Deciding to become a freelance photographer is a big step for anyone to take. You may dream of turning your passion for photography into a rewarding career, but you need to be prepared for a lot of hard work if you are going to make a success of it.

How to become a freelance photographer

Choosing a specialism

The first decision to make is: what type of photographer are you going to be? While you may dream of a varied professional life, hand-picking interesting projects and being in full control of your creative output, the reality is you might need to niche down – at least in the early days.

When people are looking for a photographer, they tend to have a particular type in mind – and often will want to commission a photographer who has relevant experience (or a relevant portfolio) for the job at hand.

There are a lot of freelance and professional photographers out there, so it’s important to focus on your strengths if you are to stand out from the crowd. For example, you might be more suited to working outdoors and in the field either as a nature photographer or working for a news organisation. Or maybe you prefer to work in the comfort of a photography studio.

Here’s some examples of the type of photography you could focus on as a freelancer:

  • Wedding photography
  • Fashion photography
  • Nature photography
  • Pet photography
  • Portrait photography
  • Corporate photography
  • Aerial photography
  • Press and PR photography
  • Product photography
  • Sports photography

As well as the type of photographer you want to be, you should also consider the type of photography you want to produce. Specialising in a certain kind of photos – black and white, documentary-style etc. could help you stand out more and be more appealing to prospective customers.

What qualifications do you need to be a photographer?

Although you do not technically require any formal qualifications to become a professional photographer, there are university degrees, higher education programs and online photography courses you can do to help hone your skills, build your confidence and gain industry connections.

To enrol on a photography-related degree or higher education course you typically need five GCSE’s (A-C) including English and Maths, and at least two A Levels in related subjects (art, design, media etc.) Different universities and colleges may have different criteria, though, so it’s worth checking to make sure.

Whether you choose to pursue professional photography qualifications or not, what you do need to succeed as a freelance photographer is creativity, technical proficiency, a good eye for detail and good people skills.

If you feel you may be lacking in one or more of these traits, then taking a course or qualification is recommended to help boost your overall skills.

Photographer start-up costs

Setting yourself up as a professional freelance photographer can be expensive, with the total cost of getting fully set up dependent on the type of photographer you want to be.

The costs of setting up and running a photography business can include:

  • Equipment costs – This can include cameras, lenses, tripods, editing software, lights, printers and so on.
  • Office/studio costs – Depending on the type of photographer you are, you may need an office to work out of and also a studio. Even if you plan to work from home, you may still need to pay for home office furniture (desk, chair etc.) and a laptop/PC.
  • Marketing costs – You will also need to invest in marketing, whether that’s going to exhibitions, attending networking events, advertising, building a professional-looking website, digital marketing etc.
  • Professional fees – This can include accountants/bookkeepers fees and any other admin costs.

How much do photographers earn?

Your earning potential as a freelance photographer really depends on the type of photography you do and how successful you are/how much work you get.

Wedding photographers typically charge anywhere between £1,000 – £3,000 per wedding, so if you get around 20 weddings in a year you could be earning upwards of £60,000 per year.

According to the National Careers Service, the salary for a photographer ranges from £17,250 – £45,000 – although that is for employed rather than self-employed photographers.

If you are working in the media, you can expect to paid between £100 – £1,000 for magazine photography and up to £500 for press/newspaper photography – although some images can be sold for a lot more.

Before you get started it can be a good idea to research what photographers in your specialism are currently charging in your area e.g. look at the websites of your local wedding/portrait photographers to see what prices they are listing.

Freelancer/sole trader or limited company?

Before you begin trading you also need to think about the legal structure of your freelancer business.

You can set up as a limited company or as a sole trader, with your choice dependent on your own personal situation and the type of clients you will be working with.

There are many things to consider here, so read our ultimate guide to accounting for small businesses for more information on the different tax implications of each business structure.

What insurance do freelance photographers need?

Equipment insurance is essential for professional photographers in order to protect themselves against the loss, theft or damage of their photography equipment. Photographers simply wouldn’t be able to work without their equipment – everything from cameras and lenses to accessories like tripods, stands and bags – so it’s a good idea to make sure they’re covered in case anything happens to them.

Public Liability insurance should also be a consideration for photographers, as this can provide cover if you accidently damage third party property or cause an injury while you are working. Depending on the type of photography you do, some clients may insist that you have public liability cover in place for certain jobs.

Professional Indemnity insurance is another form of cover that is popular with photographers, as this is designed to protect your business and your reputation.

In simple terms, professional indemnity insurance can provide cover for any mistakes you might make – or any allegations that you’ve made a mistake. This could be a dispute over you producing different photographs compared with what the client thought you promised, or you losing a memory card with all the photos from a recent wedding on it.

If you are planning to employ people to help with your photography business, then it may be a legal requirement for you to have an Employer’s Liability insurance policy in place. This can protect your business if an employee files a claim against you because they were injured or have a dispute as a result of working for you. So, if an employee brings a claim against you for any injury or illness caused whilst working for you or under your supervision, your policy can cover your defence costs and possibly any compensation awards.

Freelance insurance tailored to you

Create Insurance offers specialist insurance cover for freelance photographers, designers, artists and more – get instant cover on public liability, professional indemnity and equipment insurance.

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