My first 'woman through the lens' is Lily Sawyer, quite appropriately a photographer and interior designer who recently saw off competition of almost 8000 to end up in the top sixteen of BBC's interior designing competition.
1.Please tell us what you do
I create fine art images that look natural and authentic. Six years lecturing, three children and eight years in professional photography later, I have photographed over 250 families and nearly 100 weddings. What makes me really proud is when my clients are always surprised at how they love images of themselves in the photos I capture of them.
Newlyweds describe me as a bride's best friend and photo ninja rolled into one as my organised approach helps ensure their wedding day goes smoothly whilst creatively capturing it with them hardly noticing.
When not behind the camera, I love moving furniture around and redecorating my house - I have a love affair with interior design!
2. What does a typical day look like?
Every day is different, but it always starts in the same way: taking the kids to school, home for breakfast and then planning my day. A typical morning will have me doing my business admin jobs - emails, meetings, networking or marketing, writing, blogging, uploading photos and galleries, emailing clients their various links and other bitty jobs. In the afternoon I collect the kids from school and sort them out or take them to various activities before going back to any work that needs finishing. I usually do my editing in the evening where I can have a few hours of peace and quiet and have less distractions. I'm a night owl so I don't mind working late.
3. What are the best things and more challenging things about your career?
Seeing people's delight when they receive their photos is the most rewarding thing about my job. Meeting and exceeding their expectations and making them happy with my service are the reasons why I have lasted this long in such a challenging and over-saturated market. I find the business side of things very challenging and that includes networking and social media. This is because I'm an introvert and don't like talking about myself.
I love the creative side of my job: planning and styling the shoot, editing and deciding on the look and feel of the final images, and "writing" the story in photos. I find these really inspiring and motivating to create beautiful images that hold deep meaning to my clients, images that they will treasure for a very long time to come.
4. How did you get to where you are today, including your qualifications and skills?
I have always been creative but I never planned to be a photographer. I have a BA (Hons) Fine Art Painting and MA in Fine Art Painting. I enjoyed 6 years of studying Fine Art but I was under no illusion that getting good jobs as an artist was going to be a walk in the park. I did well in my studies and was able to get lecturing jobs in various universities with the help of a PGCE in Higher Education.
I left to be a full-time mother when I was expecting my second child. But I became a MWAC - mum with a camera - when I had my kids and took hundreds of photos of them, most were not great! To this day my kids are my most difficult "clients" to photograph, but had it not been for them, I would never have thought of becoming a professional photographer!
I got a bit obsessed with photography and photographed everything that moved or di not move. It was through doing this that I realised I'm a people photographer. Eventually, I practised photography on friends' families and weddings and learned by experimenting as well as going on numerous online courses. To this day I am still learning and enrolled on courses to keep me inspired and to learn new techniques. Learning never stops.
My business started back in 2009 when I first received payment for my photography services. And since then it was an uphill climb trying to establish a business. No longer was it just a hobby and a creative outlet, it had to also bring in money to help with the family income. That took a few years to happen!
One of the most amazing weddings I have photographed was in St. Paul's Cathedral. It is an incredible venue and not everyone can get married there! It was a great privilege. My work has been featured in various national wedding blogs and a few magazines.
5. What would you recommend to a younger colleague wanting to start her career in your area or sector of expertise?
I would recommend anyone wanting to start a photography business to do these 3 key things:
a. Learn how to use your camera in Manual mode and have a good solid understanding of the exposure triangle. Starting with a sound knowledge of this puts you in good stead as you start your business. Don't make your very basic mistakes with your paying clients. Never stop learning and invest in educational courses that are right for you and will hone your skills and better your craft. Keep moving forward despite challenges and difficulties.
b. Read up on business and be prepared to face the business side of things square on. This is probably the hardest challenge. It's a completely different beast and I felt like a needed a business degree just to run a very simple business to start with.
c. Start it! Just do it. You don't need to have an extensive portfolio or be perfect at everything. Unless you actually do something about it, it will never happen. Whether that be starting a website, or showing your portfolio on flicker or opening a Facebook page or any other social platform, do something about it. Don't despise small beginnings!
Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.