I’m kicking off this year’s Start Up Story feature with someone you might be familiar with if you read my blog last year. Robyn has collaborated with me on lots of projects for CWSR doing photography shoots for me. I was so nervous in front of the camera before our first shoot but Robyn is so good at her job and super friendly that I felt at ease as soon as we got started. It’s a privilege to share how she got started and her journey so far as a photographer.
Hi, I’m Robyn. I’m a photographer at Robyn Swain Photography and I blog at The Little Woman Pretends, though rather than being two separate things to work at, a lot of the time they just blend into one.
Little fact about me, I once worked at the armed forces radio station (BFBS) when we, my husband Sam and I, were based out in Cyprus. Somewhere in the archives there will be an advert I recorded reminding people to get regular STI checks, as well as a game we played where I had to pretend to be really drunk and sing karaoke – listeners had to ring in and guess the song!
Tell us a little bit about your business
Well, it’s a photography business. After finishing my Level 3 in Photography last summer, I had a choice between going to University, working for someone else, or starting up on my own. So I chose the latter. It was only going to be a trial through the summer holidays, but I just love the freedom so much, I’ve not really looked back. My main love is family lifestyle photography. I love natural light, candid moments and outdoor adventures for our sessions. As well as that, I also cover commercial, and the odd newborn sessions as well as blogger sessions and my own lifestyle shoots for my blog.
Once you knew you wanted to pursue being a professional photographer how did you go about turning it into a reality?
I’ve had major issues all my life trying to find ‘The one’ when it comes to a career. I’ve never really found enough fulfillment in anything I’ve done to commit myself fully. Photography was different though, it gripped me without me even realising and then before I knew it, I was hooked. It’s funny really, I remember Sam getting me my first camera five years ago, I’d never shown any interest in photography, but he’d got me the full kit, studio kit, lighting. Everything. I was a right mard-arse about not getting anything I actually wanted for Christmas! Ha. Now it’s my job!
Getting to where I am now has been a long journey. Because I wasn’t really that interested, I had no motivation to learn. So I’d just try and get some decent-ish blog photos every now and again. Then one day I took a photo of Izzy (the youngest baby) and I just saw something in it, the light was beautiful, her eyes popped. Looking back it was technically a rubbish image, but it ignited something in me, and so I’ve been learning ever since. Every few months I like to take a week (or the whole of November like I did last year) to learn, brush up on certain skills, get out with my camera just practicing things I want to get better at. I don’t book in any work, I just focus on learning.
I think that along with my decent prices are what’s kept me so busy since the summer.
What’s been the hardest part of your life as a start up business so far and how do you overcome those kinds of hurdles?
Honestly? Myself. As with everything in my life, I’m the most difficult part of it! Overall, I’m fairly confident with my abilities and what I’ve achieved so far. I’m realistic with myself, but not afraid to step up to new challenges. However, every now and again, like most people, I go through periods of self doubt. Like proper crippling anxiousness about my work. Its always the same stuff, “I’ve not been to university”, “I’m self taught – that doesn’t make me a real photographer.”, “My prices are too high, for my quality of work.”, “I’m not going to be able to make this work full time”. Because I just love what I do, so much… it really does get to me and shakes up my confidence. What I like to do when I get like this, is just strip it back to basics. I fell in love with photography when capturing candid moments of my girls around the home. So I’ll spend a day just shooting. When it comes to editing later that evening, I one hundred percent always find an image I love, one that just reminds me that though I may not have a degree, I know how to get the job done. And that’s all that matters.
I run on black coffee and chocolate biscuits when I’m working, what couldn’t you live without?
Tea. Lots of it, every day. And its not even a caffeine thing, because once it hits 8pm I’m onto de-caf. I probably drink way more than I should, but it’s the only bad habit I have left! Oh and I need my diary, because my life just wouldn’t work without it.
When running a business these days you need to build a strong social media presence, which is your favourite platform and do you have any tips for running it?
Oh without a doubt Instagram. Though I do use and subsequently get a lot of work through the business Facebook page, Instagram is just much more me. I find it so easy to be authentic over there, whereas Facebook is a lot more formal. Tip wise, I’d say only really follow those accounts you really do love, its so easy to interact then. Interaction is important – though I don’t think I’m really in any position to be handing out advice on how to gain followers! Ha – Use relevant hashtags too, especially as a photographer, it is after all a visual platform. Audit your images before you put them up – again as a photographer – I don’t put anything on that hasn’t been taken by my camera, and even then it has to be work I’m proud to show. I do love the addition of Insta stories last year though for just popping up any old random stuff.
What is the best part of running your own business? Has there been a ‘pinch yourself to check it’s real’ kind of moment for you?
Well, its one the best things, but its also one of the worst… I love that its all on me, that I have full control over how this whole thing goes, I don’t have to check in with a boss, or okay an idea. I can just jump right on in with everything. On the flip side, it is all on me. If I don’t do it, no one else will, there’s not space for half ass-ing it in this job. Also, I love that I have full control over my schedule. I don’t clock out, but photography is a way of life for me, my camera is pretty much always with me and I’m always observing. I’m completely happy with that.
One of the pinch me moments was not so much with the photography side, but as a blogger. Last summer I was invited down to London, on an all expenses paid trip to feature in a Christmas edition of the Style at Home magazine. Though it was all lovely and fancy, actually the pinch me moment and my favourite part of it all was seeing how everything worked, asking questions, getting stuck in with the backstage stuff, speaking to stylists and editors, and of course working with an extremely successful photographer and being able to ask all the questions I could possibly think up about shooting these sort of sessions. It was an incredible experience, I learnt so much that day.
Has being a parent influenced the way your business works?
Absolutely, if it wasn’t for my children, I probably wouldn’t even be doing this as a job! They come first, flexibility is a must, but I also want to have it all – I’m not sure if that makes me a great or terrible example to them! Ha.
They of course have always been my number one priority, and so work really does have to flex around them, one of the fab things about this job though is that I can organise it to work for us all. There’s the odd big job that means we might have to change our Saturday trip out plans, but ultimately I’m here in the morning, I get to take them to school, pick them up, make their dinner, ask them about their day and do their homework, and I get to tuck them up at night. It doesn’t get much better than that really does it?
Running a business and a blog means you have a lot on your plate, what do you do to manage your time and what tips do you have for avoiding being overwhelmed.
Oh absolutely, but it’s so worth it! My diary is the number one thing. Once a week – usually on a Sunday evening. I sit down figure out everything I need to do for the week (as well as meal plans for the week, these are a must! Gym sessions I want to get done, any appointments or after school clubs we may have etc.), and split it all up into tasks through out the week. Some days I wake up and don’t stop until my head hits the pillow that evening, some days I’ve shared everything nicely through the week and so I lounge about eat toast and watch ‘This morning.’ No week is ever the same as the last. Another thing I like to do, is blog wise, write ‘3 month’ post plans, And if possible I like to create posts a week in advanced.
What’s been your favourite shoot so far and why?
Oohh, I’m not sure! I’m going to say the Halloween session day I ran last October. Up until the week before it just terrified me. I’d advertised, barely sold a ticket, the location was covered in rubbish from fly tippers, everything was just a mess. But I just pulled up my socks, sold out the whole day, got everything organised, cleaned up the location, decorated it all up and even though it was freezing and absolutely hammering it down, every single kid went to so much effort with their costumes and just loved it. It was incredible! The smoke bombs where a huge success, the parents where happy. The images turned out amazingly. Yeah, I went to bed with great big smile on my face that night.
Got any new projects in the pipeline?
Oh so many! I have to just remember I’m only one person! 2018 is the year I want to be a bit more business savvy. I turned down so much work last year because it didn’t ‘fit’ with the type of work I do. Which is a ridiculous way to do business. Who turns down work that early on?! Anyway, I’ve listened to what my customer base wants and I’m ready to deliver something that blends my style and what they want.
As well as that I want to become a bit more of a ‘fancy pants artiste’ – I may even start wearing a beret – and create a series of some sort. Something that’s a bit more out there, not what I’m used to shooting, not what people are used to seeing from me. I have no idea where this will take me, but I hope it’ll produce a selection of work I’m super proud of!
I’m also currently in talks with the wildlife trust team about them using a selection of my images in adverts for Brockholes Nature Reserve which is just incredible! It’s one of my favourite places to shoot and the fact that they want to pay to use my work is amazing – this does make me feel like a proper photographer!
Whether practical or inspirational, what is your top piece advice for anyone out there wanting to take that leap and start their own business or even become a professional photographer?
Practice, every single day. I know its so cliché, but it’s just the best thing you can do. Everyone has to start somewhere, so even at the beginning, on days when nothing is looking the way you want it to, keep practicing. It’ll click into place and before you know it you’ll create an image that you just love.
Business wise, and I think this is pretty much how I live my life, is to just take each day as it comes. Write your lists/goals and split your tasks, you don’t have to look at the entire week ahead – it will overwhelm you. Just tackle each day, complete your to-do’s. Then do the same again the next day. By the end of the week you’ll have done it all with no fuss, by the end of the month you’ll be nearer your end goal. By the end of the year you’ll have achieved so much than you thought you could. Oh and also, agree to things, even if they terrify you. You’ll figure it out, and you’ll be glad you said yes.
You can find Robyn here…
Website|The Little Woman Pretends blog| Facebook | Instagram
Want to read more inspiring Start Up Stories? Just click on the image below