How to Succeed as a Freelance Photographer

During my photography Holidays and photography courses, I am often asked by keen amateur photographers – “How can I make a living as a freelance photographer?”

The short answer is ‘with great difficulty’. However, I have, over the years, a growing list of photography students who are now working as successful professionals. It can be done, and during my photography holidays and courses, I explain to those who a keen to learn – just how it can be done. I often run one-to-one photography courses purely to help aspiring professionals.

Here are a few notes I wrote in my book ‘A practical Guide to Press Photography‘ – a book now long out-of-print, but which became a standard work in universities and colleges throughout Britain. I will be reproducing more snips from the book in future posts.

How to succeed as a freelance photographer
The successful freelance photographer must acquire more than a proven ability behind a camera. The professional freelance photographer is in business to make money, and must adopt an astute and businesslike approach to every assignment undertaken.
This is especially so when working speculatively on picture stories he or she hopes to sell.

In these situations, the freelance photographer must know his markets thoroughly and approach every story with a view to producing the sort of pictures that editors are prepared to pay for.

Pay cheques to not come to freelances unless they maintain very high standards and are able to come up with a constant supply of usable material. There are still freelances content to make a living by working stand-in shifts for a limited number of newspapers, and other freelances who can come up with a seemingly limitless succession of workable ideas.

Both types of freelance provide a valuable and much-needed service, but the freelance who can produce good picture ideas – and carry them though to a successful result – will always be received more enthusiastically by a picture editor than the freelance who relies solely on commissioned assignments.

In fact, commissions are far more likely to be assigned to the innovative freelance with lots of ideas of his own.

Fresh ideas that can produce new pictures, or enliven old stories, are often more highly valued tha an photographer’s ability behind a camera. The best picture editors never get tired of listening to ideas from freelance photographers. Those ideas are the lifeblood of all magazines and newspaper coverage.

Even if an idea has to be turned down, it would be a very unprofessional picture editor who derided a proffered suggestion from a good freelance photographer. It is far more likely that the picture editor would explain politely that the idea does not quite fit his newspaper’s style, or policy, for the present time, but that it is a good idea nevertheless.

A real pro picture editor might even go so far as to suggest an alternative market. He knows that if a good photographer is taking the trouble to put ideas forward, eventually that photographer will come up with some really first class suggestions – and he would far rather they were offered to his publication first.


  • Approach every job in a businesslike manner
  • Know your markets – study them!!
  • Put forward suitable ideas that target those markets

Next time – How to find picture ideas that sell

You can learn from Philip Dunn’s 40 years experience as a professional photographer on a Photography Holiday or Photography Course


  1. Thank you John.
    Yes, people are still trading these out-of-print books and they are still available – wish I had kept a load of them myself because there’s still a market for them out there.
    Hope to see you again in Menorca next year

  2. John Cannon says:

    Hello Philip,

    Having read this article on your blog (as well as the most recent one today (4th July), I should mention that although your book “Press Photography” is out of print, copies are still quite freely available secondhand – I bought myself a copy (together with a secondhand copy of your other wonderful book “A Practical Guide to Travel Photography”) through Amazon – and both are very well worth a read and in-depth study.

    Kind Regards,


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