Early Morning at Teesside Wind Farm, Redcar
Dave Charnley Photography

Member Article

Careers in Commercial Photography

With thousands of graduates coming into the jobs market with plans to be a successful commercial photographer, editiorial and PR photographer, Dave Charnley gives his tips on how to get started on a photography career.

I’ve got more than two decades of experience behind me. One of my first jobs was as a holiday camp photographer routinely taking around 800 pictures a night, and I followed that with a one-way ticket to the Middle East to work on a kibbutz, before cycling home 3000 miles across Europe with my trusty camera at my side. My next move saw me working for 20 years in the thick of it as a busy press photographer, working with everyone from community heroes and sports starts to royalty and heads of state. My current business, North East based Dave Charnley Photography specialises in commercial, editorial and PR photography for businesses and marketing agencies.

Apprenticeships: Photography is a competitive business and if I was starting again I’d look at the apprenticeship route as it’s a great way to earn while you learn the trade. According to the National Apprenticeship Service, average pay rates for apprentices are around £170 per week, and in return you get a foot in the door and a chance to learn about the different specialisms and what marketplace you want to be in.

Markets: I’m a pretty sociable guy so North East event photography, corporate portraits and PR photography are my bread and butter but people just starting out often lack the confidence to put forward creative ideas and direct photography shoots, which is all part of being a good photographer. Confidence comes with having the technical experience with camera kit as well as some life experience, but if you’re not quite there yet there are other fields such as medical, forensic or architectural photography that might suit you more than people photography.

Rewards: So what can you expect to earn? An established regional newspaper might offer between £19k and £23k, with trainees on a starting salary of around £15k. Press photographers are expected to work fast and under pressure but you get plenty of variety and learn to think on your feet, often working with a very limited brief. For instance in a typical day you might find yourself photographing students at a school in Newcastle, covering a royal visit to the Teesside Barrage, capturing an awards ceremony at a chemical plant at Wilton International site near Redcar, and doing a night time shoot to cover Stockton’s outdoor Fire and Ice event.

Getting a foot in the door: I get regular emails from hopefuls, who are keen, enthusiastic and tell me they are happy to work for a relatively low wage. Although I’m not looking for staff I always take the time and trouble to reply with some advice and encouragement. And do you know what? The majority of them don’t even bother to reply, which I find very sad.

A lot of them make silly mistakes too, like not putting their mobile number or other contact details on their email, say whether they can drive, or show any sign they have thought about what value they would add to my business, or even understand what type of work I specialise in.

Some get in touch via social media, which I don’t think is the right route. It’s fine to have short conversations or post comments on work but it’s not the platform for job or work placement pitches. If you want to stand out why not be different and send an old school-style letter?

Portfolio: Including a portfolio is essential. It should have around 10 great pictures and look professional, whether it’s a link to a website or a good quality sample card – A5 size is perfect – with details on the back, and a covering note.

If you haven’t got the right set of sample pictures to impress an employer, create the opportunities for yourself. If you want to specialise in music photography hang out with local bands and offer to do some free sessions. If corporate photography is your bag, get your friends’ parents to pose as business executives so you can show your portraiture style. Or attend an event – a book launch with a local author for instance – and create imaginative stories around it to show different approaches.

I often remind young photographers of the basic rule that 80% of a good result is communication; the rest is putting it into a picture. It sounds simple but involves lots of observation, imagination and setting up.

Be original: While it’s good to be inspired by other people’s work, try to find your own way. And don’t over-process your pictures – it’s one of my biggest bugbears, seeing what could have been a great shot spoiled by over-use of Photoshop. Get a great picture first and only then look at where it might benefit from some editing.

I’ve been lucky and my photography career has seen me embedded with the British Army in Kosovo, being chosen by Reuters to shoot artist Spencer Tunick’s famous Naked City art installation at the Baltic, and work on everything from fashion shows and arts and sports events to corporate portraits and care home launches.

I genuinely hope all the young hopefuls graduating this year get as much out of it as I have. It’s a highly competitive and pressurised business but looking back, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Dave Charnley Photography .

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