At FocalAgent HQ, the name Maurice Crooks has become synonymous with fast turnaround times and overall quality. His dedication has enabled new clients to have an exceptional property photography experience. As he works to build this kind of relationship from day one, his working processes with estate agents are built on trust and appreciation. He's even been invited to estate agents' staff Christmas parties!
You'd be forgiven for thinking he'd been a professional photographer his whole life, but as a financial services professional, he found himself seeking a new career after the crash of 2008. "It turned out to be one of the best business decisions I have ever made," he says. Read on to learn about his journey as a property photographer, how his work has appeared in The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, and Lonely Planet, and why the cheapest thing in his bag is the thing that's transformed his photography the most...
Shooting with FocalAgent since: July 2014
Locations covered: Maidstone, Chatham, Sheerness, Faversham
First camera: Zenit E with Industar 50mm lens
Favourite photographer: Steve Bloom
From financial services to property photography - that's quite a jump! How did that come about?
I left home in Scotland aged 19 to start a career in Financial Services in Horsham, West Sussex at the Head Office of a large insurance company and eventually ended up working for a large bank in the City of London.
Whilst there, I was providing financial advice on a face-to-face basis with clients many of whom were high net worth (and high maintenance) and I had dealings with a wide variety of people, including a Lord, actors, TV personalities, sportsmen and a Bond girl!
In such a working environment, customer service is crucial and the only way to succeed is to consistently go the extra mile for your customer until it becomes routine.
The lessons learned here have proved essential in my dealings with estate agents and their customers in this role.
Unfortunately the bank became a victim of the banking crisis of 2008 and I found myself without a job, and at the age of 53 unable to get a new one in a similar role.
However, I'd been a hobbyist photographer since my twenties, and had a useful second income from stock photography with one of the world’s largest stock libraries. I had all the equipment and the support of my wife so despite having no experience of running a photography business, I decided to take the plunge and become a full time photographer.
Starting out as a freelance photographer can be difficult. How did you find it?
I certainly put in the hard yards with networking, business breakfasts and social media. I took corporate headshots and pet portraits and joined the local camera club hoping to get lots of advice and I gained my LRPS.
However it seemed that everyone with a camera was a professional photographer and tenders for jobs were getting lower all the time and prices were being driven down.
As any self-employed person will tell you, the hardest thing for a business, whether new or established, is getting new customers and it seemed that I was spending more time in prospecting for business rather than actually working.
Stock photography gave you a good foundation to work from. We'd love to hear more about that.
The stock work is fascinating as once you have built up a sizeable portfolio it pays out a passive income – the trick is to keep growing the portfolio to grow income.
To date, I have had work published in the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Radio Times, The Lonely Planet Guide and Fodors Travel Guides to name a few.
I tend not to specialise in any one area of photography but have a wide and varied range of images from landmarks to studio work. It seems that anything sells and one of my best sellers is a picture of a can of sardines on white, but the majority of my published work appears to be travel. I am still selling pictures taken in New Zealand 10 years ago!
Moving onto your property photography, how did you hear about FocalAgent?
One day in June 2014 I was searching for photo assignments online and purely by chance, I stumbled across a recruitment ad for FocalAgent.
I thought it sounded like an interesting proposition, particularly as clients were provided and I already had a little bit of knowledge of the estate agency/mortgage market from my time in financial services so felt I could offer a little ‘empathy’.
In addition as my work for the stock library was wide and varied and I have always enjoyed the challenge of learning new techniques for different types of photography I felt that I could quickly get to grips with the necessary techniques for houses.
So I applied for the job and after providing images and a floor plan of my own house I was welcomed aboard!
It turned out to be one of the best business decisions I have ever made. From day one I was made to feel an important part of the team – I remember Heather from Client Relations (hear from her here) in particular being incredibly supportive and helping me find my feet.
The regular flow of assignments was a huge and welcome relief and the accounting side of things really can’t be any easier.
That's so great to hear - our Client Relations team are as involved in photographers' lives as the photographer Business Coaches! What's your relationship with FocalAgent like now?
Nowadays I don’t need to call HQ very often as everything seems to run perfectly smoothly. But it’s nice to know that my Business Coaches Alex and Mel, and Thomas, who's Head of Photographer Support, are just a phone call away should there be any problems.
For my part, I continue to work hard to ensure my images are good enough and still today am always looking for new ways to improve them.
And how has your photography evolved?
My first job was back in July 2014 and I was understandably very nervous. The clients clearly put their complete trust in you and they want you to help them sell their house – so no pressure then!
I felt that the shoot went well enough albeit slowly but looking back at my early shoots it is clear to see how much my work has ‘evolved’ – hopefully for the better.
For example I shoot lower down now, from waist height, I use a wider lens and my use of flash has improved.
Talking of kit, what are your essentials?
I’m a Canon man and use:
- 60D camera – unsung hero in the Canon range. Full Frame and handles noise superbly
- 14mm L wide angle for small rooms
- 17-40mm L for larger rooms and exteriors
- 24-70mm L for occasional longer shots
- Speedlite – 600EX-RT with 2 RT Slaves where necessary
- Manfrotto monopod
However the item which I would recommend above all others is also the most inexpensive thing in my kit bag.
Another FocalAgent photographer, Richard Butters, told me about it over a beer once. It's called a ‘Black Foamie Thing’ (read more about it here and you can buy one for yourself here). I bought mine from Hobbycraft for a couple of pounds and couldn’t believe the results it gives. By hooding the light from a flash it removes flash reflections in windows and bathrooms and has the bonus of seeming to make the room ‘shadowless’. Buy it, you won’t regret it.
What advice do you have for other photographers?
- Always remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the customers.
- Be prompt, courteous, professional and above all communicate.
- Let the agent know if there are any problems – you are running late, or the house is a mess.
- Make their experience better than the last one. One customer told me that the previous photographer didn’t speak, took one picture in each room, didn’t show any of the pictures and when she did see them online they were dreadful.
- Engage with the home owner, listen to their ideas, show them the pictures you have taken.
All photography in this post is courtesy of Maurice Crooks. Check out the rest of our Photographer of the Month interviews here.