Rick Collins is hard to read. He has 20+ years of editorial experience, shooting projects like Face to Face: The Afghan Children’s Relief fund which raised more than $90 000, but he also shoots destination and local weddings.
The Vancouver-based photographer somehow manages to balance the two fields by using the same approach for all projects.
“It’s all about story,” he says, “and having a unique voice and vision.”
Collins has collected hardware throughout his career, including three Western News Photographer of the Year Awards and two Canadian News Photographer of the Year Awards, but he’s more likely to sell you on his photographic passion than his accomplishments. This type of humble yet successful personality is admirable, so I decided to reach out to Collins for an interview.
9 Questions With Rick Collins:
1. I’d like to start out with that “ah” moment when you realized your life would be tied to a camera instead of a more tangible career. How did it happen?
RC: I went to SAIT in Calgary to train as a journalist – a writer. After my first photography class I had the immediate “ah” moment and knew. I had been an artist my whole life so it wasn’t a big stretch. I just didn’t know this career even existed. I guess I just wasn’t paying attention.
2. What was your last non-photography related job? How long did the transition take and what lessons did you learn during the process?
RC: I was a lifeguard at a few different pools while going to school. The transition was immediate and all consuming.
3. You do lots of weddings and destination weddings, but your background was in documentary photography. Why did you make the transition and what skills or style did you bring with you from journalism photography to the wedding scene?
RC: I’m still very much involved as a documentary photographer. It’s just a matter of finding the time to pursue the kinds of stories I want to tell. I’m concentrating on weddings and portraiture to build a business and make a living. I have a home, two children, a partner and you have to find a way to make it work. Very few pure documentary photographers are able to make a decent living.
There really is no transition for me moving into weddings. My wedding work is the same documentary work I have always practiced. It would be the same mindset for me if a major newspaper or magazine calls and wants a day’s work on a specific event or subject. It’s storytelling pure and simple. Subject matter is relative. My style relies on a talent for recognizing story and an ability to be in the right place at the right time and a lot of practice being invisible.
My best work always happens when my subjects are authentically themselves. In news photography this seems easy – a hockey player playing is simply that. A politician is a politician. A car accident victim… etc etc. However, most photojournalists at the newspaper level bring out the worst in their subjects, not the best. They do so by injecting themselves into the scene and onto the image. They show up loud and proudly as a PHOTOGRAPHER and subjects change in response to this. I have always preferred a quiet style.
4. Some details:
a. Years as a shooter?
RC: Professionally, since 1989.
b. What’s your market niche and what sets you apart from others in this area?
RC: Anyone and everyone is a photographer these days. A monkey can do most of the work being done today. What I hope sets me apart is my 20 years of experience. It’s a matter of trust. When you hire someone to do an important job for you no matter if it’s plumbing, heart surgery or photography it’s all about experience. Then it comes down to vision and style.
c. Breakdown of income: What percentage comes from editorial clients? From commercial clients? From other sources?
RC: 30% editorial, 20% commercial, 60% other
d. Time breakdown – What percentage of time is spent shooting? Marketing? Editing? Personal Projects?
RC: Marketing 20%, Editing 50%, personal 10%, shooting 20%
5. What single piece of business advice do you wish somebody would have told you before your first paid assignment?
RC: Take a business course or two. Like many artists I’m not in this for money.
6. What’s the harshest lesson you learned early in your photography career and how can others avoid falling into the same trap?
RC: Charge clients for everything. Value your work and time. Be up front about what you charge and why.
7. What three people – be it friends, family, photographers, or anyone else provide your greatest source of inspiration?
RC: Cheryl Claibourne – life partner – film maker, Steve Simon – photographer & Brian Howell – photographer
8. Many entrepreneurs find it difficult to separate their work from their lives. What do you do to maintain a work-life balance? How does time away from the camera affect your work?
RC:I have a hard time being away from my work. It is all consuming. But we try to balance this by getting out as a family and doing things together.
9. I just read an interesting blog post that asked the question “Why do you make photographs?” and I’d love to hear your answer:
RC:I am fascinated with the world, the ever-changing landscape and especially people. I make photographs as my take on it all.
These interviews are now three months old and I’m pleased with all of the responses to date. I’d like to extend a big thanks to Rick Collins for taking time to answer my questions. Please take the time to check out Rick’s website and blog.
For my readers, these interviews are a regular series on my blog, so make sure to leave me a comment with the types of questions you want answered by today’s top pros and I’ll do my best to include them. I’m also running short on upcoming interviews, so if you can suggest any photographers who you’d like to hear from, please let me know.