Well, to be honest there has never been a better time to do it! You have had it on your mind for a while; the New Year rush has come and gone when you vowed, "this year, this year above any is going to be my year". Yet you still haven't done anything about it, yet you still want to.
It is those first steps that are the most difficult. Sometimes fate will intervene and give you a helping hand- such as being made redundant. It takes great courage and a leap of faith at the moment however to go from the security of employment, especially with all the media hype on the economy- whether we have been declared out of recession or not!
So what are those first steps? There is good news for those who have been made redundant, or are about to be. There are still local government initiatives around, for how much longer we don't know, but these initiatives will pay for or towards the training you need to get you started in your new career. Your local Business Link is a good place for most people to start, as they will have the latest information on grants available, and also offer sound advice on setting up a business and getting going. The Regional Business Link is coming to an end in November this year- so I would suggest anyone who feels they could benefit from this service to act sooner rather than later, before this valuable service is gone forever.
The next step is to sort out your training. Do you need to start from Beginner level courses all the way through or can you consolidate your existing knowledge and build upon that? This is where you need to take a long hard look at your current skill level. Be realistic about your abilities, without being too hard on yourself. If you are lucky enough you may be able to speak to an established photographer who can give you advice on where your skill levels are at and where you need to go in terms of training; based upon your current skill level and your future aspirations. You could call a photographic training company; any trainer worth their salt will take time to talk you through your future plans and between you to devise a training plan to help you get there. I say 'help' here as ultimately the best trainer and photographer in the world can train you; but ultimately how well you do is down to you- your enthusiasm, your commitment and your artistic and business talents will all go to shape your future destiny and success.
When choosing a training school, you need to make sure you make the correct choice. Are the courses on offer going to give you the skills to enable you to do what you need to do? Is there any sort of governing body providing accreditation of the courses on offer? Look for governing bodies such as Skillset as not only do they provide assurance to prospective clients in terms of high quality training and course material on offer at a centre, but in terms of client health and safety issues, company procedures and also value for money. It also helps for those looking for funding, as Skillset is a recognised governing body. If you have been made redundant you could speak to your local Job Centre Plus or the Department of Work and Pensions as they have Certified Training Providers in place too.
Above all you need to go with a provider you feel comfortable with. Do they provide a clear, but comprehensive website with all the information you need to know? Do they provide videos showing the facilities on offer? Will you get hands on training and dedicated time spent with your tutor? Look for smaller group sizes; as some courses will take anything up to 10 or even more people per tutor and this tends to produce a 'paparazzi' style of teaching where course delegates end up shooting over other peoples heads; without being able to line up a single shot due to the volume of people trying to take a picture. This style is helpful to no-one and should be avoided like the plague if you actually want to come away from the course having learnt something. Look for realistic but beautiful images on the website. You want to be able to create images like this yourself, especially if you are looking at being a Wedding or Portrait Photographer. You want to avoid being sold down the route of producing 'Arty' images, which are highly processed and completely unnatural. At the end of the day people want to see themselves looking beautiful, and naturally beautiful at that. You just won't sell images where your client is part of the furniture or made to look ridiculous. Your client will undoubtedly be paying you good money to make them feel special and look beautiful, with images they can be proud of. You should look at shooting with this in mind- this is a good tactic for you and the added bonus of this is increased sales. Not only this, you don't want to be producing images that date quickly. You want to produce images that people are happy with for years to come. This gives you the very best opportunity at establishing a repeat client base and word of mouth recommendations.
Another good point is the use of course images to promote your own business. I am often asked about this and I always suggest against it. Hopefully this will make it clear. Imagine if a training company was to get 200 clients a year through the door and all those clients take away photographs with either the same models or in the same locations. Any client 'shopping around' for a photographer will soon rumble this. It can also be an issue with trading standards as the images you are using were set up on a course and therefore are not ones you have produced on the job. Therefore by all means show your potential clients the images and say you can take pictures like that, but avoid putting them on your website or leading your potential clients to believe that the images were taken on a job. It's fair to admit you have trained in your profession- I mean I would be dubious about someone who had never received any form of training. However, replace these images taken on a course with your own work as fast as possible. There are two other ways to get your portfolio of work going to start with; you can assist a photographer and perhaps get the chance to get your camera out too; or you can book in a 'portfolio-building' day, where you set up the shots and arrange the models- that has all been arranged by a training company. As part of this you get to use equipment you will need for your shots as well as have the comfort that someone experienced is on hand to help should you need help. Be wary however of training companies that say you can use course images for your website marketing or portfolio, some go as far as saying you can use images in applying for photography qualifications, this advice is bad and given by someone who wants your money; rather than by someone who wants you to go away and succeed and not hit huge hurdles when you are at the most vulnerable point in your career. You need to find a training company that gives you the confidence to go away and be able to take them images for yourself, giving you the tools for success.
Are you finding it difficult to motivate yourself? My best advice is to build a mental picture of you in your successful business, doing what you want. Then take small, regular steps towards achieving that goal. You cannot hope to set up your business overnight; websites need designing, companies need to be formed, insurances need to be sorted, bank accounts, terms and conditions, pricing structure, advertising etc... This all takes time. Keep your eye on where you are going and with the continual small steps in the right direction one day you will find yourself on top of that 'insurmountable' mountain, wondering how on earth you did all that! Above all, enjoy the journey there; it is full of highs and lows and steep learning curves, but is highly rewarding and to top it off it is something you did by yourself for yourself!
Tammy L Tidmarsh LBIPP is Director of In Focus, an Award Winning Photographic Training Centre based at The Spout Farmhouse Studio in the picturesque Peak District National Park. Courses on offer vary from Beginners Photography Courses, Wedding Photography Courses, Landscape Photography Courses and Digital Imaging Courses. We also do Photography Holidays to Nepal, India and Morocco.
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