Freelance photography is never easy, but Nic Staveley is exploring ways to benefit from his personal projects via various platforms
“I swear to God, if you want work, then book your holidays, because the work will come,” Nic Staveley advised. It’s an adage that the commercial photographer has found to come true time and time again — every time he books in his own personal adventures, jet-setting off to explore the likes of America and India, he’ll get a call from his agent saying a job is ready to roll. As you might imagine, it can get highly frustrating when you book in even a simple weekend in Wellington, and then, surprise! A job pops its head up, causing you to have to rethink the trip or turn down a working opportunity.
It’s something many freelance photographers have to deal with, but Staveley has come to terms with the fact that you have to live your life and explore your own personal projects — and that sometimes these personal expeditions can also be financially rewarding.
One of his recent personal projects saw him return to America, after previously visiting in 2014, with just an eight-year-old Canon 5D Mark II, an f/1.4 50mm, and an f/1.4 35mm in hand, ready to photograph any scene or subject that captured his attention. One thing he took away from this trip was the fact that, while travelling around the same country, he was seeing so many different ways of life.
“The last trip, I was there with my girlfriend, and we drove right the way around the southern states, Louisiana and Alabama, all that kind of thing. It was so different from the first time that we went, when we went to Death Valley, South Carolina, Georgia — it’s like 52 different countries, 52 different accents, and different kinds of ways of thinking — and it’s all one country,” Staveley explained.
And that’s what he wanted to communicate — he wasn’t interested in reinventing the wheel; he just wanted to capture the images as he experienced them.
“You get into these situations — like we were at a diner — just an all-American, trashy, scumbag diner in Louisiana — and we’re looking around and thinking everything here could be a movie, and you want to take that
photo,” he said. “But then you think, I should try [to] … find another angle on this, but I’d just rather photograph what’s there, and if it’s cliché or seen before, then so be it.”
This candid-photo style of shooting in his personal photography endeavours, as well as his proclamation that he’s not too precious about his photographs, has seen expansion of the channels in which his photography gets seen and purchased. Staveley has broadened his financial streams from not only his big-project freelance commercial jobs — which, of course, are the opportunities required to keep his freelancing career viable — but also by selling his personal-project images as prints via places like Duett Design.
“It’s just work that I’ve done that’s maybe been on the back of shoots — it’s all landscapes … stuff that I’ve taken while I’ve been away,” he said. “They’ve said to me, ‘Oh this would be great as a print’. So, obviously, I was like, ‘Yep, sweet as’. At the end of the day, those photos are sitting on a hard drive, and I’m not precious about my work at all.”
Of course, trends change like the tide, and Staveley is aware that some people may view his prints as what is ‘in’ at a particular time, but he’s absolutely not fazed by this, stating that he’ll take a photo purely because it interests him to take that photo, not because he’s trying to create a popular image which people will buy. Then, “[i]f someone else sees it and thinks, ‘Oh that’s really on trend now’, I’ll be like, sweet — that’s how it is, that’s money. I like the idea that those photographs would be sitting unseen otherwise. As far as having a style to them, it’s just a bunch of images I had, and [I was asked], ‘Do you have anything that’s got this in it?’, and I’m like, ‘Yup, I’ve got this batch’. ‘What about oceans?’. ‘Yup, got a whole bunch of that — tell me what you want because I’ve got hundreds, thousands of images sitting there’.” Staveley explained, with a laugh.
It’s clear that a photographer may never know when an image they shot some time ago may come back into their lives, as has been the case with a project Staveley worked on about four years ago, a series of community-hall shots
from around New Zealand made possible on the back of a Fonterra job that saw him travel the country for three weeks with an assistant, exploring the community halls of the various small towns that they came across. Staveley shot many images that he found intriguing as an added bonus for the client.
“I ended up giving them to the job because I was trying to go above and beyond, as you do … “[We were] going around all the small towns asking who had the keys to the halls and photographing mainly the doors, and, after a while — we ended up going to 30 or 40 of them — I found the same type of stuff in every one that we went to. There was always an enamel
jug, always certain things, no matter where it was or how rundown it was,” he recalled.
He couldn’t predict that his journey around New Zealand, and the resulting images, would come back to the front of his mind in relation to an alternative project in the future: “They’ve always stuck with me, because they’re not really like any of the commercial-type photos that I do. They’re quite a nice historical thing, because the halls are getting taken down, so I would like to do — and I am sure it’s been done — but I would like to do a community-hall book, or something like that.”
With photo books on the mind, Staveley said that he’s considering bringing his recent American journeys from the past few years together into a book as well, and he’s of the opinion that he’d be creating any photo books that he decides on for marketing purposes.
“Everyone always says art directors love seeing personal projects, which I have been told by art directors that I have been to see — they’ve said it’s great to see personal stuff because it shows passion,” said Staveley. “Maybe some people believe that — it’s just a tricky one to know. Knowing what to photograph is tricky.”