How to Become a Successful Freelance Photographer

Are you considering becoming a freelance photographer but don’t know where to start? We’ll break down everything you need to be a freelance photographer.

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Whether you’re tired of working nine to five and want to transition your photography side hustle into a fulltime gig or you’re just looking for something creative to do in your free time, becoming a freelance photographer could be the perfect solution. Not only will you be your own boss, you’ll get to develop your own artistic style and express yourself creatively, all while getting paid. However, becoming a successful freelance photographer takes more than just snapping a few smartphone photos and putting a filter on it. That’s why we’ve prepared this comprehensive step by step guide that will take you through everything from how to start freelance photography to making your online portfolio, finding clients, and getting paid.

What is a Freelance Photographer?

Being a freelance photographer means that you work for yourself, taking on clients for photoshoots or creating and selling your fine art photography. Pretty much every business or entrepreneur out there is going to need photos at some point, whether it’s a professional headshot or product photos for their online store. And that’s not to mention all of the personal occasions that people might want commemorated through photos. As a freelance photographer, you get to choose what types of work you take on and turn down work that doesn’t align with your style or interests. However, with the pros to becoming a freelance photographer come the cons of any freelance job, like dealing with filing freelance taxes, finding clients, and making sure to properly insure your camera gear and photography studio.

If you want to find out everything you need to know about how to become a freelance photographer and learn how to actually make money with your photography, this guide is perfect for you. Using the resources we’ve gathered, you’ll be ready to start your freelance photography business in no time.

Choose Your Equipment

Let’s be honest: photography equipment can be extremely expensive, and if you’re a high-level professional photographer, it makes sense to invest in the best camera equipment you can get your hands on. But when you’re just getting started as a freelance photographer, there’s no reason to go overboard with spending on your first camera and accessories. Many retailers may offer refurbished camera equipment that will allow you to purchase a higher quality camera for a lower cost than if it were brand new. If you simply don’t have the funds to purchase any gear right now, don’t worry! Don’t use a lack of access to professional photography equipment as an excuse for putting off becoming a freelance photographer. You can still take some great photos with your camera phone—many smartphones are actually designed with high-quality photography in mind. Since you are just dipping your toes into photography and haven’t yet figured out how to make money as a freelance photographer, there’s no shame at all in practicing by using what you’ve already got available. You can take a good photo with any level of photography equipment depending on the style you’re going for: even a cheap disposable camera can make beautiful art if that’s the aesthetic you want for your photos.

As you develop your photography skills and styles, you’ll start to understand what kind of camera gear might enhance your freelance photography. Once you decide it’s time to start upgrading certain elements of your photography kit, most professional freelance photographers would suggest starting with some new camera lenses, lighting and camera lens filters. Even before you get your first photography client, you may find it useful to use a photo management software to keep your photoshoots organized.

While most become freelance photographers out of a love for taking a good picture, being a professional photographer means doing a fair amount of post-production photo editing and administrative work too. Since you’ll want each photoshoot or project to feel consistent, it’s a good idea to set up systems for yourself when it comes to editing your photos, like using Photoshop actions to speed up your workflow.

Start Taking Photos

It seems obvious, but nothing is going to help you learn how to be a freelance photographer like actually getting out there and practicing your craft. You can spend all day long looking at inspiration photos on Pinterest and your favorite photography blogs to try and find out what you want your aesthetic as a freelance photographer to be, but you won’t be any closer to achieving it until you start taking your own photos. Start by learning about your camera’s manual settings and photography basics so that you have a general understanding of things like aperture and shutter speed, as well as composition and lighting. Play around with your settings to determine what affects you like to achieve in your photography, or take an online Harvard photography course that examines the basics of digital photography through the use of histograms and exposure techniques. As you take more photos, focus on what type of subject you are drawn to, take a ton of photos, and look at them closely to determine what is working for you and what isn’t. This will help you find your own path and recognizable style as a freelance photographer so that your work stands out in the crowd.

There are so many different types of photography that you can choose from. While there’s no rush to choose just one to focus on in your freelance photography business, you may immediately notice that you’re more interested in investigating food, still life or product photography over portraiture. Go with your instinct on this, as you can easily become burnt out if you try to dabble in everything.

In addition to practicing your photography skills, now is a good time to get comfortable with your photo editing skills. Whether you’re doing wedding and event photography or shooting landscapes, with any type of digital photography you will likely find yourself using post-production for something. Taking a professional photo is the first step, but becoming a freelance photographer means knowing how to edit out any client blemishes and bring your colors to the next level with the right Lightroom presets.

Share Your Work on Your Freelance Photography Portfolio Website

What’s the point of all of the work you’ve put into becoming a freelance photographer if you don’t have the perfect platform to show off your creativity and attract clients? Making a photography website that stands out can be a challenge, so make sure that you choose a website builder that offers a free trial before you take the leap and invest. No matter what style of freelance photography you do, you’re going to need a professional photography portfolio if you want potential clients to take you seriously. Since freelance photography is a visual medium, you want your photography portfolio to reflect your aesthetic in every design choice that you make. As you build your photography website, consider what your primary goals are in working as a freelance photographer so that you can set up your website to support them. For example, create a landing page that offers a freebie when viewers enter their email addresses if your goal is to grow your email list or use a call to action to schedule a call if you want to connect with clients and work on your sales pitch.

Just because you’re a one-person business, don’t forget about creating a strong and recognizable brand identity as a freelance photographer. Make good use of portfolio design tips and website themes to make your freelance photography portfolio website represent you and your work in the best light. If you think you might want to branch out into video as well as photography, choose a website builder that can host videography. For freelance photographers, it’s also key that you have a great client proofing gallery in place so that you can cut back on unnecessary email exchanges by allowing clients to review and approve your photography directly on your portfolio.

Pricing 101: Freelance Photographer Rates

If you’re going to invest your time, money, and creativity into becoming a freelance photographer, you’re probably wondering how to make money as a photographer. You should always be able to confidently present your freelance photographer rates to potential clients, so make sure that you have a clear pricing structure that you uphold. Keep in mind that there is so much more to being a freelance photographer than just taking pictures, and your pricing structure needs to reflect that. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of your materials, travel, overhead, time spent editing and implementing client feedback if necessary, and pay yourself a living wage when establishing how to price your photography services. Research industry standards in your geographical location as a means of determining the appropriate range to charge as a freelance photographer. Depending on the type of photography you specialize in, you may or may not want to have your pricing available for anyone to see on your website, but you should definitely have a formula in mind so that you can simply break down your freelance photographer rates for potential clients.

How to Find Photography Clients

Now that you’ve established your freelance photography workflow and you have a good handle on things, it’s time to turn your attention to seeking out and securing awesome photography jobs. There are so many places to sell your photos online, but your first priority should be setting up your online shop on your photography website. In order for clients to find your portfolio in the first place, you’ll need to make sure that you are making good use of SEO tools. Some website builders even have built-in SEO optimization to save you the time and energy of figuring it out all by yourself.

Another big way that you can attract photography clients is through social media. Instagram is a great platform for sharing visual media, so use the right photography hashtags to get those likes, comments and follows to start rolling in. You should also take a look at your Instagram bio and update it so that users can immediately tell what it is that you do and what your brand is about.

And remember to have your photography contracts sorted out before you get to work!

Other Sources of Photography Income

Photoshoots for companies or individuals aren’t the only way that you can make money as a freelance photographer. There are lots of ways that you can use the work you’ve already put into building a photography portfolio to make money passively, so you can focus on new projects. Here are a few ideas for how to make money as a freelance photographer.

Sell Digital Downloads

Think about it: you’ve already got a stockpile of high-quality photography that’s just sitting there in your portfolio. Why not turn it into an income stream? You can list your photographs as digital downloads in your online photography store so that clients can support your career as a freelance photographer and get some great art for a lower cost that they can print at home.

Sell Stock Photos

Many stock photo websites like Shutterstock allow users to sign up and submit their own freelance photography. Then every time your work gets downloaded, you’ll receive a small portion of the proceeds. While you probably won’t make a huge amount of money from selling stock photography, it’s a good way to get eyes on your work and also have a little extra income coming in without too much effort on your part.

Enter Photography Contests

Lots of companies run contests where photographers can submit their work for a chance at winning the prize money, plus the reputation that comes with it.

Print on Demand

Another great way to bring in passive income in exchange for the time it takes you to upload and edit your designs is by using print-on-demand services. You can offer fine art prints as well as things like wall clocks, t-shirts, and bedspreads with your photography on them, all without having to invest a cent of your own money. If you list a print in your online photography shop, you’ll have to go through the effort of finding a reputable printer, ordering a test print, and coordinating shipment. With print on demand, you simply upload your designs and adjust them to the objects you are offering, then go about your business as your portion of the sales start pouring in.

Niche Down

When you’ve been a professional freelance photographer for a while and you’ve become more comfortable with your job and its requirements, you may start wanting to niche down, meaning that you focus in on a very specific type of photography and client profile for marketing purposes. The benefit of choosing to specialize in one type of portrait photography, like newborn and baby portrait photography as opposed to portrait photography in general, is that you can become more clear about exactly what type of person would be interested in your services.

Market to Your Audience

Now that you know exactly what type of photography you want to make and who your dream client is, you’ll be able to address them at every opportunity, so they’ll feel acknowledged and be drawn towards hiring you over your competitors. Every time you promote your art or post about being a freelance photographer on social media or your photography blog, write as if you are speaking directly to your ideal client. This will ensure that every move you make is designed to target the type of person who your work will appeal to, and who will be more likely to book you because they resonate with your brand messaging.

Further Education

Even when you’ve been working as a freelance photographer for years and you’ve got nonstop client projects, there is always so much more that you can learn when it comes to leveling up your photography skills. Many organizations offer free online photography courses, where you can pick up everything from tips on making the most of a new industry accessory to learning about the history of photography as a medium. You might also want to look into taking a free course that will help you to improve your photography marketing for free.

With all of that information in mind, you’re officially ready to start your brand new career as a freelance photographer! Congratulations, and don’t forget to keep updating your online photography portfolio with all of the awesome photos you shoot.

Want more tips on making a living as a professional freelance photographer?
Photography Portfolios 101: How to Build an Amazing Photo Portfolio
28 Freelance Work Websites for Finding New Clients and Better Jobs
How to Boost Your Photography Income Using Mini Sessions