There’s a common topic of conversation between my friends and me and it normally follows a familiar pattern. It’s typically me justifying how going climbing on a Tuesday afternoon is normal and that going to festivals for free is still work. On the face of it being a freelance photographer is all awesome and not a lot of work. I don’t have to check with HR when I want to go on holiday and, if the mood takes me, I can spend the afternoon laying on our nice rug, eating crumpets and reading fancy lifestyle magazines in the name of ‘research’.
Is the reality of being a freelancer anything like the dream lifestyle above? The job of a photographer is certainly held in high regard; we’re seen jetting around the world, going from sunset to sunset with our brand new sparkly kit before coming home to our New York style loft apartments. Admittedly I do live in an ‘apartment’ and I did recently ‘jet’ to a job – although I’m not sure if an EasyJet flight to Glasgow compares* to landing in LA (which is where the photo above was taken).
There are some realities that are worth facing up to if you’re considering a career as a freelancer. For some having disruptive working hours just simply doesn’t work with their home life. It’s feasible that you’ll only work 9-6 five days a week, but you’ll be limiting your earning potential from the start. And earning is another big point. Or, more accurately, cash flow. Like any business you’ll live or die by your cash flow. Typically you’ll be in arrears most of the time (which, after a while of trading is slightly less of an issue) so you need to balance this with your regular outgoings.
Working as a freelance photographer is fairly straightforward in larger towns and cities; there’ll be clients there and established commissioners of photography. The idea of living an idyllic countryside existence is all well and good but if you’re an hour drive from the nearest town then you’re already adding costs before you’ve even arrived at a job. It’s worth researching the local market. No good local photographers? That could be because there’s no good work…
One thing to remember is that you’re more than a photographer. You’ll also be an accountant, head of marketing, cleaner, office manager and IT technician. A couple of days ago one of my hard drives started making an odd noise (which is never a good odd noise). So my morning was spent buying a new drive and fitting it. I then spent the afternoon catching up on accounts. I guess this is more the reality of freelance photography, all these subsidiary divisions you have to manage.
Is freelancing great? For me, yes. But it’s a road that needs a lot of research before heading down it.
* – having been to Glasgow and LA I can honestly say that Glasgow seemed far nicer and friendlier.