Thanks to internet connections which are able to download (and upload) high resolution images quickly, and an endless number of businesses that need high quality photography on their website to stand out from the competition, there’s plenty of entry-level freelance photography work out there (in addition to all the usual places that need photos). This means if you’ve got some basic gear, know how to use it, and live in a place that has businesses and internet the barriers to entry for starting a freelance photography business are relatively low.
Photography can also make a great addition to your repertoire if you’re already doing any kind of freelance design work.
What You’ll Need
A camera and a computer are pretty much the two essential pieces of equipment you’ll need for becoming a freelance photographer. If you’re just starting out, and are looking for entry-level work, don’t worry about spending thousands on an expensive DSLR. A good low-end DSLR and a few good lenses are all you need camera-wise – depending on the make and model this could cost as little as £500 (and it’s always worth looking for a good second hand deal).
Cameras have come a long way since the 1960s, and are now great for taking pictures of cameras made in the 1960s.
Prime lenses, 35mm or 50mm, are great fast and affordable lenses for those starting out freelance photographing. Although they won’t offer as much range as a kit lens they will produce more professional-looking photos.
A sound technical understanding of photography is also highly recommended, especially if you’re on a budget and can’t afford the kind of kit that will make your life easier. A good grounding in the technical aspects will help you to take shortcuts to the perfect picture and leave you relying on skill, rather than luck.
In terms of computing power any average computer or laptop should be fine as a starting point, though you may want to invest in a decent-sized screen with good contrast and colour reproduction. Adobe’s Lightroom is also pretty essential for professional photography, but the good news is Adobe loves photogs and its photography plan starts at just £10 a month (plus it’s an allowable expense on your tax return – yippee!).
In total you could probably put together a complete freelance photography kit for under £1,000.
If you’ve got your eye on higher-end jobs it may be worth investing in just the lenses rather than a camera body, and hire a camera body.
Building a Portfolio
Although I’d never recommend doing anything for free for too long (or at all if possible) if you’re starting from absolute zero volunteering your photography services can be a great way to build experience and hone your skills. There are many organisations out there would benefit from a freelance photographer but can’t afford one. Charities and not-for-profit organisations are good places to target, and will probably be grateful of a photographer to capture images at events and for their social media feeds. Bands just starting out, or anyone starting up a business, may also welcome your help.
A photo of Princess Anne I took in 2014 (pre The Crown), when my local council were looking for voluntary photographers for events
If you want to specialise in a particular kind of photography try and focus on businesses in that area, or if you’re want to do everything experiment with as many different kinds of photography as possible.
A portfolio has more weight if you can say the pictures were taken for an actual client, but choosing the best of photographs you’ve taken for your own enjoyment is a good way to lay the foundations of a well-rounded catalogue of awesome exposures.
There are plenty of cost-effective ways of hosting a portfolio online, whether it’s simply uploading them to a social media account or setting up your own website (which can be done for as little as a tenner using services like one.com).
How to Find Clients
Once you’ve got a bit of work under your belt try approaching local business who look like they need a photographer. Search for local websites with lacklustre images and tell them how you can improve their imagery for a reasonable price. It’s a good idea to create a template email outlining your level experience, how you can help, and where they can see examples of your work. Ultimately if you can recreate the quality of work in your portfolio for a client then you should leave them a happy customer.
You should also be upfront about what your services cost, but working out what to charge can always be difficult, especially if you’re just starting out. As a rough guide your average professional photographer will charge around £50 – £100 an hour, working out with the client beforehand what they expect to get for their time.
The more work you win the more people will see your work, and if your pics are good your business should grow naturally.
This is a just a rough guide based on my experience of freelancing as a photographer, the best advice I can give is always to be honest about what you can do, keep practicing and learning, and always define what the client wants and what you can deliver for the client before you take a job.