“Let your work introduce you with” -Justin Polkey – Part 2

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In this episode of the Fashion Photography Podcast
we meet Justin Polkey (instagram: justinpolkey)

What’s the difference between a hobbyist and a professional photographer in Justin’s opinion?
What’s the point of being an assistant and a simple guide on how to become one from Justin =)
Another important topic from this podcast and from our job are rates and payment.

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Virginia Y
Do you think there is a difference between the professional photographer in the hobby photographer nowadays? Can we still draw a line?

Justin Polkey
Those are two levels that are practically becoming blurred. And I think it’s just because we transitioning not, but I think everything will settle a little bit like anything, they will be a natural evolution into a separation between what is good work, and what is average work. And what is bad work professional and amateur really remains in the realm of Are you being paid for it, or you’re not being paid for your work in both professional and amateur, there’s a scale of your craft, how good are you at your craft, some professional photographers are really good at what they do, and some amateur photographers are really good at what they do. Maybe if you are that good. As an amateur, you will be drawn to photography as a profession, maybe that’s natural progression. I’m not sure throwing a towel over your shoulder and holding a bottle of water, it doesn’t make you a boxing coach, you really need to have lived it. So I think the same thing is true with photography. Buying a digital camera, taking the landscape of doesn’t immediately mean that you should label yourself market yourself as a photographer. I think it’s important that you treated with respect and you study it and study it assist people. I think these things are very important through your professional career. I think they’re very helpful when you start working to have naturally worked your way into the industry, especially if you intentions are professional, you know, I still reference moments of when I was an assistant still drawing that knowledge 1520 years later. And also, it was a very, very enjoyable time. And I think you have some outliers, you have some exceptions, you have some people who come out at 18 years old, and they just need to tell the world something and they’ve know what it is. And they’re very stupid, and they’re very good at that because they’re motivated by it. And yes, they should just do what they do. But I think largely in your early 20s, when you still kind of asking more questions, then there are answers. And you I call the 20s like the great and learning you know, really good idea to find a job workers and assistance if you’re into fashion, try and find a job in fashion, if you’re into cars going that direction, probably one of the most important aspects of becoming a photographer because without the technical stuff that you learn and behavioral stuff that you learn, it also means that you read naturally grown, that’ll be your circle of influence. The stylists that you working with will have assistance. And by the time they’re moving into their careers, they will be the stylus that you’ll be working with to a natural way things happen. And there are other ways to do it. But I think it is that way, because it has made sense. And it kind of evolves into that way. And I think it’s still certainly a good way to start, I would highly recommend that as a pathway into professional photography,

Virginia Y
you should also be very careful when you’re starting to assist people. Because, of course, you can learn from everyone, but you don’t want to end up with a photographer. That is not really what you want to become. I think,

Justin Polkey
Absolutely, I think that is crucial with almost any career, that first session of thinking really belongs to you, you should really sit down and try and discover what it is that you like, and what it is that you’re interested in. And then go from there. And then find the photographers that inspire you, and find the photographers that you would like to learn from, that you wouldn’t feel proud to work with.

Virginia Y
Exactly.

Justin Polkey
And then approached him, I get lots of emails from people saying, I’d love to come and work with you. Here’s my portfolio, although that’s great. I think that’s the wrong it’s the wrong way to go about it.

Virginia Y
That’s very interesting. What is the right one then?

Justin Polkey
It’s not, because I would consider it totally irrelevant. I think it’s nice to kind of be able to tell what somebody’s style is like. But I think the point of being an assistant is to come as a clean slate ready to learn. Obviously, if you’ve been assisting for a long time, you’ve got a great TV that you’d be what you said. But if you really are straight out of art school, I’m not saying don’t send a little bit of your work. But that’s not the selling point is in the system. I think your ambition things, it’s around your work ethic. If you are going for a job, and you have no experience really, as an assistant, a willingness to learn a proposal that you are reliable person, certainly when I was becoming an assistant, I would make it very easy. I did exactly as you are suggesting. I found photographers that I admired greatly, and I made it very easy for them to meet me, and very easy for them to work with me. So I would contact them. And I would say this is who I am very diligent and you’re keen to work and you know, whatever, whatever, whatever, I’ll happily come in shadow on a job or two, just in terms of finding out whether we are a match personality wise in with you enjoy my working in my general attitude, and just make it very easy for that person to give you an opportunity. Because those opportunities are phenomenal, you end up assisting the right photographer that could change the path of your future career easily. That’s important, identifying who you really like. And they make it easy for them to get to know you, once they know you, then you both can be confident that this is it, this is a good path to take. And then those relationships are really important thing

Virginia Y
Have you ever been in situation when you go to Cisco, someone, and you’re just not matching as person holidays, definitely,

Justin Polkey
when I was assisting in Cape Town, it’s a little bit different to literally living in a bigger city, you might find that you assist the same photographer more often. Or you might find that you only have one photographer that living in a city that is that kind of migratory location where people are pouring in, in the summertime, you’ve got a schedule. And once the production companies find out that you reliable and that you could assistant, they fill your schedule for you. Maybe you work for photographers, you work for previous, and they’ll request you and book you long, long in advance. But you end up meeting a lot of different photographers, and working with a lot of different photographers. And it hasn’t happened often. But I’ve had some clashes and personality clashes. And I think in those cases, it’s best not to force it. And in those days, it just, I would tend to be much more quiet and just let the job Get on with it. And then maybe mentioned to the production company that I’m probably not the best match for this feature, did you start approaching production companies, the first relationships that I had was with the model agencies. And that was for actual shooting, I started watching the tests. And then in terms of assisting, I think the production companies were really the first port of call for me, they were definitely so I think I made like one or two connections that of production houses. As I said, in the first job, I think I ever did, I may have been a driver or runner. And there again, much like the way that I presented myself to photographers, when I was an assistant the same way I try to make it very easy for production company to establish a relationship with me, once that relationship is established, obviously, it’s a symbiotic relationship, you know, you look after each other, absolutely, sometimes it can be very difficult for production company, even if they wanted to hire you. At that moment, there’s nothing available. And then on the day that something does become available, they will literally probably use the person who walks through the door next sometimes can be a bit like striking at that right moment is important. So that’s why I would check in trying to form a relationship, try and make it very easy for people to connect with me and to work with me, that’s something that you carry on into your professional life. As a photographer, you develop professional relationships, it and hopefully those professional relationships are actually good relationships. And if you have some friends within those relationships to and then you kind of just stay in touch and kind of happens organically, I guess.

Virginia Y
One was the moment you set yourself, it’s time to think about the payment and just become a photographer on my own

Justin Polkey
think that happens very naturally, I think very early on in your system career, you start to imagine how you would do things in assisting I think, is a very fun job actually your onset, you’re in the environment that you want to be in, you do have responsibilities. But ultimately, you don’t, you don’t have the ultimate responsibility of success. So you really begin to observe everything. And you get to have a lot of fun. And all the people in the industry are very nice people. So you get to travel a lot. And to really find natural beginning it wasn’t like I was drastically desperate to get out of the system because I was really enjoying being assistant. But I think naturally because I kept shooting model tests and working with Junior stylists and building a network really, I think that when that network expanded to the point with opportunities started to arise. I had a very early opportunity with kindness. And with GQ thing I shot my face covered 24 years old. I still assisted after that for I think a year but it kind of happened slowly started to work a little bit and then assist a little bit less and work a little bit more. And as the work took my time at Nicole assisting It was a lot easier for me because I was at that point doing a lot of freelance assisting. So it wasn’t like I had this single photographer that I was working with constantly. So I could give production companies a schedule and say, I’m available here, here and here. And also by that time, you’ve become a pretty good assistant in view in demand. And you’re not having to do a lot of work in terms of that at some point, though, you have to cut it entirely. But I think it’s quite obvious when that is and it really presented itself it’s when the work is built it to the point that it’s taking up most of your time, I certainly wouldn’t rush that process I wouldn’t give the advice to rush that process I would I would make it a very natural process and let it evolve into itself

Virginia Y
I believe the key is so thing that you said that it takes time

Justin Polkey
Yeah, there’s some outliers in these situations that in those cases I think it’s very obvious very young but in most cases a natural evolution is no massive benefit in rushing it and in fact I think you could probably do yourself harm is photographer in rushing yourself into the job because largely it’s a free line pastes job if you get an opportunity to work for a great client and you’re not ready and when I say you’re not ready is obviously not just about taking a great picture. It’s about managing a an expectation that people have sat in boardrooms discussed it sheet documents and requirements, you have clients, you have art directors, you have a lot of people that all kind of fall under set management, you can find yourself and you in the beginning of your career, getting a great opportunity to soon and you don’t impress the client, it’s going to be very difficult to get that opportunity back again. So ambition is fantastic. And it’s important to drive it forward. But at the same time, patience is also a good idea. It’s more important to find the greatest system job than it is to push your photography career first. And obviously I’m talking about people moving into the career from the start

Virginia Y
I was running when you started working on your own was there a moment when everything was way too quiet,

Justin Polkey
People have different experiences. And I think sometimes people have experiences that are more bound to their personality than to the industry itself. Some people just need to be busy all the time. And then that’s how they start. They just they want to work a lot, they find themselves in those situations where they’ll find that that kind of type of work that suits them a lot with some people are much more project based. And they like to research and they like to spend a lot of time on building an image. And I think those people are probably more patient in their outlook and probably don’t work all the time. Although they do work all the time. They’re just not on set every day. So I think there are distinctions between but yes, sure, in the beginning, it’s nerve racking, you obviously you making this leap, and you and you often making a leap from being a successful assistant, or where you’re coming from actual photo photography angle, and your new new is always nervous. But having said that, I think you should at least try to be nervous once every few months, if you can, because that means that you are progressing forward. So being nervous is a good thing. Yes, in the beginning patients is it required because it can be a little bit fits and starts

Virginia Y
As you mentioned earlier, in the podcast, the difference between the hobbyist and a professional is usually the payment. So sometimes it’s not that easy for people because when they’re starting on their own, and the payment can be a big deal. So I wanted to ask whether you have any advice for the people out there struggling with their profession right now, if you think that there is something they can do right away in order to become better at what they do.

Justin Polkey
And you touched on an interesting thing in the beginning of that question, discussing payments. And I guess starting in their career, it’s very tempting to offer yourself at very low rate. And I think that’s something that is happening broadly in the industry at the moment, it’s just that there are so many people interested in becoming photographers, there’s a lot of people out there willing to work for free, if people are struggling to launch their careers out of that environment, it’s probably because they’re not exposing themselves to the right environment is a commercial world of photography out there that is commercial for good reason, whenever I quote on a job or to doing what rates to charge, I consider the company that I’m working for, with their yearly GDP looks like how much fashion so and then I kind of put in a day rate and usage that suits the size of the company when you’re starting out, I think, no problem with working with small brands that don’t have much budgets and sharpening your tools by practicing in that environment and working with people. But I do think that if you want to access the proper career, there is a process that you can go through that is almost failsafe so starting with some tertiary education, some studying art school photography school, moving into assisting and then moving into photography, you’ll find that if you work in a good environment throughout that you got a really good photography school, if you assist a really good photographer, these are the things that will make it easier for the next step to happen. So my advice for somebody who’s starting art is to consider taking that kind of, I guess, slightly more traditional view on it. But really, it’s not about tradition. It’s the way the world works. You literally like I said earlier, if you’re working with those photographers, with those clients as an assistant, the likelihood of you working with those clients as a photographer in the future is increased exponentially as I think it’s a sensible way to go about things. I mean, we’ve spoken a lot about that, I feel like I don’t want to completely ignore the fact that developing your own characters, a photographer and developing your own I and developing your own point of view is as important as all of this, but you can, you can do that at the same time, and it’s very much an author, you will more than likely get to travel the world around that environment, a bench there’s a lot of inspiration around and certainly time enough for you to develop your own is to develop your own concepts alongside working as an assistant something that I thought to myself when I started the interview project was when I first became a photographer, photographer that I looked up to, and there may have been the first of the fashion photographers as say that recording themselves fashion photographers, but they weren’t all necessarily strictly fashion photographers, they were mostly photographers who were being bothered by fashion, you know, they were photographers first. They weren’t fashion photography first. They were people who had an interesting point of view, they were great photographers, and fashion was like, okay, yes, we’d love to use your eye to sell our garments. At some stage, I started to feel like I was becoming a bit of a fashion photographer. And I was like, maybe it’s an interesting idea to consider myself more as a photographer and to broaden my interest in that sense, discovered personally what it is that makes me want to take pictures and focus on that more. And then yes, if that’s suitable to the luxury environment, then I will work in an environment that’s suitable to your lifestyle environment, I’ll probably work in the lifestyle environment. But that is a good thing to do in parallel with the practical elements of your career developing that kind of personality is very important.

Virginia Y
I was wondering, what’s the one thing that Cape Town have teach to the thing that you’ll never forget? And then I’m going to ask you the same question about London. So think about it carefully.

Justin Polkey
Cape Town is potentially one of the easiest places on the planet to shoot. I’m very grateful for starting my career there. And I would suggest, if anyone wants to work on their book a little bit and shooting portfolio work, it really is the most remarkable city to shoot in it. It’s got a strong understanding of the fashion industry. And at the same time, it’s like really small cities that really manageable, you really get to know everybody very quickly. And there’s a little bar and bottom of color street called the power and the glory in one visit to the power and the glory and you would have met the entire industry more than likely, and you can get going there, you can shoot tests, they’re very easily there’s lots of locations as models. This stylist care town was very kind to me. And I think I learned a diverse range of things from their kindness. It offers a lot, and because of that, I managed to build my photographic I with a lot of different opportunities and different scenarios and situations and landscapes and lighting conditions. And it’s very rich and very textured. It was a great place to start your journey with a camera

Virginia Y
you mentioned lighting conditions, I was wondering where you usually using justice and

Justin Polkey
I’ve had moments with the flash, but generally, I like to use natural light. It’s not a rule. But I tend to use flash only when there’s not enough natural light. But my other motivation for that is that I don’t like to be hemmed in by equipment. I don’t like to be locked into one space by equipment, quite nice to be able to move freely and lifted image or sharp develop kind of portrait documentary style, I guess even fashion so obviously the more equipment and lighting you add to that the more structured the shop becomes, and the less you can move around. So those are the two motivations for this really care town has an incredibly harsh sunlight situation. In the summertime you get up at three o’clock to start here in America shooting Sunrise by six o’clock, by 10 o’clock, the lighting conditions are done, you can’t she really was 1011 o’clock. Alessi in open shadow and shade, you generally would break for the whole day until three o’clock when you start here makeup again, and then start shooting in the afternoon. So you really shooting this good light at the beginning. And at the end of the day, when I was an assistant working in character, I saw a lot of good photography scratching their head, not sure what they were going to do with all of the satellite

Virginia Y
and what was the most creative decision you’ve ever seen a situation like that

Justin Polkey
There’s been some very creative decisions which I haven’t thought with the correct decisions at all in terms of blaming everything else. But I think the most sensible English photographer that I worked with was a guy named Nick Clemens who really kind of taught me the value of using nature, natural elements around you to get away with shooting through the day shooting in an open shadow. Considering where the light will be kind of top of the day is a lot of practical opportunities. Open shadow, probably is the one fix for Sunday. that’s gotten too high overhead.

Virginia Y
Nice. And what about London? What’s the hardest part for you there right now

Justin Polkey
London’s a new city for me. So I guess the hardest part for me patients, it’s a very busy city. There’s a lot happening here. A lot of photographers in London as well, like we were discussing earlier, I kind of like to introduce myself by my work. So I wouldn’t say it’s been incredibly hard. I’ve actually had quite a nice time of it. And if anything’s diff tough for me, it’s going from an environment where very well known to an environment where I’m not so well known. And then having the patience to stick by my guns and do the work that I do, and keep focused and meet people organically and let my network grow. Yeah, I think just having a little bit of patience is key to that

Virginia Y
it is the key. I also believe the same plus you’ve made a pretty big step stepping out of your comfort zone.

Justin Polkey
Like I said before – I think I was quite fortunate then in terms of I’d already gained a small network from Cape Town, huge clients come to get on and some of them bring their own photographers sometimes they look like scope is in Cape Town. The one fortunate things that I experienced coming from Cape Town was that when the bigger clients did go there and did kind of want to meet photographers, the competition wasn’t massive there weren’t a lot of guys there so kind of miss a couple of really great clients and you know, didn’t just move to London on an compete when it is still quite sensible but it just needs a little bit of natural time to massage it into what what I wanted to look like you know, I’m enjoying it. It’s really great to be here and I’m particularly loving the winter winter lighters soft and beautiful and nothing like I was describing about character. It’s quite the opposite anytime of day and the angle cross life’s backwards, frankly. So really beautiful. If you know plays very well. If you formed your opinion about where you live, you sometimes don’t see everything. Your vision is quite selective. You and you see the thing that are important to you in life. We tend to aim at thing we have this vision that just looks at one thing or next thing and we kind of don’t take in everything else. And when you arrive somewhere new that changes suddenly everything’s new and everything’s interesting. That’s a really magnificent time to pick up a camera and start taking pictures.

Virginia Y
That’s a great lesson we can learn from you. Thank you so much for this interview of legend, George. It was nice to chatty

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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