Working with Freelancer Sites

At Distilled we have become a dab hand at creating photo stories. Ones which take you on a journey around the world comparing different human facets that give us an interesting insight into different cultures.

In the past we have looked at:

This post will focus on a case study of our most recent project for Admiral, and how we gathered images of families and their fridges from all around the world using freelancer sites. Obtaining original, royalty-free imagery is something that we have found invaluable in these campaigns and is something that journalists love.

Start with a clear brief for the freelancers

Project Overview

We are collecting photos of fridges from around the world.

Can you take a photo of your open fridge, and tell us about the food inside?


  1. Take a high-quality professional photo of the inside of your fridge.
  2. Take a photo of an item in your fridge which is a treat.
  3. Take a photograph of your family in the kitchen.
  4. Answer questions about what is in your fridge and how your family buys food.

Read the full brief here

Venezuela was my favourite submission

When talking to freelancers from other regions, English is often not their first language. You are talking to people all over the world, so you must make sure your brief is as clear as possible. Use short sentences and plain English. It should be concise and absent from colloquialisms I find that once you start a project, the quality of the work submitted is reflective of how good your brief is. Anything that is not immediately clear will soon become clear in submission errors. E.g. Even though I asked for photographs of a family in the kitchen – people misconstrued that as meaning the family had to be next to the fridge – which was not the case and so was made clearer in the brief.

There is almost an art in crafting a brief that is succinct, without omitting important details. Ultimately when done well, it means you get a consistent collection of photos that feel like a series. It also means that if work comes back which isn’t quite right, you have something to reference as a reason for not accepting work. Common problems we have come across in the past include: photos being too dark, the wrong orientation, or not taken straight, etc.

Often, especially when working with people where English is not their first language, use imagery to communicate, instead of words, i.e. show an image of an open fridge. It also helps to use clear bullet points detailing the resolution, format, and what you are and are not expecting to receive. Communicate with your freelancers regularly. If you need them to do work on a specific day, e.g. Christmas Day, check in the day before to make sure they are prepped and ready to go.

The remainder of this post takes on an FAQ-style format. I hope that some, if not all, of the answers, will shed some light on how best to approach freelancer sites in your upcoming projects.

Which freelancer sites do you use?

How do you find the freelancers on these sites?

  • For working with a large number of freelancers, often over 100 at any one time, I find Upwork the best platform with the highest quality of submissions.

What sort of thing have I used freelancer sites for?

  • 30 people to fill in a survey, and upload a photo – UK specific
  • 120+ people to take photos – worldwide

How to avoid getting struck off?

  • Be aware that freelancer sites are always monitoring your activity and correspondence with freelancers.
  • All payment must happen within the freelancer site.
  • All communication must happen in the freelancer site.
  • Do not accept email addresses and bank details from freelancers.
  • Pay respondents in a timely fashion.
  • Some freelance sites, such as Upwork, do not like freelancers to complete work outside of the freelancer site, e.g. on a Google form. However, others, like People Per Hour has no problem with this.

How to find the right people?

  • Filter by country.
  • Use avatars to choose gender.
  • Filter by job type, e.g. photographer, copywriter, logo designer etc.
  • Filter by the number of successful jobs freelancer has done in the past.
  • Live chat for help at any time.
  • Good use of the filter system will make your job a lot easier.

What is the success rate?

  • Not all the submissions you get will be good.
  • I found that out of 120 submissions 40 were of very high quality, 40 were passable, 20 poor and 20 did not complete the job or misunderstood the brief entirely. After all, you can not expect much more for $10.
  • You will find that people can misunderstand the brief, which might lead you to tweak the wording as you progress.

What should you look out for?

  • People sending you fake submissions in the form of images taken from the internet. Do a reverse image search if you are suspicious.
  • People asking for half the payment upfront, and then disappearing without a trace!
  • Upwork has a limit on the number of people you can hire per day. It is 100 people per day – so be selective with your hiring. Over time certain countries will be easier to fulfil, e.g. Poland, India, and Ukraine, because there are more freelancers based there, whereas places like Iceland or New Zealand may be harder to reach.
  • You will brief some people and then they will fall off the face of the planet. But don’t worry – you won’t lose your money as they have not submitted the work. Just move on and hire someone else.

How much should you pay your freelancers?

  • This is especially difficult to gauge when working with freelancers worldwide. $10 may mean a lot more to people in some countries than it does in others.
  • People per hour has a $9 minimum spend. On Fiver people offer their services for as little as $5.
  • Freelancers have the option to ask for more money for a job. You can then decide by viewing their portfolio if you think the increased fee is worth it.
  • For a short survey or a few photographs that should take a respondent no more than 15 minutes, we pay $10.
  • Due to the low value of these mini-jobs the quality is not always amazing, but that is to be expected. Just increase the number of submissions you collect to compensate for the bad ones.

How should you manage your relationship with freelancers?

  • Make sure you build a relationship.
  • Be human: use your first name.
  • Check in to see if they have any questions.
  • Check availability ahead of time.
  • Create a spreadsheet of those with the strongest skills by country. Having a database is then useful for future projects.

How did it work with the Admiral project?

  • We gathered over 50+ submissions for a project that only required 20 participants, so we could ensure a good spread of high-quality submissions.
  • We hired two participants for each country we wanted to feature.
  • A truly ‘world’ overview should have at least a few submissions per continent. The fridges campaign included: Argentina, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Colombia, Ecuador, England, Finland, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Pakistan, Palestinian Territories, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela and Wales.

What to look out for in image quality?

  • Don’t accept images with an overhead glare.
  • People cutting out images: in other cultures, sparkly, white cut out images are on trend, so stress that this is not what you are looking for.
  • Things in images that are not right for your client's brand, e.g. alcohol or risque clothing.
  • If you are showing a world overview there will be disparities in wealth, cleanliness, and even the technology that people have available to take photos with. This should be explained to a client upfront, but you should also be sensitive to these differences.

Good image examples

Poor quality image examples

What about permissions and licenses?

  • Contractually, once work is paid for, the rights to that belong to you, the purchaser.
  • If other people besides the freelancer you are working with are in the photo, they must ask anyone featured for permission before photographing them. Mention this in your brief.

Any tips on promotion?

  • When outreaching to different countries publications they will want their country to be included in the list. If you have not been able to get a submission from a specific country you can always ask a publication to take their own photo, this worked well for us with Daily Mail Australia.
  • Turn your assets into grids, so there are large assets that essentially include the whole piece to share.
  • Make sure there is a human element to your photos, we connect most with other faces.
  • If you have enough submissions keep some back so journalists have exclusives.

To conclude, yes, it can be a hard slog. But it is also a great way to gather low-cost, original content from a diverse range of people, and we’ve found that this, in turn, fuels some great stories and coverage.

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