The 'real' guide to starting out as a Freelance Photographer
Five years ago I made the decision to quit my 9-5 office job in order to transform my hobby into a full time paying profession. Society generally thinks that you're a mad mother f*cker when you do this, and part of me probably agreed with them. My thinking behind this all was, "if not now, when?"
I figured that there won't be any other moment in my life where I'm free from responsibilities, in good health and totally and utterly in love with Photography. Therefore, I embarked on what I now regard 'the great climb'. Starting out in the Photography business is the most confusing, massive all encompassing thing you can ever do. Where do you start? What camera's do people use? How do I find clients? How much do I charge people for my services? What kind of Photography should I do? How do I market myself....and the list goes on.
In the early days I took to the internet and I read numerous blog posts from people who would explain 'the best formulas for success as a photographer', 'Earn $100,000 a year as a Photographer' etc etc. The one thing all of these guides had in common was, they relied heavily on chance. You see the more I've come to understand how the world works, the more I understand that the processes in place don't necessarily favour you. They favour big business, a select few, untouchable corporations and the lucky ones that were able to be born into wealth and a circle of great 'connections'.
The more you dig beneath the surface of the iconic work of 'famous' Photographers, the more you find out that there were significant links to wealth and privilege. I'm not saying that this in any way devalues the excellent work that these 'lucky sons of bitches' churned out, but it's to highlight to you from the off that the playing field, like many other professions, is very uneven and isn't set up in your favour.
So with this sobering slap in the face, I realised that I have to work hard, but not only that, I have to make up for the lack of financial backing and contacts by networking as much and as often as possible. This meant that in fact my actual photo taking time is far less than my business endeavours. I generally spend 80% of my time in my office finding new business and 20% of my time out shooting.
I want to be as transparent as possible with you. Being a full time Freelance Photographer is 80% business mindset and 20% creative skill. Where people often go wrong is that they plough all of their efforts into the creative side and negate to develop a client base or work out where their money is going to come from. At the very beginning you need to identify your market, who are your customers going to be? Another thing I would like to tell you is, don't be afraid of money! Sounds obvious, but you'd be amazed at how often I hear stories of people devaluing their work. Hell! I'm guilty of it. In the beginning I did some freebies for 'exposure' and you know what!? It got me absolutely f*cking nowhere. DON'T DO FREE WORK, even if you're a newby.
Unless you're volunteering for a charity or aid fund, no one in their right mind will work for absolutely nothing. It does you no favours and it devalues the entire profession. It's great to be busy and shooting, but being busy and earning absolutely nothing is just going to lead to a car crash and your career as a Freelancer will be over before it's even begun. My advice with regard to starting out and getting some initial paid work is to contact small-medium sized businesses and set up an 'introductory offer' or 'early bird' booking package. Everyone likes to think that they're getting a good deal, be wise with your wording and salesmanship. Research your clients, timing is EVERYTHING!
Don't get side tracked with kit. Often I find myself 'killing time' looking at lenses, camera bodies and lighting. There's literally f*cking thousands of ways to shoot and thousands of different camera's and lenses to accomplish those aesthetics with. But get the bookings in before you start worrying about technicalities. Because without the bookings you just bought yourself an expensive toy.
Now that you've kind of got the gist of the business mechanism, it's important to allow yourself some free time completely removed from your office and emails whenever you're feeling stressed or exhausted. Your creativity is still an integral part of being a Photographer and this side of things unfortunately can't be given a set time in which to flourish, it can't just happen because you will it to happen.
I've learnt that for me, creativity blossoms when I'm free from the burden of stress. Therefore, when I want to have a break from the office I'll jump at it, I'll take a holiday if I feel like one. The point is that in living your life and opening your mind to new experience, your creativity will naturally blossom. Essentially find a good work life balance.
There is no one set formula for everyone so be mindful that in the initial stages of starting out you'll probably be far more stressed with the business side of things than the creative side. But eventually you'll identify an equilibrium that works for you.
Happy shooting and hopefully some of my insight has helped.