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December, 2015

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Why You Should Not Be A Freelance Photographer

As a professional photographer, one of the worst things you can do is be a freelancer.  That is, just as you should banish the phrase “day rate” from your lexicon, so too should you banish the word “freelance” from the word set you use to describe yourself.

Words not only have meanings, they insinuate something about whomever they describe. An entire chapter on language was included in the book MORE Best Business Practices for Photographers, titled “A Linguistically Accurate Lexicon”, for that very reason.

Consider the characterization of a person of the female gender. The word “girl”, “woman”, “lady”, “chick, “madam”, and “doll”, all carry similar sentiments to “boy”, “man”, “gentleman”, “dude”, “sir”, and “guy” for a person of the male gender. The disparity between saying “that boy over there” versus “that young man over there” is not lost on the recipient of that characterization, nor is “please help the chick with her luggage” versus “please help the lady with her luggage” in a hotel lobby.

Fast Company recently wrote an article about the value in stopping calling yourself a “freelancer” (12/3/15, “Why I stopped calling myself a freelancer“), and I commend it to you.

What can you do?

Avoid introducing yourself using that word. Don't say “Hi, I'm a freelance photographer”, or even, “I'm a freelancer.” Instead try:

  • I'm a professional photographer
  • I produce photography on assignment for a range of clients
  •  I'm a photographer
  •  I'm a photojournalist
  • I'm an independent photographer

When asked “oh, who do you work for”, I would avoid “I work for myself”, and instead try:

I work for a variety of clients in the…

  •  News business
  • Industrial sector
  • Public relations area
  • Magazine industry
       …etc.

When someone tries to then re-characterize you as “oh, so you're a freelance photographer?” The answer is “no, not really. I work independently for a variety of clients, and the word “freelance” just doesn't speak to the broad spectrum of services I offer, not just for covering a story or making images, but all the production and organization involved in making the final results possible.”

Avoid using it in your LinkedIn profile, your resume, CV, or biography. Describe what you do instead. Don't use derogatory shorthand. Saying “I'm a freelancer” is derogatory compared to “I'm a professional photographer”, almost like calling saying “get the guy a coffee” when what you should have said was “get the gentleman a coffee” instead.

Another point from the Fast Company article was that “freelance” connoted cheap or low-cost,  something I don't think any professional photographer would want themselves characterized as. You want to be considered a “premium” – as in:

  •   “he's an amazing football photographer…”
                               or 
  • “she's an incredible portrait photographer…”
                               or 
  • “he's a wonderful wedding photographer…”
                               or 
  • “she's a stunning storyteller with her images from around the world…” 

For anyone whom you hear described as above, you are immediately going to have a perspective in your mind that they are not “cheap” nor “low cost.”  in the chapter I reference previously, I talk about Jenika, a baltimore luxury portrait photographer, who uses the word “luxury” in all her language about what she does. So, who would you rather hire, a “luxury portrait photographer”, or a “portrait photographer'? Whom do you think will produce a better result? Or, better yet, who would you rather your clients perceive you as?

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