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Freelance Photography

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Freelance photography is defined as the work done by photographers or artists who run their own businesses rather than working for a company. Generally speaking, freelance photographers own their equipment and take photographs for many clients. If a freelance photographer works exclusively for one client or uses the client’s equipment, that photographer may be deemed an employee of that organization and not a freelance photographer by U.S. tax laws.

Making a living as a freelance photographer is not easy. In fact, many of those willing to be called freelance photographers actually pay their bills by holding other part-time jobs, sometimes in other photo-oriented businesses (i.e., studios, camera stores, or newspapers) or even in unrelated fields.

The new freelance photographer might begin by assisting an established photographer with some client photography. At the same time, the person might build a portfolio by completing speculative assignments and, perhaps, shooting some pictures on the side for local publications and small businesses, weddings, or portraits.

Freelance photographers also emerge from the ranks of photographers employed by larger corporations, daily newspapers, and educational institutions. For photographers who retire early or simply want more freedom in their work, freelance photography holds genuine appeal. Doing work from the outside can often provide a needed income supplement as well as creative reward.

Freelance photographers may enjoy a long career but it is challenging to earn enough money to follow this path. The best freelancers will take a variety of assignments before becoming known for one specialty. The specialty gives a client a specific reason to call; the flexibility enables the photographer to say yes to a client challenge and, at the same time, to enhance the all-important portfolio.

Just about any publication that uses photographs are a possible outlet for freelance photography. So are businesses of virtually any size, along with their advertising and public-relations agencies.

One classic freelance market is the stock picture industry. For years, these picture agencies have accepted freelance photographers’ images on consignment and then retained part of the fees they charge clients to use the pictures.

U.S. syndication agencies place feature stories, personality profiles, and news stories within the United States first. Then they resell the material in other countries. Freelance photographers whose work translates well to the world market eventually may be asked to cover a major story anywhere in the world.

For all freelance photography markets, photographers need to show a portfolio of their best work. Such a portfolio might consist of a Web site, a print portfolio, or both. Contents should include strong samples plus a photographic essay and some personal photography.

A freelance photographer, no matter how talented, must address the legal and business implications of self-employment in photography, including model releases and other required permissions—to shoot in a historic house, for example, or to borrow certain necessary props. A freelancer’s legal responsibilities also include establishing ownership of photographs and usage rights before accepting assignments from new clients. Certain organizations that count freelance photographers among their members offer insurance for everything from a photographer’s health to photographic equipment, props, and film. Such organizations also publish price guidelines for various types of freelance photography, although actual fees vary widely.

Freeman, Al, Jr. (1934–) [next] [back] Freedom Road

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