I get contacted regularly by students asking me to fill in quite lengthy questionnaires and whilst I wish I had the time to write back to you all individually it’s just not possible! So I thought it would be helpful to list some of the more frequently asked questions and give you the answers…
- I am a freelance photographer and run my own business – Kate Hopewell-Smith Photography
- I do location portraiture, boudoir and wedding photography
- I train groups and individuals regularly and you can find out more on the Training section of my website
- I write a monthly column for Practical Photography Magazine and am featured in many other photography magazines on a regular basis
- I am one of 5 Nikon Ambassadors in the UK which is my biggest achievement in the industry to date
- I have recently added cinematography to my business offering and shoot footage on a D810
What do you wish you’d known when you first started photography as a career?
How time consuming it is and how difficult it is to manage a work/life balance. There are hours of work involved in digital photography in terms of editing and most clients want to book me at the weekend. This means I don’t get to spend as much time with friends and family as I’d like and I often miss out on fun social events because I was booked months in advance of knowing about them. Being a freelance photographer also means you don’t get paid for time off, so you can’t take sick days and can’t afford to be lazy!
How do you advertise your business?
I don’t advertise but view FB and my blog as marketing and advertising. The majority of my business now comes word of mouth.
Do you think a digital copy or printed copy of a portfolio is better?
This isn’t quite so relevant for a lifestyle photographer in the strictest sense – commercial and fashion photographers probably still need a printed portfolio. For me it is largely digital and my website and social media platforms are essential. However, it is also important that wedding clients who come to meet me see printed images from previous wedding in albums or on the wall.
What equipment do use in your most recent work?
Nikon D4S, Nikon D3s, Nikon D3, Nikon D810, Nikon D800, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8, Nikkor 35mm f/1.4, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, Nikkor 85mm f1.4, Nikkor 105mm f2.8 macro, Nikkor 60mm f2.8 macro, Nikkor 16-35mm f4. In addition I have Nikon SB910 speedlights and both continuous and flash lighting systems.
Do you use any lighting on location?
If I am photographing a family or wedding couple during the summer months I will always carry a speedlight with me for use on camera but try to keep it to a minimum. If you can truly see and work with natural light you shouldn’t need more than this.
If I was doing a commercial/fashion shoot outside on location where I can take time and work with assistants I would use my Elinchrom Quadra Ranger system with softboxes. For indoor work such as boudoir I will use the Westcott Skylux Continuous system when natural light is not giving me what I want/need.
Do you have a favourite lens?
My desert island lens?! Tricky – depends on what I’m shooting. Outdoors my 70-200 2.8. But I recently worked with Nikon on the prototype for the new 24-70 f2.8ED VR and LOVED it – incredibly versatile, fast and smooth glass.
How did you get into photography?
I move out of London with young kids and we found a house with a dark room. I signed up to a 35mm film course but it was cancelled due to lack of take up. After this my husband brought me a Nikon D80 and a couple of kit lenses and I found a distance learning course through the Open College of the Arts called the Art of Photography. I was then asked to shoot a wedding by a friend of a friend and discovered Brett Harkness who pointed me in the direction of Aspire Photography Training and the Bespoke Programme. This was the point when I had to consider whether to turn a hobby into a business and make a big investment in training and kit. Under the guidance of Aspire I began to network locally and this led to my first few shoots – often for small local businesses. My portfolio building shoots (for friends and family) led to my first paid work via word of mouth.
When did you start work as a photographer?
The business was launched in April 2010.
How often do you shoot?
In the winter months maybe 2-3 times a week but much of this is training shoots rather than for clients. In the main season I shoot 4-5 times a week.
Who are your inspirations?
Whilst I am inspired by the legends of the past I find the greatest inspiration from people who are currently working and successful: Jerry Ghionis was the photographer who showed me what high end contemporary wedding photography should looked like and Aspire Photography Training showed me what a contemporary lifestyle photography business needed to be. I also have Adam Alex to thank for showing me how to see and shoot light and being a hugely supportive friend. I also love the work of Susan Stripling in the States. Martin Middlebrook also taught me a lot about metering and dynamic range.
Have you published a book?
Not yet despite being asked to. I am planning to publish some online education material over the next few months.
You started off photographing your children. How big a learning curve was it?
Massive. Initially, you’re just trying to capture something, a feeling about what they’re doing. All you’re doing is looking at their expressions. At the time I had no concept of light whatsoever. Now light haunts me – it’s all I see wherever I am. Every photographer needs to go on the light journey – from BEFORE LIGHT to AFTER LIGHT. You know if you see light – and many aspiring photographers don’t.
What has been your most nerve-wracking shoot?
I still get a bit nervous before shoots – it’s only healthy and proves I’m still striving to produce work that I’m proud of. Probably my most nerve-wracking experience was David Tennant’s wedding and the 24-70 project with Nikon HQ.
How did you turn your hobby into a successful business?
I viewed the year-long Bespoke Programme as a big investment and at the time my husband said, “Right, if it doesn’t work, you’re back on the commuter train to London!” When I joined, I wasn’t worried about the business side. I was more worried about being a better photographer because I knew I could run a business. The small amount of money I had left in my kitty wasn’t spent on lenses – I spent it on my website and my brand. Branding and market positioning is critical to the success of any business and it is such a misunderstood area of marketing. I have tried to outline why a brand is so important on some other blog posts.
I think that a lot of boxes need ticking to be a successful photographer BUT if you tick them it will happen. These are the boxes:
- Technical competence
- Professional level kit
- Vision and a good eye
- Composition skills
- A consistent portfolio and recognisable style
- Effective branding and positioning
- Strong web and social media presence
- Business and admin skills
- People skills
- Work ethic and ambition
- A plan – ie set some goals so you have something to aim for.
Nearly every email I get asks me for tips and all I can say is that photography is like a huge jigsaw piece and every time you learn something new the puzzle becomes more complete. And your confidence builds. If you are serious about photography you need to get good training. I don’t believe you can learn about light from books – you need to be shown it.
If you have any other questions that you think other people would find interesting then send me an email. Best of luck to all of you!