Do you want to make money as a freelance photographer? If YES, here are 21 sure tips on how to become a freelance photographer with no experience or degree.
There are a lot of people that have an innate passion for photography but they are scared to start a business with their passion for fear that they may not be accepted in our certificate obsessed world. Let me sound it loud and clear here that there is no law or any other kind of requirement that says that you should set foot in a classroom or even take an online tutorial before you can start a career as a freelance photographer.
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Why Become a Freelance Photographer?
In fact, there are lots of photography jobs where employers would prefer not to hire a person with any kind of degree, especially not a degree in photography. Those employers include franchise and traveling portrait studios. These companies would rather provide the strict minimum training needed to work the equipment, on posing and personal interaction with the customers and lots of training on sales.
Even though you do not need a degree to become a freelance photographer, but you will greatly need to understand how to run a business, including marketing, sales, accounting, legal requirements and contracts, if you want be successful with your business.
Regardless of whether you have a degree or not, you will be judged by your outputs, so you need to assemble a portfolio that not only looks good to you, but will be what your potential customers want to see to reassure themselves that you are worth giving a chance. That means that you need to be able to produce on demand and on specification. And that in turn means that you need to be an expert in the technological craft of photography.
21 Practical Tips on How to Become a Freelance Photographer With No Experience
Once you are ready to start your photography business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows.
- Keep learning
In order to become a freelance photographer, you need to have the prerequisite knowledge. If you are already skilled in photography, then you may want to skip this, else this should be your first port of call. We are not saying that you have to enroll in some course in school to get this training. There are numerous training opportunities apart from going to a specialized school or college program.
With the inception of the internet you can head off online to see what other photographers have to say about your profession. If you find reading difficult/uninspiring, there are indeed countless videos and blogs on how to start off, and how to work your camera.
This is great if you look for reviews from people who have actually used the tool for a while. YouTube in particular is filled with reviews, tips and warnings for photographers, check out popular channels for easy to follow videos. And remember to put what you’ve watched into action.
Again, indulging in a good book or online portfolio will help you to absorb details in a creative, colorful and interesting way. They will inspire you and help you figure out niches that you want to play around with.
Going to a workshop is another great way to learn. Workshops are particularly good for people who might want to go to a photography school, but don’t want to commit to the three-plus years and shell out tons of cash. That’s not to say that workshops aren’t expensive, but put it in comparison to a degree and it’s quite a bargain. Not only that, workshops are great for making connections, finding internships and discovering styles/niches you love.
Photographers love talking about photography, and they usually congregate in forums. Whether you want some honest feedback on your work, want to learn more about a particular style of photography or have a question about your camera – forums more often than not will hold the answer. Don’t always take what someone has said on a forum as gospel though, it’s always good to back up claims with further research.
2. Find a mentor
Mentors are a surprisingly overlooked way of breaking into photography. The best thing you can have is someone to mentor you since you do not have the advantage of a college education. Even if you had a degree in photography, you will still need someone to show you the ropes in real life.
There are no lack of people who are willing to help someone along the way, you just need to find them. The internet is a treasure trove if you are willing to use it the proper way. But you need one or more people who will actively guide you. Your mentor can give you the knowledge of networking and true-life experience that most professors cannot teach.
You need to connect with someone who is generous with their knowledge and encouraging in their style. The wrong kind of experience can leave you sitting behind a desk all day, filing paperwork and answering phones.
3. Build Your Portfolio
Every freelance photographer needs a strong portfolio in order to attract clients. When you are first starting out, we recommend doing some work for free to build your portfolio. You can also find local models who need portraits for their modeling portfolio, and that way you both can benefit. Once you’ve done some free work, you’ll need to display it on your website to start publicizing your talent and craft.
4. Have a business plan
A well-researched and written business plan is a step in the right direction towards starting your own freelance photography business. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
5. Form a legal entity
By establishing your business as a legal entity, you will be able to prevent yourself from being personally liable if your photography business is sued.
6. Register for taxes: In the united states, you will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
7. Open a business bank account
You should never combine your business and person accounts together. When you start your business ensure that you get a dedicated checking account for your photography business because it keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
8. Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
9. Get business insurance: Getting an insurance plan for your business is highly advisable for people who own a business. If you hire employees, Workers Compensation Insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
10. Clearly define your brand: Your brand is the unique selling point of your business and also how your business is received by the general public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
11. Establish a web presence
A business website is a must have for a freelance photographer as it allows customers to learn more about your business and the services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. As a freelance photographer, you’ll need a professional photography website to show off your work and help you spread the word about your photography business.
But your website can be more than just a portfolio. You can also use your website to communicate with clients, schedule sessions, manage your orders, and even deliver your completed work. Create a blog and write regularly to attract new clients. A blog also helps your website visitors to become clients by teaching them about your work and helping them to trust you as a professional.
12. Start networking
Studying, reading and looking at photographer’s works and words are important, but you also need to hit the streets and network. Contacts and referrals enable you to gain valuable skills and, if you want to make money, get clients. Networking is all about figuring out who you need to know and how you’re going to build long-term relationships with them.
You are your brand, making yourself known as a person and not just a photographer helps you get repeat customers. In fact, solid networking is far more important than a degree, as you are more likely to get your first contracts from the friends you have made already.
13. Hit the road
Travelling is one way a person can open up a new horizon for him or herself. It will help you to see life and your profession in a new light.
Travelling will help you learn how to talk to people, to live on a budget and run an LLC. You will also make connections that will benefit you tremendously in your business. This does not mean that you should pack up and hit the road tomorrow, but you need to get out and experience the world if you can; you never know what connections you might make.
14. Learn from your mistakes
One rule in photography is that quantity begets quality; this is even more so when shooting digitally. The more you shoot, the more likely you are to get that iconic shot. Knowing every technical detail doesn’t make you a good photographer or make a good photo, learning from failures does. Sometimes the best pictures just come out of nowhere, and it is usually a product of constant practice.
You can take fifty photography courses, read every book about lighting and exposure and talk about it all day – but taking photos is what is going to allow you to unlock your style and natural skill. Nothing is going to help you more than experience – so bring your camera everywhere and shoot anything remotely interesting.
As hundreds of photos build up on your system, you’ll see what needs improvement and where you excel. It’s good to keep some early evidence of your trials and errors so you can look back and see how far you have come.
15. Use whatever tools you have
Starting out as a freelance photographer can be really tedious, and you may not have all the money to get all that you need at that point. The trick is to make use of whatever you have available to you. If you just have a really good phone you can start up with it.
The best camera in the world is the one you have on you, so you need to find ways to make good use of it. This should not distress you because there are expensive cameras that take poor shots. It is all about what you know and how you handle what you have.
16. Keep track of your finances
When you work for someone else, your salary is guaranteed; but becoming a freelance photographer and suddenly being in charge of your own salary can be a bit scary. If you do a good job managing the income and expenses for your photography business, you can eliminate a lot of that fear.
We recommend keeping your personal/household expenses separate from your business expenses, and paying yourself a certain salary. That way, you will know exactly how much money you have left over to invest in your business, and you won’t be tempted to make those purchases out-of-pocket.
17. Be bold
Shooting on the streets and approaching strangers take a certain amount of guts. Don’t be shy, just do it. You are a photographer – ask questions and direct people. If you are going to be successful as a freelancer, you need to show potential clients that you can confidently deliver the work they need.
People will do what you want, provided you show them respect. Then you can get what you want – a good photo. Before you can get your good picture, you have to make people trust you and feel comfortable around you first. If not, your prospects would end up looking awkward and uncomfortable.
It’s not easy, but believing in yourself is the most important tool to keep yourself going. You will screw up sometimes, but screwing up is a good thing. It means that you are learning. Just try not to make the same mistakes twice.
18. Seek for feedback
Feedback is super important when trying to learn any new skill yourself – so gather up some honest friends and get them to look through your work. Keep in mind that they may not have any knowledge of photography techniques or styles, but get them to tell you which ones they like and which ones they don’t. You’ll likely get good points to think about from their opinions, and it’s a good opportunity to relate it to how your future clients could view your work.
19. Enter a photography competition
Photography competitions are another great way to get some feedback on your work if you are finding it hard to get critiques from anywhere else. Some photography competitions can also have pretty hefty cash prizes, so if you’re looking to make money off your shots, then this could be your chance.
But, be warned – a lot of photography competitions are more of a money making scheme for the host than a legitimate way to celebrate talent – research the comp and don’t pay more than $30 or $40 for an entry.
20. Find your niche
An important thing to remember when learning how to take photos is to be inspired, but don’t copy. Of course, you can look at someone else’s work and admire it, but don’t bother trying to mirror others down to the last detail. The best way to develop your style is to keep taking photos – shoot as much as you can, whenever you can, until you figure it out.
Things to Budget for in your Freelance Photography Business
Until you decide to open a home office, your overhead expenses should be fairly minimal. Items you should budget for include:
- Website maintenance – $100 to $1,200 annually
- Accounting software – up to $300 per year
- Editing software (you can make use of the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System.) – $48 to $150 per year
- Business insurance
- Dropbox or other file sharing software
- Flashes: You will need several, designed for different sized spaces.
- Fuel costs
- Marketing materials
- Payroll and payroll taxes – hire photographers on a freelance basis to reduce insurance exposure and payroll expenses.
Like most startup businesses, the profits does not start coming right away. It may take about one to three years for things to stabilize and for significant and steady profits to start rolling in. Considering the low overhead costs, profits stand to climb exponentially for each freelancer/employee you add to your team.
Basic Tools a Freelance Photographer Should Have
The job of a freelance photographer involves taking loads of great pictures. It is a fact the one of the biggest obstacles freelance photographers face is the expensive nature of the equipment needed to produce quality images, but as one who is just starting out, you may not set your sights yet on these very expensive equipment.
You can get started with less expensive ones pending when you can afford the rest. But you have to note that building up your arsenal is quite necessary if you want to get the big gigs. Some of the equipment you would need to start off with include;
- Digital Camera
Your camera is one major equipment you would need as a freelance photographer. After all, what is a photographer without a camera? You should do yourself well to get a digital single lens reflex camera. This camera has largely replaced traditional film cameras in most forms of photography.
This camera is comfortable to shoot with, has good low-light performance, and images are faster to produce and quicker to edit. Your first purchase should be a DSLR camera body, which can range anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000 and up. As you advance in your career, consider purchasing a medium format camera to capture images at 50 or more megapixels.
Freelance photographers need a wide range of lenses, from 30mm for wide angle shots to 300mm zoom lens if the model is further away from you. Swimsuit and fashion photographers also use 400mm to 600mm telephoto lenses. Soft focus lenses produce an image that has a halo effect. These lenses are good for adding a luminous look to portraits.
- Lighting Equipment
For a studio shoot, you would need an assortment of studio lights such as photo floodlights, tungsten-halogen lamps and incandescent lighting. These lightings are necessary to properly light fashion subjects. Many of these lights can be used in conjunction with a strobe light or flash. For photographers on the go, a camera-mounted strobe is usually sufficient to capture any image. Some of the lighting equipment you may need include;
- Beauty dishes: this is the quintessential modifier for beauty and fashion photography. The beauty dish sits right in between the hard and soft lighting modifiers. It makes the skin glow beautifully.
- Giant umbrellas: this is a very popular choice for freelance photography. While the beauty dish is limited by its spread, giant reflectors can be used standalone because of their sizes. Here, the light spread is very even, making it perfect for photographing models full length and maintaining an accurate depiction of the details and colours of clothing—which is very important in photography, especially in commercial work.
- Scrims: these are used for diffusing harsh light outdoors, but are also wonderful for that commercial, glowy beauty shot in the studio. The scrim is more specific than other lighting modifiers and takes more work to setup and shoot with.
- Octabanks: these lights can be used for fashion, beauty, or portrait shoots. There is a beautiful, even texture to the light and shadows. And unlike square or rectangular softboxes, the shape of the octabank creates a more rounded, beautiful gradient in the background when used without background fills.
Post-Production Knowledge and Equipment
A freelance photographer should be able to edit his or her own photographs after each shoot. This is one requirement that would make you successful. Post-production work consists of color correction, cropping, special effects and other creative manipulation to produce the desired image, and it is usually accomplished in Photoshop.
Having a computer with a high resolution, calibrated monitor is a must, as well as a large hard drive to hold large digital files. Freelance photographers who want to print their own images might consider setting up a digital workflow with a printer and scanner.
In conclusion, while you may not need a degree to become a freelance photographer, but you have to be aware that your journey to success would be a tedious one. You will have to spend three times as many hours learning the intricacies of the profession, and this might even keep you busier than someone in college.
You should also know that even with all your studies and dedication, there is never a guarantee that you will make it. But then again, nothing says that you would not make it. You have to learn hard, give it your all, sharpen up your passion, and see where that takes you.