If you love working with people or landscapes and you have a knack for photography, you might be cut out for a career as a freelance photographer. As a freelancer, you’ll sell your photos to people and companies who solicit photographs you’ve taken or they might contract you to take photos of specific subjects for them.
As a freelance photographer, a digital SLR camera is the best option. Choose a model with features that best match your style of work. For example, if you take sports photos, you want a fast automatic focus and high frame rate. For portraits, on the other hand, a basic camera with manual focus will be sufficient. You also need at least one lens, and ideally two or more so you can take photos from a variety of distances and in multiple styles. Lastly, you need a tripod to keep your photos crisp, especially with longer exposures. For outdoor photography, a sun shield will prevent glare and overexposure. If you’re taking photos indoors, set up three-point lighting with a bright key light just to one side of the camera, a half-power fill light just to the other side of the camera and a back light pointing at the camera, but out of the frame, to separate the person from the background. You’ll also need at least one muslin photo backdrop and stand for portrait photography.
Potential clients will want to see your best work to help them decide whether to hire you. Put together a portfolio with a variety of your best photos to demonstrate the style of photography the client can expect. Display part of your portfolio on your website and have a larger printed portfolio that you can bring to meetings with potential clients. If you specialize in a few different types of photography — such as wedding, babies, nature, wildlife and studio portraits — create a portfolio for each type of photography and just bring the type that applies to the client.
When your freelance photography work involves people, potential clients will want references who they can speak to about your personality and how easy you are to work with. This is especially true for wedding photography because the last thing a bride and groom want on their big day is a photographer who’s difficult to work with and creates stress, even if the pictures turn out great. Ask a few previous clients if you can provide their contact information to potential clients as a reference. If you have no previous clients, you might need to work a few free or low-cost jobs to develop a portfolio and reputation.
As a freelance photographer, you’ll be an independent contractor for tax purposes. Depending on the laws where you live, you might need to register a photography business and get a business license. This is especially true if you’ll have clients come to your home or office for appointments. Contact licensing office personnel in your city to ask about business licenses for a freelance photography business. They can also direct you to any state offices that require licenses.
Depending on the type of business you plan on running, you might need an office or studio space. If you plan on shooting outdoors and selling work online or directly to clients, all you need is office space. A home office should be adequate, although if you have high-profile clients coming for appointments, you can rent a room in an office building instead. If you shoot photographs indoors, you’ll need to rent a studio. This is most common with portrait photography. Choose a location that’s easy to find, has a waiting area for clients and includes enough space to set up at least two backdrops to shoot against. If you expect to get a lot of drop-in business, choose a location in a mall or strip mall. If you’ll be developing film photos at your studio, choose a studio with a darkroom, or a back room that you can convert into a darkroom.