Q:When you were at school, was there a lot of information available about the alternatives to university? A:
Not particularly, the options presented to me were either suggestions of apprenticeships, or a gap year. Which is all well and good, but there was no information on how to start up running a business, which is a shame because I was so keen and ready to go. The reality of it was so unfamiliar and I had no idea what to expect.
Q:Did you find people doubted your chances of success as a photographer? A:
I’d always gotten As and A*s throughout my school years, so I didn’t feel unintelligent or like I was constrained in my options if my photography career were to go tits up. It was ingrained in me to work hard. What I learned about life is that if you aren’t spending your days doing something that makes you excited, even with all the qualifications in the world you’ll only be as successful in happiness as the person in a “dead end” job. Probably even less so.
Creative industries can be warned against – I mean, “starving artist” is a term for a reason. In the service industries your skills are needed – but no one “needs” your art. That said – every successful photographer goes through tough times, and the reason they’re successful is because they never gave up. Maybe they got mad and frustrated a few times but they kept going. The fear of a 9-5 job, sitting in traffic while my life passes me by is the only motivation I need to keep going.
Q:What made you decide against pursuing a degree in photography? A:
I hated getting up early. It took all my strength to get up in time for high school/sixth form for all those years, and there was no way I was about to enter into another 4 years of that! So I decided to take a year, try and establish myself and get some sort of income and clientele going. When the year was up, I planned to re-evaluate and if I wasn’t getting anywhere, go to uni.
I soon realised, though, that I was having way more fun and learning things at my own pace than my friends who were doing a photography degree. All the information is out there – it’s just whether you have the motivation to find it yourself, or whether you need to be fed it on a spoon in a lecture hall when you could be having a nice lie-in. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing a photography degree if you have no idea where to start, or where you want to go with it, or what your style is – but the internet had helped me figure out my own direction by then.
Q:How did you teach yourself the technical side of photography without going to uni? A:
You pick up your camera, point it at stuff and see what happens. Trial and error was my life – endless crappy pictures, with the occasional good one. I spent hours playing with tools on GIMP (the free version of Photoshop), surfing the net, pouring over other photographers’ work which I loved. I made friends with lots of other photographers my age, and we swapped what we knew. It was still all fun – there was no rush to earn money to fund the debt I could have been collecting and no timetable which meant I could practice in my own time, at my own pace.
Q:Are you ever asked about whether or not you have a degree when booking weddings or other clients? A:
Simple answer – no! Never ever. Not once. People seem more impressed that I chose to risk it and not go to uni. Some sort of “help the underdog” mentality, I think! But I do think there is courage in that – it verges on stupidity, but only if you don’t have motivation and you’re not ready to sacrifice your sanity for a while. I may be rubbish at getting up early, but I am fantastic at being determined to learn and improve myself.
Q:How did you begin setting up your photography business? What obstacles did you face? A:
This was the unusually easy part – I literally just started asking friends for money when I shot them instead of doing it for free. I was active on social media, always being friendly and word gets around and then I was shooting friends of friends, friends of those friends and then total strangers from the Internet. I got tax registered which again was simple – I just went to an accountant and they gave me all the documents I needed to send. The hardest part was moving into my own place, with rent and bills due. Some months I’d make 4 figures, others I’d have nothing coming in and that was really scary.
I soon realised, though, that I was having way more fun and learning things at my own pace than my friends who were doing a photography degree.
Q:How did you end up photographing a maroon 5 album cover? A:
Pure luck! I happened to have an old picture of myself titled “Hands All Over”, which they happened to name their album cover. While trying to think of cover ideas, they did what any normal person would do – googled Hands All Over. And my picture popped up – and the rest is history.
Q:what photographers/artists are your biggest influence, and have they affected your decision to build your own photography business from scratch? A:
The first photographer I fell in love with was Lara Jade. I LOVED her portraits, and she was so pretty and nice – I had a little obsession with her! And now we’re friends, which is AWESOME. I think my decision to build a photography business came from having no other option, really – I didn’t see another way to earn from it. I didn’t want to get a job underneath another photographer, or build someone else’s dreams. So I built my own.
Q:What would you say to young people who are concerned about pursuing a career in the arts without a degree, but don’t want to go to uni? A:
I’d say – what kind of person are you? Do you not want to go to uni because you are too damn excited to do your own thing, or because you want to hang out and play video games all day? The key to being successful in the sense of having a career without a degree is purely motivation. I had no contacts, no celebrity friends, questionable talent, and a small amount of knowledge. The odds were stacked WAY against me.
But I did have buckets of motivation, suitcases stuffed full of it. I had a desire to live life my way, I had belief in myself and belief that people were kind enough to support me. To be fair though, if you don’t have any motivation, going to uni probably won’t help much either… you’ll just accumulate some debt. So best thing to do is find an area that you really ARE passionate about, that gets your juices going.
“I didn’t want to get a job underneath another photographer, or build someone else’s dreams. So I built my own.”