It ain’t all about the money…

Now don’t get me wrong, money is important. I need it, I do like it and if I didn’t have it I would be living on the street. Thats a given, but, when I gave up my Full time job which paid a good salary, had holiday pay, bonuses and sick pay, I didn’t do it with money on my mind.

I often get asked from people about when and why I made the transition from being a part time photographer in full time employment, to being a fully fledge self employed photographer.

I guess looking back now, the why I did it is entirely different to the why I love it now. I’ve said this before on my live feeds, my Vlogs and in my workshop that I earn less money now than when I was 19 years old in my first management post. But you know what, I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I get to take my kids to school everyday, I virtually work whenever I want, I spend more time with my wife than I’ve ever been able to and I do a job I love. And you would have heard that old saying… “Do a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

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That is true, sometimes, but don’t get me wrong. Being a photographer is an extremely tough job to do full time. I’ll get back to that point soon.

 

So the reason I made the jump from being a full time retail manager to being a self employed photographer was very simple. If I didn’t do it when I did, I never would have. I would have spent the rest of my life thinking “What if” and at the age of 27 I did not want that sort of regret hanging over me for the rest of my life. I’d been running my photography business for 6 years alongside working as a Branch Manager and a Retail Manager responsible for several Millions of pounds in sales. Working 60-70 hours a week, then coming home and editing, shooting weddings and meeting clients. It’s fair to say that at this point I was an awful husband and a non existent father. Looking back, I’m ashamed. But at the time, I thought this is what I had to do. I had to earn £30k a year, I had to provide, I had to be the bread winner. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

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As I said above, the reasons why I enjoy being self employed now have totally changed. At first it was the novelty, the pride, the boastfulness almost that yes, in fact I am a photographer. No longer would I tell people that I was a photographer with a full time job as well. That novelty very quickly wore off and the shine soon went when I realised that actually although I have this novelty, I STILL have to provide for my family.

Now in this instance I was very very lucky to have such a supportive father who sat me down when I made the decision and said, “Here is a pool of money, when its gone, its gone. Draw from it what you need to help you get to where you need to be.”

Without that financial backing, I would not have been able to survive and within 6 months I would have had to get back into full time employment to support my family.

 

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When that novelty of being a “pro” wore off, and that money quickly dwindled month after month, I realised that this was not easy. At times it was not fun. I went from month the month seriously worrying about how I would pay my bills.

Planning became an essential part of my business, when it had never needed to be before. In the previous 4 years of running my business, it didn’t really matter if I was earning a lot, or anything at all, because I had my salary to fall back onto. I spent days at a time, with the help of my father once again, writing plans and bringing it back to the simplest form to understand what I had to do in order to earn £x for my salary. I still follow this model and it looks something very similar to this;

 

If I do the following, I can pay my bills, live relatively comfortably and shoot what I want when I want outside of these jobs;

 

  • Take two wedding bookings per month
  • Shoot two weddings per month
  • Run one full day workshop
  • Run one studio creative night
  • Shoot one commercial headshot session
  • Shoot one family portrait

Within those 6 things, I could generate enough revenue to cover my studio rent, my bills, my mortgage and have some disposable income left. If I did anything over and above these things, it was a bonus.

Now the reason I planned this way was very simple, it became easy to figure out that If I didn’t have a wedding the next month, I had to replace it with something of equal value. Whether that be shooting two commercial headshot sessions, or whatever, it became much simpler to figure out where the money needed to come from.

So what does being self employed mean to me now? Why is it important to me and what has changed.

Well as I said before, I see my kids now more than I ever have. Sometimes they’re little buggers and it seems as though I see too much of them, but most of the time they’re awesome little humans. My relationship with my wife is the best it has ever been. We’ve been together more than 10 years and we are still madly in love. So being able to spend her days off with her, rather than seeing each other twice a month when our days off coincided is a huge bonus.

Thinking time, personal development, growth, whatever the hell you want to call it has enabled me to improve my abilities without comparison. If I was still in the day job, I would not have been able to push my self to learn new skills and techniques, to make the connections I have made and really push my brand as I needed to. It’s a little bit like the speculate to accumulate model. I speculated not with cash but with time, time to push myself and develop myself. I think this has definitely paid off.

I now work in different parts of the market I never even touched while working full time, and have managed to shoot some jobs I never thought imaginable. That part is down to taking the time to make brilliant relationships with the right people.

 

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This blog isn’t intended to say, “Look if I can do it you can too” because everyone has entirely different circumstances, bills to pay, families etc. What I would say though is that if you’re thinking about it, what is stopping you?

If it is money, use something simple like my model above to see what exactly do you need to shoot to cover what you need to earn. Figure that out, then figure out what do you need to do to get that.

I can honestly say this is the best thing I’ve ever done. Don’t get me wrong, its not all plain sailing and even now, this month I’ve had a big job cancel at a days notice and three jobs not pay on time which has left me with a massive cash flow problem. That sort of shit does happen, and its how you react that will help you stay afloat.

If you want to work as a full time photographer I think there are a few things you need;

  • A strong support network of people who believe in you
  • To surround yourself with likeminded creatives
  • The drive to push on when things get tough
  • To not be afraid to ask for help

That last one, I’m not good at. I never have been, even when I was in employment my Superiors would always feed that back.

I’ve still got a long way to go, I’m still learning, but what a journey to be learning on!

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Commercial Photographer Newcastle

 

 

 

Nobody told me….

This blog is potentially going to do 1 of 3 things. Offend you, give you a lightbulb moment or do absolutely nothing at all.

I see a lot of photographers, but more so models, asking for payment for their work, and a lot of the time they aren’t worthy of the price they’re asking for. Sometimes they aren’t worthy of the payment at all.

Now I’m not writing this to insult those who do this, there are loads of excellent models and photographers who charge and rightly so. But for some reason, especially it seems in the North East, I see tens of models, brand new to the industry, with relatively poor portfolios saying they want paid for work at rates generally as high if not higher than some of the well respected pro models on the circuit.

For me there is a two fold issue here.

The first issue being models think that they can do this and people will pay them, and no one educated them for the risk of insulting them and them having a hissy fit and being all defensive. I have seen this happen and it ain’t pretty!

The second issue is that photographers, usually those with poor portfolios themselves, are willing to pay them. Now I’m not going to go into the reasons why they do this, I think its pretty obvious to most in the industry, particularly when you take a look at the photographers style of work. Enough said.

 

So where is the temperature check, where is the guidance, where is the reality more than anything else? I chat with a lot of photographers about this issue and often share the surprise when you see models who’ve been on the circuit for all of 5 minutes looking for only paid work.

Why isn’t anyone telling them their work is poor and doesn’t warrant payment, and back to that age old issue, why don’t any of these models invest and pay a good photographer to get a strong portfolio? It really baffles my mind. When in fact what would be more beneficial to the models is working with credible photographers, learning how to pose, how to use their face and how to show emotion. Generally just how to model!

Photographers are too scared to give feedback to models in this instance for its far too easy to be made out as the bad guy in these situations, when in fact you’re trying to do them a favour. I have done this, and I have fed back to models about their price and some have taken it exceptionally well. One recent model I worked with who only recently left an agency was unsure of how to price herself, I gave her some realistic feedback on her prices and she thanked me for helping her not look stupid when quoting her prices. But I have also told models, who approached me asking for paid work, that their portfolio didn’t warrant being paid for and that I wouldn’t work with them because of the photographers they’d worked with and the style they’d shot.

That didn’t go down so well.

I really don’t know what the right answer is to this, let’ not call it an issue, but behaviour that I see more and more. Some won’t see it as a problem, but I’m seeing more and more photographers get frustrated by it.

I think until there is some sort of set pricing, or way of working this will always be the case, very similarly to photographers charging from the moment they buy their first camera!

Somethings may never change in this industry….

 

Commercial Photographer Newcastle

 

A Roadmap to success in photography….

Let me start by saying if you clicked on a link to this blog hoping to find all of the secrets of how to be a rockstar photographer, you’re gonna be sadly disappointed.

When you think of successful photographers, who do you think of..?

For me (being a wedding, fashion and portrait photographer) its people like Lara Jade, Sue Bryce and Lindsay Adler.

Perhaps the more important question is to ask, what makes a successful photographer?

And then even more importantly, who is that photographer successful to?

I know it feels like I’m diving a few levels on this like Leo and his crew on Inception, but bare with me on this, as it may just help you as a photographer.

 

The dictionary defines “success” as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

I like that definition. What I don’t like is that others can define an individuals success without even knowing their aim or purpose. That is beside the point of this blog, but it begs a few questions.

 

I often get asked from photographers who are at the start of their photography journey (there is a reason I used the word journey) how to be a successful photographer. First of all I usually ask them why they’re asking me, do they perceive or view me as successful. If we go by the definition of success above, that really can’t be the case.

 

I then ask them “What does success look like to you? where do you want to be and what do you want to do?”

Being a successful photographer can mean a multitude of different things to someone starting their journey,  or even someone who is on their way.

The first and foremost thing to do is to take away any worries, thoughts, feelings that your success or perceived success needs to be judged by anyone but yourself. That is a really important step. How can anyone else say that you are, or, are not successful if they don’t know what your goal is.

The second and probably most important thing to do is sit down, shut up, get a pen and paper and make a list of what success looks like for you. Decide on the final destination you’d like to be at (not like the films!!!), decide how long you’d like to take for your journey and then decide if that route doesn’t happen to work out, where is the alternative. You need a Roadmap or Satnav for your joinery.

There is no way on earth you can possibly know when you’re successful if you haven’t decided on what successful is.

No one but you can decide what your success looks like, it might be earning the same as your old day job, it might be getting published in magazines, it might be retiring early, hell it might be none of those. BUT, it needs to be something. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to get there.

 

I know this Blog is full of cliche’s about reaching your goals, but this is one of the few times that I will bleat on about one single point because it’s something that I am extremely passionate about.

In my eyes, I am not a successful photographer because I have not reached my end goal. I am on course, I have hit some of the markers and I am on the time limit I set. But I am still not there yet. To be fair, I’d love to see a photographer who thinks they are there….

If you’ve ever watched my YouTube channel and one of my Vlogs you would have heard me talking about my “Bucket List”. This bucket list is my roadmap. It details all of my business targets/goals/outcomes as well as my personal ones. They go hand in hand. If I am successful in my photography career, it will help me achieve my personal and family goals too. That is something I learned all too late in my previous career in retail management and Im extremely determined not to make that mistake again.

I can’t speak for any of you on what you should plan and how your business and personal life should link together, but, (and I say this on every workshop I run) I earn less money now than I ever have. But, I am happy, I get to take my kids to school every day, I work when I want and I do a job that I love. That is worth more than its weight in gold to me.

Commercial Photographer Newcastle

 

 

The Self Appreciation Society…

Ok, no doubt there is a society in the name of Self Appreciation- this is no link to them!

I read, and participated in, an interesting thread this week on a photography group on Facebook. It was mainly discussing whether being published in Magazines actually does anything for a photographers business. Cash generation was the main query that people were talking about.

It’s an interesting debate, which links into a blog I wrote recently; Staying Motivated in a Creative Industry.

I’m not going to speak on behalf of anyone else here, but purely give my opinion and feelings on this.

Celebrating success is a hugely important thing for me. Photography, as life, can be at times very lonely, very frustrating and can drive self doubt without justification. As photographers, we constantly look for the approval of other photographers, creatives and ‘Jo Public’ too, thats why we upload to Forums, Groups, Instagram, Facebook etc- we just want our work to be appreciated. When in fact there are only two people who’s opinions matter; You and Your client. If you client is happy- job done. If you’re shooting for yourself (again refer back to my previous blog post) then shoot for yourself and no one else. If you’re happy with what you produce- tell the world. Say it out loud .. “I love this image!!!”

Hell I’ve got a studio full of my favourite images which have been framed and hung on the wall. Yes my clients will see them when they’re at my studio- but they are there for me. For me to look at and think, I did that. I made that great image possible.

Don’t get me wrong- these types of images are few and far between. But I liken it to playing Golf (and I am shite at Golf but), every now and again you hit a drive that just feels right, as soon as you hit it you know its flying straight and going the distance towards the flag. Everything felt right. I feel this as a photographer, during a shoot I will capture an image at 1/200 and think THAT was it, all of the planning, effort and work that has gone into the shoot and THAT was the shot I wanted. I usually get quite giddy at this point and inform the rest of the team that THAT was it. Then, being quite pleased with myself, I finish the shoot knowing that if I don’t take another good image on the shoot, I still have THAT image. After the shoot, when I am able to (having waited for it to be published or released) I share the shit out of THAT image. If it gets lots of likes and comments- great- but really I don’t care. I just want people to see THAT image.

Please don’t confused this with blowing my own trumpet…. well it is really. But so what- If I don’t enjoy what I do and what the result is, why the hell am I doing it?

I want my name out there, I want to be published more because I know that it adds credibility when Im pitching to clients, it gives me motive to continue to shoot creatively and it gives me a platform to grow my skills even further.

I’ll rewind 13 months so when I set myself a personal target of being published in a Magazine. I didn’t really care which magazine it was, I just wanted to say that I had been published.

Bringing it right back to May 2016, I have had four front covers of Magazines, had eight editorial shoots featured in both UK and US publications, had an article in a photography magazine, an image in an International photography magazine and had my images used for advertising in both business and lifestyle magazines.

Am I proud?

Fuck Yeah. (Sorry for the swearing Mam)

“So What?” Someone asks in the conversation, “What has that done for you?”

Well for my self esteem and motivation. Shit Loads (Sorry again Mam)

For my business? Enough to make it worth while.

 

I’ve deviated a little from what I wanted to say, and I have to admit, having the kids watch Spongebob Squarepants as I write this has helped me constantly lose my thought trail. Hopefully the reasoning behind the post comes through.

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Part of an 8 page spread in Surreal Beauty Junior Magazine

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Me, looking very pleased with myself.

 

Commercial Photographer Newcastle

 

Staying Motivated in a Creative Industry – Part 1

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As a photographer, or any creative person in general, we can find inspiration in all sorts of different places. It could be the way that shadows fall through imperfect glass panes, the direction of the wind on new spring leaves, or even the motion of a cement mixers drum forever spinning around.

But.

What happens when that inspiration dries up and you struggle to find your next project or you lack the drive to pursue something different?

I’ve seen several photographers I know post about the “lack of inspiration/motivation” over the last few days on various forums and social media, even finding myself doubting my creativity on certain types of shoots. It’s a tough subject to talk about at times; you can’t mention to your clients because they’d soon lose confidence. You can seek advice from your peers, but, you may be worried about what they think of you. You can speak to your family and friends but they might just fob you off with the old “Your work is great, keep doing what you’re doing” line….

 

I certainly can’t speak for the industry, a group of professionals (or amateurs for that matter) but I can speak for myself and what I try to do to keep my creative juices flowing. Is it guaranteed to get my mojo back when I’m feeling that I’ve ran out of steam; absolutely not. However, it does help me get back into the mindset that actually I am capable of creating, I am capable of designing a shoot from the smallest details and I am capable of delivering some great images. OMG – did you see what I said there- I actually praised myself. I know… It’s not something you often see a photographer do. Certainly not that I see anyway. But that is my first step to keeping my motivation- Celebrating success.

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Remember that time…

I’m often a victim of the photography industry as a whole. Seeking the approval of my peers, angling for Instagram likes and comments, trying to be recognised by the photographers I associate with as having “made it”.

But actually, when it comes down to brass tacks;

It. Means. Nothing.

 

There are two types of shoots (for me anyway); those for clients and those for me.

If I’m shooting for a client, whether it be a wedding, a portrait session, corporate headshot; I’m not looking to please myself. I’m not looking to please other photographers. I’m looking to supply a product that my client loves. There are times of shot weddings and thought that I haven’t delivered the type of images that have seen me use my creativity to the level I’m capable of. But, the client loved the images – That is the goal! Celebrate these successes! I have a little notebook of printouts of feedback from my clients that I keep under my desk, so that when I’m feeling as though I haven’t produced or haven’t pushed myself enough, I can read it and see that actually I have delivered what those clients wanted.

I’ll talk about Shooting for me in a little while.

Using a bucket list/check list/job list- whatever you want to call it. In the summer of 2015 I made a bucket list of what I wanted to achieve personally (with my family and kids) and what I wanted to achieve in my business. I must admit, I was rather conservative in what I was aiming for with my business. I simply wanted to get my name out there more for commercial and fashion work. One of the main aims I had was to be published in one Magazine. Tick. I had images published in more than 20 magazines in the  last 6 months of 2015. Now don’t mistake this for a boast. It isn’t, it’s simply my recognition of myself of what I have achieved. You know what? I am incredibly proud of myself for this.

There are lots of other little items on my bucket list too which when ticked out, give me a massive sense of achievement and help me measure my progress and momentum of continuous growth and development.

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Forget about the little things…

One of the greatest bits of advice my Dad ever gave me was when I was about 7 years old. I remember it quite vividly. I was sitting in the car and we had just got a McDonald’s to eat. I complained that there was a Gurken and Onions which I didn’t like. He looked at me in his rearview mirror and said

“Chris, it’s like Shit. It stinks”

And that was it. It has taken me until the ripe old age of 29 to finally embrace that bit of advice and move beyond the little issues, problems and complaints in life.

So what if someone copies a concept of mine.

So what if someone tries to steal my clients or my creative team.

So what, so what, so what…

As soon as I started worrying about the little things less, my life became a lot happier and I found it much easier to stay creative and in a positive mindset.

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Shooting for me…

The single most common bit of advice I give to any photographer who asks how I am where I am is very simple. I shoot for me. I shoot what I want to shoot at least 2-3 times per month. This helps me to practice new techniques, try new themes, develop new working relationships with people in order to help my creativity thrive.

I’ve been extremely lucky to meet and work with some amazing people such as my regular hair stylist Steph and Makeup Artist Rachel. Together we shoot very often, across lots of different themes and types of shoot with the aim of constantly pushing ourselves, constantly looking to get our work published and constantly looking to do the next big thing.

If you’re constantly shooting for clients, while it may be a job you love, it can become difficult to try new things and really get that thrill from doing something new for the first time. Set yourself time, whether it be a day a week or a day a month to shoot totally for yourself. Use tools such as Pinterest to plan what you’re going to do, give yourself time to research if you need to and surround yourself with likeminded people who also want to do something for themselves.

Try it for a few months, and come back and tell me if you feel better- I can hand on heart say this is one of my most important things in my profession to stay sane, stay creative and stay motivated.

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Have an inspiration in the industry…

This one is simple. Look up to someone- admire their work. Don’t be afraid to try and mimic it or create something similar. It’s a great way to learn. I admire a lot of photographers, and as my style has changed and grown, I admire them for different reasons.

Make contact with them- the wonderful thing about social media these days is that the world is so small. It is so easy to talk to your influences and inspiration, ask them advice, ask them how they did it. Most creatives are more than willing to share their secrets.

 

As I sit in Starbucks writing this, I realise there is so much more I could talk about. But I will keep that for a second part of this discussion in a few weeks time.

Thanks for reading, and I hope that you’ve found even the smallest amount of use from this.