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Archive for February 2011



Interview: Gareth Byrne, President of the IPPA

“I like shiny things,” Gareth Byrne admits, sitting in one of the armchairs in the bar of the Red Cow Moran Hotel on the outskirts of Dublin.

Gareth Byrne: "You have to give your clients something they cannot do without"

When he was a teenager, the shiny thing he coveted most was an OM-series Olympus camera – the kind he saw advertised in National Geographic. Its form was to him far more important than its function.

Many photographers will admit to the same: gear before God, country and family.

His outlook changed after he was given an OM-2 for his 15th birthday. Not enthusiastic to pursue an academic career after he finished school, it occurred to him that photography might be a way into the workplace. So he started to pull together a portfolio to get into the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art Design & Technology. Taking his characteristically meticulous approach, it took him two years.

At the same time he joined the Photographic Society of Ireland, where he met former IPPA President Gerry O’Leary, then a jobbing pro who also taught beginners, now one of the big names in the world of architectural photography.

“Gerry was very encouraging,” Gareth remembers, adding that he gave him his first taste of professional photography as an assistant on wedding shoots.

After college, Gareth went to work with Barry Mason. “Barry had the first purely architectural photography business in Ireland. Everyone else copied his business model,” Gareth says.

And it was about the business of photography that he learned most in the 18 months he was with Barry. “He explained VAT returns, 30-days payment terms. I became an expert on administration and presentation skills,” Gareth recalls.

He pauses here for a moment, and then says: “That’s where a lot of photographers miss out. They don’t present themselves as well as their work.”

Taking a leaf out of Barry’s book when he left to strike out on his own, Gareth tapped into a market not being served by professional photography: residential lettings, sales and management. This was partly out of necessity. Only 20 years old at the time and working from his bedroom, he lacked the stature to pull in the big architectural jobs he wanted.

“So I diversified and started getting big residential clients that nobody else was serving, which in turn eventually allowed me to pitch for architectural work,” he says.

The Black Box Theatre - (c) Gareth Byrne

It was the right move at the right time. Ireland was well on the way to changing from economic cub to tiger, and the building sector was thriving. Gareth remembers not having enough hours in the day between 2002 and 2008.

In that time he also joined the IPPA, and swiftly slipped through the distinction gears, earning his Fellowship by 2008, along with a raft of domestic and overseas awards for his work.

Then came the economic slump, which has bitten architectural photographers hard.

How has he coped?

“By being extremely cautious in outgoings and expenditures. When things went wrong in 2008, I paid off or got rid of any expenses that were draining money from the account. They practically amounted to a salary,” he says.

Having curbed his outgoings, he set about ensuring those clients that were still standing stayed with him. “Without customers, you don’t have a business. Always try to exceed your customers’ expectations. Never give them something that they could produced themselves. You have to offer them something that they 1000% can’t do without. Your photographs have to make them money,” he councils.

He also stresses the need for photographers to recognize that when they are shooting for a client, they are representing that client’s brand. Everything the photographer does onsite reflects on the client. “Clients use me because I am rock-solid reliable and I fit into their team.”

As a result, he has a small but robust and loyal pool of clients who keep his business ticking over.

He also submits work from commercial commissions to online stock photo library Alamy, which earns him the equivalent of a modest annual salary.

Gareth is keen to impress upon fellow professionals the need to be proactive, especially in the current business climate: “You have to go out and pick the fruit from the tree. It doesn’t come to you.”

Being proactive can be as simple as sending out a well-targeted Christmas message. “My message this past Christmas led to six jobs,” he explains. “It reminded people that I was still there.”

Gareth is also seeing that some construction-related businesses are commissioning more photography. “While architectural practices are struggling, building contractors are buying photography. They are tendering for state capital projects and they need photographs to support their applications. They don’t necessarily want photography, but they need it,” he says.

It’s a thought that all professional photographers should consider: what does the market need?

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