Last year I profited nearly half what I made at my day job in freelance photography using nothing more than my iPhone. I've spent the last 4+ years on Instagram building a following and client base that has allowed me to vie for projects and relationships with clients to make money. That has slowly grown to allow me full creative freedom to shoot with nothing more than an iPhone and get paid for it. Now, before you go and sell off all your Canon or Nikon gear hear me out, this is not as easy as it sounds, but I'll lay it out for you.
I started my photography career around the time I joined Instagram, it was a place for me to escape my daily routine job of designing with something totally new and challenging. I shot mainly with my phone and didn't own a nice "big boy" camera. I simply did the best I could with what I had and could afford; photography is not a cheap hobby let, alone career. About two years ago after posting the best shots I could possibly muster from what some consider the hardest place to make beautiful, Indiana, I created a following of 24,000 people on the social network. That finally gave me some fire power to go after clients and mention that I had a following on Instagram to help promote products and services. I had even caught the eye of a few businesses like GE, Harry's, and even Apple later on.
Followers Don't Matter but they Definitely Help
Before you jump on me and say "but I don't have tens of thousands of followers," I started out with just under 2,000 followers before pushing for photography and social media campaigns. That doesn't sound like much but I would create a deal with clients in trade in exchange for posts on my page as well as a few extra shots for them to use and share my name along the way. Simple as that, as those clients began to stack up I was able to continue to push for more work and in many cases ask for pay.
Unlike some of my favorite photographers on Instagram, like Benjamin Heath and Tyson Wheatley, they have close to a million followers and can push for gigs with Mercedes and large tourism boards around the world with a bit of ease. My path has a been a bit more gritty even at 67,000 followers. Having to push around many talented beginner shooters that will work for literally nothing in exchange for their name being attached to a brand though, I have found my way.
Followers truly don't matter, but they help. It's a huge sell when talking with clients but in the end if the contents not good, it's not good. The follower shock when people see my page is always welcome, but realistically I have over 60,000 followers and engagement between 300-800 likes per image with a few 1,000+ posts in there. That is not great but its definitely not terrible. If you want to find a guy doing it right, check out Dani Diamond's Instagram page. His engagement is through the roof at a smaller follower base. The key stat that I have been able to track is that depending on post schedule and content I will have completely different waves of likes shot to shot. What that means is I do have a larger reach and depending on the photo and message it will reach a specific type of person. That is fantastic from a brands perspective and something you can find out yourself with a few paid stat checks online.
Big Breaks Do Happen and Taking Advantage is Key
I'm not sure I can quickly say this was my big break, but it was pretty damn exciting, and was even more fuel going forward when talking to clients. I had noticed a campaign my first couple years on Instagram where General Electric would host an InstaWalk with various influencers and super fans. Though GE had already picked the their influencers I was pushing for what they called "super fans" by entering my name in the contest and mentioning why I would love to be a part of it. Needless to say after a few DM's and some comments on their business page as well as a few emails to their marketing department I was in! I traveled to Cape Cod to shoot the things GE was working on with renewable energy in wind turbines. This gave me the chance to meet and shoot with one of my all time favorite photographers mentioned before.
This event had helped me in so many ways besides just being able to work with a big client on campaign shared globally. I was taking notes on how the entire project worked making plans to create my own formula back home on the local scale. It also gave me the obvious push to more clients mentioning that I had worked with GE. I can't stress enough once you have a bigger client under your belt it truly does help in talking with companies you want to work with in the future. Reaching out to them, mentioning a big name and or other projects you have done and showing examples of work is always a fantastic way to push for more.
What to Charge for an iPhone Shoot
Finally, this is one of the biggest questions I get when talking social campaigns and shooting with nothing more than my iPhone. What should I, or can I, charge for a shooting with my iPhone? To be completely honest I don't approach it any differently than I would for shooting with my DSLR. There is no difference in my mind between the images I take with my iPhone and those that I take with a professional DSLR. The social aspect is the only thing that changes and the mindset in clients that they can get a high quality product at the end for use in multiple aspects, including print.
Early on after adding my email address to my social channel bio sections I began getting requests for work with various companies. Strangely enough, watch companies are popular on Instagram, such as Daniel Wellington and MVMT. Both these companies reached out and offered simple trade, wrist watch for a post on social. With my love of watches and a base for beginning down this path of product based campaigns on Instagram, I loved the idea. I used both of these companies as a beta for working with many brands in the future, and decided whichever one does well per post I would reach back out with package deals including high res images along with posts to social for a range of $50 per post to $2,500. The strong engagement was simply my way of saying, this works well and do you want to pay me? The selected brand came back to me and picked a package in the middle which then grew into a relationship that I still work with to this day.
Over the last two years I have been able to work with brands such as Harry's, Pepsi, Jim Beam, Linkin Park, Apple, and many more. Connecting with each of these brands has never been the same as some have reached out to me via email, which is in my profile, or through my own power contacting them via the Instagram app itself. Another way is to become an ambassador or influencer for an agency that represents many brands via social media. There are no shortage of apps and companies out there that offer this type of service such as Snapwire or Speakr in the way they hold you on a list of talent and then contact you when they have project that fit your style. Many of these pay incredibly low, but it's a start into the market of mobile photography and gaining relationships with some big brands.
Hope that gives you a little insight into my world of shooting professionally with my iPhone and also some tips on how you can also build upon the experience you might have down the road. It's not about what camera you might have but rather the great work you can produce and provide to a client. They will always see that over a number on social media or a post that goes viral. If you want to learn more about mobile photography you can check out the Instagram for Business page on Fstoppers or follow me on Instagram!