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Ask ten photographers: What do you wish you'd known when you started out ?
Ask ten photographers a question and get ten different answers. We asked a selection of EPUK members what they’d wish they’d known when they entered the industry.
8 November 2007
I wish I had known that agencies were the future.
Whilst at college I’d have regular discussions over a glass or two
Curtis, on the other hand, thought that the wire agencies would come through on top, and so we both went along our separate paths, him to the Press Association, me to the Independent.
Ten years later, I’m freelancing and Ben is running the Middle East desk for Associated Press; there are hardly any staff photographers left on the national papers and wire agency pictures run throughout all of the papers, where before they only got used on international stories or where the paper had no coverage.
I still think the future is in black and white though!
After graduating from Sheffield College with an NCTJ in Photojournalism in 1997, Jason Bye worked shifts for AFP, PA and Reuters in London before moving back to Norwich to work for a range of editorial and commercial clients. At night, he dreams of Tri-X.
What do I wish I’d known when I started out? Well the decent rates of pay in Sainsbury’s would have been interesting, or perhaps the holiday benefits at M&S.
But seriously? That our business is tough. You go to college and come out with some concept of composition but that’s about it. There are no jobs, there is no formal career structure, and nothing to help you along after you leave. You construct your own career ladder, without instructions.
And if that isn’t hard enough, you also have to manage your own business: invoices, chasing money, tax returns, company identity, marketing, it’s all part of everyday life for photographers. They don’t teach that at college.
I soon got my act together and enrolled myself on a business course. There are loads of free government ones available, and mine was fantastic. After ten weeks I emerged with a business plan strong enough to borrow £5000 from the bank and there my business started.
I’ve been going for 16 years now and doing quite well. I love what I do as every day is new. The learning curve is continuous. My recent swap to digital for instance has been interesting and such great fun.
So what do I wish I’d have known when I started out? Well, that you never know everything, but that trying to learn is half the fun.
Helen Stone has been a freelance for the last sixteen years, excepting a short time off for maternity leave. She doesn’t think she would have fitted in at Sainsbury’s anyway.
That keeping the can of compressed air, the can of WD-40 and the can of spray mount on the same shelf wasn’t such a great idea.
Nick McGowan-Lowe has been making Chief Executives and factories look more interesting than they are in real life for over a decade. In that time, he’s learnt that cleaning glue off a sensor is trickier than you’d think. His clippings book is surprisingly oily.
As a young photographer my market knowledge was appalling. I knew that newspapers and magazines existed but I was convinced that the best way to get noticed was to work cheap. It didn’t work. Several magazines were happy enough to pay me bugger all for a few jobs and then, when I put up my prices, they dropped me. I learned quickly. I was only that naïve for a month or two and then I realised that there was a better way…charge the right amount from day one!
At the same time I was given a brilliant piece of advice: “Cut your teeth on less well known publications that use the kind of pictures that you want to shoot and then move onto the papers and magazines that you really want to work for once you are a bit more experienced”.
The amazing fact that I discovered this way was that some of the less well known publications pay more, use your pictures well and don’t treat you like s**t.
As well as being a staff photographer for the Times Educational Supplement, Neil Turner is also the owner and publisher of photography education website www.dg28.com, Deputy Chairman of the British Press Photographers’ Association, Father of Chapel of the NUJ’s TSL Education Chapel, and an EPUK moderator. He has more hours in the day than the rest of us, apparently
I wish I had realised the physical ravages imposed by sports photography, and done more to protect myself. The end of my career has seen me head towards the physio on a regular basis and I’ve also had two surgical procedures for bone and joint damage. I spent a lot of time with event organisers trying to get them to arrange good facilities and working conditions for photographers. I usually gave them my normal load of equipment and asked them to walk from the press buses to the press room to the working area etc. It had an effect!
I wish I had realised that I didn’t have to be superwoman to impress. I foolishly thought that unless I was seen here, there and everywhere, I wouldn’t be accepted or considered a genuine sports photographer. I should have concentrated on quality rather than quantity and on marketing images as much as shooting them.
I wish I had understood the importance of keeping pace with the technical developments in the job and should have seen that the digital revolution would take over so many aspects of the work. Miss out on the bandwagon and you are for ever playing catch up.
I wish I had kept a diary. When I look back on all the travelling, events, people I’ve met and experiences I have had, it would be great to have something to look at and remember more clearly what I was living through. Who knows? I might even have published a memoir and made some serious money (yeah right).
And I wish I had not assumed that my picture archive would one day raise enough capital to bring my career to a decent end. How wrong I was!
Eileen Langsley became the UK’s first full time female sports photographer in 1980, and has since covered 11 Olympic games. At night she dreams of a ducky sized 400 f 2.8 weighing just a couple of ounces, which can fit into a pocket.
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