We spoke on 12th August 2020
Hi, Jak. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
You started as a Photography Assistant for Guy Farrow Photography. How useful was that experience?
I spent the whole of my third year at uni working as an assistant. I was really lucky the photography course at Blackburn was in its infancy and they allowed me the freedom to study online but gain real-world experience otherwise I don’t think I would be in the position I am in today.
Out of around 40 of us who started that course, I believe there are only 2 of us still working in photography which is fairly harrowing.
I would recommend anyone at any stage of their degree to get as much experience with working professionals as possible. I was sending out hundreds of emails a month to photographers trying to get assistant roles and it took months to get even a reply so don’t give up hope.
On your website, you have stated that you went traveling in China. How influential was this period in your life?
I think a lot of people have that gap year where they “discover themselves”, I’ve always been a creative person but after college I was a little lost with what I wanted to do. I think taking the time out allowed me to evaluate where I wanted to go without the pressure of having to pay a mortgage etc.
I don’t think many people actually know what they want to become when they leave college and many feel pigeon holed by the degree they chose so that year out to reflect a little bit definitely helped.
One of the toughest times for people has been the Covid-19 Pandemic. How have you coped through this uncertain time?
The pandemic has been a weird one for me because apart from the first week where I had a couple of shoots cancelled, it’s been one of the busiest times for my business and revenue is up in a fairly big way.
I think a lot of people shut their laptops prematurely when it all kicked off but a lot of the big players have still been spending serious money and it’s been good to be able to help marketing teams through this.
You have worked for numerous high profile clients, is there a job that sticks out to you that have learned the most from?
I think for me there are two jobs that sort of made me realise how far I had come.
The first was shooting The Ivy a couple of years back, it sort of put me on the map in the interior photography scene in Manchester and for a few months after I was the guy who shot The Ivy and I got a lot of new clients from that.
The second was my first job for Manchester United, everyone has heard of them no matter where you go in the world, so to be trusted shooting current players for their sponsor's marketing was a pretty big deal.
The fact I’ve been hired again by them multiple times quiets that imposter syndrome somewhat too.
Do you have any tips for young creatives making the decision to find work or to go freelance?
In the current climate, I think setting up for yourself is the best route to take.
I’ve already mentioned it but I can’t see the traditional agency model being around for too much longer, budgets are squeezed everywhere and everyone is being overworked, it really is a race to the bottom.
Working for yourself gives you the opportunity to really carve your own niche and become known for how you work rather than how someone else believes something should look.
For the first year of my freelance journey, I spent at least 50% of my week networking. Which is hard because I am naturally very introverted, nothing scared me more than the thought of standing in front of 30-50 people and trying to explain to them what I do.
Doing this 3-4 times a week was a baptism of fire and you will quickly become good at selling yourself and your work.
I think there is a massive amount of weight put on social media at the moment and I actually generate less than 10% of my new clients through it.
There is no substitute to going out and actually meeting people.
You then moved onto diversifying your skillset by immersing yourself in DSLR videography. Was this something you were pushed to do by Scott Dawson Advertising or was it something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
I think anyone who has worked for an agency will know you often get pushed into learning new things. “Full-service agencies” are pretty much dead in the water in the current landscape and lack of money means fewer people have to cover more jobs which means the end client often doesn’t get the best result.
After my agency time, I’ve hardly shot any video because it’s simply not my skillset. I much prefer to give every client 100% of what I know rather than 60% of one thing and 40% of another.
In September 2018 you have stated that you are now a CAA Approved Drone Pilot. I am interested to hear what your thoughts are on unregistered pilots flying dangerously or not sticking to the code. Do you think that the measures should be stricter to protect privacy or to stop drone-related accidents?
I think drones when used correctly are amazing but the barrier to entry is fairly high which creates an issue for many people who want to enter the profession and to be honest I don’t think many clients are even aware of the barriers or even penalties for just using their “mate who has a drone".
Recent events i.e airports being shut down create a negative public perception of drones which, from a professional point of view isn’t warranted.
The CAA does a great job at trying to regulate unlicensed pilots but it’s like anything, it only takes a couple of bad apples and the whole crop gets ruined.
Since 2017 you have worked under Jak Spedding Photography. Was this a hard decision to make, to go freelance?
I always had the idea in my head that I wanted to try it before I turned 30 and agency life had begun to turn really toxic and had me questioning whether photography was even what I wanted to do anymore.
A client at the time asked me to come on board for them and expand their photography capabilities which sort of gave me the realisation that if I could do it for them then doing it for myself wasn’t going to be all that much different.
One day I was sat in the studio listening to Gary Vee who’s the famous line “quit your bullsh*t job because you can always get another one” really hit home. I handed my notice in there the next day and haven’t looked back.
That is all the things you have done, what’s next for you?
Hmmm, I think like any creative I want to produce better work. My “style” has evolved quite a bit just over the last few years so I’m excited to see where that goes.
In terms of growth, I’m really happy with where I am. I think a lot of people struggle when they first start out because they try to make themselves look bigger than they are. I’ve got a great group of freelancers around me whom I know I can call on and 99% of clients do not care that you’re not running an 80+ person agency as long as they get the best work available to them.