PROfile is a series of interviews with artists and creative souls who have built businesses around their craft and passion. We'll dig deeper to try and find out everything you could want to know from seasoned pros who have experienced the full gamut of highs and lows that come with running a creative business.
This week we are interviewing photographer / powerhouse Laura Babb, who never sits still and never stops growing. Along with taking the wedding photography world by storm, she is the mastermind behind the SNAP Photography Festival, which is making huge waves in the UK and beyond. I hope you’re as excited as me to find out what makes her tick!
What was your first ‘proper’ job and how did you land it? Was it what you intended to do as a career?
Before I was a photographer I actually spent 10 years working in the social housing sector. I was a manager of various teams and I specialised in anti-social behaviour and domestic violence case work. It feels like a whole other lifetime ago, although in reality I've only been a full time photographer for just over 3 years and I photographed my first full paid wedding around 4 years ago.
Has photography always been in your blood?
I would have always said no, but then I found a box of old pictures that my granddad took. It really made me wonder whether it's possible for something like a love of photography to be passed down through nature rather than nurturing it. It's not something me and my granddad ever discussed, because by the time I bought my first ever camera in 2008, with a view to learning photography as a hobby, my granddad was sadly starting a slow decline due to dementia. It's strange that photography makes me feel a strong tie to him, even though he's no longer with us. I have his old rangefinder camera and a box of his prints. He made some pictures that I'd be thrilled if I'd taken today. There's one picture where a diver is diving off a board and he's perfectly composed and frozen in mid air. I'd be totally thrilled if I'd taken that picture. I credit discovering my love of photography to my husband Pete though. When we first met he had a little compact camera that he took everywhere. Shortly after me deciding to buy a dSLR on a whim, he commandeered his dad's old 35mm film camera. I learned to shoot on the photo walks that we'd go on every weekend, and Pete shared his knowledge from his days studying photography at A Level. Pete still shoots film now, except when he's helping me out at weddings, but I am a digital shooter through and through.
What kind of photography do you do and what’s your favourite type of commission?
I shoot weddings almost exclusively and I love them. As a wedding photographer you get to be a bit of everything. A documentary photographer, still life, editorial, landscape and architecture. I love working with couples who are having really personal wedding days. Outside of weddings, I love shooting travel images for fun. If I won the lottery tomorrow I'd shoot a handful of weddings over the summer and then spend the winter travelling the world with my camera.
How did you know you were ready to have your own business?
I'd got to the point where I couldn't really balance a full-time job with my growing photography business anymore, so I quit at the start of my first proper wedding season. It probably wasn't the most sensible decision I've ever made, but it was sink or swim and I swam as hard as I could. I had to take on some temp work over the following winter, but I've never looked back since then.
How did you go about starting your own business?
My background as a public sector manager actually really helped with the setting up part. I knew quite a lot about business processes and was pretty clued up about customer care, so I had quite a lot of processes in place from the beginning. I registered as self-employed, had a logo designed by my graphic designer husband, and made sure I was insured, before going after my first clients. I was shooting on a Sony Alpha 200 at that stage, so I also made a point of hiring in equipment until I was able to purchase what I needed. It's been a learning process. You tweak things along the way. You make costly mistakes. You learn to value your work and your free time.
How did you secure your first clients?
I am probably a lesson in how not to start a business really. I set up a rudimentary website and then started advertising on Gumtree… It worked well for me, as I got to cut my teeth on those low budget bookings (while of course being VERY clear and honest with them about my skill level and experience). I then shot a wedding for a friend, which was picked up by Rock My Wedding, and my business started growing from there.
What is your typical daily routine like?
It depends on the day. I'm typing this from bed, after a knackering double wedding weekend, which is a terrible freelance discipline, but also a huge perk of the job. Working while watching netflix and drinking tea almost makes up for the fact that I haven't had more than one day off per week all summer! I do apply structure to my week, however. Monday is my PR day when I blog and promote my work across social media. I also do previews from the previous weekend. The rest of the week varies between the day to day business stuff, meeting clients and potential clients, and running the SNAP Photography Festival.
My husband Pete has started working with me a couple of days a week, on top of running his own graphic design business the rest of the time, which is great. It's nice to have more time together, although Pete would argue that I don't take my turn to make the tea nearly as much as I should.
What traits do artists have that help with running a business?
Those traits which many artists possess like empathy can really help us engage with our clients, but on the flip side we can also become so emotionally invested in the work and our relationships with our clients that we burn out. It's so, so important to put systems in place to protect ourselves through expectation setting and having clear professional boundaries. I feel like the business side of things is actually a bit of a weakness for a lot of artists, when in actual fact it's hands down the most important part. You can be the best photographer in the world, but if you're a terrible business person clients won't find you, or worse, you'll damage your reputation.
As artists, we tend to pour so much of ourselves into what we do and that's wonderful. Honestly without the passion for wedding photography and my business, I'm not sure that I could do it as a job, because it can be all consuming.
You created the SNAP Photography Festival. Can you tell us more about that and your motivation behind it?
I went to Photo Field Trip in 2013 on a bit of a whim and it changed my life. The actual event was a lot of fun and I learned a lot, but it was the after effects of becoming part of a new community, that had such a big impact on me. I've since been back to Field Trip, as well as having been on a photographer's retreat to Tennessee, with a whole bunch of people I got to know through being part of the first event. I wanted to bring some of that to the UK. An immersive, experiential event, where everyone who attends is on the same footing. All of the speakers share the whole experience with attendees, and everyone gets to know each other. Everyone glamps together, eats together, sits around the campfire together, and attends workshops together. There is no ‘them' and ‘us', and there is no inner circle. You gain as much from the friendships you make, as you do from the learning environment of the workshops, and you get to see inspiring speakers being themselves and hanging out with you.
I had no idea whether it would work in the European market, but during one evening at the first SNAP, I looked round and saw speakers and attendees from all over Europe and the US sitting around the campfire and getting to know each other, which was just wonderful. Not to mention the party… The SNAP community continues to grow and flourish, and our private Facebook group is one of the nicest places on the internet, where people offer advice and support to their colleagues.
What’s been the most beneficial business decision you’ve made?
Starting my business in the first place. It's always a risk and there have been massive highs and lows, but I wouldn't change any of it.
Artists and writers often describe the compulsion to work – do you experience an overwhelming desire to create something new?
Yes, both in my photography and business. I can't stand still and am always looking for the next thing, which perhaps isn't that conducive to good mental health, but I can't seem to help it. An example was starting SNAP when I should have really been spending some time recovering from my busy wedding season. And this year's been even worse, as I've done most of the work for SNAP right in the middle of it!
If I didn't keep growing and developing, I'd stagnate and get bored.
As far as my photography goes, I feel like there's always so much scope for growth, and that's what keeps me going. I would be attending workshops and courses all of the time if I had time (and an endless supply of money), as I find learning from other people endlessly inspiring.
Do you ever feel alone in your work?
I think shooting weddings can be a really lonely job. You're always on the outskirts of someone else's party. I also often feel a bit sad when I walk away from a wedding, because I wholeheartedly emotionally invest in my couples and their wedding day, and then our relationship is usually over when I head home for the evening. Because you do emotionally invest in your work, it's sometimes also hard to maintain perspective. And that can be really lonely, as it's just you, in your office, with no one to bounce ideas off of or to ask for reassurance. That's why being part of a community where you know other photographers have your back is so, so important.
How do you relax?
Ummmmm. Errrrrr. I am terrible at relaxing. Terrible.
Where do you find inspiration?
Life is what inspires me the most. I am hugely inspired by my environment and the world around me, and exploring that with my camera is what really excites me.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Do you know, I wouldn't. Every step I've taken along the way, to get to this point, has influenced me and shaped my life. If I'd have done things differently maybe I wouldn't have moved to London, and met Pete, and learned photography as a hobby, and shot my first wedding.
The life I've had so far, even the really rough bits (and there have been some really rough bits), is what's led me here.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I don't really mind if I'm not remembered for anything. I like knowing that I've captured a fixed point in someone's life and recorded them and their families for future generations to look back on. The reality is that no one will remember that it was me that took those pictures in 50 years time, but there will be a little bit of something left in the world that I created.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
Getting to have this career full stop is just amazing. I feel very fortunate to do something I love and to work for myself.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I get to be a part of one of the happiest days of someone's life, every weekend.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your business and how did you overcome them?
I struggle with stress and depression, and although I'm well currently, it's a very fine balance. I think knowing yourself, and what you need to do to look after yourself, is crucial. As is learning that you need to separate your business from your personal life, and have time that's just for you. It's really easy to find yourself becoming defined by your work. In all honesty, this is something I know, but don't always do really well at putting into practice.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
One of the best pieces of advice was from Dan O'Day at his workshop, when he explained that you don't get to be a black belt overnight. You have to train for years, and then keep training regularly to maintain that standard. That stuck with me and made me realise that one of the very simple things I can do to keep developing my photography, is to keep taking photographs.
If you could have dinner with any inspiring person (past or present), who would you choose?
William Eggleston. I love the way he sees the world.
Headshot photo credit: Jacob Loafman All other images: Laura Babb
PROfile: LAURA BABB
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