This week I’ll be posting portions from an interview with our resident top reputation user, Matt Grum. He’s a software developer by day and photographer by night – the near superhero like duality many on here hope to achieve. I’ll be posting major snippets and linking to the full text. Check him out at mattgrum.com. (The various … are just in there to indicate the actual chat conversation contained other pieces there.)
Me: When did you start photography and what got you interested in it?
Matt Grum: My parents were both amatuer photographers, and I was given an old olympus OM as a present when I was about 11 or so. I remember learning how to use an SLR, and I was particularly interested in double exposures and doing long exposure photos of fireworks etc.
Me: Did your parent’s style of photography influence you?
Matt Grum: I guess not, my dad was more interested in the technical side, being an engineer. My mum would shoot mostly nature and landscapes. Even at that age I was more into setting up shots and experimenting. Rather than shooting what’s around me. … I’m very into colours, and spend a long time trying to get the right [colours].
Me: You do a lot of portrait work though, yes? Seems like a lot of events, band photos, weddings, etc
Matt Grum: Yeah. I must admit I at least try to be broad and do as much as possible, but you have to try and present a certain image on the web – towards the sort of work you want to get. But yeah, there’s stuff I wouldn’t put on my main site. Like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/matt_grum/2064359396/in/set-72157603293003008
I don’t think you’d hire that guy as a wedding photographer. …
Me: Is that the kind of stuff you want to do, but can’t as a mainstream photographer?
Matt Grum: Well you can do both, you just have to market them separately.
Me: You’re currently in computer development as a large part of your income, yes?
Matt Grum: Yeah, my background is in software engineering. (Like a lot of folks on photo.se.)
Me: So, you’re doing photography professionally ‘on the side’ then?
Matt Grum: Yeah, I know lots of people who are living on photography, but I prefer my situation for now as it means I don’t have to compromise on quality. I can be picky.
Me: Sure, only taking the jobs that you like. Do you find it difficult to balance with your tech career?
Matt Grum: Not really. The two can complement each other.
Me: In what way?
Matt Grum: Going back a little, before I did any software engineering I did a CS degree, then a PhD in computer science. My thesis was in constructing 3D models from photographs. … So there was lots of image processing stuff going on. As a result I gained an insight into how things like photoshop work. … I think that definitely helps when you’re processing photos. But coding skills come in handy from everything from scripts to batch process photos to building your own website. A lot of photographers pay good money for websites and other IT support. It’s nice to be able to do it all for yourself.
Me: Given the PHD in CS, what prompted you to go semi-pro in photography then, instead of just an active hobby?
Matt Grum: I love doing it, more than can be contained within a hobby, I think. It also helps justify huge investments in gear.
Me: Many pro photographers have made note that the business and marketing of being pro/semi-pro in photography is just as much or more work than the actual photography portion – is this true for you as well?
Matt Grum: Yeah unfortunately!
Me: In what way for you? What marketing methods do you employ?
Matt Grum: I seem to spend most of my time buying jewel cases for CDs and speaking to people. I don’t do much in the way of direct marketing at this point. I let the photos speak for themselves and rely on word of mouth.
Me: How did you ‘break into’ the scene professionally? Did you shoot second for somebody, or gigs from friends, or..?
Matt Grum: You always do your first gig as a favour, and then realise you’re good enough to get paid. I’ve never assisted a professional. … Yeah I did a lot of photography at uni for the campus papers and magazines. Lots of people knew me and then when they graduated.
Me: Ah, ok, that makes sense now. … Any business is about connections. Since it seems so easy to ‘put the word out’ and many people consider themselves a photographer just for owning a DSLR – have you been affected by the flood of the market, or have your connections and body of work shielded you? Has it affected volume and/or prices?
Matt Grum: Whilst it’s true that there are lots of people offering cheap photography services with a consumer DSLR. Quality always speaks for itself. If the flood were doing work of the best quality then prices ought to fall. … There are certainly people who are on a limited budget, I appreciate that, but I’m unwilling to compromise. But there are other people who offer services at lower prices, and that’s fine. That’s about as tactfully as I can put it!
Me: Do you have any advice for any of the photo.se crowd that may be looking to go semi-pro? Things to consider, watch out for, warn about, etc. Looking back, the ‘if only I’d…”?
Matt Grum: My advice would be: “don’t”
Me: Protecting business eh?
Matt Grum: And if that’s enough to put you off, then you’re probably not cut out for it! Haha no. You’ll get a lot of people telling you not to. So the most important thing you need is determination.
Me: So, what draws you to hang around photo.se? You’re an answering machine!
Matt Grum: After I learned how to use a manual film SLR I fell out of love with photography, developing was expensive and I had limited funds and I slowly stopped taking photos. I got back into it when digital photography started becoming affordable. At that point I read up on anything and everything I could get my hands on. … Coming from a technical background I found it all fascinating. I bought my first digital camera in 2000, after extensively borrowing a friends. I’ve always liked education/learning, just have a massive appetite for knowledge. I wanted to be a university lecturer for a long time. … I remember actually why sparked it off for me with photography. …Was that I knew from being taught to use an SLR by my parents that closing the aperture increased your depth of field. One day I suddenly realised that I had no idea why. So I dutifully looked it up and then everything else that I didn’t know about photography.
Me: So, in terms of photo.se – is there a direction you’d like to see it go? Do you like where its at? Anything you’d like to see change?
Matt Grum: I think it’s going quite well, it’s one of the more successful stack exchange sites. This will be controversial, but I’d like to see questions on videography. … There’s a huge overlap when it comes to lenses, lighting and processing. … There’s loads of stuff I haven’t a clue about when it comes to videography. I’ve never really done it but some stuff that’s related to lenses that I could answer. So I’d like to both ask and answer questions. I think the larger crowd on photo.se would be beneficial.
Me: I think also, in terms of lighting, lens, etc – many of us (myself included) had decided recently to start trying to accept them as long as they related well to DSLR videography – but that was just before avp.se came up. So I don’t know where that stands now.
Matt Grum: I dont think the influx of video questions would dilute the site too much.
Me: I don’t either, but you’re right in that it’s controversial, many users see a clear distinction. … Well I think that kinda wraps up the interview! Thanks so much for doing it! I know you’re a busy guy!