It’s one of the most fundamental questions for creatives: how do you go from your day-job to making a full-time living out of your art?
For filmmaker Victoria Grech, that transition was between investment banking and film. Now, she’s a global authority on the subject. She speaks at international photography and film shows, has authored books on the subject, and has hosted live streams for hundreds of thousands of people.
This year, Victoria is appearing at The Photography Show 2019, the UK’s most prestigious photography exhibition held at Birmingham’s NEC. For the first time, they’re hosting a parallel Video Show over the same dates – where Victoria will be speaking.
Ahead of her appearance at The Video Show, we spoke to Victoria about escaping the nine-to-five, choosing between photography and film, and why going pro is just the start.
So what would advice would Victoria gives those who want to change career and become photographers or filmmakers?
‘Tell them not to do it!’ she laughs.
Victoria admits that she came to photography and film very late. ‘I worked in my Dad’s business, but I didn’t want to take over as it would be too stressful. I never considered photography and I hardly ever picked up a camera’
So how did she get into it?
‘I was in Africa on holiday’ Victoria reminisces, ‘and I don’t think I even had a camera with me. A friend said, ‘You need to get a DSLR’ and I didn’t even know what that was. But from the first photo I took, I knew I wanted to spend my life taking photos. It just reawoke something creative in me’
Victoria quickly fell in love with her camera, and went from her banking job to freelance photography within two years. How did she make the transition so fast?
‘I definitely have an entrepreneurial side, from working with my dad’ says Victoria. ‘After working in the corporate world for so long, I wanted to do something different and creative. Photography allowed me to do that, while also challenging my business skills’
Talking to Victoria, it’s not hard to see why she succeed. Confident, personable and authentic, she comes across as someone not afraid to test herself. Naturally enough, photography was a real challenge, and Victoria found herself fighting to improve.
‘I was doing it the hard way, and failing. I thought, there must be an easier way’ she said.
Nowadays, Victoria is known as a film guru. The transition between the two, she explains, was as tricky as the one from banking into photography.
‘Going into film from photography took a different mindset – photos you’re just taking a snapshot. You have to capture a nanosecond. Whereas as a filmmaker, you need much more footage. It made me fall in love again creatively – film reignited my passion for telling a story. A photo is very voyeuristic: you take an image and people look into images, film is more about taking people on a journey, putting them into a story’
Whether you’re attracted to film or photography is a matter of personality, Victoria suggests. Both demand precision, skill, and patience, but in diverse ways. The stronger propensity for storytelling pulled her toward film.
‘I can make people feel uneasy, scared, happy, or adventurous, just by the way the camera is moving – it’s to do with the psychology behind the camerawork ‘ she says, her voice speeding up with enthusiasm ‘And that’s one of the things I’ll be talking about at the Photography Show’ she adds.
The Photography Show has invited Victoria before. In 2014, she was invited to speak – an opportunity she eagerly accepted. And with The Video Show’s debut this year, she’s even more excited to be going back.
‘I loved The Photography Show, and when I was told that there would finally be a video show I was even more excited. But five years ago, when I was first invited, there was almost no video presence: I was doing sessions on DSLR filming but there was no equipment for sale or support there’ she explains.
This year, it will be different. Running alongside The Photography Show, The Video Show will host 11 different stages, ranging from wildlife filming to drone shooting and wedding masterclasses. Grech, as it happens, will be talking at a number of different stages.
‘I’m doing twelve talks across four days!’ she laughs.
Still, one of her most consistent themes is marketing. Victoria argues that there’s too much emphasis on kit and tech, and not enough on how to position yourself in the crowded world of photography and film.
‘It used to be all about where to buy kit’ Victoria recalls. ‘But at The Photography Show, you learn from seminars, and people come to realise that it’s not all about kit. Getting the new lens won’t make you more money or make you a better shooter’
Her time in investment banking taught her the importance of having and implementing a business strategy. Victoria attributes part of her rapid rise to her understanding of branding.
‘In the creative industries there’s a lack of focus on commercial skills’ she says. ‘Other than the masterclasses, everything is about shoots – but there’s so much more to being a business than knowing how to shoot’
Since Victoria is one of few people offering advice on how to brand yourself, she’s receiving a disproportionate amount of attention. Clearly, there’s a big appetite for learning the business skills behind the camera.
‘I’m touching on the marketing, and it’s sticking out. I’m interested to see who shows up to those talks, because it shows a different mindset. Many photographers and videographers don’t develop self-marketing, because most of their work involves following instructions on clients.’
So should aspiring photographers and filmmakers spend more time on branding?
‘Photographers get caught up in how much they sell their 8×10 for’ she begins. ‘Sure, it’s about taking good photo and video, but if you can’t market or brand yourself you get stuck in the business’
Without skillful branding, Victoria suggests, you probably won’t be able to fulfil your potential.
‘A lot of creatives struggle with the branding store, and they don’t get as much out of their career as they should’ she says.
‘I’ll be talking to students about what to expect once you come out of film school. Everyone wants to be on a feature film, but as with anything commercial and creative it’s fiercely competitive. I’ll be talking about how to market and get your foot in the door and sell your unique style, rather than just shooting like everyone else’
So now that we’re back on the subject, what would she really tell those wanting to make the transition into photography and film?
She laughs. ‘Get a coach or a mentor! When I left my job, I couldn’t wait to be in control and have no one tell me what to do. But for years I was used to someone telling me what to do, so without that I got nothing done. On the business side, instead of trying to figure it out on your own find someone you respect in the industry to help you along. It’s a long and hard road – so find someone you love and ask for help. It’ll save you a lot of time.’
Victoria Grech will be speaking across The Photography Show and The Video Show, held concurrently at Birmingham’s NEC, from 16-19 March
Victoria’s talks include: