In today’s SpotLight, we are excited to speak with Anna Nielsen about her experience as a photographer and photojournalist.
Share a little about your photography journey with us. How did you get to where you are?
I think my journey has in some ways been pretty straightforward, but it’s a tough industry and I have definitely questioned why I do this so many times and lost sight of it. But I think its all about keep moving even when you lose sight for a while.
My journey as a photographer started when I was around age 16, living at home in Denmark. I was really fascinated with James Nachtways photographs of war in Kosovo and other remote places that I knew nothing about. I just clearly remember how his images moved me and how that’s when I decided that I wanted to be a photojournalist.
I started by doing some photography courses in Kona and traveled to Egypt on a longer trip. I am not a very technical person and before my courses in Kona I had only developed black and white films in my little “darkroom”/ blacked out toilet at home. So learning how to use digital photography was new to me.
In Egypt, I was reaffirmed in my desire to travel and document stories. On that trip I mostly just took pictures of people. I practiced walking up to strangers in the street and getting permission to photograph them despite language barriers. It was also my first real trip to the Middle East.
Later on, I participated in one year long trip, traveling around the world with a team of photographers from India, and we ended up in Panama. The result was a collection of stories highlighting Human Trafficking and modern day slavery. It was a hectic experience, and although I became a better photographer and gained a lot of experience traveling and working in these countries I was frustrated that I did not have better journalistic skills.
I returned home to Denmark for a few months and got accepted into a university in England. For the next 3 years I worked on a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism. I learned to research and ask more critical questions, to tell stories in a more effective way while maintaining an important set of ethics. I also learned a lot from my peers who all pushed me to be better. A lot of them are internationally-recognized photographers today.
Finishing university was difficult. I had done well, and I graduated with a first and a lot of claps on the back, but I also felt the weight of other people’s high expectations and even more so I felt the loneliness of having left the learning environment and the camaraderie we had with each other during the course.
I returned to Denmark without much of a plan. I wanted to work on personal projects for a while and get them published but nothing happened. No one ever replied to my calls and emails, and no one looked at my work–it was a discouraging, uphill battle. I think I was a bit burned out and stressed about making a living as well. After a while, I had to take off my “photojournalist” identity and do whatever jobs I could get. I started photographing weddings in the summer and did non-profit work for NGO’s on the side in Egypt and other places. Don’t get me wrong, I like weddings, but it’s difficult to market and brand yourself as two things that are so vastly different.
I lived in Copenhagen at the time, which is a fairly expensive place with a very small photo industry, and after a year I decided to leave. Now I am based out of Dubai where I freelance for a national newspaper focusing on Emirati news and where I get more opportunities to work abroad.
Who inspires you and from where do you draw your inspiration?
I get inspired by many other photographers. Recently I did a workshop in Prague with Ron Haviv. That was really inspiring. He has experience and talent and sometimes you just need someone who is respected in the industry to look at your work and help you identify some of the things you’re doing right. After all, photographers are really good at being our own worst critics.
Besides that, I get inspired by traveling and picking up publications in different countries. Brown book, for instance, is a magazine based out of Dubai that offers completely different picture of the Middle East and North Africa than what most of us are used to, so I make sure to buy it every time I find it!
How do your concepts typically develop?
Usually my concepts are story based photo essays that generally follow the same formula.
For example, my graduation project was a case study of 3 young British girls who had converted to Islam. That was a long research process just to find them and convince them to be part of my essay. The inspiration for the project was a result of the political climate in the UK at the time and current affairs in general.
How do you plan for a shot?
I almost alway make a mind map, trying to sketch out all possible directions the project or shoot could go. I usually roughly know how I want it to look, including specific images I am after. But that’s not always the best idea. It all depends on the subject and the chemistry you have on the shoot. Sometimes I get really disappointed when I don’t get what I am after in my head.
It’s important to be prepared but not overly prepared. My equipment is very simplistic and usually the research and planning of the project is 80% of the work.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced in starting out in photojournalism?
The biggest challenge is definitely how saturated the job market is. Everyone is firing staff and you are working as a freelancer often with no one to ensure you or cover your expenses, especially when working abroad. I assisted a world famous photographer once, Jan Grarup, and he often said that if he had been a young photographer today he would have never started.
It is challenging because you really need to be able to sell yourself as much as your work. A lot of editors get flooded with work people send in, and they hardly look at it. You often need a personal connection with the editors so you can make yourself known to them. Networking is massive and that is the part I enjoy the least. There are so many talented photographers and someone is always willing to work for free to get ahead.
With the changes in the industry of course other opportunities are always opening up. A lot of people are crowdfunding and self-publishing for example. To really effectively reach someone with your work, you have to be extremely intentional with where to publish it and in what way. It is very difficult to make a living doing this, but it’s definitely possible.
What do you value about using fotoClient? If you don’t mind sharing, how has fotoClient helped you improve your workflow?
I started using fotoClient one summer when I was shooting a lot of weddings.
Weddings are hard work and if you are shooting all summer, you need to be really disciplined with sending out invoices and making sure you get everything done in the right order. fotoClient just simplified the process. Having everything gathered in one place–emails, calendar, reminders, invoices, etc. was a great help. I am not the most organized person so for me it was brilliant. I used to have yellow sticky notes all over my desk and walls to remember everyone’s addresses, deadlines and orders and now my desk is clean!
So all in all, fotoClient has just helped me simplify things and streamline my workflow. I spend less time on paperwork and more time on editing.
A huge thank you from the fotoClient team to Anna for sharing her experiences with us. Find more of Anna’s work at http://www.anna-nielsen.com/ and stay tuned to our blog for the next update from our amazing community of photographers.