Career Growth / Freelance Career

Planning to make a career in freelance photography? We spoke to 4 professionals for tips

. 13 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
Planning to make a career in freelance photography? We spoke to 4 professionals for tips

A picture is worth a thousand words’ is an adage we’ve all grown up with. Considering how obsessed we are with Instagram, Snapchat and even TikTok (admit it, it’s everyone’s guilty pleasure) photos and videos are exactly what we turn to for inspiration and entertainment. And clicking images is no longer something that people do in their free time. Recent surveys suggest that photography as a career will see upward growth; in fact, self-employed photographers are predicted to grow by 12 per cent in the coming years.

If you are a photographer who is planning to start her career as a freelancer, or if you are already self-employed, here’s a handy guide for you. We spoke to four women who have been freelancing as a photographer for several years and asked them for tips on getting work, showcasing your work and what life is like for a female freelance photographer in India.

Moving from a corporate job to a freelance photographer

Amrita G Haldipur

Amrita G Haldipur decided to pursue her passion for photography and content writing two years ago after she quit her job as a content marketer for National Geographic. “I decided to work as an independent consultant to help growing startups build their understanding of content strategy. In this endeavour, my expanded canvas of skill sets as a writer and photographer along with being a marketer has come in handy.”

She adds, “I enjoy the variety, the modularity and flexibility of my work today, which is hard to find in a corporate job.”

Her expertise lies in people photography. “As a person, I am curious about moods, emotions, the character of people and places, and photography is a fabulous tool that helps me express this curiosity by documenting real and raw stories. My work spans across documentary photography, events to working closely with brands to use a photo-journalistic way of doing visual storytelling campaigns.”

Are there any challenges she had to face in particular as a woman?

I feel as women, we really struggle with low self-esteem – there are always enough reasons in our head to doubt our self and our potential.”

“It took me a long time to make peace with the fact that yes there are many great photographers around me who are seasoned, experts in the technicalities but the way I look at the world and how my images interact with people is my biggest gift – my unique perspective. I just need to start where I am, enjoy the process, learn from others, ask for help and stay inspired.”

Photo Credits: Amrita G. Haldipur

We ask her about the one project she is immensely proud of, and she is quick to answer. “I interviewed and photographed 20 Elected Women Representatives (women sarpanches) of the Gram Panchayats in Rajasthan to write and develop photo essays for The Hunger Project India – this is the first photo essay that was published last month."

Unlike most industries globally, Amrita feels that she is lucky to have escaped the gender inequality when it comes to getting paid as a woman freelance photographer. She feels that she’s learned the trick of the trade – asking for what your work is worth – from men themselves. “I have been very lucky in finding amazing mentors in my male counterparts. From discussing how much I should quote, helping me find the best camera gear deals to tutoring me about the technicalities and always assuring me that they have my back, has been a very refreshing journey so far.”

And what is the best part of her job as a freelance photographer? “I love observing what makes people and places who and what they are – especially the nuances of their personality. And to capture that into timeless memories and beautiful moods is what I love the most about my job as a photographer.”

I find photography powerful and meditative in equal ways, that’s what I love the most about the medium and my job.”

Right now, to further her freelance career Amrita is looking for projects that let her integrate her photography skills into her overall business offering as a growth marketer. “While I have my website, I am currently working on integrating my photography portfolio to my overall world of business where I operate as a growth marketer, writer and photographer for brands. So far, all my work has been through word of mouth and that’s not a sustainable model. I have to scale and for that, I have to step outside my comfort zone to network, pitch and build a digital identity for my work that can be viewed by people across geographical borders.”

As a freelance photographer where is the best place to show your work, and the best place to get work?

So far, all my work has been word of mouth and whenever it’s been published, I post it on Instagram and send a customised portfolio on request.”

As far as finding work is concerned, she feels, “As photographers, being curious about opportunities to tell stories is something we must develop as a skill and reach out to people. Especially people starting out and still building a body of work, its hunger and passion for what we bring to the table of storytelling that will get us more work.”

And please ask for help. If you want to reach out and know someone who can make an introduction, please don’t hesitate in asking for help.”

As freelancers,” she continued, “we are teaching the world what it means to show up for one another and build a collaborative working community where everyone feels more inspired.”

Shifting to a freelance photography career to manage work-life balance

Vaayu Dhwani

For Vaayu Dhwani turning to her passion for photography was more of a practical decision. “I took up freelance photography due to my circumstances because of my health and other situations like not being able to juggle home, my family, and work.”

In the three years that she’s made the shift Vaayu has moved from clicking nature and landscapes to clicking lifestyle portraits. “I enjoy blending stories to my portraits. I began with maternity and then explored with couples and family portraits, and even worked with individual professionals from a chef to a dancer to a dentist to a corporate official. So I guess the world of portraiture is very welcoming and diverse for me.”

Are there any challenges that she had to face in particular as a woman? “I do face them in terms of not being able to explore or randomly venture out much. As female photographer things like the time and can become an obstacle compared to a man.”

Honestly, not a lot of people want to reveal their secrets to help you kickstart as a photographer. So finding the right places, tools, it was all a slow self-taught process, and it took me years to even accept myself as a professional photographer.”

Like Amruta, Vayyu agrees that unequal pay basis gender is easily avoided in this field. “I do not feel there is a comparison of the pay scale for males or females in a profession like photography. Yet, there is a massive drawback due to hyper-competition, where the art is undermined in comparison to the commercial aspect, that a customer or client wants to focus on instead.”

It does become a challenge to accept projects,” she adds. “Initially, I was worried as it is my primary source of income, if I rejected them, I would not have a smooth survival, but there comes a time you need to evaluate the most necessary aspects of building your career and growing through that journey.”

Your value for your work is to be defined by you and how you choose your clients and how you charge your fee for your labour of love.”

We ask her about her favourite part about the job, and pat came the reply. “The best part is seeing the joy on your customer’s face, as you help them make a memory or let them look at themselves from a different eye just by your pictures. They usually tell me I tell stories through my photographs, as I am a writer, I always like adding a statement to define an image. I see those words in my mind while shooting the photo or that very feeling that shall speak through it.”

Photo Credits: Vaayu Dhwani

I thoroughly enjoy my work, be it standing hours throughout the day shooting in spite of my health condition, the satisfaction of having given your best, and doing it right till you achieve the target is ultimate.”

For someone who enjoys her work tremendously, it’s hard to choose a favourite project, but we insisted. “I work on many random things apart from shooting for clients for paid assignments, but there is one that remains close to my heart is Project De Nava, which got noticed by many. Even this year, I have talked about it on the radio during Navratri.”

However, despite her love for what she does, not every project has been great. She recalls one project in particular where she was made to feel uncomfortable because of a male client. “I was too naive and always thought of doing the best to keep clients happy, but learned later that you can also be a victim of exploitation and get defamed so quickly for no fault of yours. I have come across an awkward situation with a male client, where I was surprised with his sleazy behaviour towards me just because I was a woman.”

The client hit on me till the end of the project and I had to bear it because I didn’t want the project to suffer. I finally blocked him after the project.”

For Vaayu, right now, her main focus is on marketing herself. “In today’s time, there is only going to be more of everything – competition, potential growth and supply. I still believe in the good old methods of building a relationship with my clients who, in turn, retain and strengthen the bond with referring more work. I aim to grow my business by tapping areas or niche that isn’t populated by photographers like weddings or maternity portraits. I am aiming to blend my writing and design skills to my photography and announce something new very soon.”

As a freelance photographer where is the best place to show your work, and the best place to get work?

I am not too social media savvy in spite of digital background. I generally share my work on my Facebook page and send across a small portfolio to anyone who requests to view it. However, I am working on building a strong portfolio for my Instagram account.”

As far as finding work is concerned she suggests, “A lot of networking events are becoming a decent medium to find work. Also, social media is a great place to get yourself noticed and also finding work.”

Put yourself out there, and connect with people through your inner circles. Also, connect with people in the field that you desire to venture in and ask for work.”

She signs off with a piece of advice. “Don’t take up photography just because it is in demand right now. Feel and work for your satisfaction. As women, we are more expressive, and as photographers, we hold umpteen potential to come out with something ecstatic and share that experience with the world. So be authentic and keep shooting.”

Taking up freelance photography as a mom

Priyanka Tamakhuwala

For Priyanka Tamakhuwala a freelance photography career is about quality and not quantity. Having taken up the last year, she juggles between doing projects that she loves and taking care of her family which includes two little boys.

I believe in quality work. So I haven’t done many projects just yet. Right now I am learning to juggle a career along with with a mom to my two boys.”

Freelance is much more manageable as you can work according to your convenience.”

Before taking up any project Priyanka makes sure that she believes in it. As a mom, she has limited time to spare and she wants to make sure she spends it doing exactly what she loves. “I am very sincere about my work. I believe that photography is an art that needs your 100 per cent. For me, my kids are also very important so I make sure I don’t compromise on either of them and take up projects that lets me balance both.”

Priyanka specialises in fashion and kids photography along with portraits and what keeps her going is the daily excitement of doing something new. “Photography is my dream job and I was late in realising that. However, as they say, better late than never.”

Her biggest challenge as a freelancer at this point is finding the correct work-life balance. “When I am working from home, I find it difficult to balance things. My younger one is a bit demanding so I often have to shut down my laptop and be with him, in the middle of work.” While she is on-field she has very fixed timings. “I try to work from 10 AM TO 2 PM when my kids are at school and in the night, post 9 PM when they go to sleep I work on the post-production process. Of course, I do change these timings if I have to but I try to stick to this schedule the most.”

While Priyanka hasn’t experienced any gender-based prejudices in terms of money in the filed right now, she also points to the fact that she is fairly new in the field and her focus is very different as well. “I am at an early stage of my career so right now my focus is on experience rather than money. Having said that, I also know what my work is worth.”

Ask her about her favourite project and out comes a list. “Each one of them was so different. I have worked on projects for fashion brands,  product photography, and even a first birthday shoot. My focus is always trying to be creative so that my work never gets boring.”

As a freelance photographer where is the best place to show your work, and the best place to get work?

When it comes to marketing her business, Priyanka uses Instagram. “I have recently relocated to Gurgaon so right now I am trying to connect with people through Instagram. I am also working on my website so that I have one place to showcase all of my work.”

As far as finding work is concerned, Priyanka advises using social media and word of mouth to keep getting projects.

Shifting to freelance photography for better mental health

Akshaya Rao

Akshaya Rao has been working as a photographer across two cities, Mumbai and Goa. “In Goa, I was working as a student photographer so I wasn’t looking for money rather a way to build my portfolio. It was more collaborative than a job. In Mumbai, I work on a retainer basis.”

For Akshaya, the shift from an IT career in Bangalore to a freelance photographer in Mumbai means that she now has time for herself. “I was working with Oracle for three years after my engineering. However, I found it extremely tough to commit to that 13-hour routine. I was not able to accept the fact that I was going to go sit at the same desk every single day of my life. Also, it was exhausting.”

I had no time for myself, or my family when I had my corporate job. Now as a freelance photographer I am working about five to six hours a week and earning much more.”

Akshaya loves clicking people and finding their stories, however, her commercial expertise lies in interior and architecture photography. “I am good at visual storytelling. I love going to people and talking to them, finding their stories in their mundane lives. However as a field that doesn’t pay much, so commercially I am an interior and architecture photographer. I love it when clients leave me alone, in the building, allowing me to work at my own pace.”

We ask if she has faced any gender-based prejudices and Akshaya agrees. “Yes, in the beginning, I did face it. In fact, I’ve had clients who assumed that as a woman I wouldn’t be able to work late nights and early mornings. I’d rather that they ask me directly instead of making such vague assumptions.

Also in the industry, especially in the wedding market, they have a lot of prejudices. If a woman is a part of a team they don’t have a problem. However, when it’s a single woman they assume that she is not good enough.”

As far as money is concerned, I charge what I feel my work is worth. So I haven’t faced any issue where my male counterparts got paid more.”

Her experience with many clients has also taught her the importance of having a contract. “I had a client ask me for a quote and promising to revert the next day. When I check with him, he said they have already hired someone who was asking one-tenth of my rate. I thought that was horrible. We need to stop doing that because in that case, clients will always go to someone who offers cheaper work, and not quality work.”

I’ve also started having contracts even when I send in a quote. Clients cannot hire someone else before they respond to me. They can go ahead and not agree with my rate, but I need to get a chance to negotiate instead of not getting the project at all.”

Picture Credits: Akshaya Rao

For Akshaya, the best part of having a freelancing photography job is travelling. “I love the travel that comes with the job. I also really enjoy the free time that this gives me. Right now I am learning Japanese in my free time, I am connecting with my family, I have the time to shoot for myself. I think making the shift was the best thing I did for my mental health. Earlier, I had no time to even go to the gym. A 13-hour workday was not just unreasonable, it was unhealthy!

Her favourite project in her career has been during the Vitthal Birdev Yatra that takes place in Pattan Kolodi village near Kolhapur. “It has been one of my craziest experiences. People play with turmeric during the festival, and it’s nothing like Holi. This is a form of worship and it looks beautiful. The entire village was covered in yellow, heck even me and my camera was yellow,” she laughs.

As a freelance photographer where is the best place to show your work, and the best place to get work?

I feel that Mumbai and Goa, both are great places for photography. Goa is beautiful – the people, the culture, the place. It inspires you to pick up your camera and be a better photographer. Mumbai, on the other hand, is a great place to work because you have so many clients here who are willing to pay for quality work.”

Behance and Instagram are the best places to showcase your work.”

I am also planning to build my own website in the next couple of months to showcase my work.”

In the next few months, she plans to approach clients and get retainers (contracts) so that she has constant work. “Retainers give me the freedom to work at my place but also motivates me to keep working. I am also planning to create my own studio but that’s still in the pipelines.”