Shelley Richmond | One year on

One year on

November 06, 2015  •  3 Comments

I've not blogged here since the summer which I guess is both good and bad... I've been so busy I've not had time to write about my work.

So much has changed for me over this past year but this post is not going to be one of those humble brag's disguised as an outpouring of gratitude for my amazing life. I want to share what it's actually been like to leave a career and jump into being a full time professional photographer.

I left my job earlier than I had intended because my husband was unwell and I wanted to be there for him. I don't regret doing that, I'd been whittling down my hours until I was just working 3 days a week and I'd intended to hang on there with the comfortable safety net of a regular monthly paycheck until Christmas. Things change and you adjust your plans.

I won't lie when I handed in my notice I was scared shitless, I really didn't know if I could do this or not, I didn't know if I was making a massive mistake but in the end I thought if this doesn't work out I can go get a job via an agency, go back to temping, it will be fine...

Those first few months were hard. I had a grand total of 11 weddings booked in for 2015 and as I was still charging just £750 so I was utterly skint. I worked every day. Very long days. I was forever hunting every single opportunity to promote my business and search for potential clients. I rebuilt my website and built a separate site for all my non wedding work.

I was tired and I had never worked so hard for so little, but by January it began to pay off, bookings started to come in quite quickly and before I knew it I had more than 50 weddings booked for 2015.

In April I went to my first photography workshop and basically had my mind blown by a whole host of wonderful artists. SNAP photography festival change everything for me, before that I didn't even really know any other photographers, I felt very lonely in this bed that I had made for myself. It can be incredibly isolating working for yourself, by yourself.

If I though I was working hard before April, I was wrong, I utterly over estimated how hard shooting 58 weddings in a year would be on my body, my mind and my social life. I worked constantly this summer. I missed my friends, I missed the things that happened in their lives. I missed the breakdown of one of my closest friends marriages, I missed my friends children starting to grow up, I missed one of my friends virtually losing half her self in weight. I was a very bad friend.

I had weekends where I drove 700 miles shooting weddings at either side of the country, working the equivalent of a normal working week (37 hours) in 2 days. I slept very little, my health suffered, but I was happy with the work I was producing. In between shooting weddings I spent every day editing or shooting portraits, styled shoots, fashion shoots, bands, promos; mostly for free or for very little pay all in the quest to get my name out there. I didn't have a day off for 3 months. I was so Ill I threw up at a wedding (not saying which!)

It took the death of a childhood family friend to make me re-evalute what the fuck I was doing.

Building a career and a business for yourself is great but if you have no one to share it with or no time to enjoy the money you make it's utterly worthless.

At this point I started turning work down, which seemed ludicrous. I put my prices up based on what income I would be comfortable with married with the amount of weddings I now know I can handle shooting per year without forfeiting my life and my health.  Other work I could slot in during the week as I learned how long it took me to process images and turn around orders. This whole year was a fucking ski jump of a learning curve...

In the spring I also changed my working environment. I had previously had a small studio out of town where I worked on my own, plus I often worked at home alone. With a couple of like minded friends we found a space and opened a co-working office called The Light Space Collective. This has had such an impact on my general happiness. I don't work until 11pm any more. I go to the office when I'm not shooting and I work reasonable hours, I collaborate with the people I share with; florists, HMUA's other photographers... I pass on work that I turn down to my wonderful peers. I have learned that there is no such thing as competition; these are my colleagues.  Previously I wore my number of bookings as a badge of honour (I am inherently competitive) but now I realise that this is not a competition, and if it were the only way to win would to be actually, genuinely happy.

I still don't have a huge amount of confidence in my work and my business and I do suffer with huge bouts of self doubt and that old friend imposter syndrome keeps sloping back into my peripheral vision BUT I recognise that I am improving, I am still constantly searching for knowledge and to better myself and my work. I am greedy for learning. I feel only now that I have started to really get to grips with the technical side of my work (I am not technical) but I do still feel like Phoebe from Friends teaching guitar chords with her own special names (old lady, bear claw) but I'm not ashamed of that any more. Some of the best musicians I know can't read sheet music to save their lives.

I have re-evaluted for next year. I'm capping the work I take on, I've left weekends free to visit friends, travel and attend weddings as a guest, and I have enough bookings in the diary already to ensure that I have more money coming in than I did last year. I'm not going to be buying a Jag, but who gives a fuck about that anyway?

So, one year on I am sat here in my shared office surrounded by wonderful creative people (and my dogs) and tonight I've sacked off shooting Richard Hawley to go and get leathered with my friends.





Sarah Partridge(non-registered)
Oh Shelley I love this blog! Honest, so refreshing and a pleasure to read. I've been someone who motivates myself to jack in the day job, but then I can quite easily find a barrier or reason to prevent me from doing this "not this year but definitely next!"

All the best, your office environment sounds lovely xxx
Becky Male(non-registered)
A great, honest and refreshing read. I'm just under 6 weeks away from quitting work so your post came at a good time for me to read, have an amazing 2016.
I'm so glad that we were part of your journey. And it sounds like you've had a really steep learning curve. It can take a long time for some people to realise the impact that this job has on your personal life and it's so, so important to make sure you get the balance you need to not burn out. You're doing amazingly so keep in mind your commitment to protect that precious time with your family and friends. x
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