Posted in Professional Practice

Interview with Jon Robinson-Pratt

How did you get into photography and what made you chose it as your career path?
By accident really. Firstly I was going to be an Architect but didn’t want to do 7 years at college! So I started studying towards Graphic design at college. As part of this I had to complete a 6 week unit in photography. I learnt basic Black and White traditional film and print processing and then was set loose in the darkroom with loads of dangerous chemicals to practise and experiment! I was hooked and pretty much stayed in there for 6 weeks! The Art College was an old warehouse that had been used as a hospital during the war and the darkroom processing area had a big concrete slab in it which was used as the morgue! It was pretty creepy in there late at night!
Needless to say… sadly no romantic story of my dad giving me a camera at an early age or anything like that!

I’ve noticed you photograph many different types of genres from commercial to portrait… What’s your favourite style/genre of photography?
Style wise – whatever suits the image, shoot or brief.
With regards to genre or fields of work… I am a petrol head and a music fan at heart so shooting cars or live/stage is where I am most happy! Doing what you love for work doesn’t seem like work is a great cliché but it’s true!fbhfdhn

How do you cast for your portrait shoots?
I don’t! Most of my portraiture is Commercial work or Editorial so 9 times out of 10 there is a person or persons already lined up to shoot. It’s my job to make them look good yet fall perfectly into a pre-determined brief.

I saw on your website you photograph many stage productions and concerts… How did you get vdsgvb.jpginto to photographing this?
Through 2 separate avenues. The stage work came about mainly because I spent my first 11 years of employment as an ‘in house’ photographer in the Marketing department of the largest Tertiary college in the UK. The college has a very large and successful Drama department and I was regularly called in to shoot productions and dress rehearsals.
Concert work came about working for Drummer magazine and Bass guitar magazine. I had regular briefs to shoot musicians for their ‘artist’ front cover features and interviews. This usually meant going to gigs and concerts and meeting with the musicians, shooting some portraiture during the afternoon and then capturing some live shots during the show. Sadly I don’t get to do too much of this anymore as the magazines moved to a different publishing company and didn’t continue employing me! It is though one of my favourite ‘fields’ to work in. Shooting at a concert is a great and yet challenging experience. First and foremost you are in ‘the pit’ directly in front of the stage so quite often you are mere feet away from famous musicians. You are only allowed in there for the first 3 songs, you have to deal with very odd light and under NO circumstances can you use flash! Plus you are jostling with other photographers for the best angles! On the flip side… it’s quite a rush and you can get right into the action and more often than not have great coloured lights to work with!

How did you get involved with magazines such as Volksworld, Retro Cars and Performance VW?
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Whilst still working as an employed photographer at the college I was approached by Volksworld Camper and Bus magazine to feature my own Camper Van. Naturally as a photographer I asked if I could shoot the images… the editor nervously agreed. To cut a long story short they were really pleased with the results and offered me freelance work to cover any shoots they needed doing in the South West. So I did this in my spare time for about 2 years. This enabled me to build a decent automotive portfolio and started getting my work known. Once your work is ‘out there’ editors of other magazines become more willing to offer you work. I am quite lucky in that I cover the South West and there aren’t that many automotive photographers down this way so I have kind of cornered the market for certain magazines!cdv

How do you come up with your pricing for shoots and does it differ for different clients?
When starting out, initially looking around and seeing what your local competition are charging and then pitching in somewhere in the same ‘ball park’. But you have to be sensible… charge too much and risk not being hired, charge too little and you don’t make any money… but again you may not get hired as looking too cheap could be a reflection on the quality of your work!
Pricing for shoots is about getting as much information from the client beforehand so you can work out time scales and expenses to give an accurate quote. Clients like to know where they stand before they commit to releasing finances. Sometimes you get it wrong and a job can take more time than expected so quite often in this instance you have to just ‘suck it up’ and stick to the original quote. So you may work harder or longer for the same money but if you are hoping for repeat business (continual work from the same client) then keeping them happy is key!
Personally I charge the same hourly rates for all clients with regards to commercial work. In my opinion charging a big company a higher rate than a small company or an individual is unethical and can be a bad reflection on you and your business. Although a cheeky way round this is to charge a slightly higher rate to everyone and then that gives you leeway to offer the smaller companies a discount. Everyone loves a bargain!
Editorial (magazines and press) quite often have set fees that they pay for specific jobs. If this is an area that a photographer wants to work in then they just have to accept what is offered more often than not… kind of take it or leave it! Also most editorial jobs are paid on publication of the work so you can sometime have to wait a long time for payment! My longest lead time so far was 13 months from shoot to publication… but again… this is an industry standard and you have to take it or leave it!

What’s the highlight of your career?
I don’t think it’s happened yet! Although to be fair… photographing the Red Hot Chili Peppers was pretty cool! Standing on stage at Knebworth in front of 110 thousand people was quite mind blowing!
Seeing my first magazine front cover on the shelves in WH Smiths takes some beating too!

Any mistakes?
Luckily, touch wood, not really. I did a wedding once and one of my memory cards corrupted and I lost images of the first part of the day… It cost me quite a lot of money but I was able to get them retrieved by the card manufacturer.
Also my dog once chewed up a very expensive scarf that I was shooting as part of some product photography! Needless to say I had to pay for it and I didn’t get any repeat business from that shoot!
But I find that working methodically and at a sensible pace allows you to get it right every time… rushing is when accidents happen!
Also having proper photographic insurance in place, for any eventuality is very VERY important!!!!

Who or what inspires your ideas?
Everything and everyone around me! Imagery is everywhere… you can’t help but see it and be inspired, guided, wowed or even turned off by it! I do find it useful to look at some imagery and actually decide that what you are seeing is NOT the way to do it! It helps you to discover BETTER ways to create something.
I am not a photography ‘geek’. I don’t feel very comfortable in the presence of other photographers and I most certainly don’t stand around ‘geeking’ out about equipment or settings with other ‘geek’ photographers… there’s more to life than Fstops and megapixels!!!

Next steps for you?
Hoping to build my own studio… All of the studio based stuff I do is done either mobile on location or in my office… having to set it up and take it down every time is becoming a bit tiresome. Having my own space will greatly improve my workflow… and my sanity!

Any advice you would give to starting photographers?
Oh yes…. Plenty… where to start!
Learn traditional film and print processes. Digital, in the fast pace of this day and age, is a great tool. It fast, reliable (most of the time!) and can sometimes help you out of sticky situations. Results can be created, corrected and distributed around the entire world in minutes. But it doesn’t make you a great photographer. Having a grounded knowledge of traditional process, I believe, sets you up with experience of how it all came about in the first place! If you can shoot it successfully on film… you can most certainly do it digitally. You may never ever use it again in your working life… but to me it’s the same as a Graphic Designer learner to draw with a pencil! As well as this it’s key to learn techniques like golden section, rule of 3rds, depth of field, metering from 18% grey and composition! All this is what makes you a great photographer…. Not the latest Apple Mac!!!!!
Learn the ‘proper rules’ first. Picking up a camera and just pressing the shutter is easy and anyone can do it. Learn what happens when you choose one setting over another. Learn about how light works. Learn the science behind how images are created. Take this knowledge and use it, experiment with it and get it ingrained in your mind. Once you have that knowledge… only then can you start to bend or break the rules! Some of the most mind blowing images are created by accident or by not using correct photographic practises. Creating something but not knowing how it was achieved because it happened by accident, in my eyes, states that you are not a good photographer. This knowledge is what sets you above the rest!
Learning doesn’t just mean reading about it! Get hands on and a practise, practise and practise more! Then Experiment, experiment, experiment!! Write everything down as you do it… that way you can look back and see what you did wrong or what you did right… recording how you achieved certain results means you can re-create them again or adapt them.
Learn how to use Flash! Even if you rarely need to use it… learn it! Once you have mastered the basics it’s really not that complicated! I see this a lot in wedding photography. The ‘Saturday boys’ or semi pro hobbyists that shoot weddings at the weekend quite often churn out imagery all shot with natural light. Whilst this most certainly has its place, all too often it’s because the photographer is scared to use Flash. When you find yourself in a low light situation you will really wish you knew how to use it properly!
Don’t rest on your Laurels… KEEP LEARNING!
Don’t ‘pigeonhole yourself’ – Once you have chosen the areas you really want to work in, learn how to do that to the best of your ability but also learn how to work in other fields as well. This make you much more employable. Being a ‘Jack of all Trades, master of all trades’ will stand you in good stead. Too many photographers pitch themselves as specifically just ‘wedding photographers’ or ‘portrait photographers’ or ‘landscape photographers’ and nothing else. Eventually you will find that work is limited if you can only do 1 or 2 fields. There are thousands upon thousands of wedding photographers out there all fighting for a slice of that market… but a wedding photographer that can also shoot press work, award ceremonies or product photography has many different ways to earn a living. It’s also means varied work which keeps it fresh and engaging for the photographer!
Be professional – At all times, regardless of the client or size of job, be professional in your work, your ethics and your appearance. It will reflect well on you and on your presumed quality of work… if you take pride in yourself you will take price in your work! Don’t call yourself Professional unless you are a true professional… i.e. earning a LIVING from your trade. Also… be HUMBLE too. I have come across so many photographers over the years that think and state that because they are pros they are ‘THE BIG I AM’… they can be ‘pre Madonna’s’, have attitude and think they are the most important person on the planet! They annoy everyone and quickly gain a reputation from it. As a hired photographer you are privileged to be invited to work for someone else… not the other way round, so remember this… if you gain recognition, praise or congratulations… take it, enjoy it, use it… BUT DON’T brag about it or abuse it!
Insurance – take out professional insurance for photographers! I worked for the first 2 years freelance without it. Then I dropped my camera on a press job. It didn’t break luckily… but I realised it’s the tool of my trade. If I break it… I can’t work…period! But more than that it protects your clients in case of any accidents or losses they might incur as a result. It protects the General Public if they are injured as a result of you… and it can pay for reshoot costs… damages to other property etc etc – for example whilst I sit here typing this I have £6000 worth of bespoke leather shoes and handbags in a box behind me for a product shoot… if anything happens to them I can’t afford to pay for them out of my own pocket! One mistake or accident like that could end your entire business!
Equipment – The latest piece of expensive kit isn’t the ‘be all and end all’, ‘got to have’, item and the ‘bigger the megapixels the better’ most certainly IS NOT true! Don’t worry if your camera is old and battered… so long as it works and reads light correctly then all is good! If there is one item that you should strive for the best, it’s the lens! The quality of the glass that the light enters through IS the most important part of the camera. You will achieve better quality images on a 6-10 million megapixel SLR body with a pro lens than you will with a pro 20-30 million megapixel SLR body and a cheap aftermarket lens.
Brand – Create a brand or an identity that is strong and recognisable. Then stick with it… Be more creative than just calling your business ‘YOUR NAME’ PHOTOGRAPHY. To me this kind of business name puts you into the category of hobbyists, semi pros and Facebook/Instagram photographers etc etc. It lacks any effort and I think this will come across to clients! It makes your work and your business standalone by itself. Also having a business name that is more than just your own name suggests that maybe your company is bigger than just a sole trader (one person) which can hold some weight in the market too!
Criticism – Be able to take criticism as a positive tool to improve and better yourself. Of course you will always come up against ‘the haters’ who will bring you down for no reason but to make themselves feel better… ignore them. But constructive critique or advice is part of the learning curve and should be used, not ignored! Be critical of yourself too… if something isn’t working… perhaps your just aren’t getting somewhere with editing a job… leave it… go away for a day or 2 and then come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll see it in a whole different way!
Professional bodies – Strive to get some form of accreditation or qualification from a Professional awarding body. I am an Associate (2nd highest level qualification) of the British Institute of Professional Photography. There are others such as the Master Photographers or the Royal Photographic Society. Not only does this look good on your CV and having letters after your name is cool… but it is also a testament to the quality and standard to which you work. Plus there are lots of benefits included within the annual membership. But it’s not just a pay and go membership, you have to submit a portfolio of work for assessment.
Awards – Enter awards… ok so you may not win anything… but its useful experience and quite often you can get professional critique of your work. Plus if you do win an award… being able to put ‘Award Winning’ on your brand, social media and website really does stand you above the competition.
Models – where possible always use professional models! Even when working as a student, don’t be tempted to use a ‘friend’ just because they have a pretty face. A professional or experienced model will know how to create many poses straight from the word go. Quite often they will be able pose even without any direction from the photographer. They will also not be self-conscious shooting in public. I have seen far too many shoots where the model doesn’t know how to pose and looks really awkward or is trying to copy something they have seen in a magazine. This can totally make or break an image!!!
Take a break – Every once in a while take a break from being a photographer! You don’t need to take awesome images of absolutely everything or every occasion to prove you are a great photographer or to show your passion! An awesome plumber doesn’t do pipework whilst on holiday…

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