Business Insight - Tim Gander - Commercial Photographer

How did you start in photography?
I could go back to the Agfa box camera I borrowed at the age of 11 and used on a school trip to take pictures of my friends, but my career started with work experience at The Bath Chronicle while I was still working in a camera shop. Within a few weeks, work experience morphed into paid jobs. I left the camera shop and went full-time freelance around 1988.

Did you have a formal photography education?
After 18 months at The Chronicle I decided I wanted a staff position on a paper. Back then, the only way to be considered for a post was to get the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) qualification, so went to Sheffield where the newspaper photography course was held and did the full-time, one year course there. From there I landed a trainee position at The Portsmouth News and qualified with flying colours at the end of the prerequisite two year indenture period.

My training continued as I took on picture desk responsibilities and when I left The News I was a senior photographer and assistant picture editor.

Why did you decide to become a commercial photographer?
After leaving The News and going freelance again I worked mainly for national papers and agencies, but there was always the occasional commercial assignment in the mix. I had a rather abrupt falling-out with my main news client , News of the World, in 2001 and came to the conclusion that with falling shift rates and the incredibly long hours demanded by desks, I would be better off building up my commercial client base.

How long have you been a CP?
It started gradually after 2001, but Iíd say the change from mostly news to almost exclusively commercial was complete by the end of 2003. So the best part of 12 years now.

What are the best and worst aspects of the job?
The work can be incredibly rewarding, both financially and in terms of job satisfaction. When work is flowing in, meeting challenges and creating images which a client can use in all different media is what I enjoy the most. I feel most rewarded when Iíve gone into a scenario which looked photographically unlikely to produce a pleasing result and Iíve come away with pictures that have pleased and surprised the client. On the downside, there are all the hours of business admin which any freelance must do. You have to be prepared for the invoicing, VAT returns, tax returns and the processes involved in winning new clients. It can also be a very tough market. I sometimes lose work to cheaper photographers, and itís frustrating when clients focus more on price than results or consideration of the photographerís skills and experience, but thatís what being in business is all about, regardless of which industry youíre in. Itís sometimes tough to convince a client that the pictures you havenít yet taken will be better than the next photographerís.

photograph for question Do you specialise in any particular subject?
I do a lot of business portraits. Itís very often a head shot against a white backdrop. It sounds dull, but I enjoy interacting with new people and Iím always looking to refine even the most basic head shot, so I never grow tired of this work.

How do you find your clients?
Most of my regular long-term clients have come to me through recommendation of another client or contact, but another important source of work is through the search engine optimisation Iíve done on my website over the last few years and I now get regular enquiries via my website.

What motivates you to keep at it?
Itís kind of a clichť to say that I have a passion for photography because I donít think any photographer could keep going if they werenít passionate, but in my case I think it goes deeper than just getting to hold a camera and make the shutter click. Itís important to me that the photos Iím paid to take fulfil the brief and are put to good use by the client - I love seeing my images working, helping to communicate my clientsí stories and values.

photograph for question 9 What do you like to shoot commercially?
Portraits of people either doing something or showing them in their environment. This recent image was actually shot for editorial publication, but Iíve done similar work for commercial use too so itís a good example of what I like to do.

photograph for question Do you shoot photographs in your own time?
I do take personal photos on holiday or on days when Iíve no commissioned work to do, but even then I sometimes struggle not to approach this with the same seriousness of my paid work, which means I sometimes have force myself to leave the camera at home and just enjoy the family event or day out. I do have to switch off sometimes.
Iím always thinking about personal projects I could undertake as these are an excellent way to broaden skills and showcase another aspect of my vision. One which has literally just started to take shape focuses on my home town of Frome in Somerset. The narrative hasnít quite gelled yet, but Iím looking at creating an archive featuring portraits of local people and views of the town which arenít the chocolate-box-pretty scenes most people focus on.

What is the best bit of advice you have ever been given?
"Fill the bloody frame!" The picture editor at The Bath Chronicle screamed these words into my face the first few times I came back from jobs with images which were too compositionally loose for newspaper use. I needed to tighten up my composition and learn to tell a story within the frame. Iíve kept that simple lesson with me for 25 years now.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start out as a commercial photographer?
In addition to ďfill the bloody frameĒ Iíd say that you really have to do a proper business plan and understand how important it is to set rates which make your career viable. Make sure you understand copyright and licensing and incorporate these into your terms of doing business. All this can be researched on sites such as, but be sure to research all the business aspects as fully as possible.

Be prepared for periods so busy youíll wish you could have a day off, and be prepared to switch straight back into marketing mode when things go quiet.

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