My first blog in a while. I have actually ended up having a crazy January, however for the past few days I have been so poorly which has given me time to put this blog together, slowly but surely! Something I have been meaning to do for a while as I do get frequent messages asking advice about becoming a photographer & how it all started for me. Not only that, it is actually a question I get asked a lot when I meet people in person too. So I thought, why not tell you all the full story….so here goes -
I never intended to be a photographer.
Wow. What a dramatic & powerful start to the blog! HA! But seriously, I didn’t. Even though looking back it’s obvious that it’s something I was always destined to do. I was brought up with being photographed ALL THE TIME, a very ‘lets document every moment’ sort of family . Not necessarily good photographs. My parents weren’t professional photographers or anything! Far from it! Bless my Mum, she did try. But there was never an event without a camera & I would love going with my Mum to get all our photos printed & making albums & collages of all our special times. I suppose like most people really? I don’t know. But it was something I LOVED, & this rubbed off on me & I rarely went anywhere without a camera, & I used to enjoy editing all the photos on my laptop. So it was an unofficial hobby. I’m only talking a range of compact cameras, lastly being the classic Sony Cyber-shot, so I really really never had the thought drop into my head “I want to be a photographer”! Until September 2013, & that was the first time I picked up a DSLR.
Go back in time for a moment - what I actually believed I was going to be was an actress. I was fortunate enough to get into Drama School straight from sixth form & it was here I also met Rob. We trained together for three years & it’s one of the best things I have ever done. It made me a stronger, confident person & left me with some of the greatest memories I will always cherish. & of course, it gave me Rob. I left Drama School in 2012 & tried to be an actress for a little while, although I know I didn’t ‘try’ hard enough & I know now looking back, this was because I was very torn between the kind of life that I wanted. I did a few shows & the Edinburgh Fringe whilst working in my local cinema & being a waitress in Birmingham in-between auditions. But I was morbidly unhappy - badly, & slowly coming to realise that the lifestyle wasn’t one I was prepared to have, at that point in my life anyway. I wanted money, a house & stability more than I wanted the stage. It was painful to admit it to myself, but that was the truth. Now this doesn’t mean I have now totally turned my back on acting. I love performing but the path I chose to take has lead me here instead. The last piece of theatre I did was in 2017, so I would never say never & I believe it’s something that will happen when the time is right, if it’s meant to be.
Whilst working at the restaurant in 2013 this is when I started to talk to Rob about me wanting more out of life, & it wasn’t until I was at this depressive point that I thought about photography. Hang on, I thought, I have always loved taking photos, everyone I know is an actor - I could do actors headshots? Great, we both thought! Rob had actually already done a filming course before we met at Drama School, so he had already spoken about delving back into that area, as he was pretty much in the same boat as me. So with the little money I had, I got myself a Nikon D3200. Rob switched the dial to manual & said “stay on this”. He taught me the basics about shutter speed, ISO & aperture & then that was it. I had a DSLR & I was ready to play, so that’s what I did. I put myself out there on social media promoting headshots because I knew so many actors & had a good response after doing a few practice shoots with friends. Looking back - they’re horrendous. But that’s absolutely fine. I had only picked up a camera properly the week before & you don’t just become something overnight. That’s one thing I will say to aspiring photographers. It doesn’t happen overnight, & you have to work at it everyday. However as I was still working as a waitress & torn about the acting I couldn’t put my all into the photography. But I had a voice in my head telling me that this was my path. So I needed to make a decision.
One day as I was standing in the restaurant, staring into space, I wanted the world to swallow me but it was that exact moment that I thought, the only person who can change my life is me, & there’s no time like the present. So I literally took my apron off, cried to my boss then walked out, without a plan & practically penniless. Very bad & unprofessional I know but looking back, it’s the best thing I have ever done. Not that I’m advising this to anyone on how to become a success in photography is to leave your current job! It was just something I chose to do at the time, & little did I know then, my life would make a huge change!
After I made this choice, I was scraping by with money. Refusing to concentrate on anything else other than photography. I made my own website. I was doing as many headshots as I could for little money & then for fun one day I asked two actors I knew to model as bride & groom for me to see if I would like that style! I was just experimenting & open to trying anything. I asked couples if I could photograph them together & slowly started to realise that I enjoyed photographing this dynamic.
In 2014 age 23 I put my little rucksack on & went to the photography show on my own. I was petrified. I took my camera which was dangling around my neck all day. I look back & think “bless” what did I think I was going to do with that. I think I took one picture of someone’s head in the distance & thought I’d done my piece of ‘street’ photography. But I was trying. I made a long list of all the talks I was interested in & planned out the whole three days. I stayed every day 9-5 watching & listening as much as possible. I went on my own & didn’t speak to anyone unless I felt brave enough to go up to someone on a stand & ask a question. I was embarrassed because I was a small fish in the ocean which was full of all kinds of creatures! Ha! Also I felt too young & did feel I would be looked down on for being a young girl (couldn’t feel more opposite now by the way). Basically I was Nemo! Yes, I was Nemo. But it all worked out for Nemo didn’t it ;-)
Anyway, one of the talks I went to was Kate Hopewell-Smith’s. I was incredibly inspired by her images & what she was saying. (Little did I know then that four years later I would be photographing her wedding in Croatia....). So I went home & called my Dad telling him how inspired I was, & Dad told me to call her as I mentioned she did mentoring. “No I’m too embarrassed & can’t afford it”. So my Dad called her & think gave my life story & arranged for me to meet her for a half day of mentoring.
So off I went to meet Kate, & I came away with a head full of inspiration & information but the main thing was that I hadn’t established a brand. Something I didn’t understand beforehand. I had just made a website on Squarespace & put some photos I had taken on it. So I had to sit & think about my clientele & the kind of images I wanted to produce. This is very hard to know when you have little experience. But I found Louise from The Autumn Rabbit & made a mood board which created a logo I still use now! Louise & I still work together & I have also had the pleasure of photographing her & her family! But a brand isn’t a logo. It’s everything. It’s you. And I knew I needed to put myself out there to really figure out the kind of photographer I wanted to be. The bride & groom images I did of the actors got a good response on Facebook which resulted in a friend asking me to photograph her wedding, because of this I also put a few of the photos on Gumtree. I know! It makes me cringe. But I wanted to see if I could make a living & I needed to start somewhere. Someone else I knew asked me to also do their wedding & before I knew it, a real portfolio was building! One of these weddings got featured on Rock My Wedding. When that was accepted, that was the moment I realised “ah okay. I’m doing this”. So I upgraded my camera to the Nikon D610 & I started taking loads of bookings from Gumtree. I think about fifteen weddings were booked from it in total. The first wedding I did for ‘strangers’ I thought I was going to be sick, then my memory card corrupted, luckily in the morning. So yeah - the Universe didn’t give me an easy ride for the first one. But I did it! Then I came off Gumtree as that was obviously never my long time goal. But can I just say, the weddings I booked from it are some of my favourite weddings & couples I have photographed, & without them putting their trust in me so early on I don’t know if I would be where I am now. Luckily another one of those weddings also got featured on Rock my Wedding, so quite quickly all within the space of a year I had photographed close to fifteen weddings & had been featured on an extremely prestigious wedding blog. From absolutely no experience beforehand. In between this I modelled with Rob on a few of Kate’s wedding workshops which was very interesting to see the teaching from being the other side of the lens. Because this really gave me an idea of how it feels to be photographed & gave me a greater understanding on how to approach my couples.
I very quickly realised that I wanted to specialise in weddings but also still did my headshot photography on the side & photographing families. I started to build relationships with other suppliers & did a few styled shoots. Networking is really important when just starting out as word of mouth doesn’t just come from your clients, it comes from the people you also meet in the industry. Plus it’s great to have friends who work in the same field! If I ever wanted to learn something I would watch Youtube, & I did a couple of online workshops but I mainly learnt ‘on the job’. Every day I stepped out with my camera I would learn something new, & just kept getting better & adapting my style. This brings me on to editing. This is something that I think ended up taking me two years to make perfect & I still play around with it now! I wanted to create a distinctive look so people would know they were looking at my images. So I invested in many different pre-sets. Most of which were a complete waste of money. But then I started tailoring those presets to make my own & this took a lot of time & playing. I use both Lightroom & Photoshop for my editing, also having NO experience beforehand. I remember the first time I went into Photoshop I nearly had a breakdown. But again Youtube saves the day if you need to learn fast! Finding your editing style is another big piece of advice I would give you. Trends change all the time, so you need to create something timeless but that isn’t bland or old fashioned. I have started to notice the trend for 2018/2019 is the de-saturated bronze filter effect. Which is beautiful but a very distinctive taste & will only appeal to certain couples. This would be a good thing as you would appeal to a certain audience but it’s not so good when everyone else starts doing the same! You should be thinking of something different! Don’t follow the crowd - create your own vibe.
I went off tangent there but I had to mention it as it is an important part of being a photographer. I spend more time editing than I do taking photos to be honest! Which brings me on to the last four years in general. The last four years my business has grown rapidly & I suppose I just naturally fell into weddings. Because I didn’t have to think about it too much it was a very natural process for me, & all the skills I learnt at Drama school help me every day with my business. Being a wedding photographer can sometimes be a performance for certain elements, when you have to round everybody up together & keep their attention. You need to be liked, trusted, make people feel comfortable, make them laugh etc. You need to be adaptable & able to deal with many different kinds of characters! So it really has all worked out well. Also for Rob, who films weddings & is my main second shooter. We count ourselves so lucky that we can do something we love & do it together. It has also given us the ability to buy a house. Something I never thought I would do when I was standing in the restaurant staring into space!
I am so grateful that I am a full time wedding photographer as I know how saturated the wedding photography market is. But I have worked so hard & continue to do so everyday. It’s pretty much all I think about. I still have days now when I look at my work & think “what the hell did you do that for”, “how did you miss that?”, “I’m not good enough - I quit”. But once I peel myself away & stop beating myself up & comparing. I take pride, but also think, that’s okay, next time I’ll be better, & the time after that I’ll be better than that. I believe that is the key to success. As you will always expand & grow & change with the times. I’m open to constantly learning new things & being inspired by incredible photographers every day. Unfortunately you do get some who are incredibly arrogant & think their way is the only way, & that’s fine - they will just eventually get lost in a sea of talented, humble photographers & if you are stuck in your ways unfortunately you’ll get lost. That’s why you should NEVER EVER settle. And I NEVER EVER will. Even if it gives me sleepless nights & anxiety attacks! Seriously! I mean it’s funny but also not. It’s cause I care. But being a photographer is so much more than taking photographs, & this is the main thing I have learnt over the past four years. You have to have extremely good people skills, camera skills, editing skills & be prepared to really run a business. This is where I really struggled last year as it was my busiest year yet & I got extremely overwhelmed & run down doing everything myself. So you do have to take the rough with the smooth at the beginning.
I also took a big risk last year which made me a champion of the ‘never settle’ team, as I completely jumped ship from Nikon to Sony, in the middle of wedding season, two days before a wedding & one week before Kate’s wedding in Croatia. Best thing I’ve ever done by the way. So I will say again - never settle & keep taking risks. You can read more about my jump here.
I have also been fortunate enough to to be featured in magazines & wedding blogs which really helps get your name out there & builds a reputation. Although I will always stand by the fact that word of mouth is the most powerful recommendation & where most of my work comes from.
My dream from the beginning of my wedding journey has always been to end up photographing destination weddings, so I am very grateful that I have already had the privilege of photographing on the Amalfi Coast, Mallorca & Croatia. Next year I will be in France & Croatia again, & the year after - Santorini! As I have mentioned one of the destination weddings was Kate’s! So I feel as though I am proof that with a little hard work & determination dreams can come true & you really never know what’s going to happen. So never say never!
As said previously. The headshots became secondary to weddings as I was establishing myself, plus because I didn’t have the best location, I didn’t really want to put my all into being full time shooting under a tunnel! But after a very intense year, I learnt a lot about where I want to be over the next few years, so I made the decision to invest in my own studio which I opened in January this year (2019). I want to be more bespoke with weddings eventually & do more portrait style shoots. It’s made me happier than ever & has really truly changed my life. You can see the other side of my business by visiting here.
I never could’ve imagined this is where I would end up & having my own studio is something I really used to dream about. I still have such a long way to go & there’s still so much I want to do. But I believe that I can & I will, especially with all I have achieved so far. I will come back & read this blog whenever I have my days of feeling like I am not good enough, to remind myself that anything can be achieved if you put your mind to it.
I would love to know if this has helped or inspired you in any way. Or it may have just given you more of an insight into me & my journey. It has possibly surprised some who may think that I studied photography at college or did a course to gain qualifications. But that isn’t the key to becoming successful. Nothing is ever guaranteed if you do something or make a certain decision. Above all, it’s passion & dedication.
Thank you as always for reading.