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Where Work Comes From

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, but was prompted by some recent questions at talks I’ve given, plus a post on the Pro/Semi-pro forum on Flickr. Here, in spider diagram form is where my work comes from:

Where work comes from

Clicking on it should take you to the Flickr page where you can download or view a larger version so it’s a bit clearer. The key is:

  1. Black for starting points
  2. Red for photographers I assisted
  3. Green for people who may not have employed me directly but were instrumental in getting me work
  4. And Blue is for clients – usually magazines.

First, a few basic principles:

  1. This is a simplified version – I have deliberately only included my main sources of income, rather than clients I’ve only worked for once or twice, or photographers who I assisted for just one day. If I’d shown you everything it’d be hugely complicated.
  2. In my descriptions below I’ve kept things to a bare minimum, again to keep things simple. To this end you may wonder how in some cases I was able to move from one place to another, but all will be explained at the end.

Now, a fuller explanation. Let’s take each starting point in turn.

1. Aop Work Experience. Organised for me whilst I was in my 2nd year at college, and involved coming down to London for a week to get work experience with some Advertising and fashion photographers. One of them was Jonathan Root, who I worked with for 2 days, and then never heard from again. The other was Zanna, who I worked with for 2 days, stayed in touch with, came to visit and work with again several times throughout my final year, then when I left college started assisting on a freelance basis almost straight away.

Through her assistant, Ross (I was 2nd assistant at this time), I later got work with a photographer called Wolfgang, and through him I met the girls at Maxim. I went in to see them with my portfolio not long after I stopped assisting, and expected to hear nothing back, as my work wasn’t up to scratch in those days. 2 days later, Marco, the art director at Men’s fitness (same publishing company, Dennis, and their desks are about 10 metres apart) called with a shoot for me. That was September 2001, and I’m still working for Men’s fitness now. Through Marco I got to know the deputy editor, Andy Dixon, and a while back he left to become editor of Runner’s World, the publishing company of which then launched Triathete’s world, both of which I shoot for, and funnily enough Marco is currently the art director on T.W.

Going back to Zanna, one of her regular clients, and mates, was Deirdre Callaghan. Deirdre was very good mates with a commercials director/creative director/art director called Graham Fink, who I worked for both as an assistant, and then later as a photographer once he’d started his own company. I met Paul Myatt through him, with whom I did quite a lot of assisting work as well.

Back to the Dennis publishing line (Maxim/MF) – after a quiet beginning I started to get regular work from Maxim itself, mostly portrait and feature work, which continues to this day. Through being known at Dennis publishing, I started shooting events and other odd jobs for them – things like awards do’s and so on. It was at one of these that I met the staff of a new gambling magazine – Inside Edge (now Inside Poker), and after shooting their launch party, started shooting portraits for them. About a year later, Dennis launched Poker Player, and I was asked to do more of the same for them as well.

Backtracking slightly, through Wolfgang, I met and worked with Sam Riley, who was art director at a magazine called “Later”. As you’ll find out in a bit, I’d already shot for them, but I got a couple of last jobs with them, from Sam, just before they folded.

2. Howard. Howard was in the year above me at college, and in October of my first year in London (1998) he called to ask if I could come along as second assistant to a bloke called Iain McKell. Along I went, and worked for Iain on and off for about 9 months. Whilst working for him I met Jo Miller, who at the time was the picture editor on Maxim, and she gave me a few little shoots of my own to do for the magazine, so I ended up working for Maxim even before I was working for them, if you see what I mean.

Through Howard I also met Laura Knox. Another friend of mine from Howard’s year at college had been her assistant, but was “graduating”, and I went along to do a day’s work with her fairly early on in my career. We spent most of that day giggling like idiots, something which has continued to this day, as she’s still a good mate, despite not having worked for her since about 2001. Laura shared an office with 2 other photographers, Julia and Ed, both of whom I ended up assisting fairly regularly.

Off the back of Iain McKell I met Steve Read. Steve was an Art Director who was now trying his hand at photography, and he knew Iain from comissioning him for “Loaded” magazine. he asked Iain if he knew any good assistants, Howard wasn’t available on the day in question, and along I went in his stead. I worked for Steve for about 9 months, and can’t repeat much of what we got up to, as I’d get us both in trouble! Within a short time Steve had me shooting small jobs for the “special project” magazine he was working on called “Later”. That’s how I got my first work published in a national magazine! He left for LA in the summer of 1999, but his deputy (Kate) at the magazine kept using me for small jobs here and there on Later, and then when she moved to go to the Independent on Sunday I carried on shooting for her, and it was this work which allowed me to graduate out of assisting. Through Later I also scored a fairly large shoot for Loaded fashion magazine, on the basis of Steve praising my “technical skills” to anyone who would listen. After Kate left, my work with “Later” dried up a bit, until I met Sam Riley, as mentioned above, and the circle was rounded off.

3. Carol Rogerson. Carol was engaged to a very good friend of mine at college, and had always been an Art Director, initially on small circulation magazines in Manchester. When we all headed down to London she started working for Slimming magazine, and initially gave lots of work to her Fiance. Eventually work commitments meant that he couldn’t keep doing it, and I started filling in for him on a regular basis. I shot for slimming for about 2 1/2 years – mostly portraits and features. It was on one of these features that I met a freelance journalist called Mike Harris, over Christmas in 2003. 6 months later I got a phone call saying “Hi, it’s Mike here, I’m editing a golf magazine now, and I need a snapper”. Despite never having been near a golf club (in both senses of the term) in my life, I did a shoot for him, for the short-lived “Total Golf” magazine, and it started an avalanche of work that continues to this day. From “Total” I followed Mike to “Golf Monthly”, and it’s sister (pardon the pun) title, “Women and Golf”. Those 3 have made up roughly 25-30% of my work since mid-2004.

4. The BIPP. I passed the BIPP’s PQE (Professional Qualifying Exam) at the end of my college course, which entitled me to automatic status as an Associate of the British Institute of Professional Photographers. This included being listed on their website, with it’s very efficient “find a photographer” search engine. This alone used to bring in about £1500 – £2000 a year in PR and small scale commercial work. The vast majority of this was one-off clients who just wanted a quick “grip and grin”. However, a company called Words and Pictures, who produce in-house magazines for companies like AIG, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Asda, found me through this site in mid 2004, and I shot tonnes of stuff for them up until early last year. I also shot quite a bit for PWC directly, as I’d built up a relationship with their own people besides those at W+P.

So, what does all this tell us, other than that I appear to be a jammy sod?

Well, first off, it doesn’t even say that really. If you look at all my “lucky breaks” (meeting Steve Read, Wolfgang and so on) they didn’t come about randomly. I was already in a position where I could not only take advantage of such opportunities, but in such a place where the opportunities actually existed. To make it really clear, imagine if I’d ducked out of moving down to London at the end of College, and had instead set up in the Midlands. I would never have met any of these people, or had any of these “lucky breaks”. It’s because I moved down to London, and put up with the miserable wages, the long stretches without work, no social life, no new clothes or holidays, that I was not only presented with these opportunities, but could exploit them when they appeared.

What amazes me sometimes with the people I encounter, and I’m talking here about Students, Work Experience folk and assistants, is how often they don’t see what’s in front of their eyes. When I was offered the work experience from the AoP in my 2nd year at college, it was just that – offered. It wasn’t forced upon me, and about half my year at the time didn’t bother to apply for it. It was through staying in close touch with Zanna that I was able to secure freelance assisting work as soon as I moved to London, and because I’d not stayed in touch with Jonathan Root, that door was slightly closed to me. These days, as someone who gets regular emails from people asking for work experience, and tries to use them wherever possible, I’m stunned at how few don’t make the minimal effort required to stay in touch. If you don’t enter the competition, you can hardly expect to win can you?

Further along this line of reasoning is “why did I keep getting given these opportunities, and not the next guy?” Beyond the simple fact of being there, was the fact that I worked bloody hard, and was always keen, despite some incredibly long hours and tough conditions. Probably the hardest ever point was a shoot with Zanna for Vogue, back in December 1998. We spent roughly 3 days one week building sets and suchlike, all day Sunday pre-lighting and setting up, then 3 days of 15 hours each actually shooting the fashion story, followed by a half day on Thursday to break the set. For this I was paid for the shoot days, at a rate of £35 a day, with a £50 concession thrown in for the other days. This was probably the toughest it got, but there have been many contenders for the prize!

My point is that it’s very competitive out there, and whilst it’s not necessarily a case of whoever’s still standing when the music stops gets the work, it’s not a million miles away. There were far better photographers than me in my year at college (graduating 10 years ago) who are now not shooting. Whilst there will inevitably be lots of reasons for this in each individual case, I can think of a few who simply fell by the wayside when things didn’t go their way or got tough.

Moving past assisting, I believe the main reason I kept getting work after nudging my foot in the door, was that I was a safe pair of hands. I’m on time, my gear works, I understand and can interpret briefs, I don’t get lost easily, I don’t spend the entire shoot chatting up the model or Make-Up Artist, I can handle celebrities without wetting myself and so on. Most art directors would love to employ the best photographers on the planet every day, but they simply can’t afford to, and the next best thing is someone like me who gets the job done with very little hassle.

I also can’t ignore the work that came in from the BIPP website, and I include it here to make the point that you should always have a “professional presence” so that potential clients have somewhere to look at your work and some way to contact you. In the case of lots of PR and basic commercial work, it’s usually enough for a client to look at a few images and be content that you can handle the job. I’ve stopped doing all this sort of work over the past couple of years, as frankly it bores the living crap out of me, but it’s possible to make a very good living out of it with very little effort if it floats your boat. Whatever line of work you choose, making sure your website works and is up to date, having business cards about your person, and generally being amenable and pleasant to get along with will serve you pretty well for a very long time.

So there you are, some very big secrets about how to actually get work as a photographer. Despite the fact that this post has dragged on for ages, it really is the heavily edited version – the world’s not ready for the full story just yet…….

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    • Photosmudger

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