A few months ago, I spent some time looking over 3 – 4 websites posting freelance job opportunities for photographers. I’m also looking for editorial writing jobs, so I checked out sites for writers as well. For this post, I’ll be talking about my experience with the freelance photography jobs sites, but it also applies to the writer site. I had my suspicions but rather than dismiss them entirely chose to do some research. Unfortunately, my suspicions and misgivings were mostly proven. I found many potential clients were looking for very cheap rates from probably amateur or beginning pros who didn’t know how to price out work. Not a very positive experience. Each freelance job site operated in basically the same way. A freelancer searches for opportunities by keyword and/or category, reviews the available jobs and bids on the ones they’d like to do.
Today, I went back to one of the sites and browsed the listings. I was again appalled by some of the requests being made. I’ll outline a selection below so you can see for yourself what’s out there and what the expectations are of some “clients” when they contract with a “photographer”. On average at this site, the payment per job was less than $1000 with most less than $500. The work requested for this fee varied from a single, simple product photograph to multiple images of products (products the photographer would need to acquire, presumably at their own expense) including retouching and resizing. These kinds of jobs seemed to be from studio photographers too busy to do some tasks and looking to outsource some of their work, and companies or individuals needing photographs of products or other subjects for a website. More often than not, the expected budget was low, with specific image requirements. In particular was a request for product photos for a website selling various electronics equipment. The budget was for less than $500, the requester listed a website as an example of “exactly” the style of photography required, the photos were needed ASAP, and the photographer needed to have “Access to items like mobile phones, laptops, ipods, mp3 players, cameras, etc is essential. Not own worn/scratched items.” For this job, the photographer, not the client, was expected to provide the products being photographed.
For the most part, these sites are catering to the client who is looking for the best price and the jobs are “work-for-hire”, which means the “client” gets all rights to your work produced on the project. Competing on price is relatively easy for Wal Mart and Amazon, but difficult for individuals like you and me who are not selling on quantity, but on quality.
My conclusion is that I found freelance job sites to be unproductive and not very promising prospects for freelancers to find consistently well-paid creative work. You might, like on Craigslist, come across a gem in the rough, but it takes more time to do that than it would to apply for and work at a non-freelance job.
**The sites post jobs and you can bid on them. Inevitably, someone will underbid significantly and get the job. Therefore, if you want to work for far less than you deserve, this is the place to go. You’ll get arguments from bidding site regulars that it’s a great place to find work. Of course, defining “work” for most people means fair compensation. Sweat shops are also great places to find work, but would you really want to apply? Proceed with caution and always get money up front if you work with anyone other than a well-known company. Unfortunately, the number of quality postings does not match the number of quality freelancers looking for work.**