InMyBag People: Rebecca Marshall
We chat to the highly regarded freelance editoroial photographer based in the South of France about her mobile life.
How did you get into your profession?
I started my career in communications, and worked in various roles at an online learning company, in local government and then in the charity sector. Photography has been a passion since I was young, and my ability and enthusiasm for it was recognised by my employer when I was working as a communication officer for an international charity, based in central Asia. My line manager asked me if I would like to include taking photos of project beneficiaries in a new role, to provide pictures for marketing material back home. I jumped at the chance.
When I quit this job some time later, I decided that I wanted to dedicate myself to photography full time at last. I took a summer course in photography, did some assisting and pored my way through a pile of books. My first commission as a freelancer was for a friend who was working for a small charity in the UK. He took a chance on hiring me to take the pictures for the charity’s annual report. It went swimmingly and I thought “yes, I have found exactly what it is I want to do!”. That was 10 years ago and I have never looked back.
What sort of clients do you work with?
The majority of my clients today are international newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Sunday Times Magazine & Stern, for whom I shoot editorial portraits and features. I also do PR & marketing photography for a number of large companies like Airbnb, Siemens and ITV. Sometimes I am still commissioned by charities, and I also work for book publishers, as well as a few private clients from time to time.
What’s in your (professional) bag?
In terms of photography equipment, the most simple set of equipment I will take with me is a Canon 5D III, a range of lenses, a speedlight flash, umbrella and radio transmitters. I always carry backup with me though, too: a second camera body, flash, extra batteries and memory cards. You never know when equipment might let you down, and in the middle of a high pressure shoot, I can’t afford to say ‘sorry, I can’t take any pictures, my camera has failed’.
For on-location portrait shoots, I tend to take more extensive equipment though, including Elinchrom studio flashes, tripods, light modifiers and a large battery pack to fire the flashes without needing to be plugged into the mains. On some of these shoots, I may need to download the pictures as they are shot from the camera direct onto my Macbook Air for quick delivery, so in this case I would carry computer equipment with me too.
Not forgetting my iPhone, wallet, keys and a snack of course…my bags are not light!
What lesson have you learnt the hard way?
I’ve faced plenty of challenging situations along the way and don’t regret any mistakes: they are the surest way of learning lessons for good. One of these was not to try to cut corners by buying cheap memory cards for my camera. It was early on in my career and I had bought a couple of CompactFlash cards at the bottom end of the available price range.
I spent a whole day taking pictures for a client, a small charity, who had spent much time beforehand making sure that their project workers and beneficiaries would be available that day. It had been hard work, but gone well and I was happy. Until, on the train on the way home, I tried to download the images from the card. ‘Error: card corrupted’ was the message. I didn’t have a single photograph to show from the job.
But was one of my first commissions and I simply couldn’t fail, and let my client down. So I used the services of a data recovery company who fortunately was able to break into the card and recover the files: but I ended up paying them twice what I earned to do the job. Ever since, I’ve bought top-of-the-range memory cards. Once, one of these has still failed on me, but the cards come with their own recovery software so in that case I was able to rescue the data myself.
What’s are the best and worst things about your profession?
The best thing for me about being a professional photographer is the freedom I have and the incredible range of people and situations that I get to meet and experience. From following truffle hunters at work in the snow in the Alps to taking a portrait of an Olympic cycling champion in his living room: no two days are the same.
I can’t say there is a ‘worst thing’ as such. There are many challenges, such as that of having to, in addition to the photography, manage everything that’s not photography myself (negotiating contracts, financial admin, editing pictures, marketing, IT, logistics) or handle difficult subjects and conditions on an assignment. But nothing’s ever perfect and I like a challenge!
What advice would you give people trying to make their way in your profession?
Be sure that earning your living as a photographer is really what you want, and that developing your own photography in your free time isn’t enough. Photography is not an easy industry to break into and survive in, especially today. In our digital times, income models in the editorial market especially are tougher than they have ever been, as there are more and more photographers, and prices are driven down, all the while that copyright demands are increased.
But if you are determined and prepared to accept the sacrifices that will likely go with your choice, especially in the beginning, then go for it. Work hard and be critical of yourself. Make sure you understand how copyright law works and use it as your ally. Join an association like the AOP or EPUK for advice and professional development. Buy good quality equipment, and build up your kit over time, as you need it. And always, always listen to your clients…
What is the most indispensable tool of your trade?
My main camera, a Canon 5D III.
Who inspires you and why?
I can’t name only one person: people inspire me on a very regular basis. When I take a portrait, I often feel very inspired by the subject I am shooting: whether they are a single working parent or a well-known film director. Portraiture for me is about making a connection with a subject and, in a short space of time, capturing their strength and their uniqueness. Everyone has something inspiring about them — and that’s what I set out to find.
Sashimi, only the very best….
Best book that not enough people know about?
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (but maybe a lot of people know about that…?)
Where can we find out more about you?
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