Growing up with an architect father, David Hicks developed a love for property at a young age. His interest led to a career as an estate agent. As photography became an increasingly important part of the house-selling process, he realised it was where his true passion lay.
Read on to find out more about his bold career change, and what's changed now he's completed hundreds of FocalAgent jobs.
Shooting with FocalAgent since: February 2016
Locations covered: Lancashire and Merseyside
First camera: Nikon D5300
Hi David! As an ex-estate agent, you've got a unique perspective on property photography.
Yes - my dad was an architect. I spent a lot of time with him while I was growing up, so I developed an appeal in buildings and architecture early.
This interest led to an 18 year career as an estate agent. My primary role there was to put the properties onto the market, which included the photography.
How did you make the career move?
As the online portals grew and everybody started searching for their homes on websites, the quality of the photographs became more crucial. As an estate agent, I knew I had to improve to win instructions and keep the business progressing.
I was self-taught and as I became better, I fell in love with photography as a hobby.
I then started my own commercial photography business and as that grew, I was able to cut back my hours until after about 2 years I was busy enough to take the scary jump of leaving the estate agents (although I do still take their photographs for them) and working for myself.
Sounds like a great decision. How did that go at first?
Starting a photography business is difficult. For the commercial work, which was mainly property photos for estate agents, builders and investors, it was easier. That was because I had a good portfolio to start my website.
But for weddings, nobody wants to hire you without a portfolio and you can’t get a portfolio until somebody hires you. They do come gradually, and so does the confidence.
Property and buildings do have their own complications and there is a particular skill required to get it right, but they do what they are told, don’t move about all day long and they don’t drink too much! Weddings can certainly be a challenge but they are also very interesting and a lot of fun to shoot.
What are your equipment essentials for a FocalAgent job?
I’m a Nikon shooter so I have two bodies, the D810 and D750 with the 14-24mm 1.8 on one body and the 24-70mm 1.8 on the backup. That also means that I don’t need to change lenses as I used to. It’s also a huge relief knowing that should anything go wrong with my main camera that I have the backup. I'd hate to have a full diary of appointments and have to let everyone down with equipment failure!
I also use up to 3 speedlights, remote triggers, a tripod, a laser tape, spare memory cards and loads of rechargeable batteries.
Then I have the MacBook pro along with the iPad Pro that I use as a drawing tablet with the iPencil and the Astropad app to start processing the photos using Lightroom and Photoshop.
We first met each other in February 2016. We'd love to hear more about your first impressions.
I'm never happy with the amount of work I have because I love to be busy! I was looking for ways to fill up my diary and a quick Google search brought me to the FocalAgent website.
It looked like the work involved was exactly what I'd been doing for years, so it was a bit of a no-brainer. The floor plans weren't a problem for me as I'd done these while working as an estate agent.
I loved the set up of FocalAgent. Sending the orders through via email to be accepted and the perfectly realistic timescales for accepting, arranging and submitting the images seemed like it wouldn't be a problem. And of course the automated invoices certainly cut down my admin workload!
And how about now?
I have completed hundreds of jobs for FocalAgent during my time working with them but I still love the ping on my phone when a new order arrives. I will never tire of that sound.
I also love the freedom I have to manage my own diary and this works really well for me because I can take my girls to school or pick them up if I need to, I can fit in a round of golf if I plan things properly.
That's always good! What are your plans for the rest of your photography business?
A lot of my other work is still commercial photography, although I'm now building up the wedding side of my business. I think it'd be a perfect fit because most weddings are at the weekend, which would allow me to continue to working with FocalAgent throughout the week.
You're known as an open, communicative photographer. What advice do you have for other FocalAgent photographers?
Stick to the agreed service level agreements. I always confirm or decline the jobs as soon as possible, I contact the vendors or branches as soon as I have a chance, between appointments and keep the notes updated so that the guys in the office know what is going on.
Make sure that you have a good internet connection with fast speeds. When I first started I lived in a semi rural area and our speeds were really slow. When you have completed up to 8 jobs in a day and they all need to be submitted before 9pm the same evening, it’s a bit of a challenge when each one can take up to 20 minutes to upload! We eventually had to move house to an area where Virgin have fibre optic broadband, and now they fly though in a fraction of the time.
Another good tip would be to find something you can take out with you to work on the photographs during the day in between appointments. There are various laptops with touchscreens so that you can use Lightroom, and not only does that ease the evening workload, it’s much appreciated by the agents if the orders arrive shortly after the appointment has taken place rather than the next day.
I have a great working relationship with my client relations manager Aimee and she will certainly let me know if I have missed anything!
It’s always nice to have my diary planned and know exactly what I need to do. However if I get a call to ask me to step in and help where they have been let down or any other issue, I will always help when I can. Even if it’s not ideal and makes the rest of the day a manic rush, it’s always appreciated and remembered so well worth doing. A local agent recently called me the fourth emergency service when I helped them out and it stopped a vendor going to an alternative agent!
Thanks to David Hicks for sharing his story - and his favourite FocalAgent photographs - with us! You can read the interviews with our other Photographers of the Month here.