Confidence is as confidence does…

It’s all too easy to see people with successful careers and think it’s all been easy for them, but success is often hard-won, as our inspirational photographer, Rachel, shared with us in her interview

On a sunny day in Somerset, just after we had interviewed and photographed one of our interviewees, we turned the table on one of our team and here’s how it went!

Rachel Collins Photography had the dubious honour of doing the first ever photoshoot for Countrywoman’s Guide and we loved the photos. So, when she agreed to join us on some of the Southern leg of the Journey to capture some of our interviews, we were delighted.

Little did Rachel know that we would take advantage of her presence to turn the tables and interview her!  As a photographer who has a diverse background and came to photography later in life, we felt hers was a story that could inspire others – and it absolutely was….

These days, Rachel is a brand and business photographer, originally from the Bedford area, but now based in Somerset.  Her particular specialism is getting under the skin of the stories that make up the fabric of her subject’s business and portraying that in photographic form.

We asked her what difference one of her shoots can make to a business…

“It gives them the confidence to actually talk about their own business. When you can actually see your message coming out visually, and you engage with it yourself, you are more likely to talk about it in a more confident way.”

Rachel’s twelve year photography career started with event photography, and her own interest in horses led her to become an equestrian event photographer at prestigious events like Badminton Horse Trials and show jumping events, which she did for a number of years.  But as she herself says (with a laugh!), “I am no spring chicken, limbs were starting to ache a lot and inform me that this wasn’t a long-term game from a photographic point of view, so I moved into commercial photography”.  

But Rachel wasn’t quite ready to leave the equestrian side of things completely, and on the way to fully concentrating on brand work, she started taking horse and dog portraits shoots alongside building up a commercial brand portfolio.

Although she loved the equestrian side of things, it quickly became obvious that her way forward wasn’t completely clear and keeping her feet in both camps led to a period of confusion about 5 or 6 years ago.

As she herself says, she realised that that she had to take “the heart out of it”.  The horse portrait work was something that she loved doing but the two differing threads of business running together just wasn’t working for her.  The horse work was almost like a comfort blanket, familiar and easier to do and Rachel knew that to move herself forward, she had to get out of that comfort zone.

So, a few nudges later, she transferred all her time across to the brand photography.

I talked to her about the fact that when she started working for us on Hiho shoots, she wasn’t yet feeling “valid” as a brand photographer, despite the fact that she was producing gorgeous shots.

As Rachel explained, “I’m self-taught and when you come up against photographers that are not self-taught, that whole imposter syndrome starts to step in and you think ‘why is a brand going to pick me over them?’ I used to think that they had a badge that said, ‘I have all these qualifications and decades of doing x,y,z.’”

Rachel’s reflections are so true, that old comparison gremlin kicks in so easily given half a chance and can really undermine your confidence. 

“In the end, I realised that the only way to combat that was that I just had to come out as me and demonstrate that they were investing in me and I was investing in them, and to get over the fact that there were no official “qualifications” involved in this.”

Rachel realised that no matter who you are and how qualified you are, you will still end up comparing yourself to others and that insight provided a turning point.  

As Rachel explained, the harshness with which we judge our abilities come from a good place, in that we want to do our very best for our clients, and over time, as they repeat book, confidence in yourself really starts to come through and you can embrace who you are, as she says, “I think it probably took me 3 or 4 years before I could say proudly that I am a brand photographer, I mumbled it before!”

Discovering your style as a photographer is something that happens over time.  Rachel explained that most photographers tend to have a particular way of shooting and she is really passionate about unlocking the details in a brand, and once she realised that her combined love of storytelling and photography was her special magic that could make a real difference to a brand, it all clicked into place for her.  Plus the added bonus is that it’s something she loves doing.

The trick to working with clients is getting to know them, as Rachel says,

“Unpacking their story is the thing, everyone is different and they’ve all got something different about them – by unearthing that bit that makes them tick, that makes them shine forward, I can put it into photographs that then they will use to reach their own clientele base.”

Another area that Rachel is very strong on is collaboration and she regularly works with others to get the best result for her clients.

“I think we’re all in it together, we all feed off each other and we all grow together, there’s room for everyone in business.  I will learn from everyone that I photograph and work with, there is life experience to draw from everything that you’re doing”

I then reflected back to Rachel that, from working with her, I see that one of her strengths is the ability to absorb the brand into her photography style, rather than presenting the brand with her “style”.  Her approach is refreshing and she has developed her style to be the story and the small details, rather than her image photography style being the imprint that she leaves.

As she explains, “a lot of photographers will insist on the photos fitting their portfolio style (and there is nothing wrong in that), but for me, my customer is king, the relationship I have with my clients comes first, not my ego, not my bank balance, because if they’re not happy, they’re not coming back.”

There’s a real thread of quietly coming to confidence about Rachel, often hard fought through imposter syndrome and knowing her as I do, I can see how those layers of resilience have fed through from other areas of her life.

I asked Rachel about her return to riding a few years ago, having fallen out of love with it in her late thirties, and at this she took a deep breath and said, 

“It goes deeper than the riding actually, I think it was more to do with personal circumstances. I had a very transient life as my partner then was in the military and we moved every 18 months, so I didn’t want to move the horses all the time and I’d had a number of falls and it kind of gave me the excuse to stop riding.”

Rachel explained that her circumstances then changed and she had come from an environment where there was a lot of negativity, which she absorbed. She realised that you often don’t see that happening until you’re out of it, and her divorce provided that clarity. 

“I found myself here, divorced, and not quite sure what was going on, I had confusion in what I was doing at work, confusion in my personal life and it seemed like horses were untouchable, something that were way off out there.”

Then as often happens when we least expect it, life pivoted, Rachel met someone in Somerset, incredibly stable in his life and who he was, and horsey.  One thing led to another and she found herself back on a horse, but she was a different person from the younger Rachel, who would have jumped anything.  She found herself to be an anxious rider and that made riding difficult for her.

“I did get back into it and it took me a long, long time to get myself into a position that’s comfortable. Horsey people will tell you all the time that it just takes one horse to turn the corner and I found that horse.”

We could see Rachel’s emotions bubbling to the surface as she took us through this period in her life.

“It’s an emotional process that you go through when you leave baggage behind, and anyone with a connection to animals will know how much healing they can help you do. And I found that one horse that actually enabled me to feel comfortable and confident.  It wasn’t all plain sailing but he sparked something in me that awoke something inside of me with horses again, and that was also further stabilised by the relationship I am in.”

The circumstances we find ourselves in can make such a difference to the progress we make, and the lack of pressure Rachel was under to perform with the horses pervaded into all aspects of her life and she says,

“It was like taking this enormous breath of fresh air and feeling that, ‘I can do this, I can go back to who I was twenty years ago and chip away at things in my own time.’ So here I am now, 4 or 5 years later, I’m back into riding, competing 2 or 3 times a month. Life is very different, I am happy, I am comfortable, I am confident and I don’t feel the pressure.  In addition, all of this stability, this confidence in myself as a person, has then moved across into my professional life as well.”

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