Five years of freelancing

cutoutsIt’s quite hard to believe that I’m celebrating five years of freelancing this week. I hinted at it when I wrote about anniversaries a couple of weeks ago and I thought that it might be a good time to think about how things have gone and how things are going.

The first thing that comes to mind is that I still adore being a photographer. I hope that anyone who has read any of my blog posts since 1999 would have worked that out for themselves but I wanted to get that in first just in case anyone is in any doubt.

The second thing is that the timing of my move into self-employment couldn’t possibly have been worse: the economic meltdown in much of the developed world was pretty much at its zenith in September 2008 and I’m pretty sure that life would have been considerably easier had I left the staff job a couple of years earlier. That’s life.

Thirdly I want to mention the way that our industry works. Every photographer, picture editor and buyer of photography will tell you about a golden era. I really think that no such thing actually existed. That’s not quite right; I think that the invention of photography spurred a “silver” era which is still in progress and that there may have been a few golden spikes in that time. The industry has been in a constant state of change for well over a hundred years and it will continue to react to social and technological changes as long as the need for imagery exists.

So how has the last five years actually been for me? Ups and downs, feast and famine, peaks and troughs are all phrases that readily come to mind. One week I might work one day and the next I have four or even five days work. Sometimes it’s all editorial and others it’s all corporate. I’ve calculated that I’ve made 88% of my income taking pictures and the other 12% either writing about photography, teaching it or doing some consultancy work. I’ve learned the importance of having a portfolio ready to go and I have recently spent a lot of time getting my online presence to work smarter for me.

I suspect that none of the above is new to you and that none of it comes as a surprise. To be honest, I am pretty content with my new life and the only things I actually miss about being a staff photographer are:

  • I now have to buy my own car and camera gear
  • I have to do my own paperwork
  • I’m no longer an integral part of a big team.

The variety of assignments has been great, the travel has been interesting and getting to spend a lot more time at home has been wonderful. My hair has lightened to an even lighter grey but that is probably more to do with age than stress and I now have to wear glasses a bit more often than I did but that’s probably due to my age as well.

I’m not the only one who has made the move from staff to freelance and I’m certainly not the only one who did so due to newspapers and magazines reorganising and doing away with staffers. There was a discussion a few days ago about the pros and cons of being freelance and the general consensus was that it suits some people more than it suits others. I miss the team, I miss shooting every single day and I’d love to have someone there to buy me some new gear but apart from that I’m looking forward with child-like excitement about what comes next.

Neil Turner Photographer, the Facebook page

4 comments

  1. September the 1st marks 16 years in the freelance world for me Neil. I’ve have the same experiences you write about. I do feel in a stronger position than many who are still employed in the business as I believe staff positions will continue to reduce, those who are made redundant in the future will find if even harder to make a living in photography.

    Looking on the bright side I too still love photography, I still get enjoy the buzz when the phone rings (or more usually an e mail arrives) will a new client with a new challenge.

    Cheers Neil

    PS don’t like paperwork either!

    Like

  2. Well yes.

    Being a freelance photographer has basically been my life since the seventies. Agree with most of what you say.

    There have been huge changes since I embarked all those years ago. Golden age? An interesting question. For me there have been several turning points.

    Wapping, macintosh PowerBooks and Nikon Coolscan, launch of Nikon D1, and then the banking crisis of 2008. Each affected my business in a big way. 2008 being the most difficult to deal with.

    Like

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