Gig Business

How to Become a Freelance Photographer & Successfully Book Gigs

By Heather Roonan

In many ways, photography is the ultimate creative expression. It’s an art form that blends old and new, speed and stillness, light and shadow. It’s also an opportunity for you to pursue your passion and bolster your bank account.

Whether you plan to work full time as a photographer or shoot weddings on the side, freelancing is a fabulous way to share your photography with the world. If you’re wondering how to become a freelance photographer, this step-by-step guide is for you.

Step 1: Hone your skills

Your number one asset as a freelance photographer is your photography. While some say that you need to have an “eye for photography” to succeed, anyone can learn to take phenomenal photos if they’re dedicated enough.

Luckily, learning about lighting and composition doesn’t need to be expensive. To improve your skills as a photographer, you can:

  • Enroll in online workshops
  • Watch YouTube videos
  • Take photography software courses at a community college
  • Check out books on photography from the library
  • Practice every day
  • Join photo walks and local photographer clubs

Photography is an ever-evolving business, so you’ll continue to improve as you shoot more and more. Still, having a solid grasp of the essential skills before you start taking on clients is highly recommended.

Step 2: Make sure you have the necessary gear

Professional equipment doesn’t automatically make you a 5-star photographer. But if you aspire to be a professional photographer, you need some high-quality equipment.

Of course, your most important piece of gear is your camera. Cameras come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s challenging to recommend a specific model—your style of photography will dictate the kind that suits you best. Along with a camera, you’ll want the essentials like a protective camera bag and some high-capacity memory cards.

Depending on the type of photography you plan to do, Small Business Trends suggests that you might also need:

  • A tripod
  • A lighting ring
  • A reflector
  • A variety of lenses (at least a wide-angle and a telephoto lens)
  • Photo editing software
  • A computer or laptop (for editing)
  • A hard drive or cloud account (for storage)
  • A printer
  • A prop collection

Remember that knowing how to use photography gear is often more important than owning expensive gadgets. Don’t feel like you need to spend a fortune to guarantee amazing results. As you expand your business, you can start investing in higher-end equipment.

Photographer with professional photography equipment

Step 3: Build a portfolio

What is a freelance photographer if not an artist? Like any working artist, you’ll need a portfolio to showcase your recent portraits and photoshoots.

All freelance photographers should build a portfolio using at least one of the following options (if not all three):

  • A website – Having a photography website shows that you’re dedicated to your craft. Conveniently, there are dozens of easy-to-use website services out there, so running a site is simple and cost-effective. In addition to showcasing your work, make use of your website to inform clients about your services and the best ways they can book you for a shoot. 
  • Social media – Sure, a personal website stands out on business cards, but maintaining a site can be costly for a fledgling business. These days, social media platforms have everything you need to build a free portfolio, including contact information and the ability to post links. All you have to do is curate a picture-perfect feed and direct your would-be clients there. Plus, the apps often double as a tool for organic reach. Learn more using social media as a marketing tool.
  • A physical portfolio – While most clients will likely find your work online, there’s always a chance someone will want to see your photos in person. It’s worth having some of your best shots professionally printed for those initial consultations or chance encounters. Keeping some examples of your art in your car or camera bag ensures you’ll never miss an opportunity to show off.

Step 4: Set up pricing and packages

Our research has shown that clients are looking for 3 things when booking vendors online, and pricing is one of them. Before you can close a booking, you need to make sure that your pricing and packages are set. Take your experience and skill into consideration when determining your pricing, and create packages that will fit different budgets.

You’ll also need to create booking agreements or contracts for your clients so there’s no question about expectations on the day of the shoot. You can find samples online or use our guide to 6 things your booking agreement should include.

Create a free photographer profile on GigSalad!

Step 5: Start looking for clients

With samples of your stellar work readily available, you can start searching for jobs.

A common mistake that budding freelance photographers make is expecting clients to come to them. In reality, freelancers of any kind need to hunt for their first gigs. Without a reputation that precedes you, people looking for a photographer might not have much of a reason to hire you.

As you progress in your career as a photographer, you’ll start to see returning customers and glowing reviews. Until then, here are some ways to find job opportunities.

Word of mouth

Vendor referrals for weddings and other events often operate on word of mouth. As such, your job as a freelance photographer is to lean on your network.

Do you know a couple throwing an upcoming baby shower? Reach out and see if they need a photographer. Have friends with their daughter’s quinceañera around the corner? You know the drill.

When you provide people with an excellent experience, they’ll likely recommend you every time someone says, “Wow! Where did you get these photos done?”

Community boards

Whether online or physical, community forums are an incredible resource for finding potential gigs. Busy people know that freelance photographers will come to them, so they cast a wide net looking for the best of the best.

In your neighborhood, look to see if you can find postings at:

  • The gym
  • Community centers
  • Church
  • Coffee shops
  • Universities

Online, you might be able to find opportunities on:

  • Neighborhood social media groups
  • Reddit communities for your city
  • Internet classifieds

While these postings are often plentiful, they require a lot of effort to navigate. What’s more, everyone in your community will have the same shot at landing the gig.


For a more efficient way to find photography opportunities online, you can try a booking marketplace like GigSalad.

No matter where you are in your freelance photography career, GigSalad simplifies your quest for clients. How? Because event planners will be searching for you.

Once you create your vendor profile, nearby users can view your rates and availability whenever they look for a local photographer.

Step 6: Meet your clients’ expectations

To score those 5-star reviews that drive your photography career forward, you’ll need to provide a professional product. That means spending the time to carefully edit and touch up every shot.

Keep in mind that your job as a hired photographer is to give the client what they want. Their requests may not always mesh with your artistic vision, but at the end of the day, you’ll be judged on your client’s definition of quality, not your own. Always strive to make your customers’ dreams come true, and you’ll find yourself swimming in bookings in no time.

Professional photographer editing a photoshoot

More tips for freelance photographers

Freelance photography is an exciting, rewarding career or side gig. But it also takes a commitment on your part. Check out these tips and tricks for succeeding as a freelancer.

Never stop learning

Even keeping up with the ever-changing world of photography requires constant self-education. And if you want to stay ahead of the curve, you should never stop learning about techniques and technology.

According to career aggregator Zippia, freelance photographers in the US make an average of $36,298 per year. While that’s nothing to sneeze at (especially for someone who may not work 40 hours a week), you can earn even more by bettering yourself as a photographer.

Some ways you may be able to justify charging more for your work include:

  • Taking the Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) exam
  • Earning a drone photography certification
  • Going to school for a photography degree

Beyond enrolling in official programs, you can easily learn via mentorships, online materials, or exploring new software.

Give yourself a schedule

Even though freelancing isn’t a typical 9-to-5 job, it can be helpful to organize your time as if you had a boss. Because, in reality, you are your own boss—and the boss has high expectations of you.

Creating a schedule is advisable for a variety of reasons:

  • It ensures you don’t miss deadlines – Most importantly, a schedule keeps you on track. Failing to deliver files on time is the cardinal sin of freelance photography. A neat, easy-to-read schedule holds you accountable to your clients and yourself.
  • It helps you prioritize – Having a visual representation of your week or month makes it easier to work efficiently. When you can see that the Millers’ wedding shoot is your next deadline, you’ll know what to tackle next. If your calendar is empty, you can pencil in some workshops or a photography retreat.
  • It promotes work-life balance – Because freelancing has no set schedule, it’s all too easy to find yourself checking emails at night and on weekends. Creating a calendar allows you to set working hours, ensuring you don’t feel the need to be available 24/7. Plus, you can always be flexible with your schedule—you are in charge, after all.

Be personable

Your photography skills can only take you so far as a freelancer. Realistically, there are probably other local photographers that can take pictures as well as you can. One way to differentiate yourself from the pack is to be kind and approachable.

When someone hires a photographer for their birthday or bar mitzvah, they expect professional photos as the bare minimum. Exceed their expectations with a fun, friendly, can-do attitude. If you deliver high-quality photos and are a joy to work with, you’re much more likely to receive positive reviews and attract new clients through recommendations.

👉 Read more: How to Get Repeat Clients and Why It Matters

Find more photo-op opportunities with GigSalad

Now that you’re prepared to take your photography business to the next level, it’s time to look for ways to increase your exposure as a freelance photographer. Photography puns aside, GigSalad has everything you need to start booking gigs.

Create a profile today, and take your passion for photography from pastime to payday.

Leave a Comment