Creative Lives — From wedding photography to football fans: Birmingham photographer Emma Case
Getting into photography was a particularly happy accident for performing arts graduate Emma Case. After being gifted a camera by her then-boyfriend, and being proposed to that same year, perhaps it was always inevitable that she would end up shooting weddings. Based in Birmingham, capturing weddings has been the duo’s full-time job for the past nine years. But on top of navigating the logistics that come with balancing a young family and travelling the world, Emma also runs her personal project, ‘RED’, which collects and visually documents fans and their memories of Liverpool Football Club, for whom her dad used to play. She tells us more about the project, the evolution of her own practice, and the realities of doing commercial shoots to support her personal work.
Actress; Support Worker; and Communication Support within the deaf community
HND, Performing Arts, Eastleigh College
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a photographer, working predominantly in weddings, and have been for the past nine years. It’s a full-time job for both myself and my husband Pete.
Our job is a real mixing pot. We photograph weddings but this is probably only 5% of what makes the job. Around shooting weddings, we are culling, editing, creating slideshows and albums, skyping our clients, designing and updating our websites, updating our social media, booking and planning travel and accommodation, packing and unpacking our equipment, emails, accounts and so much admin!
For the past six years, we’ve also been running our own workshops called ‘Welcome Home’. We also get invited to speak at a number of photography conferences around the world.
Other work around our weddings is pretty varied. I do a few commercial jobs and have worked with various companies including a bridal shoe designer, a French activity centre, Pineapple Dance Studios, a luxury B&B and an international development charity in Africa. I’m also currently working with an arts organisation called Multistory and producing a bi-monthly podcast called Sandwell Stories.
“Photography can sometimes be a bit of a lonely business. We’ve loved creating a community where we can support each other.”
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
I’m not sure I have a ‘typical’ day! If it’s an editing or admin day, I’m usually at home in our office trying to cram in as much as I can whilst Frank (our son) is at nursery. Some days I might have a meeting or a shoot. but it never really feels like there’s enough time to do it all.
I try and arrange tasks in order of priority and give myself a break from a big edit by working on something else for an hour. I also try to listen to my natural working rhythm; sometimes I find myself editing better at night, for example. The best thing I’ve bought for organising my time is a weekly planner. Breaking jobs into smaller chunks and spreading them across a whole week helps to take the pressure off.
How collaborative is your role?
Within the business, both me and my husband work together but have our own roles. We both shoot on a wedding day but I tend to do all the other shoots, editing, website design, and social media. Pete then takes care of all the logistics, travel, bookings, equipment, and accounts.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I feel extremely lucky to be doing this job. The most enjoyable part is when you get to be creative: shooting a wedding, collaborating with a client to create a vision, designing our websites and building a project from scratch. I also love doing our workshops and getting to share ideas and bring people together.
Over the years we’ve found that photography can sometimes be a bit of a lonely business. And with social media, comparison and feeling not good enough, it’s often something that can be hard to shake. We’ve loved creating a community of photographers where we are able to share and be honest with how we feel and be there to support each other.
“I think some might mistake being professional with having to be formal. We want everyone we work with to feel listened to.”
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I’m loving working with Multistory. They commissioned me to create a bi-monthly podcast called Sandwell Stories and working with audio is something that I’ve never done before. Our first episode was about West Bromwich indoor market and getting to know some of the traders. I’m also pushing myself to shoot medium format portraits alongside the podcast, and am hoping to create a small exhibition at the end.
What skills would you say are essential to your job?
People skills, people skills, people skills. Everything about our job is about people. I think some might mistake being professional with having to be formal. We want everyone we work with to feel totally comfortable and to feel listened to. We care deeply about everyone we work with, and want to produce work that comes from the heart.
Also on a practical note, I think being organised and being able to ‘run’ a business are also important. I can truthfully say that this is not our strong point, but we are learning as we go and making plenty of mistakes along the way.
What do you like about working in Birmingham?
Birmingham is a great hub of creative talent, and we have so many friends in the area doing amazing projects, so the opportunities to collaborate with or recommend others are wonderful. Also in terms of location, we’re pretty much in the middle so can get around pretty easily and we also have a decent airport too.
Are you currently working on any personal projects?
For the past year I’ve been working on a personal project called RED. My father was a professional football player and played for Liverpool Football Club in the ’70s. It started as a small photography project, where I would head up to Anfield and take portraits of fans before a game. But it’s now turned into something much bigger.
I started taking down short anecdotes from the fans alongside their portraits, and sharing them on social media; and began looking at ways to make the project more collaborative and community-based. I thought of creating a pop-up exhibition which would be taken to spaces around Anfield, such as supporter clubs and pubs.
I then came across another project in the Black Country called Living Memory Project which asked members of the public to upload their own personal photos. This was a real turning point. I then set up an upload facility on the RED website, and I’m now building a photo archive of supporter’s photos. This has grown and I am now visiting fans in their homes to take their portraits and interview them, which also appear on the website as audio interviews.
I’m now in talks with a social housing association and the charity Sporting Memories to create a bespoke ‘Down Memory Lane’ workshop for elderly care and Dementia homes where we share their own personal photos and stories from supporting Liverpool.
The project is getting bigger, but to do it justice I really need to dedicate more time to it. I am currently working on a kickstarter campaign to create a touring pop-up exhibition and book with interviews, portraits and old photographs from fans.
It’s been a wonderfully organic project, and surprises me every day. It is something I feel deeply passionate about, and although I am stepping in to the history of the fans, I’m also stepping in to my own history and I’m really enjoying the process.
RED portraits – Christopher Wood
What tools do you use most for your work?
Canon 5D MKIIIs; Canon 35mm 1.4; Sigma 35mm 1.4; Canon 85mm 1.2; Canon 85mm 1.8; Canon 24mm; Canon 17-24mm; Canon 50mm; Pentax67; Mamiya645; Canon Ae1; Polaroid SX-70; Yashica MAT
Lightroom for editing; Photoshop for design; ShootProof for client galleries; Smartslides for client slideshows; Studio Ninja for client admin software; Audition for audio editing; Squarespace; BlogStomp for creating blog posts; and JPEG Mini for reducing jpeg size.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to be an actress or a police woman, so I thought an acting job in a police drama would pretty much cover all bases. I was always interested in art and drama, but photography was something I didn’t find until much later.
How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
With my Dad playing football, I think I’ve always been exposed to the option of having a job that was something you loved doing. Looking back, it showed me that any job was possible. My parents were always supportive, but more in a passive way. I think they found it difficult to keep up with what I was doing (and still do now) but this has given me quite a lot of freedom. I was never under any pressure, but I was also not trying to prove anything either.
“I’ve never wanted to box myself in to one thing. I’m just deeply curious about how things work, how people react, how we connect.”
How useful have your studies been in your career?
I studied drama, and as part of the course we had to create a theatre company and take it on tour. We had to organise all the logistics, bookings, marketing and so on. I did do this for a number of years professionally, but this is pretty much what my job entails as a photographer too.
I always remember a piece of advice from my tutor at college, when we were designing a theatre set. She said: “Put it all in. Go for your bucket list and put everything in there, regardless of your budget. If you want real snow and flying beds, put it in. Then work backwards and see how you can achieve it with what you’ve got.” This has always stuck with me, and I now write down a dream scenario for any project. Funnily enough, sometimes you do get the real snow and flying beds.
After graduating (or first starting out), what were your initial steps?
Photography was a complete happy accident. Pete (my husband) bought me a DSLR one Christmas and proposed the same year. I began taking photos, started a blog and then a friend was getting married and asked if I would shoot the wedding.
After that, we were booked up for the next 18 months without having officially started a business. But we learnt on the job. Each wedding we shot was featured on a wedding blog and it grew from there. On one hand, it was amazing to have so much free publicity and we grew a really loyal and supportive following, but we didn’t really have any idea how to price ourselves, so financially it was quite a struggle for the first couple of years.
“The constant challenge is trying to do the job we love, making it work financially and being able to maintain some kind of work-life balance.”
Has there been a project that particularly helped your development?
When I first started out, I documented my journey into photography on a blog. I started to get emails from other photographers either asking questions or just saying that they felt the same way about certain things. I would always reply (I’ve been on the other end where you send an email and you don’t get a reply, and it sucks). I ended up chatting over email with a lady from New Zealand, and a few years later, that same photographer set up a photography retreat and invited me and Pete over to speak there. We have now been over three times and consider A Bit More Soul as our family. This chance connection completely changed our whole world and opened up a whole new community in a different country and we are so grateful.
What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
Mistakes are likely to slip in when you’re tired or when finances are tight and you say yes to too many things or to a quote that’s too low. But the constant challenge is trying to do the job we love, making it work financially and being able to maintain some kind of work-life balance.
What would you like to do next?
I’d love to spend next year concentrating more on my RED project and I’m excited to be working on more podcasts. We are also about to launch our own print shop and greeting cards featuring photographs from our collection. At some point we’d love to have another baby too!
Could you do this job forever?
I think my job will always involve photography in some form, but right now we’re happy with the mixture of weddings, and other projects. I’ve never wanted to box myself in to one thing. I realise that I’m just deeply curious about how things work, how people react, how we connect. I’ve heard many documentary photographers talk about their ‘practice’ and if I’m honest, it’s not a term I’d really heard before. Do I have a ‘practice’? Can your ‘practice’ spread across different genres of photography? I look at my own work and I see the same questions.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
I would say just go for it! If you’re passionate about something, enjoy learning as much as you can and never be afraid of not being good enough. We’re all learning by doing it. Also be bloody nice to people. Genuinely give a shit about others in your community, the people that you’re working with or for. Take time to reply and to talk to people. Listen to what others are doing and what they’ve got to say.
Find your voice. What do you want to say? What are you curious about? Your likes, your dislikes, your past, your present – everything has a part to play in who you are and how you see the world. There are so many influences right now that can suffocate your voice: social media, trends. Your voice is your greatest asset, make sure to nurture and protect it.