14 Tips to be a Successful Freelance Photographer - Digital Photography School

14 Tips to be a Successful Freelance Photographer

For some, working for yourself is one of those great dreams.  The satisfaction, freedom, nobody looking over your shoulder (except your significant other), ah the life right?  Well not in every case.  The freelance photography life can be hard.  Long hours for little pay, alone with no co-workers to speak to or have lunch with, the lack of stability of a weekly check.  You have to be dedicated and follow some specific rules to make it work.

My office as I’m writing this

So I thought I would write a list of things that I have learned over the years as I have progressed from a small desk in my bedroom to a slightly larger work area in my living room (gotta learn to work in small spaces here in NY).  I have made every mistake in the book over the years and here’s to helping you avoid these mistakes and to becoming more productive.

Now as a side note, I’m not going to pretend that I do all of this stuff all of the time.  I have good streaks and bad ones, but I try my best at it.  Save this list and come back to it frequently to remind yourself of what you can improve at.

1.  Create a good website with a daily blog

website.jpgYour website is going to be your most important ally.  It is what most people will look at when considering you for a job and so your effort and/or money should be invested here.  Make sure it is easy to navigate and in HTML (NO FLASH!).  Keep in mind that you are only as good as your worst photo, so don’t just throw up every photo that you think looks decent.  Sometimes less is more.  

If you don’t have enough content, create some!  Set up shoots with friends or seek out aspiring models who are willing to work in exchange for photos.  As long as the finished product looks great, your clients don’t have to know that these weren’t paying jobs.  After all, it’s your ability as a photographer that counts, right?

Set up a daily blog.  Update it every day with a photo, religiously.  You can take Sundays or the full weekends off.  The effect of a daily blog are wide ranging.  Unfortunately, when you start a freelance photography business, the one thing that often goes out the door is actually taking pictures.  You focus so much on getting jobs and doing them well that you forget to actually shoot for yourself.  A daily blog will keep you doing this, shooting things that you love, and it will help you improve on a daily basis.  It will also add a personality to your website and help to steadily build a community of people who are interested in your work.

2.  The jobs that scare you s***less are the most important ones

Street photography often takes you out of the realm of comfort

If you are starting out as a freelancer, you will probably get offered jobs that you are scared silly doing. Photographer Joe McNally does a great impression of a young, shivering photographer being asked how much he would charge to shoot his first wedding:  “Ccccan I pay you to do it?” he sheepishly asks.  

Just remember that the jobs that scare you the most are the most important ones to get under your belt.  You won’t be nearly as scared the second time around.  

Even the best photographers in the world were once scared by certain jobs, and most still are.

3.  The most valuable question in the world: “What is your budget?”

This question is the most valuable tool in a photographer’s belt.  Pricing can be the most annoying thing to figure out, especially if you are not so confident in your abilities.  I still struggle with pricing.  We don’t know how much a client has to spend.  We don’t want to underbid and either look like an inexperienced photographer or sell ourselves short for our services.  And we don’t want to overbid by too much to lose the job.  The simple question, “what budget are you trying to work with here?” puts the power in your court.

Now I rarely quote prices in the first contact, it’s just not my thing.  I say, “let me take down all of the details and get back to you soon with the price.  Is there a particular budget that you a trying to stay within (or is there a particular amount you are trying to spend on this)?”  This gives me some time to figure out the right price.

*As a side note to this, make sure to flesh out all of the details of a project before you agree to a price.  This is probably the most annoying and time consuming mistake that I constantly made when starting out.  I have nightmares of the never ending job where I was too afraid to ask for more money.  If someone asks you to go above and beyond the initial agreement, don’t feel bad about explaining this and asking for additional payment.

4.  Respond to emails and phone calls as fast as you can

If you are contacted by someone looking for your services, chances are that they just spent the time to look at your work, liked it and now you are fresh in their mind.  Every second that you wait dissipates this freshness.  Get the dialogue going quickly and the person will often not look elsewhere.

5.  Keep lists!

teuxdeux.jpg

Lists are so important.  Big goals are reached not at once, but through series of small tasks, in list form.  With freelancing there is always so much random stuff to keep up with, often stuff you don’t feel like doing.  Having these things in a list makes them tangible and keeps them fresh in your mind.  And the rewarding feeling of crossing these things off is necessary to keep from procrastinating on the less urgent tasks.  

Up until 4 months ago I was a paper list man.  I would have paper scraps of lists everywhere.  I could never find an online list service that I really felt comfortable with, until I found teuxdeux.com.  It’s so simple but oh so perfect, a weekly list that you can access from any computer.  It has vastly improved my life.  Try it out.  Set your homepage to it.

6.  Set up specfic web surfing times for the day

catstackers.jpg

This is a tough rule for me to follow because I have pretty bad ADD, and I like to read the internet.  While reading informative websites and such during the day can seem like it is productive, it fragments your attention.  I try to set aside specific times to surf the web.  I get it out of my system in the morning while I eat breakfast and then again at lunch.

If you have particular trouble with certain websites, there are ways to block these websites on your computer (you can find out how by googling.)  Block them every morning and then unblock them at night.

7.  Separate your personal life from your work life

Yeah right.

8.  Keep a consistent schedule

Probably the most annoying question that I get from my friends is how awesome it must be to work in my boxers.

I consider myself a professional.  I wake up every morning at the same time, shower, get dressed, put on shoes–well slippers, eat breakfast and start work at 9 (and work the same hours every day).  Start work at the same time as everyone else.  Work and sleep the same hours hours every day.  This was something that I did not do when I first started out and I lost a lot of productivity and it made work a lot less fun.  I often think about that almost ‘romantic’ ideal of the semi-deranged writer spending coffee fueled nights churning out those magical pages.  That is a tough lifestyle to succeed on.  You will have much more energy and get much more done if you keep the same early schedule every day.

9.  Low energy days and the 15 minute nap

The dreaded low energy day, the bane of my existence.  Sometimes having a boss looking over your shoulder can be a good thing.  Retouching skin for hours on end can make your eyes droopy and have you feeling like shoving a screwdriver into your brain.  All those dreaded tasks piling up, just mocking you from your list.

Besides consistent exercise and coffee (which I try to save for those rough days), the 15-20 minute power nap can be a crucial thing.  An up and coming tool often used by CEOs, but yet still frowned upon in the work place, the quick mid-day nap can clear your head and reset your energy for the day.  It is also a great way to break up a long retouching session when you get to the point where you can’t tell red from green.  I don’t do this daily, but it is a wonderful tool for those rough days.

10.  Figure out where the jobs are supposed to come from (and go out and get them!)

There is nothing wrong with contacting potential clients and letting them know about your work.  Take time to think about where you would like your jobs to come from and then figure out ways to reach these people.  The friendly email can go a long way.

Contact owners of blogs and see if they will be willing to feature your work.  Tell them you think their readers might be interested in it and if your work is good enough they will often be willing to do this without anything else.  You are offering them value for their site.  If they need more, offer to write a small post, some tips or valuable info for their readers.

11.  Don’t over promise.

If you think you can get a job finished by Friday, don’t say Friday.  You never know when something crazy will come up.  Give yourself an extra few days to work with and when you are actually able to get that job finished on Friday, the client will be very pleased with your efficiency.

12.  Speed (and why I use Lightroom.)

lightroom1.jpgBeing fast is so important.  It is a skill that is really built up over time, as you gain more experience.  But I can’t say enough how Lightroom has changed my life.  

If you don’t use it already, it will be the best money you’ve ever spent.  

The program is so intuitive and it has transformed the speed at which I am able to edit my work.  

Really learn how to use the entire program and learn the keyboard shortcuts as well.  Keyboard shortcuts are amazing!

13.  Keep learning

kelbytraining.jpgThe investment of getting a Lynda and/or Kelby training account will be a million-fold.  For those of you that don’t know, both of these are educational, video-based resources taught by highly qualified and amazing teachers.  Compared to traditional education, the value is unreal.  

Each lesson is split into 5 or 10 minute videos so you can watch them at your own pace or pick out the specific information that you want to focus on.  Lynda.com is based more on the computer side of things, with an enormous amount of Photoshop, Lightroom and web design lessons.  Kelby training is focused more on actual photography (and Photoshop).  Both are incredible investments.

14.  Have confidence!

You can do it.  It’s not easy, but believing in yourself is the most important tool to keep yourself going.  Put yourself out there.  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.

And keep in mind that the work you do during the tough times is what makes the good times happen.

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James Maher is a professional photographer based in New York, whose primary passion is documenting the unique personalities and stories of the city. He is the author of the e-book, "The Essentials of Street Photography" and runs photo tours of New York. To view his work or connect, visit his website.

  • http://www.getprophoto.com Dan Waters

    Photium is a pleasure to use. It’s a simple template system but flexible enough to create lots of different styles. It contains a blog facility and the customer support is exceptional. I use it for my Danwaterscreative.com website.

  • Anirban Roy

    This blog is a great help for the young ones who are starting their career. I really appreciate each and every points of yours. These tips is very helpful for me also. I will be going to follow your these tips.
    Adding more to these tips I think personally you have to be yourself. Originality is going to be a fruit for this career. We have to believe in ourselves and motivate ourselves.
    @Vindra I really appreciate the unpaid work. Its chance of learning. When you are paid, you are always in a scare mind if you can meet the client’s criteria or mood. But when you are working unpaid,you always try to invent new technique and style.

  • Parth

    I m a bio-medical Engineering student…. I m taking so many cool pics…. photography is my passion ..I want to be a Freelance photographer but my dad is asking me that what is the scope of photographer !! that’s y they don’t put me photography course. what should I have to do ????

  • kumarzarapkar

    Hi
    past 25 years I m trading on stock markets
    nature photography was my tool to get rid of proff stress now it has become my life
    using cannon 5 d mark 2 35-350 35-70 70 210

  • Salone Barry

    I ran into this while I was searching for effective ways to start a blog, then it turned into how to be a successful freelance photographer. Link after link I clicked until I came across this article which I enjoyed reading beyond description. I jotted many things down as well as took mental notes. I am seventeen years old and I’m aspiring to be nothing short of great! I love photography as a hobby, but I want to take it further; and I know I have the potential to do so. I love the tips, opinions, advice, and facts that I read online and recieve from far more experienced artists. I will be a freshman in college starting next month, and I will be double majoring, so I know I won’t have the leisure time to entertain my love for photography as much as I do now (and even now I hardly have time); but I am in no rush! The website, the exspensive equipment, the clients, the money… I know it will all come later on! I guess I’m rambling, but I commented to express how appreciative I am of this article. I will definitely be referring back to this and recommending it to others who aspire to be great and need as many tips as they can get!
    Thank you so much for your help!

  • Blank She

    Really great & usefull tips. Thank You. Motivates me to pursue with my passion and not give up. Whats life without obstacles right? Its what builds us. “Life’s like photography, we use the negatives to develope.” -anonymiss

  • http://n/a.com James

    I am curious if we are just starting out. How do I go about getting media passes to sporting events. Where I live we have lots of football, basketball, and golf tournaments. Does anyone have tips for media passes?

  • http://www.abhinavsagar.com Abhinav

    Can I use my freelance work on my website?
    I don’t mind using the name of the studio I shot for on the picture as a watermark.
    What if the studio guy opposes me? or asks me not to use any of my work?

  • Sbjames

    Would you charge bloggers for photos?

  • Brian J Jaeger

    Stellar tips! Great advice for anyone striking out on their own. “Jobs that scare you s***less are the most important ones” really challenges the bravely self-employed to be even more courageous, translating into a unique value prop for customer. Thanks James!

  • amyproctor

    I read these articles all the time but never get the answers I’m looking for. How do you actually get to the point of freelancing? Whom do you contact? what do you say if you contact this person at a newspaper or media station? Do you let them offer you a certain amount or do you have a set price ahead of time? Do most TV and news outlets have a set payment for services rendered? How do you actually make the contact that gives you the job? I have the talent but lack the gut know-how to work freelance for a client (news outlet, etc).

  • Marty R. Woodcock

    I agree with amyproctor. How does one start out, at the very beginning? (after camera purchase of course).

  • Adeela Badshah

    An absolutely wonderful article! Being a freelance photographer for 3 years now I completely relate to every point, some that I have conquered while others still remain to be conquered. Thanks for listing them together, definitely worth referring back to now and again to remind yourself :)

  • ßhävêsh°Ñ°Käpädïä

    Sir am from India and I like ur thinking if u r in india I like to be ur student …. Thanks

  • Barry E Warren

    Great Read,Thanks.

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    Hi Amy – very good question. The ultimate question pretty much. It really comes from putting yourself out there over and over again. You have to create the work and then create an organized website where people can see ther work (and perhaps even a print portfolio, or on an iPad can work for real life situations). Once you have all of that that you need to figure out who you want to work with, locate them, and go out and contact them. Call them on the phone, or send them an email and tell them you will follow up with a call. Most likely, you will get a lot of rejections first, but you only need a couple of yeses to start. There are many different and creative ways to make connections, but they all involve just putting yourself directly out there. Another way is to get a job assisting for other more experienced professionals. That is a good way to gain skills and connections and eventually jobs.

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    The first step is to figure out what you want to do, and then create a strong portfolio of that work. Then you have to figure out the people to show it to and get your work in front of them.

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    Thanks Adeela :)

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    Thanks Barry.

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    Thanks Brian :)

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    Generally not but that’s a personal preference. I try to get links from them, or just let them use it. I do charge when people use it as elements of the design of their site and not just in a blog post. But it depends.

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  • April

    Hi! My daughter moved to Europe to study photography but found she was learning more on her own by conversations, and reading. We have been told she has talent, (runs in the veins of family). She has decided she is about ready to begin her journey as a freelance photographer. We discussed that when I arrive at Barcelona we would make a selection of the best of her work on architecture, her forte, people in bizarre forms, she takes self portraits in black and white and her favorite, landscapes (nature). I was thinking of taking the selection and have them printed as a book in the form of introducing her work. I suggested she visit galleries, etc. and ask of their opinions of her photography work. Would this be worth it? Or should she post her pics for sale, and also do family portraits? She knows it will be a challenge and is getting ready but we want to take the right route. Her work is in flickr as Damaris Cruz Almodovar or DamarisLakme. Her watermark is CRAL. I hope to read your suggestions and opinions which I have found very informative and also, sent her your link. Thank you so much, April.

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    Hi My name is ‘Bruno Rico’ just want to share my experience with the world on how i got my love back and saved my marriage… I was married for 7years with 2kids and we lived happily until things started getting ugly and we had fights and arguments almost every time… it got worse at a point that she filed for divorce… I tried my best to make her change her mind & stay with me cause i loved her with all my heart and didn’t want to loose her but everything just didn’t work out… she moved out of the house and still went ahead to file for divorce… I pleaded and tried everything but still nothing worked. The breakthrough came when someone introduced me to this wonderful, great spell caster who eventually helped me out… I have never been a fan of things like this but just decided to try reluctantly cause I was desperate and left with no choice… He did special prayers and used roots and herbs… Within 7 days she called me and was sorry for all the emotional trauma she had cost me, moved back to the house and we continue to live happily, the kids are happy too and we are expecting our third child. I have introduced him to a lot of couples with problems across the world and they have had good news… Just thought I should share my experience cause I strongly believe someone out there need’s it… You can email him via eromosalelovespell@outlook.com Don’t give up just yet, the different between ‘Ordinary’ & ‘Extra-Ordinary’ is the ‘Extra’ so make extra effort to save your marriage/relationship if it’s truly worth it.

  • Isabella Morrison

    Hey creative folks! If you are looking to get hired for your talent @amyproctor:disqus , check out Werkly- an online direct market place specifically designed to help freelancers get hired for the work they love. Create a profile at http://werkly.com/, post your skills and availability, and start werking!

  • arctic_viper

    Hello, would you mind checking out my website and telling me what you think? It’s http://www.jfpphotography.ca

  • Mabiak

    Justin,
    Good start. I would take Maher’s #1 tip here as serious as he does. That’s probably why he put it first.

    I would also refer to Steve Jobs, the biography by Walter Isaacson, when he references Mike Markkula’s “Apple Marketing Philosophy (page 78). Empathy for the customer, focus to eliminate the unimportant, and (in your case here) impute: “People DO judge a book by its cover.”

    With that in mind, one of the first things that caught my eye was the inconsistency of capital letters in your footer. Check it out. The devil is in the _ _ _ _ _ _ _ .

    Look around and see what others are doing for portfolio sites. I think Maher will agree, it’s worth the effort to put on a good face.

    Good luck.

  • arctic_viper

    Thank you so much. I’ll see what I can do abou the header and see if I can get rid of unimportant stuff. Again thank you :D

  • Lee

    James,??

    This article hits the nail on the head and I hope people pay close attention to it.
    You address many of the things that most photographers never mention, but the very things that will end your career quickly if not taken into account. Things like having a regular schedule and getting enough rest, being quick but not over-promising and then having to apologize, dealing with ADD (like myself and many creatives have), limiting computer surfing time and blocking yourself if needed,
    responding to clients in a timely manner, and taking on those scary jobs.

    ??I worked as a journalist and then a university photographer before going out on
    my own in 2008. But though, I have prepared myself as much as possible it was
    these little things that wrecked me completely. Combined with too much debt and
    a failing economy, I found myself in bankruptcy two years later. I had lost
    almost all of my freelance due to a failing economy. But with my pride hurting
    due to my failure, I found these little things to hard to manage that I gave up
    completely and went the next three years working odd jobs and living on
    unemployment. I hated photography, the very thing that once gave me so much
    passion. I did not touch a camera for about a year, and then when I did I could
    find no motivation.

    ??I am now working for a university again as a photographer, loving every minute of it and trying to rebuild some freelance for extra income and my own personal enjoyment. I have since taught several community courses on photography and each time I have young folks approach me with things like, “What kind of lights do I need in my studio?” or, “Do I need a 12,000mm 2.8 lens?” Many don’t even know how to set their correct shutter speed and apertures. Yet when I tell them to take it slow and work on their craft, learn their equipment and put quality over all those other things that you think you need, nobody seems to want to hear it. I
    offered to sit down with one student and go over their entire business
    structure and help them learn to deal with the clients they already have while
    still learning their craft. This student didn’t want to take me up on it.

    ??What I went through was a hard lesson to learn. But I will say that I am a better
    person for it. I know my personal strengths and weaknesses. I am managing my
    money, my time, and my life much better. And now that I am back in the game I
    have seen an improvement in my creative ability. I know that there are lots of
    very talented photographers who are out of a job these days, and I thank God I
    am able to use my passion and gifts every day now. I am not indispensible. I
    could be replaced by a number of those unemployed photographers. – many with more experience or creativity than I. I am simply fortunate and blessed to be someone who is getting to do what they love right now. I now know not to take it for granted, not to think too highly of myself, and to know there is something I can learn everyday. I will never be the best. But I am learning to be the best I can be.
    I am learning that I will always have room to improve, in photography and in
    life. I don’t worry about what the “competition” thinks or says of
    me. I finally know who I am, and that is what matters.??

    I hope people will take your article to heart and pay careful attention to it. Thank you for your words of wisdom in this article, and I wish you much success my friend!

  • http://www.calebthalvisual.com Caleb Thal

    Thanks for the great article James. As a photographer newly pursuing freelance, I have experienced many of these snags! I was wondering if anyone would be willing to check out my site to see if it works with #1. I am still working on the “daily” part of my blog, but I want to know if it is easy to navigate, etc. Thanks! http://www.calebthalvisual.com

  • SharvaH

    Great article James. I would almost argue that the last step (to really hit this one out of the park) would be to talk to someone 1-1 to really get the low down. My friend did this (he scheduled a call with Matheu Young: https://www.wisewords.co/users/383/) and it was amazing.

  • ma thien

    I’m thinking about this problem too…. money to survive and how to invest good equipment with small budget ? big questions …..

Some older comments

  • Abhinav

    August 25, 2013 09:24 am

    Can I use my freelance work on my website?
    I don't mind using the name of the studio I shot for on the picture as a watermark.
    What if the studio guy opposes me? or asks me not to use any of my work?

  • James

    August 6, 2013 01:18 am

    I am curious if we are just starting out. How do I go about getting media passes to sporting events. Where I live we have lots of football, basketball, and golf tournaments. Does anyone have tips for media passes?

  • Blank She

    July 25, 2013 03:57 am

    Really great & usefull tips. Thank You. Motivates me to pursue with my passion and not give up. Whats life without obstacles right? Its what builds us. "Life's like photography, we use the negatives to develope." -anonymiss

  • Salone Barry

    July 10, 2013 06:46 am

    I ran into this while I was searching for effective ways to start a blog, then it turned into how to be a successful freelance photographer. Link after link I clicked until I came across this article which I enjoyed reading beyond description. I jotted many things down as well as took mental notes. I am seventeen years old and I'm aspiring to be nothing short of great! I love photography as a hobby, but I want to take it further; and I know I have the potential to do so. I love the tips, opinions, advice, and facts that I read online and recieve from far more experienced artists. I will be a freshman in college starting next month, and I will be double majoring, so I know I won't have the leisure time to entertain my love for photography as much as I do now (and even now I hardly have time); but I am in no rush! The website, the exspensive equipment, the clients, the money... I know it will all come later on! I guess I'm rambling, but I commented to express how appreciative I am of this article. I will definitely be referring back to this and recommending it to others who aspire to be great and need as many tips as they can get!
    Thank you so much for your help!

  • kumarzarapkar

    July 9, 2013 01:56 pm

    Hi
    past 25 years I m trading on stock markets
    nature photography was my tool to get rid of proff stress now it has become my life
    using cannon 5 d mark 2 35-350 35-70 70 210

  • Parth

    June 18, 2013 01:19 pm

    I m a bio-medical Engineering student.... I m taking so many cool pics.... photography is my passion ..I want to be a Freelance photographer but my dad is asking me that what is the scope of photographer !! that's y they don't put me photography course. what should I have to do ????

  • Anirban Roy

    June 12, 2013 10:54 pm

    This blog is a great help for the young ones who are starting their career. I really appreciate each and every points of yours. These tips is very helpful for me also. I will be going to follow your these tips.
    Adding more to these tips I think personally you have to be yourself. Originality is going to be a fruit for this career. We have to believe in ourselves and motivate ourselves.
    @Vindra I really appreciate the unpaid work. Its chance of learning. When you are paid, you are always in a scare mind if you can meet the client's criteria or mood. But when you are working unpaid,you always try to invent new technique and style.

  • Dan Waters

    June 7, 2013 06:41 pm

    Photium is a pleasure to use. It's a simple template system but flexible enough to create lots of different styles. It contains a blog facility and the customer support is exceptional. I use it for my Danwaterscreative.com website.

  • Shicane Wilson

    June 6, 2013 05:38 pm

    Hi James, this is Shicane here, I am a freelance photographer from Arizona. I would like to thank you for sharing some resourceful information for all of us, I wanted to know what are the most convenient platforms that a new photographer can use for building an online portfolio. I was looking for something more professional and I have tried WordPress. It requires a lot of detailing.

  • benjamin

    May 15, 2013 04:34 am

    Hi, I take wonderful pictures and have done many portraits, weddings, and senior pictures for friends and family. I want to go to the next level and start offering services to others, but have no idea where to start. Any additional advice would great...I got the art part down just not the business part. Thanks.

  • Tommy Daspit

    March 24, 2013 10:20 pm

    Thanks for the post. I've been working as a portrait and wedding photographer primarily. While that is living the life as a self employed photographer, it's still not the same as going out for freelance jobs. I'm looking to change my focus into the freelance and teaching realm. I do believe in the idea of the 15-20 min power nap. The problem is actually making myself do it. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get work done. I have had to start making a schedule of when I'm going to not work. Otherwise I'll be single soon!

  • Wendi

    March 9, 2013 12:46 am

    I have a dream, and have pondered and wondered for a number of years where it could lead me. My line has been "when I retire and have more time" or "when I grow up I want to be: a writer and photographer. I do believe when you do what you love the money will follow. So I am attempting to work on building a blog and getting my feet wet. (actually I think it's only my toes that are wet at the moment). However- I won't quit my day job. I really enjoyed reading your ideas and tidbits. Thanks for inspiring a guppy in a bowl with many colorful and big fish. So when I take only pictures, and DON'T leave any footprints - no one can see what I can do. Thanks again for moving me ON............

  • Edgar

    February 26, 2013 05:29 am

    I like this article, it helps me build confidence. I've been doing off and on photography since in the early film days but I never develop self confidence. In the past two years I did three wedding shootout (scared to death) as a backup photographer. People ask me to do their wedding after looking at my non-paid projects, but I always tell them that I'm not a pro and that I'll be willing to do a backup for the main photographer because I'm afraid to screw up a potential once-in-a-lifetime event. This article boost my confidence. I hope I'll be gutsy enough when an offer will again comes knocking at my door.

  • Amit

    February 3, 2013 04:32 am

    nicely written...thanks

  • Melissa

    October 26, 2012 11:28 am

    This is a great article, I am so glad I found this site. I started studying photography three years ago after a really bad car accident that left me laid up for a good part of 19 months. It was a horrible experience but reading about photography and doing small still life set-ups in my home kept me focused on something positive.

    I started Pixeled Imaging Photography and Design about a year and a half ago and at times, it has been a blessing and a curse, rewarding and fruitless, scary and exhilarating but I wouldn’t change a thing about this journey that I am on. The only thing I can add to this article is, you must learn to be patient. Nothing will happen overnight but it will happen.

  • Dan Waters

    August 11, 2012 08:24 am

    For pricing I always charge just outside my comfort zone and then increase it by around 5% every 6 months. This allows me to get comfortable with the new price while improving my sales skills in the meantime. Before long you’re charging more than you ever thought possible. My last family portrait was £930 when 18 months ago I averaged £150.

    Read more: http://digital-photography-school.com/successful-freelance-photographer#ixzz23BW5T28L

  • Dan Waters

    August 11, 2012 08:23 am

    For pricing I always charge just outside my comfort zone and then increase it by around 5% every 6 months. This allows me to get comfortable with the new price while improving my sales skills in the meantime. Before long you're charging more than you ever thought possible. My last family portrait was £930 when 18 months ago I averaged £150.

  • KenBPhotography

    June 1, 2012 12:56 pm

    ^ Nope, you're not wrong. LR4 is hands down the best program for quick edits and organization with PS being invaluable too for the left over crumbs.

  • James Maher

    February 10, 2012 03:50 pm

    I haven't used Aperture myself so I can't compare. But Lightroom is amazing. While every program will have its own benefits, I personally can't imagine that there's a better program out there than Lightroom. But I could be wrong.

  • J.R.

    January 24, 2012 03:07 am

    I am very curious as to why you think that Lightroom is better than Apple's Aperture for Post-Processing? Given its natural mainstream Post-production to website building and publishing.
    I would love to get a reply comment on that...

  • JoseG

    November 30, 2011 01:16 pm

    Your suggestions are very good and easy to understand your point. Thanks a lot for taking your time for this rookie to find the answers to some of my questions.. Thanks a bunch!!!

  • Goran

    July 2, 2011 02:55 pm

    The day when I am gonna say good bye to my job and say hello to photography will be my happiest day in my life.

  • Tim

    May 4, 2011 11:36 pm

    Number 14 blew my mind away. So encouraging!!

  • Janice woodring

    May 2, 2011 10:13 am

    i AM LOOKING FOR FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHY WORK THAT ISNT ABOUT GETTING THE BABY TO SMILE. i AM NOT CONVENTIONAL , THAT ISNT THE WAY ART IS SUPPOSED TO BE. MY WEBSITE SHOULD BE UP IN A FEW DAYS/ BUT UNTILL THEN IF YOU ARE LOOKINF FOR SOMEONE WITH 12 YEARS OF ADOBE AND 20 YEARS PHOTOGRAPHY EXPERIENCE... THAT IS ALSO A PUBLISHED POET. THAN DROP M,E A LINE.. PEACE

  • Diana Mikaels

    April 20, 2011 11:00 am

    This is one of the best articles that I've seen here at DPS.
    Huge thanks !!

  • Fashion Photography

    March 29, 2011 09:58 pm

    great set of things to consider and they all make sense. Pricing and routes to market are clear to get the jobs as is a good portfolio to showcase your work!

  • Erik

    March 4, 2011 09:09 am

    Thanks for the great info. I wonder what your take is on how one would go about getting in contact with clients for potential jobs. Do you get in contact directly and if so how? Or have you simply been doing it long enough to have them seek you out.

  • Robert Gunning

    January 4, 2011 11:08 pm

    Great post, thanks for the advice! I've been freelance for over a year, did part time for a few years. I found the hardest thing was using your time correctly going to bed at some point (often worked 2 days in a row straight) and spending money on the right things. All the advice is valid, i have made mistakes like over promising clients on time lines and under/over charging. Its a bit of a steep learning curve..top line for me for 2011..."So whats your budget?"
    Thanks Rob

  • Marco Famà

    December 28, 2010 02:46 am

    dear all,

    I am a pro freelance photographer based in Italy.
    I read your article and.. well.. this opened my eyes, guys! Especially regarding the website and portfolio you must show to the others!

    thank you very much for sharing!


    Marco
    Fotografo a Torino

  • Ellis

    November 27, 2010 01:41 am

    Great practical information. I'm self employed, but not in photography. Still your pointers apply to anyone that needs to be focused on getting the job done and moving FORWARD.

    I especially like that someone else has brain failure after heavy concentration on image processing. I definitely need to let my brain cool down at some point.

    Thanks for the great insights.

  • Michael Kruger

    November 26, 2010 04:38 pm

    I'm a pro freelancer...and think this is a fantastic article! I've experienced so many of the things mentioned above! Thanks for the great post!

    Michael

  • James Maher

    November 26, 2010 01:49 pm

    Kathie, whether to integrate your personal blog with your professional site is a tough thing to figure out and every situation is different. I think it depends on what you shoot both professionally and on your blog.

    Matt the networking issue should have its own post written about it. I tried to cover it a little bit with contacting people that you would like to work with/for, but yeah there are a million different ways to do this.

    Ramelli the luxury hotel idea is great. In this economy its tough to find people/companies with money willing to spend it right now, but luxury hotels need to put good artwork on their walls!

    Audiomind #7 was kind of a joke. It's really tough for me to separate my personal life from my job because I love it and it's one of those things where you can always be doing something.

  • AUDIOMIND

    November 26, 2010 11:24 am

    Could you elaborate more on #7. "Separate your personal life from your work life"? I was rather confused.

    Gobble Gobble. ;)

  • A.K. Janahi

    November 26, 2010 10:20 am

    this post is going to change a lot of my bad habits, thank you so much.

  • barbara

    November 26, 2010 07:00 am

    love, love, love teuxdeux, thanks for that tip! I am an avid list maker, and this brings my obsession into the future and off the written page. Lists are the only thing that keep me tethered as a freelancer, there are so many distractions and opportunities and ideas and things to do! I review my lists numerous times in a day, and feel really good when I can check things off. And I take a nap when I need to. Great post.

  • Eric Long

    November 26, 2010 03:46 am

    Great article....great advice....I think the part about getting training and where is what I really needed to hear. Thanks a lot. I am not god enough to leave my day job, yet, but working on it.

  • Ramelli

    November 26, 2010 12:46 am

    Great post.

    I have been a full time photographer since may, the trick on budget is amazing. I hate to ask for money or deal with money, and I obsvered that when someone ask me for a price, I return the question, what is your budget ?, last week a guy ask me for a price and in my head I was thinking I will charge this for 2500 dollars, but I ask him for budget instead and he said 4000 dollars. When you let the person originate and you have a decent person in front of you 80% of the time you have some good surprise. When I originate first the price, I see that the customer will try to cut it down.

    I made most money this year by selling my photos into luxury hotels as part of the decoration as signed prints (in Paris), I sold over for 100 000 dolars this year only. Hotels have money and need good decoration, try it into your area.

    Www.sergeramelli.com

  • Matt Bristow

    November 26, 2010 12:22 am

    By and large good advice, I have worked for myself for over 12 years now and I think the most important thing is having a structure. surprised you didn't mention networking as I think that that is one of the best ways to get new business. Just having a decent website and a daily blog wont get the phone ringing.

  • Matt Bristow

    November 26, 2010 12:21 am

    By and large good advice, I have worked for myself for over 12 years now and I think th emost important thing is having a structure. surprised you didn't mention networking as I think that that is one of the best ways to get new business. Just having a decent website and a daily blog wont get th ephone ringing.

  • John Coates

    November 25, 2010 11:47 pm

    Hi James,

    Great post! John from FreshBooks here. #2 is for sure my favorite and I think anyone can learn from. If you're not scaring yourself everyday, you're not learning and progressing. This goes for all professions (yes, salaried ones too) and I wish more people would write about it.

  • Kathie M. Thomas

    November 25, 2010 07:18 am

    Great article and tips. I've been posting daily to my photoblog for a couple of years now. However, I have a separate site that is my 'professional' site and am now wondering if they should all be under the same domain? PR on the photoblog is 4 and on the other site is 3. Guess I need to do some research and a lot of thinking.

  • James Maher

    November 25, 2010 01:14 am

    @JohnTudor Flash is starting a slow decent out the door, starting with Apple deciding not to support it on iphones and ipads. The reality is that its really not necessary anymore and it slows down the user experience. You can do everything you need in HTML, it will be snappier, and all of your pages will be separate and easier to be accessed through search engines. These are only a few reasons but there are more.

    @aggie yeah i've found that the more hours you work the less you actually get done per hour. I have a few days a week where I'll work very long hours, but as a general practice you don't want to do that every single day. You'll wear yourself out.

  • Adrian Spencer

    November 24, 2010 09:04 pm

    And as for light room - the 'v' button and 'cntrl+shft+V' have saved me hours and hours and hours of work!

  • Adrian Spencer

    November 24, 2010 09:02 pm

    Just getting set up myself as a freelance and wow, what great information! Thanks for posting.

  • dana

    November 24, 2010 06:25 pm

    I would add to this - very useful - list:
    Don´t forget to knock-off work!
    It happens to me regularly that i work from morning to evening - and than later at night also - that´s ok when have to get a specific job done - but if you haven´t any urge, try to call it a day and enjoy some free time.

  • Elvira Herrera

    November 24, 2010 02:15 pm

    Great article!
    I really appreciate this information because being a photographer will be my first job.
    I'm currently looking for photography schools in Monterrey, Mexico, but I couldn't find anything beyond short introductory courses.
    Meanwhile I'm looking for a photographer to be his/her assistant and learn more directly from the field.

    Thanks again!

    Elvira

  • Wayfaring Wanderer

    November 24, 2010 12:16 pm

    This is probably the best post I have read here on DPS in quite some time, although that's not to say that I don't find the other articles informative. It's just that I have found myself in a little slump of sorts and I desperately need to claw my way out of the depths that I have sunk to. These tips are spot on with what I SHOULD be doing and I appreciate this gentle nudge in the right direction.

    I will surely print out this list and attempt to implement the tips you have shared! Thank you for sharing :D

    ~WW

    Recent post:
    http://www.wayfaringwanderer.com/2010/11/pigging-out-oak-st-po-boy-festival-new.html

  • JohnTudor

    November 24, 2010 11:30 am

    Some great tips, thank, sorry to ask, but why No Flash websites?

  • Aggie

    November 24, 2010 11:15 am

    What a fantastic post. I particularly needed someone to tell me not to work all hours. That 100 hour week has been both a necessity and a bane, and I know a lot of that has to do with getting distracted and justifying it as "material I'll use in the future". Probably needed someone to tell me to take a shower, too. And eat. Eating is good. Must schedule that in.

  • Russell Umstead

    November 24, 2010 10:29 am

    Great article. Lots of helpful pointers and tips that I had never really thought of. Especially maintaining organization, which can one of the hardest things for me.

  • James Maher

    November 24, 2010 10:24 am

    @Vrinda you are correct about the unpaid work thing. That's actually one of the most important things you can do, and not only when starting out, but anytime during your career. It allows you to practice, develop or refine a style, try new techniques, and create a portfolio of work that you can show off to get jobs that reflect your style. Your portfolio is to show off what you have the ability to create, not what you have been paid to create.

    @B you are right about the haste thing, and I should have improved the article to explain more about what I meant by speed. Certainly not going too fast and cutting corners. I guess I meant to say efficiency and digital organization, creating a streamlined workflow that allows you to organize, edit, and retouch your photos. Lightroom is amazing with that. I stand by #4 though.

    @Gusto I would be screwed without blocking a couple of sites.

    @Valerie I totally do my laundry during work hours and it def wastes time! Can you call up my significant other and tell her I shouldn't be in charge of this, please! :)

    And Vrinda I'm glad I helped you to take a deep breath. I know about those sleepless nights well, it's terrible, and while it's gotten somewhat better for me, I'm not sure that ever fully goes away.

  • Mir

    November 24, 2010 09:50 am

    I always find something useful in these articles, thank you!
    Having recently gotten my first few paid assignments i was obviously ecstatic and the feeling is great, i looked around online spoke to other freelancers and looked at my budget for hiring the lens that i wanted , i came up with a budget and this research definitely helped me in securing the jobs.

  • Vrinda

    November 24, 2010 09:22 am

    Thank you for this. I've been so full of thoughts and ideas and plans, and this was exactly what I needed to remind me to breathe and take one step at a time.

    My favourite thing for tonight is your oh-so-simple "what is your budget?" tip. Sometimes it's the little things that set the lightbulb off. I'm struggling to price my first wedding, and for some reason hadn't thought of asking what she's hoping to spend, this helped, I'm calmer, thanks! (#2 is also appropriate to the whole first wedding thing as well come to think of it... so very much so)

    Oh, and I'm instantly addicted to TeuxDeux! Instantly. Love it!

    @B, I don't see the problem you have with building a portfolio from unpaid work. Even if they knew, what do the clients care whether you were paid or not to take those photos? Surely the only thing that matters is that your photos say everything they need to about your talent. This is advice for people beginning as freelancers, and who may not have a large portfolio of paid jobs, everyone's got to start somewhere!

  • Valerie Jardin

    November 24, 2010 08:32 am

    Making a living as a freelance photographer, I agree with most of your points. I've been doing this for 12 years. Very part time at first, now full time but on my own time. Keeping work hours is important. Set a lunch time, exercise time like you would if you were in a cubicle downtown. Try not to do a load of laundry during work hours for example.
    I also agree about taking scary jobs. Those are the ones that will make you grow as a photographer. Even if you lose sleep over it. You can do it! Ask fellow photographers for tips, it's a great community and I have made a lot of great friends and connections over the years.
    Well, it's pretty much what James wrote in different words, great post by the way.
    Valerie

  • Gusto

    November 24, 2010 08:25 am

    Very good article. Also having problem to set the prices right and when it will be done, or getting enough motivation, when i'm at home. this idea with blocking website is good :)

  • Ajeva

    November 24, 2010 08:00 am

    These tips are awesome, especially that I'm starting to bring my hobby to the next level. I think that being a good photographer doesn't mean you have to buy every equipment and accessories out there. I think I'll try your suggestion here on street photography and the challenge is when to take that perfect, candid shot. Thanks!

  • carolyn

    November 24, 2010 07:03 am

    some day i'll give up my day job for this. good stuff, thanks!

  • B

    November 24, 2010 06:41 am

    Hm. So right at the top you admit to padding your web presence because "As long as the finished product looks great, your clients don’t have to know that these weren’t paying jobs." That doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in someone we're supposed to be taking advice from to get paying jobs.

    But, I like a lot of this advice, especially #2. I think haste is a little overstressed in #4 and #12, I would think everyone has their own pace with which they produce quality work -- cutting corners to bang out subpar results can't be good. Of course, cutting corners while still keeping quality high would be nice, but so would a flying pet unicorn who poops gold bars.

    But overall, good explanation of one person's process.

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