An interview with professional photographer Jo Hansford
Updated: May 29, 2020
In summer 2019, my mum arranged a professional equine photoshoot with our friend Jo Hansford. We’d had a tough half of the year with Dave’s injury and not knowing whether he would pull through (more on this story another time!) so my mum thought this would be the perfect birthday present to enjoy with my best friend.
We have known Jo for many years and originally met through Cotswold RDA. She came to Cheltenham in 2015 for a family photoshoot with our old dog, Amber, so mum knew the photos would be amazing.
Seeing as I’ve used one of Jo’s fantastic photos as the background on my homepage, I thought it would be great to give you an insight into her life as an equine, wedding and family photographer.
How did you decide on photography as a career?
It wasn’t originally my game plan! After A levels I went to Warwick University to study history, as I really had no idea what I wanted to do as a career but I enjoyed the subject. When I left, I decided I would like to try my hand as a journalist, so I joined a local newspaper to do a two year internship. The longer I was there, the more I realised how unsuited I was to this type of journalism!
I did however have a Pentax camera which I loved playing with, and which I used several times at the newspaper to take images to support stories I was writing. I had always been a creative child, loving arts, painting, drawing and sports and also horse riding. At the beginning, I didn’t really see photography or art as a career option. But after I left the newspaper, I decided to travel and work overseas to gain some experience of the ‘big wild world’, which was great.
When I returned from my travels, I was unemployed for a few months as I tried to find work. I had a window of time and decided to do some courses – one that really caught my eye was City & Guilds in Photography. I wasn’t highly technical, but I was instantly hooked to the creative possibilities that the camera and the darkroom offered, and I gained two distinctions in the courses.
I spent hours in the darkroom, dodging and burning images. My two specialisms were people portraits with my own personal twist, and fine art abstract nature. This is where it all began, and although at this point I still wasn’t confident enough to believe I could be a photographer, I just kept going and built my confidence and experience.
After doing a Foundation course in Bristol, I then decided to become a freelance assistant to commercial photographers, rather than going to college to get a second degree. It was a good decision as it helped me decide which field of photography I would enjoy, and I gained invaluable experience. A few years in, I began to get my own commissions, and I decided I wanted to specialise in people photography – weddings, families, PR.
What drew you to equine, family and wedding photography as opposed to other subjects? And out of the three, which is your favourite?
Whist I was assisting, I was helping mainly on product shoots like bathrooms or kitchens. I quickly realised this was too dry and technical for me; I wanted subjects I could connect with, relate to and even get to know! I had a great friend, who was a wedding photographer, and he asked me to assist him on a couple of weddings; I also photographed my first few solo weddings. I loved the way this type of work gave me the chance to get to know my clients better, to find out what they wanted and work to their brief as well as having my own personal photographic style and way of working.
In 2003 I met Nic, who started to come along to some weddings on weekends to carry bags for me. He had his own digital camera at a time when I was shooting film, and I could instantly see that he had a very natural eye and all his images had the most beautiful composition. So back in 2005, we shot our first wedding together, and that’s where the current Jo Hansford Photography as a brand really began! We were quickly popular, our two styles blended together really well and we were getting booked!
Alongside the weddings, I really enjoyed photographing children and families – shorter shoots, fun and again the chance to get to know and capture the personality and individuality of our lovely clients. Many of our wedding couples were having families a few years after getting married, and they gravitated back to us for more photoshoots with their new arrivals.
Equine photography was a new string to our bow which started in 2012, when we photographed horses for the first time. As a child I had started riding very young, and had that completely ‘little girl’ obsession with horses, something you never really lose. Coming back to this subject in a different way, as a photographer, left me feeling completely inspired and excited about the creative possibilities! I loved our wedding shoots, but I was aware that if we photographed weddings, week in week out, we could lose our creative inspiration, which I didn’t want to do… I didn’t become a photographer to make money first; I became a photographer because of my drive to be creative and create art.
In 2012 we photographed the wedding of a couple who had met at Pony Club and had horses. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to have their horses at the wedding, so a few months after their day, I asked them if they fancied having a photoshoot with their equines. They said yes, so in September 2012, we did our first equine shoot, and we haven’t looked back!
Choosing a favourite subject is like choosing your favourite child! I love all our subjects for different reasons, and partly, because of the variety it gives us. BUT, if I was forced to give everything up and just to continue photographing one subject, it would have to be horses!
What is your favourite part of a photoshoot?
That would be around half way through a shoot, when I realise everyone is relaxed, having fun, and we’re getting a great ‘capture’! I love taking pride in being able to achieve above and beyond what our clients ever imagined or hoped for, regardless of the location/lighting and any challenges which may be thrown our way.
What makes a great shot?
It’s always a combination of various elements working together – lighting, composition, the background, mood and of course the models! You can be in an incredibly beautiful location but if your light is poor, it still won’t make a cracking shot. Likewise if you have great light but in an awful, perhaps too distracting background, again it won’t work.
On a shoot we’re constantly weighing each element against each other, and working with our models to make sure they are having fun, whilst also achieving great shots.
What is the most difficult part of being a photographer?
THE PAPERWORK! There is just so much to do to keep a business working behind the scenes – invoicing, PR and social media, emailing, dealing with enquiries, plus stacks of planning for shoots. The shoot is just a small part of the job.
What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer?
I would say there are two parts to this. Firstly, having a big buzz when it all comes together, you see a shot in camera and think wow, that’s going to look amazing! It’s uplifting and exciting and we come away from most shoots feeling excited!
Secondly, the ooohs, aaahs and the laughter, joy and tears we experience in the viewing room when a client sees their images for the first time and is blown away. That’s the satisfaction of knowing that you have exceeded their expectations, and done a great job, and it’s the best feeling in the world!
Do you enjoy working with your husband, Nic?
Yes, we love working together and frequently end up talking work outside of work hours, just because we’re both passionate about it. Of course, we do have ‘moments’ working together – we are two very different personalities, who work in very different ways, which can be challenging. But we bring such different skill sets to the table, which we feel has always meant we’re able to create shoots that have our own twist, our style and our level of quality.
Can you pick a favourite photoshoot from your career?
Now that’s really challenging, as honestly there have been so many which were amazing in so many different ways! But highlights have to be weddings in Italy, Spain and Portugal; photographing the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez and Jean Francois Pignon in France. Plus, photographing 50 Skye Terriers on the Isle of Skye a few years ago, along with HRH Princess Anne, was pretty hilarious!
What does photography mean to you?
For me, it means a creative opportunity to make an image which is new, artistic and unique. Photography has always been a form of art for me as well as a way of documenting and capturing life. Personally, I think the struggle for a working, professional photographer is to be able to meet a client brief (and make money), but still maintain artistic integrity, your own vision and also to continue to develop your own work.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a career in photography?
If you can, it’s a great idea to get some work experience in the field or niche of photography you’re interested in, to make sure you enjoy the job. It’s also good to continually develop your own style of photography and your own body of work, so that you’re growing and learning.
Finally, learning some skills in marketing and business is essential. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best photographer in the world, if you can’t sell or promote your skills, then you won’t have a viable business. Working as a photographer is very different to having photography as a hobby – some people suit the latter better than the former!
Remember also that photography in this digital age is a competitive career, with many new businesses starting each year. The niche we work in means often working at unsociable times and doing long hours. So before you consider this, just make sure you have a level of commitment and passion for it to work. Some people just prefer 9 to 5, and though photography has its challenges, its also an amazing career choice, and a profession which is fun, exciting and creative.
Wow, what an amazing insight into Jo’s experience and career! If you’d like to find out more about Jo’s current work and what she can offer you as a client, please check out her website: https://www.johansfordphotography.com
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