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What is it like to work as a freelance photographer?

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Want to know what it’s like to study Photography, Video and Digital Imaging at the University of Sunderland? And what it's like to work as a freelance Photographer? Here, graduates Esme Fletcher, Charlotte Draper and Nat Wilkins share their experiences.

At Sunderland, you'll have a range of opportunities to benefit your learning and enhance your employment prospects as we organise a wide range of initiatives for you to get involved in. Esme Fletcher benefitted from the field trips organised by the University – not only did they enable her to exhibit her work, they also gave her the opportunity to engage with a wide range of experienced photographers and gave her the confidence to run her own company, Esme Fletcher Photography. "I entered a competition and visited Essen, Germany, with staff and other students and we exhibited work on billboards. Students from Germany also visited us," says Esme. "All of the guest speakers were fantastic and the North East Photography Network (NEPN) was brilliant as it brought in lots of different photographers to share their knowledge and theories with us," she says.

Student working in the dark room

"The Side gallery in Newcastle was also a fantastic visit, with talks about photography, and we were encouraged to visit often," adds Esme. "This kept me passionate and inspired about what I was doing. The University gave me the technical knowledge and drive to go out and get what I want. I'm a photography business owner now shooting mostly weddings and commercial work."

Nat Wilkins says: "I am proud of what I have achieved in the two years since leaving university and grateful for all of the resources available to me. Starting any new job can be quite a daunting day, there is a lot to learn, new people to get to know, new processes and rules to get your head around. But when you employ yourself there is no-one to show you the ropes and this can put a sense of trepidation on whether to take that route.

"Fortunately the business support facilities and in particular the mentorship program were a real god send and helped me make the decision to take this route. I was mentored by local businessman Kieron Goldsbrough from Narrative Communications and that support helped me get everything in place before graduation so I was up and running and most importantly inspired and confident that I could achieve everything I set out to.

Photoshoot in a photography studio

"Kieron's input was invaluable and through this university facilitated support I had secured my first long term photography contract within months of graduation. Since starting Canny Productions I have worked on jobs across the North East helping charities to raise more funds, environmentalists communicate their messages and businesses sell their goods and services.

"I work with artists, gardeners, farmers, local authorities, museums and universities. What Canny Productions offers is now expanding to deliver arts and community projects using the facilities we have built up since graduation and the photography and video skills learnt on the course. Becoming self-employed is tough, but the support was there from the start for me and I now have a job that is my own, my weeks are full of so much variety, I have multiple projects underway from developing a touring exhibition in the back of a cattle trailer, facilitating a film project with a local Youth Group to creating stunning time-lapse photography to accompany a Turner exhibition in York."

At the University of Sunderland, the Careers and Employability Service offers career support that continues when you graduate, in addition to a range of internships and job opportunities that are provided by the Sunderland Intern Factory. Charlotte Draper adds: "My time at Sunderland prepared me by not only giving me the skills but also the confidence to go forward and put my name out there. Even though I've graduated, I'm still in contact with the University as they offer a lot of graduate support and opportunities."

Student setting up a photograph

She continues: "Our lecturers often send opportunities they find if they believe they could be useful to us. Also, the Creative Futures programme is easily accessed through Facebook where people often share different opportunities for everyone to take advantage of.

“Having visited numerous universities to research the photography courses they offered, the University of Sunderland was by far equipped with both the best and varied facilities," says Charlotte. "The work produced by past students was eye-catching and inspiring, and after meeting the staff working on the course, I felt it was somewhere I would be both supported and encouraged to do well."

For Charlotte, the best aspect of coming to the University was "specifically the course and the staff who run it," she says. "The skills I learned are far more advanced than I could have hoped for and my artwork has advanced incredible amounts. The facilities and the team you have access to, I’m sure, you couldn't find anywhere else.

"The visiting speakers and professional photographers that came to the University were a highlight of my studying. Having met such a variety of people, I gained insight into the many different career paths I could take and they gave us advice on how we could follow the same route," she adds.

 Photo Developing

The Photography Department operates the North East Photography Network (NEPN). Here, you'll have access to internationally acclaimed photographers who share their career insight with you. In the past, visiting speakers have included: Simon Norfolk, Peter Fryer, Liz Wells, Jem Southam, Tomoko Yoneda, Melanie Friend, Julian Germain, Paul Wombell, Dinu Li, Paul Hermann, Nicola Dove and Julian Stallabrass.

"Sunderland offers a lot of opportunities to gain experience for your chosen career path, whether that be volunteering or small paid jobs. Take advantage of the opportunities given to you both during your time and after graduating. It's this experience that will set you aside from everyone else and make your CV immediately more attractive to an employer," adds Charlotte.

"Sunderland gave me not only the important skills and confidence I needed but also lifelong friends and memories. It was the best experience I could have asked for and I wouldn't change any of it for the world.

"I can only speak kind words about the support offered by the staff at the Northern Centre of Photography. If anything, I can happily say for the majority of my year that we felt like a unit and a team and we were encouraged to go and ask for help if it was needed. The staff are incredibly encouraging and approachable and provided the best experience I could have asked for during my three years," says Charlotte.

Our Photography Department organises several field trips nationally and internationally to enhance our students' learning experience. In addition, we also organise work placements and internships for our students to work alongside industry professionals from a range of photography backgrounds to enhance their real-world experience. In the past, students have worked on real-life projects such as The Great North Run and the ‘Breast is Best’ campaign for new mothers.


Published: 11 September 2017