This month Field Photography is celebrating 10 years in business!
Building a small business as a freelancer has been both challenging and rewarding. To celebrate our success, we are sharing some of the insight we have gained on the journey thus far, while looking back on some highlights from the last ten years.
2008: Know your craft
If you have decided to market your skills and services to clients, you need to be confident that you will able to deliver quality work. This will require two approaches: study and practice. We live in the information age, so you can obtain knowledge of your subject matter from various online sources from blog posts to YouTube videos. Or, if you want to take things a little more seriously, study at an institution or at university level. And more importantly, practice what you learn. Having experience in your field will not only help you hone your craft, but probably also introduce you to some of the challenges you might face during paid work, making you better prepared to deliver what you promised.
Before I started on my official journey as a photographer and freelancer, I obtained my B.Tech Photography Cum Laude from the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth in 2008. For my final exam I created a series of cinematic tableaux that narrated the story of a haunted locket.
2009: Introduce yourself
No one can book you for a commission if they don’t know you exist. So, your first job will be to make yourself visible to potential clients. Although social media is a great tool for marketing, it would serve you well to extend your visibility beyond the obvious of a professional website and social media presence. You should also enter your work for consideration in competitions, exhibitions, publications, and other avenues available to your genre. Even if you do not get selected, the judges and curators often hold positions of power in their respective industries. If your work makes an impact, they might remember you for other opportunities that arise in the future.
Having officially registered Field Photography cc in February 2009, I presented the work I created for my portfolio to every opportunity. My efforts resulted in one of my images from the Penumbra series winning the Fuji Film Professional Awards Image of the Year. As well as an opportunity to exhibit as an Emerging Creative at the Design Indaba in Cape Town. The latter also resulted in an interview on E! News, bringing the work to an even wider audience.
2010: Network like your life depends on it – it does!
It is not only “What you know”, but also “Who you know”. Making yourself available to meet potential clients or connect with peers at events can present unexpected opportunities. Rather than letting your work speak for itself, you can bring it to life with anecdotes from creative projects or provide insight into your process. But don’t forget to ask your new friend what they do and encourage them to speak about their upcoming projects. Help them to connect the dots between what they need, and you do. While exhibiting at the Design Indaba in Cape Town in 2009, I connected with student fashion designer Sharne Van Ryneveld and returned to Cape Town later that year to work with her on the portfolio of images that would accompany her collection for her degree exam at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
I loved the images so much that I proceeded to enter them into the Elle New Talent Photographer Search. As a Top 10 Finalist I received funding to produce a fashion editorial to be presented to the judges and had the opportunity to attend the evening event where I met industry leaders like editor Jackie Burger and judge (and photographic inspiration) Gerda Genis.
2011: Keep yourself busy
When you don’t have work (and trust me, as a freelancer this will happen), don’t panic! After ten years I have learnt to enjoy the moments when work quiets down a bit. Take the time to do some “housekeeping”, update your website, revisit your packages and terms of service, or clean up your virtual and physical work space. Or even better still, create new portfolio pieces that will lure more of the type of work you wish to specialize in.
In 2011 I made the decision to relocate Field Photography to Johannesburg. Restarting your start-up in a new place where you have no existing network is tough. You are competing with established businesses and it can take a while to get your foot firmly in the door. As such, I happened to have some spare time when photographer and curator Sandy Coffey invited me to participate in a 4 person show entitled Now in 4 Rooms at the ArtEC in Port Elizabeth. So I took the opportunity to create a new body of surrealist works that explored photo-manipulation as an art form.
In this body of photographic artwork the duality and paradox qualities of the natural elements, human form, man‐made and natural environments are investigated, contemplating the inherent energies of each of the works. Elements of Earth, elements of Water, Fiery elements, Air elements to her renditions is free flowing yet they contains the power to either devastate or elevate or both.”
Tylo Jacobs, Art Critic, 2011
Working with other creatives on projects can give you a fresh impression of a subject matter and push you to think outside your box. Collaborating, or even outsourcing, also means that you are producing opportunities for other creatives in related fields. For what is a photography project without a team of qualified make-up artists, hair stylists, fashion stylists, models, locations, set designers and more! When you succeed in landing a commission, your network succeeds with you. And they are bound to return the favour, building a community.
One of my favourite collaborations was working alongside paper artist Elonah O’Neill on a watch editorial for Dossier Magazine.
2013: Affiliate yourself with other organisations #BetterTogether
Another great way to market your work to a greater audience is through affiliation with brands you love and professional bodies you support. Find out whether your favourite brands work with ambassadors to get their message to the market. If so, you could be testing new products, writing reviews, and presenting content to their followers. You should also sign up with recognised professional bodies in your field. Not only will you be listed as a professional on their site, you will keep up to speed with developments in your industry and even contribute to important matters of legislation regarding things like copywrite. In 2013 I became a brand ambassador for Photon and Vanguard gear through Fotacs distributors in South Africa. To test the collection of equipment available in the respective ranges, we arranged a creative shoot followed by a review in the Photo Comment magazine.
2014: Give back to your community
You are not an island, but a drop of water in a sea of creatives. You can either consider your colleagues your competition, or your allies. But you should know that as an industry, you are stronger when you work together to build the reputation and set the standard of your craft. Rather than keeping your business practices a secret, consider sharing it with other start-ups so that they can learn from your mistakes and contribute to your industry rather than undermine it. We have all been there and would have appreciated a hand up.
Becoming a brand ambassador naturally led to me presenting workshops to show the functionality and results of the lighting and tripod products I was using. In 2014 I hosted my first Conceptual Portraiture Masterclass themed around “The Huntress and The Hunted”. Connecting with like-minded people and inspiring their creativity has been very rewarding. And I have learnt much from them in return.
2015: Work Smarter not Harder
“Work smarter not harder”
Allen F. Morgenstern, 1930
What is the purpose of experience, but to learn how to be more efficient, more consistent, and more creative. Over time you will find yourself repeating certain tasks. When you come upon repetitive administrative tasks, automate them. Save time by creating templates for e-Mail responses to frequently asked questions and scheduling monthly payments. When you find yourself repeatedly creating for a client based on a certain format, develop a standard. Working to a formula will increase your productivity while producing work that is consistently of high standard. All the while freeing yourself up to offer more creative solutions for your client’s needs.
I first became piqued by the idea of using in-camera techniques like motion blur and multiple exposures while working on the series “Breath in… Breathe out… Let the human in…” (2015). I was creating a collage of several layered images in post-production, when it dawned on me to create similar effects through the medium itself. After much research and several test shoots, I created the series “Animal Within” on stage at the Photo & Film in 2015. This series explored ideas around Animalism and Therianthropy (shape-shifting) through the dancer’s performance. It required only minutes of post-processing to complete, making it my new favourite tool.
2016: Make time to live your dream life
There will be times when you need to remind yourself why you are on your chosen path. Being a freelancer is a 24/7 job. Being “Always On” can be incredibly exhausting, so it is important that you set boundaries as a business. This is the only way you will be able to make time for the most important thing of all: Life. Having a work/life balance is paramount to your success. If you burn out, you are of no use to anyone. Remember to reconnect with your passion from time to time.
In October 2016 I attended my first artist residency at the Arteles Creative Center in Finland. For me, this was a return to Nature. Working in a foreign environment, it was important to me to draw inspiration from the Finnish landscape and culture. Several images from the series Human.Nature are imbued with narratives from Finno-Ugric mythologies surrounding concepts of the soul and the transmigration thereof.
“ … the times they are a changin’ ”
Bob Dylan, 1964
You should never stop learning and evolving. For Bob Dylan was correct, “the times they are a changin’”. And they always will be. As a freelancer and business, you must learn to roll with the punches and keep providing services that are relevant.
Take for example the trend towards moving images on social media and billboards. As a photographer I receive more and more requests to provide video along with stills. Thankfully, I am already interested in both story-telling and motion, so exploring moving images has been a natural progression in my work.
The “Orchid House” is my first short film. This work is a collaboration with designer and video editor Matthew Harvey who started in-house with Field Photography in 2017, expanding our offerings further.
2018: Be consistent
Your passion should be for the journey, not the destination. Every time you achieve a goal, you will think “This is it, I have made it!”. But you should never become complacent with what you have achieved. By consistently reaching new heights, you will build your legacy.
For 18 months following the artist residency at Arteles I continued working on the Human.Nature series, adding cinematic tableaux, photomontages, botanicals, cyanotypes and a video installation. The work paid off when in early 2018 I reached an important goal in my career when I exhibited this collection as my first solo show at Berman Contemporary.
“Factored into the artist’s vision, therefore, we find the splice of the human and the natural worlds. The one cannot be embraced without the other. If this is so it is because the artist is not primarily concerned with photography as a medium as she is concerned with the technical ability of photography to capture the elusive yet driving enigma of our connection to nature”
Ashraf Jamal, Art Critic, 2018
2019: Create Client Experiences
“People buy experiences, not products.”
Shantanu Narayen, Adobe’s CEO, 2018
There is a constant flow of energy that will push you forward on a wave of success if you can connect people with what you do. Once they experience your passion, work ethic and off course, results, you are bound to work together time and again. Always pushing for innovation.
Thank you to everyone who has chosen to work with Field Photography over the last 10 years! Our successes are intertwined! And I can not wait to see what we will create next!