The Daily Grind of a Freelance Photographer

Taking a peek into  the daily routine of a professional, photographer or otherwise, can produce some interesting sights. Every photographer’s professional life is unique, yet most of us face similar daily challenges and strive for similar successes.

In his newest video, photographer and YouTuber Evan Ranft has just offered us a glimpse into his daily routine as a professional freelancer. And while his day-to-day life is not glamorous or unique, his breakdown of responsibilities and time commitments which all freelancers like himself must juggle rings both true and provocative.

As Ranft points out (and many of us already know), freelancers have the luxury of choosing how they spend their day: when they want to start their work day, when they take breaks and for how long, etc. This professional freedom draws many a creative to the freelance world. Ranft also discusses the downside to this lifestyle: Freelance photographers must hustle and grind constantly, and we usually need to put in more time than employees who have a standardized workweek.

As many of you reading this have surely experienced, I’ve found the patterns of my work weeks to change more often than the weather. One week I might spend 20-30 hours on menial business upkeep and editing, and the next week I'm swamped with shoots, staying up until 2 AM each night to meet client deadlines. And I’ve learned that the amount of hustle and networking I commit to is closely linked to my business success in any given year. Unless you're very lucky, that's just the reality of freelance or small business life.

A significant lifestyle challenge of freelance photography is to find separation between work and personal life. Since many photographers (myself included) operate mostly out of a home office, it can be hard to “turn off” at the end of the day. How do you focus on family or friends when there's no work-to-home commute or significant physical barrier between those two? Sure, you can have a room in your house dedicated to work, and this can help mentally create some separation. But a home office doesn’t allow you to leave your desk and commute to your home, the place where you find comfort, rest, and relaxation.

Another challenge of the home-office life is distraction. While ringing phones and chatting co-workers can hamper office productivity, a crying baby or begging pet can also be hard to to ignore.

Then there's the factor of accountability. If you're at work and your productivity is flagging, a boss or higher-up might hover nearby or ping you for TPS reports. (“Didn't you get that memo?”) When you're a freelancer, it's all too easy to hit the "snooze" button or watch another episode of Fargo in your underwear. That’s why the freelance life doesn't work for people with low self-control or a poor work ethic.

We freelancers need to always remember that though we don’t have an in-office “boss," we do have people who hold us accountable.They’re called clients. A strong sense of business and professional responsibility makes your client the top priority in your workday. And if you manage your priorities carefully and work as your own demanding boss, you might be able to productively balance client needs with those of your family and friends. But that's easier written than done!

What do you find most rewarding or challenging about freelancing as a photographer? Please leave your responses in the comment section below.

Scott Mason's picture

Scott Mason is a commercial photographer in Austin specializing in architectural imaging.

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I have a studio that I get to by 10AM most days. I really like working there even though the bulk of my work is on location.
Being a small business allows me to choose when I want to work (most of the time) or what jobs I will take. The flexibility is great. Going home for a hot lunch each day is also nice.

However, the converse means that clients rule me in a more immediate way than if I had a 9-5. I have shortened a couple of short vacations this year to shoot jobs for good clients. They happened to pay well but one is acutely aware that if one was unavailable, there is a possibility that the replacement they hired might become their new favorite.
My biggest job is stay the favorite of my clients.

Tricky balance isn't it. Wanting to be there fo the good clients.
I do that too, a bit too much sometimes, confronted by that when I mail them and get an out of office to tell me they are off for 3 weeks. I know then that as soon as they are back the mailbox will explode as they go into panic mode for the work they are frantically trying to get up to date.

Of late I have been informing the good clients, my regulars that I'll be away, before I go. They start to respect that too now. Occasionally I'll be far away and get a call from one of them, I gently remind them that I'm away, they get all embarrassed and all is cool, if they need someone to do a job, I'll suggest someone I trust and have already notified that they might get a call to cover for me.

The rest, I'd hate to give up the flexibility I have as being a small business owner. 9 to 5 has never worked well for me. I enjoy the freedom but also have to kick myself at times to keep the discipline as well as reminding myself to switch off, shut the office/studio door and do something completely different.

For me, it's not all about reading success books before breakfast, it's about enjoying what I do.

"For me, it's not all about reading success books before breakfast, it's about enjoying what I do."

Haha. The problem with success books is that they tell you about what others are doing that, if imposed on your life, would make you miserable.