On Being a Full-time Freelancer and Using the “Shotgun Approach”

This is an open letter to my fellow photographers who are thinking about becoming full-time freelancers:

My first suggestion is for you to keep shooting every day.

  • No matter where you are going or what you are doing always have a camera with you. Be it going to the grocery store, or taking relatives on a sightseeing trip, on a plane, or boat, or walking, while running errands like taking your watch to have the battery changed. While spending time away for the holidays.
  • Remember great pictures are happening out there right now everywhere, every time and you will not be the one who makes these if you do not keep an open eye and do not carry the gear with you.

Anyway, I digress from my main point. What I truly wanted to do is to give you a glimpse of how dedicated and focused one must be if you do decide to try to make it as a freelance photographer on your own.

This is my schedule for the past couple of months since leaving the Boston Globe. And it is pretty accurate of what I do when I’m not traveling, or on an assignment, or teaching a photo workshop.

  • I wake up around 7:30AM and turn my computer on right away.
  • I have breakfast while answering emails
  • For the next 4-6 hours I keep answering emails, writing up new photo-project proposals and checking on other proposals I might already have out there.
  • For non-stop blocks of time of one to two hours, I keep bouncing back and forth between writing emails, contacting prospective clients, and even making some cold calls to area publications.
  • I do take a break and step away from my computer for 5-10 minutes to rest my eyes every hour or hour and a half or so. Then, when I come back:
  • I spend time try finding contact information for camera clubs of all sizes in order to propose presentations and workshops.
  • I will look into the logistics of upcoming projects.
  • I will also call:
    • The big photo workshop juggernauts in the industry and approach them with ideas.
    • Magazines with story ideas.
    • My journalist friends and ask them: What are you working on?
    • Old bosses and say hi to them… just in case they need something shot in my area.
    • Airlines, hotels, local experts, friends in the area, etc.
    • Magazines to set up face-to-face meetings to show my portfolio. This last point is very important since a lot of what you’ll end up doing is not only selling your work but yourself as an easy-to-work-with talented photographer. It’s a maxim of sales: People buy from people they like. If your prospective client likes you, you’ve won half the battle right there.

I looked up the definition of what I consider to be my approach – The Shotgun Method: the hasty use of a wide range of techniques that are non-selective and haphazard.” But, I do disagree with the word “haphazard” found in the definition. If all these things you are doing relate to a specific subject—photography and the business of photography—then it cannot be dismissed as haphazard.

Anyway, I am true believer when you have that many things up in the air something has got to hit. The most important lesson we get from this approach is it teaches us not to not get to caught up on the things that do not pan out, on our failed attempts. And you know why? Because you will already have seven or eight other opportunities, that might work out, instead.

Now I’ve gotta go! While typing this blog I found out there’s a new prospective client out there that must make my acquaintance. Good hunting photogs and keep on shooting!