Dubai is a lovely city whose strategic location and modern transport facilities make it highly accessible to the rest of the world. One-third and two-thirds of the world’s population are four hours and eight hours, respectively, away from Dubai. Therefore, you can stay in Dubai yet maintain a global reach.
It’s also easy to start your career as a freelance photographer in Dubai. The United Arab Emirates’ freelance permit and visa programs make it easy for photographers to start freelancing in the UAE.
Don’t get too excited just yet, however. According to Indeed, freelance photographers in Dubai earn an average of AED 3,630 or USD 988.27 per month. However, according to the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, a single person’s average living expenses per month, excluding rent, is AED 3,477.89 or USD 946.85. Meanwhile, the average monthly rent for a Dubai city center studio apartment is AED 5,141.89 or USD 1,399.88.
In other words, you have to be pulling in an average of AED 8,619.78 or USD 2,346.73 per month to live and work as a freelance photographer in Dubai. You need to make considerably more if you are bringing your family along.
You can increase your rates, book more, or do both to boost your freelance photography income. Follow this guide to improving your chances of succeeding as a freelance photographer in Dubai.
Find a niche and stick to it
When you were starting, you might have had no choice but to take all types of available bookings. You probably hopped from one project to another, covering a wedding one moment and then shooting an apartment building the next.
However, you will earn more as a specialist than a generalist. Thus, decide whether you want to focus on event, real estate, food, product, architecture, or portrait photography, and run with it.
There are three reasons why you can earn more when you specialize.
1. Improve your efficiency.
Notice how you get faster at doing something when you do it repeatedly? Suppose you run 10 miles every day. After one month, you should be able to complete your 10-mile course in a shorter time than when you just started. You will become so familiar with your daily route that you can avoid potholes without needing to look.
The same thing applies when you specialize in a particular photography niche. If you take nothing but real estate photos, you will become so accomplished at it, you will commit fewer mistakes. You will also know which shots to take without the realtor, real estate agency, or the property developer prompting you. Thus, you will finish shoots faster.
2. Become better at what you do
Specialization will make you a better photographer. You will learn how to compose real estate photos, so they show the property in the best but still realistic light. You will know your dos and don’ts by heart. Consequently, your clients will come away satisfied.
3. Establish your name in the industry
Once you specialize, people will begin associating your name with your field of specialization. Thus, if you do nothing but real estate photography, people will start acknowledging you as a real estate photographer, and real estate industry insiders will hear about you and see your work.
Why is getting associated with a particular specialization necessary? Because when a property developer seeks referrals for a real estate photographer, he expects to get the names of real estate photographers, not event photographers, food photographers, or general photography professionals.
When you focus on a niche and specialize, you will complete jobs quickly, provide high-quality results that satisfy clients, and establish yourself in your chosen industry. These, in turn, will allow you to charge more per shoot and increase the number of your bookings.
Freelance photographers must market themselves to get bookings. Get yourself known out there so that when a potential client looks for a photographer, you will become one of his options.
The following are some of the strategies you can use to this end.
1. Join photography competitions
If you win, you can include your award in your curriculum vitae. That should beef it up and increase your desirability or appeal to your target clients.
Even if you do not win, getting shortlisted for a particularly prestigious competition should be enough. Becoming a finalist for competitions like the Sony World Photography Awards, National Geographic Photo Contest, International Photography Awards, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, and Hasselblad Award should boost your credibility.
There’s also the free publicity. As a finalist, your work would be exhibited with the work of other shortlisted photographers and featured in magazine and news articles. People would get to know you and your work, and this could lead to future projects.
Networking is just getting to know more people and widening your circle of influence. The more people you know, the more people can refer you.
Thus, get to know other photographers, especially those with a different specialization than yours. If you are a real estate photographer, strengthen your ties with event, food, and corporate photographers to create a photographers’ referral network with them.
Likewise, you should cultivate ties with industry insiders. Get introduced to fashion designers, retailers, and magazine editors if you’re a fashion and product photographer. This way, you can be considered the next time a fashion house needs to shoot its urban street style lookbook.
3. Become a freelancer for a photography company
In this set-up, you will become affiliated with (although not employed by) a photography company. The company finds clients and then assigns projects to the photographers on its roster.
Flashy is an example of a photography company in Dubai that works with freelance photographers to provide on-demand photography services. If you become affiliated with this company, they will send you bookings according to your location, availability, and preferences. All you have to do is accept the bookings you like, show up according to the set schedule, shoot, upload your shots to the company server, and collect your pay.
It’s essentially like having an agency that sends bookings your way. Thus, you can rely on a steady source of bookings even without marketing yourself extensively.
Making It as a Freelance Photographer in Dubai
A freelance photographer in Dubai is ideally situated to travel and photograph the world. However, since Dubai is one of the world’s most expensive cities, one needs to be strategic to make it.
Thus, if you’re a freelance photographer moving to Dubai, remember to specialize and market yourself so you can book more, earn more, and afford the high cost of Dubai living.
Thomas Olsson is Head of Marketing at Flashy, a photo-tech startup that provides on-demand commercial photography services and photoshoot solutions at scale for businesses and enterprises. Flashy has thousands of high-quality photographers in every GCC country and guarantees delivery of edited content in 24 hours.
Also published on Medium.