like camera type, lenses, and accessories. Learn how to operate your gear proficiently to capture the best possible shots.

If you’re thinking of taking it up as a career, you likely already have some photography equipment on hand. But if you want to really turn it into a profitable business, you might need to pick up extra things depending on the kind of photography you plan to sell (see below).

3. Choose Your Style/Niche

Photography is a vast field with numerous styles and niches to explore. Finding your unique niche is a pivotal step in your freelance photography journey. Your chosen niche will define your brand, and some are much more competitive than others.

Begin by reflecting on your passion and interests. What subjects or themes do you find most captivating? Whether it’s portrait, landscape, wildlife, fashion, or any other style, your niche should align with your passion. Remember, you’ll be spending a significant amount of time capturing and editing photos in this niche, so choose something that genuinely excites you!

Once you’ve identified your niche, research the market to understand its demand and competition. Are there potential clients and opportunities in your chosen field? Analyze the work of established photographers in your niche to gain insights and inspiration (and to see what you’re up against).

Differentiate yourself by developing a unique perspective within your chosen niche. Explore innovative approaches, angles, or storytelling techniques that will help set your work apart.

4. Create A Website And Portfolio

Building a professional website and portfolio is essential for showcasing your work and attracting potential clients. This is true for becoming a freelancer in any niche. You can find platforms that’ll do it for you, and you could operate out of an Instagram account. But having your own website won’t just make you look more professional – it’ll also unlock a wealth of customization options.

Consider your website as your online headquarters. Choose a freelancer-friendly website builder and design a clean, visually appealing site that reflects your brand. Include an ‘About Me’ page to introduce yourself and your journey as a photographer (this will also help provide credibility for potential clients).

Select your best work to feature on your website. Organize your portfolio into categories or projects to make it easy for visitors to navigate and explore your photography. Also bear in mind that many potential clients will view your work on their smartphones or tablets, so a seamless mobile experience is crucial.

But your website or portfolio isn’t the only thing that matters in terms of your online presence.

5. Build Out Your Online Presence

Your online presence extends far beyond your website. You should also use social media platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, to showcase your work and connect with a broader audience. TikTok can also be a great choice thanks to its short-form video format that allows you to quickly show off some of your top work – with the potential of quickly reaching a wide audience.

Consistency is key – regularly post high-quality photos that align with your niche and style. Engage with your followers by responding to comments and participating in photography communities.

Part of the aim here is to build your brand as well as to connect with potential clients. Using platforms like Instagram and TikTok are great ways to get exposure, but don’t neglect the likes of LinkedIn for connecting with potential clients.

6. Set Your Freelance Rates

Determining your freelance rates can be a challenging task, but it’s crucial to establish a pricing structure that reflects your skills and the value you provide to clients. Consider the following factors when setting your rates:

Your Experience Level

Your level of experience plays a significant role in pricing your services. As a beginner, you’ll likely need to charge lower than you’d ideally like. It’s the same with every role – people will usually pay more for more experienced freelancers.

Your Business Expenses

Calculate your business expenses, including equipment maintenance, software subscriptions, transportation, and insurance. Ensure your rates cover these costs while still allowing you to generate a profit.

What Others Charge

Finally, research the pricing of other freelance photographers in your niche. This will give you a benchmark to determine where your rates should fall. But make sure you factor in their experience level too – don’t try and charge the same as someone with 20 years of experience in the business when you’re just starting!

7. Market Your Freelance Photography Services

Effective marketing is essential to reach potential clients and grow your freelance photography business. It might sound scary, but you’ll need to be able to sell yourself if you want to make any money!

Start by developing a comprehensive marketing plan that outlines your target audience, key messaging, and promotional channels. Think about your ideal clients – who are they, and what do they need from a freelance photographer? How can you offer them what they need better than anyone else?

Also improve your website’s visibility by implementing search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. Use relevant keywords, optimize image tags, and ensure your website loads quickly. High search engine rankings can help potential clients find you organically (i.e. without paid ads). It takes time, but SEO can be a very cost-effective way to grow your website.

Lastly, be sure to regularly update your online portfolio with your latest work. Highlight your best projects and showcase your versatility as a photographer. A compelling portfolio is a persuasive marketing tool when done right, so definitely don’t neglect it!

8. Start Growing Your Network

Finally, once you have everything else in place, you need to continuously grow your network. This includes your network of paying clients of course, but also others in the industry that you can bounce off of and potentially gain referrals through.

Participate in things like photography workshops, seminars, and local photography club meetings. These events provide opportunities to connect with fellow photographers, potential clients, and industry professionals. You can also connect virtually through social media and on platforms like Reddit.

So, you now know how to become a freelance photographer, but how much can you make?

What Do Freelance Photographers Make?

Freelance photographers can make anywhere from $15 per hour to more than $100,000 per year. I know that’s a massive range that’s not all that helpful, but that’s the nature of estimating freelance earnings – they vary a lot!

In the USA, the average yearly earnings for a freelance photographer sit at around $45,000. In the UK, it’s closer to £39,000 per year. Some of the most important factors that contribute to such a wide range in earning potential include:

Experience & Skill Level: Beginner freelance photographers may start with lower rates as they build their portfolios and gain expertise. With time and a strong body of work, they can command higher fees, closer to $50,000+ per year (of course it also depends on how much work you do!).

Location: In major cities with higher living costs and greater demand for photography services, photographers typically charge higher rates than in smaller towns or more remote areas. Freelance photography isn’t a digital profession – you need to physically be there to take the pictures after all! So, location can play a bigger role than for the likes of a freelance copywriter.

Niche & Specialization: Certain niches, like wedding photography, commercial photography, and fashion photography, often offer higher earning potential due to the specific skills and expertise required in these areas.

Marketing & Networking: Finally, how well you sell yourself will also affect your earning potential. Building a strong online presence, making good use of social media, and networking within the industry can help attract clients and lead to higher-paying opportunities.

As I mentioned above, you also need to think about how much work you do as a freelance photographer. Some photographers use freelance work as a part-time side gig, while others build full-time careers earning substantial incomes. So, you need to consider whether you’ll be diving in to freelance full-time or alongside something else.

The Challenges Of Freelance Photography

Before I finish up, let’s outline some of the key challenges you’ll face as a freelance photographer. I don’t list these to put you off the career path – I simply want to illustrate that it’s not always going to be easy. But if you can deal with these challenges, you can have a very lucrative career ahead of you!

  1. Income Variability: Income unpredictability can make financial planning and budgeting challenging, for any kind of freelancer.
  2. Self-Employment: As independent contractors, freelance photographers are responsible for paying self-employment taxes – this can be quite daunting for beginners!
  3. Competition: With the accessibility of digital cameras and editing software, more people are always entering the field, leading to increased competition for clients
  4. Client Acquisition: Successfully marketing yourself requires time and effort in building an online presence, networking, and promoting your work – and you need to be comfortable selling yourself!
  5. Pricing Pressure: Some clients may expect photographers to lower their rates or offer discounts, putting pressure on photographers to balance competitive pricing with maintaining a sustainable income
  6. Equipment & Maintenance Costs: Photography equipment can be expensive, and regular maintenance is necessary to keep it in optimal condition
  7. Administrative Tasks: Freelance photographers are responsible for various administrative tasks, including invoicing, contracts, client communication, and bookkeeping
  8. Unpredictable Work Hours: Freelancers often have to work irregular hours to accommodate clients’ schedules, including evenings, weekends, and holidays, which can affect your work-life balance and potentially lead to freelancer burnout
  9. Isolation: Freelancers often work independently, which means they can miss out on the camaraderie and collaboration that can be found in a traditional workplace
  10. Client Management: Dealing with different clients, each with their unique expectations and demands, can be challenging – you need to be a great communicator and be able to handle difficult clients

Having gone through the process of becoming a freelance photographer and the challenges you’re likely to face, it’s time to consider if this is the right career path for you.

Is Freelance Photography Right For You?

Whether freelance photography is right for you will depend on how you feel after reading this article. Are you fired up and excited to face the challenges of making money doing what you love? Or does the lack of income security and prospect of selling yourself sound like more hassle than it’s worth?

I won’t sit here and tell you which decision is the right one for you – only you can know that. It requires patience, hard work, and a lot of persistence. But I can say from my own experience as a freelance writer and content creator that freelancing can be an incredibly rewarding career that is very much worth it!

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