Overcoming a Broken Arm as a Freelance Photographer

One month ago, in a freak soccer accident, I was flipped on my head and snapped my collar bone. Besides the excruciating pain, my mind immediately ran through the calendar of jobs I had lined up as a freelance photographer and videographer in the coming weeks that I knew I’d have to navigate with one arm. Panic quickly set in.

As a freelancer, I have always understood the risks in theory of not having a steady 9 to 5 job: no insurance paid for by a company, no sick pay, no holiday pay. But this has been the first involuntary period where I have felt these drawbacks. Residing in the U.K., I had the benefit of excellent free healthcare after my accident, and I am also insured for loss of earnings due to personal injury; something that all freelance photographers should consider.

But what I’m not insured for is a breakdown of a relationship with a client by pulling out of a job at short notice. Considering this, and not wanting to increase my insurance premiums, I decided that I could put certain logistics into place to uphold every scheduled shoot to retain a trust with my clients. I had one working arm after all.

With my right arm permanently slung against my torso, the first emails I fired off were to all my clients I had lined up to work with for the next six weeks letting them know that although I have had an accident, the scheduled work will be complete as originally planned. It’s business as usual.

The specific work I had lined up was a mixture of live music video work, corporate commercial work, events video, and editorial sports photography. Some of these were established clients with long-standing relationships, and some were clients for the very first time. Either way it was important to remain reliable and deliver the content as planned.

The next set of calls were to a collection of contacts I have built up over the last several years in photography and video whom I would feel comfortable working with and representing my brand. I’ve had conversations with fellow photographers in the past about covering due to serious illness of injury, but these have only been hypothetical conversations. This was the first time I had to put it into practice. I thoroughly recommend everyone having a backup shooter in case of emergencies.

I have to say I am fortunate to have worked with several reliable and talented photographers and videographers in the past, whom I brought on in assisting roles for these jobs rather than outsourcing the entire project. Being social in your local area with “the competition” can really get you out of a hole from time to time, not to mention be a great source of inspiration when ideas aren’t flowing. This meant that I could be on location to review photography or video in real time, and even operating a static video camera, or a one-handed gimbal myself. I obviously paid my assistants on these projects, but it was money well spent as I was able to deliver the content as planned.

Satisfied that all my existing bookings have been covered thus far, I have, however, resisted in taking on any last minute projects, and instead concentrated on income streams that do not require me picking up a camera, of which there have been four methods.

Firstly, the break (excuse the pun) has given me the chance to catch up on all outstanding projects. When I’m back to full fitness I’ll begin with a clean slate (in theory — although please introduce me to a freelancer who ever truly has an empty inbox).

Secondly, I’ve blogged and published more content than usual, as well as tidying up my sites and updating showreels. These are tasks that always seem to get pushed to the bottom of my to-do lists, and to tick them off is liberating.

Thirdly, I’ve had time to upload lots of archived photography to stock sites. Stock photography is something that should be approached strategically if you plan to make serious cash out of, but after sieving through the tens of thousands of pictures I have captured over the last few years, there was plenty that didn’t require model or property release. Stock photography and video are assets that you can earn off indefinitely, adding an extra income flow without you having to do any more work other than efficiently tagging.

Lastly, I set up most of my photography gear, video gear, lighting, and backdrops for rental online. Peer-to-peer lending of consumer to mid-range camera equipment is not a new thing, especially in the U.S. with sites like Sharegrid and Kitsplit already established, but it seems to have picked up dramatically in the last 12 months in the U.K. I have been using Fat Lama for lending my gear, and earned extra cash off my gear that I’m not using while encumbered.

I wrote an article recently on “Ten Things I Learned After One Year as a Freelance Photographer,” of which I certainly feel like I need to add one more to this list, which is “be prepared for the worst.” Putting a little away each month in a “when sh*t hits the fan” fund will really help you out when you might not be able to be as productive because of injury or illness. I’ve found it important to look after my own wellbeing in this process also; the spinning bike and a daily meditation have helped with routine to kick start days.

Having a good insurance package is also a must, especially when you have dependents. In 31 years on this planet I have never broken a bone until now. "Well, it's never happened to me" doesn't make you immune, trust me.

Four weeks in, I’m still recovering and I still can't hold a camera up to my face, but I’m not putting my feet up or being hand fed grapes. The life of a modern freelance photographer and videographer is much more than just shooting, and I have certainly found this out in the last month. Every day continues to be a challenge with logistics and even meeting clients (because who wants a photographer with one arm), but it’s been fight or flight. And I’m fighting.

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joseph minardi's picture

Overcoming a broken arm? Hmm. And yet it was a broken clavicle. I am probably unreasonably annoyed by the title of this post because it is either a) deliberately misleading or b) incredibly dumb.
Either way, I didn't read the article because I don't really care about your clavicle, but I do care about accuracy in language.

Mike Briggs's picture

No offence intended Joseph! Basically means I can’t use my arm so I’m saying it counts ✌️

stir photos's picture

Welcome to the club! I broke my collar bone surfing in 1986. I agree with the other guy's comment about the title, but not mad about it.... hahaha. There was some good advice in the article! Get well soon man; I don't wish that broken bone on anybody and I've broken an arm and a leg, as well, and the clavicle was the worst. A close second was a severe bruised rib whereby I wasn't able to breathe deeply or sneeze (as with my collar bone), but since it wasn't actually broken, I'm not gonna say it was the actual worst. :)

Scott Mosley's picture

I broke my arm right before a wedding, brought a QR mounting plate to the hospital to have it cast onto my arm if needed, they wouldn't do it... My fingers were mostly free so i was still able to shoot, just tricky changing lenses. Would have been a better story i they had done it i guess, lol. Next time.

Andy Bryant's picture

I had to chuckle when I read the article. Really? You can shoot one armed... it just means not using a DSLR... switch to mirrorless for a lighter system (such as the OM-D EM1 Mk II for the IBIS), shoot with your good arm and support the camera on your other shoulder if you need a bit more stability. I guess I've got an advantage in having only ever had one arm, but IMHO it's more than possible to keep working one-armed. Giles Duley lost 3 limbs after stepping on an IED in Afganistan, and he's still shooting...