Meet Giles Babbidge, a successful outdoor photographer who, through a combination of persistance and talent, makes his livelihood doing that which he’s always loved: taking pictures. We got in touch with Giles to find out how he made it this far, uncovering the tools he uses from his recommended gear to how he uses social media to network, and finding out what the process of becoming a professional photographer is really like.
Without further ado, here is the Active Photographer himself, Giles Babbidge:
First up, tell us a little bit about who you are and how you’d describe your career as an active photographer?
I’ve lived in small villages on the south coast of the UK for almost all of my adult life, never far from the water’s edge or a trail in the South Downs National Park. It was in these areas that I taught myself photography from a young age, at weekends and during holidays. At the time, I could never have known how hectic my life as a photographer would be; there’s never a dull moment and with such variety in the subjects I photograph. I’ve never stood still for very long.
How would you break down your time, percentage-wise, in a typical week between actually taking photographs, corresponding with current clients, connecting with potential clients, editing photographs, using social media, etc?
It varies from one week to the next. Sometimes I’m out of the office for 4 or 5 days in a row, other times only a couple of days actually taking pictures. As with so many professions, it’s the admin, planning and follow-up which can be very time-consuming. I use social media on a daily basis and keep editing to a minimum – all the while I’m indoors working on pictures, I’m not connecting with new, exciting people or outside shooting!
What is your most memorable experience being out in the wilderness with your lens?
I used to cover an extreme sports event for a surfing magazine each year, when the event was based on the Isle Of Wight (just off the south coast). My task was to shoot great action pictures and sum up the event in an article for the following month’s issue.
I remember one year in particular, the weather was beyond ridiculous, with gale-force winds and non-stop diagonal driving rain. It was a case of 15 minutes’ shooting, using a beach hut for cover, then 3 hours trying to warm up and dry off in the media tent. That continued for the best part of the whole week – and let’s just say I had to re-draft my copy and picture selection several times just to present something which didn’t make it look like the event was a complete wash-out!
What inspired you to become a photographer and to stay persistent enough to make it?
I suppose my career path followed the route of photography ever since I first picked up a camera at around age 9. I always knew that I wanted to be involved with the arts, but it was only in my teens that it dawned on me that I could actually turn photography into my career. I’m very determined, so knowing that was what I wanted to do, there was never any question about whether I’d follow it through.
ADVICE FOR FUTURE PROFESSIONALS
What would be your all-consuming, can’t-do-without advice for adventure enthusiasts that want to take their outdoor photography to the next level?
Learn that experimentation, hard work and persistence is what you need in order to succeed. Yes, it’s great fun and you’ll find yourself in some amazing situations, but it’s not all as glamorous as you might think. There will be plenty of frustrations along the way, but you’ll get there if you want it bad enough.
How did you land your first client? What strategies would you offer to other photographers for getting both individual and corporate clients?
My first two commercial jobs came about through networking, putting myself in front of the right people at events and having the confidence to tell them just why they should use my services. Work on building a name for yourself and use social media extensively! Of course it’s crucial to have a strong portfolio of images, but so much of being a photographer is centered around people skills that the technical side should be a given.
What’s your advice on the essential equipment needed to get started? What’s more important if you have $1,000 to spend on gear – a better camera with cheaper lenses, or a better lenses with a cheaper camera? What combination would you recommend? Why?
Ah, the classic mistake! Don’t be fooled into thinking that the latest all-singing-all-dancing camera body is the answer to producing great pictures. With $1000, your best bet would be to buy second-hand (absolutely nothing wrong with this!), spending 60-70% of your budget on the best lenses you can afford. Remember, it’s the lens that focuses the light, creating fine definition, not the camera. At the end of the day, paying clients generally don’t care what camera you use, so long as the results are what they want.
Also, buy yourself a decent tripod, not a flimsy thing that will blow away in the wind. Having your camera firmly routed to the ground will open up a whole new range of possibilities and great pictures just waiting to be captured!
You use social media and online presence as a valuable tool to grow your business and share your photographs. These tools include your portfolio website, The Active Photographer website, your podcast, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Tell us what you do with each one, and what the benefits of each one
are in your personal experience.
My main website – gilesbabbidge.co.uk – is essentially a place where I direct would-be clients as it has a clean, simple, gallery design which shows off my work nicely. It also has a Client Login area, too, which I use to supply images via direct download.
Theactivephotographer.com offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into my day-to-day life as a working professional photographer. Here, I share a load of ideas and information about just what goes into making photographs for my clients and for myself – everything from business considerations through to lighting technique and which kit I’m using on a particular shoot. The site has a great following and is an excellent way for me to keep on top of my activities, at the same time helping budding photographers to learn their craft. The podcast is an extension of this and goes live every Monday.
Twitter is probably where I interact with people the most, on a daily basis. It’s not just about sharing links to my sites, but building connections with the outdoor and photography communities. I’ve lost count of all the great information I’ve learned from others in this way, so it’s a great resource for extending my own knowledge and experience, too.
Facebook is an area which I want to build on, as an increasing number of people are turning to it in to learn more about what I do. I use it a lot as a place to share links – both to content on theactivephotographer.com and to those I’ve found online – but there’s always room for potential!
SUCCESS AND THE SHOT
What are the key ingredients for success with photography? Feel free to elaborate on them.
Creating striking pictures in a technical sense is one thing, but how you get there is the fun bit!
Perfect your observational skills, so you are always ready for the next (unexpected) shot. This could be a person’s reaction during a portrait shoot or a bike rider getting a little out of shape moments after landing a jump. Whatever the action, do some research ahead of the shoot or event; the more you know about your subject, the stronger the results will be if you know what to watch out for.
Be happy to experiment, even if you bin your test pictures (hey, it’s not like you’re wasting valuable film!).
Repetition forms habit and in time you will consistently get the results you want.
Be confident. Don’t be afraid to suggest ideas or to approach people even if you think they will say no – it doesn’t hurt to ask!
Above all, be determined! It can take many years to get to where you want to be, but it will happen if you push hard enough towards it.
How do you go about finding your subjects, landscapes, picture ideas, locations, etc?
A lot of the time, I turn to friends and acquaintances to see if they can recommend people or places that fit my requirements. Even if they don’t know, chances are they can point me in the direction of someone who does.
I also use Twitter and Facebook regularly, simply asking for help. This works well because I have built up my online network based around communities which are relevant and interesting to my own activities.
It’s important for me to shoot pictures as personal projects, too, rather than solely commissioned work. Very often, a little bit of networking in the process goes a long way and creates more opportunities further down the line.
What would you say is the most challenging thing about being an outdoor photographer? Give us some real-life examples.
Well, the weather can certainly present a challenge! That’s the one thing you can’t control, you just have to learn to work with it. But even if your plans look to be in jeopardy, chances are some great, unexpected results will turn out.
Often, getting everyone together in the right place at the right time for a shoot can be tricky, either because of where they are live or because of their personal/work commitments. It can take weeks – months, even – just to make things happen. For example, I was recently due to shoot some fresh pictures of a trials bike rider when I found out, about 1 week before, that he had broken his ankle. Rescheduling is not unusual.
Equipment selection can also be tricky because the temptation is always there to take extra kit ‘just in case’. Again, through experience you learn to take only what you know you will need – especially if you’re having to carry everything on your back over the course of days or weeks.
What are the 2 greatest lessons you’ve learned along the way as a photographer?
1. Patience. Just when you think there are no more opportunities, give it a few more minutes; very often something will happen which will more than justify the extra time involved.
2. The world is full of more interesting, inspiring and enthusiastic people than you realise.
When you’re on a shoot, what are you looking to capture? Give us a few examples from past shoots.
It depends on the nature of the assignment. For example, when I shot some behind-the-scenes images over the course of a 2-day shoot in a tunnel, it was all about the story behind the ‘final’ pictures. That’s very often what I’m aiming to do – tell a story (which can frequently be the basis of the photography brief).
Of course, I’m regularly asked to make stand-alone photographs which rely solely on the action happening in front of me, too. With the benefit of a more controlled location, such as the corridors of an old building, I can slow down a little and really give a lot of thought towards aesthetics and just what fills every corner of the frame.
Another example… On a recent camping trip, where temperatures reached -4 overnight, I knew that early the next morning would present great opportunities around sunrise… and I wasn’t disappointed! So on that occasion, I was thinking several days in advance, watching the weather as well as the people I was with. It was a natural-light-only event, so that kept me on my toes, too.
What’s next for Giles Babbidge in the not too distant future?
This summer is set to be very exciting. I’ve made some great new contacts within the outdoor world over the winter, so I’m looking forward to getting further involved with them. You can expect more fast-paced extreme- and adventure sports action, as well as some really nice sets of portraits which I am in the process of planning with a number of manufacturers.
No doubt I’ll be doing a fair bit of camping and hill walking (two of my great loves) in the course of my Test/Review work, too, and I’m looking forward to sharing my behind-the-scenes adventures though my weekly podcast and articles on theactivephotographer.com
Where we can we check out your portfolio and find you online?
For examples of my work, take a look at gilesbabbidge.co.uk and be sure to check out the Gallery and Recent Work pages in particular.
For behind-the-scenes info, take a look at theactivephotographer.com which offers a glimpse into my life as a working professional photographer. Amongst other things, it features the weekly podcast and real-world Test/Review articles about outdoor/photo kit which I’m currently using in the course of my activities.
For social media, you can find me on Twitter – @gilesbabbidge and on Facebook – /gilesbabbidge & / theactivephotographer