The exciting life of a freelance professional photographer

Most of the people we meet think that we spend 10% of our time taking pictures and the rest of our life is just goofing off. In order to explain what we actually do with the other 90% of our time, for three months, we have carefully noted our schedule, listed the tasks we perform, and recorded the amount of time we spend on each. From this list, we have calculated what actually happens in the exciting life of a freelance professional photographer.

Amar and Isabelle Guillen, professional photographers

Working together is a real advantage when we are freelance.

10% of our time is spent taking pictures

We spend very little time taking photos. This is the reason why we choose our subjects so carefully and always have concrete goals for every photo session. We never go onto the field without knowing exactly what we need to do. Each trip is very carefully planned. Nothing is left to chance.

It is difficult to say how many pictures we take per session. It depends on whether we are photographing landscapes, or wildlife, or an underwater scene.

Underwater and wildlife photography require 5 to 6 days per session. We sometimes take hundreds of photographs.

In landscape photography, the ratio of photographs taken to time spent is very low: 5 to 10 photos per day on average. Occasionally we manage to get thirty shots in one day, but it's very rare. Because we only take photos during the ‘golden hour’ at sunrise or sunset, we only have about 30 minutes to an hour per day when we can work.

25% is used in developing photos

Since we sell a lot of fine art prints and books, and display many of our photos at exhibitions, we spend a lot of time correcting and retouching them. Other than retouching, most of this work is classifying our photos, selecting the best of them, and annotating the RAW files with keywords and descriptions.

It is often tedious and time consuming, because we only keep the best photographs. In general, we only keep 5-10% of the pictures we took on the field. We only retouch and develop the photos that fit our vision. Those which do not, we discard.

10% is spent communicating

We always keep up to date on the latest techniques and trends in photography, on the new equipment in the market, the latest software, etc. This is essential if we are to continue doing our best work. When the era of film ended and the digital age began, we saw many photographers who went bankrupt because they could not adapt to the new technology. We have never forgotten this warning. In order to learn everything that we can, we read books, subscribe to technical magazines, go to conventions, and read articles on the internet.

10% of our time is used for administration and travel planning

This is the least interesting task of all for us, but it is crucial. We conduct our business like any other. All of these tasks are codified and explained in process documents. From backing up our servers to updating software, everything is written down. These administrative tasks are repetitive and uncreative. We follow the procedures and spend as little time on them as possible.

10% of the time for the administration, maintenance and travel planning

This is certainly the least interesting task for us, but yet it is crucial. We conduct our business as a real franchise. All tasks are perfectly codified and described in documents that we call process. From the task to backup our servers to the update of any software, everything is described. These administrative tasks are repetitive and starved of creativity. We follow the procedures. So we spend the least possible time.

35% goes into marketing and the search for clients

Marketing is our hardest job, because it requires so much energy. We spend a lot of time on the road, going to meet prospective customers, and more on the phone checking whether our photos have been delivered and whether our customers are satisfied with them. Marketing photographs is much the same as marketing anything else: it is a very time consuming task, but one which helps our business grow more each year.

Finally

Our life is exciting because it is full of diverse experiences and wonderful moments, but it is very risky because we have to rely on one business for all of our cash flow. All our revenue comes from photography.

However, we get up every day in a good mood, happy to start a new day of work, and knowing that it will be full of surprises. Photography is a tough job, but we get so much satisfaction out of it that we would not change it for anything.

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