Verity Milligan is award-winning professional photographer and educator working out of the city of Birmingham, UK. “I’ve been creating images for the best part of a decade. Shooting on all formats and learning my craft slowly and methodically. I love to take photographs and to share my work with the world.” Her clients include BMV, Visit England, and Marketing Birmingham, amongst many more.
How did you get your start in photography?
I first picked up a camera when I was 25, so I was a little late to the game, however I previously had aspirations to become an artist, so I took to photography like a duck to water. It’s hard to recall what got me started, but I’ve always been happier when I’m outdoors, so taking a camera with me felt like a natural extension of something I already enjoyed. In terms of commercial work, I started to share some of my imagery of Birmingham online, and it garnered support from the local community and lead to some opportunities upon which I built up my business. I acknowledge wholeheartedly that if it wasn’t for social media I would have struggled to break into the industry.
What type of photography are you shooting and what motivated you to focus on that genre?
To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of committing to only one genre. Ostensibly, I’m a landscape & architectural photographer (both urban and rural), but my portfolio includes commercial, events, product, advertising, portrait and wedding photography. I’m not a person who copes well with routine or sticking to one thing for long, so diversity is key, and photography is a fabulously broad church. Dabbling in different genres ensures that I’m always learning. It’s important to me to remain versatile, but I think if I was only allowed to shoot one genre for the rest of my career, landscape/architectural photography would be a natural fit.
Did you experience any challenges as a woman entering into the photography market?
I find that being a woman has definitely made my photographic journey tougher, especially because my particular field is male-dominated. In the beginning people were surprised that I was a landscape/architectural photographer with no interest in shooting newborns or imbuing my work with pastel colours. I find that in a way I’m constantly being underestimated, and that somewhat plays to my advantage. I’d much rather be the scrappy underdog working towards something, exceeding expectations. Ultimately, as a woman photographer in my particular field, I’m in a minority, but that minority is incredibly supportive and talented, so I feel very lucky.
What has been your biggest achievement or obstacle along the way?
My biggest achievement is probably working with national brands & organisations such as Yorkshire Tea and Visit Britain, and have some of the big PR & advertising agencies believe in me and my work. Also, this year I had my first solo exhibition, which felt really good, and I hope it’s the first of many. In terms of obstacles, photography is a saturated industry where lots of newcomers are willing to work for free, or on the promise of recognition, and this is detrimental to the industry as a whole. This is something I face on a regular basis, people looking for my time or imagery for free, and in some situations (charities or causes I believe in), I’m happy to give my time and expertise, but for the most part I find it quite frustrating. I think half the battle as a freelancer is having enough confidence in your work and ensuring you’re not underselling yourself or anyone else in the industry.
Who and/or what inspires you most?
There are lots of my contemporaries who I take inspiration from on a daily basis. Photographers like Julian Calverley, Mark Littlejohn, Rachael Talibart (and dozens more), who consistently put out incredible work and find innovative ways to capture the landscape. Most of all I’m inspired by light, especially morning light, just after sunrise, and how it plays with the landscape, whether it’s urban or rural. I’m happiest when shooting at dawn, there is something so quiet and ethereal about the world at that time and even in a city it can feel like there’s only me awake (especially in the summer when I’m getting up as others go to bed). When I have a great morning of shooting in good conditions I can feel completely elated and inspired for the rest of the day. Of course, for one great morning shooting, there can be many others where I’m standing under flat, grey skies with no hope of anything interesting. The thought of the light though, and not knowing how it will play out, keeps me coming back for more.
What is your approach? Is there anything in particular you try to achieve during a shoot (for example triggering certain feelings, etc.) or are there any specific techniques you use?
My approach is fairly holistic. There are times when I will have a specific plan and shot in mind, and this especially true when I’m shooting for a client. However, if I’m shooting for myself, a lot of the time I let the landscape lead me. I’m always prepared, carrying all my kit and accessories with me, ready for what the day will throw at me. Much of my landscape work is shot with a telephoto lens, as I really enjoy picking out details rather than capturing the whole scene. It allows my literal mind to become a little more abstract. I’m always trying to capture the feeling of the scene in front of me how I perceive it. I see the world in glorious technicolour and this is often conveyed in my imagery. There is so much beauty around us, whether in the countryside of the heart of a city, and my objective is to capture that in a passing moment that will never again be fully replicated. Although it’s a simple approach, at times it can be quite powerful.
Why is accurate color important within your workflow?
Colour is incredibly important to any photographer, but I would say I’m especially obsessed with replicating accurate colour as I perceive it. As I evolve as a photographer, I’m more interested in ensuring my images are as accurate as possible, eradicating colour casts and other potential contaminates. I’ve recently just got into printing my own work, and this means accurate colour is even more important than before. Often there is a disconnect between what I’m seeing on the screen and what is printed, so it’s incredibly important to get to grips with the technical aspects and manage that relationship between screen and physical print.
Any tips or advice for photographers just beginning their career?
My biggest piece of advice is to be yourself, and find your own voice. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, as long as you’re true to yourself. Be confident, shoot regularly, mess up, pick yourself up and move forward. Remember that you have an expertise, a skill you’ve honed over 1000s of hours, and that skill is worth something, so don’t sell yourself or your work short at the beginning of your career, because it will make it very difficult to change that perception further down the line.