Ten Questions from a Photography Student

As I’m a lazy sod, who’s still not properly recovered from food poisoning the other day (probably shouldn’t really have gone and shot that job yesterday – should have recovered more!), I’m sort of going to let someone else do a post for me, by answering 10 questions from a photography student. Not only that, but it’s another Blackpool student, just like Rob.

These are my answers to a questionnaire set for me by Aimee Spinks at Blackpool College, part of her work/business studies unit:

1. How long have you been a freelance photographer?

16 years and counting, as of Sunday 1st February 2009. Or if you count from moving down to London – 10 1/2 years.

2. How did you get to where you are now from when you first started down the road of being a photographer?

2 years as an amateur (1991-1993),2 years work experience at local paper/working for local paper/studying GCSE and A-level photography at night school/working for myself in home town shooting bands/businesses/portraits, 3 years Degree at Blackpool, whilst also shooting commissions here and there, work experience in London 1997, took as much work experience as I could throughout the next 18 months, freelance assistant on leaving college, worked for 30 different people over 3 years, was shooting stuff for magazines within 9 months of leaving college, retired from assisting May 2001, since then shooting for myself for wide variety of national magazines and other commercial clients.

3. Have you worked in different regions of the country and what were the differences e.g. wages, competition, location, majority kind of work?

When I was working in my home town (East Midlands) my rates were very low – in keeping with the fact that I was 16-17 years old and operating out of my Parent’s outside toilet! Since then I’ve only really worked and been based in London, which is where the vast majority of people in my industry sector are based. There’s more competition down here, but that’s because this is where all the clients are. You won’t get regular work from clients in London if you’re based in Penrith.

The vast majority of work outside London is social portraiture/weddings, with a smattering of commercial/PR/low-level advertising and low-level editorial thrown in. When I left college my original plan was to move to London for a limited time, then with my top-level experience, to relocate to somewhere like Leeds or Manchester and carry on shooting interesting editorial/advertising stuff. This didn’t happen for a number of reasons, not least of which is the simple fact that there isn’t very much editorial/advertising work outside London.

As an example, a very close friend of mine is a successful commercial/advertising photographer in Manchester. He makes a good living, and runs his own studio. He is always pitching for jobs against the same people however, as there are so few snappers up there who are working at that level. Just as importantly is the fact that, with the greatest of respect, much of his work would bore my pants off as it’s fairly unexciting catalogue stuff.

4. Where has been your favourite place to work and why?

Scotland. Long associations with the place (family) and a huge affection for the country means that I always love going there. Plus the jobs I get sent on there tend to be quite interesting. Worst places would be Dubai and Jamaica, with awards ceremonies coming a close third.

5. How do you market yourself and what methods do you find the most successful and cost effective?

Word of mouth, word of mouth and word of mouth. I’ve only just recently started to make a conscious effort to tailor my portfolio and take it out to generate new clients, and it seems to be paying off well. Doing a good job, being reliable and professional will get you more repeat work than any other method, and it will get you recommended to all the client’s mates. See my post on photosmudger entitled “Where Work Comes From” for a full explanation. I have a website, a blog, and a profile on Flickr, but in their own rights they only back up what I do on the day – it’s very rare for someone to approach me cold through these mediums.

6. What type of work makes up the bulk of your clients?

Editorial work for national magazines makes up probably 85% of my work. The rest is things like book covers, commercial work direct for clients, and stock library sales.

7. Are clients more one-off or do you develop continual business from some clients?

Continual/repeat business accounts for 85% of my work. People who commission photography – particularly in the editorial world where deadlines are tight and budgets are small – are much more concerned with reliability and professionalism than outstanding creativity. Delivering work on time, on budget, on message and without extra hassles will garner you more work, guaranteed.

8. What type of clients/work prove to be the most lucrative or most worth while to take on?

In purely lucrative terms, book covers are probably the best to shoot. I do them every couple of months, and get paid more than twice my normal editorial day rate, plus the production budget is bigger. On a more subtle level, any client who keeps coming back for more year after year is lucrative, and to that end look for magazines/publications which commission a lot of photography regularly. It’s not all about the money though, and some of the jobs that pay well tend to be a little less enjoyable than some that are less “lucrative”

9. What products do most clients want; prints, digital files, transparencies etc?

I’ve never given a commercial client a print in my life – only ever dished them out to friends/models or made them up for my portfolio. When I shot film it was all tranny, and was often couriered straight to the client from the lab. Since 2004 I’ve not shot a roll of film and been paid for it, though I’d been shooting digital since mid 2002. These days 99% of my work is delivered as full resolution/minimum compression jpeg files, in Adobe 98 colour space, on DVD or CD. Sometimes these can be delivered on the day, straight off the back of the shoot, sometimes I stick them in the post, sometimes a courier calls by to collect them, and sometimes I drop them off myself as I’m in town. More and more these days I’m “delivering” via FTP, as it means no postage, and it saves the client the enormous effort of copying a disk onto their hard drive!

10. Where would you like your work to be/have taken you in 10 years time?

Not sure I’ve got an easy answer to that. I don’t have plans that are that long term – mine only extend 3-5 years, as I reckon it’s the longest I can have any focus. In a nutshell I’d say more of the same, but I’d like more jobs where I’ve got a bigger production budget, so that I don’t always have to be cutting corners on things like studios, hair and make-up and so on. I want to carry on getting paid to have adventures, meet cool people and travel all over the country (not the world, couldn’t care less about much of the rest of the world as far as travel goes!)

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