Do you want to be a portrait photographer?

Every year around this time I get inundated with requests from secondary school students wondering if they could have a work placement with me for their school work experience program, and every year I have to decline each and every one, and it makes me sad.

The truth is I'd love to help encourage young people to chase their creative dreams and follow their passion, but the practical side of me facilitating this has too many barriers.

I can remember being at school myself and asking if I could shadow the local newspapers photographer and getting a flat no in return with no explanation- so I wanted to briefly give one!

  1. The official stuff! As a sole trader I have no employees, it's just me, so I'm not covered insurance wise. As I work with children I am also DBS checked, so from a safeguarding perspective I'd want anyone working with me to be so too.
  2. My working hours are far from standard. Some days I start as soon as the sun comes up, other days I finish late in the evening. Some weeks I do nothing but shoot clients, other weeks I edit back to back, another few days might be spent on admin, updating websites and writing blogs like this that no one will read. There's not a solid rhythm to my weeks and a way that you'd experience all of the elements of running a photography business in a cohesive way.
  3. I work from home. Clients experience my cosy little annex studio when they visit me, but my office (where the majority and most important tasks happen) can be my sofa, my kitchen, my garden.

So how can I help?

Maybe a little story about how I became Little Wonderland?

As I waffled about earlier, when I was at school I wanted to be a photographer, but it didn't seem to me, in a small town, like it was attainable. All the adults around me had "real jobs" in factories, in schools, in offices and shops. So I didn't know what I wanted to do really, just that I liked to be creative. So I went off to collage and studied the subjects I enjoyed- English Lang & Lit, Theatre Studies and Media Studies. I loved them all, but Media came out top for me, so off to uni I went to study Media & Communication.

When I graduated I knew that I really wanted to work in film or TV so off to London I popped. But funnily enough, you can't just walk in to the BBC and demand a job just because you want it, you have to graft a bit. So I temped in various hospitals to earn some pennies and applied for lots and lots of unpaid "runner" positions at various companies, and some of them I got. And then I started to know people. People who knew other people. And as we know it's not what you know. it's who you know, so I eventually started getting paid work as a runner, learning essential skills like how to buy Bovril for Dermot O'Leary, how to carry a microwave whilst Kelly Rowland called you a "poor child", and sitting under a camera holding queue cards whilst Blazing Squad threw custard pies at each other*. The glamour.

I worked in TV for about ten years, working my way up the ranks to being an Archive Producer on topical comedy shows because I am hilarious, yet organised. But then I decided to move back ooop North to become a good house wife and raise my spawn.

But housewifery was not me. As much as I loved my time with Tinky Winky and Peppa pig, I wanted to get back to work, to have a sense of self and to contribute financially. But I wanted to do it on my own terms, so I could always be around for the child when needed. But what could I do?

I think for most of the first year of being a mother a barely picked up my camera as I was just in survival mode! But as toddler year's approached I was shooting more and more and decided to take the plunge and create "Little Wonderland Photography". Through the council I managed to get myself on a small business course and through that I applied for a grant to get me going. And now here we are.

I think the point of this is, is that running a photography business isn't just about your photography skills. Had I not worked in so many places and picked up all the practical skills I have there's no way I'd be able to keep this going. You need to be able to manage your time, manage your budgets, communicate well in order to manage client expectations. You need attention to detail, you need to be organised with your paperwork so that your back is always covered. You need perseverance, grit and tenacity to keep going in such a competitive and unregulated industry. You just need it all.

I think if I had got to shadow that newspaper photographer it could have been the end of Little Wonderland before it began. I might have left school at 16 and dove straight in, with no skills or experience to back it up. Also, this was the time before photography was digital and I'd have bankrupted myself buying film!

So what should you do if you want to run your own photography business? Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Learn your camera, nail your settings, find your personal style, don't try and be like everyone else. And whilst your doing that, live a little, learn essential, transferable skills that will always serve you, because, you know, AI is coming** and you never know what next path you might need to go down.

Becca x

*Apologies for the outdated name drops, but if you had a Blazin' Squad poster on your wall you'll forgive me out of embarrassment and neither of us will mention this again.

**A little note on AI...there's worry in the industry that computer generated images are going to destroy all photographers and people won't need actual portraits anymore. They'll just add prompts like "me holding a new baby whilst riding a unicorn" and the AI will do the magic. And whilst with skill and time, AI can be used to create photo realistic images, I don't actually see this as a threat to me- I think people come to me because they want to be part of creating a memory, and whilst it's the portraits they take away, they also take away the feeling they had in that real moment, the connection they felt with their loved ones, and the memory of that time they were all together and focused on their love and bond. Essentially, the humanity of it all.