Matt Gillespie

In addition to shooting weddings, former ceramicist and carpenter turned freelance photographer Matt Gillespie has been steadily building up a commercial portfolio.

The commercial jobs initially emanated from Guernsey, where he has family. «There’s bespoke wood flooring and Furniture Company there called Bonsai Group, which is run by some friends of mine», says Gillespie. «They have done a number of high profile jobs on the island, both residential and commercial properties. A couple of times a year, I’d go out there for a week or two, and photograph the interior spaces they had been working on.»

The company used Gillespie’s images to present its work to clients, on website and in brochures, and they were used further by lighting and furniture companies with which it was associated.

To undertake this work, Gillespie developed a unique approach, setting his camera up on a tripod, and shooting as many as 30 frames from the same angle, adjusting the lighting as he went along, highlighting different areas of the room in turn, and then combining the images in Photoshop, to produce a richly detailed still image.

«I use lights, but rather than set up many lights at a time, I’ll concentrate on little areas of the room at a time — a cabinet in a corner, and so on», he says. «This leaves a clutter free space to work in. Then it’s just a matter of dressing the room how you want it, lighting every little area, and concentrating on the aspects you wish to highlight.

«I create the images in Photoshop using layer masks. I’ll choose the best all round base exposure, and then add lit sections as

I go.»

There is something of a synthesis between Gillespie’s commercial work and his weddings since, while researching wedding venues, he comes across websites of locations which could benefit from his approach to interiors, and sends an email offering his services.

«I noticed that a lot of wedding venues — castles, manor houses, and so on — had pictures on their websites that weren’t doing them justice», he says.

«I contacted a few, emailing them a PDF portfolio of relevant images, with links to the appropriate area of my website. I was offered work photographing their interiors, to give them a slightly more contemporary look.

«One client got me a number of jobs, because he advises venues on how to best utilize their space for both wedding and corporate functions. We built a good working relationship, and this bought me some extra work.»

In order to gain new work through cold calling, Gillespie recommends being methodical in your approach, and carefully considering your wording.

«You’ve got to grab somebody’s attention in the first few lines», he explains. «I’ll have a good look at their website to see if I feel I can help them out, then write a bit about what I do and what I can offer.

«If they think you are spamming vast numbers of people meanwhile, there is a good chance your message will be bound for the bin.

«My advice is to keep it short and sweet. If they like your style, they will respond.»

For commercial work, Gillespie charges £450 per day and £250 for a half day, while for weddings, of which he shoots around 15 each year, he offers two simple packages. For £1500, clients will receive their high res images on a USB stick, or for £2000 they will receive an album.

While these rates may be lower than he could charge in London, pricing is always a complex and contentious issue.

«You don’t want to under price yourself, but you don’t want to overprice yourself either», he says. «It’s difficult to figure out where to place yourself in the price bracket. You just have to re-evaluate it every now and then. It’s a learning curve.

«I’ve done some interesting and diverse weddings over the last few years, including ones in France and Greece.

«New York based wedding photographer Jide Alakija invited me to help him photograph a large wedding in Lagos, Nigeria. Working on that scale and in that humidity was a big challenge, but it’s always good to have an opportunity to go abroad to work with new people and witness different cultures.»

It was Gillespie’s love of travel that initially sparked his interest in photography. Following a ND in Ceramics and a stint working as a carpenter in Guernsey, he spent a year each in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

«It was in New Zealand that I first became interested in photography», he recalls. «When I got back, I started doing some evening classes at a photographic club. They’d give you a subject, and you’d go off and take a few shots, then you’d all meet up and discuss your pictures.»

Deciding to take his hobby a step further, Gillespie returned to education, undertaking a two year HND in Photography at Truro College, followed by a final year to convert it to a BA at Plymouth University.

«It was 2004, and digital was really beginning to kick in», he says, «but they still had good darkrooms for both black and white and color. The rest of the course was a mixture of studio and digital work, using Hassel lads and digital backs, and a

Lot of Photoshop.»

Gillespie’s HND was very technical, while his final year on the BA at Plymouth involved more theory.

«The Plymouth course was more about semiotics, and the history of the subject», he says, «but it was very interesting, and there were a lot of good lecturers at both colleges.»

Having access to a wide range of top end kit was a great opportunity for Gillespie, and one that he believes is a distinct advantage of formal education.

«A lot of today’s freelances didn’t get a degree, but taught themselves using You-Tube and so on», he says.

«But one of the most important things about going to university for me was being able to use the facilities. You can book a studio, get a couple of medium format cameras, use the lighting, and plug into a computer and shoot tethered. If you’re teaching yourself at home, you haven’t got access to all that.»

He is quick to emphasize that a degree doesn’t guarantee you work, however. «It’s nice to be able to say that you’ve attained a degree, but people don’t ask you if you have one», he says. «If you’ve got a cracking portfolio and people like your work, then you’re going to do ok if you stick with it.» Like many graduates, Gillespie left his course feeling unsure about how to translate what he had learnt into a successful career, or what to do next.

«For the first six months, I was like a rabbit caught in headlights», he says. «I was scratching my head and thinking, ‘What’s the deal now, then?’

«My course had taught me how to talk about photography, and the technical and artistic sides of it, but not how to go about gathering clients, building a website, or finding contacts. These are things I had to learn afterwards, in order to get my name out there and start getting regular work.»

Assisting was the next logical step for Gillespie, who was by now based in Lamington Spa — a convenient central location for travel to London, Birmingham and Bristol. He searched the internet for Photographers in his area, eventually finding automotive freelance James Cal-laghan (www.jamescaIIaghan.co.uk).

«Jim’s work stood out to me», he says. «He had worked in nice big drive-in studios, for companies like Jaguar, Subaru and LDV Vans. I called him, and explained that I was just out of university, and asked if I could help out.

«He said yes, and would occasionally ask me for a hand on big jobs. He gave me plenty of advice and passed on his knowledge, which was a big help.

«He taught me that, if you can light a car, you can light anything, because they have such highly reflective surfaces. We’d be working on one shot for three or four hours: there’d be lights everywhere, bouncing off diffusers and reflectors. It was fascinating to watch and be a part of.»

In addition to assisting, Gillespie began shooting friends’ weddings and the occasional portrait. Like many freelances based outside London, he wanted to build a diverse portfolio to attract a wide range of clients.

«I enjoy all forms of photography», he says. «It’s useful working across a range of genres, as it teaches you how to react in a variety of scenarios. For example, weddings can be hectic and you have to think and shoot fast, but I also enjoy shooting interiors, where I’m in a room by myself.»

Social photography requires confidence and an ability to work well with large groups, something that Gillespie says he has learnt on the job.

«I was probably slightly shy when I started out», he says. «I wasn’t the sort who would go into a wedding and start cracking jokes, expertly working the crowd. I found jobs like that difficult, but the more I’ve done it, the easier it has become.

«My style of wedding photography is a mix of documentary and fashion influenced work. I like to take relaxed, natural pictures, so I spend most of the day aiming to blend in, rather than being seen and heard.

«I also take the couple aside a couple of times during the day, for some shots of the two of them alone. This gives them a break, and us a chance to get some interesting shots away from the hustle and bustle of their guests»

Gillespie shoots on a Canon EOS 5D MkII with Bowens lighting, hiring extra equipment such as prime lenses when required.

«I’ve got a fairly standard set up», he says. «I don’t think it’s necessary to buy a lot of kit. If you’ve got a decent camera, a couple of good lenses, and basic lighting, you can take some incredible shots. I use a lot of large reflectors as well.

«When you do need extra kit, hire camera. com is good value, and it delivers the day before you need the hire.

«I tell people who are starting out not to stress about spending money on buying kit. If you need specific kit for a job, then hire it, until such a time when you can afford your own prime lenses, which aren’t cheap.»

For Gillespie, a full day shooting a wedding comprises around 12 hours. «I usually stay until about half an hour after the first dance», he says. «I supply about 300+ images, and clients get a private gallery on my website, where family and friends can download low res versions.

«I’ve made four or five albums, but I have found that most of my clients just want the basic digital package. The advent of print on demand services such as Blurb means that a lot of brides want to be able to print their images in a range of sizes, and then sit down and make their own album. People seem to be a lot more creative nowadays, and find making an album half the fun.

«I used to offer an online service where people could order prints from their galleries, but after a number of weddings, I realized people really weren’t interested in that, either. You’d just get minimal orders, and I came to the conclusion that it was a massive headache, with not much profit in relation to time spent on it.»

Of his latest website, created for him by graphic designer friend Slavek Leszczyn-ski from Dots and Circles, Gillespie says, «I wanted something contemporary with full bleed images, which I could update easily.

«On my previous website, the pictures were really small in the middle of the screen, and you couldn’t see them in all their glory. You lose a little bit of sharpness when you go full bleed, but it’s worth it.»

Gillespie’s website is hosted by Word-Press and HTML 5-based, both of which are good for search engine optimization.

Knowledge of SEO is essential for effective online marketing. Through trial and error, he has worked out which other marketing avenues work best for him.

«I advertise my wedding photography on blogs, because they are inexpensive but can get a lot of traffic», he says, «Wedding bloggers only post weddings that are in keeping with their favored style however, so it’s worth considering which blog is going to appeal to the clients you are hoping to attract. Directly contacting potential clients is effective, too.»

Gillespie adds that Facebook and Twitter have been valuable marketing tools as well, but cautions, «When you’ve spent 10 hours at a computer editing, and then you have to spend a couple of hours social networking, you can lose sight of what you are doing.

«I find it more productive to spend small amounts of time social networking, and more time emailing potential clients directly.»

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