How I turned from an employee into a full-time freelance Photographer?

Abhishek Vats | Food & Product Photographer

Abhishek Vats

Leap of faith

It was in 2019 when Abhishek quit his well-settled and decent paying corporate job to venture into the creative industry. It was a huge risk for him considering he had a family to take care of and had little to no knowledge about freelancing. Abhishek believes that everyone should take risks at least once during their lifetime to follow their passion. This idea of creative freelancing was looming at the back of his mind for quite some time, so when he decided to quit his full-time job and venture into freelancing, he made sure that all his finances were in place so that 

he could sustain his family for at least a year. 

“Though it is always better to take risks early in life, but it is never too late to start doing what you love”

Evolving as an artist

One thing that Abhishek had figured out early in his journey was that he wanted to get into photography. To dive deep into what his niche should be, Abhishek took up a variety of assignments in the beginning to prospect his interest across different fields and what piqued his creative excitement was food photography. And once he knew what he wanted to do, he began extensively studying everything about the subject right from Magazines to Social media and YouTube videos.  

Responding to whether he wants to develop a certain style in his work, he thinks that he is at a very early stage in his career. There’s still a lot of exploring and learning to be done to achieve the kind of understanding that is required to develop an art style that is unique to himself.

“I should feel excited with every picture I click, that is how I can guarantee a long career for myself in this field. I want to keep loving what I do and keep doing what I love”

Project selection and project management approach

Comparing his approach from when he began his freelancing career to what his approach is today, after gaining 2.5 years of experience, the difference is evident. Abhishek is more selective with his projects now. The service industry runs on trust and satisfaction. One thing that he highly emphasises on is his project selection which is based on understanding the client’s expectations and how meeting those expectations is the only way to deliver satisfaction. 

“I do not take projects that I cannot deliver, nor do I accept projects that aren’t exciting enough. I have discovered a sweet spot for myself where I can deliver work seamlessly and push my artistic limits at the same time”

While talking about trust, Abhishek believes that as a photographer his job is not just about randomly clicking beautiful photos and taking the money. It is more important that a photographer understands the client’s brand ideology, the purpose and thoughts behind their product/service. He adds that every single photograph should be able to represent the brand’s image and that is why he  spends at least 30-40 minutes to shoot each photo. The purpose behind dedicating such time to each photo is to manifest brand’s image into the product and that the client should be able to utilise every photograph as an extension of their brand identity and hopefully monetise through those photos. 

Client servicing as an opportunity to build and nurture partnerships

Abhishek explains that often when a client approaches him with their project’s brief, they come to him only with a vague idea about what they want. These client demands and ideas usually stem out of some work they have seen online or by seeing their competitors boosting up their marketing. But every project has a budget and that is where his strategy of efficiently setting the right expectations comes into play. He ensures absolute clarity about the deliverables and the timelines with respect to the client’s budgets in the very beginning. 

“A photographer’s job is to understand their requirements in absolute detail and suggest to the client what is right for them. Explain to them the operational aspects of the shoot and involve them in the technical aspect as well.”

Once that is done, the only challenges he potentially faces are regarding the lighting, space and food aesthetics, which can be mostly managed from his own end. This discovery stage is where he also helps the clients with strategic consultation by sharing his ideas with them about how the photos can be used efficiently for different campaigns and marketing activities. The purpose of having these discussions with clients is to show them his involvement and ownership in the project which ultimately builds a relationship that goes beyond its transactional nature, positions him as an expert and helps him to justify the price he quotes for his work.

Business development strategy

Freelancing, as a career, is, in fact, harder than most of the 9 to 5 jobs. It is a one-person game and is like building a company all by yourself. Abhishek has a very active approach towards generating new business. From cold emails and DMs to networking with potential clients, he is constantly on a project hunt. 

“Client retention and word of mouth definitely play an important role because currently the retention rate in my business is 70-75% which is pretty good considering the present market conditions.” 

The F&B industry has become highly competitive especially after the disruption caused by the food-tech startups like Zomato and Swiggy. Restaurants are vying to stand out by showcasing their products in unique and visually appealing manner. This has caused a rise in demand for quality food photographers who can understand the client’s requirements well. Waiting for a project via passive means like word of mouth and DMs isn’t always a favourable option in Abhishek’s line of work. So, apart from organic activities, he also runs Google & Social Media ads to maintain a constant flow of project queries. 

Another important part of business development strategy is to keep the portfolio constantly updated on the websites along with posting and showcasing daily shoot activities on Instagram.

Work and Clients

During this short span of 2.5 years, Abhishek has already worked with multiple high-profile clients like Baby Saffron, Dalmia Utsav Honey, Harajuku Tokyo Cafe, Radico Khaitan, The Burger Club, Miss Nails, Cliffhanger Vodka, and Gladius Rum to name a few.

But the most interesting part is to see his growth over the years as a food & product photographer.

To view more of his work and connect with him for potential project queries, follow him on Instagram and visit his website.

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