How to Become a Freelance Photographer

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

| March/April 1977

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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