Into the World of Freelance Photography & Illustration

A Freelancer’s World: The Artistic Edition

Written by  Sushanth N. S.

Freelance . The term speaks for itself. If a professional wants to work under many employers, for short durations of time during his career, freelancing is the best option. In other words, it’s being self employed.

free3To give you some background, I was a student of commerce until my degree years.  Post degree, my field didn’t make sense for me to take it as a career. Therefore, I pursued a post-graduation in advertising, and now am a freelance designer and photographer. What I am about to share are indeed some of the lessons my career and my mentors have taught me so far.

Why freelancing when there are plenty of jobs out there?

  • Working on individual projects offers more income than working for a company or with a team.
  • There is independence in this career option. You make your own choices. A freelancer gets to choose which kind of project he can work with or which client can he serve, instead of being handed down work in an office. Along with independence, creative freedom also follows, which is all about letting a professional do his job on his own terms, with respect to the quality and concept of the work he’s been given (without any outside involvement or intrusion to his idea).
  • Freelancing allows a professional to follow his or her personal passions, without being committed to working for a company for a long duration of time.
  • Freelancing is taken up by those who want flexibility in scheduling and managing their every day work.

free2These are some of the common reasons of why professionals freelance. But like every field, there are disadvantages to this way of working, mainly –

  • Freelancers, not being employed on a standard deal, have the risk of running out of work or finding difficulty in finding new work.
  • Professionals looking to freelance, must be at the peak of their skills, in order to survive the market where other freelancers also thrive upon. Therefore, pressure on delivering high quality work can wear out some people in the long run.
    free1Freelancers live in a risky world, with payments sometimes not being paid by the clients. This has an impact on their lifestyles and they have to face difficulty in managing their everyday expenses, be it for basic needs or paying mortgage etc.

Now that we have a basic understanding of the freelancing world itself, we can now narrow down on the discussion of freelancing in photography and illustration.

Freelancing in photography
Photography has become very prevalent in today’s world, as the medium for cameras started to shift from film to digital. In the early days, photographers were constrained by the number of shots every roll of film contained (along with it being expensive). Also, cameras weren’t very accessible in those days, except for those buying it or using a studio camera to fulfill their needs.
photo 1 (1)Today, ever since the medium has taken a leap from film to digital, cameras became more accessible, especially Digital Single Reflex Cameras or DSLRs. These cameras which were predominantly used by professionals all over the world became available to the basic consumer market. Canon first introduced user friendly DSLRs which peaked the interest of many people to either take photography as a hobby or as a means to make money.

Freelancing in photography is a hard field in itself, with more and more professionals in this dynamic field.  Buying cameras and pursuing this career, either for the love of it or to make money is a big decision in itself. There are certain norms or values that a freelance photographer must keep in mind, before venturing out in the market –

  • Specialize in one field- This is very crucial, as there are many genres in the world of photography: fashion, wedding, wildlife, events, stock, product, street, surreal, marine etc. It isn’t as simple as buying a camera and trying one’s hand at all these genres. Each genre has a different style and output to it. . Thus, equipment also differs from genre to genre. Hence, a careful research into what genre a professional wants to jump into and his/her financial considerations (with respect to how much he/she is willing to invest in their equipment) all come together after this crucial decision.
    photo 2
  • Marketing – The only way to stay in the minds of the target audience is to market oneself, be it in any field. Photography demands that kind of marketing, because there are many professionals out there who want to make it big. The only way a freelance photographer can stand out is by marketing his skills via the social media or through a strong network of people or word of mouth. Whatever the channel may be, good photography always draws eyes towards it. Therefore, showcasing the skills to make it big also counts.
  • Create a network– Wherever the freelancer goes, he/she must strive to meet new people in order to leave a good impression in their minds and also be of some use to them. Nobody can ever rule out a strong network, as it leads to more work, more contacts and more success.
  • Deliver a high quality product- The only way a client can ever come back to a freelancer, offering him new work, is when he/she is satisfied with the quality of the work provided by the freelancer. Also, it is a good way to stand out and be recognized among the crowd by delivering good work.
  • Good relations with clients– A good relation has its own reward. A freelancer must make his clients comfortable and be at ease with them. However, the freelancer must know where to draw the line. He should make sure that they don’t take him for granted when it comes to negotiating payment or being shown professional courtesy by the client.
    photo 3
  •  Develop good identity in the market- Having a good logo or a visual representation to one’s firm or services never harms anyone. In fact, it encourages major recall value when it comes to the clients remembering whom to call upon, while thinking of a photography job. Investing in a website and a brand identity package isn’t a bad idea if a professional wants to stand out in the market.

Even if a professional were to follow the guidelines above, nothing beats acquiring experience from one project to another. Sometimes, it can be frustrating for a freelancer to not be paid enough for the jobs that he/she is starting with; but with patience, strong network and dedication/creativity to the game, a professional can do wonders in the future.

Freelancing in Illustration
Illustration is simply the process of visualizing or depicting a scene, remembered or imagined, using a graphical illustration. People usually call it sketching, drawing, painting etc.  In the industry, people employ illustrators and use illustrations to graphically represent or enhance information. Illustrations are commonly used in various places or mediums, be it – newspapers, magazine articles, advertisements, children’s books, educational purposes, storyboarding, covers for books/CDs etc.
photo 4 (1)

Ever since the transition to digital world, artists now have more freedom in terms of techniques to illustrate and utilize a wide range of tools to produce, edit and deliver the finished product. Besides this advancement, there are illustrators who are still old fashioned, sticking to traditional drawing techniques to get their job done.

Most of the guidelines used in freelance photography, can be taken for illustration as well. Be it choosing the style of art while drawing (penciling/inking/watercolor/digital etc.), marketing oneself as an illustrator, creating a powerful network, delivering an art piece that is desirable to the client, handling relations with clients and the most importantly, making sure that the style of illustration (realistic, cartoony, caricature, geometric etc.) is consistent throughout his/her identity or brand of illustration.
photo 5 (1)

When it comes to charging a price for these illustrations, illustrators usually charge on the rate of pages i.e. illustration done, per page. It is important to know the client’s requirements of an illustration (medium, color scheme, size, orientation) , before taking it on as a project.

Illustration is one of the oldest professions present. Practicing it on a freelance basis requires confidence, a strong skill set, a great network of people who love your work and your passion. Without the passion element, it is one of the hardest, yet cumbersome careers out there. The illustrators are expected to please their clients and themselves at the same time through their illustrations; this career is definitely not for the faint hearted.

That being said, I hope this article has been of some use.  When it comes to considering a career in freelance photography or illustration, whether it’s acting through an agent or by you, the only way forward in this line of work is to strive every day. Believe me, if you are consistent in doing what you love, you will witness brilliant results when you look back on your work. Good luck fellow artists!

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3 Responses

  1. Suha Azmath says:

    A very interesting article. You don’t get to read topics like these very often.

  2. Sushanth says:

    If any of you have any queries that I can help with, post it as a question on this article! Happy to help! Thanks!

  3. Ana says:

    Hi Sushanth! I have recently become interested in Photography. Your article is brilliant. Can you tell me what could be the initial steps in the world of photography ?

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