Another anniversary

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008 The Petchey Academy in Hackney, London, E8 opened to pupils in September 2007.

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008. The Petchey Academy in Hackney, London.

The eleventh of September will always be remembered for the tragic events in New York in 2001 but it also has another, altogether more positive, place in my calendar. Today is the seventh anniversary of my first commissioned job as a freelance photographer having spent fourteen and a half years in a staff job. In those fourteen and a half years I had shot assignments in thousands of schools and it was somewhat ironic that my first freelance outing came from a Picture Editor with whom I had previously worked and was back in a London school. So much was exactly the same – only the end user of the pictures was different. It wasn’t even an educational publication, it was a specialist magazine for facilities managers.

It should have felt like the kind of job that I’d been doing for so many years. I was using the same cameras that I had been using for four years and the same lights that I’d had for at least eight years. I even arrived in the same car that I’d been driving for the previous couple of years but I was nervous in a way that I hadn’t been for a very long time. It didn’t help that I had been on ‘gardening leave’ for a month by then and so I had actually just gone through the longest period without shooting a job since I had left college twenty-two years previously.

The brief was to get pictures of the school, it’s facilities manager and his team. I like to think that I always go beyond the brief where I can and on this job that involved lugging my lighting kit onto the school roof to shoot a portrait as well as waiting for ages for people to walk through my carefully set up building shots.

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008 The Petchey Academy Facilities Manager Alan Gilbert MBIFM.

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008. The Petchey Academy Facilities Manager Alan Gilbert MBIFM.

Everything went well and I shot some nice pictures. The magazine used them very well as a cover and across five pages inside and, best of all, the publisher started to give me a sizeable amount of work over the next couple of years. Most importantly – I was off and running.

I find it remarkable that all of that was seven years ago. A lot of water has passed under a lot of bridges in the meantime and I have experienced those same nerves on more than a few occasions as I try new things, work for new people and take very different sorts of pictures.

Thank you to those friends and colleagues who helped kick-start my second freelance career. I’m still here and I’m still loving taking pictures.

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008. Facilities Manager Alan Gilbert MBIFM whose deputy is his brother Les Gilbert.

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008. Facilities Manager Alan Gilbert MBIFM whose deputy is his brother Les Gilbert.

Technical stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII cameras with Canon EF 16-35 f2.8L, 24-70 f2.8L and 70-200 f2.8L lenses. Lighting Lumedyne Signature Series 200 w/s pack and head.

Five years of freelancing

cutoutsIt’s quite hard to believe that I’m celebrating five years of freelancing this week. I hinted at it when I wrote about anniversaries a couple of weeks ago and I thought that it might be a good time to think about how things have gone and how things are going.

The first thing that comes to mind is that I still adore being a photographer. I hope that anyone who has read any of my blog posts since 1999 would have worked that out for themselves but I wanted to get that in first just in case anyone is in any doubt.

The second thing is that the timing of my move into self-employment couldn’t possibly have been worse: the economic meltdown in much of the developed world was pretty much at its zenith in September 2008 and I’m pretty sure that life would have been considerably easier had I left the staff job a couple of years earlier. That’s life.

Thirdly I want to mention the way that our industry works. Every photographer, picture editor and buyer of photography will tell you about a golden era. I really think that no such thing actually existed. That’s not quite right; I think that the invention of photography spurred a “silver” era which is still in progress and that there may have been a few golden spikes in that time. The industry has been in a constant state of change for well over a hundred years and it will continue to react to social and technological changes as long as the need for imagery exists.

So how has the last five years actually been for me? Ups and downs, feast and famine, peaks and troughs are all phrases that readily come to mind. One week I might work one day and the next I have four or even five days work. Sometimes it’s all editorial and others it’s all corporate. I’ve calculated that I’ve made 88% of my income taking pictures and the other 12% either writing about photography, teaching it or doing some consultancy work. I’ve learned the importance of having a portfolio ready to go and I have recently spent a lot of time getting my online presence to work smarter for me.

I suspect that none of the above is new to you and that none of it comes as a surprise. To be honest, I am pretty content with my new life and the only things I actually miss about being a staff photographer are:

  • I now have to buy my own car and camera gear
  • I have to do my own paperwork
  • I’m no longer an integral part of a big team.

The variety of assignments has been great, the travel has been interesting and getting to spend a lot more time at home has been wonderful. My hair has lightened to an even lighter grey but that is probably more to do with age than stress and I now have to wear glasses a bit more often than I did but that’s probably due to my age as well.

I’m not the only one who has made the move from staff to freelance and I’m certainly not the only one who did so due to newspapers and magazines reorganising and doing away with staffers. There was a discussion a few days ago about the pros and cons of being freelance and the general consensus was that it suits some people more than it suits others. I miss the team, I miss shooting every single day and I’d love to have someone there to buy me some new gear but apart from that I’m looking forward with child-like excitement about what comes next.

Neil Turner Photographer, the Facebook page