5 Freelancing Tips from Photojournalist Melissa Lyttle

5 Freelancing Tips from Photojournalist Melissa Lyttle

Over the years, our Instagram has become the go-to place for showcasing the work of our members, projects that move us and photos that inspire us all to see the world differently.

For many, we’re also known for our free educational guides for photographers. As we continue to connect with our online photo community, we aim to bring more resources and educational opportunities to the forefront of our blog and social media channels.

Sitting down with freelance photojournalist Melissa Lyttle for our first Instagram Live Q&A was the perfect way to jump start this mission. Since her days working in the newsroom, Melissa has dedicated her career to visual storytelling and supporting her fellow photographers and journalists any chance she gets.

Watch the on-demand Q&A below, follow Melissa Lyttle and PhotoShelter on Instagram for more insights and inspiration, and read on for five actionable tips from the former NPPA president.

Networking is the key to getting started.

It’s no surprise that meeting people and connecting with fellow creatives, editors and industry professionals is essential to getting your foot in the door as a freelance photographer. Whether it’s virtual or in person, carving out some time to talk with your colleagues will help move your business forward. And now that more and more places are opening up again, in person workshops are a great opportunity to get ahead.

“Any chance that you have to physically put yourself in front of an editor or an art director or someone in a creative field that you want to work with is a bonus. If you can attend things like The Chico Hot Springs Workshop or The Palm Springs Workshop because you want to go into art photography or a more commercial field, that should be your goal. Start saving now so you can pay for the entry fee and meet as many people as you can in a three day period.”

One great tip from Melissa is to start a spreadsheet and keep a running list of all of the editors and creatives you want to connect with. Reach out, message them and start scheduling one hour time slots with whoever’s willing to chat with you.

Be a giver, not a taker.

“A big thing I tell a lot of young photographers is, the work might not be at the level you want it to be yet, but if you are a problem solver, if you are a hard worker, if you are enthusiastic, if you bring ideas… editors would much rather work with that person than with an asshole.”

In addition to being kind and gracious to your clients, peers, mentors and more, sharing more of yourself with your community is another way to remain top of mind when looking for your next gig. Whether it’s mailing out postcards as a follow up to an email conversation, or handing out printed books that showcase your work, it’s always important to go the extra mile to establish a genuine connection and show exactly what you can do for clients, editors and publications.

Another helpful piece of advice from Melissa: try to be a conveyor of great work. Take a selfless approach and lift other people up. If you know of an editor you’d love to work with, share their latest assignment on social media. Help them spread the word about their work and in turn, maybe they’ll follow you or remember your name.

Passive income is possible. Copyright your work.

This one is always a hot topic when it comes to the business of photography, but it can never be overstated. Start early and get into a groove when copyrighting your images. Establish a workflow that prioritizes copyright and you’ll thank yourself later on.

“One of the things I wish I would have done earlier was copyright my work as a freelancer, because I’ve got copyright attorneys that are out there looking for infringements that are trying to protect my work…. 

I was just looking this morning and there’s another one that they have found where bloggers or other publications that I didn’t work for are using my images without having licensed them. So as a freelancer, that’s passive income. That’s your image making money for you even after you’re done with them.”

Want to learn more about copyrighting your photos? Melissa dives into more detail about her go-to process in our on-demand webinar about business advice for photographers.

Take care of yourself.

Taking care of your body and your mental health is the most important thing we can do every day. As a freelance photographer, when you make time to rest and recharge, oftentimes you come back to the drawing board with new ideas and a refreshed feeling of motivation.

For Melissa, that means taking long bike rides, listening to podcasts and shutting her brain down for a bit. Sometimes creating that space to unwind leads to new and unexpected ideas.

If you’re looking for more tips and advice on taking care of your mental health, check out our interview with NY-based therapist Kaylen Hagadorn, which includes a list of additional resources and helpful advice specific to creatives.

Find your people.

It’s a wide open world out there and when it comes to the photo industry, finding a support system is so important. It can certainly change your business for the better when fellow photographers are there for you and can share advice, ideas, critiques and more.

The most important piece of advice here is that if existing photo groups and collectives don’t suit you, go out and create your own. Email and direct message people and ask them to get coffee. Find local creatives and make a monthly meetup for tacos and photography. Start a Slack or Discord community with photographers in your area and try to get together. See what becomes of it.

“You’ve got to find a way to do what works for you, but you’ve also got to find people around you that are going to support you and that are going to prop you up and that are going to help you get through the tough times. We can’t do this alone. Photography is hard enough when we’re out there and we’re creating by ourselves, but that feedback and that camaraderie does certainly help. So what I would leave you with is this: Find your people. If you don’t have people, reach out to people and make those people your people… We’re better because of each other.”


Are you following Melissa on Twitter and Instagram? She is always sharing great resources and lifting up the photo and freelance communities. Go support her on social!

Then follow PhotoShelter on Twitter and Instagram to stay in the know about our upcoming live Q&As and webinars.

PhotoShelter gives you everything you need to run and grow your photo business in one simple platform. Work smarter and faster, create lasting connections with your clients and look like a pro every step of the way. Start your free trial today.

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PhotoShelter's Social Media & Content Marketing Specialist

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