Many creative minds cherish it – the dream of becoming a self-employed photographer. Independence, flexible working hours, and artistic freedom are among the factors that make the photographer’s profession so attractive. However, you should not lose sight of how much effort it takes to earn a living with this job. In the following, you will find out what you have to consider if you want to become a freelance photographer.
The conditions to become self-employed as a photographer have never been more favorable than they are today. However, it has never been so difficult to assert oneself in the market, because the competition is large and continues to grow. In the digital age of Instagram and Co., anyone can publish photos and get likes. These reinforce the fallacy that it is very easy to take decent pictures and earn money as a freelance photographer.
No more master craftsman duty as a freelance photographer
A few clicks in an image editing app are far from enough to do high-quality photography. Since 2004, the professional title “photographer” has no longer been legally protected. In other words: For self-employment in this professional field, there is no longer a need for a master’s degree. Theoretically, every amateur photographer can take the step into self-employment. Nevertheless, this project should be well thought out, because only those who have dealt with the matter in detail and can demonstrate professional knowledge will be able to assert themselves in the long term.
Studies show that around a third of all professional photographers started as autodidacts or career changers – and the trend is rising. Although appropriate training is no longer a necessity, a photographer needs basic knowledge. Exposure, contrast, and image sharpness should not be foreign words to you. Safe handling of the camera is just as obligatory as knowledge of image processing and design programs. If you cannot show this, you have the opportunity to take part in certified training courses or workshops as a freelance photographer.
In addition, some personal characteristics are required. Talent alone is not enough. In addition to a strong sense of aesthetics, you should also have organizational skills. As a self employed photographer, you have to manage your time well and plan appointments sensibly. You also need a high level of social skills and good communication skills in order to shine in contact with customers. With a great deal of curiosity and ambition, you always stay up to date with regard to trends and techniques that are constantly changing in the photography industry.
In addition, like any self-employed person, you should acquire sound entrepreneurial know-how. In the areas of tax, accounting, marketing, and sales you are largely on your own. Start-up seminars or experts such as tax and start-up consultants can offer you help, for example. A freelance photographer should also have basic knowledge of photo rights and copyright. The internet makes it easy to sell other people’s pictures as your own. It is therefore all the more important to know and defend your own copyrights.
Check location and market situation
If you meet all these requirements, you should first concentrate on a location analysis when planning. How many photographers are there in the area and what specific services do they offer? Here you have to weigh up whether you would rather work in a busy region with a high density of photographers or in more rural areas with little competition. Many photographers no longer rent their own studio. You coordinate from home and drive from there to the most diverse photo locations. As a self employed photographer, they cover a radius of 50 to 150 kilometers around their place of business.
Specialize early on as a freelance photographer
Whether you need your own studio or not also depends heavily on your specific business idea. As a portrait or nude photographer, a classically constructed setting is certainly an advantage. The situation is different with wedding photography, for example, where the photographer is inevitably ordered to a wide variety of locations. Whether events, architecture, press, or stock – the photography industry has many facets. No photographer can cover all areas of activity. Therefore, you should decide early on in which direction you want your work to go.
Do you prefer studio photography or does your heartbeat for art and film? You can base your considerations entirely on your personal skills, experience, and preferences. There are advantages to specializing in a single branch as it gives clients distinct professionalism. Basically, it should be noted that the profession of a photographer should not be confused with that of a photo designer. This is an independent, state-certified course.
Calculate with a business plan
A professional business plan is an absolute must for anyone who wants to venture into self-employment! As part of this, you record your business idea and all the findings of the competitor analysis. You also calculate what costs will be incurred if you become a self employed photographer. To do this, the following points must be summarized in numbers:
- Equipment (cameras, lights, accessories)
- Possibly studio (rent, additional costs)
- Material (office supplies, spare parts)
- Communication (mobile phone contract, postage)
- Software (design programs, licenses)
- Arrival/travel (train tickets, fuel, car rental if necessary)
- Advertising (website, online marketing, business cards, flyers)
- Insurance (professional liability insurance, commercial insurance, equipment insurance)
- If necessary, corporate management (tax consultant, accountant)
- Loss of earnings due to sick days or unforeseeable events (reserves)
- if necessary, repayment of loans
- Further education (workshops etc.)
Basically, the expenses of a freelance photographer can be divided into three categories. The first includes start-up costs as well as one-off or infrequent investments such as registration fees, equipment purchases, or start-up seminars. Then there are the fixed costs such as possible rent, but also license and insurance fees. Finally, the variable costs of being a freelance photographer should not be forgotten, such as travel expenses and loss of earnings.
Set your fee as a self employed photographer
Only when you have an overview of your expenses can you devote yourself to your fee expectations. How much do you have to charge at least for your work to be able to cover all costs? Can you make a living from it in the long run? When calculating, you should also keep an eye on the competition. If you want to sell yourself more expensively than your competitors, the quality of your work must of course be correspondingly high. Normally, the photographer sets a certain hourly or daily rate, which may be negotiated again in one-to-one discussions with the client. In the case of studio and stock photography, on the other hand, the fee for a freelance photographer is usually calculated using a fixed price per photo.
Financing options for freelance photographers
If your financial planning shows that your equity is not sufficient for the start-up costs, you have a few options. In addition to applying for a loan, there are also government funding options that support the self-employed in the early days. These include special development loans for founders of guarantee banks or grants for business start-ups from the employment agency. The EU offers subsidies for young entrepreneurs of all kinds and the KfW banking group also gives loans to start-ups in every industry.
Photographer as a Freelancer or trader?
A question many freelance photographers ask is whether they classify as a freelancer or a professional. The answer is particularly important from a tax point of view. It depends on whether the activity of the photographer is primarily of an artistic and creative or commercial nature in the individual case. This is decided in the context of an expert opinion, which sets the “artistic height” of the work as a benchmark. For more detailed information about your work as a freelance photographer, you can contact the professional association, the tax office, or the chamber of commerce.
ADVANTAGES FOR FREELANCE
Examples of freelancers include press photographers. They enjoy a number of advantages over traders. On the one hand, they do not have to register a business and pay taxes for it. On the other hand, they are not obliged to be a member of the Chamber of Crafts. In addition, they have fewer formalities to deal with when it comes to tax returns. A simplified determination of profit using the income surplus calculation (EÜR) is sufficient here. There is also no formal registration procedure with the tax office since an informal application for tax registration is completely sufficient.
If your activity is categorized as commercial, you will not be spared the trip to the trade office. There you have to pay a registration fee of around 40 euros and choose a legal form. This applies to wedding photographers, for example, who do commission work as freelance photographers and finance themselves through the sale of the resulting images.
However, there are some photographers who can walk a middle ground between freelance and commercial. The prerequisite for this is that the various activities are taxed differently. This only works with a clean accounting separation of income and earnings. This means that artistic activities can be exempt from trade tax. However, this strategy is not possible if the customer is billed as a whole for the work performed. Because then the trade tax is paid on the total amount. So your organizational know-how is required here to save a lot of money!
Take out insurance as a freelance photographer
If you are self-employed as a photographer, you should definitely take out comprehensive insurance cover. You are obliged to take care of your private or statutory health insurance yourself and to make ends meet. In addition, every self-employed photographer must have professional accident insurance with the Federal Cooperative for Energy, Textile, Electrical, and Media Products (BG ETEM). Freelancers can only be exempted from this under certain conditions. In addition, there is a social security obligation with the artists’ social security fund.
Marketing and customer acquisition
In order to reach potential customers as a freelance photographer, a professional website is a be-all and end-all these days. It should be clear and search-engine-optimized and contain a meaningful portfolio. Post some of your best work online so new clients can get a real feel for your skills. You can also provide customer references for a professional impression. Basically, your website should reflect you and have its own individual touch. Also take care of a consistent corporate design, which you can then implement on business cards, flyers, and other advertising materials. This gives you a certain recognition value that sets you apart from your competitors.
Other ways to make yourself known in the industry include Google AdWords campaigns, Facebook ads, and social media profiles. Conventional customer acquisition on the phone and recommendation marketing can also help you as a freelance photographer in building a customer base.
Membership in associations of the photography industry
As a freelance photographer, you are solely responsible for continuously improving your work. As mentioned at the beginning, a professional photographer has to deliver better quality than an ordinary hobby clipper can. It may therefore be advisable to register voluntarily with one of the numerous associations in the photography industry. These enable an exchange of experiences, provide support with legal issues and help you to be recognized as a freelance artist. Regular training courses keep you up to date with developments and you can even offer seminars, workshops, or tutorials yourself if necessary. So-called “photo coaching” for hobby photographers can become a lucrative sideline.
Everyday work as a freelance photographer
Last but not least, you should be clear about what your day-to-day work as a freelance photographer will look like. Every job has tasks like doing bills that can be tedious but have to be done. So have no illusions here and assess your prospects as a freelance photographer realistically. It helps if you have already completed internships where you got a glimpse behind the scenes.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about becoming a self-employed photographer
How can you start your own business as a self employed photographer?
A few clicks in an image editing app are far from enough to do high-quality photography. Since 2004, the professional title “photographer” has no longer been legally protected. In other words: For self-employment in this professional field, there is no longer a need for a master’s degree. Nevertheless, this project should be well thought out, because only those who have dealt with the matter in detail and can demonstrate professional knowledge will be able to assert themselves in the long term.
How much does a self employed photographer make?
If you can shine with professional experience and have made a name for yourself in the industry, you can count on 2500 euros gross per month. In general, however, the earnings depend on the order and the agreed hourly wage.
When do I have to register a business as a photographer?
According to a BFH ruling from 1998, a self-employed photographer must always register a business if his pictures are not primarily used for artistic purposes, but rather for advertising purposes or the needs of his clients. It is therefore important to register a business directly when you accept an order.
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