When I started shooting several years ago, I never imagined I would be able to make my hobby an actual career…however, this career choice did not come without its obstacles. Here are a few things I wish I had known about before I became a freelancer.
1. Its lonely.
Sure, being your own boss, making your own schedule and working from home is great! It allows you to do what you want, when you want. You can take any time off that you’d like, you can take a break whenever you’d like…hell, you can even watch Seinfeld 100x over and over again and no one will say anything. On the flip side, working from home means not having the same interactions you would have in a typical work setting. Making friends can be harder because you’re isolated to editing and producing from home. Meetings and creative meetups are a great way to interact with others, but it still gets lonely.
2. You’re not going to make money.
Well…not immediately anyway. Being freelance means negotiating your own terms and being rejected more times than you’d like. You will have to navigate the confusing and stressful waters of self-pricing and hope that you are not over-pricing yourself while also not under-pricing yourself, undercutting the rest of the industry. You don’t want to be the “cheap” photographer. Believe me. You will get clients who refuse the rates, try to undercut you and try to get everything for free…don’t let this discourage you. Stand strong in your pricing. Every year, or half year, reevaluate your rates to see if they are still in line with your overhead costs and labor. I like to think that it takes roughly 5 years of steady growth to be able to make this a profitable career choice. I’m still in the growing phase of those 5 years, and always will be pushing for more growth. But remember, we didn’t get into this industry for the money (at least, I hope you didn’t).
Sometimes we all get comfortable in what we do…we see that people like what we shoot, so why change that? But, as the old adage goes, no growth comes from comfort. Make mistakes (lots of them) and try things that may not work…you may be surprised. Some of my favorite shoots were ones that I hated when I was shooting them because they were “too weird or awkward”. Don’t let something like comfort dictate your success. Some of the most successful people in the industry have made the biggest mistakes and taken huge risks along the way.
4. Don’t be a jerk.
Sure, this seems obvious enough, but this industry is SMALL. Don’t be an asshat. Keep your eyes on your own paper, do genuine, original work and stay humble. Give credit where credit is due- your teams are your lifeline. Without them, you would be painting on makeup on the model like I did when I first started. Not good.
5. If you don’t know something, ask someone who may.
But don’t be annoying. Talk to people that have been doing this longer. Don’t be afraid to ask a mentor to meet up for coffee to discuss the industry and what they’ve learned the hard way. But if someone does not offer help, don’t keep asking! Just let it be, and go to point #6.
6. If you don’t know something, try figuring it out on your own.
I know this seems like the opposite of point #5, but nothing feels better than solving something on your own. Practice the retouching technique you’re not 100% solid about. Try different modifiers rather than asking another person what they used. Rent several lenses to see which you prefer. Photography/retouching/art is so personal to each person, so explore on your own to learn as much as you can. Its much more rewarding that way.
7. Invest in your business.
No one is going to invest in you until you invest in yourself. This doesn’t mean go out and buy the newest equipment if you can’t afford it, but instead invest time and quality into your business. Spend time planning quality shoots that will benefit you and your team. Invest your free time into shooting, planning, cold emailing, researching, etc. The more people see you putting time and love into yourself and your business, the more they will want to do the same for you.
Remember that when doing free tests, that your team (models, makeup, hair, styling, etc) are also investing their time and quality in you. Keep it a collaborative process and respect everyone’s time and input. You will also need to invest in the studios, food, equipment and supplies when building your portfolio. That’s okay. Its an investment in your business that is crucial to your success. I still struggle with this aspect. Don’t feel guilty for spending every dime on your craft. Its your dream, so its worth working for (and there’s always ramen, right?).
8. Don’t let others opinions of you and your work sway you.
If you’re proud of what you’re doing, then stay true to that. It is so easy to get caught up in the immediate gratification and praise of social media. But shooting for the faceless masses will not feel rewarding. Instead, do what feels true to you. People may hate it, but thats when you know you’ve done something different. Art is subjective, so don’t read too much into what others do or don’t like (unless its for a client- do what the client/AD is asking). Make your own style and feel more rewarded in your work as a result.
9. More hooks in the water mean more potential opportunities.
Do not feel discouraged by rejection. You will always get more “no”s than “yes”s in this line of work. Its just how it goes. But keep cold emailing clients, keep building your portfolio and keep your head up. If Terry Richardson can make millions in one year taking blown out photos against a white wall, then you can land that job you’ve always wanted. Its just a matter of time, persistence and faith that it will happen.
10. Have fun, kick ass.
Being freelance is rewarding when you’ve landed a client you’ve always wanted or shooting something that you have worked so hard to put together. As your own boss, you can feel more fulfilled in your work knowing that you and your team did it on your own. But also remember that this industry is tough. Let the pressure and stress push you and inspire you to hustle, not to drown in the moment. There’s always going to be someone who will work harder, do more, be better and be more like-able. Thats okay. Other people winning does not mean you have lost. Keep your focus on your own growth, in both yourself and your business.
About the Author
Jenn Collins is a freelance commercial and editorial beauty photographer based in Los Angeles & San Francisco. She specialises in skincare, cosmetic and haircare campaigns. You can find out more about Jenn on her website, and follow her work on Instagram. This article was also published here and shared with permission.