The Studio

Do I need one?


The short answer to this is No you don’t.  We are very lucky in London to have fantastic diffused light most of the year (meaning it’s grey most of the time!!).  This diffused light is great to work with and there is little doubt that you can do most things with natural light that you can do in the studio so when you’re starting out there is simply no need for it.  I think if you can master natural light, then you have a great understanding of how to approach studio lighting as well, so what you need to ask yourself is, can you cope with yet more tech to learn about, and what kind of photography do you like to do.


Clearly for on location family photo shoots London has some really fantastic spaces, and my view is that children are better on location than in the studio so that is where I take them.  Kids under the age of about 8 are fidgety and playful and frankly don’t want to be in the 1 meter sq spot in the studio where the light is perfect, they want to be by the window, half way up the stairs, looking for the cat or hiding under the table.  So I don’t use the studio, I play with kids on location.  I find the best lighting and backgrounds then I have some fun with them.  If things get tricky, I move on, distract them, take them to a different place.  I’ve never had a bad location shoot but I’ve had plenty bad studio shoots with kids.

For newborns – again I think the advantage gained by offering an at home shoot far out ways the advantage of having them come to the studio.  They are new parents and usually not very up to spec on how to leave the house with a new baby, so they are always very grateful that I come to them.  All you need is a good window and a little space to create studio quality images ..

Newborn and Baby Photography London

But for Pregnancies

Having said all that, I do insist on doing maternity photo shoots in the Studio.  There is a lot of undressing and certainly to start with, shyness with being the focus of attention, and so I would rather do that away from other people.  Yes in theory I could do this in people’s home and I have done in the past, however I have some gorgeous backdrops that just make the portraits more impressive and loads of drapes/clothes that are perfect for maternity shoots.  I don’t really want to be lugging around all that stuff, and usually pregnant couples are pretty mobile still so a studio shoot isn’t too much of an imposition.

There is definitely an advantage to having a studio in your home too, as this is a more relaxed atmosphere and immediately creates a less stressful environment for your clients.  You can also show them products which for me is great as I don’t do in-person-sales meetings after the shoot, I only provide online viewing areas so they can decide what to buy.  So for them to see the quality of the albums and prints they are going to get, it’s great.  I’ve not got a solution to this issue with location family stuff yet, it’s a tricky one.

Maternity Portrait Photographer London

Equipment costs


It’s also quite pricey to get a studio up and running.  You have the lighting and softbox/modifier costs – I use Elinchrom lighting which is around £1000 for a 2 light basic set up, plus backdrops and spare lights etc.  Then of course you need to do some training in how to use the darn things, which is yet another expense.  I have 3 different backdrop colours (I use colorama paper backdrops), which will need changing every now and then (hint, don’t allow clients to walk on the background with shoes on!!! the paper will last a lot longer).  So you do need to make a reasonable investment in order to get set up, but ongoing costs are relatively low.


So there you go, in my view, if you’re strapped for cash, learn natural light and use that…it’s cheap and plentiful.  Then when you have enough money to invest in studio, and only if you really need it for the genre you’re wanting to go into, then go for it.


Hope that helps


Susan Porter-Thomas Photography


The Studio

Getting experience

There are so many ways in which a budding photographer can get started, get experience and get booked.  I will tell you my route in the hope it helps you to think of your own strategy and get into the portrait market.


For me, the most challenging part of being a green gilled photographer was direction.  Not which direction should I go with my work, but directing my clients.  For starters, I had all the technology to think about and get right without having to be the charming confident and on the ball photographer who is great with kids and adults alike and is able to think ahead to the next shot so as not to flounder hopelessly after doing one set up not knowing what the hell to do next.  With Children’s photographers in London there are so many talented individuals, why would they choose me when I didn’t know how to actually conduct a shoot.  So it’s really important to do practice runs with your friends and family.


In the first year I usually wrote down a sequence a bit like a screen play, so I knew exactly what shots I was going to do and in what order, that way I could concentrate on being a nice person and not sweating too much.  Yes you have to look at your crib sheet but it’s so much better than panicking and dying in a heap on the floor.

Make sure you have everything backed up and double backed up which leads me to point number 2…, make sure you have a good IT person to help you at a moments notice, sounds silly but you REALLY need this.  If you’re stressing about getting the images ready and how the hell do I do that in photoshop etc, and then your computer goes dead, well, need I say more.  I’ve had a very good computer guy who will drop everything and come and rescue me before I loose my sanity.

Thirdly, don’t try and do anything too tricky with strangers.  Save the techy bits for your friends who have more patience!   Stick with simple lighting and posing.  When your confidence grows, so will your ability to introduce more complex set ups.

I would stick to around an hour if I were you for a family with kids.  Children will generally do what they are told by a new person but will start to take the piss and act up as they do top their parents, within an hour.  They also don’t have a huge attention span so an hour is just enough to have fun and get some great shots hopefully.  If the kids are acting up, change set ups, change locations, give them an incentive.  You really have to be on the ball with kids and one step ahead.  I use mini smarties as an incentive (really small so they don’t take long to eat) and have a prize for the end if they’ve been good… a balloon and a wrist band in my case.

How to get those first shoots

Schools – let it be known with your friends at your children’s school that you’re in the market for photo shoots and give them an amazing deal to get off the ground.

Put details up on boards in the following places:

  • Ballet Schools
  • Local Cafe’s
  • Local shops
  • School boards
  • NCT groups that you know about

Hope this helps for now


Susan Porter-Thomas LSWPP Family photographer


Getting experience

Equipment time

What’s in my camera bag!


Right lets talk tech.  I do family photography in London and this dictates what kind of equipment I need but first up lets face it, it’s expensive, there’s no way around it, the equipment is pretty amazing but it costs.

Now I photograph with a Canon 5D Mk111.  The reason I chose this camera is because it’s smaller than the 1D and if I’m going to put a heavy lens onto it I need to be able to be agile whilst running around with kids in the park so it’s a good size.  It’s also brilliant with low light conditions and when I’m doing home shoots with newborns this is a real bonus.

Now to be completely honest with you if you’ve got a fixed budget, I would get a slightly less top of the range camera body and then splash out on some fab lenses, it’s the glass wear that makes the biggest difference here.

The lenses I have and that I use on a regular basis are both L Series lenses and are:

-The Canon 70-200mm F2.8 which is brilliant for location photography, though I still get too excited about the F2.8 and use it when I probably shouldn’t do!!

-The Canon 24-105mm F4 which I use as my standard lens for studio work and wider angle location shots and newborns

-The Sigma 105mm f2.8 Macro lens which I use for close ups of baby’s eyes, hands and feet

I’ve got a couple of other lenses but these 3 are my go to lenses and I feel very comfortable with them.

I also have a speedlight 430ex for the occasional on camera flash but it’s only used for filling in shadows on bright days and event photography in the evenings.

Oh and my camera bag is from KATA which are brilliant, bright yellow interior means you can’t loose any of the bits (which are of course always black!).

Baby photo shoot london003

My Studio equipment is from Elinchrom and I’ve had the same set up for over 10 years, amazing quality and reliability.  Always worth having a spare flash head though in case one decides it needs a holiday.

I am a strong advocate for Ebay with regard to camera equipment.  There are loads of people out there who will buy the latest stuff just because it’s new and sell on their old stuff to lucky people like us.  You can save thousands in your initial set up costs if you buy second hand.

One bit of advice, always take your new camera out for an outing and follow your work flow through to completion before trying it out on a customer/friend as there’s usually one setting you’ve forgotten to set ..they are complex pieces of equipment and knowing how they work with loads of different situations is imperative to knowing how to get the best from it.

Susan Porter-Thomas Family Photographer London UK


Equipment time

Taking the plunge

So you’re super keen on photography, you’ve splashed out on a sexy camera and you’re desperate to start a new life as a professional.  How on earth do you start?

Location portrait

You have a lot of competition..

Firstly you need to be aware of the facts..  It is hard to make a good living in the photographic industry.  The numbers below were taken from Stop43 , a campaign which tries to protect photographic property..

  • The value of royalties paid for photographs has reduced by 80% between 2005 and 2010;
  • Within the last 10 years 52% of “photographic businesses” – including photographers and photo studios – have disappeared;
  • Since 2001, there has been a 16% decrease in the numbers of staff photographers, and 30% of freelance photographers have quit;
  • Up to 90% of images published in the press do not mention the name of the author, but instead are marked “DR”;

Don’t let this scare you off though, if you get properly trained to do your job then you’re one of the ones who are going to stay the course.  So…

Train and Commit

So firstly no matter how good you think you are, I can telly you now, you need to train.  A camera is a great tool, easy if you’re happy with a candid snap, but how do you get that dreamy blurry background and how do you take images INTO the light, and how is it best to position a subject based on a. lighting, b. background, c. lens, d. I could go on…basically, your Auto setting is the entry level and in my opinion should only be used when you don’t really care about the outcome.  You NEED to know how your camera works so that you will be able to cope in all sorts of light conditions, use different lenses for the best results, know how to use on camera flash and when to use it, what settings need to be thought about beforehand and what can be adjusted in Photoshop afterwards.  That’s not even touching on Studio lighting etc.

YES IT’s Complicated!!  It’s a bit like saying you can drive a formula 1 car if you know where the steering wheel, accelerator and break are… you may be able to move the car along if you’re very lucky, but that’s not driving, that’s not safe, that’s not smooth…I’m sure there are better analogies but basically, you will be amazed, and I’m still amazed, at how much you can do with a camera.


Now training….in this internet savy world there are some brilliant and I mean BRILLIANT training seminars online.  Free if you view as they happen and not very expensive even if you buy them to view afterwards.  I’m thinking particularly of Creative Live which I’ve used on a number of occasions.  You can pick and choose what aspect of photography you need to improve on and do it in your own time.  You should also consider joining a professional body such as SWPP (Society for Wedding and Portrait Photographers) which has a really fantastic conference/seminar extravaganza/trade show every January in London.

The other way is the good old fashioned type, lessons with a teacher.  I really think this is a necessary part of your training, firstly you need to have a teacher tell you where you’re going wrong, or, of course, where you’re going right.  Secondly you need to test the limits of your knowledge and grow your comfort zone by doing projects, test shoots, arty set ups etc.  If you don’t get stretched, you won’t know what you’re capable of.  I’m afraid my knowledge of where you can do training in the UK is limited as I did mine in Cape Town, but there are plenty of artistic institutions that will cater for the photographer.  I do still do ongoing training with whatever skills I need help with, now though I’m doing compare and contrast exercises with other pros that I feel I could learn something from.  With something as artistic as Photography and as complex as running your own business, I don’t think you ever stop learning.

But When?

Now this, of course, is very dependant on whether you’re still clinging onto your past life/job or if you’ve made the leap of faith and said “fuck it I’m quiting!”…  I opted for the latter and actually I think that is the best option.  This gives you the space and freedom to concentrate fully on your new career, and forces you to be focussed…after all you’ve got no money coming in…you’ve got to pull your finger out and get it sussed.  This is the ‘Commit’ part and is extremely important if you’re going to make it work.  I was seriously committed to ‘not going back to an office’ even though I now spend a large proportion of my time in my home office…but you see, it’s on my terms, in my time, with my own livelihood on the line and I love it.  I know that the amount of work I put in directly relates to the amount of money and satisfaction (hugely important for me) I get at the end and I can’t tell you how much I love getting emails from clients raving about their images…you don’t get that feel good factor in an office job, especially when you’re on a fixed wage.

So Peeps, take that plunge, get some serious training and get practising…you’re going to need it.

Next time, what’s the minimum you need for a set up…lets talk equipment ..


Susan Porter-Thomas LSWPP London Family Photographer

Susan Porter-Thomas

Taking the plunge

In the Beginning

How to become a professional Photographer..

If I’m right then there are literally thousands of people out there who, after the birth of their first child, found that actually working in an office was not ideal.  It restricts your ability to be free, to do things when you want to do them, to look after your child when they are sick, to avoid the rush hour..etc..etc.  I’m also sure that there are a lot of women, and men, who realise that once they have children, there are more important things to life than sitting in front of a screen and being told what to do by managers that really you wouldn’t spend the time of day with let alone do their bidding.

And so here I am, 10 years after making the break from the office, having built up a successful family photography business in London, England.  Looking back on my life and thinking

“Thank god I did it!!”.

I know you’re at that point now, “There must be something else I can do?!!”.  You may be terrified to not have that monthly income, you may not have a clue about how to make the break, you may not have a passion in which to build a business yet but I’m here to tell you,


If I can do it, so can you.  And now we have online learning, google, youtube, you have no excuse…

I plan to share with you my experience of setting up a new business in photography and the continuing process of keeping it going.  So tune in here to get hints and tips on:

  1. Setting up
  2. Getting customers
  3. Getting paying customers!
  4. Pricing
  5. Marketing
  6. SEO
  7. Branding
  8. Outsourcing
  9. Airbrushing
  10. Blogging

So Why Photography?

So lets start from the very beginning…a very good place to start..

I think like most people, I never really knew what to do with my life.  I was good academically and got good grades, enjoyed school and university life, but never knew what career path I should follow.  My strongest subject was maths, but the thought of a career with numbers appalled me.. I did Geology at university but that seemed to lead either to research or teaching, neither of which I fancied.  And so I was persuaded to join a Graduate programme in British Airways, a good company with perks that may prove interesting.  And so I found myself in an office job, 9-5 near Heathrow, with a bunch of other graduates of varying backgrounds who, like me, didn’t really know where they were headed in their careers.

I stuck it out for 8 years and made the most of what BA had to offer.  The travel, moving around different departments learning all about online selling and technology, marketing and distribution.  And then of course, I married and had my first child..  You can see where this is going…  I went to part time working and basically got given all the shit jobs that no one else wanted… bored and irritated by this treatment I couldn’t be bothered any more, my manager didn’t get why I wasn’t putting 110% into my work of putting together a backup plan for if we were not going to accept Amex card anymore (yawn).

Time for action!!

Luckily my husband (a successful professional singer), was bored of his day job at ENO (English national opera) and so we made the decision to up sticks and have an adventure living in South Africa for a year.  Just south of Cape Town, we built a house and did sundowners for one gorgeous year… but most importantly I had decided to follow a life long passion for photography and do a couple of courses whilst there to see if it led to anything.

I’m sure a lot of people get a thrill out of photography, I’m not unique, but I did always have a camera in my hands….yes I was the annoying sod in the pub at Uni with the camera, and on field trips and getting ready for a ball….  And when you have your first child, you have a perfect model for your passion.  It was when other people would look at me and say “Wow you’re pretty good…”  I wondered if I might be able to do this as a living.  Would people actually part with their money for me to do what I love doing?

And so with my trusty Olympus OM2 manual camera in hand I did some great training at the Cape Town School of Photography, both in photography and in Photoshop.  I had nothing to loose, I’d already kissed goodbye to my Office Job and all the perks that went with it.  So this is where it all started, and now I intend on telling my story from the advantage of hindsight.  I can talk for hours about my business and so I intend to bore you silly with the details…

See you next time

Susan Porter-Thomas LSWPP London Photographer

In the Beginning