Reema Desai is a lifestyle, travel, and food photographer based in Washington D. C. Her photographs are filled with light, wonderfully colorful, and incredibly refreshing. We're drooling over each one and wishing we could transport ourselves to the location of them all.
Thank you Reema for sharing your wisdom with us!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance photographer.
Well I’ve loved photography since I was young, and have spent most of my life taking pictures. I actually went to school for International Relations and Diplomacy, but I paid my way through school working as a second shooter and office manager for an absolutely incredible wedding photographer as well as working as a staff photographer for my university’s paper. It was something I absolutely loved, but not something I thought I could make a career out of.
After college, I traveled for a few months before moving to Washington, D.C. to pursue a career in my field. I got an office job here, and though I learned a lot of valuable things there, I realized that it wasn’t something that I wanted long term. I really missed the photography field, and as result, started getting more serious about taking photos and sharing them. The sharing step was by far the hardest part as I was incredibly shy and nervous about my work (luckily, I got over that)! I had very few clients at the time so I’d set up shoots in my apartment to build my portfolio, and tried to reach out to as many other local creatives that I could. That combined with sharing my work on Instagram really got things going for me. For about a year, I worked pretty tirelessly on saving money to start my business, finding new clients, and shooting while continuing my full time office job. I finally got to the point where I was able to take the jump, and I couldn’t be happier about it!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
A lot of my clients came via word of mouth or through Instagram, and I still find that to be the case. It can be a challenge to find clients who value an artist’s worth but I was lucky to find a few right off the bat. Share work that you love(d) creating, and it will happen organically!
What advice would you give to somebody starting out in photography?
It’s basic but be out shooting constantly. Keep your camera (or your phone even!) on you at all times, and be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Practice using different angles, compositions, lighting, subjects, etc., and shoot as often as you can. This will really help someone starting out hone in on their style, and figure out what does and doesn’t work for them.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
I work from home a lot but if I really, really need to get things done, working in a coffee shop or co-working space really helps me focus. Something about being around other people being productive really motivates me to do the same.
What has been the biggest “Aha!” moment that you’ve had while making photographs?
I’m not sure if I have one in particular, but I think a big thing for me was gaining the confidence over the years to share my work and pursue photography as a full-time career. Realizing your value is really important.
"Realizing your value is really important."
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelance photographer so far?
As a freleancer in general, it’s definitely scary to not know where your next check is coming from. Specific to photography, there are so many great photographers out there, and it’s pretty easy to fall into that comparison trap.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
I love the freedom of creating my own schedule so much! I’m happy to work until later at night if it means I can go have lunch with my sister on a moment’s notice or catch up with a friend. I have a really hard time with the office mentality of “stay here for eight hours even if you don’t need eight hours to complete your work” so freelance makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t have to tell someone if I want to run an errand or go to the gym in the middle of the day, and as long as my clients are happy, my schedule can be whatever I want it to be. And working from home with my dog is pretty great :).
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
I really try to create a great client experience so that they’re first and foremost, happy with their photos but secondly, happy enough with them to recommend my work to others. A lot of my clients come from recommendations which I absolutely love. Also, I have no problem contacting clients or brands I want to work with. I know this probably makes some people a little nervous, but the worst they can say is no!
What do you do to stay creatively inspired?
Travel is the #1 thing that keeps me inspired creatively. I also really like switching up mediums (e.g. - painting or drawing when I’m feeling like I’m in a rut).
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Always keep your personal life and expenses separate from your business expenses. I try to have a monthly “accounting day” where I pay bills, pay myself, go through receipts, etc. which helps me immensely.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
To be honest, my work filters into my personal life a lot, but luckily my friends and family understand. I tend to work on weekends, but I do try to set expectations for my clients. I don’t respond to non-urgent emails over the weekend, and I won’t respond to texts from clients outside of a certain time frame which helps a lot.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
A thick skin (I used to absolutely hate when people said this to me before but it’s definitely true), drive, and passion for your work