Shoot as an Amateur, Show Like a Pro



Photography: Gavin Hookway

When it comes to getting their work noticed, professional photographers have all the breaks. They have the best equipment, the time to practice and perfect their skills, and the contacts that can put their portfolios in front of buyers and their photos on the walls of galleries. At least that’s what enthusiasts think as we stroll through another exhibition of works created by a professional photographer. And yet, sometimes, those shows aren’t organized by someone who gets paid to head to the wilderness and create beautiful landscape images. The pictures are shot by a camera enthusiast with a regular job, a passion for photography, the talent to produce photographs that people will want to see and the determination to push themselves to be better, build those connections and show their work.

Gavin Hookway, for example, has been practicing photography since 1981. His love of art won him a place at Portsmouth Art College in southern England but at the same time, he was also offered two engineering apprenticeships. In the end, he chose a career that he believed would provide good training, job security and a steady income. He didn’t choose photography. It was that job that enabled him to purchase his first camera. He now lives in Scotland where he works full-time in the health sector but manages to devote between eight and twelve hours a week to photography, time that has to include capturing images, processing them and printing them.

So far, though, Gavin has shown his works in two exhibitions and has two more planned for 2013.

Professional Photographers Provide Advice and Open Doors

Gavin’s first show took place shortly after he took up photography. He had asked a well-renowned portrait and wedding photographer in his area for a review of his work; the photographer had suggested that he mount an exhibition and gave Gavin the name of a contact at the nearby Mountbatten Gallery. After calling for an appointment, Gavin showed the gallery a small portfolio of the work he wanted to exhibit.

“They obviously liked what they saw as I got a space booked for around six months later,” he recalls.

The exhibition lasted for seven days and included a special evening viewing for friends, relatives and work colleagues which, says Gavin, “went very well.” So popular were Gavin’s photographs, in fact, that on the fourth day of the show, he received a call from the gallery informing him that someone had peeled eight of the images from the mount boards on which he had stuck them as a way of saving costs, and taken them away. None of the images were for sale so Gavin was able to feel flattered that someone liked his work so much that they were willing to steal it.

The second exhibition took place in September 2012 at Eden Court in Inverness, and was held jointly with Nicki MacRae, an artist and Gavin’s friend. Again, the exhibition was a result of a critical review. In February of last year, Gavin attended a weekend seminar hosted by professional photographers Joe Cornish and David Ward. Ward looked over Gavin’s images, helped him to plan his photos and suggested new directions in which he could take his photography:

“Having your work reviewed in this manner can seem very daunting at first, but the advice, support and confidence that David gave me allowed me to ‘see’ my work in a different light,” says Gavin. “For me, the advice allowed me to refocus on what it was I was trying to say in my images, and what I wanted the audience to ‘feel.’”

The result was that when Gavin came to shoot the pictures for his Ruin exhibition, instead of simply taking pictures of ruined crofts and standing stones in a standard landscape format, both he and Nicki looked at the subject more closely and with a stronger emphasis on the details.

For the show, Gavin produced twelve photographs. Six were conventional shots of ruined sites across the Highlands of Scotland, one showed a croft door and window, and five were abstract pieces that looked at rusting machinery, stone circles and croft buildings.

“Many times I have walked through a ruined building, or a stone circle and seen nothing else but that. However, if you start looking closer at the texture of the croft building, or the stones themselves – you start to see things that your senses have completely overlooked before.”

Keep Learning

Gavin’s ability to cross from the kind of activities that photography enthusiasts usually perform — driving out to the wilderness and shooting landscapes — to the sorts of shows more usually put on by professionals has come about largely through his willingness to continue learning. In addition to the weekend seminar that helped him to produce his Ruin exhibition, Gavin completed a Diploma of Photography at the Photography Institute in 2011, a course which enabled him to relearn some old skills and pick up some new ones. Most importantly, he says, it also showed him how to create a business plan that would enable to him to set up as a professional or semi-professional photographer. That is a move that so far his confidence, a lack of belief and an awareness of the large number of talented professionals out there has prevented him from making.

Even if Gavin doesn’t make the jump to being a professional photographer, he is able to come close by acting like one. Prints of his works are available from his website and asked what other photographers can do to increase their chances of putting on shows and selling pictures, he sounds every bit like a 9-to-5 photographer.

“If you are considering exhibiting your work, think about setting up your own website – keeping the image numbers to a reasonable size – quality not quantity,” he advises. “Set up a Facebook and/or Flickr dedicated site for your work. Have business cards made, and visit local galleries with your portfolio – having made an appointment rather than cold calling.”

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