When photographers fall into the freelance pit

Julian Claxton

Taking that leap to self-employment was a massive step for me as it is for anyone. I had been working as a medical photographer since graduation, but was frustrated with the lack of opportunities and lack of creative edge this profession was giving me.

So I made the leap, a leap which was scary but massively needed for my own development. Within a few short months I was in the freelance pool, developing my portfolio and bidding for commissions.

It was at this point I proceeded to the fatal freelance photographer’s mistake – creating a portfolio book that I thought was what would sell and what people wanted to see.

If you go down this route you will naturally pick up a few jobs along the way, but in the end you can end up backing yourself into a corner.

Perhaps it was pressure, perhaps it was naivety, but I started getting work which just didn’t satisfy me on a professional basis. I had done the classic thing of accepting work simply to pay the bills, instead of creating an image, a reputation or style.

It was too easy to pick up regular work for low circulation publications or those which didn’t pay well. I was essentially panicking and just grabbing anything that came my way.

It wasn’t until one of my major clients at the time went bankrupt owning me several thousand pounds that I actually took a step back and thought about what I was doing and how unhappy I was with the work I was producing.

I was lost in the freelance pit. Once in that pit, it’s terribly difficult to get out of it!

During a few weeks of sleepless nights I put together a firm business plan of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go.

Now, I’m not going to say for one moment that the plan has completely worked, but it has helped me reassess and refocus my photographic career.

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This sort of move will never be easy. Creating a book of new images in a style that you want to pursue, to show to art directors or discuss with potential clients, takes a lot of nerve. It relies on the client actually appreciating your style and sharing in your vision.

Now, this isn’t always going to happen, but sometimes it does. And when that client gives you a commission based on that work, it is a real sense of triumph.

Naturally this is only half the story. In reality it’s never quite that simple, but one resounding factor that every freelance photographer should aim for is to have the bravery and balls to stand up and say “No.”

It doesn’t hurt to turn down that low-paid job, or the job which doesn’t really fit with the whole image and creativity of the work you’re shooting. In fact, from my experience, picture editors and art directors actually have huge respect for photographers who turn down work because it’s not their style.

 

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part comment by Julian Claxton, a freelance photographer, and member of the Bureau of Freelance Photographers, which profiled his career in the October issue of its Market Newsletter.


Nov 25, 2010
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