Three days ago, I submitted my UK tax returns for the 2018-2019 tax year and with that, I fully closed down my self-employed photography business. So now that’s done, I can no longer say I am a photographer in the sense that I work for money – but I also don’t need to (fingers crossed) do a ton of administrative work. Of course, that doesn’t mean I am no longer doing photography!
How My UK Photography Business Started
During university I started doing a serious amount of photography work and I felt it was time to start writing proper invoices, register as self-employed and send tax returns. Luckily, that is pretty easy: I just needed to start giving the correct invoices while I figured out registering everything, getting a National Insurance Number, registering with the revenue service (HMRC). I love this idea that you can just start doing your business and worry about the paperwork only once you’ve actually started working. Now, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, because accessing my online HMRC account where the tax returns had to be filled out proved to be quite a challenge, but once that was solved, paperwork was pretty easy. In fact now that I have practice and collected all the documents and calculations in advance, I completed and filed my last tax returns in about 30 minutes.
What was I shooting?
I already told you about my black and white photography project and how I really got into hillwalking, but those were personal projects, not work. I didn’t talk much here about what I did for work – that was mainly event photography in London and Cambridge and I later expanded into other areas, like portraits, graduation shoots and even wedding.
It took a while, but I became the go-to photographer for a wide range of groups in Cambridge, like the Middle East and North Africa Forum, the Law Society, the King’s College Graduate Society, the Gates Gala, King’s College Boat Club and many others. In fact, with some of these groups, I went so many times that I not only started to know the organizers, but even their more regular guests as well. In London, I was shooting at the Startup Campus startup-mentoring workshop series and I was also at quite a few of the New Generation Centre events.
Shooting events is great fun, but I also looked for other challenges, one of which was portrait photography. I was asked to shoot several portrait shoots and graduation shoots, often by people I met in the events I was shooting. I even got to shoot a wedding when a photographer I knew had to cancel and he referred his clients to me. Now that was quite a big responsibility, but I think I rose to the challenge well.
The growth of this business was slow over the course of my first year of university – I was just in the right FB groups for photographers, doing good work and getting referrals. Cambridge is a small community, so referrals are probably even more important than in big cities. I like to think that reliably doing good work, delivering a quality product, going out of my way to help and just overall being a nice person to work with, word got out that I’m a good photographer and I was doing plenty of events, big and small. In fact, I still get emails from people in Cambridge asking if I could shoot their event or graduation, because someone else referred them to me. I politely have to decline and refer them to some alternative, like the right FB groups and photographer friends.
I didn’t really advertise myself because I had a fair amount of work and I didn’t want it to impact my performance in the university. Also, while I talk about a photography business, don’t imagine a full-time job. I was shooting usually one or two events a week, although of course there were some very busy and very slow periods.
Why did I stop?
Why would I close down my UK photography business? Well, I am no longer in the UK, so it is pretty hard to run back to shoot an event, plus I can’t run a UK business without being there. It would be cool to have the ability to invoice someone for photography gigs if something came up, whether that is an event or product shooting, but I have to decline those for now. Although it is not like there are that many people lining up to hire me…
I am only in Spain for 10 months, so it is not worth trying to navigate the world of pain and chaos that they have as bureaucracy here. Of course, Hungary is even more screwed up, because there for some odd reason, you need to get a certification before you can legally work as a photographer. That means I’d have to sit in a classroom for a whole year and pay over a 1000€ to learn skills that I already have (for Hungarians: I’m talking about the OKJ). Now I am certainly not a raging fan of free-market capitalism, but in this case, I can say that the market would surely better handle filtering good and bad photographers.
In the current systems, good photographers who started as a hobbyist and are completely self-taught to extremely high levels can’t work legally, leading to a huge black market. The education for the OKJ certificate is a joke, teaching outdated skills, plus things that every talented photographer already learned off the internet well before they arrived to the classroom. The people who got the certification 20 years ago often haven’t improved their skills much beyond moving from film to digital, but they still retain their badge of being a certified professional, while photographers doing work at 10x that quality are excluded from the legal market. To me, this is peak absurdity. Photography is one of the areas in which it is the easiest to judge good work – people just look at the photographer’s previous work, price and decide who to hire. No need for wasting time with a certificate. I am not exaggerating when I say that this system plays a part in me not wanting to return to Hungary to work in the near future.
Conclusion – What’s Next?
Photography has for now returned to just being a hobby for this year. Even if I wanted to, I can’t invoice people for work, but it is actually very liberating to just do personal projects. I am of course very frustrated by the Hungarian bureaucracy that is so geared towards keeping talented people out of the legal market. I think it has no place in the 21st century and I needed to rant a little about it.
So, what will happen after I finish my EVS volunteering project in Spain? Well, plans are still being formed, but I will surely have a photography business again very, very soon!
PS: throughout this blogpost, I tried to sprinkle in a wide variety of events and portraits I shot during my three years of university. Hope you liked the BTS look!