Ten Non-Photography Things That Make the Freelance Life Easier for Photographers

After almost eight years of the freelance life, there are some things that I wish I had gotten sooner to make my life easier. Little things that might seem inconsequential at first but have a big impact on my well-being as a photographer. Here are 10 of them.

1. Walkie Talkies

I’ll start off with the most fun one. As soon as I realized I could buy walkie talkies (more adult-ly known as “two-way radios”) and write them off as a business expense, I did it. You know why? Because walkie talkies are lots of fun and are incredibly useful. Whether you’re using earpieces to communicate with your team during an event or communicating with your subjects at a distance, they’re incredible handy. 

The next time you’re trying to direct a client or model to do something while shooting with your 400mm lens from across a ravine where you’d otherwise have to yell at the top of your lungs to get your message across (literally), think about why you don’t own walkie talkies. 

2. Lint Rollers

As facetious as number one sounded, number two seems even less serious, but perhaps just as useful. In the life of a freelancer, time is king. How you choose to spend it can make a huge impact on your success. 

And I, for one, choose to spend as little time as possible sitting at my computer photoshopping out dog hairs, dandruff, or anything else that someone brought with them to my studio. 

Buy lint rollers. Thank yourself later.

3. A Watch

Speaking of time, here’s a great one. Buy a watch.

While I don’t really like wearing things on my wrists, I can’t deny the usefulness of wearing a watch while on the job. I had been going without one for years, but received one this Christmas, and I admit it’s been very useful. Besides the obvious reason — knowing what time it is — there are some key reasons why wearing a watch is a great idea, including, but not limited to, knowing what time it is. Knowing what time it is without looking at your phone so your clients don’t think you’re just wasting time. Knowing what time it is, discreetly, while shooting a dimly lit performance without your phone lighting up the room. Knowing what time it is so that if you forget your phone at home, you won’t miss something important.

Less phone. More wrist.

4. Yoga Mat

Getting regular exercise, or at the very least having a routine of getting up from your desk, will make a huge difference in your mood, motivation levels, and overall well being. Even just breaking out the yoga mat for some quick but effective stretches while some images are exporting, for just a few minutes, will make you feel a little less like you sat at your computer all day. Join a gym if you want. Stick a yoga mat in the corner. Just get up and get moving, at least a little, every day.

5. Rewards Credit Card

If you own a small business and have lots of expenses, including camera equipment, get a credit card that gives you some type of rewards. I prefer cards that give me airline miles. Getting a sign-up bonus is great, and putting everything you can on it and paying it off each month will basically just give you free things for spending money one way versus another. My favorite is the Chase Sapphire Reserve card; a high annual fee, but you get $300 in travel credits each year and lots of other perks, including three-times points on restaurant and travel purchases, and you can transfer the points to various airlines and hotel chains. That free plane ticket might just make or break your sanity as a freelancer someday. Take it.

Double bonus: get a personal version of the same card and combine the points for quicker rewards.

6. Clamps

Go to a hardware store and buy various sizes of A-clamps. You’ll use every one of them and won’t regret it.

7. Tool Kit

You don’t know how many times I’ve loaned out a screwdriver or a pair of pliers. If you’re old enough to be running a business, you should own some sort of tool kit. It can be small and basic, but if you don’t own at least a hammer, screwdriver, pliers, measuring tape, and utility knife, you’re doing something wrong. These tools could mean the difference in fixing some piece of equipment on the spot and having a disappointed client.

8. Good Computer Speakers (Or Headphones)

The next few are for those of us who spend way too much time at the computer in postproduction. 

Treat yourself to a nice set of headphones or speakers. If you listen to a lot of music, podcasts, or just like to Netflix binge while you’re editing, nice sound will make it much more enjoyable, make it more desirable to keep working, and you’ll get the job done faster. This is especially important if you do video editing.

9. Second Monitor

It doesn’t have to be a very expensive one. I’ve had the same 24-inch Acer monitor as a second screen for my iMac for the past five years or so. It’s not a great one for color calibration, but I can throw my email client on it, or multitask with spreadsheets, or, more realistically, watch movies or shows while editing to pass the time more quickly.

10. Standing Desk

This one is the one thing on the list that I don’t have yet, but am going to get as soon as I can. 

Get yourself a standing desk.

Sitting for long stretches of time can wreak havoc on our bodies (see #4 above). We’re made to be moving, not to be sitting for eight hours in a day, which happens when you’ve got a lot of photos to get through. Getting a desk that allows you to stand, or even a convertible one that lets you switch between standing and sitting throughout the day, would almost certainly improve your overall health. 

What non-photography specific things do you recommend people get to make them better freelancers?

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Lucas Fendley's picture

I bought s stand up desk and it's been one of the best investments I've made last year.

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

I've been considering one for a while, because I do a lot of retouching. My biggest concern with one is all the wires I have from my computer, speakers, hard drives, lamps etc. Do you have any issues with wires when you raise or lower your desk?

Stephen Ironside's picture

I've thought about that -- I feel like you just have to be strategic and make sure things have enough slack to move up and down. My main rig is an iMac, though, so there aren't too many wires to things that aren't on the desk itself, except the power cord.

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

I'm using an 27" iMac, but I have a ton of external drives plugged in, hence my concern. Totally makes sense to have some slack in the wires though

Stephen Ironside's picture

Yep. Just make sure your cables are long enough when the desk is up and it should be fine if you lower it!

Lucas Fendley's picture

I have my power supply attached to the underside of my desk so all the cords do not move at all only the 6' cord on the power supply. My desktop is also attached and hanging off the side of my desk on a bracket from Ikea

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture


Bill Bentley's picture

All are good ideas Stephen. I refuse to go back to wearing a watch though. Don't miss it for a "second". :-)

Regarding the tool kit, just a tip for those who don't have one already. Do not buy a plastic tool box. The contents will start to smell like ass after about a year. It's weird but it's happened to other people I know and it happened to me. Buy metal, leather or canvas, anything but plastic. My metal one from 35 years ago is still works and smells fine.

I have the yoga mat (need to use more) and the adjustable desk is on the to-do list.

Sean Gibson's picture

I must say; I had no interest in buying an Apple Watch at first, until I started shooting more (sports shooter here). Now I leave my "big" smart phone in my bag while out shooting, and it's nice to have the watch just vibrate a little when I have a message, reminder, or when a calendar event reminds me it's time to leave one game/shoot to make it to the next in time. Still not crazy about having something on my wrist all day, but the + outweighs the - for me and what I do.

Caleb Kerr's picture

lol, #9. My second monitor might as well be a YouTube / Netflix monitor. But hey, it keeps me awake while working.

Paul Scharff's picture

Good ideas - thanks for the post.

Jean Calvino's picture

- Accounting software: If you do photography as business then get Manager.io free accounting software, it will save you a lot of time by making it easy to track your expenses, payments and billing... Is free!

- Gaffers tape: You can solve many many problems with it!

- Credit card reader: I have a credit card reader that I connect to my phone via Bluetooth, it always on my bag, my clients find it very convenient to have the option to pay me with their cards.

Stephen Ironside's picture

I'd argue gaff tape is definitely a "photography"-related thing, but yes, it's great.

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

Makes perfect sense

Piotr Maksymowicz's picture

I like 4, 9 and 10 :)

Joshua Kolsky's picture

I second the monitor and third getting a mouse with customizable buttons. Even a cheap $20 Logitech M510 will save you some time. One of the most handy/cheap upgrades to my workflow.

Stephen Ironside's picture

I'm switched over to a Wacom tablet now, but I should figure out how to customize the extra buttons it has. Maybe someday...

Joshua Kolsky's picture

Yeah i love my wacom too. I just set up a behringer x-touch mini MIDI controller also. Ive got plenty of options for editing.

Stephen Ironside's picture

oOooOoOo i've been thinking of something like that too.

Joshua Kolsky's picture

Its pretty slick. They are only $60 and the software to set them up is free. I have some saved profiles with everything mapped already if you decide to get one. Just hit me up.

Tom Lew's picture

After spending $10+ on coffee every day I bought a coffee maker for the studio which pretty much makes battery acid tasting liquid but it's saving a ton of money

Stephen Ironside's picture

If I drank coffee that probably would have been top on the list.

Joshua Kolsky's picture

Save some money and get yourself a BUNN. You wont regret it.

Colbe Wells's picture

So what kind of watch is pictured. I’m sorry if it’s been asked but I have to know!

Stephen Ironside's picture

Hah. It's a Suunto Traverse; Christmas gift!

Chris Gallego's picture

could be cool an article like this about Scoutings.

michael buehrle's picture

i did not see bacon mentioned. who can't use some bacon ?