What are you up to these days?

This chart shows the percentage of my income earned in the tax year 2018-2019 from different activities.

If someone takes the time to ask me a question I will do my best to answer it fully and honestly. Sometimes I take those questions and answer them as a posting here on this blog. Today I am trying to answer a question asked directly to me when I met up with some old colleagues. That age old ice-breaker “so what are you up to these days?”

When it took me about five minutes to give a full answer I realised that my working life has gone from quite easy to explain “I’m an editorial photographer” to being way more complicated “I have a portfolio of roles within photography”. If I were on the receiving end of an answer like that I’d be tempted to glaze over and start to contemplate a quick change of subject or even a semi-quick exit. Everyone was kind enough to find what I had to say mildly interesting and so I’m going to try to repeat it here.

I started off by explaining that I’d had to take some time off of work in the summer of 2017 to have some back surgery and that, by doing so, I’d lost some clients and the combination of long-term complications from the surgery and the loss of those assignments has meant that my reliance on other photographic avenues has increased.

Back in the spring of 2014 I started working with a team of supremely talented sports photographers as an editor. It was something different and it allowed me to use and refine my workflow skills. Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I have put a considerable amount of effort into getting the post-production part of my photography right and that I’ve spent almost as much time sharing my thoughts on it. I’ve led workshops and given many lectures on it and I keep trying new ideas to squeeze more quality and greater efficiency from it. In the process I have worked with a number of DAMs (Digital Asset management Systems) and lots of delivery and transmission applications too. And it is this work as an editor that generates a big percentage of my living these days – after all, you can do it sitting down and the keyboard and mouse don’t care whether you are able to walk huge distances or not.

Further back in time I started doing quite a bit of teaching. Firstly it was location lighting, then general principles of photojournalism and more recently workflow has become my most common topic. In between all of that I have talked about my own work many, many times and it turns out that standing in front of a group of people who love photography is something that I, in turn, love doing and that I am pretty good at it too. Working with various colleges and universities has led to roles as an advisor on syllabuses, an external examiner, a course moderator and as a consultant. One university even asked me to help them recruit a new member of staff but that was the one task that I turned down!

The oddest role that I get asked to perform is that of a photographic consultant. It’s not something that I have ever sought but recommendations from others in the industry mean that I have been approached a few times to advise companies and NGOs on their photographic policies. Those requests have ranged from legal to creative advice and just about every facet of image making, buying, storing and dissemination in between. Fascinating stuff but I don’t think that I would want it to be my whole career.

Beyond (and before) all of those things came writing about photography. I have been commissioned to write magazine articles, blog posts, book chapters and even a set of questions for a radio interviewer to ask a photographer. The fact that I put at least one post a month on this blog probably tells you that I enjoy writing and would love to be asked to do more of it.

So what else do I have within my photography portfolio? I have mentored quite a lot of young (and not so young) photographers and there is the work that I’ve done with The British Press Photographers’ Association since 2003 holding various jobs and sitting on The Board for almost the whole of that time.

That, most definitely, adds up to a portfolio career. A very broad range of roles all based around my ever-lengthening experience as a working photographer. I still shoot assignments – although not every day. I miss doing some of the news jobs and as we wind up to polling day in yet another election I am feeling some jealousy for those out there pounding the pavements trying to make visual sense of modern politics. I spend way too much time writing proposals for projects that don’t come off but when they do they are never anything less than fascinating. Having all of these ways to earn money makes doing my tax return something of a marathon with some bits being subject to tax at source and most of the others coming under my freelance status. Still, it also turns out that bookkeeping comes pretty naturally to me as well.

So that’s a potted version of what I am up to. The other question that this raises is “what next?” to which the most obvious answer is “more of the same”. The balance between the elements is constantly changing and if I were being picky I’d probably want to increase everything! As a freelancer I could always do with earning more money and to do that I’ve either got to charge more or work more and in the current business climate the latter is way more likely so if you have a project that you think I could contribute to then get in touch because there is one thing that I can put my hand on my heart and say and that’s that I am still fascinated by and in love with photography.

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