October 20, 2015, by Laura Estrop

Shooting for a living

By Alex Wilkinson, MSc in Biological Photography and Imaging graduate

I started at the University five years ago, studying a BSc in Environmental Science and I followed this with an MSc in Biological Photography and Imaging. When I started all those years ago, I had no idea my career path would lead me to becoming a full-time professional photographer and videographer and with every day holding new surprises, I am still unsure where it’s going.

During my first year of working for myself I have: self-published my first book about chimpanzees, filmed the darting of Uganda’s only wild rhinos, established myself as the photographer for the National Water Sports Centre and photographed individuals from Olympic medallist, Tim Brabants and Arctic explorer, Adrian Hayes to the former Head of MI6, John Sawers.


John Sawers, former Head of MI6 and alumni of The University of Nottingham

Working for yourself full-time may seem a little daunting to some people (including me at the beginning!) Self-employment does have its benefits; start and finish work when you want, you don’t have to accept every contract that comes your way and there is a great sense of achievement when you produce a great piece of work a client loves. However, there are challenges, these include; creating a consistent income, establishing a unique selling point and proving yourself to be better than all the other competition (difficult for me when most people in the world own a camera).

My tips to getting started

Although my experience of becoming a self-employed photographer and videographer is limited to only one year, I thought I would share with you what I have found out already.

  1. To get yourself established requires 100% dedication, which means all of your time, money and patience.
  2. Be creative and always undertake personal projects, to develop your skills and experiences.
  3. Finally, learn when to have a break. Starting a business is very time consuming for me can be difficult to spend enough time on myself. However, I have found that having some time off to relax can make a world of difference.

These three male rhinoceros were all born relatively close to one another, however the size and weight of each one varies massively. All three of these rhinoceros are still growing and haven’t yet reached full maturity.

Should you give it a go?

If you are passionate about your area of interest then yes, do it! It will take all of the above and more to make your new career successful, but once you get there it will be very rewarding. If you are not devoted to the field or are doing it simply to get some quick money then I would not recommend it as a career path.

barn owl

Wild barn owl (Tyto alba) ringing with Rushcliffe Barn Owl Trust. These barn owls are completely wild and have made home in the Rushcliffe Barn Owl trusts owl boxes. These two young chicks have just been ringed to help them in their identification in the future.

Would I throw in the towel?

Honestly, I have contemplated getting a full-time job numerous times over the last year. Yet my persistence to succeed has always shone through and I can say without a shadow of a doubt I have had a more fun this year than most people will have had doing regular nine to five work. I have stroked wild rhinos, cuddled baby barn owls, played on segways, met people whose decisions have impacted the entire world and accomplished many personal goals.

If given the chance, I would do it all over again. I am now looking forward to what 2016 will bring and where I will end up. Just think of what you could achieve by this time next year…

If you are interested in becoming self-employed and would like to find out more, visit our website. If you have researched the sector you would like to go into and are unsure how to get started, book an appointment to speak with one of our careers advisers. 

(Featured image: This portrait is of a chimpanzee’s face partially covered by long grass/ shrubs. When investigating something, chimpanzees will often try to remain hidden and discrete allowing them to establish if it imposes a threat to the individual or the group.)

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