Becoming a freelance photographer could open up a future full of exciting opportunities. But it also comes with challenges, like buying and insuring pricey gear, creating your own portfolio and marketing your services. In this guide, we’ll take you through 12 steps that will help you set up as a freelance photographer led by advice from industry pros who have done it themselves.
1. Accept that you’re a business owner as well as a creative
“Becoming a freelance photographer is more than knowing how to make great images, it's about being business savvy as well," says real estate photographer Kristi Foster. "Most of us get into photography because we love the art. No one tells you that to be a successful freelance photographer you have to know how to run a business.”
If you feel like your business smarts are lagging behind your photography skills, try free online courses on topics from bookkeeping to social media marketing from platforms like Coursera, Udemy or EdX.
2. Nail your niche
“Having a niche offering rather than describing your work in broad terms can feel scary, like you might miss out on jobs, but it can really work in your favour” says Emma Alexander, founder of Mother Bran, a company that supports independent photographers through shoot production logistics, one-to-one mentoring and accountability. “Identifying and owning a niche makes you memorable, besides who wants to work with a 'jack of all trades'? Clients want the best of the best. Tell them what you do best and be the expert in that field.”
As a photographer, clients need to know that you can nail the chosen subject the first time around. We’d recommend becoming an expert in one or two particular fields and building up your clientele that way.
3. Get your equipment up to scratch
The right gear depends on your specialism and type of work.
Some things to consider when shopping around for equipment are:
- Whether you’ll be studio based or on the move
- Whether you’re shooting one-time moments (like the bride and groom’s first dance) or can easily retake a missed shot (like food photography in your own studio)
- Whether you’ll be at high or low risk of physical mishaps (such as shooting a sports match in bad weather)
- Whether you’ll be shooting more subjects at certain times of the year. For instance, if you’re a wedding photographer and your camera needs to go in for repairs during the summer and you don’t have a spare, you may wish you’d invested in multiple camera bodies. Don’t be afraid to double up on something if losing or damaging it would disrupt your ability to work
4. Ensure you’re insured
Photographers’ kit can be seriously pricey. A top-of-the-range camera can cost several thousand pounds, with a telefocus lens costing hundreds to thousands, plus hundreds more for extras like flashguns, tripods and remote triggers. If your kit was stolen, damaged or lost, and you didn’t have insurance, you’d have to fork out to replace it yourself. Specialist photographer or videographer insurance is designed to help out front the cost of replacement equipment if a claimable event happened, so you don’t miss out on a day's work.
Photographers’ insurance should include:
- Public liability cover, which is a contractual requirement for many jobs
- Contents and equipment cover
- Professional indemnity insurance, which protects you against contract, IP and copyright disputes.
Media liability insurance, which covers you for negligence in media content and advertising, including websites, blogs and social media
These covers are designed to protect you from the risks associated with being a freelance photographer and could all be invaluable if someone were to make a claim against you.
5. Create a tailored portfolio
“If you're starting off as a photographer, ensure you build and categorise your online portfolio,” says Mark Smith, founder of Double Up Social. “Whether this be on your website, Instagram or other channels, clients will be looking for examples of your work and particular niches of photography, whether that be food, sport, fashion or interior photography. Categorise your portfolio into the industries you have worked with, such as 'Food photography' or 'Fashion photography', as this will make it easier for potential clients to see if you're a good fit for them.”
6. Be selective
Don’t feel like you have to include every photo you’ve ever taken; your portfolio is only as strong as your weakest photo. Beautifully lit photos of food may showcase your technical skills, but will they help to win you more clients for your wedding photography business? “Your main focus should be on sharing images and content that will appeal to the type of client you want to attract,” says photographer Charlotte Gale.
7. Make client reviews seamless
Taking beautiful photographs is just the first step. In some sectors (particularly food, product and fashion photography) you’ll share your photos with a potential client before going through multiple rounds of review and approval.
You can also integrate client proofing galleries directly into your website.
8. Brand your offering
Once you’ve picked one or more niche areas, it’s time to create a brand that showcases your focus, values and personality to potential clients. “People want to work with a photographer they like and trust,” says Charlotte Gale. “So take some time to think about how you want to represent yourself (colours, logo, style, your story) and keep it consistent across all your marketing.”
You can use free tools like Canva to create a simple logo, or hire someone from a freelancer site like Fiverr, Upwork or 99 Designs to design one for you. Then, you can create a website using a builder tool such as WordPress or Squarespace.
9. Understand copyright and usage
“It's really important to understand copyright and usage as a photographer,” says Emma Alexander. “Copyright law can feel like a grey area but it's actually very clear: whoever creates the artwork owns the copyright. Clients then pay to license the use of that work from the copyright holder under set terms called usage. You can grant a license forever, but you should still keep the copyright. Usage should be charged on top of your day rate, not bundled in.”
10. Set yourself up for invoicing success
“For freelancers, chasing invoices can be a constant battle,” says Emma Alexander. “Make sure you’re covering yourself from the start: clearly state the due date and your payment terms (e.g. 30 days) on your invoice and accompanying email. Add a penalty notice for late payment (e.g. 8%/month) and, crucially, enforce this. You'll be surprised how issuing a new invoice for payment charges suddenly makes you a priority!”
11. Connect with others in the industry
“Organisations like The Guild of Photographers or The Societies of Photographers and magazines such as Digital Photographer can be great sources of industry-specific information,” says Charlotte Gale. “Meanwhile, Facebook groups are vital resources for seeking advice and sharing ideas and images.
Many of the photography societies have their own groups and forums and there are also more specialised ones for specific genres. For example, if you are a female photographer who is interested in newborn and family portraiture, Bokeh Belles is a very active Facebook group.”
If you specialise in an area like corporate events photography, your clients may expect you to be a member of an organisation like the Association of Professional Photographers or the British Institute of Professional Photography. In other niches, prospects will judge you purely by the quality of your work and testimonials from former clients.
12. Consider videography
“If you have the kit, it doesn't hurt to learn how to do videography alongside your photography offering,” says Mark Smith. “A lot of brands, especially in the hospitality industry, often want both photos and videos of their content. We're not talking Hollywood production or quality here, but simple, authentic-looking videos, even just a panning shot of their venue or product can help you stand out from other photographers.”
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful. If you’re in the market for photographers’ insurance and you’re not sure where to start, our quote builder can guide you in the direction of appropriate covers. If you’re still stuck, simply contact our friendly team via web chat, phone or email.