Continuing our creative start-ups series we welcome Jon Davies to the blog. He has kindly agreed to answer a few questions on setting up as a freelancer in the photography business.
How long have you been a freelance photographer & what sort of stuff do you do?
I’ve been doing various freelance photography work, as well as working for other studios, for around 5 years. I started my own business about a year and a half ago. I ended up putting it to one side for a while because I was offered a job managing another studio, which at the time seemed like a great opportunity. I left that studio in December last year and have re-launched Jon Davies Photography at the beginning of this year.
How did you gain experience in the field?
I first got into photography when I was 18 and just spent all of my time taking pictures on an old Olympus OM-1 film camera. I dread to think how much money I spent on film and processing, but it was a great crash course in how to take pictures. At that time I bought every photography magazine and book I could get my hands on and worked my way through all of the projects and ideas they had in them.
Professionally, I got my break into full time photography work at a portrait studio in Ruddington about 4 years ago. I started off as a photographer before working my way up to Head of Creative Arts. At this studio I was doing family portrait sessions all day every day, as well as using Lightroom and Photoshop to edit images. So it was a great way of gaining experience and actually working in the business.
Since then I’ve attended loads of training seminars by other photographers I admire, which is a great way to learn. When I became manager of the studio in Nottingham I learnt a lot more about the business side of the industry and marketing, which is absolutely invaluable for anyone wanting a career in photography. It’s a constant juggling act with having to run your business as well as actually taking photographs.
How did you fund setting up in the first place & what costs were involved?
Setting up has been an eye-opening experience. I went through the Princes Trust who run something called The Enterprise Programme which I’d highly recommend for anyone starting any business, whether that’s in photography or not. I managed to get some funding from them in the form of a loan, as well as loads of great advice and a personal business mentor.
The costs just add up and up as you’re starting out. Luckily, I already had a lot of my own equipment so this wasn’t a massive factor for me, but I’ve recently had to buy new studio lights which don’t come cheap. Most of the finance I received has gone into marketing, flyers, business cards, printing and postage! I don’t work from a studio so I’ve not had to worry about rent on premises. It’s something I think I’ll look into maybe a couple of years down the line, but for now it’s an expense I don’t need and really couldn’t afford. If you had to buy all new photography equipment, cameras, etc. I’d say the cost of starting up, without premises, would be close £10,000.
How do you discover clients & do you have any tips on garnering repeat trade?
I find most of my clients through word of mouth, recommendation, and networking with other businesses. I think the days of putting an ad in the yellow pages or a magazine and expecting customers to come to you are long gone. People are very savvy nowadays and have so many options that they won’t just respond to a print ad in the way they might’ve done years ago.
You need to be proactive in finding the right clients for you. With regards to getting repeat trade, if you provide your current clients with an amazing experience, great customer service and a fantastic product, they will talk about you to their friends and families and you’ll get repeat custom. A referral scheme doesn’t hurt either, so provide people with an incentive to recommend you.
Do you feel you’ve made compromises between doing the sort of work you really enjoy & taking on work which pays better?
Not really. I’m lucky in as much as I love photographing weddings, families, kids and bands, and that’s what I do for a living. Sure, some jobs are more exciting and creative than others, but I love what I photograph which is why that’s the kind of work I go out and look for. If I didn’t enjoy the work I was doing, I’d just go out and get another full time job which I don’t like but could just do my 9-5, then go home and forget all about it.
How do you utilise social media networks?
I use Facebook and am reasonably active on it. I’ve linked my Facebook account into Twitter so it updates automatically when I post a status on my timeline, which is great because I don’t fully understand Twitter at the moment so rarely log onto my account. I’m sure Twitter has its place, I know a lot of other photographers who are very active on it and swear by it, but as yet I’ve not really discovered the benefit of it for my own business. My blog is where I post lots of recent shoots and articles and social media is where I publicise when I’ve put up a new post so it’s useful for that.
Can you recommend any websites which may be useful to photographers starting out?
There’s loads of great websites out there for people wanting to learn more about photography and how to run a business. The Professional Photographer Magazine website is great for inspiration and articles. The best online resource I’ve ever come across for anyone wanting to learn about photography is a site called CreativeLIVE. It features loads of amazing photographers providing seminars on a whole host of subjects, from photography techniques and Photoshop training, to marketing and branding courses. It really is an amazing site and the best thing about it is that it’s absolutely free if you watch the seminars whilst they’re on live!
“The thing to remember is that having a great camera doesn’t make you a great photographer in the same way that having a great car doesn’t make you a great driver.”
The digital age has made it a lot easier for people to take fairly good quality photographs themselves. How do you feel this has changed the industry & how do you justify the cost of your skills to clients?
This is probably the biggest thing that has changed the photography industry. The affordability of mind-blowingly good quality cameras is an amazing thing. However, it does mean that people are more inclined to take pictures themselves, or more likely to know someone who is a ‘photographer’. The thing to remember is that having a great camera doesn’t make you a great photographer in the same way that having a great car doesn’t make you a great driver. Photography is a trade and an art form and it’s something you have to work at to improve. I’ve spent years learning my craft and continue to undergo training to improve my skills at every available opportunity.
Most of my clients understand the value of professional photography. They’re not just paying for me to turn up and take some pictures of them and then printing them out at Max Speillman. They’re paying for my vision, the years of training, the cost of specialist equipment, the amount of money I spend on marketing, the quality of the products they receive, and (most importantly of all) the experience they get when they book a shoot with me.
How do you protect your intellectual property rights in a cyber world where it’s very easy to ‘borrow’ images?
When I post an image to my blog or Facebook page I don’t watermark them. My blog images are all contained within a border which has my logo on, but this would be pretty easy for anyone with a basic understanding of Photoshop to crop out. I see the images I post as a way of advertising what I do and I don’t want to spoil the impact with a big copyright symbol across them.
It comes down to respect really. I don’t expect my clients or other photographers to try to rip my images from my site or Facebook and most people have better morals than to do so. I do only upload web sized images as well so even if someone downloads them they won’t get a decent print, so I guess that helps. All of my images contain meta-data, so if anyone ever did take one of my images and used it for commercial purposes, it would be easy enough for me to prove ownership and copyright if it came down to it.
If someone wants a great quality print of an image I’ve created, then they can come to me for it and they’ll get a quality product, rather than some dodgy low resolution print they’ve done themselves at home.
All images copyright © Jon Davies Photography