Head of Commercial Photography: The Telegraph
Nicola Duffy gained a first class degree in 2002 from Loughborough’s School of the Arts. Having taken on roles in publishing, magazines and predominantly picture editing, Nicola reflects on her experiences since graduation and particularly as the Head of Commercial Photography for The Telegraph.
After studying an art foundation course and trying out different specialisms I decided that I was keen to continue with Fine Art and in particular painting. Loughborough was one of the few places that offered a degree focussed solely on painting.
I am very proud that I gained a first class degree. I think a degree of any level is impressive and not something to discount of course. I hope it has made me stand out in what is a competitive industry - I would like to think it has shown that I strive for the best and have high standards.
After I graduated I was very unsure about what I wanted to do, I no longer wanted to make art and wanted to start earning a living. Through hard work my career took off in the publishing world working for newspapers, magazines and contract publishing agencies. I often felt it was something I just fell into but in hindsight I always loved magazines from when I was very young and I used to love taking photos so maybe it was all meant to be! I now work for The Telegraph which is probably my most high profile employer and definitely my most challenging role to date.
How did you start working initially with the Nottingham Post and with Slimming World Magazine – and what did your roles entail?
After a short time temping after graduating, I got a permanent job working for the Nottingham Evening Post where I learnt all about photo manipulation and worked on colour processing and retouching images for the daily newspaper. From there I got a fabulous break and took up a position at Slimming World Magazine as an Art Assistant. I remember the interview project was tough but I completely went for it and put so much effort in and it paid off. My role was primarily to picture research; admin for the art desk and also try my hand at magazine design. Within a few weeks it was clear that my strength and interests lay in organising and producing photo shoots for the magazine and so this was the direction I progressed into. The work took me to London and all over the country helping out on photo shoots and I met some amazing people and learnt a huge amount.
As I have become more experienced my work has become more involved and more senior. I am now the one making the decisions - for example which locations we shoot at, which photographers to commission, which models to cast. I now get to make the final call whereas when I started it was very much doing the groundwork for someone above me to choose. My current role is very creative – I have to think up ideas and concepts for shoots that meet the client’s brief and also suit The Telegraph’s style of photography – pushing the photography so it is not stagnant. I am regularly on set directing shoots; I’m responsible for all the briefing pre-shoot and on the day – working closely with all the shoot team and the client to ensure we get a great set of photos. One day we can be photographing food, the next day cars or fashion – my role is very varied which keeps it interesting.
That’s really hard to say! There have been enjoyable things about different places I have worked…
I really enjoyed my time on Slimming World Magazine, I made some great friends and I learnt a great deal - not only about being a Picture Editor but about publishing and editorial in general. Some of my roles have enabled me to travel to fantastic places on shoots and meet some interesting people which has been brilliant.
Again I did kind of fall into it - I saw the job advertised and I wasn’t really looking but thought I would apply anyway. It was a chance to update my CV and my portfolio I thought! The next day after my interview they called me and offered me the job, within a month I had my feet under the desk!
It is extremely fast paced!! When I interview people to join my team I really emphasise that you have probably not worked anywhere as fast paced as The Telegraph. As I work for the commercial arm of The Telegraph everything we produce is for a client – recent clients include Boots, House of Fraser, BMW. The client buys a campaign often running across several months and including print and digital content.
As a department we have 100+ clients and we can have the same amount of live projects on the go at any one time. I manage a team of five people so whilst I am producing shoots, attending client meetings etc. they will be on the ground finding hundreds of pictures each day to accompany our client’s editorial content.
Although the course I studied doesn’t feel a direct relation to the career I have taken I do feel studying art definitely played a part in getting me to where I am today. I have even undertaken a few projects where knowing about art and artists has certainly come in useful! And of course possibly the biggest benefit from studying at Loughborough (or any university) are the life skills you gain - moving away from home, meeting new people etc. I think Fine Art is a difficult subject to translate to a career and possibly some time spent in industry would have been beneficial for me to see what sort of careers are out there.
In my current role I tend to take on the big campaigns and with that they often include large scale or several photo shoots. The big campaigns may consist of 20 print articles, a website with digital articles, a cover wrap of a magazine plus various other content. I enjoy working for all different clients – we recently did a gorgeous fashion shoot for Fenwick which was all focused on Ascot race day fashion. Everything just gelled on the day – the model was amazing, the clothes looked fantastic and the photographer just made every shot look effortless. I like working with different photographers and it’s exciting when that email drops into you inbox to say the shots are in. I always get a ping of excitement as the download finishes and I open up the shots to look through. It’s very satisfying when clients tell you they love the ideas and photos you have produced and even more so when the people being photographed have enjoyed the shoot too.
As Head of Photography, what kinds of leadership skills have you had to develop? And how much of your role involves leading a team, compared with liaising with other members of The Telegraph group?
Managing a team can be challenging at times but also rewarding, as you progress in your career and take on more senior roles it is part and parcel of the job. When I joined The Telegraph I pretty much had to build up a new team from scratch; but this has meant I have been able to choose people I think I will work well with and also work well together in my team. A great deal of the leadership I have to undertake comes on shoot days when I am the sole person responsible for making sure all my shoot team deliver. At times I have to be firm yet not create hostility, ensure the experience is relaxed and keep everything running on schedule – you often need to be fairly diplomatic! There are often unexpected challenges on shoots – models don’t turn up, clothes don’t fit, a celebrity having an off day…and it all has to be dealt with calmly and collectively. I think this is one of my biggest strengths - it’s crucial to keep a calm exterior even if you’re on fire inside!