Earning $870 for a Day of Photography in Beijing

The room was lined with food stations offering tantalizing dishes—hot lamb in steaming bread pockets…crispy Peking duck in delicate savory pancakes…and waiters carrying out a seemingly endless variety of hors d’oeuvres.

Although I enjoyed my fair share of the food and drink, I was here—at the Beijing Auto Show—on assignment. I was tasked with snapping a photograph of the new Mercedes which would be unveiled here. One car magazine was offering me about $290 for a few shots of the car. And the beauty of this business is, even when you’re on assignment, you can be snapping away photos for your portfolio or to sell online. In this instance, another company—a kind of stock photo website for cars—wanted pictures of the Auto Show, in return for $580.

Earlier in the day, I had taken the bullet train up from Shanghai, where I’ve been living for the past 13 years. I stayed in a small hotel down a bustling traditional hutong (laneway), filled with local restaurants spilling out onto the street. The smell of barbecue hung in the night air as I dined outdoors on fresh seafood that evening.

Being based in Asia has inspired my photography—as well as provided me with more than enough interesting subjects. This ranges from the food, through the people, landscape, and architecture. In January, I had a three-page spread in Tiger Tales, a Singapore-based travel magazine, featuring the food of Xi’an (home of the Terracotta Warriors) and the people who prepare it.

Since I moved here, I’ve met thousands of interesting people through my photography—all with a story to tell. People like 83-year-old Mr. Zhou, one of the last cave dwellers living around Xi’an, China. He has lived his whole life in caves hewn from loose soil. The cave village of Zhoujiagou once had over 70 families living in these dwellings but now Mr. Zhou is one of just six. Zhou moved to his current cave when he just 12 years old after his old one collapsed.

When I first started taking photographs, I was largely self-taught—which meant a lot of trial and error. But after attending a travel photography workshop I was able to greatly accelerate that learning process and increase my earning potential.

Freelancing as a photographer hasn’t just allowed to me to live comfortably overseas. I’m free to pick my own schedule, travel, and it’s opened doors to all kinds of events and places that regular tourists couldn’t access.

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