Ben Ottewell Photography is exactly what it says on the tin: Ben Ottewell taking photos. Ben founded his business in 2011. As well as traditional still portraiture and commercial photography, Ben has recently expanded his business to include video.
I guess getting your first client is a really big deal – it really spurs you on to want to get more and hold onto them. That in turn makes you want to do more for each client and do a better job every time.
Another key milestone was starting to move into video as well, which I’d never really done before. I started to co-direct with a really good friend of mine and we worked on some really great projects. Recently we did a project for the London College of Fashion which we won an award for at their graduate preview day. We won the digital award and after that it really felt like it was all starting to slot together a little more.
I don’t really think about the business side of things, but when you start to see the cash flow coming in, it feels good. I tend to focus on the creative side and the business success follows.
When that first pay check came in it felt good. I wanted to go and buy something so I went out and bought a new lens. That’s often how I celebrate: with a new piece of equipment I’ve wanted for a while.
Yes, for sure. I think the hardest thing was when I took the step from being an assistant to being a photographer. When you go from being a freelance to setting up your own business there’s a massive worry about work. I had loads of work which I was having to leave behind to get new work, and there’s that awkward transition period when you don’t know how it’s going to go and you’re putting everything into it.
It was time to do it though. It was going to be now or not at all.
The biggest thing with photography is having the cash flow to support it. You’ve always got to have a chunk of money there to front the cost of the shoot. You’ve got to pay for the lighting, the studio hire and your assistant. You pay that all upfront and then claim it back. That’s the biggest challenge – being able to have enough shoots to keep that cash flow going. You’ve got to make sure you’re on top of your finances. There’s a real temptation not to – but you’ve got to.
I think – going back to it again – the most daring thing was actually taking the leap from being an assistant to being a photographer. You’re starting your own business and you don’t know what’s going to come out of it.
You’ll go out and do tests and think this client will really love to see something. You put a lot into it, spend a lot of money and time, but it pays off.
Because it’s your own business, and you’re the only person that can make your business run the way you want it to run, you spend a lot of time and effort making sure everything is perfect and done to the standard you want it to be done to. That’s not just on the shoot; it’s retouching, finances, advertising and sending mail out. You’re involved in every aspect of it and it takes up a lot of time.
I don’t have that separation between working and not working anymore. I’m not working if I’ve got nothing to do, but that’s generally never the case. There’s always some retouching that has to be finished off or you’ve got to be mailing out and finding new clients and discussing new projects with your current clients.On an evening off I might go home and spend some time with my girlfriend, but she’s really busy as well so that’s hard. I’m coming in from a shoot, sorting out another shoot, doing my retouching, working on the weekends because that’s when the work comes in. You have time off as and when you get time off I guess.
Funnily enough when I was young I wanted to do fine art. I wanted to be a painter. I was really into that. Then I went to college to do a foundation degree and did a three month segment on photography and I loved it so much I just carried on with it. That was really the first time I picked up a camera. I was 19 years old and ever since then it’s been what I’ve wanted to do. My old college tutor was a real inspiration. He was really passionate about it and made me want to do more.
I’ve always wanted to do something of my own. I don’t know how I’d feel working for other people. Owning something and having my own business is a lot better for me. I can work my life around it. The main motivation is working for myself. I get to make the decisions and it succeeds if I do well and fails if I don’t put enough into it and that pushes me to work harder than maybe I would if I was in a full time job that I didn’t really care about as much. I care about my future and how I get there, so working for myself seems to spur me on.
When you’re creative and in a creative position you want your own ideas to be on the page. You want to look at your work and know that you did it. That’s a big part of it.
A big goal for me now is to incorporate film into the business more and more. I hope to grow the business and get a full time assistant to help us out and maybe a re-toucher.