I AM ONE OF THE MANY 2020 graduates who found themselves tossed out into the scary and dark deep end this year. No final goodbyes with our lecturers, fellow classmates or friends. No degree shows, graduation ceremonies or farewell speeches. Just emails, endless numbers of Zoom calls and an unhealthy amount of time spent in my improvised office (aka, the bedroom).
Now I’ve found myself thrust out into the world with a first-class BA (Hons) Photography degree tucked into my back pocket and an urgent requirement to find some form of employment. I do have some experience of this, having worked as a freelance photographer and writer alongside my studies over the past four years, but I’m now on the lookout for full-time paid jobs and opportunities.
Finishing any kind of long-term education can be daunting at the best of times, but ‘graduating’ – if you can even call it that – from university during a global pandemic was definitely the worst finishing line I’ve ever had to cross.
For me, one of the most intimidating aspects of casting aside the education safety net was knowing there would be a lack of professional support available. For someone like me, heading out into the unknown for the first time, the chance of having a mentor to work with, someone with experience
ABOVE: An image from Holly’s ‘The Light At Home’ project, which she’s been receiving mentorship on from the founder of Photomonitor.
who could give me a helping hand to get established, was really important and I would suggest this is something that many others could also benefit from. Whether you’re just starting out, changing career or are established but simply could do with a steer to help you re-evaluate what you’re doing, mentorship can have a crucial role to play.
Picking a Partner
I’m naturally a very motivated person with an eagerness to learn. However, having an extra pair of eyes on my Handprojects and ideas and someone to offer constructive criticism and support, has always really benefitted me. After finishing at university, I fortunately came across Redeye’s ‘2020 Photography Graduate Mentoring’ scheme. I was a little apprehensive when applying as this is a free service, open to all and I knew there would be strong competition. Nevertheless, I found I had been accepted and selected by Christiane Monarchi, founder of Photomonitor, to be her mentee, and I’ve been very grateful for the opportunity.
After the first mentoring session with Christiane, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride due to the praise she gave me. To have a such a successful professional see the potential in you is incredibly confidence boosting and motivational, and I found that I valued it highly.
The key focus of my mentoring sessions to date has been on helping me to develop an online presence and to set up a platform, ‘Now Tell Me,’ which I’m founding. This intends to give freelance photographic writers the freedom to produce self-directed content, which will be made into a zine to apply for Public Arts Funding. Christiane has also given me guidance on potential career paths and my ongoing project ‘The Light At Home.’
I’ve found the mentorship experience to be the ideal transition from university life, where I was seeing lecturers twice a week, to a life of total independence. I believe it will help me become a better educated and more confident decision-maker in my work, and I would recommend the experience to anyone, at whatever stage of their career they’re at.
AS I’VE FOUND MY EXPERIENCE of mentorship to be so positive, I wanted to seek a different perspective from another graduate. Kelly Bryan studied with me at Coventry University and is currently undertaking the same mentorship programme as the one I’m on. “I felt the professional guidance would be invaluable,” she explained to me. “Moreover, I am the founder of Art Link – an online platform that aims to bridge the gap between young creatives and paid opportunities in the art industry – and I felt the mentorship could help me with direction.” Paired with Paul Herrmann, the director of Redeye, Kelly told me she would recommend this scheme and she values the mentorship highly, mainly due to Paul’s insider knowledge of how to create useful networks and to gain funding.
I also felt that it would be worth gaining some insight into the reasons why mentors choose to take part in the program. In Christiane’s case she was already regularly talking to others in her role as founding editor of Photomonitor and co-editor of Hapax Magazine.
“The discussion I have with my mentees is often about what to do with a project rather than something more ‘in-progress,’” she reveals. “I do enjoy very much being along for the creative process, however, and perhaps being a confidante. And I always learn something: it’s definitely a relationship that builds.”
Professionals are hired as mentors from a variety of sectors within the industry depending on their area of expertise. Christiane’s experience means that she’s able to help with how photographers’ ideas are relayed in writing and how their stories can be retold across exhibitions, festivals, books and magazine features.
MOVING AWAY FROM MENTORSHIP schemes specifically for graduates, there are others aimed at more established photographers who might need help with an important aspect of their freelance business or for someone needing a confidence boost or who might be looking for a career change. Platforms that offer such services include The National Photographic Society and the SWPP, while there are also individual photographers, such as wildlife professional Andy Rouse, who offer mentoring in a particular genre for those looking to learn the ropes.
Terrie Jones is the personal development manager at the SWPP for its ‘Mentor Me’ scheme and, with a ‘95% pass rate,’ this is definitely something to consider. “The Mentor Me Programme was born out of a desire to help and support photographers wanting to improve their work,” she told me. “It’s a process of submitting images for critique, receiving written reports from the allocated mentor and then applying the new knowledge gained to produce further images to submit in a cycle of Continuing Professional Development (CPD).”
All levels of SWPP membership are entitled to become a mentee, including professional, enthusiast or retired members, and even non members can sign up for a small fee. Meanwhile the mentoring team is made up of Fellow, Master and Grand Master Photographers, who all have a minimum of five years of judging experience.
Terrie affirmed the reasoning behind mentees applying: “Professional level members tend to use the Mentor Me Programme as a way of gauging the standard of their work, whereas our Enthusiast/Student and Retired level members generally use the programme to gain general feedback on their images for their own personal development or to enter photographic competitions.”
WHATEVER AREA YOU MAY NEED help with, there is likely to be a mentorship to fit the bill. If you are considering applying to become a mentee or mentor, I would recommend doing some in-depth background research first to ensure that it’s the right scheme for you before you go further.
Lastly, reaching out for guidance no matter what stage you might be at in your photographic career is, of course, nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody really ever ‘conquers’ the line of work they are in and allowing yourself time to further your practice is key to developing as a photographer.
I’VE BEEN A STAFF photographer for over twenty years with PA Media, covering assignments both in the UK and abroad. On a day-to-day basis I’ll be given jobs that could typically involve either politics, breaking news, the arts, entertainment, royals, court cases, protests, the economy, health, the weather… and on a really busy day possibly it could include all of the above!
I’m sent a schedule by the picture desk the evening before, detailing the job or jobs that are assigned to me for the following day, notwithstanding any breaking news events that I may have to react to. Working with several other colleagues based in London, the daily assignments are shared out between us by the picture editor – which means everyone gets to cover a variety of assignments over the course of one’s working week.
On major jobs – for instance a royal wedding, a sizeable public demonstration, a prominent court trial or a general election – then many or all of my colleagues may be called upon to cover the job together in multiple positions, when teamwork, organisation and communication become paramount.
Insofar as there isn’t really a ‘normal’ working day for me, that also applies to a ‘normal’ week, which may number between three and ten days solid without a break and can, and regularly does, involve working weekends and public holidays (including Bank Holidays, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day etc). Hours, too, tend to be somewhat unsociable – either working very early in the morning, or late into the night (or both!).
I find, therefore, that owning a car is more of a necessity than a luxury. For a start I regularly find myself carrying a ton of equipment, not just cameras and lenses, but also paraphernalia like steps and ladders, monopods and tripods, additional lighting and stands, clamps and brackets, even clothing and footwear for various types of situations. I’ll also use my car as a travelling office to shelter and work in when the weather turns inclement and for times when an out-of-town job location is far from accessible by public transport.
On any given day shift – starting around 8am and finishing about 4 or 5pm – my first assignment might involve catching a defendant arriving for a court trial since court hearings usually start from 10am. I would need to be stationed outside the entrance by 8am, and most likely earlier, depending
on how high profile the people involved are. Another regular job that I could be sent on first thing in the morning is going to Downing Street to capture the comings and goings of the Prime Minister, and assorted Cabinet ministers. Museums, galleries and auction houses all tend to hold their press previews – of forthcoming exhibitions, or major sales – in the morning too, and these art jobs are often more relaxed and fun than most, insofar as they provide great opportunities to be creative in one’s picture taking. If there is a breaking story that day then I might well be asked to liaise with one of our reporters or video journalists and go and track something down.
Or, if there is a lull in the day, then the old staple of a striking weather picture will always keep the picture desk happy – maybe an autumnal scene in a park, people cooling off during a heatwave, or the lashing rain and strong wind of a particuarly ferocious storm.
Generally, when sent to cover a particular job, I tend to know from experience what is needed in terms of the coverage. I have to make sure that I capture a general view (GV) of the whole scene for instance, concentrating on the actions of a specific person, taking close-ups of a certain detail that is relevant to the story. Sometimes, there will also be requests from an editor or journalist to capture specific shots, which you do your best to accommodate.
Filing the Work
Whether from the side of a pavement, inside a coffee shop or sat in my car, there are two ways that I file my work on the job. The ‘traditional’ method involves opening up my laptop to edit, caption and process the images – using the industry standard combination of Photo Mechanic and Photoshop – and sending them to the office using FTP transfer. From there, an editor on the picture desk will put them onto the PA Wire service for our customers to use.
The other method of filing, and one which we are increasing using more and more, is sending our images directly from the camera as they are taken, straight to an editor on the picture desk, therefore bypassing the editing side for the advantage of speed.
My Regular Kit
Equipment-wise I shoot with Canon – I use 1Dx Mk II bodies, and my lens inventory covers everything from 16-35mm through to 500mm. Depending on the job and situation, I may also use various lighting options, and tripods or monopods for my work.
My normal daily carry comprises two camera bodies, five lenses, a teleconverter, a flashgun, a laptop, a portable power charger and maybe a small foldaway plastic step in case I need some extra elevation during the day. All this equipment is distributed between a rucksack and various pouches worn on a camera-belt.
This just goes to underline what a very physical and demanding job photography can be! Over the course of my two working decades I’ve witnessed great changes in society, not least the growth in the social movement of personal politics; technology and the explosion of social media; political instability around the world and, more pertinent to my industry, a decline of trust in so-called mainstream media. It’s become a much tougher job than when I first started, and it feels at times as though you’re caught between a rock and a hard place, where you’ll find yourself increasingly maligned by both the public and the authorities. It’s therefore more vital than ever for photojournalists to bear witness in society and it’s a role that I believe carries great responsibility.
Organisations such as the British Press Photographers’ Association (BPPA), of which I am a member, provide support and advice for press photographers like myself, and generally further the cause of our industry. The existence of such a body is crucial, none more so than during a time of great crisis, such as the one we’re facing now. News gathering and reporting has never been so important, and the challenges faced in doing so have never been so severe.
MPB Used Kit List
If you’re looking to take up a career as a photojournalist here are some suggestions and pricings for suitable kit from MPB’s resident pricing expert Marc Reid.
Canon EOS 1DS III – £559
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM – £619
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM – £204
* All prices for kit in Good Condition This classic Canon set-up is the ideal affordable choice for a pro looking to step into the world of photojournalism on a budget. The robust, weatherproof and highly versatile Canon EOS 1DS III combines speed with precision whilst delivering outstanding image quality. It can be a tool for every scenario, while you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to great value glass, but we recommend a wide angle 24-70mm zoom and a classic 50mm prime to cover the vast range of situations you’ll encounter.
Nikon D810 – £1179
Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G – £679
Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G – £864
* All prices for kit in Excellent Condition Stepping up in price, the Nikon D810 is as tough as old boots, and was recently inducted into our Photo and Video Kit Hall of Fame in the Road Tested category. The impressive full frame sensor allows you to capture every scene in complete clarity. Its outstanding low light performance makes it the perfect camera for a professional looking for a reliable body. Again, we suggest partnering with a 24-70mm Nikon zoom and 58mm prime to help you handle most jobs.
Sony Alpha a7R III – £1949
Sony CZ Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-
70mm f/4 ZA OSS – £454
Sony CZ T* 55mm f/1.8 – £524
* All prices for kit in Like New Condition Our final recommendation is going mirrorless with the Sony Alpha a7R III. Proving that speed, resolution, and video capabilities can all co-exist, the a7R III is a versatile, high-performance camera with multimedia versatility. Carrying a lighter load on the job will also have your back thanking you. Finishing the setup with two Sony Carl Zeiss lenses designed for full frame mirrorless cameras gives you a top-notch kitbag.
ONE OF THE FUNDAMENTALS of setting up on your own is that you need to build a business website that can not only showcase your work but will also attract fresh customers and help you to sell to them.
First you need to decide on what platform to build your site. Both Squarespace and Showit are perfect photography portfolio sites, while you can also choose to self-build your site on Word Press as there are some fantastic themes for photographers there. Alternatively, you could opt to work with a creative specialist company such
as Amazing Internet, that will provide you with a simple-to-follow template to help you construct your site. There are pros and cons to all the above and I will seek to cover essential elements of your website in an upcoming column.
Above all I would recommend that you pick a platform that’s accessible for you to easily update and which falls within your personal level of technical expertise, because being confident about working on your own site is crucial. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out like it did for Kevin Costner: in other words, if you build it but don’t let anyone know it’s there then they probably won’t come!
All too often I speak to disappointed people who tell me that they have a new website, and they were expecting to suddenly get lots of new visitors, and they didn’t. If you want your website to really work hard for you it’s necessary to think about it as part of your marketing strategy as a whole and not in isolation. Unless you happen to be a huge brand with a massive presence and a ton of brand equity that’s driving direct and organic traffic, the new website is never going to get you new enquiries from the get-go. But rest assured all is not lost: you just need to be patient, and here are my top tips to get people to look at your website and to see your great potential.
Firstly, you need to make sure that your website clearly positions you and your business in the eyes of the customer. What’s in it for them, why should they choose you? Why should they spend their hardearned money with you? A great way to engage with your potential customers is to include a killer ‘About Me’ page on your website, that features a picture so that people know what you look like. You are selling yourself as much as you’re selling your photo skills, and customers naturally want to know something about the person they’re considering hiring.
Caroline Sumners is an experienced marketing consultant with 20 years of experience in marketing services. Caroline was formally European marketing director for G-Technology and a digital growth strategist and coach helping business owners to build profitable businesses.
Having set up your website you mustn’t then leave it untouched for months on end. If you don’t want it to end up looking stale and tired you need to be updating it with fresh content on a regular basis, at least on a weekly basis. This proves to Google that this is an active and vibrant site and over time you hope to become recognised as an expert who’s providing valuable information. This will help with site rankings and, in turn, your profile will slowly start to be raised.
Although your website is the showcase for
your services, in addition you need to be thinking about providing valuable content to your potential customers. If you’re an expert then you’ll need to prove it, by providing tips and advice on how people can improve their picture taking, for example.
By providing this type of content you’re also generating content that you can share on social media and you avoid the sell, sell, sell mentality that puts a lot of people off. Instead you’re approaching people from the perspective of offering added value, and this will position you and your brand in a great light.
Finally, don’t hide away your all-important calls to action, and ensure that you make it clear what you want your customers to do, The ‘valuable content first’ approach outlined above also helps you to ask for your customer’s email address, so that you can continue the conversation with them in their In Box! These days no-one is really after a newsletter, but they will value problem-solving content that saves time and/or money.
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