Life as a freelance photographer

Days are getting longer, temperatures are creeping up and ice cream cars are parking themselves on every street corner available. While most people are enjoying the start of summer holidays, I’ve experienced these couple of weeks as particularly hectic.

Around this time of year, my university organizes its yearly ‘Graduation Expo’. This event is a collection of concerts, theater shows, film screenings and, finally, a big exhibition showcasing all graduating students’ work. Classical music, pop concerts, fashion shows, theater shows, all visual and audiovisual students’ are being presented at campus or throughout Gent in the span of one month. Next edition will be my turn to showcase my work. But for this edition I’ll be fulfilling a different role: photographing the entire KASK Graduation 2021.

Luckily, I work together with another photographer, but still, it’s a demanding task. Commuting long hours, lugging around a heavy backpack and crouching prolonged periods of time are taxing, yet I still feel very grateful for having landed this side job.

In this week’s blog post I’ll share some of the photographs I made together with my thoughts on ‘life as a freelance photographer’. These past weeks I’ve had a first taste of how it is to earn money with photography and overall, I really enjoy it. However, I already know this not my ‘calling’. To explain this, let me first discuss both the good and the bad.

An extraordinary moment frozen in time

Prelude in the snow, by Stan Martens and Ferre Vuye

It might sound insignificant: the outsider captures the happening while the artist initiates and interacts. Passive versus active, executing versus creating, the observer versus the actor.

However, I believe ‘making photographs’ is more meaningful and therefore more fulfilling than one might think.

As a graduating student in the arts, your graduation performance, concert or exhibition is where you can finally show your craft in its full glory. A place where the passion you’ve been perfecting for the past four years can finally come together. Intense emotions might come over you, joy, sadness, anticipation. Joy for sharing your art with your loved ones and celebrating a pivotal moment in life. Sadness for having to say goodbye to fellow students, friends and a familiar environment. And anticipation for the future. What mark will you be able to leave in the (art) world?

I think most people will experience this extraordinary moment with a hotchpotch of mixed and intense feelings. An exhibition that lasts 4 days, a show that lasts 1 hour or a performance that lasts 30 minutes. I don’t know how it feels for them, but I can only image how weird it must feel. Before you know, it’s over and done, you’re packing your bags, but are still left with all these emotions.

As a photographer, your watchful eye picks up this energy and when capturing, editing and delivering the images, you try to offer the artist a similar, yet prolonged version of that experience. You’re trying to translate an event into something that is not limited by time or place. You try to create a little gate back to a meaningful place. One that will never disappear.

Wherever you want, whenever you want

KASK Mastersounds, Tim De Braeckeleer (TIM)

The names escape me, but weren’t there many writers and painters who found inspiration by sitting in parks and cafés? Being present, listening and perceiving everything around you like a true voyeur.

I’m not referring to this practice because photography is also voyeurism, but because working as a freelance photographer lets me do my work wherever and whenever I want. While commuting or waiting for the next performance to start, I sit in the outside courtyard or go to a café. I whip out a book or my laptop and maybe I already import my photos. But usually, I just sit there and get lost in my thoughts.

It feels like I’m socializing, but without needing to put in the effort. On top of that, the solitary act of clicking the shutter and ‘working’ without the peering eyes of a boss or an office, is what makes this job feel nonrestrictive.

The opportunity to keep going

GIANTS by Jesse Vandamme, Laurens Aneca and Lucas van der Vegt

Recently someone asked me: “how does it feel to do what you studied for?”

A valid comment that I don’t take offense in, but it is something interesting to think about. Would this person have said the same to a medicine student? Or a business major?

In answer to his question: it is actually really nice to be able to earn (decent) money by doing something I enjoy. Besides, it is also reassuring to know that my doubts about financial security might not be that bad.

I guess that must be a question more people are facing, no? Do I choose to do something I love, but be poor. Or do I choose something that I don’t really love, but lets me not worry about making ends meet?

I just started out doing photo gigs, so I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself. But it does make me happy to see my portfolio expand and to see how people are actually valuing the work I put out. In the end, it’s not about earning big bucks and buying that fancy car or any kind of consumerist good. It’s about obtaining a feeling of freedom and reassurance when pursuing (and continuing) your art.

So, is freelance photography something for me?

KASK Mastersounds, Wannes De Vogelaere (WALMOK)

Without a doubt, photographing events or commercial shoots can be a very worthy and fulfilling job. But I don’t think it is something I want to settle for. Or at least not the kind of freelance photography that I’ve been doing lately.

One reason is that I want to work on larger documentary or personal projects that are creatively more challenging. Another reason is the byproduct that comes with the profession’s ‘fly on the wall’ aspect. In the end, I still feel like an outsider. Artists and visitors alike are focused on the performance. Afterwards, they grab a drink at the nearest bar and happily chat with friends and family who came to watch the show. The photographer, on the other hand, has been trying not to attract any attention. And once the show is over, she leaves just as quietly as she came.

In the end, it’s all a balancing act

Even though it might not be the perfect job, I still enjoy working as a freelance photographer. It’s a good side job and definitely something I would like to pursue. However, I won’t let it overshadow my personal work.

In best case scenario, I would be combining both, working as a freelancer while at the same time developing my own artistic projects. Who knows, if I can keep this going, maybe one day I can let the scale tip slightly the other way.

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