What is a Day Like for a Freelance Photographer?

Dana Hinders

If you're interested in turning your passion for photography into a new career opportunity, you may be wondering what it's like to be a freelance photographer. In the world of freelance professional photography, however, no two days are ever the same. In fact, the unpredictability of the freelance lifestyle is often considered to be one of its main advantages.

Freelance photographers might take pictures of a range of subjects.
Freelance photographers might take pictures of a range of subjects.

In the United States, almost half of all professional photographers are considered to be self-employed. Freelance photographers have many different types of job opportunities available. Some may specialize in photojournalism by working for newspapers, magazines, or Web sites. Others may deal primarily in commercial photography, shooting photos for catalogs and product advertisements. Portrait photography or wedding photography are also possible areas of specialization.

Newspapers may use freelance photographers to cover local events.
Newspapers may use freelance photographers to cover local events.

When working on freelance assignments, photographers often face long hours and short deadlines. Depending upon their area of specialization, photographers may also spend a large amount of time traveling from one photo shoot to another. In many cases, they are working with people who may not share their creative vision for the project. For this reason, strong interpersonal communication skills and an outstanding work ethic are essential for a successful career as a freelance photographer.

A freelance photographer may specialize in wedding photography.
A freelance photographer may specialize in wedding photography.

One of the most common misconceptions regarding freelance photographers is that they do nothing but take pictures. In the early stages of his or her career, however, a freelance photographer will likely spend more time looking for work than taking pictures. Only when a freelance photographer has a strong portfolio and solid industry connections will he or she be able to spend the majority of the day taking pictures. For this reason, it's important for photographers to set rates that are high enough to help compensate for all of the time they spend marketing their services.

Couples may hire a freelance photographer for a special anniversary.
Couples may hire a freelance photographer for a special anniversary.

Like writers, graphic designers, and other self-employed professionals, freelance photographers have many administrative tasks they must perform to keep their business running. They must keep track of all expenses, process invoices, and keep detailed records in order to pay all necessary taxes on their earnings. While not necessarily exciting, these duties must be completed in order to keep the freelancer's career on track.

A freelance photojournalists provides images to media outlets.
A freelance photojournalists provides images to media outlets.

A focus on continued professional development is often considered a key component of becoming a successful freelancer. A freelance photographer can often be found reading photography books, taking classes, and attending workshops to help improve his or her photography skills. Entering photography competitions is also common, since these events can provide exposure and opportunities for further career advancement.

Freelance photographers often spend much more time editing photos than shooting them.
Freelance photographers often spend much more time editing photos than shooting them.
Freelance photographers working on assignments often face long hours and short deadlines.
Freelance photographers working on assignments often face long hours and short deadlines.
A photograph of a waterfall in Tasmania. Many nature photographers work freelance.
A photograph of a waterfall in Tasmania. Many nature photographers work freelance.
Freelance photographers may take pictures of models that can be used in ads.
Freelance photographers may take pictures of models that can be used in ads.

Discussion Comments

lighth0se33

Photographers who work with children and animals spend most of their time trying to get a good pose out of their subjects. Both offer a challenge, because they have short attention spans and can’t always understand what you want from them.

For the children, she has wind-up toys on hand. She will get them going out of the range of the camera so that they won’t show up in the photo, and she will usually get a smile or at least an interested gaze from the child.

For the dogs, she uses squeaky toys and plastic flutes. Just one sound can often get a tilted head and a cute pose on the first try.

StarJo

My brother is a photographer, and he spends lots of time working on his website. He says that it is important for people to know that his work is high quality both in print and onscreen.

Unlike some freelance photographers, he uses only a digital camera. He has an awesome printer at home and some great photo paper, and he prints the photos himself.

Often, though, people will request the images on CD so that they can store them on their computers or upload them to social networking sites easily. They also like to display them in digital picture frames.

My brother spends most of his work days dealing with a computer as well as a camera. He has the latest technology and software, and he feels that this gives him an edge over other photographers in our area.

OeKc05

@cloudel - That sounds about like the life of a freelance graphic designer, too. That is what I do, and the competition for work can be scary at times.

I know a couple of freelance photographers, and they both have to hold down other jobs just to survive. Many kids study to become photographers because it sounds interesting and maybe even easy, but they are flooding the market. There are just more designers and photographers out there than the world has need of at the time.

Having said that, I think that the freelance photographers who are the most dedicated to doing work of the utmost quality and marketing themselves continuously will be the ones who do well. In this business, you just can’t afford to let things happen. You have to try and make them happen.

cloudel

I always thought it would be exciting to become a freelance photographer, but that was before I knew how many problems they faced. After I became good friends with one, I learned that it isn’t a glamorous career most of the time.

My friend spent six months looking for his first big assignment after college. He had to move back in with his parents, and even though he spent every day researching ways to get work as a photographer, he couldn’t find any.

In our neighborhood, there were already three established photographers. Everyone flocked to them with their photography needs, because they had good reputations and experience.

My friend finally got his first job shooting a wedding for a neighbor. That did lead to more work, but it was a slow process. He ended up working for someone else to earn extra income during his downtime.

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