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Honing photography skills while working full-time
By Excio Photo Community profile image Excio Photo Community
5 min read

Honing photography skills while working full-time

Interview with Shelly Linehan

What's your background in photography Shelly?

I’m a completely self-taught semi-professional photographer living in the beautiful Whangarei Heads, I work full time as a veterinary nurse and I also run my photography business part-time. I first picked up a camera when I was 16 years of age, long before digital was around! I really enjoyed getting out and photographing anything that interested me. Once I started my vet nurse career, I put my camera down and it wasn’t until many years later that I picked up a camera and started taking pictures again.

How have you taught yourself photography?

I have taught myself photography by reading books, watching YouTube and other online tutorials, and joining various Facebook photography groups in order to get feedback on my images.

I’m sure there are other online resources but Creative Live, an online training resource that covers all aspects of photography including the business side of things, was the one that I liked the best and was within my budget.

Nothing can beat getting out with your camera and practicing what you have just learned though.

What inspires you to take photographs?

Seeing our beautiful landscapes as we travel around our beautiful country and capturing the magic light is what inspires me to get out and take photographs. **I also enjoy being able to record these scenes for future generations.

I find photography very relaxing and calming, I have a stressful job at times and I find getting out with my camera helps me to forget about work and other stresses - getting out in the fresh air is good for the soul.

Do you follow any particular process when taking photos?

No, not really, I just try and keep things as simple as I can. I will look for lead in lines and look for the magic light when it happens. I love visiting our local beaches to photograph sunrise as this is my favourite time of the day especially in winter as the air is clean and crisp.

What did you struggle with the most in your photography journey and how did you overcome that?

I think the biggest thing that I struggled with was actually finding time to sit down and read/watch resources to learn the craft and then finding the motivation to get out and practice it.

I work full time and my job is very busy most of the time, it can be very stressful at times too, so some days I just wanted to come home, relax and not do anything. On the weekends there was always housework and property maintenance to be done first, before getting out to play with my camera.

I overcame this by setting aside one hour every day to dedicate to learning something to do with photography instead of sitting down in front of the TV every night. On the weekends I would choose one day and either go out for the early morning sunrise to practice my landscapes at the beach or the late afternoon. I'm about to go down to 4 days a week in my full-time job so this will give me more time to get out and photograph more.

At what point did you start calling yourself semi-professional, and where do you consider the line between amateur and pro?

I started calling myself a semi-professional once I started charging for all of my photography jobs, had the experience to back up my work, and once I knew I could pick up my camera and use it with confidence without even thinking about it. I call myself semi-professional rather than professional as I only work in this field part-time.

I think there is a  fine line between amateur and professional, you can be an experienced knowledgeable amateur photographer but choose not to make any income from photography. Professional is misused a lot in this industry - just because you own a camera and you charge money for images, it doesn’t make you a professional. In my mind, the term ‘professional photographer’ should not only mean that you earn an income from photography, but you should have a very sound knowledge of your craft, you should be able to pick up your camera and know how it works without even thinking about it, you should behave in a professional manner, have plenty of experience behind you, and produce quality work.

How did you turn a hobby into a part-time business?

I just started to share my images on Facebook and Instagram and friends started asking me if I did weddings and family portraits I did a few of these jobs at a minimum charge-out rate (just to cover my costs) until I was confident and comfortable in charging more once I got more experienced.

I enjoy family portraits and I have started to get into pet portraits which I'm loving and want to do more of. I also do weekend markets from time to time, I sell my landscape prints, gift cards, calendars, etc. this is one way to get my work out in the big wide world. I don’t do a lot of weddings as they are not my favourite genre but I will photograph weddings for people that I know.

What advice would you give to people just starting out in landscape photography?

Just get out there and give it a go, don’t overcomplicate things.

Try and keep the landscape as simple as you can - less is more.

Go out in the golden hours (either early in the morning just before sunrise and an hour after or a couple of hours before sunset) these are the best times to photograph the landscape as the light is softer and more atmospheric because the sun is lower in the sky.

Revisit locations to learn what you have taken on previous trips, you will also learn how weather and seasons can change a scene as you will never get the same result twice even if you revisit the same location.

How do you know what to photograph? Do you plan in advance or just take photos whenever an opportunity presents itself?

Most of the time I will plan my photography shoots. I will do research on a new location and most of the time I will go and visit the location ahead of time to see what the area is like and scope out possible compositions before arriving early morning or late afternoon to take the actual shots - This saves me from rushing around on the day trying to find a composition and losing the light. However, there are times when I go for a drive looking for new landscapes and a scene will present itself so I just stop and get the camera out and take advantage of the moment.

I use the “YR” weather app to help predict what the weather is going to be like and what the clouds are doing, I also use the “Tides near me” app when I’m photographing seascapes as it is important to know what the tide is doing, you don’t want to get caught out with a high tide.

What’s next for you?

I’m planning another trip down to the south island with a couple of photography friends, we will spend two weeks traveling around photographing new landscapes.

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