Freelance Photography Checklist for Beginners

The concept of working for yourself can seem like a dream: no one to answer to, flexible working hours, and the chance to work on projects you’re really passionate about. In reality, it’s not always this simple, and working for yourself often comes with added pressure and deadlines. Freelancing can be difficult if you delve into it unprepared, but with these tips, you’ll be on the road to establishing a rewarding career.

Brand Identity & Experience

Before taking the plunge into freelance, it is vital to establish a brand identity. This not only illustrates professionalism, but allows your company to be easily recognised. Creating a website, designing a logo and utilising social media will propel your work into the limelight.

A great way to set yourself up with a website is through Wordpress. This is fantastic for beginners because it is simple to use and has a phenomenal set of features. If you have ever created a blog before then you’re sure to find Wordpress easy to use, but if you need extra guidance there’s plenty of online tutorials to assist you. Conversely, a custom website made from scratch would give you a more unique website than a Wordpress one, however, this option can be time consuming and expensive if you don’t possess the skills to do it yourself.

My personal website is an example of a Wordpress site. Wordpress is the perfect platform to showcase my photography projects, as it is easy to add content and works with a wide variety of themes. Wordpress allows you to choose the perfect aesthetic for your business, and is a great way of creating a website if you have no experience in web design.

Of course, you can’t create a website without having content to fill it with. My website contains a mixture of both personal projects as well as paid jobs. Before I had the experience of paid work, my site consisted purely of university projects and personal photography work. I wanted more experience to add to my portfolio before looking for paid work, so I undertook voluntary photography work at various local events. Getting experience under your belt is vital for building a portfolio and thus gaining trust with potential clients.

My website’s simple homepage showcases my most recent project…
…upon scrolling down, other projects can be viewed.

Another way to gain experience is taking on assistive jobs. Becoming an assistant to an experienced professional allows you to learn new skills, make connections within the industry, and ultimately take a closer step to establishing yourself as a freelancer.

Once my website was set up, I created a G Suite account. This isn’t mandatory, but it adds consistency to your business and assists with organisation and communication. The G Suite package allows you to create a professional email with your business name attached, provides you with 30GB of online storage and comes with 24/7 Google support. The Google Drive online storage is particularly useful to upload client’s photographs to once a project is completed. Find out more about G Suite here.

Gaining Work

Gaining work can be difficult. The key to this comes from continuously putting yourself out there. After establishing your online presence, you should continue adding online content regularly. You then need to decide what kind of jobs you want to do and who you want to work with, then contact them. An effective way of doing this is through social media platforms such as Twitter & Instagram.

Discovering start-up companies was essential for me, as a lot of small businesses need staff portraits or product photographs taken by an expert, so that they can establish a professional aesthetic in their new business. A good way to contact a start-up business would be through direct message, email or phone call. In your message, inform them of the services you offer. You should also display examples of your work from your website and social media pages, and conclude with how your photography skills could benefit their business.

This reinforces the importance of brand identity. When contacting potential clients, it’s vital for them to get a feel of the quality of the work you produce. Of course, you’re likely to face rejection, but don’t let this get you down. Keep trying and eventually you’re likely to get a response.

Don’t forget, once you’ve had a successful client, they’re likely to tell others about your work if they’re happy with you. This also applies to carrying out voluntary work: any opportunity to showcase your skills heightens your chance of gaining more clients through word of mouth and testimonials.

Communication

Once you’ve gained contacts, it’s vital to keep their interest with punctual communication. Reply to clients as promptly as possible, always showing a strong interest in their ideas and the project you are planning to carry out.

After discussing the project, it’s important to meet with your client(s) to plan the project in greater detail. In my personal client meetings, I always bring either a laptop or iPad in order to display previous personal projects. Although it’s likely they will have already checked your website, it’s doubtful they will have seen everything you’ve done. I’d also advise making notes about the project, either by hand or electronically, so that you don’t forget any important details.

Another useful tip is to maintain a positive relationship with previous clients. If you’ve done a good job, it’s likely they will have other jobs they’ll want you to do in the future. I’ve experienced this within my own freelance career: doing multiple jobs for clients that have been pleased with the work I’ve produced.

I would also advise ordering business cards ready to give to your clients when you meet them. This is a great way to showcase your business as well as remind clients of your contact details.

Pricing Yourself

Pricing yourself is one of the most difficult aspects of freelancing, especially if you’re just starting out and aren’t particularly confident. Once you’ve planned your client’s project, they’ll want to know your rate.

From my experience, it’s best to plan the project in detail before giving a price, rather than nervously estimating a price at your first meeting. I personally recommend giving your client a price via email a couple of days after you’ve initially met with them to discuss the project.

When pricing, you don’t want to underbid and end up looking inexperienced, but you also don’t want to price yourself so high that you’ll lose the job. For my personal jobs, I choose my hourly rate, then calculate how many hours the job will take to photograph, as well as the time it will take to edit. I then add these together and display them as separate elements on my invoice after the project is completed.

It’s best to overestimate timings slightly because editing can often take longer than you think, especially if you’re new to the photography business. If your clients want you to go above and beyond your initial agreement, in terms of extra editing, for example, don’t be afraid to ask for additional payment. This reinforces the importance of contracts in specifying specific project details, which is explored further in the following section.

Organising Finances

One of the most important aspects of freelance is organising your finances. Before you begin any paid work, start by creating a contract. This will make it clear to both you and the client exactly what your project will entail. It explains what you will be doing, the amount you will be paid, the dates and times of the project, and how you will be presenting the work once it’s completed- for example, on a memory stick or on an online service such as Google Drive.

Bonsai is a platform that I’d recommend for any new freelancers. It’s excellent whether you’re a busy freelancer with regular work, or someone who does freelance alongside another job, as I do myself. If you opt for Bonsai’s premium plan of around £20 a month, you can manage unlimited projects using their service. With the free plan you’re able to manage one active project at a time and 3 projects per year.

Bonsai is great because it allows you to create contracts for your clients to electronically sign, and makes it easy to create invoices and process payments. Despite not having any experience with creating contracts or invoices prior to using Bonsai, I found it very simple to use and it taught me about the importance of finance within a freelancing career.

The service also informs you when a client has viewed your contract and electronically signed it, so you’re always up to date with what’s going on. When your contract is electronically signed, it then becomes legally binding. This is essential if a client decides to pay you late, or not pay at all, as you’ve got a legal document as proof of the initial agreement.

Find out more about Bonsai here.

Preparation & Equipment

Once you’ve arranged all the little details about your project, you need to ensure you’re prepared for the big event!

In photography, equipment is essential to complete your project. Of course, every individual’s equipment will differ slightly, but here’s my personal equipment list for any budding freelance photographer:

CAMERA: If you don’t have one already, I’d strongly suggest purchasing an SLR camera. Because SLR cameras can be used with different lenses, you can alter them to suit any situation you may be photographing.

If your business continues to grow, I would also suggest investing in a backup camera. This will give you peace of mind incase anything goes wrong, as well as make bigger projects easier. If you have a project where various lenses are needed, you can keep a different lens on each camera, and swap between the cameras rather than frequently swapping lenses.

LENSES: Even if you start with a relatively low-priced SLR, you should focus on investing in several lenses if possible. If you buy an upgraded SLR of the same brand in the future, you will be able to use almost all of the lenses on the top end camera body as well as the more basic one. The technology of camera bodies are always changing, but lenses rarely change throughout the years.

CAMERA BAG: I have a medium-sized Canon camera bag which fits my camera body and 3 lenses in it, as well as a separate section at the front to fit smaller pieces of equipment. Camera bags are an important investment as they keep your equipment safe and organised.

SPARE BATTERIES/CHARGERS: Always ensure you take spare batteries and chargers with you when you’re carrying out a project. This particularly applies if your project involves videography, as recording video drains battery very quickly. Even if you have a spare battery with you, you should also carry a charger for extra backup.

SPARE MEMORY CARDS: Having several memory cards with you for any project means you can take a lot of photographs, as well as have a backup incase anything goes wrong.

LIGHTING: Good or bad lighting can completely alter a photoshoot, so always ensure you have your own lighting to get the best possible results. This is particularly important for outdoor shoots where the lighting can be unpredictable. For outdoor shoots, I always take a small LED light which attaches to the camera hot shoe. I also have 2 large soft box lights which are more appropriate for indoor shoots.

TRIPOD: A tripod keeps the camera steady, and allows you to set up intricate shots. It is also essential if you are undertaking videography work so that you can get steady, professional looking footage.

Once you have all your equipment prepared, I’d recommend organising a schedule for your project. For example, if you’re working from home one day editing a batch of photographs, don’t procrastinate or overestimate how much time you’ve got. You should set goals for yourself and make sure you stick them in order to get the most out of your time, as well as motivate yourself.

Take Opportunities

Another key tip for freelance photographers is to take as many opportunities as possible, particularly those that put you out of your comfort zone. Projects such as these will improve your confidence and give you more experience.

An example of this was a Northern Soul music event I photographed last year. Before undertaking the project, I was very apprehensive as I only had experience in portraiture and landscape photography at the time.

The project also involved videography, another aspect I had little experience with. Despite this, I quickly got used to the environment and ended up really enjoying it. The video I made also turned out excellently, despite my previous worries about the project.

This really reinforces the importance of taking opportunities! Being a shy person myself, I can understand that it can be difficult stepping out of your comfort zone. But, for me, it was one of the best things I ever did. It gave me experience, strengthened my skills and most importantly improved my confidence.

Learn New Skills

Whether you’re just starting out in freelance or are already well established, you should always continue improving your skills. Learning new practical skills, editing techniques and marketing skills will keep your business up-to-date and demonstrate your dedication and organisation.

Developing your skills on popular software such as Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom is always beneficial for photography post-production, particularly batch-editing photographs. The more skills you can learn on this, the more efficient you can become.

As well as popular software, newer apps can also broaden your horizons in terms of editing and content creation. An example is the Sketch design app, which is an amazing tool I have been teaching myself recently. It allows you to easily create digital designs, which is fantastic if you’re interested in making unique posts to help market your business further online. It’s also a great tool to utilize if you want to design your own logos or icons for your business.

Learning a wide variety of skills means that you can take control of almost every aspect of your business.

Be Confident

Of course, being confident doesn’t come to us all naturally. But confidence and positivity are key if you’re a budding freelancer.

Before undertaking my first job, I was very nervous, but once I had met my first client and formed a relationship with them, I felt much more confident about getting the task done and it really eased my nerves. After all, a client is only human, and the more experience you have with people, the easier it becomes.

Putting yourself out there not only improves your confidence, but gives you valuable experience within your job which will help your business to grow. It’s inevitable that you will make mistakes along the way, but as long as these can be learnt from then don’t let them get you down.

If you’re driven, organised and motivated then you’ll be sure to get your business off the ground in no time, and have fun along the way.