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How to Become a Freelance Photographer – A Step-by-step Guide

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Smiling female photographer

If you’ve been enjoying photography for a while, the thought of turning your hobby into a business has probably crossed your mind more than once – after all, who doesn’t enjoy getting paid for doing what they love? It might seem too good to be true, but there are plenty of ways you can make money from your photography. But, like everything else, it takes hard work and determination, and while a freelance entrepreneurial lifestyle might suit some, it won’t be for everyone.

In this article, we give you a step-by-step guide on how to become a freelance photographer, the challenges you might face, and the kind of work that will be available to you.

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Before You Begin

The first few steps towards running your freelance photography business will not earn you any money, but they are essential if you’re serious about building a sustainable, long-lasting, and successful venture.

1. Find Your Niche

photographer in wedding

Image Credit: alphaspirit.it, Shutterstock

Which slice of the market you choose will depend mainly on two factors:

  • The kind of photography you enjoy
  • What’s in demand

The type of photography that’s in demand will not always line up with what you would enjoy. For example, wedding photography will require you to have a very different skillset from product photography. If you have a pet allergy, you probably won’t want to offer pet portraits. Children are harder to work with than adults, and so on.

Here are a few niches for you to explore:

  • Event photography (weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvah, graduation, funerals, etc.)
  • Family portraits
  • Professional headshots
  • Social media
  • Wildlife
  • Landscape
  • Sports
  • Concerts
  • Botanical
  • Fashion
  • Food
  • Corporate
  • Astrophotography

This is not an expansive list, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t offer a few of these services. However, it is best to start with two or three, preferably ones that complement each other. For example, a portrait photographer might also offer fashion, and headshot photography services.


2. Hone Your Craft

photographer taking pictures

Image Credit: sergey causelove, Shutterstock

Once you’ve decided on your niche, you need to get some practice. Not only will this allow you to gain confidence, but it’s also the perfect way to create a portfolio that’s specific to the niche you’ll be targeting.

It’s important to be confident that in return for people’s money, you will be able to deliver good quality results. By providing excellent service and fantastic results, your clients are likely to recommend you to others, and word-of-mouth is one of your best marketing tools.

Similarly, if you provide subpar work, your clients are likely to warn others not to come to you. This can hurt your business before you’ve even properly started.

There are several ways in which you can prepare yourself:

  • Enroll in a photography course
  • Get work experience
  • Sign up for an online class or mentorship 

Start Your Business

3. Prepare Licensing, Taxes, and Insurance

woman working on business taxes

Image Credit: Natee Meepian, Shutterstock

Depending on where you live, there will be different laws and regulations on the type of business license you need to be able to trade as a freelance photographer. Always do your research and make sure you’ve registered for the correct licenses.

You may also need to get a sales tax license, but the rules are dependent on where you live and work. It may be a good idea to seek advice from a lawyer, and even a CPA, to avoid running into problems later on.

Insurance is a must to protect you against the potential costs of lawsuits and property damage. Equipment cover is another type of insurance to consider, especially if you own most of your equipment rather than hire it. The peace of mind alone is worth the cost of insurance, but in the unfortunate event of a catastrophic loss, you’ll be able to file an insurance claim and keep your business afloat.


4. Get Your Finances in Order

business owner doing some financial documentation

Image Credit: Moon Safari, Shutterstock

As previously mentioned, it’s worth getting financial advice from a CPA when you’re starting your business. They can help you with your financial planning, and help your business thrive.

Consider Banking Options

 You should look at whether you need to open a separate bank account for your photography business. Depending on where you live, sole proprietors may be able to use their personal bank accounts for their freelancing business, however, it may be easier to keep a separate account anyway.

By keeping your business finances separate from your personal finances, you’ll have a clearer view of your income and expenditure, and it will simplify record-keeping, money management, and tax preparation.

Set up bookkeeping

You could start with a simple spreadsheet that records your income, expenditure, and overall yearly finances, but there are also many apps that will help you do this. Whether you choose to go with a spreadsheet, or a piece of software, make sure you keep records of the following items for at least 6 years:

  • Customer Invoices
  • Receipts for Expenses
  • Tax returns
  • Bank statements

Budget

There will likely be an initial outlay when starting a photography business. Consider how much it will cost you to purchase your equipment, have a website built and hosted, the cost of a domain name, and so on.

You’ll also need to consider other costs, such as the cost of travel, hiring studios, and software subscriptions. The main purpose of this task is to ensure that you will be charging your clients enough so that you avoid running your business at a loss.

person using calculator for computation

Image Credit: Worawee Meepian, Shutterstock

Determine Pricing

Once you’ve calculated your estimated expenses, you can begin to think about how much you should charge your clients. It’s always a good idea to look at your competitors and see how much they charge. Pricing will depend on the type of photography you offer, your location, your experience, the length of the session, and the cost of your expenses for that session.

When setting out your pricing plans, consider the amount of time needed to edit the work after the shoot. If your clients want the copyright to their photos (preventing you from using them on your portfolio), you may wish to charge more.

Establish payment methods

Although cash might seem like the easiest option, it’s proven that the more payment methods you offer, the likelier you are to gain new customers. Consider accepting payments through services like PayPal, or directly through your website.

Prepare a Brief

By requesting your client for an accurate brief that details how they envision their photos turning out, the kind of look and feel they’re going for, and what they don’t want, you can avoid situations where a client refuses to pay.

It’s a good idea to seek professional guidance when crafting your contract template.


5. Purchase equipment and software

photographer holding camera

Image Credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock

Create a list of all the products you need to purchase, including tripods, cameras, lenses, and lighting. Compare your options carefully, and shop around for the best deals.

It may be worth looking at second-hand equipment too but remember that new equipment is more likely to come with a warranty.

You don’t need to purchase everything at once – consider what equipment you can hire instead. You can always invest in more equipment when you begin to make a profit.

Most editing software now come with a free trial, and the companies often offer subscription-based payment options.


6. Create Your Portfolio

female photographer holding image prints

Image Credit: Jacob Lund, Shutterstock

By following step 2 of this guide and honing your craft, you will create an expansive portfolio that’s made up of the type of photographs you wish to sell for your business. Now is the time to pick your best work – these should be the photographs that you feel most proud of, as they will attract your clients.

At this point, you could hire a web designer to make your website, or you can use one of the many photography portfolio website builders available. Make sure to look around at other photographers’ sites and have a clear idea of what you want.

There are other ways to share your portfolio, for example, Flickr. However, if you choose to display your photography on other companies’ platforms, always check their copyright rules, and set any download options so that your pictures can’t be used without your permission.


7. Market your services

female photographer marketing services

Image Credit: MYDAYcontent, Shutterstock

Now that you’ve got everything prepared, it’s time to make connections and find your first few clients. There are many ways to market your business, from ads in your local newspapers to magazines. Think about where your clients will be looking and invest in ads for those places. For example, wedding photographers might pay for ads in wedding magazines and websites, or even in event venue brochures.

Social media can be crucial for photographers. Engage with people in your local area on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Share your photographs, and a little bit of your knowledge, but also comment and interact with potential clients.

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Prepare for Possible Challenges

You may run into potential challenges when you start your business, but after some trial, error, and determination, things should begin to get a little easier.

Challenges that freelance photographers face include:

  • Inconsistent pay – depending on the season, you may get more or less work. 
  • Tough competition – you’ll be going up against photographers who are already established.
  • Looking after your health and wellbeing – it can be easy to get into a pattern of overworking yourself. Don’t forget to segment your days into work and rest times. 
photographer doing post processing edits

Image Credit: Rawpixel.com, Shutterstock

Explore Other Income Avenues

Once you have your photography business up and running, consider other revenue options.

  • Stock Photography – There are many stock photo platforms where you can sign up and upload your work, the best-known being Getty Images/iStock Photo. These companies will then pay you royalties when your images are downloaded or bought by their customers.   
  • Image Prints – Sell image prints of your favorite photographs, be they nature, cityscapes, wildlife, or something else, as long as you have the rights to them!
  • Photography Contests – Photography contests often offer money as a reward to their winners, but they’re also another way to showcase your work. Displaying a “winner of” logo on your website also provides further credibility.

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Wrapping Up

That concludes our step-by-step guide on how to become a freelance photographer. It may take time, and hard work, but with enough determination, it is possible to turn your photography hobby into a successful business!


Featured Image Credit: Jacob Lund, Shutterstock

About the Author Cheryl Regan

Cheryl is a freelance content and copywriter from the United Kingdom. Her interests include hiking and amateur astronomy but focuses her writing on gardening and photography. If she isn't writing she can be found curled up with a coffee and her pet cat.

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