As I scroll through Sandra Vijandi’s amazing portfolio, I’m taken aback by her ability to shoot just about everything – from famous faces to high fashion. Keen to find out more, our friends at The Freelancer Club didn’t hesitate to put us in touch with the lady behind the camera. When we sit down to chat, I was surprised to find photography was not Sandra’s first career, originally training as a primary school teacher. Proving that it’s never too late to give up the day job and follow your dreams, Sandra was inspiring, down to earth and more than happy to share her story with Hotcourses. An advocate for lifelong learning, if you’ve ever thought of turning that hobby into a career, read on.
So Sandra, how did you get to where you are today? Where did this interest in photography come from?
I have always been an artist and a creative person. Over the years I have expressed this interest and gift in many different ways, from music and dance, to painting and now photography. Nevertheless, I would argue that I was a ‘frustrated’ artist in that I had the burgeoning desire, but not the support from my family. I was a primary school teacher and at 26 I moved from Spain to Scotland to learn English. I had only intended to stay a few months, but met a young photographer who was taking classes at the university, and that inspired me to pursue my passion despite the perceived obstacles. I enrolled in school and with four years of dedicated work, I earned my BA in photography from Edinburgh College.
Wow, so this wasn’t your first choice in career then?
No, and that's one of the interesting things about photography. There is no one path to a successful career in this business. There are some who know their path early on and others who find their way later in life, but it's never too late to pursue your passion and you will never regret investing in yourself.
Good answer! Do you think your training and gaining that qualification was important?
Having a BA helps, but the real life and the work experience is the main training that you need. To go out there and work for people will be your qualification. In many careers, degrees and certificates are legally required to perform the job. Photography is unfortunately not always that way. There is much more of a premium placed on contacts, connections, experience and portfolios. In some ways, the democratisation of photography has encouraged anyone with a camera to lay claim to being a photographer and that unfortunately dilutes the perception of the entire profession.
Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the duality of professional photography. There are the technical aspects that can be taught and the artistic aspects that cannot be. It is important to have a foundation, but the camera and technique are just tools and they alone cannot make someone a great photographer.
So how did you take your first steps into the competitive world of photography?
In a word, grind. I attended any photography related events, artistic events associated with photography such as trade shows, Edinburgh Fringe, London Fashion Week, and general networking at parties and shows around London. Additionally I scoured the internet and applied for opportunities as they came about. I also entered into photography competitions for additional networking opportunities.
Photography is not the type of business where one can sit idly and wait for opportunities to fall (particularly for a foreigner and a newcomer to the city). It's all about networking and recognition to build your brand.
As a versatile photographer, what is your favourite subject to capture?
I love working with people. It’s an important part of my creative process. I love taking a concept and working with the client or team to develop a tangible piece of unique art.
You’ve taken photos of everything from celebrity portraits to fashion shots, what are your top tips for getting the perfect shot every time?
Well first step is the acknowledgment that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ shot. It's something that I strive toward but the fact this goal is unachievable is what keeps me motivated and interested. As for the quality of shots across such a diverse universe of practices it's about communication; communication with the client, communication with the models, communication with the rest of the photography team. This is what allows me to transpose the client’s concepts into an artistic tangible form.
Another great answer! What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt in your career so far?
It would have to be persistence.
How much of digital photography is in the camera settings and post editing?
You can use post editing and camera settings to improve and refine an image, but there's only so much you can do. A quality image and vision is the fundamental basis of all good photographic work. There are no gimmicks and no shortcuts.
Do you think photography is getting more popular with the rise of editing apps and the likes of Instagram?
In a word yes, but more importantly (and I have raised this point before), I think it creates a blurred line between the worlds of professional and amateur photography. Technically speaking, anyone can take a picture. That's why it connects with us in a unique way and is an integral part of our best memories. That said one must never forget the difference between taking pictures and professional photography. The skill, the technique, the approach, the outcomes are entirely different and it's a photographers job to deliver a final work product to the market that illustrates this difference.
What advice would you give someone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Find your passion and never be afraid to redirect your life toward said passion. More than anything else, that is what drives me and keeps me where I am today.
Do you have a favorite photoshoot or photo, if so, what is it and why?
If I had to choose just one photoshoot, I would a series named ‘Timeless Crucible’. This series was part of an exhibition that I did in Edinburgh and London. This shoot took me over a month to organize and required a tremendous amount of focus, skill, and collaboration. I ultimately made a book of the work and it stands out as one of my more memorable photographic accomplishments. You can see the behind the scenes video and the images on my website.
It sounds great! Thanks Sandra, this has been really insightful.
If Sandra has convinced you to pick up your camera and get snapping, why not take a look at the digital photography courses listed on the site? Who knows where your course might take you...