Take yourself seriously - Photographer Natalie Field

If you don't take yourself seriously, why would your clients?

South African photographer and digital artist Natalie chats about making connections, passion projects, hiring other freelancers, expanding her services and wrestling with being a workaholic learning when to say 'no'.

More from Natalie

Natalie on Twitter

Natalie's site

Useful links

SAFREA - South African Freelancers' Association


Who the hell is Steve Folland?

Steve's a freelancer helping businesses use and make video & audio content in much better ways. Find out more at stevefolland.com, track him down on Twitter @sfolland or lay a trail of cake and he'll eventually catch you up.

Check out Steve's Being Freelance Vlog that documents his weekly wanderings and wonderings as a freelancer.


Steve Folland:    Hey, how you doing? I'm Steve Folland. Thanks for listening. This time, let's find out what it's like Being Freelance from photographer Natalie Field. Hey, Natalie.

Natalie Field:    Hi, Steve.

Steve Folland:    Let's hear how you got started being freelance. How have you ended up where you are today?

Natalie Field:    Well, I've pretty much always been freelance. I've very seldom held a steady or normal job. After school, I traveled for three years. I spent two years in London and did a lot of promotional work, which was really great, because you'd work on and off for a week or two, and then you could travel a bit.

Natalie Field:    I've traveled a fair amount, actually, and I found the love of photography in that time. So, I came back to South Africa, and I studied photography. And, in my second year, you did need some money, as a student does. So, I started shooting weddings. Since then, I have pretty much worked for myself. It's been a long time coming.

Steve Folland:    Cool. How did you go about finding your initial clients?

Natalie Field:    Definitely, word of mouth. Most of the people that I worked for when I was a student were people that I knew. From there, people talk. I found out that if you do a decent enough jobs that, inevitably, you will get more work out of it. So, rather than spending a lot of time and money on advertising, I find that if you do a good job, you will get more work from that.

Natalie Field:    In 2011, we moved from Port Elizabeth, my hometown, to Johannesburg. We didn't know any people, so that was a little bit tricky. We started chatting to people, met a few photographers through groups. Those photographers had excess work that they had passed on to me, and then that got me going on the side. So, that was great. People are very generous.

Steve Folland:    Yeah, I know it is. So, you started out doing weddings. Just to put that in perspective, when was that?

Natalie Field:    That was in 2007. 2006, 2007 was when I started doing those.

Steve Folland:    Cool. So, just over 10 years, that was when you were still at university.

Natalie Field:    Yes.

Steve Folland:    How have you evolved the sort of photography that you do? How would you describe for your photography now, by the way? If people haven't gone on to your website yet, there'll be a link at the website, of course. How would you describe your photography, now?

Natalie Field:    I've definitely made a move away from photographing documentary-style work like weddings to creating stories in camera where I actually bring together a team of people, and we set up scenes and tell narratives. It's a lot more conceptual, which I enjoy.

Natalie Field:    We do a lot of fashion photography, and then I also do fine artwork, which, initially also had underlying fashion tones in it. But, I've now started moving away from that aspect, because when you're working in a team, you always need to give credit to everybody. When you're working with models, you don't have the model releases and rights to sell those images as fine art and things like that. So, to enable myself the broadest scope of usage for the images, I've moved away from the fashion and professional model undertones in the fine artwork.

Steve Folland:    I see. How do you go from ... I imagine that there's quite a lot of people who might pay for wedding photography or head shots of their people in the office or any of those manner of things, for example; whereas, you obviously wanted to go down a more artistic route. How did you transition that? How did you get people to realize what you could offer?

Natalie Field:    Well, I think I'm still in the process of doing that. I think it's an ongoing process to continue to try and get more of the work that you want while doing some of the work that you need to to move things forward. But, when I came here, I made a connection with some of the modeling agencies, so some of the fashion work that I do is directly for the models for their portfolios, which is quite nice, because there is no brief, and nobody is overseeing what you are doing or telling you what to do, which I like. So, that's one element of it.

Natalie Field:    And then on the other side is actually working for fashion brands. Being in South Africa, there are a lot of entrepreneurs and in the fashion world, especially, as well. There are people coming from Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lisutu. So, in Johannesburg, there is a huge influx on a variety of people from different places that are here to find their voice. I work with a lot of those brands, which is fantastic, because it builds community, I think, which is great.

Steve Folland:    When you say you still take the work that maybe you don't want to be known for, but it pays the bills kind of thing-

Natalie Field:    I'll still shoot an occasional wedding. Last year, I did one in the UK, which was a lot of fun. Also, for somebody that I met through a conference that I shot here in the Drakensberg, actually, that they'd come for. So, yeah, I need working and, like I say, word of mouth is great. So, there'll still be the occasional wedding that I photograph.

Natalie Field:    I'm a bit of a yes man. I will say yes to most jobs, which in the beginning, I thought, actually was a great thing to be. I think as I've gone along, I've realized that there must be times when you say no, especially as you're trying to transition from being a jack of all trades to a master of one. So, the time does come when you have to start saying no to it, but I do still find it very hard to do.

Natalie Field:    I do now have somebody that's working with me in the office as well that's helping me with the retouching. That takes quite a lot of the time. So, I can take on more of the work.

Natalie Field:    I'm doing more commercial work. Sometimes I'm photographing products, so eye wear or cooking things, utensils, and systems, and things like that as well. So, there are a variety of things that I will take on, because the commercial clients are the ones that have money that have been set aside for the campaigns and things like that. So, I do believe that it's important to make yourself available to the commercial sector.

Natalie Field:    When I'm shooting the fashion, I'm photographing sometimes catalog stuff, which I consider also to be product photography, and then the campaigns and the look books as well.

Natalie Field:    So, there's a nice variety of work coming from those clients, and most of those clients for me are repeat ones. I have about 15 clients that I deal with on a monthly basis, almost. As they have new products that they're launching, or they need new banners for their websites and things like that, I assist them for that. It's good to stay in contact with the commercial side of things.

Steve Folland:    Yeah, relationships are so important.

Natalie Field:    Definitely. One of the things that I enjoy about shooting the fashion is that there's such a nice deliberation with other freelancers. When I'm putting a team together, it's make-up artists, hair stylists, the fashion stylists, models. A lot of the people that I work with are in the same boat as I am. They're running their own businesses. It's a really nice way of building relationships with a variety of people that eventually do become your friends as well.

Natalie Field:    So, most of my friends are also freelancers, and we can bounce ideas off of each other and talk about business-related issues. If you want to have a coffee during the work week where other people are in the office, it gives you a nice opportunity to get out and meet people, because you're all in the same boat.

Steve Folland:    When you're hiring those people as well, does the client just hire you, and you deal with all of them, if you see what I mean?

Natalie Field:    90% of the time, yes. Most of my clients, like I said, I've worked with them for a while. But even a lot of the new ones, because my work is very conceptual, and they want me to bring that vision to life for them. So, they'll give me some brief oral feedback as to what they want, and they will give it to me to handle. I actually, then, go and find the people that I know are suited to producing those campaigns. I go and find all the different freelances that make up the team.

Steve Folland:    Did that make pricing things tricky for you, or is that simply that's the way the industry works, and, I don't know, maybe you were taught it, or whatever?

Natalie Field:    No, it definitely makes it very tricky, because you spend so much time in the planning of it. Having to find everybody that is available for a specific date at the same time for the job can be difficult. And then you have to get quotes from everybody and then wait for everybody to come back to you before you can give a quote for the client. So, it definitely does complicate things a little bit more, but at the end of the day, I get the images that I would like to create. So, I think that it is worth it for me. But, of course, I do also charge the clients a small rate for each person in the team that I have to find as well. So, I do charge for that time, because time is money.

Steve Folland:    On top of that, you mentioned you've now got somebody working with you. Is that as in full-time working for you?

Natalie Field:    Also a freelancer. So, to be honest, it's my other half. I think having seen the success and the lifestyle that I have ... He was working a commercial job as a graphic designer, and he also decided to go freelance. I keep him busy with some of the retouching work, which is more in line with the kind of work that he does. It's also given us an opportunity to offer some new products to our clients, because we can give them graphic design. We do logos. We can design the flyers. So, the images that I shoot can then be incorporated with the fonts and things like that.

Natalie Field:    We've also started moving into some moving images and 3D work and things like that. He's actually adding completely different scope to what I'm already offering, and that's something we're gonna try and incorporate this year and try and build it as a brand to give them. I think that's quite exciting.

Steve Folland:    Yeah, that's brilliant. How's it been of interest making that ... How long ago was that, the transition into working together?

Natalie Field:    It's been about a year now. When he actually finished working, I was doing an artist's residency in Finland. The first month, he was at home alone, which I think was a little bit scary for him. But, since then, I think we've come a far way, and definitely we have been able to create enough opportunities to really fulfill his role in the direction that he prefers as well, which is the more graphic side of things.

Natalie Field:    It's a little bit hard, because we sit next to each other the whole day and working. So, it has its moments that are tough, but I think overall it's built our relationship and made it stronger. Also, we get to share more. Obviously, I'm out shooting a lot of the time as well, so I'm not always here.

Natalie Field:    What's nice for me is when I get back, the work still got done. That's definitely a perk. But, yeah, it's been interesting. I definitely feel like we can offer more as a team than we could individually.

Steve Folland:    How do you find work life balance, particularly when so much of your life is now within your work, I guess?

Natalie Field:    Yeah, I have none of that. There is no such thing. I'm a workaholic, so if there is work, I feel compelled to do it. And, because my office is at my house, I may as well do it, but also making money while I'm doing it, so why not? Yeah, I have been trying to find more of a balance, because I've been trying to put more attention into the art side and not just in the commercial side of things. I've definitely been trying to stop at 5:00 and say, "Okay, that's done for now."

Natalie Field:    But, then if there's deadlines, you do have to hit your deadlines and your targets. If that means that you have to work at night, then I think sometimes that that is just the way it is. Especially, if you were having coffee with somebody during the day, then ... I think as freelancers, what happens is because we don't track our time, we feel like we're busy the whole time, but half of that time you are maybe out having coffee or running around doing errands. And then at nighttime, you have to work. You think, "Oh, whoa is me. It's nighttime, and I have to now be productive." But, actually, you weren't maybe all that productive during the day.

Natalie Field:    So, it's important to just focus on the fact that you do have that freedom to do your own schedule and plan your own life. This year, I've started using Toggl to track my time so that I can actually see where I'm spending my time. It also helps me with quoting, because then I can tell the clients, "This job is going to take me five hours to edit," and I can say that knowing that it is a fact, having done measurements over a period of time from different clients and seeing how long things take me. I definitely think it's a good way of helping you to quote if you have some data to work from rather than trying to thumb suck how long something is going to take, because I think a lot of us do that. Toggl has definitely changed things for me and made me realize that I'm not always as productive as I think I was. Maybe I was running around doing other stuff.

Steve Folland:    And if you're listening and you don't know, we'll put a link at Being Freelance for you to Toggl. Basically, as I understand it, you lock down a particular task and how much time you're spending on it. And, in theory, you could bill from that as well.

Steve Folland:    You mentioned going to Finland. Is travel still quite a bit of your ... Do you manage to freelance whilst traveling? Is that something you do quite a bit of?

Natalie Field:    Yeah, I fell in love photography while I was traveling. At the time, the idea was to come back, study, and then use photography as a means to an end to travel. So, maybe, work for National Geographic or something like that, because I wanted to see the world. Then I got sidetracked. I started working and making money, and I got sidetracked in modeling with the commercial world.

Natalie Field:    About two years ago, I had a bit of an existential crisis when I had a health issue. At the time, it was a serious issue for me, and I thought a lot about life, and it really put things into perspective for me. I do find that I've been distracted by the financial benefit of working, and especially, like I said, I'm a workaholic. So, it's actually a little bit greedy.

Natalie Field:    So, I've decided to take more time for myself. And, definitely, that includes traveling to different places. I did some work in Tasmania for a wedding and in the UK last year, so that was nice, because I got to travel, and I got paid for it. But, then, the artist residency is definitely something I'd like to look into doing more of, because that is very different from how I traveled before. Normally, you travel, you go and see places, you fun through them, and you're looking at things, and you're moving through. But, when you're doing an artist's residency, you're staying in once place. You're having an opportunity to really explore the environments around you be peaceful enough so that it does soak in rather than just running through it.

Natalie Field:    So, I really enjoyed that aspect of it. I think you make more of a connection with a place if you can stay in it for a little big longer. At the artist residency, I conceived the series that I'm working on at the moment that is called Human Nature. That was in October 2016, and I'm still busy working on it now, because it's going to culminate in my first solo show, which is gonna be held in Johannesburg in March.

Natalie Field:    I've spent the last year and a half just working on the images that I shot there compiling them into photo montages, but also just for the studies on some of the issues that I thought about at that time related to creation and evolution and the transmigration of our souls. Some very deep stuff came out of it. I've spent a lot of time trying to read further into those things and then incorporating those studies into the art that I'm creating. It was a really meaningful experience for me, and I'm hoping that more opportunities for residencies will come along soon.

Natalie Field:    It's nice that you can go and go for a month or two, but know that home is here and be able to come back and then carry on working on it from here. It does make it a little bit difficult. Because my clients are repeat clients, some of them I have a contract with where I shoot for them monthly. So, so far, my trips have all been only up to a month, so that I can shoot for them, go and do my thing, and come back and shoot again straightaway when I get back. So, I don't know if I can go for longer than that at a time without having detrimentally fixed to the clients that I already have I don't want to lose, because they're great.

Natalie Field:    It does make it tricky as well, but I bought myself a really big and heavy computer. It's got great processing power, so I can do all my very complicated editing on my laptop, and I can take that laptop wherever I go. But it does get a bit heavy to carry it around.

Steve Folland:    I like the fact it's, well, it feels like you're ... You said that you don't have any work life balance, and you're a workaholic, but equally it's because you're enjoying it so much right? And you seem so ... I know you're filling your time with something that kind of looks like work, but, equally, it's a passion project.

Natalie Field:    Very much so. Over this Christmas holiday, I took a month off to work on my art. When other people asked, "Would you like to do something?" Others would often say, "No, Natalie's working."

Natalie Field:    And every time I said, "No, no, no. I'm not working. I'm making art."

Natalie Field:    Because, in my own mind, I want to keep those two things separated. I think that as soon as I start thinking about it as work, it might change my relationship with it. So, it's very important to me to consider it as something that it's not because I have to do. It's because I want to do it.

Steve Folland:    Yeah, but equally, does that feed back into your work? Do your clients see the art side of your work? Do they comment on it? Is it one of the reasons they want to work with you?

Natalie Field:    I think definitely, yes. I think most of my clients want that, but most of them aren't willing to pay for it. I put a lot more hours into that than I do into the commercial work. One image will take me 100 hours to create, and when people want me to edit their photo in an hour. So, from that perspective right now, it's not feeding into the work that I'm getting all that much. But, obviously the plan is that it definitely will in the future.

Natalie Field:    I started doing some album covers for artists, singers. I think that would be a good platform for the more creative work to start coming through. Album cover art and book cover art and those kind of things I think it would definitely be suited to. So, those are things that I would like explore further and maybe market towards, but I don't really do so much marketing, to be honest. I do rely heavily on word of mouth. I suppose if I wanted to get more of what I want, I need to go and find it.

Steve Folland:    But do you use, I don't know, the likes of Instagram, or are you regularly putting stuff out there? Or is it like, "No, I'm just gonna do the work," and let that work?

Natalie Field:    I would like to be on Instagram more. Instagram is firstly definitely my favorite social platform. As a visual artist, I think that it's just amazing. And there's so much fantastic work on there, it can make one despondent, sometimes, but at the same time, inspired, so we keep looking.

Natalie Field:    If I had more time, I'd probably be posting more often. I do have two Instagram accounts. Actually, this week I've decided to split the commercial work and the art from each other. My art can be and is definitely moving into direction that is a little bit, I'm gonna say darker, but that's maybe not the work for it, because it is quite enlightened at the same time. And so I collect bugs and do some gardening with my own veggies and things like that.

Natalie Field:    So, I want to share those things, but, obviously I don't want share it on my commercial page, because that's not relevant to my clients. But, I think as an artist, it's more of a personal experience. Those are the kind of things that I want to post.

Natalie Field:    So, I've, actually, just started a new Instagram account so that I can show more of myself and not necessarily just of the work.

Steve Folland:    Yeah, how have you managed the business side of being freelance? We alluded to getting the pricing right and hiring other people, so it sounds like you're pretty much on top of it. Has it always been that way?

Natalie Field:    Yes. My dad was also a workaholic, and I think he taught us all, we four daughters. He taught us how to do business, how to take business serious, and how to really push. And, so, I think we all ... My other sister also runs her own business. We are very organized. That's probably the right word. So, from the beginning, my paperwork and stuff has always been filed. My websites I've designed myself, because, I think, also as a freelancer, you have so much more than whatever skill that are actually offering people. We are our own accountants. We are our own web designers, our own social media managers, and our give and take in all those roles to heart and try and ... Besides the time that we have to spend on actually getting the work out, spend the time on having those things always up to date and be professional or have a professional business and a professional brand.

Natalie Field:    I think that's very important. I think you can't expect people to take you seriously if you don't take yourself seriously. So, I've always tried to focus on all those extra things.

Natalie Field:    I think in the beginning, I did make the mistake ... Like I said early off, I've always been a yes man. So, if people asked me, "Oh, you built your own website. That's really cool. Can you make one more me?"

Natalie Field:    I would say, "Yeah, sure. Let me do that." But, then, inevitably they come with things or additional things, and maybe you haven't done before. And then you're forced to learn new skills to be able to finish the job. And, as much as those skills are handy, unless you are going to use it again to sell it to more clients, it is actually of no benefit to you. So, we take up a lot of time to learn these things for this one off website or job that you're doing. Those are the kind of things that I've learned to say no to. Unless it's actually within my scope of specialization, I'll say no to anything that I can do, because I happen to be a freelancer, and I know how to do many things, but if it doesn't fall within my scope of business, then I think that's important to know to say no to those. Because, otherwise, actually, it's just time wasters.

Steve Folland:    Yeah, that's a good point. I've got sucked into that before as well, actually. "I could do that. I know how to do that, yeah."

Steve Folland:    What would you say has been the biggest challenge in being freelance?

Natalie Field:    Take time for myself. That, to me, is definitely my biggest challenge. Is to not have time where I'm not actually sitting in front of the computer or doing anything photography related, being it an art project or my commercial work, but to actually go for hikes or play guitar, which I'm trying to teach myself, which in a year's time, I can't even play a song to the fullest yet. I think it's to do that. I think that, to me, is very challenging.

Natalie Field:    The last couple of years I've actually joined some freelancing groups. South Africa's got an association called SAFREA - I am sure you have been everywhere in the world. It's also been a good way of just helping to get feedback from other freelancers on how they managed their time, and stuff like that as well. I do think it's important to be part of groups be it on Facebook or in person meetings and things like that, just to connect with other people and remind ourselves that we are not necessarily our job, because, to me, it feels like that.

Natalie Field:    Sometimes you want to say to me ... I'll ask for criticism on an image, and they'll give it, and then I'll be upset. Then they'll say something like, "But, you are not your work."

Natalie Field:    But, for me, I am. That is my life. It is what I do. It's all that I do, so I do take it very personally. But I do think that it's important to be able to distinguish yourself from that work at some point, and say, "Well, that isn't my whole life. I do also have friends and family and pets and other things, other interests that aren't necessarily related to photography or whatever skill it is that you have."

Steve Folland:    Yeah. Now I always do this thing where I ask for three facts about yourself. Make two true, one a lie, and let me figure out the lie. What have you got for me?

Natalie Field:    Okay, well, this has kicked me up a notch thinking about my life, all right. This is actually a good exercise of just trying to think through your life about things that happened. There's probably a perspective, which was quite cool. I enjoyed that element of it. Here we go.

Natalie Field:    Number one is once I had a rhino walk into my shot.

Natalie Field:    Number two while I was in Australia, I got kicked by a kangaroo.

Natalie Field:    Number three is while I was in Vietnam, the tourist police paid me $20 to go away.

Steve Folland:    When you were in Vietnam, you got paid to go away?

Natalie Field:    By the tourist police.

Steve Folland:    They have tourist police? What do the tourist police have to do? What were you doing?

Natalie Field:    I think if you're a tourist and you have a problem or an issue with the system, then you can go to the tourist police.

Steve Folland:    Ah, got you, right.

Natalie Field:    I brought a camera on a bus journeyin Vietnam, which was a 36-hour journey. And then when I got to Hanoi, I wanted to get my camera fixed. So, I took it to a guy, but it was a kind of APS camera that has a cover on the back that makes it waterproof. I said, "Don't mess that up."

Natalie Field:    And when I came back, he had broken the glass of the camera trying to get it off. I was unhappy, and I decided to take it up at the tourist police.

Steve Folland:    They told you to ... All right. Did you say you were punched by a kangaroo?

Natalie Field:    I was trying to take a photo of this kangaroo. I hadn't seen a kangaroo, because I spend most of my time in Tasmania, but then I want Melbourne. I went to ... It's really like a zoo, but the animals aren't in cages. They open and you can walk through in between the kangaroos. I really wanted to see them. Of course, I went to take a photograph, and then I got a little bit too close, and they waited for me and got me.

Steve Folland:    Damn paparazzi.

Natalie Field:    Lesson learned, a little close to the animals for taking close-ups.

Steve Folland:    I mean, a kangaroo has ... What it a red kangaroo or one of the little gray fellows?

Natalie Field:    The red kangaroos are bigger. I think this may have been the gray kangaroo. It wasn't the small Pademelon. It wasn't one of them. It was probably a gray kangaroo, then, yes.

Steve Folland:    Okay, then a rhino-

Natalie Field:    Yes, while I was doing a fashion shoot. I don't know. It just came walking into the photograph.

Steve Folland:    Photo-bombed by a rhino.

Natalie Field:    That's it. That's a much better way of saying it, yes. Photo-bombed by a rhino.

Steve Folland:    All right. It would have been even better if it was during a wedding. Right, okay. Rhino, kangaroo, tourist police. Oh, God, I don't know. I've been to Australia and walked amongst the kangaroos, so I believe that bit. I mean, they do lash out. They do punch, don't they?

Natalie Field:    They sure do.

Steve Folland:    I can believe that, but equally I can believe a rhino wandering into a shot, because although I haven't been to South Africa, I imagine it would be possible for you to get to somewhere where there might be a rhino, a lot easier than where I am. Put it that way.

Natalie Field:    It was at a fashion shoot.

Steve Folland:    Yeah, okay, I think tourist police is true. And then, you had a real animal story, and so you thought you'd make one up, but they both sound to be really true. I am gonna say you weren't punched by a kangaroo.

Natalie Field:    Ah, no, I wasn't punched by a kangaroo.

Steve Folland:    Yes.

Natalie Field:    I thought that story was quite good.

Steve Folland:    I was gonna say your backstory was very good. And even when you on to give so much more detail about the different types of kangaroo, I thought, "Well, it sounds plausible that she spent a lot of time with kangaroos," I said.  Well, that's good, then, because that means the rhino really did-

Natalie Field:    Actually, two rhino walked into the shot, and everybody ... I just saw people slowly disappearing around me, and I didn't realize what was going on. I'm looking through the viewfinder, so I'm not seeing that. And somebody said, "Big rhino."

Natalie Field:    And I looked up, and these two rhino are just behind the models, but just off to the side. And the make-up artist, she is like, "Shoot. Shoot. Take photos. It would be like photographing a fish."

Natalie Field:    I'm like, "I'm not going to flash now, because a rhino will charge you."

Natalie Field:    So, eventually, I took the flash and the tripod off, and I took a few photos. When I got home and I looked at the photos close up, the models' faces were absolutely terrified. I couldn't use any of the photos, because they were so scared. It was so funny.

Steve Folland:    That's great. Now, if you could tell your younger self one thing about being freelance, what would that be?

Natalie Field:    I would say it's to stay true to yourself, to not forget the passion or the purpose that encouraged you to hone your skill in the first place, like myself who really wanted to use photography as a vehicle for conversation around conservation of my natural environment and then got completely sidetracked by commercial work and having moved to a big city and things like that. To definitely continue to play and experiment in your field and have purpose, I suppose if you do that, you will never work a day in your life. It would be that.

Steve Folland:    Natalie, it's been so nice speaking to you. Thank you so much. Go to beingfreelance.com. Link through to Natalie's site so you can check out her work. While you are at our website, of course, check out the blog, the newsletter, and if you've enjoyed this and you've never left a review this podcast before, then that would be amazing. It does help the podcast get discovered. But, for now, thank you so much, Natalie, and all the best being freelance.

Natalie Field:    Also, thank you so much. This was fun.