How to Become a Freelance Photographer

Jim Tallon shares tips on how to start a freelance outdoor photographer career.

| March/April 1977


Jim Tallon of Phoenix, Arizona has been in the business of freelance outdoor photography for 18 years. Jim says it isn't hard for novice shutterbugs to break into freelance outdoor photo work. All you need is a camera, a love of nature and an eye for the unusual.


On a chilly fall day, a flock of Canadian geese flies over our log cabin in Montana, honking loudly. I rush to the front porch to take a picture of the birds ... and later sell the shot to Field & Stream for $150.

On the shores of Lake Pleasant — near Phoenix, Arizona — I happen to spot some campers silhouetted against the setting sun. Again, I bring my camera into action ... and take a photo that sells to Kampgrounds of America for $200.

In southern Utah's Monument Valley, I step onto the centerline of a highway and snap a "scenic" shot of the pavement running through the red rock temples in the distance. This one later becomes a Firestone tire ad that appears in several top magazines, thanks to the New York photo agency that sold the photo for $1,500.

If you haven't guessed, I make my living selling pictures: I'm a freelance outdoor photographer. (I'm also a writer, but it's the photo work that really pays my rent.) Given a camera and film, I can park just about anywhere and survive.

I got into this business on a part-time basis 18 years ago because I sought freedom from the regimentations of our eight-to-f ive workaday society. When I "dropped out" in 1967 to freelance full time, I wanted more than anything to enjoy the wonders of nature and get paid for doing it. And thanks to my camera gear — I've been able to do just that. With the "tricks of the trade" I'm about to give you here, you should have quite a head start toward being able to do the same thing.

Beginner Photography Equipment

Naturally, you can't take — much less sell — pictures with a camera or lens you don't have. (On the other hand, you needn't rush out and buy every photographic doodad that ever came out of Japan. I broke into this business with an absolute minimum of equipment ... and you can too.)

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