For anyone who has ever sat down and considered a career as a photographer, the fear factor has a big
part to play. So many people have looked at the challenge of having to invest in kit and generate enough work to pay the mortgage and have reluctantly decided to walk away or have spent years in a job that didn't inspire them before finding their way into the profession only in
How refreshing then to come across someone like Lara Jade, who not only dived into the business aged just 17 but who has since flourished to the point where she's now attracting some big commissions, has a high profile DVD training video under her belt and is spending her time working between London and New York.
In many ways it can help to be so young when you start out because if you're confident enough the thought of failure doesn't cross your mind in quite the same way. In Lara's case she had already been taking photography seriously for three years by the time she decided to make the move to become a professional and she was positively relishing the chance to challenge herself with the new ideas and projects that she knew she needed to define her personal style. She completed a National Diploma in Photography at college after high school, but left university after one year because she felt it was preventing her from getting out into the real world.
"In my opinion, you can pick up everything you need to learn on your own," she says, "or through videos, tutorials, workshops or assisting a photographer. To that end, I felt that university just unnecessarily lengthened my journey. The idea of starting my own business really excited me, so it felt very natural to register as a fully fledged business after just a couple of years. I couldn't imagine doing anything else at the time! I have since come to realise that there are challenges within any job we might take on, and there are always going to be obstacles, but this is what makes us strive as artists.
"In the beginning I struggled to set up my business without any financial help, but it taught me to invest in my career wisely and only to spend money where necessary. I learned to grow up quickly and was involved with the digital media movement at a young age, so I indirectly marketed my work through social media to reach a worldwide audience, while still trying to become known within my local area."
Looking back Lara is aware that she was very much finding her way in those early days, and although she's been able to come through it all and to build a career, there are things that she feels others should be aware of. "I would recommend photographers make sure that they have a solid understanding of their style and where they want to place themselves in the market before starting their own business," she says. "Make a business plan and seek help from accountants and financial support before taking the plunge."
One of the big challenges facing anyone coming into the business is building up a strong portfolio, and with Lara's interest lying in the field of fashion and advertising it was always likely that she was going to have to source models to work with who had the right look and who understood the message she was trying to put across. The problem is that working with models of this calibre usually requires a big budget, which was something Lara didn't have to play with.
The solution she came up with was ingenious. "In the beginning I felt it was difficult to reach out to experienced models," she says, "so I decided to use myself as the model to hone my skills. I was very much inspired by artists such as Cindy Sherman while studying at college so I'd play around with wigs, wild make-up and clothing to change my character. It enabled me to learn technical and creative skills without trying to please others on the shoot."
As the body of work started to build and Lara's profile began to rise she found herself facing a quandary: how to make herself commercially viable and to ensure that her decision to place her faith in her ability to generate commissions was well founded.
"I think this is always a challenge for any photographer," she says. "Sometimes there are long periods where work is scarce, and other times you'll have several job options and will be called to meetings where clients are interested in booking you. The social media channels, initially Flickr, Myspace and DeviantART and then latterly Facebook Pages, Twitter and Google+, all worked well for me, and I also relied on word of mouth and stayed in touch with my email contacts and did everything possible to continue the conversation that my work had started."
Moving into fashion
By choosing to head towards fashion Lara has engaged in one of the most competitive areas of the entire business, but she always had a shrewd idea of what she was letting herself in for and she relishes the opportunity to develop the full skill set that she knows she needs to survive.
"I think everybody has a common misconception about fashion photography," she says. "It isn't just about going out there and shooting models in an environment and selling clothes. It's a lot more than that, and I didn't realise this until a few years into my career. Fashion photography relies on you being a photographer with all-around technical and creative skills. You need to know how to shoot on-location, in the studio, with or without lights, with one person or groups; you need to make quick decisions and you need to know how to shoot in many different ways and in a range of environments.
"In a nutshell, you have to be a portrait photographer, landscape photographer, advertising photographer and product photographer all in one. A client is going to expect you to know all of these skills and that you can complete the task successfully."
Proof that she was starting to become more established arrived when Lara had the opportunity to move to New York to work in May last year. "It was a new challenge for me personally and professionally," she says. "I got my first taste of the city in February 2010 and couldn't get it out of my mind - the rush, and the creative energy - and so I decided to give it a go. The American market is a more commercial than the European one, but there is a place for fashion photographers and, with the rise of independent magazines, this has become a lot more apparent... It's given me a great opportunity to develop new work and to come up with a fresh take on style."
Lara is continuing to develop her career and to build her profile and she's recently released a DVD tutorial, 'LJ vs JL,' with portrait and advertising photographer Joey L, which takes a far ranging look at how to put a tutorial across. "The concept is quite comical," she says. "We are two rival photographers in a 'shoot out' trying to figure out who is the better photographer through a series of set themes. Although the theme is fun, there's something everybody can learn from - the content is full of shoot inspiration, lighting ideas and Photoshop tutorials, and it shows exactly how Joey and I go through the process of our shoots from start to finish."
As a long time Canon user - she started out on her career path after being given an EOS 350D for Christmas and currently shoots with a 5D Mark II - Lara has also figured prominently at Canon events such as last year's Pro Solutions Show and it's clear she has learned the value of media exposure, particularly in a field as volatile as fashion.
Despite her young age, her career already well established, Lara Jade looks set to be around for the long term.
Taken from the April 2012 issue of Photo Professional magazine