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Source Magazine: Thinking Through Photography - Web Features - Careers In Photography - Freelance Photographer - Paul Murphy. Posted: Tue 24 Mar 2015.

Paul Murphy

What does your job entail day to day in a normal week?

A working week for a freelance photographer does not always mean actually working to earn money. During an average week in an average year maybe only one day will be spent actually earning a living. The rest of that week is generally given over to the challenge of finding that work. There are many different ways that this achieved. Here are some of the tasks that are important in order to have a career as an advertising photographer.

The first and most important is my product, which are my photographs. Without these I would not be able to describe my ability to potential employers. My photographs show my experience and skill within a certain area of advertising photography. So part of my week has to be given over to making new images so that I keep my 'shop front' looking fresh and appealing to prospective clients. So it is very important to get out there with your camera and make images because it is these images and the experience gained from making them that will take you to the next step of your career.

So who are my clients and how do I get to show them my work? There are many types of people and industries who have a need for original photography. From magazines to product manufacturers, they are all potential clients for me. In the early part of my career I would literally have to walk from door to door of the advertising agencies in London carrying my portfolio of photographs. Today I have photographic agents in London and New York who do that for me. We put together my most recent work in a nice presentation box or folio and they show the work to the various agencies. We also now have the Internet and everything that it offers in being able to get your work to people quickly. Sending printed cards was and still is an effective way of showing one or two images, but I think that websites, newsletters and emails are a cheaper and faster method of promoting your work.

So each day is filled with different tasks. I could find myself doing a number of tasks. Making and then printing my photographs, uploading to and populating my website, blog entries, online marketing, meeting and talking with prospective clients, thinking and looking at new ideas for projects and shoots, estimating and planning those shoots that I have been commissioned for.

So lets say that a client likes my work and thinks that I might be right for shooting their next campaign? The first thing that generally happens is we receive a layout, which is a simple drawing of the idea that the Agency has had. These ideas generally come from a creative team called the Art Director and the Copy Writer. The AD thinks of image content and the CW works on the tagline or slogans for their client's ad campaign. We will then make an estimate of how much the photography will cost and how long that it might take to shoot. This estimate is then sent to the agency where it will probably compete with other estimates from other photographers.

So what happens when I win the job? Once we get awarded a shoot we go into something called pre-production. This is when we organise all of the elements that I require to make a successful shoot. This can cover many things and each shoot will be different. Here are some examples: Location, Models, Lighting, Cameras, Clothes, Vehicles, Grooming, Food, Hotels, Flights etc. etc.

What are the roles of the key people you work with?

This brings me onto the people that I work with. Photography and it's production requires different people take on different tasks. How many people and what they do depends very much on the type of shoot. If my client requests some landscape pictures then it might be just me and my assistant heading off somewhere. If my client requires a much more complicated shoot then I need other professionals to help me. Here is a list of some key people and their roles.

Assistant: Most photographers start their commercial careers as photographic assistants even if they have been to college. It is during these few years of working with photographers that they gain the knowledge and skills required to become a photographer. The have a very important role. I usually work with 2 assistants one is my 1st assistant and generally has a lot of experience and the other is my 2nd assistant who is still at a stage of learning. Sometimes I also use a Digital Assistant whose only role is to work on the computer absorbing my images as I shoot and putting them into categories and processing the raw files.

Producer: On larger shoots I am not able to organise everything so I employ a producer. A producer's role is very important as he deals with all aspects of putting together the shoot, such as schedules, location managing, casting etc.

Location Finder or Location Scout: A location finder is a person who literally travels the country or the world looking for places for me to shoot my ads. More often than not if we are travelling we will use a location scout within that country because local scouts tend to have much more knowledge of their own country.

Hair Stylist/ Make Up: When shooting with people we always have stylists and make up artists so I can be sure that me talent looks the way that I want them to.

Set Builder: Sometimes we shoot in a studio or on location but need to create a scene such as a room so I employ a set-builder who will construct for me a realistic set.

Car Preparation: If we are working with a car client then it's always important to have someone to look after the cars. They tend to be mechanics and they also tend to have good driving skills should we need for the car to be moving.

Casting Director: More often than not we require people in my images. So I employ a casting director who has the task of looking at lots of people to find who would be best for the role. Sometimes if we need real people rather than models the casting director will literally head out onto the street to do what is known as a street casting.

Clothes Stylist: Models and talent need to be dressed so I employ a clothes stylist to source outfits for then. Depending on the type of image, my stylist will head off to the shops or charity shops in a search for the right clothes.

Set Designer and Prop Finder: It is the props person's task to dress a set. This can be to make it look believable, such as someone's lounge room or kitchen or it can be a location that the set designer makes up from scratch and can be as surreal as they want it to be.

Model Maker and Special Effects: Sometimes we need items that cannot be found so we have to make them. There is also the need to create certain effects, this is where the model maker steps in. These guys can pretty much give me anything I want.

Retoucher: This is part of the post production process. My images are broken down into components, sometimes up to 20 parts and then assembled by the retoucher using Photoshop. I then collaborate with the retoucher to give the final image a look and feel that is attractive and eye catching.

These are just a few of the roles and jobs that I use during my shoots.

How do you decide what to include in the photograph and its composition?

When working in commercial photography the ideas tend to come from the agency or designer that I am working for. To describe it in a very simple way, when you go to the hairdresser you know what sort of hair style you would like so you describe it to the hairdresser. He or she will then use their skill and expertise to give you what you want, and a really good hairdresser will make it even better than what you asked for. This is not unlike the service a professional photographer provides. My clients will generally show me a drawing of their idea and then I will use my ability to produce that idea as a photograph, working very closely with the art director. The composition is something that we mould and change during the whole process to end up with something that is pleasing to look at.

Did you study photography or something else and how was it useful?

Sadly I did not go to college so I am very much a self-taught photographer. I read as much as I could on the technicalities of photography and looked at lots of photographers' work to get an idea of what I would like to do. Then I spent 3 years as a photographic assistant to an advertising photographer in London learning on the job. This was first hand experience that was very valuable to me.

What was your first photography job and how did you get it?

My first job in photography was as an assistant. At that time I used to think that going to an interview meant I should wear a suit. So I slept on a friends floor in London and answered every ad for a Photographic Assistant I could find. I would sat there every morning in my suit until one morning the phone rang and I went for my first interview, in my suit. I soon found out that suits are not the dress code of choice for photographers. That was ok though as I ended up getting the job. I became a photographer in the spring of 1991 and my first shoot was so boring, it was photographing a cheque book for Royal Bank of Scotland. It was very easy to do so I was amazed that they paid me £750 plus expenses for it. I phoned my mum to tell her!

What's the most interesting commercial image you have made and why?

Wow that's a tough one. I have enjoyed working on all sorts of shoots. I have had quite a lot of fun working with celebrities such as, Penelope Cruz, Manchester United football team, International Rugby Players, TV celebrities etc. But I think that the one part of being a photographer that I get a kick out of the most is the travel. I have photographed in the Arctic circle, in Finland and Norway, on the streets of New York and Hong Kong, at a Rodeo in Idaho where I photographed the cowboys, Spain, Germany, Ireland and so on. The one commercial image that I have had the most awards for was a shoot for VW where we shot the VW Polo surrounded by policemen. This image went on to win pretty much every award that existed in advertising at the time.

What advice would you have for someone at school (16-18) interested in working in your area of photography?

Photography is a very rewarding career and I would always encourage anyone who feels that they have an ability to have a go at it. That said, it is a very different career to the one I started 20 years ago. The mystery, as I called it, has gone. What I mean by that is, there was once a time when we used film and plate cameras and because of that I was the only person (with the exception of my assistant) in the studio who knew what he was doing with that technology. Due to the onslaught of digital technology today is a very different story. Pretty much everyone in that studio has a camera that is capable of making good images on a programmed setting, so the mystery is no longer there. That is why it is important, and I would strongly advise it, that you to go to college so that you can explore and experiment so that you can find something about your photography that makes what you do a mystery to everybody else. You can have a go at all of the different genres of making pictures that fall under the term photographer. Fashion, still life, landscape, cars, science, portraiture, it is a long list and you might be missing something you would love should you choose to early. Maybe you might decide to shun the commercial world and choose to become a photographic artist and travel a path of self-discovery. What ever you decide to do read as much as you can about the technicalities, learn the ins and outs of cameras and lights, of software, of story telling etc so you understand what you are doing, as it is this knowledge that will make you more fluid when you shoot. Look at pictures, look at paintings and movies, go to galleries, try to absorb as much as you can from what already exists out there and from photographers who have gone before. Look around you for subjects, at your immediate family or friends, at where you live, the town where you come from and take pictures, lots of them. Make it your mission to produce work. Think about this, a photograph only requires 1/60th of a second and there are 86400 seconds in a day, so it would be a real shame if you didn’t take at least one photograph per day. You will make mistakes that's for sure but that's ok as you will be learning from them. Some of the greatest techniques in photography have come from chance mistakes. After saying all that the most important thing of all is to enjoy what you are doing because if you enjoy photography you will never feel tired of going to work!

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