Paul Gummer talks to commercial photographer Dan Molloy about the fallacy of photography being easy work
There’s a perception outside our industry that photography is easy. This way of thinking often extends to the notion that it’s pretty straightforward to become a photographer.
I doubt there is any job in life that is ‘easy’ if a person has a desire to become highly proficient at it and carve out an interesting career. In fact, I am convinced that the more you put into something, the more you get out, and that this holds true for most people. Each of the photographers I have talked to about getting into the industry has found the road hard going. It is the reward of doing something we are passionate about that keeps us at it.
I find it fascinating to analyse why successful people are just that. It all begins and ends in our thought worlds, and one of the keys to success is persistence at pursuing your goal despite the obstacles.
Some journeys can appear amusing. My former colleague Joe Sing began life as a greengrocer. His dream was to become a photographer, and eventually he bought the shop next door and turned it into a photographic studio. One minute he would be selling a kilo of spuds, and the next he would be running around the back of the shops, taking off his brown coat, straightening his tie, and popping up in the studio to sell a portrait. He told some hilarious stories about his adventures, but they were all cemented together by the fact that he worked incredibly hard to become successful.
One of our graduates from the Universal College of Learning (UCOL) back in 2003, Dan Molloy, left for a photography job on a cruise ship in the Caribbean for eight months. On paper, this sounds like it would have been an easy dream job. Not so. Molloy says he loved the travel but not the job. It was demanding, mundane, repetitive work. The pay was low and the hours long, and the photographers were treated poorly. Despite this, he says it was a fantastic experience after being brought up on a New Zealand farm. He learned the skills of efficiency, time management, and customer service — all of which he says are vital to running a successful business now.
Molloy left the cruise ship at the same time as an Australian friend, and they decided to travel together for a while before heading to Brisbane. Molloy liked it there and found part-time work to keep him ticking until returning to New Zealand. He tried getting a job in photography, but it was difficult to become established. He contacted a lot of photographers in desperation to get work, but to no avail. He became disheartened and wondered how he would ever run his own business. Then an acquaintance offered him some occasional photographic work, shooting events and bands for posters, etc.
With time on his hands, he became fit, healthy, and “good looking” (he laughs), resulting in a model agency signing him up. The agency eventually asked him to photograph its models, and after a year or so, this sideline business took off. Molloy made numerous contacts through the agency and began to shoot for many of its clients. The freelancing included advertising campaigns, fashion lookbooks, and catalogues. A move to Australia’s Gold Coast, and setting up a studio at home, resulted in even more work flying in. Using social media to advertise, Molloy found both Facebook and Instagram to be superb for generating business. Initially this was from models wanting a portfolio, but it then spread to smaller companies needing photography. The bigger companies, he says, tend to operate through agencies.
One of Molloy’s main clients is the Gold Coast glossy lifestyle magazine Get It, for which he has shot many covers and fashion editorials. Modelling, acting, and talent agencies are also in the line-up, along with fashion designers. His ideal jobs are shooting new ranges for fashion designers — as they allow for a more creative approach — such as the shoot for Kate Anderson’s winter collection.
Difficult jobs for Molloy are those for which there is no clear brief. So much so, that he now insists on a brief when a client books a shoot. His prime advice for new photographers is to “never sell yourself short”. This comes back to the idea that photography is easy and enjoyable, and so, if it is, to the question of why it is worth paying for. One of the biggest problems in our industry is people doing jobs for nothing. The irony is that those who do this cannot possibly last in business. The flip side is confidence in both your work and your fees. Joe Sing used to say, “charge what you’re worth but be worth what you charge”. At UCOL, we are frequently searching for ways to make graduates’ portfolios stand out, and how they can add value for clients. Sometimes this means breaking new ground. Molloy took risks and created opportunities — two traits very often shared by successful people.