On LinkedIn’s Photography Industry Professionals discussion group, Brooke Fagel recently asked: “What’s it like to be a freelance photographer?” These select responses provide a comprehensive picture of what a photographer faces.
Tim Norman • Rough. I just started as a freelancer, and I’m trying to figure out where to begin. I was a staff photographer until my job was eliminated and I’m trying my hardest to keep my dreams alive.
Matt Dunn •. 30% is shooting (pre- and post-production as well as the shoot itself) and 70% is trying to get the job.
Mike Shipman • Mostly it’s doing a lot of things you would really rather not do (but are necessary – hey, who else is gonna do it?) and not enough of what you’d hoped you’d be doing the most of when you decided to work for yourself.
John Trifiro • Like the rest of the arts and entertainment industry’s it’s the A-list or the No-List syndrome…The middle sucks!
Leni Johnston • Great when there is work, sucks when there isn’t. Networking and word of mouth is key. Get out there and get noticed. I just picked up The Wealthy Freelancer. It has some good advice.
Deborah Hart • It’s all about hurry up and wait. I am always networking, and thinking of a new way to promote myself. And then there are times I’m so busy with shooting and processing, I look forward to a minute to do billing, so that someone will, later rather than sooner, pay up.
Eric Lucero • I love my job, but I hate waiting for payment from clients, not knowing when my next job will come, and long hours. But, no matter how much sleep and hair you lose, it will always beat sitting in a cubical all day watching the clock.
Roel Loopers • It is about the love for photography and the hope you can make a living out of it. I have been free-lancing for nearly 42 years. I had fantastic years financially and have had many rough years as well. Sometimes I have longed for a well-paid constant job, but then I would have to turn up every day at the same time and at the same locations. I rather keep taking the financial risks and remain independent, free, creative and love what I am doing.
Alan Rosenberg • Never forget you are only as good as your last job.
Colin Cooke • I’m in my hot office attic with fans blowing on my computers to keep them cool. I’m downloading 290 tiff files for Stockfood. I’m hot. That’s an afternoon in the life of a freelance photographer.
Dallas Allbritton • It’s constant hunger for me and not in terms of food for the body but the next opportunity, the next network connection or opportunity. I am constantly looking at and developing new niche’s and examining what others are doing. Personally, I would not have any other life. I would not change for anything in the world except to have more opportunities to do what I do.
Greg Premru • It is possible to make a living being a photographer. I’ve been doing it for 15 plus years. It’s without a doubt gotten harder in this economy. Photography has gone through a huge transformation in the last five years and the game has definitively changed. Just like many other professions, technology has changed how our product is not only produced but viewed by potential buyers. Photography is now more of a commodity than ever. There are too many photographers chasing after the same work. That said, the internet and social marketing craze allows you to get in front of more potential clients then ever before. What we have to avoid is the race to the bottom in terms of pricing, or the new economy of free. The world is more image-driven then ever and everyone is a contributor. It’s art, yes, but it is really a business more than anything else.
Sandy Hechtman • The key is it’s a business. Your goal is to develop a clientele that regularly uses your services. A lot of your time is spent looking for that next job. It’s important to be professional and by that I mean follow up on your phone calls and emails. Let that client know he or she is the most important person on earth. You’ll be surprised how much business you can generate by just being professional. The bottom line is that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
Todd Beltz • Being a freelance photographer certainly has it’s ups and downs and as I’ve been doing this now for the last 3 years, I would never go back to a full time job. It’s not easy at times though, especially at my age to get jobs as a lot of them go to the younger and most times, cheaper photographers. I started my career late as I had lost my job and just fell into what I loved doing most. While I love every minute of it, it’s not an easy life. I realized that I’ll never be rich being a freelance photographer and starting a family is a pipe dream for me. I lost a relationship due to my career choice as sadly the woman never saw a future with someone whose monthly income is never stable. Not an easy life for sure but one that does bring happiness to my heart.
Sebastien Saykowski • I have a full time job in photography, but those I hire are all contractual and outsourced freelance photographers. From what I gather it’s brutal, up and down, and not easy to live with, depending on your life situation. You gotta love photography to be a freelancer and succumb to seasonal work. Most of my team have part-time jobs in other fields.
Andrea McLaughlin • My clients are photographers who tell me daily about the ups and downs of the freelancer’s life. Right now the marketplace is saturated with too many photographers. In a slow economy people are getting laid off and fewer new jobs are being created. People who always wanted to go out on their own become freelancers. New photographers charge less than established photographers and the market becomes a buyers paradise, but not so lucrative for photographers.
Keith Hern • After 25 years in corporate sales freelance photography is another world. If I ever get really down I just go stand at the commuter train station early in the morning with at least an hour’s journey packed in like sardines just to get to an office…. that’s a great way to remind myself why I do something freelance and creative….and not be answerable to some jumped-up opinionated ‘manager’……
Dallas Allbritton • I hear you. I am in Nashville and we don’t have the commuter trains but we have an interstate and we have a big state government work force. I cringe as I watch them drive to a parking lot with there packed lunches and climb on a bus that takes them 300-500 yards to an office building.
Todd Biss • I just wrapped 10 days in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Haiti was brutal! Outrageous heat, depressing situations, garbage everywhere… but mingled in the mess… people who were full of hope, happy to be alive and living for the day they had been given. Actually… kinda like being a freelance photographer. Not that I’m comparing my situation to those in Haiti! But so much of what I have to do is not what I want to do. Then there’s that small percentage of time that I’m actually shooting… wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Bryan Lowry • Just returned from six days and nights documenting a new lava flow heading towards my friends house. Maybe one hour sleep a day with flowing lava only 50 feet away and a large brush fire across the street as we sat eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in the house; large methane explosions everywhere. Now I’m home on the PC sorting out 1400 photos and looking for the winners. It’s periods like this followed by periods of inactivity. I do lots of hiking over and around lava. I live a strange life.
Michelle Chaplow • Without a shadow of a doubt its a privileged field to work in, you have to totally love photography to endure the course. Flexibility adaptation and change are the ingredients needed for the freelance field. Sometimes I´m bored out of my brains with the computer calibrations, however the travel, the thrill of creating and capturing new imagery, that satisfies both myself as the photographer and meets the clients brief makes the whole venture a delight. Every so often it’s good for freelance photographers to remind themselves that we have the choice and I for one feel that I have chosen well.
Frank DeSantis • I love my work, I love being behind the camera. I love shooting. I started out as a freelance graphic designer and then art director and now photographer. There have been ups and downs. You learn to live with it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I photograph homes, I photograph corporate people, I photograph dogs, I photograph product and I photograph women. I enjoy every minute because it’s mine; I made it, I’m responsible for what I do and how it plays out. I have a great studio that looks out over downtown Portland, Oregon. I can choose to look out the window all day or choose to do my work all day or both or nothing at all. There’s beauty in it. Imagine free falling but with wings. It’s not for everybody.
Marilyn Angel Wynn • After a week of shooting along the west coast (for free), visiting friends and family along the way, living inside my truck camper and then this morning selling 5 images to NGS, life is just too good! The stock sales trickle in these days but the ride is so well worth it still. Happy shooting.
Abigail Harman • I love being a freelance photographer. Each day is a different challenge and you never know what is going to happen next! I meet wonderful people who often become friends. It’s nerve wracking sometimes but exciting and fulfilling at the same time. We get to create something and have fun at the same time. How many professions have that?
Scott Stahl • You have to love people and the rewards of great photography to stay with it.
Jim Pickerell • It is survival of the fittest, but the fittest is the best marketer, best communicator, best financial manager, best adapter to new technology, best business person not necessarily the most creative or best photographer.
John Trifiro • Like any business, if you don’t do it for the money, then you shouldn’t expect to make much of a living. Luck is a lot of blood, sweat and tears!