This week we interviewed Alex Beckett, a photographer based in London who was kind enough to take time out chat to us.
For those readers who may not have seen your work, can you give us a brief introduction to yourself and what you do?
I am a London based photographer who works principally on weddings and engagement shoots, through which I have been lucky enough to travel to some widespread destinations and meet some amazing people. I live with my lovely wife Holly and our energetic poodle Nymeria, who has managed to destroy at least one flash trigger so far and has her eye on other pieces of my gear! As well as reportage, I specialise in dramatic photography, using lots of intricate and interesting lighting to tell stories, and am always looking for new challenges and ideas.
You’re active on your own blog and on Twitter. Do you feel professional photographers can benefit from marketing themselves via blogging and social media? Have you had enquiries via either?
I think that social media sites and blogs are invaluable marketing tools for any professional photographer, and have received lots of enquiries through my blog in particular. It has proved a great way to connect with couples and share my work in a format that is personal and engaging, allowing people to share in the excitement of the Big Day as recorded through both my photographs and recollections of the event. Blogs require a lot of time and maintenance to run, but they are excellent when it comes to search engines and ultimately for providing a friendly and inviting introduction to your craft. It is important, in a line of work as intimate and personal as wedding photography, that potential clients see you as the friendly person you are, rather than simply as a name on a website. Blogs allow you to introduce people to your passions and demonstrate your enthusiasm.
During the course of a wedding day, there are lots of special moments to capture. To what extent can you prepare yourself to catch people at just the right moment? Is it down to experience?
I have found that there are two main ways of ensuring that you capture those special moments during the course of a wedding day; learning to anticipate a reaction or a situation before it happens (which takes experience and a lot of practice and experimentation); and setting up, framing a shot and waiting for the right moment to fill it to occur.
Prior to becoming a full-time professional, I enjoyed a lot of work photographing dancers, which taught me a lot about timing, rhythms and anticipating where and when someone is going to move. All of which is essential information when learning how to pick up on the clues and signs that indicate that a moment worth capturing is about to happen. When doing reportage work I often spot a good location, in which I anticipate that something special or interesting might occur, and set up a shot ready for such a thing to happen. For example during the speeches at a wedding, when you can predict someone’s potential reaction to something (such as the bride to her father’s speech), and set up and frame a shot creatively then wait to capture the moment.
Photo credit: Alex Beckett
What advice would you give to readers who may be considering moving into photography professionally?
If you simply just enjoy taking photographs – don’t do it! Its important to realise, when considering making the transition from amateur to professional, that being a full-time, self-employed photographer is about far more than just taking pictures. In fact you will spend much more time with a camera in your hand as an amateur than as a professional. I estimate that only around 10% of my time is actually spent taking photographs, the rest is taken up with the realities and routine of running a business; advertising, correspondence and accounts. Before considering moving into the professional world I would ask yourself whether you would enjoy the rigours and challenge of running your own business and being self-employed as much as you do taking photographs. If the answer is no, you will most likely be much more happy and fulfilled keeping photography to a hobby than you would be trying to make money from it.
Photo credit: Alex Beckett
In terms of working for yourself and running your business, how did you market yourself in the early days when you were just getting started? Was it a big challenge?
I was actually very lucky when I started setting up my photography business a few years ago, as I happened to be quite a geeky, computer-savvy guy who saw an opportunity in the growing popularity of Facebook. In those days Facebook advertisements were still simple and cheap, getting me lots of hits for little outlay, and I relied on them heavily – in fact my whole first year of business was built upon work gained through Facebook adverts alone.
Nowadays that sort of opportunity is no longer present, and part of the continuing challenge of marketing myself has been trying to keep on top of what is current and how people are communicating now. Networking carefully within the profession was also an invaluable tool when starting. Sharing and appreciating one another’s work is of course a huge part of any creative industry, and I was lucky enough to make contact and develop bonds with other photographers who appreciated my work; several of whom ended up helping me out and networking on my behalf. For example photographers for whom weddings are not a speciality often passed such enquiries on to me, allowing me to establish a client base from which to expand my business.
Finally, in terms of online, are there any websites, blogs or people on Twitter you’d recommend to readers who are trying to learn more about photography or perhaps take it up as a career?
I would highly recommend the website www.fredmiranda.com, whose forums (for me the wedding one in particular) taught me a lot in the early days of my career. It’s a site where the photographic community come together to support one another and answer each other’s questions, and I was grateful for the friendly help and advice of other users when I was still feeling my way into the business. Twitter is always great for following photographers, and blogs of course prove a fascinating and stimulating way of keeping up to date with new styles and ideas.
I would recommended that you don’t necessarily stick to following photographers only from your chosen field of interest, pick people whose work you enjoy and follow them for inspiration. I myself follow Joey L (www.joeyl.com or @joeyldotcom) and Joe McNally (www.joemcnally.com/blog/ or @JoeMcNallyPhoto) among various others, because I enjoy their work and feel motivated to create art by their images. Other less well known but still great wedding photographers to keep an eye on include Tony Hoffer and Sam Hassas, both of whom are just awesome.