Hey guys and welcome to another episode of Make Your Break! Today I’m thrilled to be talking to Western Australia wedding photographer James Simmons. He’s an incredible artist with many awards to his name; our paths have crossed before at workshops, but I can’t wait to talk to him in-depth on the podcast!
James got interested in photography when he was living (and surfing) down in the South-West. He took a lot of shots of friends out on the waves and the competitive nature of capturing the best shot hooked him. His mother was also a photography teacher, so he was familiar with the process and intrigued by the magic of the dark room.
Unfortunately, James made the wrong kind of break when he snapped his arm in two while surfing. While in rehab, he couldn’t do manual labour, so he went back to college and studied film and photography. He cut his teeth with an apprenticeship at a wedding portrait studio. It was here that he started to figure out what he liked and didn’t like about photography; he combined the arts-based approach from Uni with the more commercially driven angle he picked up at the studio.
He spent five years in the studio while psyching himself up for a solo career as a wedding photographer. He started booking his own gigs and eventually took off on his own, utilising all the knowledge he’d picked up.
James found that the most exciting part of setting up his business was the branding and strategy side. For me, I’ve started so many businesses and I agree with James; the first two years are always the most exhilarating. You have to be able to have fun with that kind of stuff, otherwise fear will stop you doing anything.
I’m friends with some of the best wedding photographers in the world, and I’ve found that everyone at that level doesn’t mind failing. They treat their careers almost like a game, allowing themselves to get creative and playing with their work. James agrees that this is an important thing to do in order to drive creativity. You have to let your imagination run wild. That’s the point where we start to get curious and interested in asking questions. You can’t reach this level without a fair bit of acceptance of failure. You have to keep it fun.
When you’re having a good time, you don’t worry about things so much. You’re freer in the moment and happy to be part of the process. You’re not concerned with the ultimate result, you enjoy the craft moment-to-moment. On a wedding, there can be stressful moments when you have to capture something crucial, of course. But overall, James thinks that allowing yourself to play leaves you open to more options and unique results.
A lot of people always ask me how I learned to do certain things, but I’m always playing with things; I don’t do it unless it’s fun. I only do what’s fun in both business and wedding photography. When it comes to wedding photography James Simmons agrees. You’ve got to accentuate the positive parts of the job and find shortcuts through the things you don’t enjoy. For example, when he started out, James only had one 50mm prime lens. While that might seem like a restriction, James turned it into a strength by getting creative with it. Even though he now has a wide choice of lenses, he still finds himself going back to the 50mm for a large majority of his work.
I love that James describes this as taking away the complication. I often find that business owners over-complicate things unnecessarily. But what people don’t realise is that I love restrictions. The more that I put myself in a small box, the more creative I become. This applies to both my photography and my business. James thinks that simplifying things is the key. Just the other week, James got together with a few friends, hung out and took some shots with whatever gear they had to hand. He really enjoyed having that freedom.
I wondered if James had any tips on how to get more creative. For myself, I find that giving myself the space to think helps me come up with new ideas. The less that I do, the more I think. But if I’m working all the time, I don’t have the required space to make the impact I want to make. James finds that he’s struggled to pursue an idea because he wanted it to ‘mean something’. But he realised recently that you just have to start. The creativity comes from the process. As you start working, a lot of those concepts manifest themselves naturally.
I think that’s so true. As soon as I get to work, ideas come and things just happen. There’s no point waiting for creativity to strike, as it won’t happen every day. You’ve just got to get on with it and allow yourself to be open to inspiration and ideas as you move through the process. James thinks the same is true for business; once he gets started on the task, it can spur on other ideas. I also think that it’s important to hang out with people on the same wavelength as you. I just did a mentor session with a family photographer; at the end of it I was amazed at the amount of ideas we both came up with together that we would never have come up with on our own.
Giving yourself the space to reset your mind is crucial for both your business and your craft. I’ve found that the more time I’ve taken off, the more money I’ve made and the more people I’ve impacted. Even during this pandemic, I’ve made more money and connected with more people than I ever have in my life. James agrees and thinks it’s important to get that kind of clarity about your business and life in general. I take an hour walk everyday to try and organise my thoughts. I’m such a big believer in taking the time to focus on your thoughts and unlocking the potential to get what you want. It’s all in there; you just have to organise it the right way.
I remember James once told me he’d like to start his own James Simmons brewery some day. As he mentioned an upcoming photography project with a brewery, I thought I’d ask if he was still keeping the dream alive. He could easily transfer the entrepreneurial skills he’s learnt over the years to another business. James would never say never, but he views brewing (and drinking) beer as more of a hobby at this stage. He thinks he needs the right contacts before launching that kind of business, but he loves doing it as a hobby.
Starting over in another business is scary, just as starting in the photography business was scary at the beginning. But once you educate yourself and figure out all the details, it becomes a lot less intimidating. At the moment, James is still pushing his photography business as far as it can go. In this pandemic downtime he’s focusing on revamping his James Simmons wedding photography branding and creating more content. He wants to create a website that can add value for clients, offering them info and tips around weddings. He’s also keeping a close eye on how the wedding industry is evolving during the course of the pandemic, and how that might play out into the future. For example, as weddings get smaller, photographers might have to shoot two or three weddings on a weekend as opposed to one big one.
Even though the landscape is changing, you just have to figure out how to add value and be the first to do it. In the end, it’s all playing; you have to figure out how to make the best of the situation instead of dwelling on the negatives.
I want to say a huge thank you to James Simmons for coming on the podcast and chatting with me. If you’re interested in seeing more of James’ work or want to ask him any questions, you can check out his website, Instagram and Facebook.
Thank you so much for listening guys; please take the time to leave a review if you enjoyed this podcast, I’d really appreciate it. I’ll see you next episode!
This episode is brought to you by the guys over at PepperStorm, an awesome copywriting team who I have used across all my businesses for years. If you need some killer copywriting, get in touch and use the code: MAKEYOURBREAK to get $100 off when you buy one of their packages.