I can't wait to dive in with you!!x
It happens to me every winter and I'm working on strategies to deal with it, but this year I have been hit with the winter blues twice as hard. I'm a firm believer that life has it's seasons, but that doesn't mean I always accept it. I'm learning to understand that I can't work full steam ahead at all times - I'm not a machine! But not being as productive as I'd like is something that wakes me up in the middle of the night - it gives me the fear.
I have very specific ideas on what being productive and successful look like, and they do not look like taking a rest. Does this sound familiar? You're sitting in your pyjamas, knowing you have a list of stuff to do but you've been afraid to write out that list for days because there's just too much and putting it on paper will mean you have to find the energy somewhere to do it. But there is no energy, it's been a while since you had any and unless the sun comes out soon and you can open a window and get some fresh air without freezing, you're going to congeal into more of a useless lump than you've already become.
It's a struggle. My mood and my energy levels ebb and flow, which to me does not look like this image of the "girl boss" I have embedded in my brain - the one who works at her business morning, noon and night while also going to the gym and has a social life. I mean... how?! It's minus three outside!!
So I've settled on trying to accept where I am while gently trying to boost my mood and get my work done so the anxiety gives me a rest. Here's what I'm currently working on:
1. Settle in for some hibernation: if you think about it, human beings as mammals were designed to sleep when the sun goes down, and in the winter when there is no sun, we are probably meant to sleep a lot more.
Our screens trick our bodies into staying awake longer, but in reality we are meant to go to bed and wake up in the sun - which in the winter means we are meant to sleep a lot longer. I think forcing ourselves into a routine where we sleep for the same amount of time year round is unreasonable, so in the winter when you get tired easier and you want to sleep more - sleep more!
For me this looks like going to bed earlier, with my electric blanket and hot water bottle, reaching optimum comfort levels and just giving in to sleep. Nothing comes from feeling guilty about not doing enough, even though I do, but I have to remind myself that rarely does anything good come from toughening up and forcing yourself to feel what you don't. Proof in point: I wrote this post two weeks ago and just could't press publish because I'd forced myself to write it and it was utter garbage.
I'll keep coming back to this but I firmly believe you need to give your body (and your heart) what it's asking for, and if you're exhausted - SLEEP! I'm up to about 10 hours a night right now and it feels pretty good.
2. Keep away from the phone: I'm going to talk about this one in the realistic voice of someone who is fully addicted to their phone.
Ok we all know we need to spend less time on our phone, but so far nothing has happened in my life to really push me to make serious change and cut down my phone time in any real way.
But having said that, a little goes a long way when it comes to decreasing stress if you can try to gain a little control over your phone impulses. I reach for my phone when I'm feeling anxious, when I'm feeling insecure, or when I'm trying to numb something - I know this about myself and I know that nothing comes from ignoring that. I also know that I don't spend as much time on my phone when I'm happy.
It's become important to me over the last year or two to have a chat with myself and try to work out what is bothering me and why, I try to get to the bottom of that anxiety, insecurity, or numbness. Weirdly I tend to have these chats in the shower, my heart seems to open up better in water.
I measure my level of everyday happiness with how often I reach for my phone, and if I'm reaching for it constantly I need to get to the bottom of why (for example to numb that nagging image of how much of a "girl boss" I'm not being right now) - if I can do that and sort it out I'm already feeling A LOT better.
Giving yourself what you need, I find, helps you get to where you want to be a lot faster.
3. Do what makes you happy: over the past year or so I've worked to change my view on how to create my dream life, and I have to say that it has fundamentally changed everything for me.
I can go into that in more detail in another post, but for now I'll just say that I firmly believe that doing exactly what makes you happy is the key to everything.
I find that if I just work on doing what makes my heart happy then I'll always be moving towards more of what will make me happy, every step I take will be moving me towards my dream life. I find it easier now than I used to because I quit my job and went freelance to do something I love, but it wasn't so easy when I had a 9-5 and a commute. When I started following this "do what makes you happy" principle, I wasn't freelance and I wasn't living my version of a dream life, it was only through living this way that I got to where I am now.
But applying this idea to this post, I think that if you feel like flopping on the sofa and watching four hours of Friends, do it. If you feel like taking two naps in a day, do it. If you feel like avoiding all social engagements in favour of spending more time with your hot water bottle, do that! The more you can practice listening to what you want or need right now, and then acting on it, the more magic will come into your life. Promise.
Click "leave a comment" below and let me know if you have any strategies for coping with the winter blues.xx
See the warm glow and beautiful autumnal light in these photos? That was about the last time I thought about this poor blog of mine. Actually no that's not true, I've thought about it a lot, but that was the last time I had a chance to consider creating anything for it. I was in France with Tania and we were talking about content and cameras and being creative for ourselves, it was the best of times.
This past year, 2017, was a rough one for my blog. It was the year I went freelance and all of a sudden had to decide where I wanted to focus my priorities. I had become a full time freelancer to work on building myself up as a photographer and that's where I put all my attention, every little bit of it, and so this little space of mine took a back seat.
Now that the new year has started and 2018 is in full swing, I feel a bit more on top of things and quite excited to start sharing again. It's important as this is the space where I get to be creative for myself instead of for my clients. Being creative for yourself is important for growth I think, so I want to keep at it and not give up on this little blog of mine which has already been responsible for so much of my own personal growth - I count it as one of the top three driving factors that pushed me to become a photographer! If it weren't for the work I poured into this blog all those years ago, the feedback I got from so many of you on my photos and the encouragement, I may not have noticed that I was any good - or at least good enough to make a career out of it!
For the past few months I've been coming up with ideas on how and what to share here. Last year I tried YouTube which just didn't light me up in the way I hoped it would - it didn't stoke my creative fire so instead of carrying on with it for the sake of my pride, I let it go. I love filming and I love editing, but the content I wanted to share just didn't seem to fit the YouTube way of doing things. I don't love failing at new projects (and who knows maybe I'll pick it up again one day) but it just wasn't for me. Instead I've been daydreaming about some other ideas which I'm hoping to bring to light in the coming months.
I've got a long list of questions to answer in full blog posts on here, I've got a ton of stories and photos to share, and I've got a few new ideas that I'd like to try out as far as content creation goes - but if YOU have anything you'd like to see or hear from me, let me know in a comment below.
It feels so good to be back - it's going to be a good year and I can't wait to share it with you!
p.s. do you like my new blog design?
Shooting in Norway is like nothing else I've ever experienced - it's the light... it's just so, different! It's very clear and brilliant for one thing, but there were so many blue tones to work with when it came to editing that I felt a little baffled at first, but I'm so happy with the way things turned out.
When it comes to my birthday I'm a big fan of plan tickets over presents, so this year Adam and I decided to plan a road trip across Norway (width wise, not length wise) from Bergen to Oslo in just five days - and it worked out perfectly. It follows the same route as that epic train journey, but a car so you can stop and take pictures!
My favourite part was days one, two and three: wandering around Bergen, arriving at our second Airbnb on the second day, and then driving even further through the fjords on day three. Day four it was so brilliant and sunny outside, which of course is lovely but frustrating for me because bright and sunny are not my favourite photograph conditions. And also day five was wonderful, walking through the forests near Oslo - that place was pure magic!
I have to say though, if I had to pick one favourite moment it would be our second Airbnb on the dairy farm! Our host, Knut, was the sweetest man ever and the cabin was probably my favourite Airbnb of all time. Not to mention the beautiful scenery! I mean, we could look out of the window at the foot of our bed at a glacier! And best part: we got to meet Knut's cows, he even had a few calfs who were keen to be snuggled - of course I was only too happy to oblige! I spent the rest of the trip smelling like cow but that definitely doesn't bother me.
If you want to follow the same route and take a look at the places we stayed, you can find the links below. Each morning we chose the most scenic route on the map, stopped for snacks along the way (bonus: early October is apple picking season so I basically ate a whole pie to myself), and looked out for the best spots to stop and take some pictures! Here's the links:
One thing we made a mistake on though was not planning our food. Each evening we didn't make it to a super market on time before it closed so we were stuck eating petrol station cardamom buns, which were pretty good actually, and apple pie. Not ideal for five days but we definitely didn't starve!
Of course life as a freelancer is exactly as you would expect. Just as challenging, just as rewarding. Freelancing for me is a dream. Its hours of uninterrupted time alone to work on what I love, to focus or wander around eating toast as I need to, not worrying about what anyone thinks but just pouring myself into my dream.
But also, every day can come with a crisis of some sort. What am I doing, how am I doing, am I good enough, am I doing enough, am I focusing on the right things, the list is endless...
Here are some things that keep me grounded while also keeping me organised and happy.
This is something I'd heard about ages ago that seemed very much not for me at the time. I came across bullet journaling through blogging and assumed it was all about calligraphy (which I'm crap at) and scrap booking (which isn't my thing) - but it's so not. It's a life saver. It's sitting in front of me right now and it's my whole work life in one place, I rely on this little book for everything. It's a way of tracking what I need to do, what I have done, and when I need to get stuff done by... but it's also a way for me to track my progress, my success, what works, what doesn't, and it's a way for me to look back and see how far I've come. Mine is just writing, no decoration, but I prefer a minimalist sort of set up anyway.
Podcasts and Audio Books
I thought I would miss working around people more than I actually do. I'm fairly social and talkative, but I'm definitely a lazy conversationalist and an introvert - so working on my own suits me really well. Having said that though, Adam has told me more than once that I need to get out of the house because I'm turning into a hermit. A happy compromise for me has been podcasts and audio books - they keep me engaged with something other than my own thoughts, and help keep me company during all that admin that I'd otherwise procrastinate on for weeks at a time. Here are my top podcasts and a few audio book series I've loved:
Organising gets me super excited - I feel like I should say that's lame but I'm also fairly positive that everyone loves a well organised system so here's mine: I use google drive for all of my spreadsheets (they're google spreadsheets) and I have one for every kind of client, from photography work to video editing, influencing and then I even separate by industry. I also have a separate folder for each client in which I keep my contracts, invoices, notes, etc... I try to keep nothing on my laptop because the footage and programs I work with tend to be really bulky, so anything that causes my work to slow down causes my stress levels to rise! Conclusion: hooray for cloud based organisation!
I just got these through, but I thought they would turn out to be a fun way of getting the people I meet to be interested in my work. They're bigger than a business card so harder to lose, they're also portable examples of my portfolio and what services I offer as a freelancer, and people are more likely to use them as book marks or decorations for their desk.
I've tried to work in several different places around my flat, my neighbourhood... the world... and none of them really compare to my desk. I kind of think of my work as a piece of my heart, and getting my desk ready, organising my bullet journal, having nice things around me all day every day... it feels kind of like a weird sort of nesting. But it's an important process for me to take ownership of my work, to make it my own and it kind of gives me confidence - putting time into the enjoyment of the process of working has helped me feel better about the time that I have to spend at my desk, when I'm not out shooting.
Or wives. For me I have one work wife, which is a funny kind of truism because we now occasionally talk to each other about work as if we are actually husband and wife. Tania and I get together a few times a week to work together, and when we're not working together we're messaging back and forth, proofreading each others work, chatting about day rates and project rates, talking clients and collaborations, checking up on each others to-do lists, etc... freelancing, especially in an industry where there are few rules, it can be really tough! How much to charge, finding someone's email, getting an introduction... I also have chats full of the most inspiring ladies on Instagram and WhatsApp where we just talk about work, money, life balance, all that stuff. Being connected to people who are doing something similar to you is so, so important.
One of the first things I did when I found myself in a position to set my own schedule was invest more time in my body. I've always known that I'm better when I'm physically active, my head is clearer, I have more confidence, I sleep better, the list goes on. But I HATE the gym, I feel like a hamster on a wheel. I'm also bad at exercising on my own because I'm so good at coming up with excuses and things that I "should" be doing. I knew I would never exercise if it were just up to me, so I started using a personal trainer! Honestly it's not at all what I thought it would be. The first few weeks my body ached like crazy, and now it still aches, but in a good way! I work better when I have someone other than myself to feel accountable to, and it actually just feels like fun games for adults. Every session is something different and I really look forward to it twice a week.
I guess it depends on how long you've been reading here, or following me on Instagram, but it's probably not a surprise to you how much I love Wales - how beautiful I think it is, in all of it's wild and untamed landscapes, friendly people and stunning natural beauty. I'm sorry United Kingdom, but I think Wales wins my heart.
I was on my way back from Canada with some serious post-travel blues hitting me - maybe it was the pile of work I had ahead of me and maybe I was a little reluctant to exchange my camera for my laptop just yet. Either way I thought maybe it was a good idea to jump in the car and head out of London to some wilder places - ease myself back into it, you know? I called up my friend Tania (also about to hit her own post-travel blues) and with almost zero prompting she was in for the adventure and the next day we were off!
The trouble with last minute adventures is, unless you want to sleep in your car, they kind of require some intense pre-planning. The first place I tend to look is Canopy and Stars because I know they usually have something magical going by way of accommodation, which of course they did. Staying in a slate cabin in Pwllheli, right on the coast next the the Wales Coast Path was perfect. It's a pop-up hosted by Epic Retreats and we stayed in the Slate Cabin with a view right out across the water below the Snowdonia mountain range.
After hours in the car from London to Pwllheli we relaxed in our cabin for a bit, just staring out at the sea, before heading out to walk part of the Wales Coast Path. There are times I become so frustrated with my camera because no photo can do certain light and colours justice, and the blues and the greens of this section of the Welsh coastline are just unbelievable - you just have to see it with your own eyes. We walked for an hour or so, looked out for what wildlife we could find and kept going until it got too dark for us to see the seagulls coming home from a day on the sea.
As we were walking back to our cabin we heard music playing from a tent close by and found other campers gathered around a band playing Welsh folk songs. The whole thing just gave me that tingly feeling you get when everything is just so magical and you couldn't have planned it better yourself. And as much as I would like to take credit for planning such a wonderful experience, I can't - we just booked the place last minute and stumbled into it - but that's pretty much how all my trips to Wales have been, something wonderful always just happens.
It felt like going back in time a little, listening to that music - like it might have been years ago when there were no phones, no TVs, and just your own people to gather with and make your own entertainment. After an evening of listening to Roy Griffiths and his band Hen Fegin play dreamy folk songs about the Welsh people and the sea, we had a couple of local Welsh IPAs (Cwrw Glyndwr to be specific, it's delicious) and went to bed only to wake up to a perfectly clear morning right in front of us at the foot of our bed.
After a quick breakfast and a strong coffee we were off again, this time with a mission. I've been wild swimming a few times over the years, and we decided to challenge ourselves to find somewhere amazing to go for a swim in Snowdonia National Park - after coming to terms with the idea that it might be a little cold. Have you ever experienced the complete satisfaction of going wild swimming and then warming up afterwards with a cup of tea and some warm socks? It's one of my favourite things.
We drove into Snowdonia National Park and looked out for Watkin Path, which would take us to the spot we were looking for - a waterfall along the path up Snowdon (not too far up though, only about half an hour). We wandered down from the main path and found a secret spot to change into our swimming costumes and jump into a little pool just downstream from the waterfall. It was chilly, but it was also just perfect. It was the good kind of cold, the kind that gets your blood moving and your heart rate up and makes you feel truly alive.
After drying ourselves off (we forgot towels and only had Molly's dog towels in the boot of my car - whoops! But at least they were clean), we headed into Beddgelert for a cup of tea and a snack before heading off again.
I can't tell you how peaceful and how tired I was at the end of that day. We swam, pulled over every five minutes to take photos of the beautiful landscape in the fading summer light, stopped to take in every view and breathe the air that smelled of green things and the sea, got lost on purpose, talked about future trips to Wales, and laughed so hard we fell headfirst into a Welsh stream - the last one I caught on video and play again and again when I need cheering up, it still makes me laugh.
These are the moments we'll remember when we're older, the kind of adventures you never regret taking. Wales will always be such a huge source of inspiration to me, and I love it more and more after each visit.
Thanks for having me, Visit Wales - you helped me make some of my favourite memories.
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I'm not sure if I can even stand to hear myself complain about the end of summer, yet again, but as it's only September and I've had to turn the heating on once or twice already to defrost my fingers and get work done, I'm sure you can tell that I really want to.
But counteracting a negative with a positive, I feel so incredibly lucky to have friends who invite me in to their family homes and make me feel welcome. Living so far away from my own family, my heart aches sometimes to feel like I belong amongst a group of people - and there's no better way to feel a sense of belonging than when people make you so completely welcome in their homes.
A few weeks ago Tania organised a trip for us to go and visit her boyfriend's family just a short drive West from London - maybe about an hour or so from Bristol I think? We spent a whole four days hanging out with Michael's awesome cousin, eating toast, going for walks with the dogs, swimming in rivers and playing the world's stupidest but (also my favourite) card game called gubs.
I don't think any of us realised then that that would be the last weekend of summer. The last outdoor bonfire where we didn't need coats, the list river swim, the last humid evening sunset, and the last of that golden summer light.
Of course each season has it's magic, and autumn is a second to summer on my list of favourites, but I do dread winter in London - so I'll be holding these memories close for the foreseeable future, and bringing them to mind when my fingers go completely numb in a few months time.
For a while now I've been wanting to put together a few tips on travel, packing, planning... that sort of thing. I've been traveling a lot over the past few years and when I started out I had a long check list that I would print out and go through item by item as I was packing for a trip. The way I packed for a work trip was definitely different from the way I packed for a holiday, what with all the equipment and clothes required for weeks away from home. Now I've reduced it down to a fine art, this whole packing business, and I hope you find these tips useful for whatever kind of adventure you're getting yourself into!
Starting out with my favourite bit of my suitcase, my wash bag. I tend to think of my wash bag as my mini spa, a little self care kit that will revive me after a day of running around getting sweaty and hauling several pounds worth of equipment through the bush/city/slum, or wherever... Having a little bit of time to myself to take care of my body at the end of the day has filled me up with relief and gratitude more times than I can say. Here's what keeps me going:
1. The bag itself comes from Anokhi in Jaipur. Any bag that can fit a lot of stuff is perfect for me - it doesn't need compartments, I just need to be able to pack it and squish it into a bag. It needs to be washable, but have a plastic inside so that when something leaks (and it will), that something doesn't go everywhere.
2. Refillable bottles from Muji are what I use to fill up on my own shampoos, conditioner, etc... These for shampoo, conditioner and body wash, and these for hair mask and body lotion. I'm not too keen on whatever you can buy in travel size and the idea of buying a mini bottle that gets chucked away when it's empty makes me cringe. I use this OGX shampoo and conditioner and this hair mask - the last of which is definitely a necessity if you have long, bleached hair in a dry heat and you hope to, at some point, get a brush through it.
3. For body and face... I've been trying to teach myself how to make homemade, natural beauty products and so far the only one I've had any success with is this body wash which also doubles as a face wash - it's super moisturising. I tried to make homemade shampoo and it did not go well.
4. Sun protection is a must must must at a minimum of factor 50, especially when you're pale as anything and look like you would be better suited to living underground. This is my new favourite face SPF, I used to use this one which is also good but it's more liquid so it tends to travel down my face and get into my eyes. Lately I've been using this body SPF and so far it hasn't let me down - unless I forget to re-apply.
5. For moisturiser, I love all Aesop products, so I use this one because it smells amazing. I'm not a fan of flowery smells which seem to make up most women's beauty products and often make me feel sick or give me a headache, so Aesop is perfect for me because it's all nutty and herb smells with understated floral scents.
6. Perfume is also from Aesop and I wear it always, when I'm working and when I'm traveling for any other reason - it makes me feel so good and a little more myself no matter how flat out I am.
7. Aromatherpay is something that has only recently become such a big part of my travel routine, I use this flight therapy because I'm a terrible flyer and it cheers me up when I'm getting all anxious about having to sit still on a plane for a million hours. Also my friend gave me a few samples from her doTERRA kit, and I use them at random whenever I feel like I need to chill the F out.
8. Samples. I always load up on a bunch of samples, especially when I can charm the Aesop guys into giving me extra - which is rare because my powers to charm anyone are basically non existent. But any kind of mini facemask, oil or exfoliant samples I can get, I bring with me. The exfoliant in particular because I've been known to stick my face in some gross things to get a shot (the grossest being a two week old elephant carcass I think...), and it's nice to be able to scrub whatever is under my skin, out.
9. Face oil is my new favourite thing! I use it daily whether I'm traveling or not, and then wipe the excess on the back of my hands to give them some extra care. I love this one because while it says it's rosehip, I think it smells more like toasted seeds or something. I got given a sample at an event one time and it's taken me about a year to track down which one it was. I've had other face oils before and they all felt too heavy - this one feels like magic!
10. Body lotion for me can be just coconut oil, if I put it on at night and sleep in it so it's off by morning. Although sometimes I find coconut oil and smell a bit gross after a while, and it's definitely not going to stay solid in a warm country so you risk getting it EVERYWHERE. Plus it can be bulky and hard to find way to carry it. So sometimes I just fill up one of those Muji squeeze bottles with some of this, it's expensive but it's a massive bottle and one usually lasts me about six months. Also I'm a fan of this hand moisturiser:
11. Makeup! I don't wear it every day, and usually half way through a trip I give up, but if I'm feeling like I need to feel a little more together I use this mascara, because it's not quite so waterproof that it won't come off in the shower without needing to use a special cleanser, but it also won't come off when you get stuck in a monsoon downpour - I've tested that. And I use this shimmery cheek stuff when I feel like putting in any kind of an effort, would you call it a highlighter? I don't know - but with just these two things I definitely feel a bit more fancy, which is nice sometimes. Oh and this lip balm, because it can de-chap any lip overnight.
12. The rest is just toothbrush, toothpaste, nail clippers (because there's nothing worse than not being able to cut your nails!!!), hair elastics (these for topnots, these for everything else), and tampons or pads if you prefer along with a little bag you may have to keep them in if where you're staying doesn't have an easy way to dispose of them - yup, this happens.
And then here's a fun fact, I don't pack deodorant because I don't need it! I have a genetic variant called ABCC11 which means I don't produce whatever body odour bacteria like to feed on - which means I never produce that particular smell. It also means I don't really produce much ear wax. Bodies are weird.
I left Canada when I was young with a broken heart and every intention of going back as soon as I could. I traveled to the north of England for university and cried every night for a month because I was so home sick - I missed my friends, I'd just sold my horse and it broke my heart, I missed my life. But slowly over time I built a new life for myself without even realising it. For the next five years I walked such a rocky, slippery path that was the most challenging part of my life up until that point, although I didn't realise it at the time - I was becoming myself.
I did go back to Canada. For a summer at first, and then a quick passing visit, and then a four year gap, and then I started dating a Canadian boy (spoiler alert: my future husband) who grew up a few streets over from me. It always makes me laugh that I traveled half the world to marry someone I met when I was eight.
But somehow between that first summer and now, over a decade has passed and I've spent almost no time roaming the city that held my heart so many years ago. It has been a long time since it felt like home and while I loved that time in my life, I couldn't wish for it back again - only because what I have now is so amazing. The life I've created for myself is so much better.
This visit I had a little more time to myself, and I wandered around taking it all in. A part of me realised I'd been holding it at arms length for so long because I almost didn't want to remember, in case it was painful. But it wasn't in the end. I just remembered how much I used to love it and how it used to feel like home. It doesn't anymore and that's ok, it doesn't always have to feel painful to let things go. It feels like a different kind of home now, mostly a home to so many people I love - and a wonderful place to keep returning to.
Some photos from a visit to France with the beautiful Tania and her family, as well as some thoughts on positive anticipation...
If there's one thing this year has taught me is that there is no sense in betting against yourself. It's so tempting to be humble, to say "I'd love to but I probably never will...", or to be down on yourself when someone asks you how you're doing.
If you never try then you'll never fail and there's safety in that. If you never go up against a difficult challenge, if you never put yourself out there to potentially fail and to try again, then you'll never know the heartache of feeling like a failure. But more and more I hear people limiting themselves with their language (me included, btw...) and wrapping all their positives in an ocean of negatives, just to temper expectations.
Since going freelance I've noticed my tolerance for being defeatist has slowly ebbed away, and I'm the last person to be getting rid of it because I've probably been the worst culprit. It had to get worse before it got better, but I've learned that the words you speak and training your thoughts has such an impact. Saying "never" even if you're hoping for a someday... it means never. You're putting your "nevers" out there to dampen expectation and to be humble, but you're not doing yourself any favours because the more you speak it or think it... the more likely it is to come true.
You have to be your own light, your own biggest fan, and bet on yourself every day even if your only evidence that you may succeed is that you have a heartbeat. You have to be honest, and out loud honest, not just in your head honest. You have to intrust your fears to your closest friends and listen when they tell you why it's going to be ok - and then just let it go. Don't cling doubt like it's a life raft so in the event you go under you'll have that safety net of "I told you so...".
In my experience I've found it's about training my mind to think positive, being conscious of my thoughts and replacing every idea that makes me feel down or anxious with an idea that lifts me up. And the hardest part for me has been training my mouth to follow along on those thoughts - too often I give into sarcasm about myself and my abilities, even the way I'm feeling, and then I walk away feeling like I let myself down.
I've been working hard every day to keep my mood up. Listening to podcasts, exercising, doing those things I know will keep me happy over being indifferent and tired. I've tried to keep myself in a constant state of "looking forward to" and even just typing that gave me a jolt of excitement for things to come - even if I'm not even aware of them yet, I know good things are coming.
Maybe this post should be the beginning of a new blog series about what I'm doing to slowly train myself to become an optimist... what do you think?
I think one of the reasons I love Wales so much is because it's so moody and temperamental - the weather I mean. I love a grey sky, big dark clouds, the threat of rain - if I never had to work with a blue sky I wouldn't mind. I love blue sky and sunshine for myself, but for my photography I prefer a brewing storm or golden hour every second of the day - not to be demanding or unreasonable. So when Adam and I visited Wales a little while ago and it was nothing but blue skies and sunshine I was a little thrown!
But Pembrokeshire and St David's is just beautiful, rain or sun it's glorious and if I could afford to buy a house anywhere in the UK (lols) then I think I would opt for there - ok maybe as a location for a second home because my beloved London Fields would take precedence.
Adam's parents were visiting and they hired a little cottage in a town called Solva for us all to stay in. We wandered the beach and laughed at Molly as she played in the ocean and mistook the buoys for giant tennis balls - we even found some alpacas in a field just down the road!
Next we visited Ramsey Island which is a beautiful conservation area and paradise for some rare birds, and it comes complete with wild ponies!! If it hadn't been brilliant sunshine the whole time it would have been one of my photography dreams come true - so I'm going to head back in the autumn when we're guaranteed a storm cloud or two. I mentioned on Instagram where we were and it was actually Emma from @fieldandnest who recommended we visit Ramsey Island - don't you just love the internet?
And finally, Haverfordwest for the most brilliant golden hour of all time. Ok so maybe there are benefits to having a storm free sky...
Today writing this I can tell that I'm in one of those transitional phases of the way that I shoot and edit. These phases come along in waves and each time things shift and change, and maybe only in a way that is perceivable to me, but getting through one of these is a struggle until I come out the other side and everything feels new and exciting. One day I wake up and I'm tired of doing things one way and I need a change - so I re-edit my presets, change my camera settings, window shop for camera equipment and look across instagram and pinterest for new inspiration.
It's simultaneously frustrating and exhilarating. So whenever someone asks me how I edit or what presets I use, I could tell you but tomorrow it may be different - because that's how you grow! I know it's so different for everyone but for me I need variety, I can't stick to the same format or theme or colour story. The subjects rarely change and what I like to shoot usually stays the same, but the way I shoot it and how I go on to edit it is constantly changing. I get bored and restless if I have to keep repeating the same process over and over, or if I don't learn something new.
I think it's always important to follow these paths of curiosity and restlessness. I can look at my work and always think it's fine the way it is, I could easily stay shooting the same way forever and following the same format for the sake of consistency if nothing else - but I feel like that would keep me at the same level forever. There's no personal or creative growth in that for me, and playing it safe would eventually make me turn on myself I think. I need to keep growing for my own sake. But I also think that personal creative growth is different for everyone, and everyone has their own paths of restlessness and a need for change to follow.
It is important to follow them though, because they always lead to exciting things.
This time around, visiting Senegal, it felt like a completely different country. The last time I was on a shoot there was almost fifteen months ago and I was in such a different place - it was over the anniversary of Robert's death I was struggling a bit. Everything felt just a little bit hard and a little bit sad. I was ok, but still a bit raw, and looking back I can see how that added a lens to the way I was looking at everything. But last week as I was traveling and shooting I felt so differently, I was much more positive and relaxed - the challenges didn't seem so big.
Senegal in general however, is a more challenging country to work in. For me as a photographer, trying to get the shots I like to get - it's not easy. I'm not sure what it is but while some love the camera, kids especially, other's almost seem to hate it and when I ask for permission for a shot and get a "no" it usually feels like there's a bit of anger behind it. I asked Justice, my local contact, what it was about and as a photographer himself, he said he didn't know - he had never experience that. But what I've discovered is that each photographer's experience of a place is different and that's down to so many factors.
But beyond anything, it's an absolutely stunning country with beautiful people. And I mean beautiful! They're stunning. It always feels safe, relaxed and the golden hour there is one of the most beautiful. Check out the vlog below to see what I mean:
Two days ago I published this video on YouTube, but I’ve been building up to sharing this story for a very long time. I had it all planned out in my head with everything I wanted to say, but I wanted it to come out naturally so I didn’t write it down, I just sat in front of the camera and talked… And it was awful.
Two days later I got on a plane and when I was in Kenya I tried again. And again, and again, and then again. Seven times in total, and each time it was just no good! The trouble was this... we often think of our lives in bits and pieces, but we rarely think of it in a narrative that would be interesting to an audience.
Filming this was an eye-opening experience and here are a few lessons I learned while trying to tell my story:
1. Bringing up and talking about things that have happened in your life can make you confront parts of you that haven’t seen the light in some time – and that can be hard. In the original version of this video, which was half an hour long, I talked a lot more about family and and unlearning old habits. And it kind of made me a bit sad – not because I haven’t dealt with it all, but because it brought up painful memories and while I wanted to be honest, I didn’t want those painful memories to shout the loudest in my story.
2. You actually have to think about what you want people to get out of it, what you want them to take away from it all. Which means you have to think about your attitude, and how you represent yourself. So much of what I said in the original recording didn’t make the cut because I thought to myself – "I don’t want that to define me anymore". When you have to cut your life into a 15 minute film (which was probably a little bit long), you have to really work out your priorities which is an interesting process. It's all a bit therapeutic.
3. It’s important to own your whole story and not leave any part of it abandoned – which I did in the original recording, but a life story is loooooong. And getting to know someone in real life is not the same as getting to know them online. In person, if we were friends, we would get to know each other slowly over time through anecdotes and stories told over hours, not minutes. But when you’re talking to an audience you need to decide what they need to know, in choosing how you want them to feel about it, you get to make up your mind about how you feel about it. It’s a wonderful feeling to decide what from your past is useful to your present, and what you get to take forward into your future. Because it is a choice!
4. It’s difficult to narrate your past with enthusiasm, and without making it sound like a shopping list. I can talk with all kinds of enthusiasm about my present and my future, but making my past sound just as exciting is difficult because it’s already happened and I’ve already heard that story countless times in my head. But you can’t keep people engaged with a monotonous list of events… so this kind of forces you to inject some enthusiasm into the stories of your past which helps you look at it with fresh eyes.
All the time that went into collecting all of this information and telling my story in a way that was both honest and real, it was a good reminder of where I've been and where I'm going. I naively thought that I could just sit down in front of a camera, talk and hit publish... but it actually turned out to be weeks of work. And in those weeks I learned how to be happy with my story, how to own every part of it, and how to let go of what wasn't useful anymore.
Even if you didn't publish it for the world to see, do you think you could tell your story in ten to fifteen minutes in a way that you felt proud of but also in a way that was honest and real? It's a worthwhile challenge to take on if you're up for it :)
I always thought that times of change would come in big waves that would pass over quickly in one great event and leave everything completely different. In my experience change has always come in with a bang. But lately changed has felt more like a glacier – I spotted it on the horizon months ago and I prepared myself in every way I could, and now four months later I’m still sat here waiting for it to sloooooowly come at me. It’s frustrating.
So life lately has seen me cleaning house, throwing things out, giving a lot of thought to the kind of life I want to be living and exactly how I’m going to do that. I’m so ready for that change now that I’m actually excited for it! Maybe that’s why it’s been taking so long, because I needed to be in a place to enjoy it instead of be scared of it. I’ve never been a fan of change – but growing up I had constant change and to my little girl mind, I never understood any of it. It always seemed so abrupt and harsh, chaotic as well, and if there was reason behind it I never knew what it was. So I guess maybe this slow change is a good thing.
But fun and exciting change, that I can get on bored with. I’ve been working on stuff for my YouTube channel and honestly diving head first into that was so scary. What if I wasn’t what people expected me to be? Or what if my voice irritates people, or I never learn to be succinct enough to get my point across? But a long time ago I learned that if I wanted to do something but I was scared to, to just leap into the new challenge and figure out the difficult parts on the way down – I guess I’m a lot braver about change when it’s on my own terms.
One of the biggest requests I’ve always had, and more so since I’ve started vlogging, is to share my story. I think probably my photography story but also what happened in my life to get me where I am today – and I’ve always really wanted to! But what’s held me back is not really knowing where to start. It feels so big and ungainly, like any life story! There’s so much and yet probably so little to say, but I’m just not sure where to start, what to include and how to make it interesting. And how to keep it SHORT! And keep it honest – include the good, the bad and the ugly. Because I want to be honest! But it’s hard.
When we think of our stories the thoughts tend to come to us in bits and pieces, we rarely step back and evaluate it as a whole. But looking at the big picture, it’s hard to take those pieces and stitch them together in a way that makes sense to us, or even other people! It’s a process, and I’m working on it.
Before I get into answering your questions, I have some exciting news!! So many of your questions have been about how I take my photos and grew into becoming a professional photographer, so I decided to create a little something for you!
It's everything that I did when I was starting out to develop my own personal photography style. It's about how you find out what you really love to shoot, how you find your own voice and creative eye as a photographer, and how you push yourself to develop new skills and learn how to take those amazing shots! So sign up below to receive my emails and the free downloadable guide!
Ok, here we go with your questions...
What camera and lenses do you use? If you could only take one lens travelling with you, for portraits and landscapes, what would it be?
Currently I use the Canon 5D Mk iii with a 24-70 2.8 mkii, a 50mm 1.4, a 40mm, and a 70-200. I started out shooting almost entirely with the 50mm and it taught me a lot about photography. I couldn't afford another lens for so long and I think working with limited gear just makes you a better photographer! These days though I rely mostly on the 24-70 - it's good for portraits and landscapes. I'm eyeing up an 85mm though, it's on my wish list along with so many other things!
How do you approach photographing strangers? How do you make a connection with people?
Everyone has a different approach to this, I think you just need to find what you're comfortable with. Personally I'm not ok with photographing people without their permission, at least not their face anyway. So I always ask and try to make a bit of a connection with someone so that they can feel comfortable in front of the camera. Usually taking a few photos, showing them, and then taking a few more helps them to settle into it.
How do you get a candid photo of someone while still getting their permission to take a photo of them?
Ask their permission, take a few photos, walk away and do something else for a bit, and then take a photo of them again when they're not looking. That or you can ask them to just keep doing what they're doing, and not look at the camera. If someone has agreed to a photo it's ok to try and give them a bit of direction for what you want. It's all trial and error and finding out what works for you.
How do you approach photographing a street scene? How do you get people’s consent?
I think as a photographer it's a good idea to look up the data protection laws in your country, because then that will tell you what you are and aren't allowed to photograph and share without consent. For example, if you're shooting a street scene and no person is face on and identifiable, technically you don't need consent under UK data protection (you might get called out as a creeper though). But also, it's down to what you're comfortable with. Personally if I'm taking a portrait I always ask permission, it would make me so embarrassed to be caught shooting someone and to upset them in any way if they weren't ok with it. It makes me cringe just thinking of it. Of course the rules are different when it comes to kids as well... there's a lot to taking portraits in truth and I could talk about this for hours!
How do you edit your photos? What software and filters do you use?
I edit all my photos in Lightroom using my own filters that I created myself. And I change those all the time, I rarely stick to one filter or one way of editing for very long - and it changes from job to job depending on the branding of the organisation/company I'm working for. I definitely find lightroom to be the easiest and fastest way to batch edit, and quickly sift through and select photos/edit them individually. And also the photographers package on Adobe CC is pretty cheap!
How do you make sure that the people who you photograph know and understand what their photos are going to be used for? What happens if someone sees a picture of themselves and they aren’t happy about it?
Whenever I'm traveling for work, I'm shooting in communities that have a long and well established relationship with the organisations that have hired me. Before I even get there the community have been briefed on who I am, why I'm there and what their stories will be used for. But even then, every person photographed or filmed will need to give their recorded consent and have it explained to them all again. And even after that permission is always asked for photography and filming in the moment - and if we're shooting children then consent needs to come from the parents. There's a lot that goes on behind a photo or a film! But if the person photographed one day wakes up and decides they've changed their mind, they always have a way to get in touch with the program team who will then let the organisation know.
How do you make money from your photography?
To answer this question literally, I'm hired by an organisation or a company to shoot for a certain number of days for a specific rate... But of course there's more to that, it's a lot of hustle and grind to find the right people, reach out, make connections, make friends, find the organisations that are the right fit or need what I can offer. It's a lot of work to get to the paid work, if you see what I mean.
What tech do you take with you when you travel?
I always carry my macbook, camera, lenses, SD cards, card reader, hard drives, chargers, batteries, battery pack... I think that's it? Also an ipad mini for having a tv show on in the background in the evenings when I'm feeling lonely - usually something silly like Parks and Rec. I used to travel with so much more but now that I've relaxed into it I've cut my gear down to the bare essentials. It's so heavy! Oh and also my iphone comes with me too - gotta get those stories!
How do you do post production on the road?
If i'm doing it correctly, then I'll sit in the car after a day of shooting on the way back to where I'm staying and make my selections actually on my camera using the rating system. Then when I get back to the hotel I transfer all my photos onto a hard drive, then I back that up. Then I import into lightroom and look at the photos I've rated and skim through the rest in case there are a few I've missed. Then I do a test edit of a few favourite ones, and probably some I'm going to edit for instagram too - and then depending on the job I'll create a client preset in lightroom to use as a theme across the rest of the shoot. Then I'll stay up way too late playing around and editing, especially if I'm super psyched about the shoot I just did. I may send a few star shots through to the client to give them a preview. If I'm not doing it correctly I'll set my photos to upload and backup and then pass out face first on whatever bed is closest... This job can be tiring :) But mostly my post production happens when I get home and can dedicate a few full days to it.
What music do you listen do when you’re editing?
Ok the funny thing is I can't listen to music when I'm editing, it's so frustrating!! Music makes me daydream, and if I'm listening to something chances are I'll be sat staring glassy-eyed at a screen for 20 minutes before I realise I've accomplished nothing. But I do love listening to podcasts when I edit, it's my sort of self-education time where I learn tips and tricks about working as a freelancer or as a photographer specifically. Podcasts often help to get me through those crappy work days, or the times where I feel I should just give it all up because everything I touch turns to garbage - ha ha! Urgh. We all have those days. Should I do a post on my favourite things to listen to when I'm editing?
How do you deal with being away from home and Adam all the time?
Believe it or not sometimes I cry before I have to get on a plane and tell Adam I'm not going anywhere and he can't make me. Usually its when I'm in between long shoots and I'm so exhausted and I've taken on more than I can manage. Or the trip I have to go on is going to be really hard, physically and emotionally. I kind of feel like that's something I shouldn't admit to, but it's the truth. Adam has been responsible for dropping me off and scooping me up from the airport when I'm half dead more times than I can count, and I'm so, so grateful. We're ok with being apart from each other for long stretches but sometimes it can be harder than others, depending on how we're feeling. We have a rule though that anything longer than three weeks is too much, and we try not to go longer than that without seeing each other. Sometimes that means him flying out to see me on location somewhere for a bit, which can be fun.
How do you cope with the long hours of work?
I cry. Ha ha. No not really. I mean, sometimes, but rarely. I just try to keep fit, I carry my yoga mat with me everywhere, I carve out enough time for sleep when I need to, and over the years I've learned the best way to deal with exhaustion is to lean into it and accept that it's happening. I know I can make up the sleep when I need to. But also, some jobs if I'm only on four hours of sleep a night I don't even notice because I'm loving it so much!! Sometimes I can't sleep because I'm so excited to get back out with my camera! Not every job is like that though, of course. I've developed a few rituals that keep me energised and relatively anxiety free when the exhaustion is creeping in, but it's taken a long time to train myself to cope with it.
Do you ever need an assistant? Can I come with you?
I get so many emails like this and I answer every one because I so know how you feel!! I was there once too. I've only recently, within the past two years, starting putting together teams to take out with me on a job. It used to be just me doing the photography, videography and interviews and it was hectic! Now if it's a big production and all three aspects of content gathering are needed, I put together a team, but I will generally only work with people who have a killer portfolio or who I trust can do the job. You don't need to have experience working for people so much as proof that you can do the job in the way that is necessary... Like, not every videographer will shoot the way that I like, or not every storyteller will interview in a way that I think is appropriate - I like to work with people who have the same way of creating that I do, but that's where the magic happens :)
How did you find your own photography style and what do you think about when you edit your photos?
Oh my goodness that's such a good question!!! ;) sign up to my emails above or below and I'll tell you how, step by step. In terms of thinking - I think I probably just switch off. The way I shoot and edit isn't always something I think about, now that I have the skills I need, I just follow my intuition.
When you go on photography trips, who do you travel with?
Sometimes it's just me! Sometimes it's a team, like I said above. But when I do field work for charities or for anyone really, I'm always accompanied by an in-country representative from the organisation. It's always people who work directly with the program operations, who know the local communities and speak the language - they have the relationships that allow me to be welcomed into the communities and I can't do my work without them. They're always behind the scenes and put in so much hard work so that I can do my job - they're basically superheroes and they have gotten me out of more sticky situations than I can count, even saving my life once :)
What are your biggest obstacles as a travel photographer? In terms of finding time, energy, inspiration, editing and motivation?
Finding the time and the right work, and the right work/life balance. I think it's easy to burn out in a career like this - especially if you shoot for charities, those trips can be really tough! Mentally, physically, emotionally sometimes too. Chasing after what I love to do but not sacrificing everything else in my life at the same time, keeping perspective - that can be challenging. Reminding myself that travel and photography aren't the only parts of my life that need to be focused on. And sometimes I don't have the time or the energy to do what needs to be done, and I lose the inspiration or put off an edit because I'm scared I did a bad job - but when I'm photographing (especially for an amazing cause) I'm loving my life more than at any other time, and that's where I find the motivation to keep going. And also I think it's so important to admit to yourself that you're only human, and you can't be 100% dedicated 100% of the time, sometimes you need a break so that you can remember what you're working for. I try not to beat myself up for lacking motivation sometimes, or energy - I'm human and my emotions change all the time. I've learned that having patience with myself is the most important thing.
How did you get where you are now? How did you become a traveling photographer?
I started out working in the not for profit sector! My first job was as a legacy administration assistant, two days a week, for an animal welfare charity. Prior to that I had been unemployed in London for 13 months thanks to choosing an MA in journalism only to graduate into a full blown recession. Prior to that I worked in a butcher shop for a year... It's a long story. But once I found that I could take a pretty good picture I focused really hard on: getting better, shooting every day, pushing my way through to every opportunity, meeting other photographers, shooting with other photographers, networking, making friends in the industry, not getting down on myself when I was set back by something, starting to think of myself as a professional, selling my skills as a professional, and checking in with myself every day if this is really want I want from my life - because it's tough! Should I talk more about this in the future in a step by step, what I did, kind of way?
How realistic is it to pursue photography as a career?
That's a tough question to answer because it depends on what kind of a career you want. There are some careers that don't require so much personal motivation to get things done, especially careers where you don't work for yourself. It's easier to be accountable to other people than it is to yourself - at least I find that anyway... So far I've been the toughest boss to work for, and I've worked for some pretty big bullies! It is a challenge but photography is an art form and people do art because they love it. I think if you love it and that is what keeps you motivated even when you feel like you're rubbish and you're convinced the whole world is thinking the same thing, then it could work out. But it is exactly as difficult as advertised, whether you have jobs fall in your lap or you have to work really hard to land each one, it's a hell of a lot evenings and weekends, missing fun stuff, working late nights, etc... You get out what you put in. It is a challenging career to break into, but all the best jobs worth having are.
How did you practice and improve your skills as a photographer?
Definitely check out me free download for the best answer to this question. But I just love photography a lot, so I photograph a lot... I like trying to see if I can shoot something in particular and then I teach myself or ask someone else to teach me how to do it. And then it's on to the next and the next and you never stop learning. You just shoot for the love of it and learn along the way. When it comes to photography I found a lot of photographers I tried to learn from made me feel like certain questions were really stupid and let me just say, there are no stupid questions when it comes to learning! If someone makes you feel ashamed for not knowing more when you're just starting out, that's on them and their own insecurities. There may be value to what they are saying so definitely think on it, but keep trying to learn and keep pushing to grow your skills, don't let anyone put you down or make you feel silly for asking.
How do you get your first client?
There's no one way to get that first client. You just have to take every opportunity and also create space in your life to let opportunity come to you. I try to do something every day that will help me get new clients, and I like to think of it as planting seeds - some may sprout and others may not, but you just keep planting and eventually one will. It's all about making connections, looking for the right fit, finding opportunities to shoot... the important thing is to start as you mean to go on, look for the right people and shoot what you love - I find things naturally progress from there. It's complicated and this sounds a bit vague, should I go into this in more detail? It may be a bit of a long post!
How long does it take to set yourself up as a photographer including the kit, website, skills, etc…
This is kind of a hard question to answer because everyone's journey and circumstance is different. Maybe you have a family that can help you out with lending money, maybe you inherit a camera or get one as a present, or maybe you have to fund everything yourself over time, I think it just really depends. I was shooting on a Canon 60D and a 50mm (the cheap kind) for years before a got a full frame camera. I taught myself how to build a website on squarespace with the help of friends who were doing it at the same time as me... You just kind of develop new skills as you go, when you need to. I think it took me about four years to go from no experience to someone who makes money off their work. But I would ask for help where you need it, so if you're not sure about where to go next then ask someone whose job it is to help you - that's my best advice. Whenever I've been stuck I've worked with Jen Carrigton and she's helped get me out of a dead end on more than one occasion.
How do you gain creative self-confidence and stop questioning your abilities as a photographer? Have you ever doubted yourself and how did you get over that self-doubt?
Oh man, I don't know, but if you figure this one out can you let me know? I guess for me there just came a point in my life when I decided I wanted to have a job I love and some amazing experiences, and that outweighed my fear of that mean voice in my head who was telling me I couldn't. That voice never went away, but these days I hear it less when I'm too busy getting stuff done to listen. I think the best advice I can give on this is that there's no such thing as getting over that and living a life full of confidence and without doubt - you just have to do it anyway. Sometimes I feel so awesome about what I do and like I'm on top of the world, sometimes I feel like a bad person who takes rubbish photos - but the more I push myself to learn more and gain more experiences, the less I feel that way. And keeping busy just doing things anyway, that definitely helps. It's just practice and hard work and not letting anyone get in your way, not even yourself.
How did you get into working in the not for profit sector and how do start working with charity clients?
In a way I grew up in the charity sector as a newly working adult, I started out in corporate PR internship and hated it - and my next job was for a charity. So I started working for charities from the inside out. All of my professional contacts are in the charity sector, I know all aspects of charity communications and PR, and I also know all aspects of charity fundraising/marketing and its multiple audiences. I think this knowledge has been invaluable to me because I can talk "charity" with clients in a way that probably a lot of other photographers and producers can't. But when it comes down to it it's just about the leg work, anyone can learn this kind of stuff without having to work in the sector. And the way of getting your first client is the same - just growing your experience and asking for a job.
How do you edit photos for Instagram and how do you keep a consistent, uniform-looking feed? And what are your favourite apps to edit your IG photos with?
My instagram is such a mix of work stuff and life at home stuff, and the way I edit is different for each kind of photo. If I'm posting a photo from my Canon then I'll do the whole Lightroom edit with my own filters etc... and if I shot a photo with my phone I'll edit using the VSCO app (I like the E and A filters the most), with the ColorStory app, and then try to work it into my feed. I'm not that great at Instagram, it's definitely a challenge for me to post in a way that is cohesive, but everything I've learned about creating a feed that looks good and grows followers I got from Sara Tasker, she taught me absolutely everything I know about the app and so she's probably better to go to for advice than I am. And she has LOADS of info on her site about it so definitely have a look.
How did you know what kind of photography you wanted it get into, and how did you land yourself in such an exciting career?
I tried it all out for myself to see! This is also kind of answered in my free download so definitely check that out. But I just tried a bit of everything until I found something that I just kind of lost myself in. I remember when I first started I really wanted a step by step guide of how to get myself a career like the photographers I admired, but the truth is everyone feels their way towards a career they love almost completely blind. No one has a path that can be followed and no one can tell you the right path to take. You just have to feel your way along, find what feels good and right to you, and go with your gut. It's just hard work, a little bit of belligerence and not giving up. I think it helps to be stubborn, not too proud to do the crappy jobs for a bit, and to accept that it's a constant work in progress. I definitely didn't land here, I climbed here, and anyone can do the same thing if they just settle into a life of uncertainty and figureing things out as they go along - but isn't most of life like that anyway?
Who do you use to insure your gear?
Photoguard are pretty good I've heard, it's who I use but I've yet to make a claim so I can't say for sure.
What kind of clients make up your client base?
A real mix. Obviously I only show you guys my highlight reel but I've taken on jobs like corporate head shots or shooting mattresses to just make some money - not every job takes me around the world and I don't think I could handle it if it did to be honest. I like working with people a lot, and with stylists - so I've shot for some clothing brands. I've done some travel and tourism stuff, etc... Lots of lifestyle brand things. I'm not the best at styling and curating, but I love collaborating with other creatives who have those skills so I love taking on shoots that let me work with other people. I'm definitely not at that point in my career where I can turn down paid work because it doesn't sound fun :)
What is your photography story? How did you get to where you are now? What was your first break?
I think I've covered my photography story already above but I think my first big break, which kind of wasn't big/didn't break me into anything really, was when I went to Kenya as a producer for a few not for profit fundraising films. I had no clue what I was doing, zero experience, and I was terrified - but I wanted to try and I convinced my manager at the time that I could do it. The opportunity didn't land in my lap, but I did see space for me to create the opportunity for myself and I worked towards it for a while before it materialised. When I landed in Kenya I was terrified, I didn't know why I had taken this project on and I certainly didn't know much about what I was doing - but I had a vision for how I thought it should go and I just followed that. Funnily enough that first morning in Nairobi I went to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to visit the orphaned elephants and I thought "wouldn't it be amazing if I could work for more charities like this one day - but that'll probably never happen, how crazy would that be? That would be a dream job, I could never reach that far..." Now I'm typing this at Heathrow terminal 3 about to board a flight to go shoot for them. What is this life?! It just goes to show you can doubt yourself but still get things done anyway.
Do you clients pay for all your travel or do you ever have to pay for anything yourself?
If ever I travel overseas for work all of my expenses are covered from tickets to taxis and hotels. I'd love to be in a position one day to be able to go on some shoots on my own money, but at the moment I could never afford all the travel required on my own. I mean maybe I could, but I have a few other things to spend my money on at the moment.
How do you balance full time work and a freelance career?
It's just a lot of work. A long time ago I think working became a habit for me and for a good few years I just did it constantly. At home, at work, on the bus, out with friends... i'd be brainstorming, answering emails, pushing my work out on social media, trying to get noticed by future clients. The past year or so I've been trying to scale back as I've seen some of the rewards of that hard work coming in, I've tried to put less pressure on myself to be "on it" constantly. Work smarter, not harder, you know? I still work long, anti social hours but I've been taking a day off when I need it, switching off when I need it, putting my camera away when I need it, etc... Learning how to step away from work has made me much more successful than I ever was when I was hammering away at it until I dropped - but maybe that's because I've put in a lot of time already.
Do you have any tips for traveling solo, especially as a woman?
Following your instincts is important, and not putting yourself in silly situations as well. So like, not wandering out alone at night if you shouldn't, covering up if the culture requires it, etc... Sometimes it drives me a bit mental when you see travelers wandering around a more conservative or traditional culture and not respecting its values - I think this can be especially dangerous if you're a woman. Trying to blend in and be respectful is important, and if you're there to photograph its maybe the most important thing. It's just a matter of keeping your whits about you, keeping your passport on you (and a photocopy of it in your room), not carrying too much cash and just enjoying yourself. Bad things can happen to us anywhere these days, but the world is full of good people who are always happy to help if you just ask.
What drives your passion in photography and travel, and what motivates you to keep going?
I think I've covered bits of this above but in terms of what motivates me to keep going - that's a tricky one because I don't really know. It's just something that I do because I really love to do it, I like the travel and I like chasing after those shots that make my heart race when I know I've got a good one. I love the people I meet and the perspective it gives me of the world. I think each trip opens me up to new ideas and new ways of looking at things - it's made me a less judgmental person and given me a greater capacity for empathy than I ever would have felt without it. My job is the only thing I've ever felt real, genuine and consistant pride for. I just do it because I love to, it's not more complicated than that.
What's your advice for someone who wants to do what you do?
Well firstly sign up to my emails :) And secondly, just work really hard. Shoot as often as you can, get better every day, set goals for yourself and keep working towards them, and don't worry when it feels like a long, tough road - it can be! I know it seems like people "land" in amazing jobs or "break" into careers, but they rarely do. You work hard until you get your first paid job and then at that point you set a new standard for yourself and keep working hard until you achieve that. It's always going to be tough, and depending on how hard you are on yourself, it's always going to be frustrating. But you get out what you put in, so keep going and do it because you love it. If you stop loving it that is absolutely fine, keep looking for something else you love. There's nothing that you can't do if you just work bloody hard at it, ignore the voice that tells you you're not good enough, and if you have a genuine love and desire to make it happen.
Pakistan is one of those funny countries where I tried so hard to get a trip there for years, and since that first visit I've gone back twice. And I'm going again next week! I thought I would go that first time and it would be a one time only thing - but here I am again all nonchalant about catching a flight to Lahore like it's no big deal. But really it has become so normal these days.
I always get asked questions about safety and being afraid when I travel to Pakistan and truthfully it feels as safe as anywhere else I've traveled on a shoot. The only difference I find from my other trips is that I have to keep my head covered in the more rural communities and I have to wear long sleeves, we tend to not linger in any one location for more than a few hours, and I can't go wandering off alone. But having said that I've never actually felt afraid of anyone or any situation, I mean at least not afraid of the people. Shooting down a mine isn't exactly a relaxing experience but at least that's a threat I'm subjecting myself to - it's entirely my choice.
We travel along a pristine motorway to our locations, we stop for KFC, chat about where serves the best brownie in Lahore, and I laugh about a chain called Butt Sweets because I basically have the humor of a 14 year old boy - although that also may be sleep deprivation. It all feels very... normal. And it makes me think of how influenced we are by the news, and how much that dictates our fear. There are problems, but they're not "news" as such, they're just ongoing situations - similar to the ones we find everywhere these days, even on our own doorsteps...
The people I'm here to photograph though, they live truly harsh lives. The coal miners are stuck in a way of life that is so isolated and lonely. The women raising their children in a slum and spending their days collecting garbage, they have bruises on their face and they looks so, so exhausted. But from the moment I arrive they're all smiles, the coal miners try to look serious for their photos but they burst out laughing and soon everyone is in fits of giggles, including me. The women are serious, but as soon as you show an interest in their story they're keen to show off their kids and their home - making each other laugh while the little ones hang off my arms trying to look through my view finder to see what I'm seeing.
If I've learned anything from shooting for charities over the past few years, it's that the adverts you see on the bus or on the TV - there's so much more to the life behind that sad looking photo. And that photo, while it's true, the picture it paints is sometimes a disservice. It's too one dimentional. A life in need of help and support is not always a life without love and laughter, it's not all misery and despair, more often its a life without choice or opportunity. And making change isn't about giving things or solving problems; it's about clearing some room for freedom, for opportunity, and giving people the chance to have some options, to make an informed choice.
p.s. my Q&A post is coming up next so keep an eye out! And if you have any last minute questions about my work, or photography or anything, leave them in a comment below.
Looking back on these photos I still can’t quite believe December was only last month – it feels a whole world away now! I had to be in Nepal and Pakistan for work and with only a week in between the two trips it seemed so pointless to return to London. So I took a week-long layover in India and hired a taxi for the three and a half hour drive to Jaipur.
Jaipur is like my refuge in the east, and whenever I’m in-between trips or I just need some down time while I’m working I always call up my mum’s friend Devena and ask if I can come to stay for a bit. Her house, which is also a bed and breakfast by the way, is so beautiful and relaxing. And because I always arrive there in the midst of a chaotic work trip, it always feels like heaven on earth to me. She always feeds me up, lets me sleep, and gives me lots of advice on places to go and things to do. And because it’s an artist’s retreat there are always so many interesting people to meet and talk to.
This time was a bit special however, because Adam came to meet me for the week in between my two trips. It was his first time in India and I was so excited to show him around and see if he would love it as much as I do. It’s one of those countries I spend time in where I feel instantly at home, and no pressure for him! but I’m sure he knew how important it was for me that he liked it too.
I’m hoping that the next time we go we can travel around a bit more. I’ve been to India so many times but I rarely get to travel as a tourist and there’s so many parts of the country I would still love to see. But until then, here are a few of my photos from our time in Jaipur…
This post was written in partner ship with Blurb
Can you believe it wasn't really that long ago that we were using film cameras? My first camera was a film SLR, my mum bought it for me just as I was dropping out of university (temporarily) to travel around Spain and Morocco for a few months. I've always taken photos with various cameras but that was the first time I ever felt serious about photography... of course I shot on automatic the whole time and only had the cheap and plasticy kit lens, but the camera was heavy and that made it feel credible.
To this day I still have two albums full of photos from that trip, and I'm pretty sure that was the last time I had any photo of mine printed. I loved using that camera, but I was never planning to become a photographer - making a career out of any kind of art form was for someone braver than me, someone with more motivation and drive. Who knew I had it in me? I didn't. But as it turns out there was something to that love of photography, and now here I am.
But these days I rarely see my photos in print. I live in a tiny two room flat with walls that clutter easily, all my client work is delivered digitally, and it wasn't something that ever really came up. It was only this past year that I saw one of my photos printed in a book and I found it so mesmerising - to actually touch and feel a moment that I captured, it's just so different from seeing it on a screen. And I think seeing something in print is that final and solid test to see if a photo turned out well, so I was interested to test out some of my other shots.
My dad has been bothering me for some of my photos for months now, so I finally got down to the task of putting together a book - which I knew would take ages because I'm so picky about how these things look while also being terrible at design. I went with Blurb because for years and years, Adam's family have used them to put together an annual family photo album, and the occasional wedding or anniversary book - they always look so good.
I wasn't sure how my photos would stand up to print because I shoot a little dark and I know light shots work best on paper - so I adjusted them a little in Lightroom and put together a photo book using Blurb's native design tool, BookWright. I could have used something else but I found it really handy to use a tool that had a template where I could drag and drop into a pr-set design - an eye for creative layouts and book design is just not one of my talents and trying to come up with something on my own can take me hours! This took me about 45 minutes, the image selection however... that took a lot longer.
I'm so pleased with the way it turned out that I sadly never actually gave it to my Dad! I bought him a cook book instead (bad daughter). I love the wrap-around cover and the quality of the print, and now I'm thinking I'd love to put together something like a magazine that people can buy through my website, what do you think? A collection of my best shots from the year, or one mini-magazine per trip - something like that. Add that to my list of projects this year!
This post was sponsored byBlurb, a brand I've known for years which I think you'd really love.
When I think about 2016 I just can't believe it - any of it, It's been so incredible in so many ways, both incredibly good and incredibly challenging. But I'm ending the year in Canada with some of my favourite people, and somehow the challenges of this year don't seem so bad - they make me realise that I'm so well prepared for what's to come next year.
I hate to start with one of the challenges but it feels most relevant to this space - and I'm sad that 2016 has been the year that I've found blogging harder than ever. I've always used this space to just be completely myself, hold nothing back and be honest whether it came out in an ugly mess or something completely uplifting. I didn't tell anyone I knew in real life about it for ages because I hated the idea of picturing someone I knew reading here. As time went on and family and friends figured it out, I found I was able to almost shut out the idea that people knew what I was writing and while it did make me censor myself, it wasn't very much.
This year however, I've blended my blog with my portfolio and I've started to work with more clients - which is probably the most exciting thing ever! But pouring your heart out when potential clients are watching? Or knowing that you have to work with someone who knows so much about your personal life? That's hard. It makes you feel very exposed and I know that some bloggers do it and do it so well! But the more freelance work I take on, the more guarded and professional I feel I need to be - and terrible writers block takes over. I would love to get over this and just own both sides of my life, blend personal and professional and just let it all be me for everyone to see - but it's hard.
It's a challenge for next year that I'm determined to take on, because I miss this space and sharing my life and adventures here.
But on the bring side I have got to work with some AMAZING people this year, both in the charity world and some beautiful brands. And none of these things have fallen in my lap, I've gone out and hand-picked each and every job I've done and chosen only what I knew I would love. Believe me, I've had a lot of rejection too, but the ones that worked out have been some of the best things I've ever done - for work but also in life. There's a lot to be said for not waiting for things to happen to you and instead going after what you want with as much enthusiasm as you can manage.
It's meant a lot of hard work, a lot of self doubt, a lot of putting myself up for rejection and being ignored, a lot of failure, and a lot of restless, anxiety-filled nights. But I've also learned this year what it means to feel good enough, by my own standards. I've felt, probably for the first time in my life, genuinely proud of myself and what I'm doing. And of course I'm terrified that it could all disappear in an instant, but I've also become so good at ignoring that fear.
2016 has also been the year of good friends. If you've been reading here for a while you may remember that I went through a really rough time a few years back. There's nothing like trauma to sort out who can really manage to be there for you in life, and who can't. And I don't blame some old friends for not sticking around, that kind of grief felt like a plague that everyone needed to avoid - but some didn't, they just jumped right in and stuck with me until I got through it. And when I came out the other side I found I had the most glorious group of people around me who taught me what friendship was really all about.
These days I have friends who encourage me and who I can chat to about work for hours as well as talk rubbish with and laugh until we collapse. I've learned the importance of surrounding yourself with like-minded people and there's no limit on the value of a community who can laugh with you, dream with you, and cheer for you every step of the way. I would go to the ends of the earth for them, and I know they would do the same.
And I have a good feeling that that community will be expanding in 2017.
And the rest of this year has been a lot of constant travel and a lot of hanging around waiting for things to begin. 2016 has been full of stops and starts, full of inconsistencies, full of gaining and losing.
But ultimately this year has been about finding out what I'm capable of through trial and error. It's been imperfect and messy, a constant ebb and flow of winning a lot and losing in equal measure. Each step has felt like a progression though and I'm so happy with the direction my life is taking - even though half the time I feel like I'm steering the ship and the rest I feel like I'm tripping over myself just trying to stay on my feet. But I kind of feel like if you're not falling flat on your face sometimes, you're not being brave with your life...
Next year is going to be absolutely insane, wonderful, challenging and one hell of a ride. I can't wait.