If you’re a photography enthusiast who wants to start making money from your hobby, this guide runs through how to become a freelance photographer.
We start with the basics. This means that even if you’re not an expert yet, we explain how to become a photographer.
Then you can read about how to make the leap to self-employment, including what you need to think about when setting up your business.
Photography is creative and rewarding, but according to Dr Michael Pritchard writing at Prospects, the market for professional photography is shrinking. This is perhaps in part because of the fact that lots of people now carry high-quality camera phones everywhere they go.
But there’s still an opportunity for professional photographers to stand out from the crowd with their own distinct style. And more importantly, the most successful freelance photographers build a reputation for completing projects on brief and on time.
It’s also important that freelancers upskill to meet the demands of the market and win more work. For example, photographers might also be expected to be able to use digital tools like Photoshop and shoot and edit video.
When people search online for a photographer, they’ll often have a particular type in mind. So if you’re starting out, you might want to choose a niche. And if you already have a particular strength, you can focus on marketing that as your niche.
You might want to work for news organisations, or be on location with a fashion house. Maybe you’ll prefer the comfort of a dedicated photography studio. But if you’re not entirely sure where to specialise yet, here are some routes to consider:
Deciding on a specialist area should help you stand out from the crowd.
Getting as much experience as possible is important for practical professions like photography. Qualifications can help you train, but getting out there and doing it is key to building your skills, ability, and your portfolio.
You could start by offering to photograph a family member’s wedding, for example. The other option is to speak to experienced photographers about offering your services on a part-time basis, or as an apprentice.
While you don't necessarily need them, qualifications can be a great way to boost your confidence and reassure customers that you’ve got what it takes.
According to Prospects, degrees can give you a grounding in both photography and business skills. University shows are also often where budding photographers first present their work publicly.
UCAS says that universities usually require three A levels ranging from CDD to BBB. Universities may also accept vocational courses, including Level 3/Level 6 qualifications (like the Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma, or an SCQF Level 6).
The content of photography courses can vary, so make sure you choose one that suits the area you want to specialise in.
Being a freelance photographer can be expensive with a high initial investment. The cost will depend on what type of photographer you want to be and whether you’ll be based from home or rented premises.
Cameras, lenses, flash guns, tripods. The cost of equipment adds up, especially when you throw specialist software (like Adobe Photoshop) and other hardware (like SD cards) into the mix.
Startups.co.uk has a useful breakdown of costs:
If it’s a studio you need, renting a shop may be an option. While you should take the cost into consideration, it’s one way to get your business noticed through footfall. It can also act as your office.
But you can also work from home. And if you do need a studio for a project, you can often hire them by the hour.
Converting your garage into a photography studio could be another option.
Our data shows that the photographers we insure earned an average turnover of:
The National Careers Service says that employed photographers have an average salary of between £17,250 (for new starters) and £45,000 (for experienced photographers).
Freelance photographers will usually charge day rates. According to londonfreelance.org, these should start at £400 a day.
It can be a good idea to research what other photographers in your location (and specialism) are charging for their services, too.
As a freelancer, the amount you charge should take into account the fact that you don’t get holiday pay, sick pay, or automatic pension contributions. It’s important to sit down and work out how much you’ll need to earn to make a living. Our free templates can help:
It’s tempting to dive right in when starting a new business, but being clear on your aims and how you’re going to reach them is a vital part of the process.
A business plan helps you answer questions and break down what you need to do to set up, launch, and grow your business.
You should think about the legal structure of your business before you begin trading, as there are differences between sole traders and limited companies.
The route you choose will likely depend on your personal situation and the type of clients you work with, so research your options thoroughly.
Don’t forget to register your business with HMRC so you can pay your taxes and avoid being stung with a penalty. Keep in mind that sole traders and limited companies have different obligations when it comes to taxes.
Read more about how to do a Self Assessment.
Accidents and mistakes can happen, so make sure you think about insurance. Here at Simply Business, we offer photography insurance that lets you build your own tailored policy. Read more about the different covers:
When it comes to winning business, your customers are going to be most interested in your natural creative flair and technical ability. They’ll be able to tell whether they like your work or not by looking at your portfolio, which is the freelance photographer’s shop window.
Local press is a great way to advertise your services, especially if you want to focus on weddings, portraits, or pets.
It might cost a bit to begin with, but as word-of-mouth trade grows, you should see your advertising spend shrink.
Read more about advertising your small business.
To market yourself effectively, get a clean and simple website and make sure you only show your best work. In a competitive marketplace you don’t want to give potential customers any reason to click away from your site and on to the next photographer. Check out our top tips on building a website for your business.
And never underestimate the power of social media (but be sure to manage your time properly). Make sure you choose the most relevant platforms for your business. Think about Instagram and Pinterest to show your photos in the best light.
Finally, don’t overlook the soft skills you’ll need. If you choose to work with kids or animals, patience and warmth will be important traits to get across to your customers.
Similarly, with special occasions like weddings, emotions can run high. So keeping a cool head and offering a reassuring smile while your clients are celebrating will be essential.
How are you getting on with setting up your photography business? Let us know in the comments below.
We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer
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