Before getting started in any business, there are some key things you should know. Here you will find everything you need to know about getting started as a professional freelance photographer.
#1. The hours are incredibly flexible – and you’ll need to be, too.
If an 8-5 job is not for you, look no further. As a professional freelance photographer, you can expect to make your own hours. Sometimes, though, this means that you have to schedule shoots for times that are convenient for your clientele, which might not be your first choice of hours. Because of the nature of the work, how many or how few hours you work is totally up to you – you could choose only to work a few days a week, or only after noon or before four in the afternoon. To get most available business, you’re pretty much consigned to work weekends, but whether or not you choose to take that business is completely up to you. Remember – you’re the boss.
#2. The pay is GREAT.
Consider for a moment that a photographer can easily charge two thousand dollars for a wedding, which typically lasts an afternoon. After materials and the couple hours of label that it takes to print photos, that still adds up to an incredible amount of money. Throw in frequent portraits, headshots, and sports and performance arts, and not only are you on the inside track to a lot of terribly cool venues, but you’ll have more than enough money to retire far earlier than all of your friends with normal jobs. Feel free to charge what you’re worth; you have a specialized craft, and because not everyone can do it, you should feel confident in your prices.
#3. To reduce job stress, hire an assistant.
There’s a lot of grunt work to be done in freelance photography, and the details are enough to drive anyone crazy and sap all the fun out of the job. You’ll need to contact clients, draw up paperwork, advertize, develop film, print photos, create revised portfolios, sit and chat with clients about specifics of each job. The easy solution? Hire an assistant.
A good assistant will not only cut down on the amount of menial work that you need to do, but will also be rather affordable to you, the freelance photographer, because they are learning a trade. While bringing in a partner to cut the workload in half, an assistant is paid in part from wages and in part from the benefit of your years of experience. Should you upgrade to a full photography studio, your initial assistant can then go on to work as a sort of middle-management, though they’ll probably expect a pay raise.
Assistants are fully capable of developing film, printing out and putting up fliers, checking voicemail, completing callbacks, scheduling appointments, letting clients know when work is completed, printing photos, mixing chemicals, cleaning darkrooms, and carrying equipment, all of which leaves more time for you to actually shoot film and meet with clients for scheduled sessions.
#4. Keeping a steady market means dealing with high-maintenance clientele.
The problem with photography, you’ll find, is that photography isn’t something that most people need on a regular basis. A wedding is a one-time deal (or so we would hope), and most performance events have a limited run. So how do you keep your business alive without tapping out the market? Search for those markets that do need repeats, such as actors, who need head-shots redone every 3-6 months, and families with small children, who often like to chart their growth and development through photographs that they can then send to family, friends, and vague acquaintances. Finding a steady market is not at all difficult, but once you’ve found it, it can be rather frustrating to maintain due to the nature of the clientele. Actors, who are notoriously high-maintenance anyway, become easily agitated when their ability to land future jobs is on the line, and the small children that come in family photos are the bane of any photographer’s existance. The upside to all those hours of listening to long-winded complaints and jumping through hoops is that your customer base is also impressively loyal – once they’ve found someone who can do the job for them, they’re not likely to switch to someone else, and will forgive most minor blunders and calls for a reshoot.
#5. To make real money, you’ll have to sell out a little.
The real money in freelance photography lies in weddings and portraiture. Neither of these are generally very entertaining, and most involve producing your work exactly per someone else’s guidelines. This doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for creative input, though you’ll have the free time and extra cash to devote to all the creative side projects that you could desire.
#6. People will ask when you’re going to get a real job.
We live in a society where professional artists, for whatever reason, aren’t taken very seriously by people in suits with 8-5 jobs. You’ll meet plenty of people who will ask what you do, only to meet your response with, “But what do you do for a living?” Many people seem to believe that because they can only make their living working behind a desk or a counter, there are no alternatives available to everyone else. It won’t matter that you can retire at 40, that you enjoy your job, that your life consists of both excitement and fun, or that you work in a specialized trade and do in fact work very hard at it – something about the nature of your work will elicit eye-rolls and exchanged glances. This downside, however, is easily remedied when you’re taking yet another vacation and you realize that you really just don’t care what everyone else thinks.
#7. You’ll gain experience in running your own business.
There’s a lot to be said for running your own company, whether it’s something that you do for the rest of your life or whether it’s just a stop on the winding path of your career. It’s quite convenient to be able to tell future employers that your extensive management experience comes from running your own business; it shows initiative and drive, as well as a lot of business know-how. Some time with your own company is perhaps the best teacher as far as enterprise is concerned. Nothing will teach you the ropes of management quite like having to fend for yourself.
#8. Filing taxes is about to get a lot more complicated.
Be prepared to keep track of all your expenses. Consider getting a seperate account for business and work expenses, just to make your life (and paperwork) easier. You’ll need to keep receipts, or be willing to count things as a personal expenditure, and to make your life really easy, you might want to just hire an accountant, because filing taxes for the self-employed is not an easy task at all.
#9. Being self-employed means no benefits and the pay is up to you.
There are plenty of health insurance options for the self-employed, and you would be well-advised to take one, as you never know just when you’ll need it. Here’s the downside to being self-employed, whether you’re a struggling actor or an award-winning photographer: the only benefits you’re going to get are the ones that you give yourself. If you want health insurance, you’ll have to hunt it down and find it. If you want a vacation, you’ll have to schedule it yourself. If you have several employees working under you, then you’ll need to take into consideration their needs as well. Keep in mind that you also choose how much money you’re going to make – the more you work, the more you’ll make, but can you really keep yourself motivated with the lure of free time hanging over you?
#10. Being a professional artist certainly adds to your cool factor.
You know in the movies, where the photographer/painter stands around an art show or a benefit with a drink in one hand and several people standing by, looking terribly interested whenever the artist speaks? That could be you. People will be terribly interested in what you have to say about the work that you create. If art shows and gallery openings are your thing, then people will expect you to be deep and insightful and talk about past experiences and current influences. You will, in fact, achieve minor celebrity status at the very least, and should receive all the benefits of it. Other artists will love and respect you, and people that you’ve no real recollection of ever having met will come up and talk to you on the street. You’ll be introduced at parties as “the one who did the photographs of…,” so be sure that your work is worthy of being identified by, as the two of you will be inseperable.