The gig economy is made up of temporary employment opportunities that are completed by freelance workers and independent contractors. Gig workers are an important aspect of the total U.S. workforce. Roughly 10% of U.S. workers use gig work and independent work for their primary income. More than 25% of U.S. workers engage in gig work or side hustles for supplementary income.
If you love photography and are looking for an option to earn money online with the opportunity to quit your main job and travel with a freelancing gig, a career in freelance photography might be right for you. A freelance photographer is an independent contractor or photography artist who sells fine art prints and/or provides photography services to produce photos and images for individuals, organizations, and businesses.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes a 4% decline in the job outlook for photographers and median pay of $36,280 per year in 2019. However, the decline in employment opportunities may be impacted by the rise of available freelance photography services.
Photography can be a lucrative way to make side money or you could earn enough to make it your main career, but you will need the proper equipment, training, and savvy business techniques to set you apart from your competitors.
The first hurdle to starting a freelance photography career is acquiring all of the necessary equipment. Photography tools and technology are expensive, and to be truly competitive you may need to invest in professional equipment. Much like any entrepreneurial venture, there will be startup costs involved.
If you have a routine way of making money, you may choose to start your side hustle while keeping your job, advancing your services as you gain experience, and are able to purchase more tools.
If you already have a strong background in photography and have the opportunity to start taking on freelancing gigs, you could prepare to get approved and apply for a credit card so that you can purchase the equipment you need all at once. Taking out credit to start a new business venture is not uncommon, but you should take care to learn about credit and debt management before going into credit card debt.
Professional photography is more than having a good eye and lining up a shot, you need the equipment that allows you to capture the moment, and to produce a product that suits your client’s needs. Camera equipment may include:
If you intend to sell photos, you are going to need a computer and some professional photo editing software. Regardless of whether you choose a Mac or PC, the most important things to look for in a computer you intend to use for photo editing are:
Through photo editing, you can highlight the subject, bring focus to an image, or manipulate color, exposure, or white balance to achieve the desired effect. A few popular software options include:
As a freelance photographer, you are building your own entrepreneurial photography business. A few things you will need to make your business run efficiently include:
In addition to the equipment, technology, and business resources you have acquired, you will also need the know-how to perform the necessary work as a freelance photographer. One of the best ways to grow your skills is to practice, to get out there and start taking pictures and editing them.
You can utilize friends and family as subjects in your photos to gain experience working on portraits or group shots, you can try shooting household items or foods to get better acquainted with product or food photography, or you can travel to practice and learn more about landscape photography. All of this practice is not only valuable in building your skills, but also provides you with the opportunity to build your portfolio.
If you are just starting out, or wish to learn skills in an academic environment, there are a variety of ways to take photography classes and gain structured or institutional knowledge to apply to your studies and progress as a photographer.
The field of photography does not have an accrediting agency that specifically certifies qualifying photography degrees, though you may choose to seek a program that has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
When selecting a photography degree from a college or university, you may look to see what is locally available and should consider the curriculum and coursework that is required to earn a degree. Photography programs range from certification programs, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, or master’s level education.
Certification programs include:
Associate programs may include classes such as:
Bachelor’s programs may include classes such as:
Master’s degrees in photography, also commonly called a Master of Fine Arts (MFA), typically take two years and are a more exploratory and application-based program that teaches essential business and marketing skills. Students of these programs gain more hands-on practice and usually complete the program with a final project and portfolio.
You may also have the opportunity to select a focus, emphasis, or specialty to study in your pursuit of a photography degree that may include:
There are many versions of online photography courses that range from entry-level beginners to experienced masters classes. Classes may be taught by a school, hosted by an individual professional, and may be specific to a type of photography such as landscape photography, or may focus on software and photo editing.
A few options to seek out online classes may be:
There are also many tutorial books available that can be bought online. A sample of tutorial books includes:
Once you have obtained all of your equipment and are preparing to begin your business as a freelance photographer, you may need to spend some time building your unique and professional branding. Your branding should showcase technical expertise as well as your creative flair. To build your brand you will need to consider the following elements.
There are many different types of photography that freelancers may choose to focus on. Choose your niche or a select few niches based on your strengths and interests as well as an understanding of how your services will compete within the market. Types of freelance photography niches include:
Your photography portfolio is going to be one of the most essential elements of your ability to find work as a freelance photographer. Your portfolio showcases your work, skills, and aptitude as a photographer and can be a major deciding point on whether a client wants to work with you, or not.
One of the best ways to showcase a portfolio is by creating a dedicated website or page that hosts images of your best work, as well as your prices and contact information. You can utilize your social media accounts to gain traction with your target audience and direct interested leads to your website or page so they’re able to take a deeper look at your products and services.
If you work in multiple niches, it is important to create specific pages and portfolios for each niche to keep your overall portfolio organized and easy to navigate.
Additionally, it can be helpful to select a few of your best or most powerful photographs to professionally print and keep in a physical portfolio to bring along to any meetings you have with potential clients. Bringing a sample of printed photos showcases how your work will appear as published materials if you are hired.
A few tips to consider when developing your portfolio:
Having a portfolio is essential, but to make it as effective as possible you will need to practice digital marketing to make your photographs available to the public and put them in front of your target audience. One of the best ways of doing this is to create a strategy around your business’s digital presence.
When choosing the social media channels you intend to use, it can be helpful to consider your personal bandwidth and how much time you intend to dedicate to your social media marketing. You may also want to consider the target audience, what channels they use, and how they use them, so you can best define your strategy of use.
A few social channels to consider include:
Posting regular content on your social channels is one of the best ways to get your audience’s eyes on your work. Regular posting builds marketplace awareness and keeps your brand relevant and your users engaged with your content. Each post offers the opportunity to gain a new follower, or to drive traffic to your portfolio. Inconsistent posting may undermine the value you gain by having a presence on social media, but posting regularly with poor content can be even more detrimental.
You should strive to create quality, unique, and engaging content that you can cross-pollinate across your social media channels. One of the best ways to do so is to create a content calendar that allows you to strategize and curate content ahead of time so that regular posting of quality content is achievable.
You may also choose to invest in a social media management tool such as Buffer, Hootsuite, or Later that allows you to combine your socials onto one dashboard, plan your posts in advance, and set automatic publishing.
Working as a freelance photographer offers flexible hours, freedom to work with clients of your choice, the ability to control your workload, and independence to run your business as you so choose. Among the many perks of running your individual side hustle, you are also ultimately responsible for the intricacies of operation. A few aspects of freelance finances and business operations that you will need to consider are detailed below.
If you are working independently as a freelancer, you will have to decide on pricing rates that are comparable but competitive in your geographic location and in your specific niche. One of the first things you should do is research your competitors’ prices, which will indicate the general prices you may expect your customers to pay.
You may also consider a cost-plus pricing calculation. To do this you will need to add up the total cost of:
Once you have calculated the total cost of what it will take to provide your services, you may choose to apply a percentage to achieve your desired profit. All of these combined should provide you with the final sale price of your services.
One essential aspect of business administration as a freelance photographer is to create client contracts and invoices. Regardless of your connection to the client, you should make sure to provide your client with a contract after you have established the services you will provide, as well as the final cost of sale, so that both parties have agreed to your terms.
When you have completed the job, you should provide your client with an invoice that includes:
When establishing your business you will need to choose a business structure and ownership model that will impact your profit, taxes, operation, legal needs, and responsibilities. The two main choices for a solo freelance photographer looking to work independently are a sole proprietorship or an LLC.
A sole proprietorship is an unincorporated business run by one individual with no legal distinction between the business and the individual. Advantages of a sole proprietorship include easy and inexpensive formation, complete control of your business and all decisions, and simple tax preparation as your business is not taxed separately from yourself. Disadvantages of a sole proprietorship include personal legal liability for the debts and obligations of the business, and potential difficulty raising money or getting loans from the bank.
A limited liability company, or LLC, is owned by an individual or a partnership of “members.” An LLC is legally separate from the individual or members. Advantages of an LLC include limited personal liability and relatively easy business and tax record keeping. Disadvantages of an LLC may include more upfront expenses in the creation of the business entity than a sole proprietorship, you may need an additional local business license to operate, and you may need to pay self-employment taxes.
Taking the leap to join the gig economy as a freelance photographer has many benefits including freedom, flexibility, and total control of your business. However, when you give up the normal nine to five, you are sacrificing the perks and benefits many companies offer their employees, such as tax collection and organization, insurance, and retirement services or options.
As a freelance photographer, you will need to learn how to appropriately prepare and file your taxes as a small business or as an independent contractor. This will include understanding and using the correct forms for your business structure, saving all required and appropriate documents, and keeping track of your records to accurately file your taxes.
Alongside filing taxes for your home business, you will also need to consider how to get health insurance as a small business, or health insurance options for independent contractors. You may also need to look into preparing for retirement by considering the best ways to save for retirement, such as using a 401(k) or IRA (traditional or Roth), and creating a budget and savings account. You may also consider looking into sources of retirement income when designing your individual retirement strategy.
If you have the necessary financial and business finesse to create a side hustle and a deep desire to make a living from your photography, but lack the financial resources, you may choose to seek out grants that can help you get to where you want to be.
Many photography grants are offered for fine arts or documentary projects. While these grants may not support the entrepreneurial side of your business, they can help you complete an artistic vision, gain experience, build a portfolio, or make a name for yourself. Resources and grants for photographers include: