Guest Interview with Martin Hobby

Jan 19, 2024 | Photographer Guest

“Show Notes”

Martin is a general practice photographer based in Holmes Chapel in Cheshire in the UK. Martin has been shooting photos for 30 years. He started doing weddings with his Dad back in the 90s in the South East of England. They started shooting a friends wedding and it went from there.

Martin’s Dad then got the idea of dog photographs. They would go along to dog training classes, take photographs of the dogs and then sell them the next week for five pounds each.

Martin moved from the South East to Cheshire and so had to move his business. He said he didn’t plan this very well. Martin ended up for several years after the move, going back down to Kent taking photographs. Martin did join a networking group in Cheshire and that has really helped him move his business to Cheshire. Martin also says that the business networking got him as much family work (weddings etc) as commercial work. Martin also found the networking got him introduced to owners of wedding venues.  Just as Martin

was building the business in Cheshire covid hit which effected his business. But he pivoted and moved to product photography and camper van photography. Martin says he shot his last pre-covid wedding in 2023 which shows how big a delay covid put on events like this.

Martin studies photography at school, but he only did this as the school wouldn’t let him do pottery. So he has a GCSE in photography. He then also followed this up with a btech in photography. He says he wasted his time there, not making use of all the amazing equipment that was available.

When the business started Martin’s dad was doing a  lot of the business side of the work. Martin unfortunately lost his Dad, who was also his business partner in the early two thousands. He hobbled on for a while after this before getting a job in a professional studio as a photographer. He moved up to running a studio and it taught him lots about running a business.  After working for the studio Martin, at the age of 30, in 2008 (time of the financial crisis) decided to go and work in a bank. Martin lasted nine months before realising that corporate life wasn’t for him.

While working at the bank Martin bought his first digital camera and had already been back doing photos at dog training. Martin then managed to break his foot, skateboarding when about to restart his photography business. This meant is as a dark time as he had no money coming in, but it gave him a chance to plan the business, rather than just jumping in. Martin decided he wanted to get into music photography so started to promote some local bands. He then ended up at bloodstock, a heavy metal festival. He won an award for one of his photographs. He also started to work for Q magazine.

As Martin got older had a son he decided he didn’t want to be out in the evenings so moved over for more corporate work. Marcus is really mainly focussed on head shot work now. He has various health conditions that mean he struggles now with weddings and long events. Martin says that he talks to other photographers who have health issues that effects their work. He thinks important that we are open about health issues and not hiding them away.

Marcus says other photographers are some of his main referrers. When he moved to Cheshire he initially joined a lot of Facebook groups and quickly got second shooter work. This then meant he got to know local photographers and soon they were referring work to him.

Martin’s one piece of advice for photographers starting out is to assist a top professional photographer. Learn from people at the top of their game.

“Show Transcription”

Sam: Welcome to shoot to the top. Hi Marcus, how are you doing?

Marcus:  I’m Faywa. Thank you Sam, how are you?

Sam:  Excellent. Yes. And today we have a guest with us, we have photographer Martin Hobby. So I think I will simply hand over to Martin and let him introduce himself. Hi Martin, welcome to the podcast.

Martin:  Hello Marcus and Sam. It is absolutely fantastic to be here. I’m doing good as you said. I’m Martin. I am a photographer, a general practice photographer based in Holmes Chapel in Cheshire in the UK. I’ve been shooting for 30 years this year. I started when I was a teenager. My dad was a semi-professional wedding photographer as well in the so in the 90s we started shooting weddings together. Really? And I haven’t looked back ever since. I say that I have, I’ve tried to get out of it for the last 30 years but it seems like it’s the only thing I’m any bloody good at these days. So I’ve stuck with it.

Sam: That’s really interesting Martin because you’re taking me right back. Because Holmes Chapel was where I went to school and my dad was a wedding photographer. Maybe even our dads knew competitors back then. I used to go around and be the assistant.

Martin: Well I’m originally. Sorry.

Sam:  Yeah, I’d seen Martin, I did not know that.

Martin:  So originally I’m from sort of southeast London, Kent area. Okay. So yes, been up here for five years now. The wife’s from this area so we moved back up to be close to her family and I love it. It’s so much nicer than where I used to live.

Sam:  Cool, so you started out in the southeast of England with your dad. That’s where the photography started.

Martin: Yeah, that’s right. And it was sort of one of his friends got in touch, was getting remarried and he said he hadn’t picked up a camera professionally for a few years. He was still a keen amateur photographer and he taught me the basics of it. I mean I knew how to use a handheld sort of western master light meter from when I was four or five years old really. And manual cameras. But yeah, we shot his friend’s wedding and it went well. We didn’t get a complaint. We quite like the one of them really proud of as well. We were driving behind the bridal car and on the way from the church to the reception and it broke down and said to my dad like pull up behind it and I just jumped out. Didn’t have time to grab a light meter. I was just using sort of his nick on f from the 60s, so it doesn’t have a built-in light meter. Guessed the exposure. And I’ve got this cracking documentary shot before. Documentary wedding photography was a thing of the driver tying the exhaust back on with the groom leaning over and you can see his reflection in the hubcap and then the brides in the back window laughing. So, yeah, most people cringe when they look back and see their early wedding photos, but no, that’s one that I’m still pretty proud of, really. And, yeah, we shot a few weddings together throughout the 90’s. He had the idea of photographing dogs and pets and puppies at dog training classes because we were sort of obedience handlers of dogs ourselves. My parents used to breed Shetland sheepdogs sort of when they were a bit younger as well. So we went along to dog training classes and we took pictures in the evening and then went back the following week with a load of seven by five prints and sold them for a fiver each. And I was pretty much a full time dog photographer for a few years as well.

Sam: Excellent. So you went from the stress of weddings to the equally stressful, trying to get dogs to do what they should do. But I guess if you’re at dog training, maybe the dogs are actually behaving rather than running around in circle.

Martin:  You say that people take their dogs training because maybe they’re not so well behaved. But I think it’s like anything, the old saying, never work with children and animals. But children and animals are always easy. It’s the parents and owners that are a nightmare to deal with.

Sam:  Yeah. So I’m quite interested as well, actually. Sorry, go on. You go, Marcus.

Marcus:  Sam, geek on, please, go on. You’re quite interested. You’re saying.

Sam:  I was going to talk about the move because that’s quite interesting as I talked to a few photographers about that. And obviously a move for photography is a big thing as you’re very much as a business embedded locally, aren’t you? It’s not known for me, my customers are dotted all over. It doesn’t matter for photography, you’ve got to get in your car and see them. So kind of from a business point of view, what was that like, the move kind of, in terms of your business?

Martin:  It’s been an interesting five years. I didn’t really plan the move and of course I shoot fewer weddings now, but predominantly going back five years, my business was 50-50 weddings and the commercial stuff. And of course, weddings, you’re booking a year or two years in advance. Kent to Cheshire in 2018, and I had weddings down in Kent and London in 2019, 2020 even. So, of course, after the move, it took me a while to get local clients. I joined a local networking group, which, again, that’s a slow build. It’s not an instant fix for getting work, but that really worked for me and I’m not a member of that particular group anymore, but I still do do face to work, face to face networking, and I’m a massive advocate of that. As a self employed photographer, I think that’s fantastic, especially for, well, weddings and commercial people tend to think sort of business networking groups are only for commercial photographers. However, I picked up so many weddings from it, and I very rarely spoke about the fact that I was a wedding photographer. It does seem that because you’re a photographer, people just expect that you photograph weddings and christenings and babies and whatever else. Now, I did used to manage a family portrait studio, so the one thing at the moment I don’t shoot is family portraits. I’ve paid my dues at that. I’m not putting a toe back into those waters again. Although, never say never. But of course, people just presumed I was a wedding photographer. So I go along, I talk about all the commercial stuff I do, and people would naturally say, oh, you do weddings as well? So I picked up weddings from it. So even if you’re a wedding photographer, you’re listening to this and you’re thinking face to face, business networking isn’t for you. It absolutely is. Just because the people in the room are wearing suits and they’re talking about business stuff. They’re still getting married, they still know people getting married, and they’ve still gotten kids who are getting married. So, yeah, it can absolutely work. And also, I was introduced to a couple of wedding venues and I was put onto their books, which really helped me, being in a new area and picking up the wedding work at the time. So that was fantastic. The other difficulty, of course, for my move 200 miles was I was just getting my business sort of back to the level I was used to. And then Covid hit in 2020 and that, again, it wiped out weddings for all of us and it wiped out the corporate events that we were doing. And also I shoot a lot of headshots and of course, no one was in their offices or no one had had a haircut for six months, so no one wanted their headshot taken either. So, yeah, that was interesting. Thankfully, as I’ve done so many things over the past 30 years. I kind of put a shout out on social media and started shooting more product shots again, because it seemed that a lot of people were starting home based businesses and making or selling things. So I did some product photography during that time, and the other little weird niche I fell into was campervan photography. I think in about 18 months, I shot nine or ten campervans where people. It was. Yeah, where people were doing them up and then either renting them out or doing them up for other people and selling them on. It seemed quite a booming business during the COVID years. So, yeah, that was quite interesting as well, really. And then I think, well, actually, what are we now, 2023? And I shot my last pre-Covid wedding this year. So that’s how much of an effect.

Sam: Wow.

Martin:  It kind of had. It was a couple that. Yeah, they canceled completely and then they got back in touch after everything was out the way. And again, that was a wedding that was down south for sort of an old friend, an ex photographer friend of mine. So, yes, I’m still traveling up and down the m six and the m one occasionally sort of shooting work down in Kent and the southeast as well.

Marcus:  Cool. So you were saying that obviously that’s a very long career, 30 years. You start off with your dad shooting weddings and then you gone doing family portrait photography. But I think looking for your CV; you did study photography as well?

Martin:  I did, but only because I couldn’t do pottery at school. And that is the truth. My GCSEs, I wanted to do ceramics. I wanted to make plates. Like that old Bt advert with Maureen Lippmann. Oh, the world will always need plates. Yeah, I wanted to make plates. Well, not necessarily plates. I wanted to do pottery, but I was the only person in the whole school who wanted to do that. So they said, Martin, we’re not running that class. Pick something else for your GCSEs. And I went, all right, I’ll do photography. I mean, photography was the obvious option, because, again, my dad being into it already and I think me not wanting to do photography was a small act of rebellion against my dad at the time. But yes, I did GCSE photography and then I went to college and did a B-tech in it and absolutely wasted two years at college. I look back now and it’s like I had access to a studio black and white dark room, we had a color dark room, we even had Photoshop back in the. This was like 93 i went there and I just absolutely wasted it, just getting stoned all the time. So, yeah, don’t do drugs, kids. Study at college and use the facilities that are available to you because lighting equipment is very expensive.

Marcus: And have you always been a freelancer, Martin?

Martin:  No. I tried being self-employed between 97 and 2002, but I didn’t really have much business acumen. And also again, working alongside my dad, who had a full time job as well. But he was giving me a massive hand and I’m forever grateful to him for helping me out with the business side of things. He was the person who actually got on the phone and booked a lot of the work in for us. But then unfortunately in 2000, he passed away very suddenly. So losing my dad and my business partner at the same time really hit me hard. That was a difficult couple of years after that and I limped on doing the dog training classes and doing the Odd wedding, but I really didn’t know what I was doing and I’d really had sort of lost my way. So then in 2002 I decided I needed to get a job, as in working for someone else. So I went to work for venture portraits at a studio down in Kent. And then I was at venture from 2002 to 2008, I believe. And I worked my way up from just being a photographer there and I ended up being the general manager of the studio. And that experience was fantastic because it taught me how to run a business and the importance of. Actually, it’s not just about being a creative. If you want to make a living at photography, you need to know and understand the business side of things too.

Marcus:  Just maybe just to clarify for some listeners, because adventures are a high street chain of portrait photographers, mainly family portraits.

Martin: That’s correct, yes. At their peak they had, I think it was 100 studios across the UK and they really raised the game in terms of the style of family portrait photography at the time. And also I think they raised the prices. Venture do have their detractors and I find that quite weird from other photographers complaining that venture were expensive or what venture were doing because a rising tide lifts all boats. Ventures were out there 20 years ago charging 1000 pounds for a wall portrait. And they weren’t putting anyone out of business because the type of people who were going to venture was people who could afford 1000 pounds for a wall portrait. So all these other photographers, instead of moaning about them, they should have just put their prices up. They would have still been cheaper than venture and they would have made more money. So, yeah, that was it with Venture, really. And then I decided I wanted to get out of photography. I got to 30 and it was like, right, all I’ve ever done is photography. I want to get out of it. I want a boring nine to five job. So I went to work for a bank at probably the worst time you could go and work for a bank, which was a 2008 financial crisis.

Sam:  Oops. Yeah, good. Plus time to start.

Martin:  Yeah, I’ve never had particularly good time in thinking about the history of my business now. But yes, I went to work for a bank just as an account manager in a local branch of Lloyds. And I was there for nine months and I decided to resign on my birthday as a present to myself because I realized that the corporate life wasn’t for me. I remember once I went in and a pair of zebra skin shoes, and I got called into the manager’s office and she said, martin, what makes you think it’s acceptable to wear zebra skin shoes in a bank? And I could not think of a single reason why it wasn’t acceptable. There was people coming up to me in the banking hall just like, oh, it’s great to see someone with some individuality here. But of course, working for a bank, they don’t want individuality, they just want you to be a corporate bod, and that is not me. So yes, I resigned. I didn’t really have a plan. I’d been doing a little bit of photography on the side again. I bought my first digital camp, my own first digital camera. We were using digital adventure. But yeah, I bought a Nikon D 90 and I got back to doing a little bit of the dog photography again at the dog training classes. But I didn’t really have any other plan other than that. I just knew I had to get back to photography. That made me realize that it’s a calling more than anything, really. So went back into photography and I was just about to put in an order for like 1000 pounds worth of sample products and frames and stuff because I was going to go back to doing what I know, which was family portraits and things like, and this was on a Friday night. And I thought, no, have a think about it over the weekend. That’s a lot of money. And I went out skateboarding on the Sunday night, and I broke my foot in half a dozen places, and I was in a cast for the next four months. So being self employed, we’d just gone again. Technically, I wasn’t even self-employed. I’d literally resigned from a bank, and I had garden leave and two weeks holiday pay to kind of get me by, so I kind of fell through the cracks. And at the time, that was pretty dark, really. Just my wife was working, but we didn’t have any money coming in from me at all. But looking back, it was one of the best things that happened to me. It forced me to stop and absolutely re-evaluate what I wanted to do with my life. And instead of doing the family portrait photography, I knew that I wanted to do a bit more commercial work, and I wanted to pursue the other passion of mine, which has always been music or listening to music. I haven’t played in a band for many years, so I made it a goal to kind of do some music photography as well. So I just started going to the local rock pub in Dartford where we were living and got to know the local bands and the promoters, and I shot some of the local bands live, ended up doing promo work for some of the local bands. Some of the local bands then went on to play at a heavy metal festival called Bloodstock. And I got a photo pass through the local promoter to go along to Bloodstock festival. One of the photos that I took at the first year I went to Bloodstock ended up winning me the SWPP event photographer of the year.

Sam: Oh, wow.

Martin:  And it was also used by Bloodstock for their advertising campaign. So the following year, I went back as an accredited photographer for Bloodstock. A similar time, I also bumped him into an old friend who we used to hang around with in our teenage years. And he was like, martin; you used to be doing photography? I was like, yeah, I’m doing a little bit of music photography. Russ, what about you? And he said, well, I’m the art director for Q magazine, so that was a really fortuitous meet up. So he commissioned me for a Q magazine. So I ended up sort of shooting a few larger events, and one of the most, well, the most amazing job I’ve ever had to date, I think, was going out to the Spanish Pyrenees Mountains and shooting a rave in a cave for Q magazine. That was absolutely fantastic. I know it’s probably not as glamorous as you mark, as you’ve been all around the world sort of photographing your jobs but yeah, that was a real high for me I really enjoyed that one.

Marcus:  Yeah, great magazine at that time as well, I have to say, especially for photography they used it very well.

Martin:  They did and I think I saw a post recently the Q magazine is just being re-launched after a couple of years or a few years hiatus it’s just coming back again so, yeah, I’ve not done music photography for a few years now it was as my son was getting a little bit older and he was more awake in the evenings as he was sort of a toddler and stuff it was like, you know what? Instead of going out four or five nights a week photographing bands I just wanted to spend a bit more time with him so then I made the transition over to more corporate work and headshots and things like that so, yeah, that kind of roughly brings us up to date.

Sam:  It’s quite interesting that breaking your foot actually was really positive in a way giving you that time to reflect and think rather than know automatically sleepwalking into what do I know and carry on.

Martin: It was yes, I like to call it my Robert Johnson moment but instead of meeting the devil at the crossroads and exchanging my soul for the blues I met the devil at the crossroads and exchanged arthritis in my left foot for great photography skills.

Sam:  Very similar story

Martin: Similar.

Marcus: As you say now you’re known really as I know you for mainly for your corporate, your headshots and event work but it’s really interesting to hear that you’ve done so many different genres of photography which is all adds to your skills.

Martin: Yeah, one. One day I’ll even be good at what I do maybe, I don’t know I look back and it’s like I’ve done so much but am I more of a jack of all trades, master of none? I don’t know but it does seem in recent years or certainly the last 18 months, I am focused on headshot work now. I’ve got a couple of health conditions and my foot still hurts from where I broke it 14 years ago now. So that is one of the reasons why I’m slowing down on weddings, especially full day weddings, because on the day I’m absolutely fine. The adrenaline keeps you going, but the day after my foot, it swells up and I can barely walk. The day after shooting a twelve hour wedding I’ve also got something called ulcerative colitis which is under control now. But when it’s not under control, that can cause you issues if you’re at a wedding because you need to know where the toilets are very quickly sometimes. And I’m happy kind of talking about these things. I think since I’ve been more open with my own health or my own health problems, I speak to other photographers or they get in touch also suffering from something similar, because I think things like this, we keep them to ourselves, we hide them away. And especially wedding photography, it is such an intensive workload

Sam:  Because stress on the mind and the body and all sorts, isn’t it?

Martin:  It’s a fantastic day and like I say, the adrenaline just keeps you going. But again, as we get a little bit older, we may not be quite so healthy. We spend a lot of our time in a sedentary position just editing pictures. And then once a week you’re bang, you’re out for 12 or 14 hours and that’s not good on the body. So unless you’re keeping sort of physically strong throughout the week as well, it can be a real stress. So yeah, that’s something sort of I’m more than happy to talk about with other photographers now and I’m still coming to terms with it myself. But I think the more that people talk about our health issues, the stronger we can all become that we’re not going through things like this alone as well.

Sam:  I think that’s important. And just photographers talking because I think we’ve talked about this before, haven’t we, Marcus? You go to net working events and there’s other photographers there and some people really say, oh my God, my competition is they want me to do. While actually a much better approach is actually these are people doing similar things to me. I can learn a lot from them, they can learn a lot from me. Let’s have a chat and build a community rather than go. It’s the competition I must say, you know, move around and pretend they’re not.

Martin: Absolutely, Photographers are some of my biggest referrals. And I think when I made the move from Kent to Cheshire, I just joined loads of local kind of wedding groups or more business photography related groups, not just your local sort of photography groups. And I made a point of just becoming known in those groups and I picked up. Excuse me. And I picked up second shooting work from doing that. And of course that led on to then the photographers getting to know me. So if they couldn’t make a job, they’d then refer work to me. And now in the Cheshire area, the photographers that I’ve met over the last five years are some of my closest friends. And there’s a little group of us now as well. We meet up. We’ve only met up once so far. We got another meeting planned for next week where we just meet up. We don’t talk photography, we talk business, because again, we’re all doing very similar work in a very similar area, but we can all help ourselves again going back to that venture mindset of a rising tide lifts all boats and we can help each other out through the various issues that we have in our business. And it’s a great referral network because again, if I can’t make a job, I would sooner refer that work on to someone that I know and like and trust because then I know that the client is going to look favorably on me because I’ve referred someone who’s going to do an amazing job and also the other photographer is going to go. Martin referred some work to me, I’m going to refer some work to Martin as well. And I think it’s only a good thing, photographers working together. Of course, there are the odd people in the industry who do want to hoard everything, and I don’t see the point in that because you never grow. I get a lot of other photographers messaging me or in the groups that I’m in asking for advice. And I’m more than happy to share pretty much everything I know because the more I share, that means, or that kind of forces me to refill the way that I do things. It forces me to learn more and come up with new ideas Myself. If I’ve given everything away, it’s like, right, everyone else now does what I do or now knows what I know. So then I want to seek more knowledge to become better as well. So I think it’s only a good thing that we share knowledge amongst each other.

Sam:  Yeah. Amazing. And I think we’re kind of sorry. Marcus, have you got a.

Marcus:  I was going to say the same as you. I think we’re getting to the end of the show.

Sam:  I had a quick question, though, maybe to finish with, unless you do Marcus, which was, I was going to say, given all this experience you’ve got, if somebody’s starting out, if you had, like, one piece of advice, Martin, what do you think it would be?

Martin: Wow. Get to know other photographers or do you know what? The one piece of advice for someone, if they really are starting out and they’re right at the beginning of their career and they’re still quite young. Assist. I never did it. And I really wish I had. I really wish I had assisted and I’m going to use the words proper photographer. I don’t mean someone Like me. I don’t mean the local family studio. I don’t mean the local wedding photographer. I mean, go to the guys who are at the top of their game. Go to the guys for the magazines that you look through and you read, speak to ranking, speak to the people who really are at the top of their game and learn from them because they’re at the top of their game for a reason. And I’ve got a couple of photography regrets, but that is one of the biggest ones that I did not assist.

Marcus: Yeah, I mean, I did assist when I left university for about four or five years, and he was one of the top advertising photographers possibly in the world at that time. Yeah, I still shoot with him in mind. And my practice is based around everything I learned at that stage. So you’re quite right, Martin. Well done for shattering that one out, actually. Not often heard these days, is it? Assisting?

Martin:  Yeah, it seems it can be a job in its own right. I’ve got a couple of friends who not so much now, but even in their late 20s, 30s, they were pretty much full time assistants and it provided them with a career. Actually, I did try to start assisting just before I broke my foot. And the only phone calls I had from I was laid up foot was in a cast, and I had calls from these photographers I got in touch with saying, yeah, can you assist? And I’m like, no. And again, because I’d said no that first couple of times, they never got back in touch again. So, yeah, that is a bit of a regret of mine.

Marcus:  Nice one.

Sam: It has been amazing speaking to you, Martin, a huge range of topics. We’ve managed to cover loads and loads of interesting things. So thank you so much. There will be a little bit extra for Martin, as usual. If you are a newsletter subscriber, you will be able to get the little bonus extra. If you’re not on the newsletter, you can go to the website. We have a new website now, Nice and simple to find. You can sign up to the newsletter there. And also, Martin is on our Facebook group. And on the Facebook group there’s loads of other people who guests from the show and other photographers come and join us. I’ll put the link for that in the show notes. So thanks so much, Martin. Great to have you with us.

Martin: Absolute pleasure to be here. Thank you very much. I have to say as well, Marcus, I must apologize. I think that is the least I’ve ever heard you talk on one of our podcasts or say our podcasts, these podcasts.

Marcus:  I was very interested in what you were saying though, Martin. Now I was in know I can see a lot of parallels in your career to mine as well, Joyce. It’s really nice to hear that.

Sam:  Cool. And Marcus, Marcus, I will see you next week.

Marcus: Yeah, next week. Next week at East Ham. Cool. Time is flying, isn’t it? Gosh,

Sam:  It is. Take care. Bye.