A complete guide to a successful career in freelance photography
Last updated: 27 May 2022
What is freelance photography?
If you’re a beginner photographer who wants to start a career in freelancing, you might be wondering what does a freelance photographer do? In simple words, a freelance photographer is someone who takes on clients, clicks photographs as per the requirement, and charges them for it. As a freelance photographer, you get to choose what type of work you take on and turn down assignments that don’t align with your style or interests. Working as a freelance photographer, you market yourself through social media, digital portfolios or websites by displaying your work to find potential clients.
I spoke to two successful photographers for more insights to make the process easier to understand.
Mithila Jariwala is a documentary photographer whose work focuses on grassroots-development organisations. Currently working as a communications consultant, photography continues to remain her hustle.
Siddhartha Joshi considers photography a successful side-hustle. Long before the digital revolution, Siddhartha had a travel blog for which he clicked pictures. This, eventually, got him assignments, and he turned it into a source of income.
Both Mithila and Siddhartha began their journeys as passionate travellers. While Mithila eventually branched out into documentary photography, Siddhartha developed an interest in clicking portraits.
But first, is freelance photography worth it?
Photography as a career has seen a massive boom in recent years. Every brand needs a distinct visual presence, which has led to increased demand for freelance photographers. Photography is the perfect route to go if you’re looking to turn your photography side-hustle into a full-time gig or if you want a creative outlet that brings you some money. Like any freelancing gig, a freelance photographer must know how to file taxes, find clients, get good gear, and quote the right price for their work.
Freelance photographer salary in India
Pursuing a career in freelance photography can be a very profitable business. A beginner freelance photographer's salary in India can be anything from 10 to 16K in a month. Professional freelance photographers with good experience and an impressive portfolio can make almost 1 lakh a month.
As a freelance photographer, you can also choose to charge per project or hour. According to Payscale, a freelance photographer can charge an average of INR 375 per hour in India.
Growth prospects in freelance photography
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. A photography career can be demanding but comes with a lot of perks. As a freelancer, you get to enjoy the freedom of making your schedules and being your boss.
Being a freelance photographer, you can explore your art without any restrictions.
As a freelance photographer, you can collaborate with other artists, such as makeup specialists, photographers, set designers, hairstylists, prop stylists, and wardrobe experts, resulting in networking and greater exposure to the art form.
How to start as a freelance photographer
Photography is a serious business, and getting into it isn't as easy as it sounds. But we've broken it down for you!
Watch this video to know more about how to be a freelance photographer in India:
What are the steps to starting a freelance photography career? Read on.
Do I need to have a degree in photography?
While it's not necessary to do a professional course to become a freelance photographer, going for a course has its advantages. Taking a class can open up avenues for you to build connections. Meeting like-minded people can broaden your perspective, which can be tricky when you're figuring things out on your own.
But courses are usually expensive and time-consuming, so go for one if you are sure you will get something out of it that you don't already know.
Here are some colleges in India that offer reputed photography courses –
- Institute of Mass Communication, Manipal
- International Institute of Mass Media, New Delhi
- Sri Aurobindo Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi
- Asian Academy of Film and Television, Noida
- Film and Television Institute of India, Pune
- University of Delhi
- YMCA Centre of Mass Media
Buying the right equipment
Wondering what equipment you'll need as a freelance photographer? Unlike other conventional freelance careers, photographers depend highly on their gear. The equipment is like an extension of your body when it comes to photography. The market today is saturated with photography kits suiting every budget.
A basic DSLR kit starts at around Rs. 20,000, which is perfect if you're starting out. One common mistake young photographers make is spending all their money on buying a camera – while it's important, it's not the only thing.
Both Mithila and Siddhartha believe that the magic lies in the perfect lens. Buying a good lens and some lights help more in capturing a photo than just the camera itself.
You can start with a kit lens and slowly focus more on acquiring lenses. Siddhartha suggests going for a 24-70mm lens as it provides more range to explore different photography styles. If you can't afford to buy lenses initially, a kit lens would work just fine.
If you're going to take up paid projects, it's essential to know and have good editing software. The photoshop app is free on Google Play Store and Microsoft Store for Windows laptops. It's the best tool to get started!
Pro tip: If you're just starting out as a freelance photographer, there's a decent chance you don't have enough money to buy a camera. In that case, it's best to rent the equipment you need until you have saved enough money to buy your own.
Know your camera and practice with it
You have your camera and supporting equipment, but practice matters most.
Mithila stresses the importance of taking as many pictures as possible to hone your skills. "Look at your work and learn from it. Hunt for photographers in your niche of interest to see what's out there." She also suggests shooting at different hours of the day to experiment with varied lighting.
Understand your camera specs and utilise them well. Experiment with manual settings; play around with exposure, shutter speed, and aperture. Finding your niche as a freelance photographer is crucial as it gives your client a better idea of your work. There are many different types of photography to choose from, and this will help you figure out what kind of photography you're great at.
What works best for Siddhartha is embarking on a personal project.
There are various types of freelance photography. While there's no rush to choose just one area of focus in your freelance photography business, practising will show you if your strengths lie in food photography, portraiture, or still life product photography.
Useful articles on a freelance career
- How to start freelancing: The ultimate guide for beginners
- Tax (GST), registration, contracts & payments for freelancers in India
- How to get clients as a freelancer in India
Do I need a license to be a freelance photographer in India?
If you are a beginner freelance photographer, you are not required to register as a proprietorship or company. You can go on to work as an individual and quote your PAN number for taxation purposes as long as your annual income from freelancing does not exceed 20L per annum. TDS (Tax deducted at source) will be processed on your PAN card and will reflect on your income tax.
If you're starting out as a freelancer, you do not need to have any license if you earn less than 20L per annum. But it's always beneficial to register as a basic proprietorship.
To learn more about tax (GST), registration, contracts and payments related to freelancing, click here.
How to get work as a freelance photographer
Getting work as a freelance photographer and finding clients is one of the most important and the hardest challenges you'll face as a freelance photographer. Here are some ways to help you attract clients to your freelance photography business.
Build your portfolio
Every freelancer photographer needs to have an impressive portfolio to get clients as a freelance photographer. As a beginner freelancer who's just starting out, it's recommended to do some free work to build your portfolio by collaborating with local businesses and models.
There are various platforms to best showcase your freelance photography portfolio, such as:
Use social media to find clients
Sharing your work is extremely important if you want to make it as a freelancer. And there is nothing better than social media platforms to market yourself as a freelance photographer.
As Siddhartha also states, Instagram is the most popular platform for visual artists to share their work. Make your photography page and follow and interact with similar artists to build connections. As you grow your brand, make a professional online portfolio to send to clients to get work as a freelance photographer. As you create your photography website, define your primary goals as a freelance photographer so that you can tailor your website according to them.
Since freelancing is a relatively unorganised business, Siddhartha stresses the importance of tapping into networks for projects and generally making yourself visible.
Mithila also believes that to get more work, you have to make your work more visible online and offline. Pitch photo essay ideas to magazines and publishing houses. To enrol your name in a database, freely contact agencies and ask them for work. Several organisations in the development sector are looking for freelancers for their creative projects, so that's a good place to start.
Because you're a one-person business, don't forget to create a strong and recognisable brand identity.
How to set rates as a freelance photographer
Now that you know how to start, you might be asking yourself - How do I charge as a freelance photographer? There is so much more to being a freelance photographer than just taking pictures, and your pricing structure should reflect that.
If you're spending your time, money, and creative resources on being a photographer, you should be able to confidently present your rates to potential clients. Make sure that you have your pricing structure ready.
In an ideal scenario, this is how you should price your shoot –
Cost of equipment + cost of labour + overhead expenses = Total cost
Total cost + desired profit = Final price
Research industry standards in your geographical location to determine the appropriate range to charge. In India, beginner photographers usually charge between Rs. 5,000 and 10,000 for a one-day shoot, but it significantly depends on the kind of shoot and the number of pictures. The price increases with skills and as you build your brand.
How to make money as a freelance photographer
You don't always need to set up elaborate shots with individuals or brands to sell your pictures. There are several other ways to earn money as a freelance photographer, and some of them are:
Sell digital downloads: List some of your pictures for digital downloads through private links or online stores. This makes it easier for people to get less pricey art, and it helps in supporting your photography career as well.
Put them up as stock photos: You can submit your pictures to websites such as Shutterstock. Every time someone buys your image for their use, you will get paid a percentage of the revenue. Some people make stock photography their entire business and organise shoots specifically to sell on these websites.
Sell prints: The most rewarding way to make money as a photographer is by selling prints of your photographs. You can also make a photobook or zine and sell some copies. You won't sell many copies immediately, but it will be highly satisfying because you will have complete creative control over what you make.
Other popular suggestions include:
- Setting up workshops.
- Showcasing your work in photography festivals.
- Selling your images to press agencies.
Market yourself to your audience
Now that you have the basics down – from your brand identity to your pricing structure – it's time to market to your clients and audience.
Every time you promote your art or post on your social media or photography blog, write as if you are speaking to your ideal client.
This will ensure that every move you make is designed to target the type of person your work would appeal to and who will be more likely to book you because they resonate with your brand identity.
Tips to become a successful freelance photographer
Now that you know everything about how to become a freelance photographer. Here are some tips that will help you excel in your freelance journey.
- Keep learning
- Find a mentor
- Have a business plan
- Build your portfolio
- Start networking
- Establish a web presence
- Learn from your mistakes
- Use tools at your disposal to your advantage
- Seek feedback from your clients and audience
- Find your niche
- Keep track of your finances
Types of freelance photography
There are various niches to explore and choose from for freelance photography. Some popular types of freelance photography are:
- Social media photography
- Portrait photography
- Event and wedding photography
- Fashion photography
- Corporate photography
- Wildlife photography
- Sports photography
- Travel photography
How to become a freelance photographer for a newspaper
A photographer who works with a newspaper or a news agency is called a photojournalist. You don't need to work in a newspaper or channel to work as a photojournalist. You can collaborate with multiple newspapers or magazines on a freelance contract basis, and you can work on your own and make a great career out of it. Photojournalism is a very competitive field which takes years of experience to master. But if you have a passion for people and telling their stories, it's not out of reach.
How to become a freelance photographer with no experience
Collaborating with professionals as an assistant freelance photographer can help you gain good experience. As an assistant freelance photographer, you can choose to work with different photographers, which will hone your skills and help you find your niche. In the initial days, it's important to concentrate more on building your portfolio, which will help you land your clients.
Photography has an immense scope in India. From wedding photography to travel and lifestyle photography, the Indian social media landscape is becoming more and more visual by the day. Tapping into your photography skills and monetising them is a wonderful idea.
With all that information in mind, you're officially ready to start your career as a freelance photographer! What else do you want to know about being a freelance photographer? Tell us in the comments below!
If you found this guide useful, you might want to check out these articles.
- For information on how to become a freelance content writer in India, click here.
- To know more about how to become a freelance graphic designer in India, click here.
- If you wish to start out as a freelance baker in India, click here.
- For information on how to become a freelance makeup artist in India, click here.
Additional contribution: Siddhesh Suman
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