When Hennie Wellman moved from South Africa to the UK, he found a very different photography market.
Despite a photography background working for Audi, Ford, Penguin Books, the Armed Forces, the South African rugby, cricket and football teams and FIFA during the 2010 World Cup, Hennie's favourite subject matter has always been architecture.
But with so much competition around, getting a steady client base wasn't easy. He was on the lookout for a way to indulge his favourite subject matter, while also utilising his outstanding customer service skills.
In 2013, Hennie started talking to us at FocalAgent and in three years, he's built up such a great reputation among our clients that they repeatedly ask for him by name.
Say hello to our first Photographer of the Month in 2017, Hennie Wellman!
Shooting with FocalAgent since: July 2013
Locations covered: Chelmsford, Hornchurch, Romford, Brentwood and Harold Wood
First camera: Nikon F100 & Mamiya 645
Favourite photographer: Tim Wallace
Your Business Coach, Alex, has told us you had a really interesting path into photography. How did it all start?
My love for photography started when I was in the Air Force in the 1990s. I was in the Helicopter squadron stationed on the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe and I started taking photographs from the air.
Our commander really liked my work and asked me to become the official photographer of operations. I had so much fun photographing battle tanks in action, helicopter manoeuvres, fighter jets, cannons, a large variety of weapons and most difficult of all, night attacks. It was such a privilege to serve my country and to capture such unusual subject matter for my first steps into photography.
I realised that I needed to learn a lot more about the technical side of photography as some of the shoots were incredibly difficult, so when it was time to sign for seven more years I decided not to re-enlist, but to become a full time photographer.
I studied photography at the University of Technology earning my degree specialising in advertising and opened my first studio 18 years ago. Where has the time gone?!
What were your initial thoughts when moving to the UK? How does being a photographer change from country to country?
Well, with the unstable political situation and increase in violent crime in South Africa, my wife and I made the difficult decision to leave South Africa for the safety of our young children.
Starting from scratch in a new country was more difficult than I ever imagined. Instead of competing with a few hundred licensed photographers like back in South Africa, there seems to be a thousand photographers behind every bush here in the UK and everyone with a Digital SLR calls themselves a photographer. My dentist is a photographer and so is my butcher.
Finding paid work also seems harder than ever with many, many photographers offering “time for CD or print” type deals to models, magazines and websites so they can see their names on social media sites. I decided to concentrate on business to business photography, offering quality advertising work at a slightly higher rate. I spend a lot of time networking and meeting new clients and now have many clients that use me weekly and monthly.
What role did FocalAgent play in your career in England?
When FocalAgent contacted me back in 2013 I jumped at the opportunity to add another regular client to my list - and how fantastic a relationship it has become!
During the first few months I only completed a handful of shoots for FocalAgent, as I only looked after a couple of branches, but that started growing as FocalAgent signed up more and more local branches and they started to get to know me on a more personal level.
Now, three years down the line, the amount of work coming in from all the branches I look after is such a blessing. I’ve even started using an old fashioned diary in addition to my digital one, as it is super-fast to see what availability I have in the coming days, so I can stay on top of all my bookings. Any open slots I had in my diary is now filled and the work is so enjoyable.
My regular client list includes architects, engineering firms, kitchen and bathroom designers. This has given me a real understanding of how to photograph all the different kinds of properties for FocalAgent as well. What started as 20% of my annual income in 2013 has now grown to nearly 50% in 2016 and my wife cannot be happier! I’m home more often now at a descent hour and I’m always happy because I love being behind the camera every day.
Part of the reason you've got so much FocalAgent work is down to your relationship with our estate agent clients - what's it like?
For me the key to successfully working with my branches is to know each person in the branch by name, how they each like their properties presented and how they operate as a branch. It is amazing how they vary so much for companies that all do the same job. Whenever I work with new branches I invite them along on the first few property shoots, so I can understand what they like as a branch.
Finally, what's your favourite part of the job?
Being out and about, meeting a wide range of people from all walks of life and photographing one of my favourite subject matters - Architecture. I absolutely love it!