In today’s day and age, what makes you a photographer/videographer? Do you have an expensive camera, a following on social media or a girlfriend/boyfriend that likes to pose with their sugar-free, vanilla latte with soy milk? The rise of Instagram has created this huge influx of self-proclaimed “creatives” that flood the freelance marketplace. And although I have to give credit to the platform for where I am now, Instagram is making it increasingly difficult for aspiring photographers to escape the social media snap whirlpool that drags you around in circles.
However, this one platform, that may be suffocating you, is your key to launching your career as a freelancer. It is the sole reason I am able to travel the world today.
Before I give you a few tips from my successes and failures over the last couple of years, I thought you should probably know a little bit about myself. I am currently the In-House Director for Jungle Creations, one of the largest social media houses in the world. I specialise in producing social first videos and stills, for luxury hotels and travel brands around the world.
Although this is what I do today, this was never the path I’d imagined myself going down. I graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in Economics and Banking, and always had the intention of using those three years of education to start a fruitful career in the financial sector. But, as you now know, this was not the case.
Two months after graduating, I was not only unemployed but had failed to land a single interview. So, I decided to widen my search parameter to include media-related jobs. I have always been a creative person; sketching, painting, taking photos and making short videos in my spare time and had somewhat built up a small, “unprofessional” portfolio. To my surprise, I had my first interview a week later as a video editor for a brand new social media company called Jungle Creations.
Two tiring, yet exciting, years later, I became the Director for one of the largest media companies in the UK, with a freelancing career producing content for household names, such as the Waldorf Astoria, Virgin Atlantic and some of the “largest influencers on the ‘gram”.
Here’s what I’ve learnt in the short amount of time in the industry.
FREELANCING IS STILL 9 TO 5
This is my biggest tip. Yes, it may be the most obvious, but I know that many don’t follow through with this. If this is the route you have chosen, then you have to view it as a normal 9-5 job. Freelancing as a career can be broken down into two aspects; commercial and non-commercial. Commercial is the obvious money earner. Writing emails, making contacts and producing assets for clients. Anything that directly goes towards that pay cheque at the end of the month.
The non-commercial side is all about your own personal progression. For me, this is by far the most important. In between projects, make the most of your time. You should never feel satisfied with your ability and always be striving to better yourself and the quality of your work. This is where the 9-5 comes in. You wouldn’t be caught twiddling your thumbs at a normal job so make sure you’re not wasting your own day and put it to good use. Learn new skills and put them to practice. Trust me, you will thank yourself when you look back and see how far you’ve come.
Luckily for me, I have a job which gives me a regular income. But once my 9-5 job finishes, my freelance job begins. At the beginning, my focus was on the non-commercial, personal progression side of freelance. Remember I had no experience or guidance when it came to video, so it was important that I built up my skills.
Slowly but surely, the commercial side began to filter through as my media offerings improved and I was able to earn a decent income outside of work. Fast forward two years and the commercial projects have led to me flying to places like Dubai and New York to produce content. But, I still devote my weekends and free time to learning new things and putting them into practice.
SHOOT, SHOOT, SHOOT
Shoot as much as you can. I can pinpoint the exact moment my career took a turn for the better, and it was because I was in the right place at the right time. Some may say that’s down to luck, but if you’re constantly putting yourself out there, then you’re just increasing your chances of being “lucky”, right?
The ‘right place’ for me was at an “insta-meet” organised by an Instagram page called @UK.Shooters. An insta-meet is where large groups of photographers meetup, take photos, exchange tips and just have a good ol’ catch up.
I can’t recommend these enough. I went to my first one, two years ago, armed with my Canon G7x II (a small point and shoot camera). Over 100 creatives met in central London at an organised shoot with 15 models, coloured smoke grenades and iron wool. I was out of my depth but I filmed the event from start to finish, in awe of how creatively people were using random props.
I got home late that night and edited the video until the early hours and sent it to the owners of the meet the following morning. It became the main highlight reel of the day. I was very close to not going to this event and having a lie-in after a long week at work. But three weeks later, the organiser of that meet invited me to Switzerland on my first commercial shoot.
Thanks to that Switzerland trip my company sent me on a “test” shoot for a hotel in Lapland for our social channels at work. That video went viral with over 60m views and is the basis behind what I do now for the company. You can watch that video here.
My whole career is based on situations like this. One shoot leads to another, and every time you meet someone new you’re opening up opportunities for the future. It’s important to know that your next commercial project may not come from a client, so keep in contact with models and creatives you’ve worked with before.
INSTAGRAM IS YOUR FRIEND
If you manage to grab a clients attention, more often than not, you will only have it for a moment. So how do you show off your portfolio in that short amount of time? Instagram. I know this is upsetting to many, as Instagram’s compression and lack of video features is limiting, but it’s the truth. Make sure you upload your best content to your feed. Once you have their attention you can send over a link to your website and discuss exactly what you can do for the client.
Don’t be afraid to get in contact with clients directly over Instagram. With the number of people that “cold email” and spam companies with pre-written templates it can be quite difficult to get your email seen. So, try sending them a short message over Instagram and they can check out the quality of your work instantly. If they have a need for content to be produced, this can be a very quick way to set things in motion.
KEEPING UP WITH THE LATEST TREND
By the end of 2019, it is expected that there will be 2.7bn social media users on Instagram, and companies will be trying to target these potential consumers. With that in mind, most companies will be hiring creatives to produce content for their social channels, so it’s important to keep up to date with current trends and assets.
Can you bring something to the table that you know will perform well on their feed? Could this be a creative boomerang, a hyperlapse or a cinemagraph for example? These offerings within your portfolio could be the reason you get your next job. Throw in some normal photos and a short video and you have a full creative offering that you can charge a decent amount for, and, if you pull it off to a high standard, you’ll have a very happy client.
DO YOU HAVE THEIR ATTENTION?
Following on from above, don’t be afraid to throw something extra into your package. Whilst the client’s eyes are already on you, show them something they haven’t seen before. This could be your ticket to another project further down the line. This happened to me recently on a campaign in Dubai while shooting for a hotel.
I was hired to just take 15 social first photos for their property. Whilst I was out there I produced 25 photos, 2 drone boomerangs and a full property Instagram video. The drone boomerangs caught the eye of the Head of Digital Marketing for that hotel chain and I have since been asked to produce the above package of content for their other properties, at a much larger cost.
SHOULD YOU DO THINGS FOR FREE?
No. But one mistake I have made in the past is pricing myself too high. I don’t have a constant flow of freelance work, and therefore I can’t afford to just lose work. If you’re in the same situation as me, then use a project as an opportunity to work on your skills, try new things and make new contacts. And finally, always put your full effort into everything you do, no matter how much you’re being paid to do it. All projects will open up doors.
KEEP A GOAL IN MIND
My final point is to just keep going. You will have your low periods, I can certainly stand by that. It’s never easy trying to get yourself out there. Campaigns will fall through, clients will be difficult and maybe you’ll have to say ‘yes’ to projects you really want to say ‘no’ to.
But make sure you have a goal in mind and keep reassessing it. Make sure it’s achievable, so that when you hit your targets, you can wipe the slate clean and aim for your new goal. This will stop you getting caught up in a sense of feeling like you’re not going anywhere.
Every freelancer will have their own journey. Their own successes. Their own failures. Just work hard to separate yourself from the crowd, and you’ll reap the rewards, whatever they may be.