Although freelance's serious business, this's meant to be a fun piece to read. Grab your choice of coffee or wine, relax and read on.
The story went like this - I quit my job back in 2014 (had to check my LinkedIn profile to confirm the year; I always thought I was more senior than I really was possibly due to my age) and almost right away I became a full time photographer. That was, if we defined full time photography as it being my only source of income, or lack of income I should say. It's not entirely accurate to say that photography was my only source of income then but let's leave it at that for now. The story would explain itself. It'd eventually get to the money part (I didn't have rich parents, I guarantee). We'd start with my pre wedding photographer life.
To be very honest, I didn't quit my job to become a wedding photographer. I also didn't start my wedding photography career at a friend's wedding like many photographers did. Photography as a career came after I quit my job and spent three months visiting home and travelling. The main motivator that urged me into considering a career in photography was the time I took off to travel. Back then, I was a retail planner at Holt Renfrew enjoying the prestigious life that a decent income brought me. But the job didn't mean a lot to me except for the corporate ladder that I naturally fell into climbing in the given environment. I felt trapped. It was a tough decision to quit. It's difficult to walk away even when I knew it's not the right fit. It took me a while to accept that taking a break from the corporate world was good for me. Photography still wasn't in the picture when I finally quit. I purposelessly travelled for three months off savings and came back to Toronto ready to look for another job. Only then I started to realize my travel experience had grew on me. It's free and fun. It felt like that's how life should be.
Sitting at home trying to discover the next dream job on the computer, but really checking out all the travel photos I took during my time off, a career in photography presented itself. Photography was something that I loved to do and enjoyed getting better at professionally. Then I started to wonder which type of photography am I the most interested in? I knew that there were the human element and documentary aspect that I absolutely loved about photography. Almost in all my travel photos, there were people in them, people in their zone, just being themselves. So naturally I dreamt of being a travel photographer. Documenting local people in their everyday life. Just candid photography. The meaningful stuff. Pictures that might end up in the museum, you know? Coming from a business background with no association with any hobby group, I quickly realized I knew of no one photographer. Zero. I was also quite isolated from social networks since University and had no clue what Instagram was back then. I immediately felt the need to embrace Facebook, my dated source of online friendship and hopefully useful network. After several attempts, I got my password right and was once again connected to the virtual world. I then went the old fashion route and reached out to photographers and invited them for a chat over coffee. How? By searching on LinkedIn and Facebook and sending cold messages. Looking back now, there were many things and some conversations I could've prepared better. But if I had to do it again, I might still prefer action over excessive planning and unnecessary worries. I was not perfect and I accepted it. If you wanted to become a freelancer you had to accept that about yourself and focus on your strengths. Fast forwarded to the conversations, the feedbacks were overwhelmingly discouraging for legit reasons - my lack of experience professionally; absence of a network for support and referrals; and last but not the least the competitiveness in the saturated industry. Competition was fierce. It's sink or swim. I should at least go back to work while I tried was one positive advice. I sincerely thanked all the photographers, many I'm now still connected with, who took the time to chat with me. Their insights prepared me for the worst. Despite the obvious challenges, I picked and chose what I wanted to believe and built my case - I dived into wedding photography. Going ahead with freelance photography was not the most logical decision and wedding photography wasn't even in my original basket of choices. But it's an informed decision driven by my intuition. Sometimes, the result, not the decision making itself, determined if a decision's right. If I didn't give it a try, I'd never see how it'd turn out. I weighted the pros and cons carefully. I just didn't count them too rigidly.
Wedding photography was the type of photography that'd satisfy my eager to document real life events with real people and real moments. It's people focus and independently operated. It's possible to make a living hence easier for me to adjust financially. I didn't know at the time the level of passion I would have for being a documentary wedding photographer. I started intuitively. It might not be love at first sight but it's definitely growing love that stood the test of time; like the kind of love in marriages. That could be another story in itself. I'm not going to elaborate too much on why wedding photography, but instead how I took the first step to become a freelance wedding photographer and, in my humble opinion, you could freelance too.
Sustainability was driven by two main factors, passion and money.
We're all different in the best way possible. I didn't have rich parents and that really sucked. I wasn't the most sociable and the lack of social network presence didn't help. I also wasn't technically strong and had no knowledge in SEO which proved to be exceptionally important in today's businesses. The moral was - don't get discouraged if you're not the best you yet. With passion, there's persistency and with money, there's stability. More or less, I think that's the fundamentals of being a freelancer of any kind.
If you can sustain your passion for the path you're pursuing and calculate the income you would need and find ways to make it, you're half way there. It's okay to expect both elements to grow over time for a happy and successful freelancer life but you should also have a contingency plan in case they deteriorated. I mentioned early on that photography wasn't my only source of income when I started wedding photography full time. Small investment income helped me to pay bills and living at home helped me to minimize expenses. I always believed in savings and investments. As I joked around with my friends - Cash is King. That's just me. I was lucky enough to save up on my previous income and developed an investment habit. We all will find our own ways to get through with the level of risk we're willing to take and effort we're willing to put in. Many kept their day job before they became a full time freelancer and others worked part time to fuel their business.
To me, the path to become a freelance wedding photographer full time wasn't easy and it still isn't. There're always areas for improvements and there always will be. Not to mention that once the game's on, being your own boss could feel restless. But it's possible and it's satisfying when it works. That, is the important message here.
In this book I'm currently reading by Philip Fisher, the preface was concluded in these sentences and I copied, "I hope my frankness, at times my bluntness, will not cause offence. I particularly hope that you will conclude the merit of the ideas I present may outweigh my defects as a writer".