How to Go Pro - Part 2
Jonty Wilde: Jonty’s first gainful employment after graduating from our photography course at Gloucestershire College of Arts & Technology in 1985 was as camp photographer at Pontins in Bournemouth. Taking pictures of inebriated holiday makers earned him all of 10p for every shot that sold. It was a start that helped him forge the crucial people skills that he uses every day now. After a few gruelling summer seasons he was eventually offered a step up to brochure production for Pontins International, but there was a slight fly in the ointment; the company was going to the wall and Jonty didn’t get paid. Virtually bankrupt Jonty returned to his parents’ home in North Wales and with his back against the wall started Jonty Wilde Photography. Knocking on the doors of advertising agencies in Chester and Manchester eventually paid off with his first Big Break, a corporate shoot for a construction company that over two decades later is still a client. Now his work is spread across the board with advertising and editorial work. He is very much an advocate of not being too specialised, and is happy as long as he’s pressing the shutter. He still feels he lives on the edge of a cliff, not feeling secure beyond the next month, but it’s a way of life he and his family are now well used to. Reflecting on his time at college he wishes he’d made more of it, and isn’t sure whether in retrospect he’d recommend it now with the huge debts students are burdened with. I saw Jonty for the first time in 26 years this summer and not much has changed, he still has an irrepressible sense of humour and a bright, burning passion for photography. The journey from Pontins to Iraq has only been a start. It’s totally irrelevant, but I know you’ll want to know that Jonty’s workhorse camera is a Canon 5D mkII.
Young men and boys queuing for rations in a blockaded Koranic town in North Eastern Sudan controlled by the SPLA. photo: Jonty Wilde
Ben Pipe: Ben’s enthusiasm for photography started young with the acquisition of a second hand Olympus OM1 from a dodgy relative and that was it, a passion was born. Living in Weymouth the pull of the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast was irresistible and provided the stimulus for much of Ben’s early photography. His professional experience started early too with a job shooting portraits in a make-over studio; handy experience before he even went to Art College. Ben graduated from Plymouth University with a first class honours degree in photography in 2006. Various applications for jobs in the photographic world came to nothing and so with few other options apparent he went freelance. Like most of us in the first year he scavenged for scraps of photographic work; bits and pieces came his way as he plugged on, striving to make things happen. The makeover studio went bust, owing him money, but the renovation of a local hotel with Ben’s prints displayed throughout was a vital shot in the arm, as was his exhibition in a new gallery just opening on Portland . Shooting the New Look warehouse on a cold winter’s day was a stark introduction to the glamour of the profession. At the time his acceptance on the roster of various reputable Photo Libraries seemed like a Big Break, and for a while it seemed stock photography could indeed provide his Passage to India. His shot of Durdle Door was blatantly mis-used to advertise a hotel in Abu Dhabi; but Ben was happy to collect the repro fee. Living cheaply with minimal overheads he survived and slowly climbed the professional ladder. His move to London two years ago has provided fresh stimulus and the opportunity to swim in the turbulent creative waters of the Big City. He has just been on the phone telling me with considerable enthusiasm about a job he’s just completed on a grim grey day shooting cleaning products. It was chucking it down and the flash synchronisation was faulty, but like a seasoned pro he worked around the problems to please the client.
Contemplating the last decade now Ben wishes he’d made more of the kit on offer at college. He thinks the opportunity of studying photography over a 3 year period was desirable and invaluable, but with current tuition fees he’d have to think long and hard if he were contemplating the option now. He considers himself lucky to have graduated when he did; today’s economic woes must be making it doubly daunting to be launching a career now. And if he knew then what he knows now what would he have done differently? Become a painter and decorator. Ben’s camera of choice is a Nikon D700.
Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym, Havana, Cuba. photo: Ben Pipe
Jon Gooding: Jon started as a pro in 1995 as a result of a lucky break. He’d been a keen amateur photographer since school days but had a full time grown up job in estate management. The editor of a trout fishing magazine asked Jon to undertake a macro shoot using medium format equipment. Although he had a medium format camera he didn’t have a macro lens, bellows, or the studio lighting that would be required. He hired some kit, and the technique was acquired by trial and error; fortunately the client liked the results. Next thing he knew he had a verbal contract to supply the monthly magazine with up to 100 images per issue at what was at the time a good rate of remuneration. He was then able to run this opportunity alongside the full time job and use the proceeds to acquire more photographic and lighting equipment. A year later, with his wife expecting a baby, he jacked in the proper job to chase the dream.
But Jon soon realised one Big Break doesn’t spawn a long lasting business. When he first turned pro he had all his eggs in one basket with just one client. His first priority was to diversify and he certainly was not going to be sniffy about taking on any commission that paid a decent rate. Although he was aiming at commercial and advertising work he was glad to do weddings, group portraiture or whatever helped to pay the bills. He knew all the assignments he undertook taught valuable lessons. He made it his mission to contact regular users of photographers; Graphic Designers, Printers, Advertising Agents, Manufacturing Companies, and took satisfaction from gaining new clients. A maxim that he has always stood by is that it’s easier to keep a client than get a new one, and today many of his clients are longstanding ones he’s known for years. Jon stresses that photography is all about communication; it may sound obvious but there’s far more to it than the visual communication generated by the images. To grow his business and maintain working relationships with hard won clients’ excellent verbal communication is required. For him, his previous employment in people focussed businesses has stood him in good stead. Sounds familiar by now doesn’t it?
With hindsight Jon would have become a professional photographer earlier as he thinks it was more lucrative in the pre-digital era. As someone who came into the profession the way he did he’s living proof that a college education isn’t the only way. Having seen the work produced by some college students over the years it has left him wondering whether the training has equipped them for today’s world as a professional photographer. He has no doubt that some benefit greatly from college, but more important is a drive and determination to succeed in a market now more competitive than ever. And a whacking great huge monitor helps too. Jon shoots virtually everything with a Canon 5D mkII nowadays.
Photo: Jon Gooding
Lisa Aldersley: I have over the years enjoyed telling the story of how I came into photography via window cleaning, but I’ve now been totally upstaged. Lisa Aldersley came to be a professional photographer after a career selling toilet rolls. Beat that. And it doesn’t stop there. The stimulus for Lisa to make the leap of faith came because of Clint Eastwood. One scene in the film Bridges of Madison County where Clint asks Meryl Streep if he can store his film in her fridge and that was it; Lisa saw the light. She had always known a creative streak lay hidden and resolved there and then to follow her instincts. Of course the transition from flogging bog rolls to photography wasn’t straight forward but Lisa was totally focused; she knew instinctively that weddings would be her game. She went pro in 2007 but with a young family to feed and a mortgage to pay she had to make it work; a gradual transition from selling toiletries to exposing brides was the practical way forward. She was able to continue her saleswoman’s job part time in the first year whilst establishing her business and crucially embarking on a one year Aspire Professional Wedding Photography training course. Lisa feels this training was expensive but highly beneficial for her as she learnt how to run a business and develop a brand. Crucial to Lisa’s work are her people skills as she likes to blend in and work in a relaxed and photojournalistic style, gathering a few people gently and quietly for the required half a dozen or so family photos. That sounds all well and good, but is far easier said than done; she routinely needs a diplomat’s assuredness and a saint’s patience. Lisa strives to tell the whole story of a couple’s big day in a natural way by working and behaving as if she was meant to be there as a guest. It’s impossible not to be impressed with her love for the wedding photography business, one she is totally committed too as a complete specialist. Looking back she does wish she’d done it earlier, but also feels she couldn’t have done what she has in her 20s; she just wouldn’t have been ready. She knows in her trade there will always be someone down the road who will be cheaper, but with her communication and marketing skills feels relatively comfortable in her world. Her top tip that I guess won’t be that useful for all of us is hairdressers know everything. Lisa works with a brace of, yes; you guessed it, Canon 5D mkIIs.
Photo: Lisa Aldersley
David Taylor: David spent twenty years as a graphic artist designing video games such as Destruction Derby, but an interest in photography was always bubbling underneath. In 2006 the opportunity to change careers came along and he knew that landscape photography was what he wanted to do. He'd sent a portfolio of work to the Northumberland National Park; the subsequent commission was his Big Break. That got him started and, more importantly, helped to give him the confidence to approach other groups and companies. The first crucial year was spent trying to expand his personal portfolio as well as making local contacts and finding photographic commissions. Combining writing with photography was something that interested him so he concentrated on sending out book and magazine article proposals. At the end of the first year he tried to work out what had and hadn't worked in order to make a plan for the following year.
David seems a little envious of people who have gone to college, mostly for the experience of being with like-minded folk for solace, comfort and a healthy dose of competition. It is a lonely game. If he knew then what he knows now what would he do differently? “Apart from not starting a new career just as the world's financial system collapsed?! I'd think more broadly if I was able to start over again. There are elements of the business that are important now but were something that hadn't occurred to me when I first started. These elements came organically over time through the business developing. Which is good, but it would have been even better if I'd thought of them at the start! I'd also think more clearly and realistically about who it actually it is who would want my photography, and how to effectively reach them.” David breaks the mould by preferring a Canon 7D currently.
Hexham Abbey, floodlit and dominating the town that surrounds it, on a summer's evening, Northumberland, England Photo: David Taylor