I love to receive emails and questions from aspiring photographers and often the questions that I get asked are very similar so I thought I would write a post that might be helpful to folk looking to find their path.
There is no right way to “start out” in photography, some start by undertaking A-Levels and a Photography degree. This is an amazing opportunity that gives you time to think about your subject area critically and develop a broad set of skills as a graduate. I used to lecture on creative degree programmes, facilitating undergraduates to realise their skills and attributes and reflect on their professional practice and how they translated this into a meaningful portfolio to start their businesses. I loved exploring their values and motivations and always encouraged students to seek work experience.
When approaching this, the core of every contact to a potential employer needs to start by focusing on what you love about their work and business enough to reach out and contact them. You have to put yourself in their shoes, they get inundated with requests for experience and all to often these emails focus on what that person wants to get out of it ‘get some images or case studies to build their portfolio, better their experience, enhance their CV’ but they forget about the WIIFM of the reader and instantly sabotage any chance of work experience. What is WIIFM I hear you cry? ‘What’s in it for me?’ Think about what is in it for the person reading your email? Are they really interested in giving away an opportunity to shoot when they have worked tirelessly and relentlessly to grow and establish a business, just so you can get some images for your portfolio? No, of course not! The contacts that are most likely to be successful are the ones that put genuine thought into an email, spent time looking at their website and weaved what interests them about the business they are contacting. Otherwise, there is a risk of eyeball rolling, not another self-centred approach for work experience…..contrary to what McFly sing, its not ‘all about you’ when it comes to the world of gaining experience and building meaningful connections with more established businesses in your sector of fascination.
If I reflect on my own path, I started out, over half my lifetime ago, way back when I was 15, developing 35mm film in a newsagents whilst I was at school. This grounded my understanding of photography and I got amazing staff rates on my film development and a free film every time, so I just kept clicking!! The sea has always been a big inspiration for me and I was always out with my camera when I was growing up in Ramsgate. There is something about the openness and the dynamic nature of the swash and backwash that calms the soul!
I trotted off to the University of Sheffield and immersed myself in a Geography degree. I was fascinated by the connections of people and place and our interactions on this beautiful planet. I photographed my way through uni, documenting the world around me realising that my photography obsession allowed me to capture and interpret the world around us, that very world that I was studying during my degree.
When I graduated I treated myself to a high spec (well it was then!) compact camera and carried it with me everywhere and loved the 16 shots in a frame feature.
I quickly realised that I wanted a dSLR and bought a Nikon D60 which really allowed me to explore settings and get to grips with reading light and exposing images.
I quickly outgrew this and whilst I was doing my teaching qualification in 2009, I took the plunge and bought my first Nikon D700. I was in awe of it. We had our beach hut at West Bay and one of the first pictures I took was of my brother after sunset.
Since then, I knew I wanted to photograph people, capturing those special moments in life. So, my best advice to people would be to keep shooting, reviewing, reading, learning, reflecting and growing. I have invested a lot of time in training so that the money invested in lovely kit was put to good use. I can’t recommend courses at Photography Farm highly enough. In 2013, I attended the three day residential course that was an amazing experience looking at every part of my photography business, challenging me to develop. Every year, Lisa Devlin runs a week of inspiring and rather epic courses at Farm Week. Some of the worlds best photographers run courses in a quirky farm, also a recording studio where the likes of Queen and Pearl Jam laid down classic tracks, it really is an inspiring space. This year I attended some super workshops and here are a few instagrams from the wonderful time I spent there.
They have built a beyond useful online training resource called The Barn and is has an affordable subscription giving you access for a month. It would be that is a sound investment to help you on your path to starting out. Everything from shooting techniques to editing in Lightroom, the information is all there for you to digest. When it comes to online and branding The Blogcademy is a great resource to consider too. I read so many books and blogs relating to photography and running your own business, which constantly helps me to evolve and rise to the challenge. Every year I invest a lot in growing my skills. There is this thing with creativity, it never stands still, it is always evolving and for me it is nurtured through experiential learning. I am a learner, always committed to growing and enhancing in all areas of my business. This commitment is something that takes constant investment and finding a space, connecting, stepping away from the normal routine to push your boundaries and always being the best I can be. When it comes to weddings this regular and ongoing investment is essential, so you’re always bringing your best to every wedding you shoot.
I shoot a lot for me too. I love nature and so I am always out capturing the world around us. A sense of place inspires my in my wedding work.
In essence, your journey with photography is what you make of it and there is not fixed path to follow. For me, doing something I enjoy is a blessing and I love capturing love. There is something magical about seeing two people make such a sacred commitment to each other and it is a total privilege to be invited to capture that.