How to Go Pro - Part 2
Ian Badley: For Ian going pro was a life changing moment. His photography had progressed from amateur status in his teens until he was frequently selling images via libraries and prints, and then the moment of revelation came. After botched surgery that pierced his heart and brought him perilously close to death’s door Ian realised life was too short, and resolved to go for it. With his wife Julia’s blessing and a large overdraft he decided to give himself a year. Despite dilemmas, constant concerns and strategic twists and turns along the way some years later he’s still giving it another year.
In his first year he waited for the cheques to come in. Ian knows that like any business cash flow is key. Some inevitably hum drum work kept the wolf from the door. Ian goes pale remembering the tribulations of shooting a 4” square box of chocolates. But all the time Ian was relentless in pursuit of his objectives as he invested time and money in marketing, building websites and taking out stands at prestigious shows and events to publicise his work and the Workshops he had designed specifically for beginners in and around the New Forest. The workshops have now organically grown to cover all levels from beginner to advanced. Many of the shows were a waste of money but one in particular which seemed at the time expensive proved to be Ian’s Big Break. Some excellent leads and contacts were cultivated, including the National Trust and a major hotel, both of whom he continues to work for. Thankfully Ian had been self-employed for some time, so the anguish of the postman bringing bills with no cheques only caused some sleepless nights.
Ian feels that whether a photographer has gone to college or not well grounded knowledge is key. He spends a lot of time building up his reservoir of background information by studying and honing his understanding of photography. He is one of the few people I know who can attempt to explain the concept of circles of confusion.
And if he knew then what he knows now what would he do differently? “I’d structure in a day off! I find I am always working, (like catching up on my office work today, Sunday). I also wouldn’t have planned for stock photography to hold up when clearly it hasn’t. I also would not have produced 8000 greeting cards without testing on a small batch first! It all looks so very rosy, swanning off over the globe, but it all has to be paid for. I think I am quite level headed and business like, but I must admit that the hourly rate is pitiful – a major factor. Despite this, in retrospect I would probably have spent even more time and money on marketing and PR to develop more productive revenue streams.” Ian is a confirmed Nikon man with a D2X as his present bread winner.
the Cowes Classic long inshore race, Isle of Wight Photo: Ian Badley
David Noton: In my final of year of college I managed to sell a range of landscape images for release as posters by the now defunct poster publisher Athena. That summer of ’85 I also won a category of the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards; it seemed like a Big Break at the time. All my peers were heading on the yellow brick road to London to work as assistants in advertising photographer’s studios, but I felt at the grand old age of 28 I was too old to be a gofer and the call of the wilds beckoned. With the help of the Enterprise Allowance Scheme I went freelance straight from college and soon realised what a deep end I’d just jumped into. Like everyone else my first year was spent hanging around in editor’s and art director’s waiting rooms. Hawking my portfolio around Bristol and London brought me a few scraps of work, but it was real hand to mouth stuff. Every weekend my wife to be Wendy and I would pack the tent and head for the hills; landscape photography has always been the backdrop to my professional life, but making it pay took time. As the year wore on a few of my clients who’d scattered a few crumbs my way realised I was at least reliable and the quality of work on offer gradually improved. In that first year I made my initial way into the world of stock photography, which was in its infancy then. When the EAS finished after the first year things got really tough; I just didn’t have enough regular work and posters and competition success however gratifying wasn’t paying the bills. A few clients went bust, owing me dosh, and the future looked bleak. At this point I took a 3 days a week job as a photographic technician at the very college I had trained at; useful experience for 6 months that got me over the hump while I continued to plug away for the other 4 days a week at building a reputation and establishing the business. A combination of determination, my wife’s support and not having any other options got me through.
The Canal du Midi, Languedoc, France. Photo: David Noton
In retrospect I wouldn’t do anything differently. Like all of us armed with hindsight we’d all be more focused, but there are no shortcuts. I’m glad I came to photography after the adventure of a previous life at sea. The likes of Jonty and the rest at college did treat me like I was Methuselah; I was all of 25! But those few extra years of the University of Life under my belt enabled me to make the most of our time at College. Since those early years the business has morphed through many transformations to keep pace with the changing times, and I guess it will have to keep doing so. I still love the game; the dawn rises, seeing the world at it’s best, the buzz of walking back, tripod on the shoulder after a productive shoot, the adventure, and the creative rush. I also like, most of the time, the cut and thrust of running a successful business. Just as well as I guess it’s too late to settle down and get a proper job. The camera body that’s been knocked about the most over the last few years is a Canon 1Ds mkIII.
So what conclusions can we draw from all this? Firstly it’s apparent there are no entry rules; the means by which we all entered the profession are certainly varied. Pontins, make overs, Destruction Derby, trout, bog rolls, heart surgery and window cleaning; do you spot any common themes? Dig deeper though and trends are apparent. People skills are stressed as vital by one and all. Repeat clients are to be treated like gold dust. Big Breaks are to be capitalised on. Soaring aspirations are tempered with a gritty realism and a staunch resilience. All of our photographers know well the highs and lows of self-employment; dodgy clients and bad debts seem a recurring theme. And, since I know them all I can vouch for the fact that not one takes themselves too seriously. All have the vital self-depreciating sense of humour which is our armour against the knocks of the profession.
On the subject of training Jonty, Ben and myself went to College, Lisa had professional training, Jon, David T and Ian are self-taught. Read into that what you will. On a practical level the choices made to survive the first early years show some similarities, with a gradual transition to full time pro being adopted by a few. At some point though the leap of faith had to be faced and all of our Gang showed either courage or stupidity by simply just going for it. Behind the scenes the influence of our partners is crucial. The professional photographic way of life impacts on them as much as us, and without their whole hearted support it’s never going to work. A photographic partner’s lot is a thankless one; why Wendy has put up with it for all these years I have no idea.
Dubrovnik, Croatia. Canon 1Ds mkIII, 16-35mm lens. Photo: David Noton
Last weekend I was flicking through the travel section of the Telegraph and came across my picture of Dubrovnik. There was the familiar satisfaction of seeing an image used large on the page, a picture that I’d almost forgotten. I remembered the work that went into that shoot, the location searches, the dawn rise, the way I framed the canon in the foreground in the eyepiece of my Canon, the sky which made the shot. Its fun this game, when it’s going well. I’ve just checked what the repro fee for that use was. We may just manage a pub lunch for two on the proceeds, providing we forego the sticky toffee pudding. That’s what we’re up against. So there’s the rub; the rewards and challenges of making a living in this game in a nutshell. Back to you; time to make your plan. Good luck.
Born in England in 1957, David spent much of his youth travelling with his family between the UK, California and Canada. After leaving school David joined the Navy in search of further travels and adventures – and it was while sailing the seven seas that his interest in photography grew. After several years at sea he decided to pursue his passion for photography and returned to study in Gloucester, England. After leaving college in 1985 he began work as a freelance photographer specialising in landscape and other travel subjects, which over the last 25 years, have taken him to almost every corner of the globe.
David is now established and recognised as one of the UK's leading landscape and travel photographers. His images sell all over the world – both as fine art photography and commercially in advertising and publishing. He has won international awards for: British Gas/ BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards in 1985,1989 & 1990 and also writes regularly about landscape and travel photography for a number of national and international magazines. David has worked for numerous clients including British Airways, Sainsbury's, Geo, Toyota, Qantas, Sunday Times and the Telegraph. During the last twenty years he has also worked extensively for the National Trust covering much of the UK's landscape and coastline, which has featured in many high profile publications and several highly acclaimed photographic exhibitions. Most notably:
'New Vision' Contemporary Art Photography – AOP Gallery
'The Coast Exposed' – Maritime Museum Greenwich and the Lowry
'Climate Change – in Britain's Back Yard!' – London, Nottingham, Wales, Belfast, Bristol
“l'm still passionate about photography. All aspects fascinate me; from capturing the first light of day on a frosty landscape or making the most of a bustling market in Vietnam to portraying the dignity of a wrinkled face in China.”
David spends much of the year travelling with his wife Wendy. When not travelling they live in England, near Sherborne in Dorset.