Enthusiast to pro photographer – My first jobs

Want to know what it’s like turning pro? Then look no further than Rachel’s first-hand experience into the world of pro photography.

By Rachel Riley

How time flies! It has been a fair few months since the tentative decision was made to start the journey to being a professional photographer. As it seems to have been with a lot of people, 2016 was not a good year, so development of the new business was more or less put on hold while efforts, energies and emotions were channeled in more pressing directions. That’s not to say there weren’t opportunities for photography, and it was at times an excellent way to escape some harsh realities.

Never one to do things by halves, the first job was quite a way out of my comfort zone; and I’m not sure I was prepared for the learning experience it proved itself to be.

If you missed Rachel’s first post, read it here

The Photo Booth

A friend asked if I would photograph her 40th birthday party as a Hollywood-style photo booth. The opportunity for a rare evening out and donning a posh frock was most appealing, so I was happy to accept the job.

Pricing for friends can be very difficult but I decided that my fee for the evening would go straight to the Fountain Centre at the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford, as well as any profit from print sales. A charity very close to my heart, it provides vital support and counselling for patients at St Luke’s Cancer Centre and their families.

Enlisting an unwilling husband as my roadie to set up during the afternoon, and armed with back drop, soft boxes and fairy lights, not to mention an absurd amount of masking tape, we hit the venue. Setting up in a corner near the front of the ballroom, excitement mounted. I had my eye on a huge, illuminated number 40 to shoot later on, not to mention the fabulous Bubblegum Balloons peppered along the sides of the dance floor. Brushing aside the looks of vague surprise from folks that I was in fact the photographer and not my husband, I set up a few trial shots and we were good to go.

The evening was great fun, although completely exhausting. Once I had the right settings on the Fuji and my trusty Three-Legged-Thing “Rick” in position, the technical side of things took care of themselves, leaving me to engage with the increasingly relaxed guests as the night went on. It was a joy to take group shots of the birthday girl’s family, as was capturing her fabulously glamorous friends.

Keeping the pace of shooting going as the wine flowed during the evening and guests found it increasingly tricky to stay focused on a quick pose proved a bit of a challenge, as did diplomatically turning down the one or two people who fancied their own free half hour portrait session. But the mood was very happy, smiles abounded from guests and photographer alike, and any of the raised eyebrows from a couple of chaps at the compact size of my FUJIFILM X-E2, or my competence as a photographer because I was wearing a sparkly dress, were soon put to bed as they caught a glimpse of the results.

Packing my gear away after midnight – on my own as the grumpy roadie was babysitting – was weary work. It had been a long day and there was, of course, editing still to come. Ideally, people want to see or take their photos home on the day for this kind of thing, so I needed to get the gallery live on my website as soon as possible. Thankfully, it didn’t take as long as it might have if I’d indulged in the flowing wine the night before and soon the images were out there. Job done.

A steep learning curve it most certainly was. Aside from the editing afterwards, the man hours involved with setting up and the party itself were more than I had anticipated. Since this was a one-off job, I was unable to offer instant printing or downloads – not least because I didn’t have the equipment but also because I was working alone. Event photography is big business, and involves a great deal of kit, patience, skill and investment, as well as making for a very intense and pressured experience. Certainly not an option for my business, but I am glad to have given it a pop.

In vino veritas

Something a little less pressured for my second job. I was contacted by a friend who works for a national wine merchant needing a quick turnaround to promote a selection of Riojas. What a perfect combination – booze and photography! After the time constraints of the party shoot, I was looking forward to enjoying a creative afternoon, setting up in the mini studio, playing about with ideas, lighting. And so it worked!

The brief I was given was clear: promoting 12 bottles of 6 beautiful reds, with some very precise stipulations as to perfection and display, but accompanied by the need for a fresh new look.

A warm but pale backdrop seemed a good start as an alternative to the bright white normally used by the company’s photographers. Gathering a few wine-related accessories from around the house to accompany the bottles, I got to work. Battling against reflections was the first major issue and eventually I managed to create an even look, but this took some time (and I have to confess that the sample bottle was looking ever more tempting, despite the sun not even approaching the yard arm at that point…).

“What a perfect combination – booze and photography!”

I experimented with different heights and arrangements. It was essential to ensure that the labels were visible and without any imperfections, and the challenge of such precision was a welcome one. Eventually, I had two different shots that hit the spot, and pinged them straight off to the company. The satisfaction that followed – seeing my work on a mailshot was quietly enjoyed with a glass from the sample bottle – as well as the certain decision that working in my own time is definitely the way to go.

To see more of Rachel’s work, visit: www.rachelrileyphotography.co.uk


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