Ask An Expert: How To Make Money As A Freelance Photographer

Ask an Expert: All About Freelance Photography and Videography

You've mastered your lenses, you know which f-stop to use with your eyes closed, and you know how to get the perfect shot every time. Now what? Many amateur photographers look towards freelancing as a way to make a few bucks with their photos, but where to start?

Here to help is Joel Holland, CEO VideoBlocks. Before starting his company, Joel started shooting videos in high school and selling stock footage on eBay. The lucrative hobby became a business, and now VideoBlocks is a marketplace for stock footage and other motion graphics. Whether you're looking to dip your toes in freelance work or wondering how to sell stock photos and videos, Joel has personal and professional experience in both. Here are his answers to some of your questions.


How good must a photographer be before considering freelancing?

It is never too early to start! Some freelancers selling stock have years and years of professional experience, while others are just getting started and intuitively understand how to capture impressive photos and videos. So I recommend that you start shooting and submitting to sites like 500px.com, where the community will give you some great feedback. Then start submitting to Shutterstock/iStock and so on, and see what happens. Worst case they reject some of your submissions — but they will give you good feedback so you can improve your craft.


As someone who's never been paid to use a camera, but enjoys taking pictures, what's the first step I could take to actually making some money with my photos?

n my opinion, the easiest way to start monetising your photos is to submit them to stock photo marketplaces. No guarantee that they will sell, but it takes relatively little effort (you're already shooting!), and it can turn into real money. I personally submit my photos to 500px.com, a great place to get community feedback on your work and potentially make stock sales. Other sites I recommend submitting to include Shutterstock and iStockPhoto.


How do I shoot a wedding if my DSLR has a time limit?

I know a lot of people who use Magic Lantern— a free firmware addon for Canon that unlocks time limits, and adds a lot of additional video functionality. Alternatively you can record to an external source using one of the video outputs. Use the HDMI output on your camera to then plug into a recorder such as Atomos Ninja.The added bonus here is that you can potentially actually capture a higher quality uncompressed video to the drive, which gives you more flexibility in your final editing.


What are the best sites for the beginner to start selling images and video?

In addition to our properties (VideoBlocks.com, GraphicStock.com, AudioBlocks.com), I would suggest researching the following companies as potential outlets for your work. I also highly recommend that you submit to multiple sites to maximise your earnings:

  • Shutterstock
  • Pond5
  • iStockPhoto (iStockVideo is the video product)
  • Stocksy
  • Fotolia
  • Dreamstime
  • Photodune (Videohive is the video product)
  • 123rf

I've accumulated tons of great looking photos and video footage that I think would work well on a stock site. What is the best way to get started?

I love the idea of squeezing some extra juice out of the footage you worked hard to create for your business. To get started, I'd jump on some of the stock footage sites I've recommended in other posts to get a feel for how long shots should be (12-20 seconds typically), and what look and feel the top selling clips have. Then start editing! Chop your footage into nice manageable clips, and begin submitting to the stock sites.


How "large" of a portfolio should one have before considering freelancing? Should I focus on getting more images in my portfolio before trying to sell myself? Should I choose a focus to bolster my portfolio, or continue filling it with an eclectic mix of images?

The nice thing about submitting to a stock media marketplace is that there is no cost to you other than the time you take to upload and tag the content (which can be a real investment). Because of this, I recommend submitting content as soon as you have it — no need to wait until you have a large archive. I know people who are making a lot of money with very few photos/videos, because they created some really powerful stuff. On the flip side, I know others who have thousands of clips and make very little money. So it all depends on what you submit, and how much demand it ends up generating. This is another reason I recommend starting to submit now: So you can look for trends in what is selling best, and then start to find your specialty. Many of the most successful freelancers have areas of expertise, rather than a scattershot approach.


How important is it to have motion graphic skills, like the ability to work in After Effects or Motion?

I think this all depends on your personal creative interests. For example, I love shooting video and always will. While I might be able to learn motion graphic skills, this isn't where my heart is. So I leave it to those who live and breathe graphics! So figure out what you enjoy doing most, and the money will follow.

On a side note, I will say that there is a lot of demand for motion graphics and After Effects templates. (Less for Apple Motion. ) So if you enjoy this content type, you will have no problem finding buyers.


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