Based in Chicago, Illinois, The Freelance Beat is a blog exploring the triumphs and challenges that freelance journalists encounter in their early and mid-careers.

Advice from a photojournalist

Advice from a photojournalist

I first met Kaitlin Hetterscheidt when we worked together on staff at Columbia College’s award-winning newspaper, The Columbia Chronicle. Since then, Kaitlin has moved to Washington state, landed a full-time reporting and photography position at and cultivated a growing list commercial and editorial clients.

After receiving questions from a Freelance Beat reader about breaking into photojournalism, I caught up with Kaitlin to get her take on rates, balancing full-time work with freelance gigs and building confidence when you’re starting out.

The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

How do you present your work to potential clients?

Everything is online for me. I have my website and anytime I go for an in-person interview. I bring my iPad and I’ll use a couple different apps to kind of show my visual work that way. I don’t really do prints anymore. People want to really make sure your work looks good online. If I’m going to interview for a job that’s a bit more commercial, less journalism based, I’m going to show [my] portfolio of commercial [work]. If it’s portraiture, I’m definitely [showing] to do more portrait work. Real estate is also a big photo industry right now, taking pictures of houses for real estate agencies. I’m definitely going to bring interior photos that show I know how to photograph a space. That’s always a plus to show a little bit of diversity, but you definitely want to show that you can do the job that you’re going to be applying for.

How do you pitch to clients?

If I know there’s a big event coming up here in town that I want to be at or I’m going to photograph I’ll definitely shoot some editors an email that I’m going to be covering it and that I could do a photo essay or maybe some multimedia. Being able to do video is a huge thing right now as a photojournalist. It’s a little more lax in a smaller town once you make those connections with editors and publishers. But initially, it was just a lot of phone calls and emails just to let people know that I’m out here and I’m covering these things and I can do quality work.

How does making connections in Washington state differ from Chicago?

When I was in Chicago it was a lot more formal, the process of getting gigs and applying for jobs and freelance things. Now that I’m out here in a smaller area, I’m making those relationships and building relationships and connections with people in the community. People are coming to me, and I’m getting side projects. I do work full time now, but I am getting side projects from people in the community saying “Hey we know that you have a degree in photojournalism and we’ve seen your work. And we’d love if you’d be able to come and cover this for us or write this for us?”  I’m finding in a small town I get a lot more access than I did in Chicago.

How do you monetize your photos?

I’ve found that, at least out here, it varies. Sometimes people are looking for someone to pay by the hour. Sometimes people are looking to pay by the photo. Some people just want a flat rate. It’s really about talking to your client about what they expect. Even asking what their budget is. That might be too nice of a thing to do sometimes. If you’re really just trying to build up your portfolio, being flexible is good but you don’t want to undersell yourself. I would suggest people develop those rates for any circumstance. Know what you want to charge hourly, know what you would charge per photo and know what you would charge a flat rate in general.

How did you calculate those rates for yourself?

When I was trying to develop what I would charge, I would figure out a budget for living expenses in general. I do work full time, so I have the luxury of not having to depend on my side gigs to pay all my bills. I think about how much time I’m going to be spending on a project. If it’s going to be really time-consuming I’m probably going to charge by the hour, because you really want to charge for the hours that you’re spending editing photos, resizing them or whatever you need to do. You don’t want to forget about that time because that could be hours depending on how much you’re shooting. Hourly is a good place to start. I feel like charging by the photo, you probably would do that if you have a ton of photos that you’re turning in. I would suggest that you sit down and think about your costs. Are you going to be driving very far? Are you going to be spending a few hours covering an event or a few hours shooting some portraiture for a client through commercial work? Develop a baseline and work from there. You don’t want to go in totally clueless as far as pricing goes because someone could come in and really see that you’re not sure how much you want to charge. And they might undercut you quite a bit if they know that. If you’re renting equipment, you want to make sure that you’re getting those costs covered as much as you can. Because there’s nothing worse than going into a gig and losing more money than you’re making. The whole idea is to make a profit.

Where else can you sell your work besides to commercial and editorial clients?

Stock agencies, that’s another great thing to look into. You can submit your photo to that and they’ll buy it from you. There are sites out there that will do that, and it’s a great, easy way to make income. If you’re shooting and you’re always out there shooting for yourself or a different publication, it’s always good to check those sites, too, because the photos that you’re not shooting for someone else can be submitted [and] make money off of those, too.

What are some of the ranges in rates you’ve seen?

I’ve seen a wide range of gigs and prices. In my experience seen anything from $15 an hour to $25 an hour to sometimes $300 an hour or a flat fee of $1,000. It’s really depending on who you’re shooting for. Big commercial clients tend to have big budgets. Take advantage of that and don’t undersell yourself, because they need you and you know more than them visually. Take advantage of that and have confidence. You’re trained. You have an eye.

Do commercial clients tend to pay more than editorial ones?

Some of them do. Washington state in the area that I’m living in central Washington with the cascade mountains a lot of smaller publications they really don’t have budgets, especially the print publications are suffering over here right now. When it comes to commercial work and commercial clients, I can throw out a rate and sometimes they’ll accept it instantly. It surprises me most of the time. Maybe it depends on the region. I’m definitely in a small, small market. As far as editorial work, I really have to work with my clients on pricing.

What advice do you have for developing the confidence to negotiate rates?

Being 21 years old and coming over to Washington state and coming into this small town with no connections, no relationships, I really had to be on my game and confident and friendly. That really helped me get in with the editors and the leaders and any business person that I needed. Honestly, I faked the confidence until I had it. My best piece of advice as far as confidence is just be confident. Trust yourself and trust the work that you do. And know that it’s worth it.

How do you balance your full-time job with side gigs?

It’s tough. A lot of early mornings. I’m not a morning person. I have a physical calendar of planners. I write everything down. At every meeting I go to, I’m always taking notes. You’ve got to be organized. If you’re not organized and you’re not paying close enough attention, you’re going to miss details and you’re going to make someone unhappy. That organization really has to be there. That calendar and being able to see where I have gigs and what’s happening and what meetings I have helps me. I’m working with my boss at my full-time job where I’m working with my boss and clearing everything with them. It can get a little tricky if you’re trying to get a full-time job and you’re trying to do freelance gigs on the side. You have to make sure you didn’t sign a non-compete [agreement] or some tricky things come in there if you’re working with a smaller market. You’ve gotta cover all your bases. Take a lot of deep breaths and stay calm, because the work is worth it. It’ll work out if you make it work.

Editor’s note: Photographers can check Who Pays Photographers to view rates or submit rates anonymously. Hetterscheidt suggested that photographers try submitting photos via Alamy, but there are other online platforms such as iStock, Adobe, and Shutterstock. Be sure to read the agreements carefully.

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