Photography Skills

What Freelance Photographers Do (Peek Inside the Field)

What Do Freelance Photographers Do?
Written by Emma Wilde

Freelance photography can be a diverse, exciting, and rewarding career where no two days are the same. But what is life even like as a freelance photographer and what do they actually do?

A freelance photographer is contracted to take photographs on a client-to-client basis through self-employed work. They often enjoy a diverse range of assignments and will usually undertake projects that are specific to various clients. Freelance photographers have the freedom to choose who they work for and the types of work they are wishing to undertake. 

Still want to be a photographer? There’s a lot more to know than I could pack into a paragraph, so if you want to go deeper with the subject, keep Keep reading for more.

What Do Freelance Photographers Photograph?

Freelance photographers have the freedom to choose their area of specialty. While some work on projects across several fields, many specialize in one area, such as wedding photography.

Freelance photographers work with multiple clients so they enjoy the chance to work on a range of projects within their field. 

Some common specialization areas include:

  • Wedding/ Event Photography
  • Portrait Photography
  • Landscape or Travel Photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Sports Photography

Many freelance photographers mix up the type of work they undertake, working on both big projects and one-off photo shoots.

Although many photographers specialize in a certain area, they have a more generalized scope of work. Generalized freelance photographers have a lot more variety and freedom in what they photograph. For instance, one day they might shoot a waterfall, another a wedding, and still another they might take product shots for a new ecommerce brand.  

It is important to consider whether or not you will specialize, and if so, what area? The equipment required by photographers depends largely on what they plan to shoot. 

For example, you might need reflectors and artificial light sources for portrait photography. Those same tools are not as useful for landscape photography.

Photographers that gain considerable experience in specialized fields bill the highest prices and are in the greatest demand. Large publications almost always choose specialists over generalists.

How Much Do Freelance Photographers Earn?

The amount a photographer earns is based on many factors. The type of photography you do, where you do it, how much experience you have, and who you are taking photographs for will all affect how much you earn.

Currently, in the US, the average freelance photographer earns between $33,000 and $47,000 per year. For those just starting out this number is significantly lower, and in the first few years can remain under  $20,000, while experienced industry professionals can earn well upwards of $50,000 per year. Top-earners can even break six-figures or more.

The style of photography is another factor that can significantly affect earnings. For example, wedding photography is one of the most lucrative fields and it is not unheard of for a reputable professional wedding photographer to earn $60,000 to $100,000 per year.

Type of Photography Average Price Charged Per Project/Session
Magazine Photography $300-$800
Family Portrait Photography $115-$250
Wedding Photography $1000-$3000

Again, not every freelance photographer will earn rates like these. Photography is a tough market with a lot of competition. To break into the field and make a name for yourself, you’ll have to get good with your camera and spend time practicing and learning new skills. 

The cost of equipment is another factor that affects your earning power. You’ll need a solid camera to take great shots, and even on the low end, you’re looking at a significant investment of $500+ for a basic DSLR. Add lighting, backdrops, lenses, and other necessary equipment and you could be looking at $1,000 to $5,000 investment.

Many freelance photographers actually lose money in their first year as they work to gain experience and get established.   

But, having said all that, for those that make it through that first year, freelance photography can turn into a great profession.

How Do I Find Work as a Freelance Photographer?

Most successful freelancer photographers have a website with a portfolio of their work. Your portfolio is your main drawcard for earning clients. It allows potential clients to look through your work to decide whether or not your style fits their needs. There are many options available to make a website yourself with website builders like Wix or WordPress offering templates specifically for photography websites and portfolios.

As your portfolio is often the first impression that potential clients will have of your work, it may also be worth hiring a professional to create your website and set it up for you.

Have a look at these websites of professional freelance photographers for inspiration.

 Emma Jane Wedding Photography

 Adam Burton Landscape Photography 

 Eric Soltan Architecture Photography

As well as their portfolios, freelance photographers often have a strong social media presence, advertising through platforms like Instagram. Due to the visual nature of freelance photography, social media platforms provide good avenues to secure new clients and advertise past work.

Entering photography competitions is another great way to gain exposure and make you stand out in the market. Companies like National Geographic and Sony run some of the most prestigious competitions, while smaller companies like Viewbug run competitions for amateur photographers.  

Online freelance platforms are another convenient way to find work, particularly if you are just starting out. These platforms connect freelancers with clients looking for specific photography work and are a great way to gain experience in the field.

Upwork and are two of the largest freelancing platforms and are a good place to start as they allow you to find projects customized to your current skill set. Freelancing platforms are among the easiest ways to find work as a freelance photographer as there is a steady stream of available jobs you can bid for at any given time.

  Some of the best freelancing websites include:

What Do I Need to be a Freelance Photographer? 

There are no standard qualifications to be a freelance photographer. Your success in this field is based more on your photography skills and your ability to market yourself than your qualifications

That being said, there are a range of short courses that you can take in photography that will help ensure you take the best photographs possible and teach any technical skills you may be lacking. 

YouTube also has a wealth of knowledge in the photography sector and it is a great resource to help improve your skills.

The most important thing a photographer will have is an eye for good shots, and a strong imagination, however, technical skills are also important to make sure you get the best use of your equipment. This is an area that may be particularly worth getting trained in.

Although the rise of smartphones has made everybody a photographer, if you want to become a professional it may be worth investing in some quality camera equipment. 

Make sure you research the equipment needed for your particular area of specialization because a quality camera is a must for any true professional.

Below is a list of the most common tools used by freelance photographers:

Some of the most popular camera brands on the market are Canon, Nikon and Sony, so what makes them so good?

Canon is one of the largest camera manufacturers and has been an industry favorite for decades. It produces a wide range of cameras and focuses on innovation. Canon is famous for leading the market with new and exciting features to help photographers take better pictures. They also have a focus on environmentally friendly production operations.

Nikon is a high-quality brand that produces cameras that consistently take good images. It is in the same league as Canon for quality and popularity, however, Nikon cameras are often a little bit lighter and have a longer battery life which can be beneficial for photographers that don’t shoot in studios.

Sony cameras are great for the tech lover. They often have advanced features such as tracking and have reliable autofocus capabilities. They are built smaller and lighter though, so often are not as reliable or sturdy as their counterparts on the market.

Is It Worth It to Become a Freelance Photographer? 

For most photographers, photography is more than a job, it is a passion and a way of life. It is a way to express the world as they experience it. Freelance photography can be an incredibly exciting and rewarding career. But it is fraught with challenges.

While many freelance photographers earn a good living, others do not. It can be a profession that very much follows a cycle of feast then famine and can involve sacrificing holidays and weekends and putting in a lot of hard work and long hours as you work around client schedules.

For those that make it, freelance photography is a dream career, an opportunity to do what you love without working for a boss.

Freelance photography is a career that can be filled with wonder and adventure and for those that take the leap can be the start of an amazing journey. As Robert Adams once said,

 ‘No place is boring if you’ve had a good night’s sleep and have a pocket of unexposed film.’

About the author

Emma Wilde

With a degree in business and a passion for writing, I understand how important quality content is for any brand. I have enjoyed the chance to travel internationally and to create compelling content for organisations all around the world. I have experience in many different sectors and I love creating a range of new and exciting content for my clients.