In 2012 I graduated from the University of Derby with a 2:1 Commercial Photography Degree. My time at university was a fantastic period of my life and certainly gave me a wealth of skills and knowledge in the photography industry. The scary thing about University is the realisation of how many other budding photographers are out there and how good some of them really are. I was lucky enough at University to be surrounded by some awesome photographers who have now gone on to be hugely successful in a wide range of photography industries.
Over the next few weeks I've asked fellow graduates in Photography from The University of Derby to share their views on the industry, their time at University and their experiences of making it as a successful photographer. There are so many successful photographers who have graduated in the recent years that I've spilt this blog post into two, so make sure you check back for part 2 in a week or two!
"I am a still life and portrait photographer based in Bristol, shooting for commercial, editorial and advertising clients. I started shooting still life when I was in my second year at university and used my time and resources whilst studying to test and learn as much as I could. I started assisting photographers around the same time I started shooting still life bits, which provided a huge and valuable learning curve to studio practices and how to deal with clients on set too. It's a slow burn to getting your own clients and you can’t just expect to leave university and pick up work. The photography industry is a fiercely competitive place and owes you nothing as a nobody graduate so you need to make people care and listen. The best way to do that is with your work.
I left university with a handful of photographers I assisted regularly and helped provide a smooth transition from education to this paying the bills and as a full time profession. I’m now starting to pick up clients a little more freely and getting a little bit of momentum going. It’s not easy, it's a slog. But if you’re a student reading this now and want to work commercially for clients, start planning and thinking about it now. Start by trying to assist photographers you admire. You can never be too prepared.”
"I am a Professional freelance Retoucher, I work mainly on advertising campaigns and commercial imagery. I am represented By Happy finish, A world wide creative agency. Being represented makes my life a little easier; they handle all the sales work, production management and financial aspects of being freelance, leaving me to concentrate on what matters, my creative work. This model works great for me and despite them taking a slice of the pay after each job it’s often worth it to have that support system in place.
I got into retouching whilst studying Commercial Photography at Derby, I had a realisation that i was much happier behind a computer screen than a camera. We were taught basic photoshop skills as part of our course, and I continued to teach myself via the magic of the internet to assist with my photography, this soon developed into an obsession with image manipulation and retouching soon took over as my main career ambition.
As soon as I left university i sent a retouch portfolio to several creative agencies and I was incredibly lucky to have been picked up by Happy finish as a junior retoucher. As a junior my job was assisting the other retouchers by creating photoshop paths and doing basic retouch on hundreds of images.. mind numbing is putting it lightly! But under the mentor of my senior retoucher he taught me every he knows and 3 years later I am now a fully represented artist dealing with my own clients and projects and loving every minute of it.
Many people have asked me, was a photography degree worth it considering you don’t even work in photography? Personally I would say yes.
But during my degree I gained a lot of confidence, learnt about being a freelance artist and best of all it helped me get my career on track by bringing my focus towards retouching, giving me something to aim for.
Who knows, I may have ended up down this path without university, but it was some of the best years of my life so I have no regrets.
If you already have the skill, ambition and confidence maybe university isn't for you, but my advice for everyone regardless is to always strive to learn as much as you can.
If that’s paying for a degree or simply teaching yourself online, you never know everything so keep learning! My advice would be to keep on top of the latest tech and software as this is a growing and shifting industry that keeps you on your toes!"
SOPHIE MORRISON // www.happyfinish.com
"Having completed my degree I inevitably had to move home and start the hunt for work. Unfortunately just before starting Uni my parents moved to the middle of nowhere which limited my options a touch, even more so when I didn't have a car! So eventually I found a part time job for 3 days a week working as a receptionist at a Dentist. This, though not what I wanted to do, provided me with the money to learn to drive so I could look for work a little further afield. After a year of working there, learning to drive, passing my test, getting a car and going down to only one day a week, I finally found a possible job. A Photography admin assistant.
The job title was a little odd but the description seemed good, working as an office assistant for a company that ran an on line photography course. Little did I know that this odd sounding job that I accidentally found would turn into what it has. Digital Sea, the company I work for now have a variety of courses from photography to writing children's stories and I get to be involved in all of them. I started out just doing general support for customers and working as a photography tutor for the 70,000 students, providing feedback within the online gallery and the assignments they submitted to the team. As the company has grown however my role within it has changed slightly. I no longer deal with support (unless covering for someone when they are away) I work alongside the company directors assisting in the production and creation of new courses.
I have been lucky enough to be able to combine the creativity I learnt through photography and my technical abilities with computers to create a role in the course creation which can vary from inputting text into the software we use and adding fancy tricks and triggers to editing images to be used within advertising and the site. Without my photography I would not have this job and I am so glad I completed my degree and the knowledge gained is so valuable for helping as a tutor. It's not exactly where I thought I would end up but I can't really see myself ever doing anything else. I would still love to sell some of my own images as a side line thing but I don't think I would manage (at the moment) being set up as my own business. I have had a little bit of success selling images within an online stock library specific to flower photography which is where my strengths lie, and I hope to pursue this a little further in the future.
I would say choose a degree you are going to enjoy, there is no point picking a degree that you think will get you a job because that may not be the case, there are very few people nowadays who manage to find a job specifically related to the degree they do so make sure it is something you love. If you want to set yourself up as a photographer my advice will always be to build a portfolio of work and show your ability through that rather than advertising yourself for having a degree. Your images will do more for you when attracting clients than having a degree (though of course it will always help) But build a portfolio, drag your friends into help if you need models and find a style that you can sell yourself on."
HARRIET NURDEN // www.iphotographycourse.com
Check back in the coming weeks for Issue 2 and more insights into graduate photographers.
What degree did you study? Are you practicing the skills learned in your current profession?