As a child Rahkela wanted to be a painter. “I knew I wanted to pursue something in a creative field, and when I was 18 my dad gave me a DSLR camera.”
After leaving school in year 10, she pursued photography, becoming friends with two older professionals who acted as mentors. One of them lent her a Canon 5D to take photos at a wedding and the gig attracted attention to Rahkela’s blog.
“Even though I didn’t think I was capable of doing it, it turned out to be a really big deal.”
Small fashion labels and other business began contacting her via her blog to offer paid work. Three years ago she decided to diversify her skills by doing a graphic design course. Since then she’s been sent to take photos to Japan by Sneaky and to India by Vision Rescue.
She’s now 24 years old and has been working as a freelance photographer ever since. “Sometimes I think to myself, ‘How did I manage to do this?’” she laughs.
Well, here’s a few ways how she did it
Build a portfolio
Get in touch with modelling agencies and offer to take photos of their models for free. Build a rapport with them and they might let you use their models for editorial shoots in the future.
Quoting price is the hardest part
“Whenever someone asks me for a quote, I need to be strong because I know I need to pay my bills. Before you quote someone, know what your time and skills are worth but also be open to negotiating.”
Learn when to say no, and yes
It’s a hard question for any freelancer; “What work do you agree to do for free?”
Rahkela reached a point where she felt like she had enough work to start saying no “to companies that just want to skin you.”
She says it’s important to tell the difference between work that will and won’t benefit you, and to realise that any creative will be required to support themselves with less exciting but better paying jobs. “If you’re a graphic designer you might have to make a logo for a chemist, but even that is still more fun than working at Coles.”
Get your work out there
Rahkela says it’s vital to have your portfolio online, since “you never know who’s going to find your work.”
She uses format.com. A well-maintained social media presence is also vital.
For photographers looking for their first paid gigs, Rahkela recommends emailing magazines you like with samples of your work.
“The worst thing that’s going to happen is just that you don’t hear back.”
Another tactic is to take photos of a band at a live gig and then email those photos to their record label. “Don’t tell them how much you’ll charge in the email, just have your quote ready if they ask for it.”
Develop a signature style
“The best compliment I could ever receive is, ‘That looks like a Rahkela photo.’ People get hired because they have a signature style.”
“There are some very dark days in freelancing, but when you have a good win it’s worth all those times when you were crying in your bed. You know what you’re meant to do because you can’t think of doing anything else.”
Build a network
In her early days Rahkela was heavily influenced by magazines like Rookie and Petra Collins, as well as Oyster, Frankie and her favourite, ID Magazine. Contact the photographers whose work you admire and ask if you can be an assistant to them. It’s a great opportunity to gain experience and make industry connections.
Money isn’t everything
For young photographers who can’t afford a Canon 5D, Rahkela recommends film.
“Start out with film. It’s such a different approach, you really have to think about your subject, to paint the image in your mind.”
If you don’t have a fancy camera, “film still feels professional, and better than cheap digital.” She also highly recommends teaching yourself how to use Photoshop, and particularly recommends Lightroom for image editing.
The third issue of Rahkela’s Lola Ziggy arts zine is available now.