Hannah Drake

Guest Post: Discovering Photography as a Business

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been sharing guest posts from some of my favourite bloggers and photographers, people I’m lucky enough to call friends, and today is the last day—for now.

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Pete from Peter Horrox Photography. Pete isn’t a blogger, but he’s a pretty talented photographer. He set up the photo booth at our wedding and has been such an amazing help to me as I discover more about photography. As he’ll tell you, he’s an aspiring wedding photographer, but he has already built up quite the portfolio and has mastered what some might call “passive income streams” in the photography business. Pete is one of Luke’s closest friends and now one of mine, which is a fantastic perk of marriage!

Hello, Joysters! Is that what you call yourselves? I should know really as I am actually one of you. I have to admit this is the only blog I ever read because I have a far too short attention span for the written word (yes, at 32 I am technically a millennial by some definitions).

Anyway, let me introduce myself. My name is Pete and I live around the corner from Hannah and Luke. I’d like to think we are all good friends but you should probably confirm that with Hannah. I currently work at the University of Birmingham but I consider myself to be an aspiring professional photographer looking to make the big bucks out of the lucrative wedding photography market. (If you are planning to get married I the next year and you have an eye for a bargain I suggest you book now before I’m too busy photographing the rich and the famous of the West Midlands.)

I have actually had quite a hard time writing this post and have frequently deleted huge chunks of it and even started from scratch a couple of times. The reason for this is because I feel like a fraud. This is something a lot of people face when starting out on creative endeavours. We cannot help but compare ourselves to the people who have been hard at it for years. We imagine what they must think of our meagre efforts (if they think of them at all) and this can have the effect of paralysis as our confidence drains away.

But the fact is I am not a fraud and those who I have talked to with more experience than me have been nothing but encouraging and enthusiastic for me. This is really all in my head. That is not to say that I am up there with the greats, I still have much to learn and I am still trying to zero in on my unique style as a photographer. But when I get all my shots into Lightroom and filter out all the photos where I hadn’t quite nailed the focus or accidentally took a picture of my shoes for some reason, I am genuinely quite proud of myself. “Hey, you are NOT just some guy who bought a nice camera and started incessantly snapping at everything and everyone!” I say to myself. “You actually have quite a good eye for this stuff”.

So in this post I aim to try and tell you how I started on this journey, where I hope to go and what I learned about myself on the way.

It all started for me on my 30th birthday. I had always wanted a decent camera and had always been frustrated by the limitations of mobile phone cameras (yes, I am British BTW). So on the day of my birth I went into the Reading branch of John Lewis with my mum and sisters and we all jointly purchased a Canon 100d DSLR 18mp camera with an 18-55mm kit lens.

I was immediately in love with it. I had it on full auto for most of the first day but I loved how effortless it was to just press the shiny black tactile button and capture a moment in time. I must have taken a thousand pictures in the first couple of days of pretty much everything in my mum’s house. Candles, kitchen utensils, my increasingly aggravated sisters. Literally anything.

When I got back home to Birmingham I started looking into other lenses I could get and watching countless YouTube review videos for them. Very quickly I started to feel like I knew what I was talking about, at least with the technical side of photography. F-stops, focal lengths and lens aberrations etc.  I decided I wanted a wide angle lens, the canon 10-18mm EFS. It wasn’t ‘too expensive and I was looking forward to getting creative with wide angles. In hindsight I kind of regret getting this one first as I really don’t use it that much anymore and I think I would have been much better served getting a fast aperture prime lens for those lovely shallow depth of field blurry background shots. Get outta here portrait mode, you suck! I did eventually get the Canon 50mm f1.8 prime lens and I still love it to this day.

At this point, photography was still very much a hobby and I wondered if it would just be one of my many passing fads. I assumed my camera would be sat on a shelf gathering dust before too long. But then something happened that made me think quite differently about it.

I was in attendance of a political rally for the British politician Jeremy Corbyn if you don’t know who he is, he’s kind of like our Bernie Sanders, but he looks like Obi-Wan Kenobi. While I was there I took the opportunity to take some photos using my new telephoto lens so I could appear to get super close to the man. I then dutifully edited some of the photos and posted them to my Instagram. Several people assumed I had just taken them from the press and posted them and did not realise they were actually my photos, which made me feel pretty good (but also a bit annoyed). Upon learning they were my shots, my friend Jason told me that I should submit them to Getty images and maybe get a bit of money for them.

Wait… I can make money from this? You mean to say that I can do something I actually enjoy and people will pay me?

I immediately signed up for Getty images by submitting some samples of my work and about 3 weeks later I was approved as a contributor. Unfortunately, this was too late for my Corbyn pics to be considered newsworthy and therefore exempt from the rules about release forms but no matter. Now I was a stock photographer. I started uploading and tagging like mad to get my portfolio as large and diverse as possible and before too long I sold my first ever photo… for 25¢ doesn’t matter, it was a start!

Now there isn’t a lot of ‘art’ in stock photography. In fact my more creative and pretty photos tend not to sell that well. People are looking for simplicity, a way of quickly telling a story or more to the point hinting at one, inviting you to look deeper. The photo below has sold over 60 times and earned me about $50. When I snapped that picture I though very little of it. I was just trying to photograph as much as possible to get my portfolio bigger. The most interesting thing about shooting stock is finding out what will sell and what won’t and trying to figure out why.

Stock photography is a great place to start if you want to hone your skills. It taught me so much about taking photos I really don’t know where I would be without it. Sure there is not much money in it and there isn’t that much room for creativity but from a purely practical standpoint it really got me up to speed.

You see each photo you submit is examined and inspected by a real person viewing it at 100% magnification. If your focus is slightly soft or there are some logos or recognisable people in the background who don’t have releases, the photo will be rejected.

I got a lot of rejections in the early days and it took me a little while to learn why they were refused. This inspection process really helped me up my game and develop a keen eye for detail as well as more of a mastery of my camera. It became like an extension of my hand. I also became quite good at removing things from photos using Photoshop.

After making a bit of cash from this it was time to upgrade my camera to something more serious. Enter the Canon 80D. This made my old camera feel like a toy. The control and precision it gave me over the 100D was incredible. I was starting to feel like the real deal.

People often say that it doesn’t matter what kit you use you can still learn to take great photos. I do agree with this somewhat. One of my top selling photos on Getty is in fact the only one I submitted that was taken on a smart phone. If you are booking flights to Reykjavik with Kayak you may have seen it in the background of the website.

However, there is a reason why professionals invest so much in camera gear. Having high quality glass and a great camera body really makes things easier and gives you so much more flexibility to get the shots you want. Also the bigger the camera the more professional you feel in yourself, I find.

I don’t say this to discourage you if you can’t afford to spend hundreds of pounds. You should buy whatever you can afford and you will surly do great things with it. I just think that people try and play down the importance of equipment too much. It does matter, it just isn’t everything.

Now to tell you where I am now. I have had a number of paid gigs and have finally now shot a wedding (with the invaluable assistance of the one and only Hannah Drake). Now I am working on some self-promotion and marketing strategies in order to get some more dates on the books and drive more traffic to my website. Within a year I hope to be part time in my day job at the University and a year after that become a full time professional photographer.

I still often feel like a fraud but I am getting better at believing in myself. The Goal Digger Podcast from Jenna Kutcher is really good at addressing this issue, so if you feel like me, go check it out.

I have gone on far too long now I think so I shall leave it there, but if you have any questions for me please feel free to comment or slide into my DMs as the kids say (I think).

You should follow Pete on Instagram, too.