Creative Lives — “Learn your craft and find your individual voice”: Meet photographer Hollie Fernando
A year into her degree, London-based photographer and director Hollie Fernando dropped out, choosing to venture into the industry by assisting and learning on-the-go – “[it’s] such a better way to learn your craft and find your individual voice,” she says. After working at a local photography studio and taking the plunge as a full-time freelancer, Hollie now boasts an impressive portfolio filled with commercial and personal projects, with a client list ranging from Vice, Adidas, Rolling Stone, The Telegraph and Warner Music. We caught up with Hollie to find out more about her transition into freelancing, how she juggles her finances and the importance of finding your style in an increasingly competitive industry.
Rolling Stone, Vice, Adidas, The Telegraph, The Observer, Universal Music, Warner Music, RA
Photographer and Retoucher, Julia Boggio Studios (2011-2014)
BA Photography, Portsmouth University
How would you describe what you do?
I am predominantly a portrait photographer, working across the music, fashion and commercial advertising industries. My clients include big music labels such as Universal, magazines such as The Telegraph and Rolling Stone, plus commercial clients such as Adidas.
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
Every day is different for me, and it depends on what I have on that week. If I have a shoot coming up I will be prepping for that, and after the shoot I will be selecting and retouching. On other days, there are lots of meetings with my portfolio – showing clients what I’ve have been up to and meeting them face-to-face to build relationships.
“It can be hard to find time to shoot personal work in-between commercial briefs, which can get you down.”
How collaborative is your role?
Extremely. I work very closely with whoever my client is to bring their vision to life, as well as with my subject – connecting and working together to create a great photograph that we both love.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
When you are busy it can be very hard to find time for yourself; I consciously make time to relax and exercise, otherwise I’d be on shoots or stooped at my desk the whole time. It can also be hard to find time to shoot fulfilling personal work in-between commercial briefs, which can get you down. But it is so different every month. I take it as it comes.
Hollie’s personal project from 2018
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
One that I’m allowed to talk about is a 16-page winter special for Chanel and Exit Magazine, where we shot in the Dolomites in July! It was so fun and surreal. It comes out in September.
What skills would you say are essential to your job?
What do you like about working in London?
Life goes at a million miles an hour and you get to meet so many different people. The possibilities are endless.
Hollie’s personal project from 2014
Hollie’s personal project from 2014
Hollie’s personal project from 2014
Are you currently working on any personal projects? If so, how do you manage your time alongside other work?
At the moment, I am working on something to do with the stigma and lack of support around male mental health. However, I’ve had such a busy summer it’s been put on the back burner a bit – it’s hard to prioritise personal work over paid work.
What tools do you use most for your work?
I use a camera for taking photos, an enlarger for hand printing images, a Macbook for emails, organisation and writing, an iMac for scanning and editing, and then Photoshop for retouching.
Is there a resource that has particularly helped you? And which you would recommend to someone else?
Photo Meet is a great event for young photographers. It has such a friendly, non-judgmental atmosphere where everyone is so supportive of each other – I really love it. I also love The Photographer’s Playbook for sparking ideas.
Work for Lazy Oaf SS19, 2019
Work for Lazy Oaf SS19, 2019
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
A chef, until I picked up a camera and wanted to become a photographer.
How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
I have a very supportive, relaxed and wacky family network, so being a photographer and taking a creative path was very easy and supported.
Did you study at degree level and if so, do you feel you need a formal education for what you do?
I went to university for a year and then dropped out – I felt I wasn’t learning anything in comparison to what I did at A-Level. I think for photography, a degree is not important in the slightest. Personally, getting out there, assisting and teaching yourself is such a better way to learn your craft and find your individual voice. Instead, put the money towards something else like equipment. There are so many people who would want to help you along the way, but any form of art is your own personal journey – just start as soon as you can.
“Getting out there, assisting and teaching yourself is such a better way to learn your craft.”
After graduating, what were your initial jobs and steps? Did you find your feet quickly?
After dropping out of university, I went on to shoot as much as I could and found assisting work. I managed to get a job at a local photography studio and was trained in studio set-ups, lighting and retouching – and, most importantly, how to talk to subjects and clients, which has been so valuable in my career. I spent three years there – the same amount of time as a degree – and came out with so much more experience. I also saved my paycheques to buy some new equipment, and I was on my way as a freelancer.
Hollie’s year-long project, 12
Would you say you ever experienced a lucky break?
I think you make your own luck by working really hard. As does every freelance photographer, I go through ups-and-downs – both mentally and with work coming in. You can get a really great job in and think that’s luck, but actually you have worked hard prior to that and shown you can do something, which is why they hire you. Stay true to what you think you should be doing and working on, then your luck will come in lots of forms.
Has there been a project that particularly helped your development?
A project of mine that helped with my development was a year-long documentation of my younger brother’s transition into adulthood, called 12. I had never photographed anything so real and close to home, so I found the response quite shocking – I couldn’t believe how many people could deeply relate to something so personal to someone else. It made me think very differently about what I wanted to photograph.
“Stay true to what you think you should be doing and working on, then your luck will come in lots of forms.”
What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
I’ve experienced a few moments where I’ve felt that I haven’t been good enough, where work wasn’t coming in and I felt like giving up. There are so many photographers doing the same thing in the same city, that it can feel quite competitive at times. This is a vicious circle as you start to look to your peers to see what they are doing, compare yourself and even emulate them – you might believe this is going to change your success, but it will do the opposite. You’ll feel shit about your work and you won’t be making true art that is from you – it will feel empty and meaningless and you’ll be even further away from where you want to be.
I have learnt to never compare myself or what I am doing to other photographers, as not only does it taint what I have worked so hard to create as my style, but mentally it isn’t healthy and therefore I don’t produce anything beautiful.
Barns Courtney for Universal
What would you say are the biggest challenges associated with being freelance, and how do you deal with these?
The biggest challenges are definitely time management and inconsistency of income. I am still working on how to deal with these issues – it helps to save as much as you can so that you are covered if there’s a quiet month. I’m also trying to block out time to unwind and fit in personal work.
What have been your biggest learnings with making money as a creative?
One big revelation to me was learning my worth. There was a point where I took on lots of smaller paid jobs and, not only was it was taking up so much of my time, but the people who were willing to pay you only £150 for a shoot normally had completely unrealistic expectations of a photographer. I would find myself in positions that weren’t worth the fee. Once I set my rates up, I obviously lost a few of these smaller jobs, yet the jobs that I did end up taking on not only treated me a bit better – as they knew what workload I would undergo as a photographer – but they also gave me a bit more time to play with too.
How important have you found social media and self-promotion in your work?
Social media has been fantastic as a platform to connect and present your work, and a lot of the brands I work with are very present on social media, so they will find me on there rather than through my website. However, the negative aspects of social media comes with comparing yourself to other people’s perfectly curated careers, as well as trying to be seen amongst the hundreds and thousands of other freelance photographers working hard just like you.
Also, the likes and algorithms depict how you feel about your work, which is a shame. It’s become more about how much other people like your work rather than how much you like it, which I have definitely had to work hard to care less about.
Our Girl Artwork, 2018, Cannibal
What would you like to do next?
I’m aiming to have another long-term personal project underway by the end of the year, which means I would have succeeded in perfect time management! And in life, I’d like to get my own place and finally move out of my parent’s loft!
Could you do this job forever?
I can definitely see myself taking photographs forever, but less so the fast-paced competitive city-life of an advertising photographer. When I’m much older, I can see myself moving more into the art world and putting on exhibitions and making photo books while tending to my chickens and vegetables in the countryside somewhere.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
For the music world, I always tell people to reach out to anyone you like the work of and offer your services. I started getting more work in music after shooting for local magazines and blogs – mainly for experience and not cash, which we’ve all got to do it at some point – which landed me some portrait sessions with some really big artists that I would definitely not have had the chance to meet otherwise. It’s a great way to build up your portfolio. Festivals are also great to shoot as you can meet a lot of brands, and there are people from all walks of life that make great portraits.
For more project-based work, look close to home and at your own life. It is unique to you and you will be able to capture this with a feeling nobody else could – this will shine through your work. But regardless of whatever path of photography, the main thing is to never stop shooting. Your style will change and evolve as you learn from mistakes and find your voice; you will break through and create art that you, and only you, will be known for.