I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Stubbs, a professional photographer and internet businessman, based in Dorset. Nick specialises in weddings, stock, and is responsible for one of the most successful internet photography training sites, called All Things Photography.
I have been following Nick and his training sites for some time now. Whilst searching for advice on photography there was one site that kept appearing like a celebrity stalker outside the BBC, and it was on the top of google. This was ATP. I decided to take a look at the site and was amazed at the detailed information and guidance that was available within a free resource.
Not long after discovering the site I had to book a one-to-one course with Nick, and was impressed with his infectious energy, knowledge, and selfless ambition. I am sure that there aren’t many people out there who would be happy for the odd telephone enquiry, e-mail, and facebook chatter after they have pocketed your money!
Nick, thank you for taking part in my interview. As you know I am in the process of diversifying my blog, and am getting in touch with a number of photographers of differing disciplines, to show what they do with their cameras to make a living.
The first thing I have to do, is ask which camera camp you are in? (include lenses etc)
Ah the age old question…is it important? To be honest, I like all cameras, makes and models and always have. I currently use Canon gear but in the past have used (and worked for) Nikon, I have used the wonderful Pentax 67, the Mamiya RZ 67 and a host of other makes and models.
Nowadays, there is so little between Canon and Nikon I would happily use either (firmly on the fence as always). The kit I use most is:
::EOS 5D Mark II
::EF 70-200L 2.8 IS
::EF 24-70L 2.8
::EF 16-35L 2.8
::EF 50 1.4
::EF 15mm Semi Fisheye
Mac or PC? (do you have any reasons why?)
Currently a PC but the next upgrade will almost definitely be a MAC Pro with 2 x 30″ screens (for HD video editing). Windows XP was great, Vista a waste of time but Windows 7 is actually very good. Trouble is I have so much invested in stills, video and web-building software the changeover could be quite expensive!
How did you get into photography?
As far back as I can remember I have had a camera of some sort, the first being a piece of plastic that came with a “spy kit” when I was very young. Later, in the mid 70’s my dad bought an Olympus OM-1…a tank of a camera that he still has and I fell in love with photography then.
I got a Chinon CM-4s SLR for my 13th birthday and the rest, as they say, is history.
Who are your photographic influences?
Of course, back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the main well known photographers were the likes of David Bailey, Patrick Lichfield (my favourite), Bob Carlos Clarke, Ansel Adams and Cartier-Bresson but to be honest, no-one in particular stood out as being an influence.
In the early days I read all the mags and aspired to the images, not the photographer but I guess the one person that stands out as a huge influence in my love for the hobby was a guy called Eddie Clapson. He was a local press, portrait and wedding photographer in the town where I grew up and was a bit of a cool guy (reminded me of Bonn Scott from ACDC with his long-ish curly hair and flat cap that he wore everywhere)! I did a year long apprenticeship with him when I was 16 and helped out in the studio and the occasional wedding at the weekend for a whopping £10! These days I find influences and inspiration everywhere. Not just the “famous” people but from everyone and anyone including friends, members of my membership site through to up and coming stock photographers that I see during my research online.
What made you go into wedding photography?
Like many people who will read this, I was asked to shoot a family wedding when I was in my early 20’s because I “had a nice camera”! I found it exciting, challenging and very enjoyable as I finally had the chance to shoot something for both money and in a semi-professional capacity…excellent!
Did you assist at first or did you go straight into it?
Jumped straight in with the above wedding although I had assisted a few during the afore-mentioned apprenticeship in my teens.
Did you go on any courses?
After that first wedding, I got the bug and went on a 2 day course in Southampton with a well known photographer called Ray Davenport. Very enjoyable but all I can remember is taking photos of a very pretty model in a wedding dress on location at some church ruins. He is still going today…nice guy.
What was your first wedding like?
My first “official” wedding (not the family one) was great! I had learned to prepare well and in those days (using film) you had very little room for error as it could get expensive. I remember waiting tentatively for the prints to come back from the lab and the absolute joy when they were all (or mostly) good. I learned to watch the subjects eyes at the absolute split second that the shutter was released (no image preview then) which gave me confidence that their eyes were open for the shot…got a bit difficult with the group shots though.
Something that you are keen to emphasise on your wedding courses is the importance of preparation and planning, so much so, that you have recorded a video called the Wedding Photography Blueprint. Tell me why it is important for wedding photographers to plan the day? (have you seen/experienced bad/no planning?)
The preparation you do before shooting a wedding is probably the most important aspect after taking the actual images themselves. The more you prepare, the less you have to think about on the day which means you can concentrate on your photography and not admin, location or timing issues. The only experience I have of bad planning was when we foolishly took on two weddings in one day. A short, registry office do in the morning followed by a full on wedding in the afternoon. Mega stressful and I distinctly remember unwittingly “nudging” the best man of wedding one out of the way with our car as we made our hasty exit to wedding number two.
What kit do you take with you when photographing a wedding?
Nowadays I try to travel light. It is all too easy to think you need to take everything you own with you but again, prior planning can ease that load. If you have done a good reccie visit and planned well, you can strip out a lot of unnecessary kit although I still take it in the car just in case ; )
I normally take:
- Canon 5D Mark II with 24-70 or 50mm lens for church, groups and portraits
- Canon 5D or 7D with 70-200 for portraits and stealth/reportage shot
- 2 speedlights (and stands/brollies for off camera flash shots)
- Cable release
- Mini Maglite torch and my trusty Swiss Army knife!
- Batteries and memory cards…
Do you prefer weddings in the UK or weddings abroad?
Both! I like the familiarity of a British wedding but obviously love the travel and weather aspect of weddings abroad. However, now that my kids are 5 and 7, I don’t really do the travelling any more…too much time away as one wedding can take me away from home for up to 5 days.
With the advent of DSLRs and more and more people buying them, have you ever come across uncle Bob at a wedding? The one who lurks over your shoulder, checking out your kit, and generally getting in your way. What advice do you have in dealing with Uncle Bob, and what makes your pictures stand out from the rest?
I have met many Uncle Bob’s and the occasional Aunty Roberta!
As you are effectively a guest at the wedding, it is important to be polite and professional at all times. I have received many referrals from past weddings because of this so bear it in mind when you are fuming at “Uncle Bob”. The best way to deal with it is politely explain that you are the official photographer and you are being paid by their friends/family to do the best job you can…and they are not helping. After all, just because they can speak, would they step in front of the vicar during the ceremony and do his job for him? I have also had the mother of the bride, who just happened to be a professional photographer, looking over my shoulder asking what settings I am using. Again, I politely advised her to enjoy her daughters big day and let me concentrate on the photography. Rather than getting mad, I just incorporate the Uncle Bob’s into the shoot (as in the photo above) as they are now part of the wedding day and to be expected these days what with digital cameras and smart phones in abundance. The experience you gain and the imaging techniques you learn and master over time, allow your images to stand out above the snap-shooters that are everywhere during a wedding these days.
What is your method of post processing?
Depending on the image I am working on and the type of day it was (bright, dark etc) I will use either Lightroom or Canon’s DPP (for its simplicity) to process the RAW images. Then I run them all through Photoshop and tweak them here and there. My style is fairly basic but bold, bright and colourful. I do very little digital imaging to the photos other than the usual levels, curves, contrast etc. I like to try and make the images stand out on their own merit without too much “stuff and nonsense”. I see too much over-Photoshopping these days what with all the heavy, dark vignetting and so on!
Are you a fan of actions?
Almost as a contradiction to what I said above, I actually love actions whether “homemade” or bought. I have them all! I only use certain ones in certain situations for weddings though and find the “corrective” actions the most useful and time-saving.
You have been photographing Stock images for a number of years. Can you tell us what stock photography is, and the differences between microstock and stock?
Stock photography, in a nutshell, is taking and selling images to people who use them in all manner of places…magazines, TV ads, newspapers, websites, leaflets, billboards etc. It has become vastly popular since around 2004 when microstock was “born” which allowed amateur photographers to get involved. Traditional stock in the beginning meant sending negatives and transparencies off to agencies who held them in great volumes and books for buyers to sift through page by page. These days it is much easier as 90% of stock is now uploaded through the internet digitally. Buyers can also use search terms or keywords to find the exact image they want rather than scanning thousands of pages in a book. Traditional stock used to cost anywhere from £50 to £10,000 and upwards per image depending on the image and its use. This meant traditional stock was generally reserved for the professionals. Microstock changed all that by allowing lower resolution images of everyday subjects to be uploaded and sold by anyone…amateur or pro. Microstock images sell for a lot less…pennies sometimes, but the volume of sales can make up for that making it worthwhile for many people…myself included.
I have loads of images on my hard drive of people, places, my first pet etc. Would it be naive of me to think that it is as simple as uploading a load of pictures and waiting for the money to come in?
It’s not quite that simple but you may have some “hot sellers” within that lot but forget pets and flowers. In the beginning, new agencies would accept anything just to fill their libraries but these days it is a little harder as their libraries are filling up rapidly and the standards and quality levels are increasing. You need to research and find out what agencies want, what their criteria for quality is and also, and more importantly, what sells.
Is there much planning involved before taking pictures intended for stock?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I generally go out with my “stock head” on looking for various subjects in any given area such as London and I may plan ahead a little but mostly, I walk about looking for great shots “off the cuff”. On the other hand, and probably the best way to take shots that sell well is to plan. When setting aside a full day or two for stock, I will think of a theme, break it down into as many variations as I can and set up and shoot as many as possible.
What’s the basic kit that you need before going on a stock shoot?
A good DSLR with around 8-10 megapixels or more (more is better), a good quality lens (very important for stock) and a computer with some form of editing software to clone out or brush up certain aspects of an image to make it not only sellable but also “acceptable”.
There have been a number of articles written in magazines, and on-line, about the stock market being oversaturated with images of people shaking hands, or men and women in suits, for example. Do you think that this is the case, and should you have a strategy in place with regards to stock photography?
Some aspects are well overdone (or oversaturated) and people think by simply shooting those subjects they can make money. In some cases, and if you can better the existing images or add your own twist to them then yes, it can be done. I do have tips and strategies for being successful with shooting stock but if you want to know them you will have to read my book or join ATP Members ; )
All Things Photography and ATP Members
Tell us how you started ATP?
I was living in Spain shooting weddings and properties when the housing boom collapsed. This had a knock on effect and slowed down the wedding trade as the credit crunch kicked in. For a while, people stopped getting married abroad. I also lost the contract that I had shooting properties due to the real estate company hitting hard times so I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I decided to write…and write I did. For that first year, I studied and wrote 7 days a week and on many days, 15 hours a day, I offloaded everything I knew about photography onto a website and that is how it started.
Your site ATP ranks highly on Google, just doing a search on bounced flash ATP is #1, page 1. How many hits/visits do you receive per week?
There is a big difference between hits and visits. If I had a page with 10 images on it and you visited that single page, it would count as 11 hits…one for each image and one for the page itself. ATP receives around 7,500 visitors a day at the moment.
Did you ever think that you would become so successful?
No, it was a great surprise when I received my first “outside contact” and comments on the site in that first year…that spurred me on to write more and grow the business to where it is now.
You also have a members only site called ATP Members. What extras do you get when you subscribe?
The site is designed to either take an absolute beginner from “day one” of their photography journey and slowly increase their knowledge and skills, through to an existing professional who may want to break into wedding or stock photography. The “extras” I guess are the fact that I am at hand online most days to offer guidance, image critique and help in other ways such as getting your initial batch of stock images accepted with the agencies. You can learn about your DSLR and photography in general, stock photography, wedding photography and business training.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a web business?
Come and spend a day training with me!
I note that you use a company called Site Sell. What do you get when you sign up with them, as opposed to not using their excellent services?
Time and resources. I do build all aspects of the site myself using Dreamweaver but Sitesell do all the boring but necessary background grunt work such as pumping my site through the search engines. They also have an abundance of freely available and fantastic resources to make the journey easier.
Nick, thanks so much for taking the time to take part in this interview. For anyone interested in learning more about photography here are the links to ATP and ATP members.
Here are some examples of Nick’s wedding photography as well as what IS and what is NOT an image that would be accepted by an agency as stock.
::This is an image that is NOT a stock image
::The following images are examples of what ARE a stock image.
Examples of Nick’s wedding images.