Photography is one of the most important media in contemporary society. It has the power to capture moments for posterity, give us insights into lives very different from our own, and make a permanent record of vital aspects of our shared history. It can also make for a viable and rewarding career choice. Some of the most popular careers in the area are geared toward journalism, events, and portraiture.
But what about purely creative photography? This usually refers to a more artistically oriented form of photography that often uses additional elements of editing to enhance and alter the intention of the image in some way. It isn’t meant to be a direct and accurate record of a person or circumstance. Rather, these photographs are composed and adjusted to create a visually stimulating, often impressionistic, and narrative-led product. As with many art forms, there is often the question of whether following your creative passions can translate into a stable and fulfilling career.
Let’s look at where you can place your focus when exploring the possibilities.
Building Your Profile
One of the areas that can help to put you in a better position to obtain paid work as a creative photographer, is building and boosting your creative profile.
A few of the elements to consider here include:
- Fluid Portfolio
With almost any creative career, but particularly for the visual arts, you need to pay attention to your portfolio. At the beginning of your journey, this will mostly be comprised of personal projects. However, as you continue to grow your skills and undertake work, so too should your portfolio change. Indeed, when you submit your portfolio to agencies, galleries, and art directors for consideration, they don’t want to see the same shots every time you send it to them. Show new approaches you’ve taken, different colors, and editing techniques you’ve adopted.
Surrounding yourself with a robust, supportive community is one of the most important tools you’ll have at your disposal to build your profile as a creative photographer. On one hand, this is a form of networking — connecting with others who may be able to further your career. However, it’s primarily about forging meaningful relationships. Don’t treat other creative photographers as your competition; share knowledge. Get involved in new and unusual projects together; after all, playfulness is a key to innovation, and you may discover ideas that increase your creative value. It also provides you with mutual support for when the inevitable bad times occasionally occur.
Your Revenue Streams
When you’re an independent creative photographer, you’re unlikely to make a living from a single revenue stream. Indeed, in any freelance endeavour, it can be vital to diversify your revenue to balance out periods of feast and famine, and provide some semblance of stability.
This usually falls into two areas:
- Active Income
As the name suggests, this is income that you’re actively engaged in which generates money as a direct return. For creative photographers, commissions are likely to be one of your highest sources of active income. This may come from companies or art directors who have seen your work via your website or portfolio and wish to hire you on a limited basis to provide your unique photographic style to their projects or campaigns. On the other hand, it can be wise to also be open to private commissions, though until you’ve developed a reputation, these tend to be less accessible or lucrative than commercial projects.
- Passive Income
Your passive income is a support system, providing you with small amounts of revenue in the background without you having to keep doing a lot of active work. Licensing your images for entertainment and marketing can be effective, usually arranged through an agency or a stock photo website such as Getty or iStock. For many creative photographers, the most common form of this is providing prints of your work. The additional effort you need to put into printing and shipping these can be minimized if you use a print-on-demand service, although you can expect lower profits.
Optimize to Be Creative
Making a living from being a creative photographer is not just about ensuring that you have enough clients to meet your income needs. It is also making certain that you achieve a work-life balance. You are not going to have a happy, fulfilled creative career if you spend more of that time attending to the administrative parts of your photography business, than taking and editing your images.
This means that you need to optimize your invoicing practices to ensure that they don’t become roadblocks to your creativity, or keep you from taking time for yourself. One of the easier ways to do this is by utilizing templates. Rather than creating an individual invoice from scratch for every project, use an online invoice template, brand it with your logo and details, and simply insert the client details for each project. Whatever source you obtain your active income from, you must take a professional and consistent approach to invoicing for your services. Make sure that your itemization, numbering, and service descriptions are clear, and that these are provided in good time and with no errors. It might seem like a small element, but proper invoicing habits can ensure you have steady cash flow, and assure clients that you are a professional with whom they can feel comfortable working in the future.
The same can go for your contracts — set up a document with standard sets of terms that you can easily amend to the specific requirements of the client.
Creative photography may not be as immediately obvious as a monetizable activity, but with some additional effort and planning, it can be a viable career. Focus on developing your profile in the industry, arrange multiple revenue streams, and make sure that your administration is optimized to minimize its impact on your creativity.
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