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Hi I'm Emily Maguire

I'm a UK career coach and business coach for individuals in the creative and entertainment industries and passionate about helping people achieve their career goals. I'm also a top voice on LinkedIn for the Film Industry and a podcast producer and host.

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Emily Maguire UK Career Coach and Business Coach for the arts, creative and entertainment industry

Pursuing the Passion: Insights from Portrait Photographer Ivan Weiss

Updated: 3 days ago

I had the pleasure of speaking with headshot photographer Ivan Weiss in episode 6 of the Inside Entertainment Industry Podcast. Discover Ivan Weiss' journey from a corporate career to becoming a successful photographer. Learn about the importance of networking, community and finding your own path in photography.

Pursuing the Passion: Insights from Portrait Photographer Ivan Weiss

In this conversation, Ivan Weiss shares his journey of becoming a photographer and the pivotal moments that led him to pursue it as a career. He discusses the importance of following your passion and finding your own path, even if it means deviating from traditional academic routes.


Ivan emphasizes the value of experience and networking in the photography industry and the need for a supportive community. He also highlights the challenges of balancing creative fulfilment with the economic viability and responsibility of being a photographer. Ivan encourages aspiring photographers to explore different disciplines and find what truly resonates with them. Taking responsibility for your work and decisions is the key to success in photography.


Introduction and Background

 

Emily:

Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer from a young age, or was there a pivotal moment when you suddenly thought, yes, I want to be a photographer, and this is my career?

 

IvanWeiss:

I think it's a bit of both because my dad was a photographer. So I grew up with the house having a dark room in it, and there were cameras, piles of prints, bulk film, and all that stuff. So I think I just assumed maybe I would be a photographer rather than decided.


Then, when I got to 16, I had to make decisions about my A levels. I asked to do an A level in photography, and the careers advisor said, well, no, you're clever; do something academic. At the age of 16, I just assumed that they knew what they were talking about. I took the advice and some academic subjects, then dropped out of school with no qualifications because I wasn't really interested in them. So I didn't apply myself, and, you know, if you don't do the work at A level, it's not really going to work out for you.


So I then went off and did various other things, and I lived in Italy and India for a while. Then, I think it was in my early thirties when I realized that I was doing photography in a way that was different from how everybody else around me was doing it. You know, I wasn't just taking snapshots. I'd started to come into contact with people who were artists, studying to be artists or striving to be artists, and I remember somebody once describing my photography as my work, which rang a bell for me. I was like, oh yeah, there is something here, this is something creative. I'm trying to express something. I don't know what, and from there, it became a sort of a slippery slope or an uphill climb, depending on which way you want to look at it. So, I started building up a photography business alongside my day job.


Finding Your Path in Photography


Ivan Weiss:

I worked out fairly quickly that portraiture was the part that really interested me, most specifically, being in a studio rather than being out in the elements, carrying around loads of gear, and all of that logistical stuff that goes with other types of photography. At a certain point, it became, you know, it took so much of my time that either the hobby or the job had to go. So it was the job that went, and I went full-time.

 

Emily:

So, when you reflect on your childhood, the academic route you took, and how it did not work out, do you feel like life worked out how you needed it to? Or do you think you should have done more of the studies at that stage?

 

Ivan Weiss:

That's always a tricky one because it's a loaded question. I don't feel any strong sense of regret. If I'm honest with myself, the only thing I wish I'd done differently is to have gone full-time with photography, maybe two or three years earlier than I actually did.


But I think that if I'd gone into photography much earlier on, you know, from

from being a teenager, who knows what would have happened? The world of photography back then was very different. Going into a career as a photographer at 18 with some A levels is a very different proposition to going into a career as a photographer in your thirties with a whole corporate career behind you and experience of running a business, working with other businesses, all of that side of things.


No, no big regrets. I think it's definitely a shame that there was that attitude of, you know, if you're clever, then you should do something academic rather than doing something practical because that's not, you know, that's clearly not the case. It's not as, you know, black and white, as there are different types of intelligence, and what intelligence you have should be used towards doing something that's fulfilling for you. So it's a shame that there was, you know, clearly at 16, I had an inkling that that was the direction I wanted to go in, and I was put off from it. Not for reasons that I think had to do with benefiting me, but probably for reasons that were to do with benefiting the schools and league tables so that they could say X number of our kids go on to university.

 

I have several friends who did go that route, and they did, you know, do photography, A-levels and got into photography. I'm talking about the late nineties, and in some cases, now we are the age that we are. They're burnt out. They're done. They've finished their careers, really. So I'm glad I'm not in that group. But that's not to say that that's necessarily how it must go.

 

The Importance of Experience and Networking

 

Emily:

It sounds like you found your passion and purpose very young, but then life and the people around you detoured, and you returned to it as a mature adult. Did you do any training that helped you build your current photography career?

 

Ivan Weiss:

So the thing that I found, and I think this is very true, pretty much everyone that I come into contact with is when you decide to go and train for something specific when you're in your, let's say, your thirties, you can move so much faster than when you're in your teens. So, at 16, it would have been two years if I'd done a photography A level, whereas when I realized that portrait photography was the thing that I really wanted to do, I went and did a three-day course in New York. It was intensive, but it was three days.


That was with Peter Hurley, a headshot photographer in New York, who runs, you know, at this three-day workshop. It's just basically an information dump. He's been doing it for 20 years or so, and he tells you absolutely everything about how he built his career and how he does what he does.


You know, me being ready to receive that information and being mature enough to do something with it meant that I took what was useful to me from those three days, discarded what wasn't and put it into action almost straight away. However, I think at 16, it would have taken me much longer to digest the information, decide what was useful, and do something with it; not to say that that's necessarily a bad thing, but it just worked out that deciding to go in and do specific training or education later in life is a very different thing to being in education from childhood and continuing into early adulthood, I think.

 

Emily:

I think it's also nice because, according to what you're saying, there is that ability even if things don't quite work out how you hope they will when you're younger. Coming back as a mature student or adult, going into the world of work, you can change that direction and establish a new chapter and career.

 

Ivan Weiss:

I mean, I see it all the time with my clients. I work with many people in their mid-thirties to maybe late forties, and they've already had a career. Now they're deciding to do something else. It gets confirmed over and over again that what they thought would have.


If I'd gone into this when I was leaving school, it would have taken me ten years to get to where I can get to in one year doing it as an adult because you've got a lot more sense of who you are, what you're about, what's a time waste, what's not a time waste, where to put your efforts and, and you can get things done so much quicker. and people pivoting from all kinds of careers into all kinds of new ventures, not just in the world of art and creativity but all kinds of things. You can move, move so much faster when you're that bit older.


Life as a Teacher in Photography

 

Emily:

So, do you think, in some ways, life was your teacher when it comes to photography?

 

Ivan Weiss:

I mean, that's always going to be the way, right? You bring to whatever you do; whatever your chosen fields, you're going to bring to it your experience, your previous experience, whatever that is. You can't, you know, you can't go back and change that. I have lived the life that I have lived. So I might as well use it to my to my benefit. However, my work life certainly informed my choice to be a portrait photographer. If I'd gone into it when I was very young, I probably wouldn't have considered portraiture the right field for me.

 

Emily:

You mentioned Peter and the workshop you did, but have there been any other influences on your choices regarding photographers already working in the industry?

 

Ivan Weiss:

Absolutely. Yeah. So I mean, there are all of the big-name photographers who people have already all heard of. They are influences in terms of looking at their work, appreciating what I appreciate, and absorbing what I like. But more important than that, I think, are the people who are maybe a year or two ahead of me in their careers, the people I have access to, and those I can speak to. So, this is one of the most fantastic things about social media. There's a lot we can say about social media that's not positive, but one of the great things is you can generally reach out to somebody whose work you've seen that you like and say, Oh, can we have a chat? And it's accessible.


So through that and Peter and other people in his network, I have people who are photographers that I look up to, but not because they're established up there with, you know, an Adi Lieberwitz or something; they're working photographers, but they're just that bit further ahead of me, and that's the inspiration: if he can do it if she can do it, then it's doable. You know, there's something for me to grab onto here, and, more than that, I can ask them how they did it, and they'll tell me.

 

Building a Community in Photography


Emily:

So, would you say that for people thinking about a photography career, it's important to network and also to find mentors who can help support and inspire them as they progress?

 

Ivan Weiss:

More than that, I would say it's about community. Photography, as with many creative professions, is fundamentally a solo activity. You spend a lot of time working by yourself. Most photography businesses are one-person businesses. So being in contact with people doing something similar to you, maybe in a different country, a different city, a different market, or a different discipline within, you know, within photography or a different stage within the same discipline. All of those things are really, you know, really useful.


You may consider those people to be mentors. You may formalize that; some people offer paid mentorships or training programs, which is great. Still, more than that, it's just to have a community of people that you can talk to and associate with, which I think is fundamentally necessary. Otherwise, you would, you know, you'd go a bit mad by yourself.

 

Emily:

I suppose that's the same for many people in the creative industries. Sometimes, it can be very much a lone person working behind the screen or the desk, and those connections can help support us.

 

Ivan Weiss:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's fundamental to, you know, it's a human need.


Emily:

So, when you look at photography as a career, what would you say is the most challenging aspect of being a photographer?

 

Ivan Weiss:

I mean, the challenges will always be the same for most people. It's being able to balance doing enough of the aspects that you find rewarding and feed you, metaphorically speaking, with doing enough of the aspects that make it sustainable and viable from an economic point of view so that it feeds you from a literal point of view, puts food on the table.


I'm always very keen in these kinds of discussions not to fall into the trap of assuming that you have to do work you don't like to get paid and to fund the work that you do. I don't think it's that clear-cut. I think creative professionals should always aim to get paid for the work they love because it has the most value. It's crazy that if the work that has the most value is the work that brings you the least reward economically, that doesn't make sense to me. But that said, of course, it's a balancing act; bills need to be paid on a certain schedule and working out when you're going to find the client who really appreciates the thing that you do and pays you for it adequately might not be on the same schedule as your rent or your mortgage or the electricity bill or whatever it is. So there's that balancing act there.


Taking Responsibility as a Photographer

 

Emily:

I was doing my research, as I do with all my guests, and I can see that you've worked on a range of photography projects. What's been your favourite project so far in your career?

 

Ivan Weiss:

Ah, I mean, that's always a difficult question. I think my mindset is always focused on what's coming next. You know, I think there's a danger of holding up something that's already done as being a pinnacle because then that suggests I'm now, you know, I'm over the hill, and I'm in decline, it might be true, but it's not a healthy place for me to be mentally.


If I'm still working, I really do think of it looking forward. You know, the things that have been most enjoyable are always about human interaction. The absolute best is when all of the things come together. So, working with the most interesting people, getting paid a decent amount, and being a project with some visibility get me some coverage and bring me my next customer. When all of those things align, that's probably the greatest. But, you know, I generally work every day; it's a different job every day. So yeah, to pick a favourite would be impossible.

 

Emily:

I also saw that you lived in India, which I think you first touched upon. What was it like taking photography out there, and what inspired you with the projects you did when you were out there?

 

Ivan Weiss:

So, when I was there, I was still in my corporate career, and photography was really just a hobby, but that experience was key to my decision to make photography my profession.


So I was in a corporate job and was out there for a specific project related to that job, not photography. I found that I was working crazy hours. I was in an office that was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I didn't have any of my usual support system community, whatever you want to call it. Cause I wasn't in the same city as my friends, family, social life, hobbies, all of those things, and I was working probably more than is healthy.


But I did have a camera with me, and I found that going out and taking pictures was the creative outlet that I needed to balance the really crazy work schedule that I was on. So, I think that was that experience in India when I became aware that photography did something for me beyond being a way to record some images that I liked looking at. It was actually a satisfying creative pursuit in itself.

 

Emily:

You said that it's also important for people to go out there and photograph many different things to gain experiences so they can try to find exactly what they want to do in that world.

 

Ivan Weiss:

Yeah, absolutely. I think it's very easy to think, I want to be a photographer, well, what's available to me? These people look cool. They're doing fashion. Okay. I must want to be a fashion photographer, for example. But if you find yourself in the fashion photography environment, it's a big team, and everybody has their own thing that they need to get out of the shoot. The photographer's not in charge. That doesn't appeal to me. All kinds of things about it didn't make sense to me.


So I think you should go out and get experience in as many different photography disciplines as possible and then be honest with yourself about which results you like the most. So, what do the pictures you produce do for you? But also, which of those processes is the most rewarding for you? Because if you think about, I know wildlife photography, for example, or landscape photography, you've got to get up at three o 'clock in the morning and carry a heavy bag through all kinds of weather conditions and be exposed to danger from wild animals, it's all of those kind of things. That sounds like an absolute nightmare, and I wouldn't want to do it. But that's the exciting and rewarding part for somebody else: they must go to these lengths to make the image, and you don't really know that until you try it.

 

Emily:

What about young people as well who perhaps don't have access to many funds? Can they go out with the camera on their phone, take pictures, and have those experiences?

 

Ivan Weiss:

Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, the barrier to entry has never been lower in that sense. You know, access to a piece of equipment that can record a decent-quality image is within reach of a huge chunk of the population now via our phones or even smaller consumer digital cameras. You know, the image quality on those things is better than professionals were using 15 years ago. You know, this technology moves on that quickly. So there's not really much to stop you in that regard. The barrier to entry in terms of being able to get paid, establish a, you know, a business, and establish a name for yourself is as difficult as it always has been, but first, you have to have a portfolio. So you've got to have work to show people, which is what I do. Can you point me toward somebody who might pay me to do this? So, creating the work is the first step.

 

Emily:

You touched upon many different things that people might need to implement or do, like the community and networking. But I know that you mentor other photographers as well.

 

Ivan Weiss:

That's through Peter's headshot crew platform, partly through another platform; headshots matter, and partly just people approach me through social media. I call it mentorship for some people. They're more interested in specific training, such as, you know, I've got three lights. What do I do with them? Or how do you do this certain thing? Looking at my pictures, how do I create certain looks on camera?


Then, for other people, it's more wanting to pick my brains. That was the way that I approached mentorship when I was being mentored. I just wanted to have access to somebody whose opinion I trusted and be able to ask them whatever question was on my mind.


Film vs. Digital Photography

 

Emily:

When you look back over your career, and I know you've shared many things and experiences, but do you have a piece of wisdom that somebody gave you when you were younger or over the years that has stuck with you?

 

Ivan Weiss:

That's a difficult one. I mean, it is definitely related to portrait photography. I think that Peter Hurley told me that what stuck with me is in portrait photography; the area in front of your camera is your studio, and in a studio, the photographer is in charge, and that is true wherever you are.


You don't have to be in a studio, and the point is that it's about responsibility. If I take a picture and say, this thing wasn't lined up nicely, and the light here wasn't great. Peter would say to me, why did you push the button? If that wasn't the picture you wanted to make, why did you make that picture? You're in charge, which means you take credit for everything but also take the blame for everything, which fits well with my mindset.


In a studio environment, that's a lot easier to implement. But I think that if you extrapolate it into something a little more figurative, it is true of running a business. When you know, when it's a one-person business, I get all the credit for everything that goes right. But I also take all the blame for everything that goes wrong, and ultimately, if I made a bad decision, why did I make that decision? Why did I push that button? It may just be an experience. I didn't know.


So 50 -50, I chose that one over that one. Now I know I won't do it again. So it's a double-edged sword, but I think that bit of advice that, you know, ultimately, it comes down to me. It's my decision, and I accept the consequences, good or bad, have been the thing that's held true through everything.

 

Emily:

And when you look back to your dad having that studio, do you ever sort of—I suppose you would call it old school—go back to actually developing the prints in a dark room, or do you stick digital?

 

Ivan Weiss:

I really love digital, so I know there are a lot of photographers who kind of almost fetishize the analogue film process, and I'm certainly not against it. If whatever equipment or technique excites you about making pictures, then that's valid, and you should go for it. I think it's a mistake to assume that there's more value in something shot in film than something shot in digital. I think it's important to understand if you do like shooting on film, why?


If you do like shooting on digital, why? For me, it's about the immediacy. I don't have the patience. I don't want to be taking pictures and then finding out three weeks later what they look like or even a day later what they look like. I want to see them now, and I can, so why wouldn't I? You know, there's the irony that I spend a lot of time manipulating colours in a way that's reminiscent of what would happen if I were shooting on film. But, you know, that's not that ironic. That's just about the aesthetic.


I think you can separate enjoying the aesthetic of film photography from the actual process. Of course, it costs a lot more money. It's not a huge problem, but environmentally speaking, there's a lot more energy and materials consumed in the process, so it's less sustainable in that sense. But, if you enjoy shooting film photography and spending time in a dark room, then you absolutely should because that's what will produce the best work for you, the process you enjoy most.

 

Final Words and Advice


Emily:

We've reached the end of the interview. Do you have any final words you want to share with our listeners?

 

Ivan Weiss:

I think everything comes down to how honest you can be with yourself about what you want to do and why you want to do it. If you can get close to clarity on those questions, then nothing will hold you back other than all of the things that are, you know, the life things that get in the way anyway. If you can work out what it is you want to do and why you want to do it, that gives you the ability to set your direction and stick to it.

 

Emily:

Now, those are some lovely words to finish. Thank you so much, Ivan. It's been really wonderful speaking to you today, and I'm sure that our listeners will gain some great insights into the world of photography that can help them with their careers. Thank you.

 

Ivan Weiss:

I hope so. Thank you for having me.


Short Biography:

Ivan Weiss is a portrait photographer based in London. Born with a camera pointed at him, he grew up surrounded by photography. His interest in portraiture was influenced by 12 years of living in Florence, Italy. He creates images that reflect a fascination with classical composition, a delight in the technical possibilities afforded by modern equipment and techniques, and a sensitivity for human emotion.


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Want to know more about Ivan Weiss

You can find out more about Ivan on his website.


Twitter: @IvanWeissLondon

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