Meet Our Industry Partner: Duncan Philpott
We asked action and sports adventurer photographer Duncan Philpott about his work with the UTC Sheffield Creative and Digital Media team.
Did you always want to be a photographer?
Well I did a maths degree, but I started taking photographs when I was 13 and it became a real passion. I got my first commission in my first year at uni, covering a mountain biking event, and it just grew from there. I finished my degree but it made me realise that I didn’t want to work indoors.
How did you build your business?
I got to know Steve Peat, a well-known mountain bike athlete who lives in Sheffield. Steve has been ranked number one in the world a few times and with that came plenty of press interest. A lot of my initial work was thanks to Steve who recommended me to companies and media who wanted to feature him – for example, Five Ten, a major sports footwear brand that’s now owned by Adidas. I built connections in the sports adventure world, because that’s what I’m interested in – especially biking – and my business took off.
What kinds of jobs have you done?
My clients are a real mix. I’ve worked for globally renowned brands like Nike and Red Bull and covered international cycling events such as the Enduro World Series. I’ve worked all over the world – in fact, one year I travelled across five different continents. Latterly I’ve been focusing on more UK-based work and now have clients like Sheffield City Council, working out the Outdoor City campaign, but still doing big brand jobs.
What have you been doing at the UTC?
I’ve been in several times to talk to the students about what a professional photographer does, based on my own career, and what it’s like to work to a brief from a client. I illustrate it with two very different briefs – a detailed brief from an agency working for a big brand, with all sorts of prompt cards, and a plain text email that might come directly from a smaller client. The idea is to give the students a sense of realism. I help them consider how best to approach the briefs based on my professional experience in the field.
What tips would you give to students thinking about a career in photography?
You need a really clear idea of what you want to achieve and how to make money from your work. There are various ways of doing that – getting a long-term contract or a series of contracts, pitching ideas to media outlets then going off and capturing the images, or shooting compelling images first and pitching them in – they all have pros and cons. Whatever you do, you’ll need a really strong portfolio to get off the ground, so you need to be out there shooting for yourself, building up interesting and compelling photos you can pick from.