28 March 2014

Emily Hancock Talks About...

The business of equestrian photography.

When I saw that the RPS's Thames Valley Region was hosting Emily Hancock for one of their Sunday sessions, I was immediately interested.

Her talk was advertised as covering three areas, all of which were of interest:
* Photographing horses
* Running her business
* Gaining her qualifications
So the very reasonable charge of £10, and 3 hours driving, seemed likely to be time and money well spent, and so it proved.

Emily is an engaging speaker, very frank and open.  She ran each section of the day precisely to time, yet still allowing questions from the floor throughout her presentation, unfazed by the regular interruptions.

Emily is one of those fortunate people who discovers their passion in life early - in her case at just 16.  She 'chased an opportunity' early on, although it was partly luck that the photographer she approached to do some work with turned out to be covering royalty at a polo match!  After seeing her work, she was taken on as an assistant, a job she held for two years before setting out alone doing events photography relating to horses. 

Eager to continue learning, she did a year of specialist training, which taught her about business as well as photography.  It changed her game plan, influencing how she prices her work and the level at which she pitches it.  Much of what she was taught related to portrait and wedding photography, so she took these skills and adapted them to her work with horses, establishing a highly successful business with a very recognisable style, being relaxed and informal looking.  The horses typically wear little (but ultra-clean!) tack, and their owners wear clothes which are not 'horsey gear', ranging from jeans to very glamorous dresses, with three changes of clothes often taking place during a shoot.  Some of her equestrian subjects have been well trained enough to be worked entirely free of any tack at all.  Some lovely beach shots of a film-trained horse performing the Spanish Walk gave an impressive example of this.

After talking about her path into the field of equestrian photography, Emily then moved on to talk about how she carries out a shoot.  This covered the very detailed preparation which she carries out on each shoot, and a lot of detail about the actual shooting on the day, including positioning, posing, locations, safety - and suggestions for dealing with tricky/awkward horses! 

The day then moved to talking about the sales process.  For Emily, on-line selling is a no-no.  All her viewings (well, most) take place in her own studio, using a projector and a big screen, with the pictures being presented as a slide show to music.  This means that her clients get the full impact of hi-res images presented large, rather than scrolling through a selection of small images on a PC screen. 

Once again, preparation plays a big part in the process.  For each viewing her studio is clean, smells nice, has flowers on display, and good coffee on the go.  Emily herself dresses smartly rather than casually.  All these things make a difference to her buy rate.  She always gives her price outline up front, prior to the shoot, so her clients are well aware of the costs of her packages, and therefore arrive with an understanding of what they're likely to be spending.  The cost of the shoot itself (rather than the albums, prints or CDs) is paid up front.

The section of the day devoted to marketing was particularly interesting, and Emily stressed that she is marketing all the time!  Her biggest area for marketing are equestrian events such as The National Dressage Championships, where she usually has a display stand and a 'show offer'.  She pays attention to maintaining her websites Emily Hancock and The Training Barn.  Networking is key, and involves talking to as many people in her area of interest/specialisation as possible.  She uses social media, maintains a database, exhibits her work, and sometimes works in collaboration with others.  She also does some charity work, which can be something like offering a shoot and a single frame as a prize.  Finally, she also does 'roadshows' from time to time, where she may spend a day in a forest or beach location, and offer 1 hours slots to owners and their horses.  Emily talked through all these things in detail, and I made quite a few notes, even though I work in sales and marketing myself!

After over a decade of working in a very established style, Emily is now looking for new challenges.  She is reducing her client commission work, and starting to do more fine art work.  It was this style in which she shot the panel used to obtain her BIPP Fellowship, the first time anyone has gone from no BIPP qualification to Fellowship in one jump, a huge achievement.  Some of these very beautiful images can be seen on the equestrian section of her website.  Prior to the BIPP award, Emily had achieved her RPS Associateship with work from her commission range. It was encouraging that she went through the process of seeking help from mentors during her distinctions work.  She also said that she'd taken time to understand the respective distinctions processes and work out exactly what would be required of her. Something which anyone working towards their distinctions can usefully be reminded to do!

In all, it was a fascinating day, with lots of beautiful photography to illustrate Emily's points.  As someone who worries, I appreciated her comment "If you let your fears get the better of you, you'd never do anything."

When I had a brief chat with her during the lunch break, her advice was to look for opportunities, take advantage of them when they come up, and don't let them disappear.  A mantra she has obviously pursued herself, highly successfully.

'Marketing' slide used with the kind permission of Emily Hancock

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