Freestyle: Lifestyle Photographer Shannon-May Pringle

Shannon-May Pringle
Shannon-May Pringle Image: Tara Lilly

All across New Brunswick, people are using their skills sets to make a living – while at the same time being their own boss.

According to the 2016 census, 8.5 per cent of the provincial workforce (31,785 people) reported that they were primarily self-employed. Whether you call them “freelancers,” “consultants” or simply “self-employed,” there’s no doubt they play a significant and growing role in the province’s economy.

In this new series, Freestyle, we take a look at who they are and what they do.

Last time, we touched base with Saint John communications strategist Jeff Roach of Sociallogical. This week, we chat with St. Andrews-based lifestyle photographer Shannon-May Pringle:

How did you get started?

Honestly, I needed a job so I could stay in New Brunswick. I was fresh out of university with an honours degree in interdisciplinary studies with plans for law school. I had no desire to move back to Vancouver B.C., where I grew up and worked as an insurance broker before choosing to move across the county to pursue a post-secondary degree at St. Stephen’s University. Even before I finished school I knew I wanted to stay in New Brunswick while I saved and planned for law school. When I couldn’t find full-time employment, and when the job that I did have was set to wrap up for the season, I started to research photography as a business and got out shooting! I had always loved photography (and was good at it) and weddings and figured I would give it a go. What started as a means to stay in New Brunswick and to save for law school quickly turned into a career I’m passionate about.

What made you want to go freelance?

It was the only option! I never once thought about looking for work in a studio or teaming up with another photographer. Even in large city centres, it seems that wedding photographers are solo-entrepreneurs, running their businesses as a one-person operation. And now, nearly eight years in, I cannot imagine doing it any other way!

What’s your skill-set focus?

I specialize in photographing weddings! I’m best known for my candid approach to documenting the wedding day and creating timeless portraits filled with joy, intimacy and raw emotion. I will also dabble in documentary family photography, editorial shoots, business portraits and any other creative projects that peak my interest.

Who is your client base?

Basically, anyone who is getting married, values creative and heartfelt photography and loves my specific style of work.

How do you go about finding work/clients?

They find me! I have a website, a blog and I’m on social media. A quick Google search will bring couples right to me through these sites. I also receive inquiries through referrals. My past couples are amazing and have sent many of their friends my way. Also, I have some great connections with other photographers in New Brunswick who are like-minded and we refer couples to one another when we cannot accommodate a requested date. I’ve also been published on some Canadian and International wedding blogs, which have connected me with some of my couples.

What makes working as a wedding photographer different than working in other common freelance professions (like marketing or graphic design)?

I may be wrong but I think with a lot of other freelance professions you are hired on for a project and the work is very task orientated. But as a wedding photographer, I am being invited to be a part of a very personal and emotional day in a couple’s life. I will be privy to some of their most intimate moments of the day and documenting all the emotions. And, it’s likely that I will be one of the people that spends the most time with my couples on their wedding day. Thus, a wedding day is very people oriented and requires a very personal approach. It’s not only important that my couples like my work, but they need to like me as a person too. Beginning at the moment they book me for their wedding day, I get to work spending a lot of time building rapport and trust with my couples so that when their wedding day comes they can confidently share it all with me. My goal is always to have my couples feel like I am just another best friend present who is excited to be sharing their best day with them, rather than just a professional hired to complete a project.

What’s your favourite tool/app/website you use for work?

I use Sprout Studio to manage all my shoots, contracts, invoices, automated emails and to keep my workflow organized. It’s an incredible management tool for photographers and it’s saved me so much time! I think what I love about it most is that it is cloud based so I can access wherever I am as long as I have a connection.

When do you start your day and when do you end it?

This really varies depending on the day. If I’m shooting a wedding, my day can begin as early as 8 a.m. and end as late as 2 a.m. If I’m editing or doing admin work then my day might start around 11 a.m. (I am not a morning person!) and I’ll work as long as inspiration moves me, or when the big tasks on my to-do list are accomplished, or when my husband comes home from work and distracts me. I have tried to maintain a more set schedule, like keeping a more Nine-to-five schedule for non-shooting days but then I think back to when I was writing my business plan I remember loving the idea of having flexibility over my schedule and being able to take a day off whenever I needed or scheduling in a coffee date with a friend whenever needed.

What’s your favourite thing about working for yourself?

I have gotten to know myself – my strengths, my weaknesses and my passions, really well over the past eight years of working for myself. This has really been the best journey for both my personal and professional growth, and I don’t think it would have happened had I not been working for myself. In many ways, being an entrepreneur has helped me find my true self.

What’s the biggest challenge as working as a freelancer?

Time management and self-discipline. Or, maybe it’s the weight of responsibility that I carry as an entrepreneur. No wait, it’s the working alone thing. Oh, but battling through the feelings of insecurity is right up there too. Hmmm… I think the answer really changes with the day!

When do you take vacation?

What is a vacation? Kidding, sort of. You never really take a vacation when you’re freelancing. If you don’t answer those inquiry emails you might miss an awesome opportunity. And there is no leaving the office and turning off my mind about work matters. I do try to unplug from time to time, and typically during the winter months but even then I am always checking my email and working on something.

One piece of advice for someone looking to break into the freelance economy?

Be a friendly professional. Yes, have policies and boundaries, but don’t hide behind them. What sets freelancers apart is that we can step out from behind glass and be friends with our clients. And you’ll find that kindness, flexibility and taking the extra time to serve your clients will go a long way.