On the surface, the life of a freelance photographer seems idyllic – you have no boss to answer to, you set your own schedule, and you get to focus on the subject matter that inspires you the most, capturing moments of wonder and sharing them with the world.
It’s a thrilling picture, but is it too good to be true?
By forgoing the traditional employment route, you welcome into your life all the risks and rewards of building a business for yourself. As a photographer, this means you’ve added a whole range of other jobs to your weekly routine.
You must be everything from creative genius to marketing manager, sales guru to cleaner. Though you can outsource some of these roles as your business grows, in the early days, you need to be prepared to cover them all.
To help you construct a clear picture of what life as a freelance photographer is like, we’ve compiled this list of pros and cons experienced by many of those working in the industry.
What are the pros of being a freelance photographer?
Let’s start with the benefits freelance photography has to offer those with the talent and drive to make this career path work.
1. Freelance photography allows you to combine your passions
There’s no end to the subject matter you can specialize in as a freelance photographer, meaning you get to do the job you love while getting involved in other aspects of life you’re passionate about.
Sports fans can build a career working at their favorite sporting events, music-lovers can head to concerts and festivals, adventurous souls can become travel photographers, those who love meeting new people can work in portraiture, and you can mix and match these specialties to suit your changing wants and needs throughout your career.
2. You get to put the “free” in freelancing
Freelance photographers have ultimate freedom to work whenever and wherever they see fit. If you like peace and quiet, you can do your admin and photo editing at home; if you prefer the hustle of the streets and the rich smell of ever-brewing coffee, then you can take advantage of the free wi-fi at your favorite coffee shop; and if your preferences lie somewhere in between, you can rent a space in a serviced office. The one thing that’s true about all your potential working spaces is that you’re not stuck with any of them.
You’re also free with the hours you work. If you want to take a break between a big day of shooting and a laborious day of editing, you can. You’re the boss, so there’s no-one to ask permission from.
3. Multiple ways to earn
There are many ways to earn money as a freelance photographer. Along with paid shoots for weddings and other special events, you can sell photos to media outlets or sell them on stock image websites.
With the stock image option, you’ll get a commission every time one of your photos is downloaded. While there are no guarantees here, if you have plenty of high-quality images, it can be a nice extra income stream. And there really is nothing like waking up to see that you’ve earned a few bucks in your sleep!
In addition to this, your earning potential is high as a freelance photographer, particularly if you manage to make a name for yourself in one of the more lucrative niches, like fashion.
4. The thrill of a great shot
Though many things lose their shine over time, one thing that remains as powerful as ever for photographers is the thrill of capturing a brilliant shot. Those perfect moments are about more than just timing, and as you develop your skills, your appreciation for a well-captured photograph will only increase.
5. You can do a world of good with your skills
There are so many amazing opportunities for photographers to give back to the world. Some choose to put their lives at risk by heading into war zones and natural disasters to shed light on the conditions people are living in and, in turn, do their part to ensure aid gets to those who need it.
Of course, you don’t have to go to these lengths to help out. Organizations like Photographers Without Borders can connect you with communities around the world who need their stories told. You can also work directly with non-profits or sign up with sites like Volunteer Match that will hook you up with charities that could use your skills.
Working with non-profits is a fantastic way to give back to the community while developing your skills, portfolio, and reputation.
What are the cons of being a freelance photographer?
All these benefits do, of course, come with a dark side. Read on to see if you’re up for the challenges you’ll face as a freelance photographer.
1. Blending your work and passions isn’t always rewarding
Imagine seeing your favorite band play and instead of soaking up the pure awesomeness of it all, you have to have your face buried in a camera, hunting down the perfect angles and shots.
Though it’s undeniably wonderful to get up close and personal with musicians and sports stars, there are times when every photographer wishes they could just put the camera down and enjoy the moment.
Of course, if you have a passion for the art of photography, this is a small price to pay. However, it’s worth being prepared for the fact that these bittersweet moments will arise from time to time.
2. Good photography equipment doesn’t come cheap
Though you can start out with cheaper gear and upgrade as you go, you’re still going to be up for a lot of hefty price tags with your equipment. From the camera itself and its lenses, tripods, memory cards, and transport cases to the laptop and software you use for editing, photography is not a cheap activity.
3. Money dramas
Expensive equipment won’t be the only money issue you face as a freelance photographer. Many clients don’t understand the value of a high-quality photography session, meaning you need to have excellent communication skills and a whole lot of faith in your own abilities to make the worth of your services clear to them.
Then there’s the bane of evert freelancer’s existence – overdue invoices. Whether you’re a photographer, a writer, or a graphic designer, running your own freelance business means having to chase up late invoices yourself. While most clients are careful to make their payments on time, some people really push the boundaries of what’s reasonable.
4. Unrealistic demands
Speaking of frustrating clients, you’re also likely to encounter plenty who want to come at you with unrealistic expectations. Maybe they expect you to use the camera to knock 50 pounds off their frame in a glamor shot, or perhaps they think it’s reasonable for you to edit and submit 500 festival photos in a day. You’d be surprised at how outlandish their demands can get.
What’s important to keep in mind here is that their unrealistic expectations are coming from a place of ignorance, not malice. They simply don’t fully grasp what’s involved on your end. So, the best way to combat this issue is through clear communication and gentle boundary-setting.
5. You can end up working crazy hours
Though you’re technically your own boss when it comes to scheduling, there are so many variables that are out of your control. The weather, for example, will not conform to your timetable. Nor can you expect event organizers to fit their schedule around yours.
Even if you’re a great communicator who sets clear boundaries, there will be times when you need to bend over backwards for a client and plow through a whole lot of editing in a short amount of time.
Freelance photography: final thoughts
The life of a freelance photographer may not be easy or predictable, but it is monumentally rewarding if you go in prepared to be endlessly learning and up-skilling. If you’re a creative and independent thinker who thrives on challenges, this may well be the career path for you.
Do you know any budding photographers who might find this information useful? If so, please feel free to share the article with them. And if you’d like to learn more about how to make money as a newbie photographer, check out our guide to selling your photos online.