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How to make it as a freelance photographer

Sage advice from photographer and CoLab co-founder, Ren Pidgeon

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In a city as creative as Melbourne, it seems like you can’t turn an inner-city corner without bumping into three freelance photographers. The calibre of photographers is certainly elevating and competition can be fierce, so the introduction of locally-developed app CoLab will probably come as a blessing to many of you hustling to get your freelance life off the ground. Aimed at creatives working within the fashion industry—photographers, models, stylists—the app wants to make finding and connecting with potential colleagues easier than ever before.

Founded by Ren Pidgeon, John Pantzopoulos, and Aaron Tobin, who have all been heavily involved in creative and digital industries, CoLab is free to join, connects through Instagram (of course), and allows you to set up and manage collaborative projects with relevant creatives. After hearing about app, we asked co-founder, photographer, and past ACCLAIM contributor Ren Pidgeon to share his top tips for aspiring freelancers (and we know there are a lot of you out there).

Check out Ren’s very useful advice below and find out more about CoLab here.

www.renpidgeon.com

www.renpidgeon.com

 

01. Always release good work

No matter what. If you are suddenly quiet for a month or have missed out on some good jobs, the most important thing you can do is just continue to release quality work. Then the new clients will come.

02. Never undervalue yourself

Our industry is full of people that want to undercut you or will shoot for nothing. Respect your art form and the industry by pricing your work properly. As freelancers, we have huge expenses – studio hire, camera gear, assistants, etc. We also don’t work everyday or get holiday pay. Remember that once you give a client a low price, it’s very hard to ever raise that price.

03. Be your own harshest critic

After every shoot, no matter how happy the client is, I always critique my work and find ways I could have improved it. A lot of your friends will tell you how amazing something is, but you have to look past that and seek out flaws in order to improve. 

04. Be obsessed

I am obsessed with what I do. I think about lighting constantly and most nights I’m looking at blogs to see what the best photographers are doing. Immersing myself in my craft really shows in my work.

05. Network

You have to go to launch parties, meet the right people and just try to get along with them. A client’s first priority is usually hiring someone they like hanging out with, so being easygoing helps.

06. Find your niche but don’t get stuck in it

As a freelancer, you need to be good enough to shoot anything, so that if a job comes along to shoot something outside your comfort zone, you can still deliver an amazing job. My niche is shooting women well, and I like to think I have a unique style and look to my work, however I regularly shoot interiors, food, product, or any style of ad. Just please don’t ask me to shoot a wedding.

07. Collaborate as much as possible

Find models that you want to work with and shoot as much as possible. The work I get paid for is generally selling a product and while I love doing commercial work, the concept usually comes from the client. The work that I am most proud of and that I think best represents me are my editorials and collaborations with models, stylists and other creatives. Plus, this always leads to further opportunities and more work.

08. Celebrate your success

Drink champagne after every shoot. I think it’s always important to celebrate if you’ve done something great – secured a new client or just delivered a great shoot. It’s good to take a step back and look at how far you’ve come. 

09. Be realistic about your talent

Look at what the best in the industry are doing. Figure out why their work looks better or different to yours, and then adapt. If your lighting sucks, put one of your photos next to a well-lit shot and figure out how to fix it. I learnt a lot from assisting but really I learnt the most by constantly experimenting with lighting ideas. I know exactly the areas I want to improve and have very high expectations of the new heights I should be reaching as a photographer.

010. Set up your business

I know it is the boring side of things, however it’s important. I went into freelancing a little blind. I’d recommend getting advice on setting up business accounts, implementing a good invoicing program, and keeping on top of taxes. It’s easy to just spend everything that comes in. Too many people fail due to not taking out the GST or tax. I know it sucks, but just do it.

011. Be prepared to work hard

Being a photographer is a hard job. Long after the model, stylist, HMU artist, and creative team have left for the day, I’m culling the shoot, giving it colour grade, and making proof sheets until 1 or 2am. Last week I shot product until 3.30am to make a deadline. You have to be able to handle a lot of different personalities and please some people who are very hard to please. There are a lot of people behind a shoot, but at the end of the day, the pressure is on you to get the result, so be prepared for some sleepless nights!