Freelance Alliance Spotlight: John Hyam

What freelance services do you offer?

The main services I offer are photography & retouching for a range of clients in fashion, corporate and creative fields. I also offer full shoot logistics including: image consultation, storyboards/concepts, location finding, production and art direction, casting, styling etc.

I work in partnership with a retoucher/designer and for the last 2 years we have worked almost exclusively as a team, which has proved to be a real asset in the ever-changing marketplace of the freelancer.

How long have you been freelancing and what did you do before you became a freelancer?

I have been a freelancer for 10 years, starting back when I was an assistant while doing my photography degree. Before that I worked on the trading floor of an investment bank.

From 2002-2005 I lived/worked in Portugal and Spain – still doing Photography and I am lucky enough to travel back still for some clients/jobs.

What triggered your decision to go freelance?

With photography there is no other route really, so it is a natural progression after assisting. The thing I love about being freelance is the freedom it allows and the opportunities available. I am lucky in that I have fashion, corporate and creative clients this mix creates a varied routine with different challenges, and keeps things both interesting and fun. ***image5***

Did anyone influence your decision to start your own business?

I was lucky enough to work with some great photographers when I was an assistant, and learnt a lot about the industry. I now consider that time to have been invaluable. After my previous ‘life’ working on the trading floor of an investment bank I wanted a different career and photography was something I always had wanted to do – so I gave it a go and started again.

Being on your own, are there any difficult gaps to fill, knowledge or skills wise?

Now that’s a leading question, as freelancers we are now pressured to be experts in all fields: photography, production, retouching, pre press / printing, marketing, sales person, accountant, IT genius and support desk etc!!!

My way of dealing with this is to link up with other professionals who maybe specialise in these areas and to work together as a team - swapping services and cross promoting one another where possible. So with my retoucher – he does work for me but I also get him clients. We do this without a percentage or cut involved - so he offers me his time for my personal work and is flexible when budgets are lower etc.. Same for Graphic designers – they get me work/clients and I introduce them to my own clients and do the same in return. They help me with my website or marketing material and I will shoot test images for pitches or concepts/ideas.

I am a firm believer in using specialised people whenever possible, as the results speak for themselves and although it can cost you, your time can be spent doing something else that is usually much more valuable.

I am also a member of various forums and trade associations and these have useful chat rooms or member networks. So when you have problems or questions there’s usually a quick and easy solution already there and waiting online. So working and sharing information/knowledge with other photographers, retouchers, graphic designers is a vital way to stay alive in this marketplace.

What were your goals when you started your business? Have they changed?

One of the main things was to try to balance between doing your own ***image3*** photography and commercial work BUT I found that this was not really easily possible as running the business took so much time and energy. As soon as this reality hit home, I also realised that actually on a daily basis the challenges of the commercial work allowed enough room/scope to fulfill this creative desire … you sometimes forget how creative you have actually been on a project, as the whole process can take so much time/energy and then the next job starts without you seeing the finished results for months in print.

Good photography is all about preparation and communication; it's about problem solving and arriving at a shoot knowing exactly what needs to be done. I concentrate on building a healthy client-relationship to allow this process to run smoothly.

As a photographer it is your work that represents who you are and what you do and you want this to drive your business, but when you get busy with commercial work it can take you in directions that you had never planned before. So you have to manage this and find the right balance to ensure you stay on target photographically.

Were there any crisis points early on? Any moments when you wondered if the pressure of making your business a financial success outweighed the benefits of independence?

When you first go it alone it can be lonely and scary, you think you have turned the corner and that maybe things are easier and that you have regular clients and then bang … it goes quiet, you do lots of quotes and never get any of the jobs etc. Sometimes it is like climbing a mountain and just as you think that you have reached the summit, you find you still have a long way to go. So there are a lot of these ‘false’ summits along the way.

To some extent this never really stops, you always have to promote yourself, make calls to new contacts and get your folio and face out there. If you sow new seeds they might bear fruit. One can never take your foot off the gas.

On several occasions I have doubted my skills and ability and thought I hated photography and wanted to smash up my cameras and run away, but then the jobs come in from the groundwork you have done and very quickly it all seems ok again. Photography always has to have something of ‘you’ in it – that’s what makes everyones’ work unique and special. ***image6***

What are the best mistakes you've made? (i.e. those you've learned valuable lessons from.)

My biggest mistakes were always under-selling myself. Clients always asking for more and more and never wanting to pay proper rates. But you quickly learn the value of your knowledge/skills and reach the stage where you can comfortably stick to your price and not go below a certain day rate. People value you more sometimes for saying NO. Clients do not call to work with you if they do not like your work!? So you learn to read people and read the value/benefits of each job – Will it lead to more work? Will I get folio shots? Will I get any PR from it?  Not all payments are in Pounds and Pence.

It’s about finding your true value as a freelance and maintaining that balance. Sometimes the boring jobs pay more and the creative jobs less – so go with it and enjoy. Wasting your time on jobs that are not paying or working for free etc. can be bad for your confidence. This time could be better spent in other areas and quickly you learn this. We have all been there!

What is your most triumphant moment so far?

I consider myself quite lucky in that I have had a fun career and still enjoy my photography. I am not someone looking to be a famous photographer or personality etc., so my goals are different in that sense. My most recent triumph would be starting to shoot fashion and really enjoying it and having success in that field - gaining some interesting clients and shooting for magazines etc. Fashion allowed me a new space/playing field to explore and express myself creatively. My personal work and ideas slotted perfectly into it and helped me create some interesting fashion images.

Looking back on your freelancing career now, is there anything that you
would do differently?

The only thing I would change is that I would have started in photography from a younger age, I was older when I started and went back to University to do my degree in photography, so I was in my late 20s early 30s. Being involved in photography earlier would have been a big benefit professionally as the market was so different then – so maybe it might have afforded me some very different opportunities? 

If I had the time/money I would love to just shoot my own personal projects but that is another story, another world and another dream.

What things do you find personally rewarding and satisfying as a freelancer? What have been the rewards, risks, and trade-offs?

Being your own boss is the greatest thing in the world. Making your own hours and routine. Being responsible for all the decision making and learning at every junction. The failures and successes.

***image8*** One of the best parts is always meeting new people, photographing people is such a personal thing. Be it shooting a band that you really like, working with a cool model, having an interesting chat with a businessman … the endless people … assistants, hairdressers, make-up artists, art directors, picture editors, graphic designers, clients, the public etc. etc..

***image9***The rewards are huge personal satisfaction when things go smoothly and you create great images. This personal satisfaction is priceless. Growing and evolving as a photographer and over coming all the personal and professional challenges is what keeps us going. The only thing constant is change – so enjoy it.

The risks are your health when you're pushing long hours to make it all work and when things are tough. Up at 6am to get to the shoot, back home at 10pm, start editing and produce jpegs for clients to make final selections. Files to optimize from previous shoot and client needs now!? 4.30am finish. Sometimes also risking your own money on personal projects to push your work in new directions.

One of the biggest trade offs is the total lack of security being an artist represents. All your friends have their safe permanent jobs and there you are still seemingly beating your head against the wall LOL.


What have you been working on recently?

I just did a really cool shoot for a clothing company … some new editorial portraits … reportage for a port wine book and 2 personal projects slowly falling into place and making sense to me.






20th January 2009

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