If there is one word to summarise my experience of working as a freelance photographer, it is “hustle”.
Freelance work comes and goes in waves, which is a nightmare for anyone trying to pay the bills. I am in the fortunate position that I am covered to live in London by my student loan and so my freelance work comes as a little bit of extra cash on the side and the chance to build up a network within the city.
My name is Max and I am a 20 year old non-binary, queer photographer. I study BA (Hons) Photography at University of the Arts London and am currently in my second year. I’ve been freelancing since the middle of my first year of the course and have been getting booked more and more often ever since. It all sounds very easy when I put it like that, but since I started freelancing last March, there have been ups and downs and it has taken a lot of perseverance.
Finding jobs is a constant search; it is refreshing social media feeds at midnight and replying to fifty ads with one of those actually coming back as a paid job. Balancing freelance and university work hasn’t been a struggle for me. My course has around 100 students on it, which means there’s practically no one on one time, and even though I’m given projects and I’m graded on them, it mostly feels like I’m teaching myself. Something I wouldn’t mind that much, if I wasn’t paying tuition. My university work is rather sparse at times and this is when I take on more freelance work and subsequently when there is more university work, I lay off of the freelance work. Thats the great thing about working freelance, you can pick when you work.
The struggle I have been facing most recently is the balance between freelance work and creative work. I started off working for a voluntary online music magazine called When The Horn Blows and I love it. I get to see and photograph bands and musicians that I love. After realising that to fund my 35mm film addiction I would have to start working for money, I moved on to headshots and more event photography. I definitely feel like my creative self suffered from this. I wasn’t creating images that filled me with excitement or made me want to pick up my camera and get my friends to pose in huge dresses or drip coloured cream and glitter down their faces like I used to.
Freelancing almost constantly whilst focusing on university work leaves little room and time for creative projects. Recently I have been trying to get more engaged with my personal projects and have launched a project documenting LGBTQIA+ relationships in London, a project that I am hoping will be displayed as an exhibition this year and released into book form.
The only advice I can give to someone who wants to start freelancing is to enter into it valuing yourself and the skill that you have spent years refining. People working for free in the industry is killing the rest of us. Fair enough if you are looking to build your portfolio, but most people with the right kit are already skilled enough to be charging money for images. Freelance work is all about how much you value yourself and your time, not only the time that you spend photographing and editing for a client but the time you have spent honing your skills.
For the rest of this year, I want to continue freelancing as much as possible, but also try to put more effort into my creative work. I also have a lot of work to do for my exhibition and am currently searching for more LGBTQIA+ people in relationships across London.