Former D&AD Next Photographer Award Judge Sarah Thomson is Head of Art Production at Fallon, where she commissions photography, illustration, CGI and moving image for online content. She has been involved in award-winning campaigns for clients such as Harvey Nichols, VW, FT and Marmite.
Here, Sarah explains how she broke into the industry, shares advice for aspiring photographers looking to take their first tentative steps in the business, and lifts the lid on the most exciting trends in photography today.
How did you break into the industry?
A friend of mine from university had been working for a photographers' agent. She was leaving to do another degree and suggested to them that I might be a suitable replacement. I worked for them for about four years before moving on to do stills production.
What advice would you give to aspiring photographers looking to break into the industry today?
Work very hard; work on your own projects; shoot as much as you can; consider all the many outlets for your work, definitely not just the traditional channels; consider shooting moving image as well as stills; be flexible, think laterally; be serious about your chosen career but enjoy it all too – even when it’s stressful, it is a privilege to do.
What tools or kit are invaluable to the modern day photographer?
I do know that if you work in advertising you will need some skills other than being extremely technically capable. You will need to be patient, flexible, inventive, articulate, charming and have a good sense of humour.
What are your external influences and where do you find your inspiration?
I have appointments to see photographers' (and illustrators', set designers;, CGI artists') portfolios every day. I look at loads of blogs on lots of different subjects (mainly arts related), I read lots of magazines. I see as many exhibitions as I can in London (usually all the major ones and many others besides). When I’m outside of London and abroad, I do the same. I visit graduate shows, see lots of films and watch animations and short films online. These are things I have always done and continue to do, but my most recent inspiration has been from dance. I have a very knowledgeable friend who for the last few years has been advising me on wonderful contemporary dance at Sadlers Wells and Barbican – and I absolutely love this.
What current trends in photography excite you?
The enormous sense of possibility, photography can exist in so many places, the barriers between the genres are fewer and fewer and the potential greater than it’s ever been.
What are the three mistakes photographers are making?
I’m not sure that I see photographers making mistakes. I see dedicated young photographers improving and evolving and I see more experienced photographers challenging themselves and evolving into different areas. I think the only mistake that a photographer could make would be to become complacent. Everything is constantly changing. It is so important to be aware of and embrace the change and all the new possibilities it offers.
Is a photography course essential to a successful career?
I don’t think so, I know that many photographers have become extremely successful by starting from assisting. I think it depends on the individual. Some people will prefer to have the knowledge and contacts from doing a course, while others may prefer to learn on the job and make contacts that way. We certainly never look for qualifications, we just look for great work.
The D&AD Next Photographer Award aims to discover and showcase the next generation of talented photographers from around the world. If you have less than three years professional experience, enter the D&AD Next Photographer Award now.