Sarah Wilkes is a very successful Newborn photographer based in Nottingham, and has kindly agreed to be interviewed for IPPN about her amazing new studio which was recently opened, as well as offering a few insights into how she runs her business. Sarah is a long-standing member of IPPN and often helps our members on the forum with useful advice. Sarah is also hosting our IPPN networking day in October at her studio which is free of charge for our members – if you are interested in coming along then please get in touch!
Hi Sarah, thank you for taking some time out of your very busy schedule to answer a few questions.
Please tell us a little bit about you business and your style of photography.
I am a Newborn photographer so primarily I shoot Newborns, but I do offer maternity, children and families also. I was one of the few photographers in the UK to offer this style of photography known as ‘Newborn Art’ as it originated for the US and it has now taken the UK by storm and I train other photographers from around the world in the Art. My style of photography, I guess I would describe as clean, crisp and colourful but as I travel along my photography journey my style is developing and I think changing. I find myself being drawn to more muted natural tones.
I was also the first photographer to bring the ‘Cake Smash’ to the UK for just over 5 years ago. They have become so popular over the past couple of years and are great fun!
Your studio is beautiful – please tell us briefly about the journey from start to finish of creating such a wonderful space.
Thank you. Well wow what can I say? It’s been a long long roller coaster of a journey! In August 2013 I took my son to a local farm park and Garden center for the day. As we were walking around the garden center I noticed a building which had a note on the door that it was for rent. I had been dreaming for a while of a larger studio as the one I had was so small and my prop room was bursting at the seams! I decided there and then to go find the manager and take a look! Instantly I could see its potential! I got incredibly excited and started texting images to my assistant ha-ha! It was a total grey concrete shell inside, but wow what a space! Trouble is I knew it needed a lot of work doing to it and a lot of money thrown at it to bring it up to a standard I could possibly bring my clients into. So I went away with my head buzzing I wanted it so much and what was more I needed it! I met with the owner and told him I was incredibly interested and please please not rent to anyone else whist I crunched figures and made a decision . As soon as I found out he would match my rent that I was paying I was astounded and electricity and water was included, I would be saving on what I was paying each month it felt like a sign. Ahhhhhhhh! What should I do!!! Well I bit the bullet and said I would take it! We agreed I could renovate the building and not pay any rent whilst I was doing it as I needed to keep my other studio so I could still do shoots in the mean time. It just seemed so perfect!
Renovations began at the beginning of September 2013. I was going it alone to start with doing all I could myself. Papering, painting putting up coving, but it needed much more than that. It needed real building work doing to it and I could not do this alone. I got quotes from builders and was floored at what it would cost! I was crushed I started to think I had made a mistake. I told my sons dad about the quote and he could not believe it he said that he would help and we could do it ourselves! So he moved back in with us whilst we worked every day I was not shooting. Most days I spent climbing up a scaffold and putting up plasterboard with the odd shoot here and there and then dragging myself home totally exhausted only to start work again editing till 2am.
When I first started I never realised how much work this would have been but as the days went on my ideas for the studio also developed we added walls to make a kitchen and a bathroom and a ceiling so I could have stairs up to a props room. It was wonderful to be able to customise this building to suit my needs. But we ran into problems! The building was not watertight! When it rained we would come into work and find pools of water. I had to liquid rubber most of the walls and raise the floor in the shooting room for fear of my solid oak floor that I wanted getting ruined!
Another problem was funds – I literally was borrowing from Peter to pay Paul to get the materials I needed. I had to up my business loan to complete my project!
Fast forward to 2014 and we were still working on it! My 5 year old was sick of the sight of the building and I had reached burn out. Was this going to be worth it? I am so passionate about what I do I needed a studio to reflect this. My opening time kept being pushed further into the future but in April 2014, 6 months after I collected the keys I finally did my 1st shoot from there. It was wonderful! It has literally has been a journey of blood, sweat and tears but when I see my clients reaction when the come in it is totally worth it! This place is my happy place! My little slice of heaven! I just wish it was mine and not rented after all the work that was put into it.
Do you work alone, or do you have an admin team or other photographers?
Alone I am a bit of a Lone Ranger! I do have a very part time assistant. She is a midwife so her shifts are long and weird so more often than not she cannot be at shoots. I couldn’t do without her though, she prepares my books to give to the accountant and doesn’t groan too loud when I hand her bags of receipts!
Have you photographed different genres of photography, such as weddings or landscape?
Hmmm not really. Well I have 2nd shot at two weddings and I can honestly say it is not for me!
Who has inspired you the most on your journey?
This is a tough one. Mainly the top US Newborn photographers who I met on a fertility forum seven years ago whist trying for my son. It was primarily a U.S. forum and a DSLR hobbyists forum within that one. I was blown away by the style of Newborn images they were posting. I had never seen this style before – I was hooked!
What is your favourite and least favourite part of owning your own photography business and studio?
Of course my favourite is the Newborn shoot itself – all those cuddles! Followed closely by the reaction of my clients at their viewing when they see their images! My least favourite has to be paperwork and all that kind of behind the scenes running of the business.
Do you have a shoot which sticks in your mind as being your most memorable?
Yes my Newborn Quad shoot! Four babies – now that was tough and a record seven hours long! Just trying to get of them all to sleep at the same time was extremely difficult but so worth it in the end. One of the images won GOLD with the Guild of Professional Photographers.
You were part of the team who organised the very successful Newborn Photography Show – tell us how it felt to be part of something so exciting?
One word AMAZING! I got together with two other premier UK Newborn Photographers. It was a lot of hard work but the actual trade show and teaching classes where phenomenal! We even managed to fly in two of the Top US photographers, Robin Long to teach Natural Newborn imagery through story telling class and Tiffany Amber from Munchkin to Mohawks to teach children and Family portraiture. We had fantastic traders over the two days from stunning wooed photography props to lighting wall Art products , albums and backdrops so so much! I need to start saving for the next few years. I feel a prop shopping spree coming on ha-ha! Next year’s again will be set in the beautiful grounds of the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham and spread over 3 days. There will be education all three days and the trade show will be open on two of them.
What do you do to unwind after a long week?
What’s that – I don’t understand the question ha-ha! I am always working I spend every night editing or doing something for the business. I try to take the weekend days off though to spend time with my kids but with being a single mum to two children with special needs it’s hard work. Even spending time with them isn’t unwinding!
What is your ideal travel destination?
Anywhere hot, sunny and away from the UK that has beautiful scenery to photograph. Where I don’t have to cook and clean and my children can enjoy themselves. I hope one day to experience this as we only go camping in the UK for our holidays and that is far from relaxing. I always come back thinking I need a Holiday to recover!
You are a long-standing IPPN Member – how has IPPN helped you in your photography business?
I love the IPPN – the people on there are so supportive and don’t make you feel stupid or embarrassed when you ask for advice. I met a very good friend on there years ago when I first joined that gave me the kick up the butt I needed for my business. Of course our networking meet ups and socialising give me chance to step back and breathe and let my hair down.
Thanks for your time Sarah, wishing you much success with your new studio!
No problem thank you so much for taking the time to want to get to know me and the business more.
Phone: 07790 158 741