How to become a freelance photographer: A guide for beginners

First published:
January 19, 2023
Updated:
January 31, 2024

How to become a freelance photographer: A guide for beginners

First published:
January 19, 2023
Updated:
January 31, 2024

Cover photo by Gareth Gray

Want to pitch you and your work in a professional way? Being a freelance photographer isn’t easy, but it is rewarding. Here’s some tips to get you started

Finding full-time photography jobs can be very tricky indeed, which is why a lot of people work on a freelance basis, submitting their time - or their existing work - to a variety of different outlets to build up a portfolio career.

While it’s not an easy task to make a success of freelance photography, it can be quite straightforward if you're prepared to put in the hard graft and sell yourself and your work in the right way.

Keeping an up-to-date portfolio, such as your Picfair Store, is an easy win for showing off your latest work to potential clients when you apply for freelance jobs, but if you’re not sure what else you can do, keep reading…

Being a freelancer often means lots of time to work on your networking, portfolio and other admin tasks - enjoy it! Photo by SIBAShouse

Where can I find freelance photography jobs?

There’s lots of work out there - but finding it, or knowing it exists, is the hard part. Lots of clients need photographers, while others need existing work that they can use to illustrate something. Connecting with these people can be the first step in a lucrative partnership.

When you're just starting out, it can be beneficial to scour online job listings sites for potential leads. You might find call-outs for small-to medium size jobs, as well as longer contracts.

Some useful websites include Upwork, PeoplePerHour and Fiverr. Be aware that these types of websites often don’t pay a huge amount of money. That’s not so bad if you’re building up your portfolio and perhaps aren’t quite at the same skill level as established photographers, but it's best to avoid low rates once you’re good enough to earn better - otherwise it damages the market for everyone.

You can also look on social media websites, such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and NextDoor for people such as editors, project managers and even just regular people who are looking for photographers. Search for hashtags such as “#photographerwanted” and/or “#photographerneeded” to find people putting out calls for specific jobs. Making sure you’re following editors and local influential figures is also a good way to keep in the loop.

Keeping on top of social networking can mean you find freelance photography opportunities quickly and easily. Photo by Sudapop Udomsri
"There’s lots of work out there - but finding it, or knowing it exists, is the hard part..."

Staying local is a good tip in general - since being able to quickly get to jobs will often be beneficial - especially if expenses are not covered. Join local Facebook groups and pages, any local WhatsApp groups you get invited to, and mine your existing networks (for example, the local hobby group, a parents group from the local school etc) for opportunities.

Keeping your LinkedIn profile up to date is also worthwhile for finding jobs and opportunities. Again, make sure you try your best to connect with as many relevant people on there as possible, regularly checking the site for any call outs for photographers.

Job websites, such as Indeed, TotalJobs, Reed, GuardianJobs and Monster are also good places to look for freelance photography jobs. Here you might find listings for specific projects, but more likely it’ll be for short-term contracts which you might be perfectly suited to.

You can also sometimes find jobs by directly contacting relevant individuals, such as editors and project managers and asking them if they have any need for photographers at the moment, or in the future. You might not have a huge amount of luck with “cold calling” in this way, but it’s worth a try. You’ll likely have better odds if you have already connected with the person in some other way, such as through a networking event or even on social media, so try your best to build up a relationship first if you can. 

Picking up freelance photography jobs relies not only on your skill as a photographer, but also your ability to network. Photo by Wayne Knoesen

Networking can be quite labour-intensive, but it can be incredibly rewarding for finding the connections that will lead to freelance photography jobs. Keep an eye out for events in your area, and you should find that once you’ve been to a couple, you start to build up a good amount of connections that lead to further introductions the more you attend.

Editor's notes:

See our top tips for networking as a photographer with our dedicated guide.

How to get freelance photography jobs 

So you’ve made the contacts, scouted out the opportunities on social networking sites, introduced yourself to local editors and so on - but how do you make sure you actually get the job?

Here are some tips that’ll help you secure the deal:

Keep your contact short, sharp and to the point 

Project managers and editors want to know what you can offer as quickly as possible. They don’t need long rambling introductions, especially about irrelevant projects.

Be as succinct as possible - a couple of sentences on why you’re good for a specific job (if you’ve seen an advert or call out), when you’re available and what your rates are is likely all you need. Include a link to your portfolio and tell them that you're happy to answer any questions if they need clarification.

Be as responsive as possible 

Being reliable and readily available is half the battle when working with freelancers. Being one that reacts quickly to queries and emails will often see you elevated above somebody with more experience but who doesn’t respond for several days. While nobody expects an instant response, replying as quickly as you can is always appreciated. Always be as polite and helpful as you possibly can be - and getting basics like names and spellings correct is always a good thing too (so double check before you hit send!).

You might not get the job this time, but if you stick in the mind of an editor as someone who is quick, polite and helpful, then you might get the next one.

You don't necessarily have to be super-formal, but being polite is always a good idea. Photo by Micha

Make sure your portfolio is up to date

If someone doesn’t know you or your work, they’ll want to see the kind of things you do in as clear and quick a format as possible. Having an online portfolio that you can include a link to for instant vetting is a sure-fire way to get in a client’s good books.

You should also make sure it’s regularly updated with recent work to show the kind of things you’ve been up to lately, and that you take pride in your portfolio. A page that hasn’t been updated in years may lead them to question why. Try setting a reminder on your phone or email to spruce up or update your portfolio - even if just with one new picture - once a month.

Do the best job you can

It might seem like an obvious thing to say, but doing the absolute best job possible will go a long way to securing more work. So that not only means taking the best pictures you can - that’s a given - but also making sure you also make the client’s life as easy as possible, for example delivering on or before your deadline, keeping them up to date with any problems or setbacks as soon as you can, providing an easy way for a client to download pictures, or even providing a couple of extra shots than were asked for (do this within reason - you shouldn’t feel that you have to deliver far more work than you've been paid for).

Ask for recommendations and endorsements

Done a good job elsewhere? Ask your client to tell people about it - especially if you're relatively new and inexperienced, these can be worth a huge amount. These endorsements can be added to LinkedIn directly from the client, giving whoever’s looking at them the full confidence that it’s definitely true. You can also add endorsements to your own website and portfolio sites if appropriate.

It’s also worth asking any commissioner to pass on your details to anyone else they know who might have work for you - most will be only too happy to do so once they know you can deliver well.

Final note

Being a freelance photographer isn’t always an easy path, but it’s important to keep going. Photo by Giordano Aita

It’s important to remind yourself not to be disheartened if you don’t get every job you apply for. Sometimes you can do everything right but you simply weren’t quite the right match for a particular project.

If there’s opportunity for feedback or something you can learn from your pitch, then do so, but try not to let any rejections get you down. There will always be more jobs out there - just keep trying.

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