Before throwing yourself full force into the field of photography of any type, let us consider a few numbers.
Although no official records are kept and professional photographers are not tracked or polled in the UK, by some estimates, there are more than fifty thousand professionals that shape and drive the world of photography in our country.
That doesn't include anyone who has a camera, taking snaps on weekends or special events, who could be considered an amateur photographer!
Furthermore, there are no fewer than seventy four institutions of higher learning that offer photography programmes, all around the UK.
Those do not count the professional photographers who offer workshops to beginners and intermediate photographers, in their studios or around town. Nor does it account for any apprenticeships they might offer.
The cost of enroling in a three-year photography degree programme, on the average, ranges around £10,000 per year.
Accredited online photography courses cost, on average, £600.
Considering these numbers, you might question whether undergoing formal training as a photographer of any stripe would be worthwhile.
Here is something else to think about: if you operate as a freelance photographer, you should have a measure of business sense.
While you're thinking about all of this, let Superprof lay out a road map on how to achieve success as an independent photographer.
How to Freelance Behind the Lens: Education and Specialisation
What is most attractive about the field of photography is that no special training or development is required in the UK.
Let us say that you have mastered using you digital camera. In fact, you excel at street photography!
Today's practice shots could well lead to tomorrow's professional engagement as a wedding photographer, or shooting stunning landscapes.
You name doesn't have to be Cecil Beaton in order to find fantastic opportunities as a professional photographer.
Please note that this article does not concern itself with formal studies: online photography courses, Level 3 degrees and defending a thesis, nor is it about learning the business aspects of running a photography studio.
Surely you don't think that every fashion photographer, press photographer, and baby photographer learned all of their tricks through trial and error!
In fact, outside of standard academic and artistic development, a great way to develop your own photographic skills is to contact working photographers.
See an image you like while surfing the 'Net? Feel free to contact the artist!
Tell the photographer in question that you appreciate his/her work and wish to learn his technique!
By promptly following your admiration with a request for a workshop or training, you may be surprised at the reception you get!
This approach is not so far-fetched.
As a freelancer, you are proposing forging your own path, and you will have to develop the nerve to be forward in your requests.
Once you have attained a measure of photography skills – in portraiture, in landscape photography; in any type of photography you are passionate about, it is imperative that you work your camera as often as possible.
Should you not have the means or opportunity to train with any established photographers, practicing on your own is the way to take your skill to the next level.
Make it a habit of stepping out with your digital camera, or 35mm if you are a purist, and capture what you see.
Filling your portfolio with a variety of subjects, environments, and composition will only prove you to be more versatile, open to any assignment.
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How to Become a Photographer UK
Anyone who uses a camera could be called an amateur photographer. If you charge a fee for your shots, you would be considered professional.
As there are no licensing requirements on photographers in the UK, it would be relatively easy to set up a studio, anywhere in our photogenic country.
As compared to, say, France, where there are regulatory boards and specific legal requirements governing photographers.
However, in our country, you must register your business with HMRC, and pay taxes on your earnings.
We urge you to not neglect that vital step!
With that cumbersome query out of the way, let us drill down to what type of photography you would specialise in.
Some of the most lucrative ventures include:
- wedding photography
- portrait photography – pets, babies and group/family portraiture
- fashion photography, either of the articles of fashion, or of models displaying them
- action photography
- night photography
- travel photography
- commercial photography – photos for adverts, brochures and menus
- food photography
- macro photography: taking pictures of small components, such as jewellery, machinery or insects
Freelance photography is one career field where passion alone can dictate what you do.
Consider Anne Geddes, who so loves babies that she has made a name for herself in baby photography!
Like any burgeoning photographer, she started out with minimal equipment, but as her reputation grew, she was able to invest in all of the accoutrements needed to be a successful freelance photographer.
It is important to note that Ms. Geddes has no formal training in photography.
If, like her, you have an eye for composition and pose, you too might be ready to acquire accessories needed for a fully equipped studio.
Those might include:
Lights, light meters and using lighting techniques
Different subjects require different lighting. Light also sets the mood of your shots; brighter pictures reflect elan; more diffuse lighting could imply anything from whimsy to deeper emotions.
An assortment of camera bodies, lenses and filters
Not every camera will suit every purpose, and different lenses give different effects. Filters serve to add colour and/or effect.
A tripod is vital in portrait photography, as are backdrops, props and other posing tools.
The most vital question in outfitting your studio would be: what type of camera you will use?
While digital SLR is all the rage, many professional photographers aver that film cameras are incomparable: in heft, in shutter action and for the shots they capture.
You may consider using both digital and analog cameras, depending on your photography business and what you specialise in.
If you undergo photography training through a series of workshops with a professional studio photographer, you may find that technological advances in digital photography give you more flexibility in capturing your subject material.
Editing your images with Photoshop, you will find that you can enhance colours and subject matter much more easily than through any retouching techniques film photographers rely on.
And you can do away with the darkroom and all of those chemicals, too!
Pros and Cons of Being a Self Employed Photographer
Obviously, the greatest benefit to freelancing is that you get to do what you want to do, when you want to do it.
One of the greatest downsides is the hustle: scrambling for jobs. If your income depends on winning and working gigs, there may be some lean months ahead.
Beyond those two, let us break down the advantages and drawbacks to being a freelancer.
You may benefit from regulations and government financing that support entrepreneurs.
You can join organisations and societies, such as the British Institute of Professional Photography, and even benefit from mentorship of more senior members.
In fact, it would not be a bad idea to join your local photography society: what a great way to gain exposure and pick up photography tips!
All of your photographic equipment and most supplies could be tax deductible, as would be your studio overhead and travel expenses.
As your portfolio grows, so could the fee you command!
Every job is new, exciting and demanding: setting up your shoot, capturing great photos and meeting clients' expectations.
Every commission is a challenge to yourself!
On the downside, freelancers encounter:
Picky clients: no matter how well you perform, your clients may complain.
That is the best reason to take out freelancer insurance!
Tons of paperwork: you would be surprised how much there is involved!
Writing out quotes, issuing invoices and tracking your expenses are just the tip of the iceberg.
Family and friends think you are always available.
For some people, working independently equates to not having a job, meaning you are available for whatever they want or need you for.
Freelancing requires a measure of discipline: you will have to enforce your working time, and emphatically divorce it from your leisure time.
Many newcomers to the world of freelancing do not expect to feel lonely, but that is an aspect of working independently that one encounters, at times.
Retirement planning is your responsibility!
With no employer to offer any plans and matching contributions, you would be entitled only to basic state pension – provided you paid into National Insurance.
If you intend to freelance in studio photography, documentary photography or artisan photography, you should set aside a healthy portion of your income for emergencies and retirement.
Here is a tip to protecting future income: you should copyright all of your images, even if they are contracted by a client.
Any reprint of photos you have taken would command a royalty fee, for as long as you hold that copyright!
Considering all of that, rather than wrangle with individual clients, photographing events; perhaps you may want to enlist as a freelancer with a few companies.
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Freelance Photography Requirements for Commercial Photography
This type of photography meant for publication, exposition and reproduction.
A select number of pictures you take could be enlarged; become wall art.
A trademark of this type of photography would be limited issue; maybe thirty prints, and include an autograph.
As such, that would make you, the photographer, an artist!
On a much more mundane level, commercial photographers are contracted to take pictures of ordinary objects, such as furniture, food or clothing.
They may be called on to emphasise design features, for example, or the use of the product in question.
If your client is a resort in Bournemouth, you may be called on to photograph a hotel and various rooms, the beach and their restaurant, for a brochure or advert.
All of these instances demand different technical skills, different equipment and practical usage of environmental factors, such as light and scene composition.
If you know how to shoot the beach and the exterior of the hotel, would you be equally competent in capturing the indoor spaces and the food?
Maybe your local council has appointed you to use your DSLR camera in capturing street scenes, to be attached to a request for more government funding.
How would you use natural light and aperture control to expose the need in your neighbourhood?
One last example: your aunt, she of the delicious pasties and pies, has finally decided to market her skill.
She might depend on your imaging ability to show off her pies' flaky crust, juicy fillings and tempting thickness.
Even though dear Auntie is family, as a pro photographer, you are not in the business of free photography!
Don't forget to claim all of your rights to the images, even if you give your old dear a discounted price on her imagery.
Freelance Photography for Fine Art Photography
This aspect of the art of photography is where most lovers of the discipline wish they could hang their hat.
It is, after all, the love of beauty and the desire to create art that lured you into photography, isn't it?
As opposed to the commercial photographer, whose duty it is to represent pragmatic life in a certain light, the art photographer composes his shots solely for the beauty and emotional impact they bring.
The art photographer tends to be more advanced, working independently, and takes his time staging and composing his shot.
The most stunning photos we see lining museum walls were shot by such photographers, who, through patience and hard work, have attained a stage in their photography career that they can take all the time needed to capture unique visions.
The UK has no administrative or official requirements to becoming a freelance photographer.
However, anyone who is self-employed is required to register with HMRC.
Joining a professional photography society is a great way to network and gain access to photography workshops.
No matter how adept you are at using your digital SLR camera or Nikon film camera, you can always learn how to do something you've not yet tried to do with it!
Promoting your services as a freelance photographer requires you to decide what type of services you will provide: commercial, artistic, promotional, and so on.
If your first love is the passion of capturing beauty, you can express yourself creatively even as you fulfill clients' needs.
And, in spite of all of this advice, we strongly advocate for photography courses, as they are the surest way to achieve professional stability and success.