Ellie J Photography Featured in Bokeh Magazine!

October 04, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

A few months back I was contacted by Bokeh Magazine through my Facebook page and asked if I would like to collaborate with them.  I was thrilled to bits, as Bokeh (based in California) is a premier digital photography magazine produced for people who are interested in the art and lifestyle of photography.

I was quite frankly gobsmacked that they had approached me for an interview!  A couple of weeks later, I discovered that one of my images was in the running (via a Facebook competition) for the front cover and once again, I was absolutely amazed at the amount of support I received, which ensured that my image of gorgeous James enjoying his post-cake smash bath has appeared on Bokeh's latest cover. 

I am very proud to share with you the cover page of this month's edition of Bokeh The Art and Life of Photography and my featured interview.  Thank you so much to my lovely clients, family and friends for your wonderful support.

(The latest edition of Bokeh can be purchased from bokehonline.com)

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 Q.  How did you get into photography?

A. Photography was always a part of my life as I was growing up.  Both my grandad and dad were keen photographers, and it seemed natural  for me to always have a camera in my hand, even as a child.  I've always been fascinated with and read about photography and my cabinet is full to bursting with books and magazines on the subject along with albums and discs full of my images taken over the years.

Q. What was the journey like transitioning from being a photography enthusiast to a photography professional.

A. I'd always seen professional photography as a dream career when I was young, but as an adult I let go of that dream for the simple fact that I needed stability and a reliable income.  I had a husband whose health wasn't fantastic after two major heart operations, three children and a mortgage, so the expense and uncertainty  involved in throwing myself into a full time photography business made it seem unobtainable.  I had a part time job as a local government officer in Health and Safety and so in the early days, despite the passion being there,  photography remained a much loved hobby.

I had always been the unofficial family and friends photographer and when my youngest daughter arrived I began taking portraits of her myself with my trusty bridge camera (Fuji S9500) rather than go to high street photographers.  Then other family members and friends asked me to photograph their children.  When friends of friends - people I didn't know - began to offer to pay me for portraits, my dream was re-ignited and  I began to believe that I could set up my own photography business, albeit on a part time basis.  I still didn't do much about it but then one day my husband surprised me with my first DSLR, a Nikon D80 and it would have been rude not to pursue my dreams after that!  I attended some training in portrait lighting and wedding photography and, when I felt I was ready, established Ellie J Photography. No one in  my family was hugely surprised when I decided to make it all official.  Except perhaps me - I can't say I was very confident in the early days, I've always been a bit of a worrier and I remember being so nervous before my first paid event that I threw up!   

I set Ellie J Photography up to fit around my 'proper' job. My confidence improved as I found myself getting more and more bookings.  At this point, I was still working as a local government officer in Health and Safety, so I had the reliability of a salary coming in each month to ensure the bills were being paid. It was lovely to be able to earn money on the side doing something I loved and still have the reliability of a regular salary to ensure the bills were paid.

Two years in though things got tough as my 'proper' job was suddenly put at risk of redundancy.  Those were worrying times, I knew I had to have an income to support my family and the money I was getting from photography wasn't going to be enough.  The stress and worry got too much for me, my health began to suffer and ultimately, I found myself being treated for depression.

I began looking for other work, planning to forget the photography business if necessary to concentrate on another reliable job. My husband would have none of it though.  He really was my knight in shining armour and I will always be grateful to him.  He had absolute faith in me and insisted that I throw all my efforts into developing a full time photography business.  He was so supportive and  didn't once falter, even when times were tough and I was having a melt-down! Of course he was absolutely right (although I don't tell him that often!).  I was made redundant, took Ellie J Photography full time and haven't looked back since.

Q. Were there people who didn't believe in your passion or photography endeavors?

A. Most people, my family in particular, have been totally supportive.  I think perhaps anyone embarking on what can be perceived as a "dream job" will face some negativity from others. I also think people who don't know much about photography honestly think its just a case of pointing the camera, pressing the shutter button and nothing else!  I had one friend of the family tell me that 'my little business must be a nice easy hobby and what a bonus that it gave me some pocket money' I remember smiling sweetly and biting my tongue after having been up till the early hours the previous night processing a wedding! Sadly I've found that some photographers can be harsh.  I've been a member of some photography forums and can remember in the early days posting images for C&C.  One or two of the comments infuriated and upset me because they were absolutely scathing and not supportive or helpful at all.  I don't mind constructive comments, I am always learning, but to leave just negative words with no advice or explanation is plain bad manners in my opinion.

Q. How did you deal with them and their criticism?

A.It was tough, I'm quite sensitive and I do tend to take negativity to heart even now.  Luckily however, for every one negative comment there were many more helpful people offering sound advice, and some of them have become firm friends.

Q. Did you have mentors or any formal education in photography?

A. I'm still learning and it will be an ongoing process.  I have undertaken training through the BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photography), The Guild of Photographers and other organisations. I've also qualified with both the BIPP and Guild and had some wonderful mentors helping me towards these qualifications.   I regularly attend seminars and workshops still,  as I do think its important, not only to meet other photographers but also to keep on top of the latest developments in our business.

Q. How did you start "Ellie J Photography"?

A.  I began working in clients' homes or in my conservatory using natural light with my D80.  I got myself a simple backdrop and stand and a few props whilst saving for studio lighting.  I bought as I earned. My first studio lights were a set of Bowens Gemini 500s, and later came a set of 250s, so I had a four light studio set up.  Later we converted our garage and back room into a studio space, which doubles as a family room when I'm not taking photographs.  It was very much like that at the start.  Work a few jobs, save money - buy gear and repeat!

Q. What is the main industry for "Ellie J Photography"?

A. When I started I specialised in newborns and also photographed children, families pets and weddings. As I got busier I had to juggle things around so I stopped the weddings. 

Q. What makes your business unique?

A.  My clients have told me that they feel as if they are coming to a friend's house when they visit the studio.  I've always loved working with babies and children and feel totally relaxed and natural with them - they seem to like me too and I'm not afraid to act like a big kid when necessary to get the smiles.  One thing I've never done is put a time limit on my sittings - I've got three children myself and I know from experience that the way to get a young child to co-operate is to be patient with them and let them relax before I start photgraphing. I decided right from the start that I wouldn't restrict my clients to a half or one hour slot. You could argue that I've shot myself in the foot with this, as it does mean of course that I can't schedule as many sessions in a day as other photographers can, but for me its paid off in returning clients and its how I prefer to work.  I want my clients to feel at ease and unhurried so that they can enjoy their session.

Q. How did you grow your business back then?

A. My business has been built solely by word-of-mouth recommendation.  I did do a stint a few years ago of walking for miles and posting leaflets through doors, but the return I got wasn't worth the outlay (both in leaflet cost and blisters!) so it didn't happen again.  It may be a fairly slow process, but word of mouth is the best referral system out there! 

Q. Were there any specific marketing strategies that have worked well for you?

A. Having a good knowledge of SEO is important and I am lucky to have wonderful support in that area. I have a good website ranking and, although most of my work is still word of mouth, many clients these days also find me through a Google search. I have to say that, love it or hate it, Facebook marketing has also been quite good for me.  Every so often I will pay to boost a post after selecting my target audience and I'll always get a return from it.  I do pay for advertising occasionally, but I'm very careful to pick and choose, as I'm all too aware that newspapers ads today will be tomorrow's fish and chips wrappings!

Q. Have you done any commercial work, and if so how did those opportunities come up?

A.Yes for a local company.  It was a literally a case of me being in the right place at the right time.  One of the company directors had children at the same school as my daughter and we got to know each other on the playground, then I took some family portraits for them and later photographed a charity event they were hosting.  When the company was upgrading its website and literature they came to me for the photography.  

Q. What do you do to keep yourself inspired? 

A.  Its easy to be inspired these days!  There are so many great photographers out there and they all have social media and websites.  I also love my books - my latest are Richard Avedon's 'Performance' and my absolute favourite, 'Vivian Maier, Street Photographer'. 

Another thing I do to stay inspired is ensure I always have time for my personal projects.  My children have been wonderfully patient with me as I've tried out new ideas with them as models, and I still carry a camera with me wherever I go, albeit my phone camera now - so I can photograph anything that interests me.

Q. Who do you look up to?

A. Vivian Maier, I know she's not with us anymore but I adore her work and I'm drawn to her story.  It seems she had such a lonely life, but her photographs are stunning - she was able to capture her subject's expressions at just the right moment and of course, she loved photographing children as I do.  How sad that she was not recognised until after her death.  There are so many other photographers around that inspire me - but one that springs to mind is Carrie Sandoval of Captured By Carrie, I love her newborn work.

Q. Describe your photographic style and has it changed over the years?

A.I think simple and spontaneous  probably answers that one.  I've always done newborn photography but in the early days I would use  props routinely in a session.  Now, whilst I still use props if requested, I like a more natural approach.  I seem to have developed a knack for anticipating a moment - a sneeze, a yawn, a sleepy newborn smile - and these are the photos I love to capture.  I love photographing those moments when I've been able to get people laughing, or perhaps that moment when a parent is looking tenderly at their tiny baby.  

Q. What are some of your favorite photography related websites?

A. Planetneil, Strobist and Digital Photography Magazine.

Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A. Seeing a parent's reactions when I show them their gallery of photos after what they felt was a difficult session. I love a challenge! Photographing children isn't always easy and some parents worry that if their child isn't being co-operative I can't have got any images.  However, I see things differently through my lens.  Probably my most rewarding moments have come when I've photographed children with special needs.  One mum of an autistic boy cried when she saw the photos I'd taken of her family.  She explained afterwards that she had never been able to get a photo of her three boys together before. It was a lovely feeling.

Q. What is the most difficult part of your job and how do you deal with it?

A. Admin - I hate admin! I have to force myself to be organised by setting aside time to deal with paperwork but I'd much rather be taking photos!

Q. Have you ever said no to a job assignment, and if so why?

A. Yes!  I've had one or two requests to do adult glamour nudes.  While I do photograph nudes they are either carefully posed pregnant ladies or dad's with their shirt off cuddling a newborn.  I'd be far to embarrassed to do anything in glamour!

Q. What are some of the greatest hurdles you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?

A.  I like low key photography for certain subjects and, with my studio space not being the widest, the light coloured walls reflected too much light for what I wanted to achieve.  I considered painting the walls neutral grey, but decided against it as my studio is also used as a family room when I'm not working.  I came up with the solution of dark drapes which my lovely mum and dad made for me.  These are now flush against the walls and can be pulled aside or removed as necessary.  

Q. What are the top 5 things that you attribute to your current success?

A. Perseverance and hard work, you have to be willing to put in the hours which can be tough, especially when you have children.

Treating my clients well - sounds obvious, but it is so important  to treat your clients as you would want to be treated.  I respond to their queries without delay, communicate with them from first contact to delivery of their images.  In the case of new parents, I ensure that I explain how I'm going to work safely with their baby and keep talking throughout the session to allay any worries they might have.

Confidence and experience - I've photographed so many children now, especially newborns, and I do think that experience reassures parents wanting to book me.

My family have always been and still are very supportive, especially my husband and my wonderful children

My lovely clients for their faith in me and their recommendations to others

Q. What are the 3 most important areas of your business right now?

A.  Helping parents and new photographers understand the importance of safety during newborn sessions.To deliver a great, personal service to each and every client. To produce the best work I can.

Q. What initiatives are you working on to improve those 3 areas?

A. I regularly talk and blog about the importance of safe practice during newborn photography sessions. This is such an important issue.  In the UK the newborn photography industry is unregulated and a knowledge of how to work safely is vitally important for new photographers, as is a knowledge for parents of what to expect from their newborn photographer.  I am a member of BANPAS (the baby and newborn photography association) which has been doing great work raising this issue.

I believe ongoing training is important to improve the other two areas, and this is something I always have planned.

Q. How important is having goals to you and what are some that you have at the moment? 

A. I do think goals are important.  From a personal point of view, I'd like to be able to manage the work/life balance more effectively so I'm looking at ways of improving my time management.  From a professional development point of view I'm working towards my next qualification in my spare time.

Q. How important is networking in your specific photography niche?

A. I think networking is important for all businesses, not just to get your name out there but to be able to have people you can bounce ideas off or refer work to/receive referrals from as necessary.  

Q. What do you recommend to someone getting started in the photography business?

A. Learn your equipment inside and out.  Strap your camera to your hand and take it with you wherever you go. Learn to 'see' light - observe how is affects a scene, how it falls onto someone's face.  Practice, practice, practice! If you plan working with newborns, make sure you learn how to do this safely. When you are ready to set up your business, don't worry too much about the competition - concentrate on developing your own style and client base.  If you are going to succeed, you need to put your efforts into being the best that you can be, rather than worrying about who is snapping at your heels or setting up in business a few streets away from you. 

Q. What is something you wish you did differently when you started your photography journey/business?

A. I wish I'd believed in and valued myself more from the start.  One lesson I learned in this respect makes me smile now.  Years ago, a man called and told me that he adored my work and wished he could book me for a location shoot for his wife's Christmas present.  He then told me how he really, really couldn't afford my prices.  He sounded so desperate and pleading that I offered him a fair reduction.  In the New Year I set off to photograph his family and, as I drove into the driveway of his massive detached house and parked my rusty little Fiat Punto next to his two beautiful BMW cars,  I realised I needed to toughen up! 

Q. What equipment do you use?

A. I have five Bowens studio lights, numerous modifiers and reflectors, and paper and vinyl backdrops.  Gear wise I shoot mainly with my Nikon D800, although I also use a D3 and have a D700 for backup.  Lens wise my workhorse is the Nikkor 24 - 70, I also use the Nikkors 70 - 200, 50 1.8, 85 1.8, and 60mm micro.

Q. How do you plan and setup for a shoot?

A.I always pack my gear, check batteries, cards etc for location shoots or set the studio up the night before so I'm not rushing around in the morning while trying to get the school run sorted!  In the studio I'll set everything out that I need based on the job coming in and then sit and write a shot list.  No matter how many times I've done a session I still refer to my shot list as it avoids potential 'blank' moments and is also handy to jot notes down relating to the specific job.

Q. What type of post processing do you do?

A. I use Adobe Camera Raw to do the initial processing before moving into Photoshop CS6.

Q. Do you see any trends developing in your field of photography?

A. I see newborn photography moving toward a more natural approach.  I.e. - less images of babies posed in containers, hanging from trees in hammocks and so on.

Q. What can we expect to see from you in the future?

A. I'm always looking to improve my work and try new processing techniques. I've been looking at digital art lately and, whilst not experienced enough to introduce this at a high enough level in my client work just yet, it may be something I look at incorporating in the future.

Q. Do you have anything else you would like to add?

A. I'm so happy to be finally doing the job I love, although I am aware that I still have more to learn. I never would have dreamed I'd get to this stage and I thank God for my fabulous husband and family for their belief in me when I was wavering. To anyone thinking of becoming a newborn and child photographer I would say first and foremost, be sure you have learned how to work safely, be prepared to work hard and persevere when things get tough. You'll end up with a fantastic and very rewarding career.

 


 

 


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