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Image / Agenda / Business

My Career: Photographer Holly McGlynn


By Holly McGlynn
11th Apr 2024
My Career: Photographer Holly McGlynn

Originally from Dublin, Holly McGlynn has been living in London for over 15 years, where she works as an award-winning fashion photographer, a lecturer in Fashion Communication and a sustainability communications consultant. Collaborating with clients like Chanel, Mulberry and Levi’s to name but a few, she’s attracted the attention of many hight street and international brands.

Did you always want to be a photographer?
No, I came to photography a little later. After college, I moved to Berlin for the craic and I got really into photography there.

In college, I studied… History of Art and French. Then I did a master’s degree in PR before getting into photography when I moved to Berlin. After that, I spent a year or so building a portfolio before moving to London for a master’s in photography. I’ve been living in London for over 15 years now.

My most formative work experience was… assisting other photographers. I was like a sponge. I watched and listened and asked questions and learned so much, both in terms of photography skills and how the wider photographic industry works.

My first real job was… as an office administrator. I worked in that role full-time while trying to start a photography career. I eventually built up enough of a client base that I was able to go part-time in that role and then a year or so later I had enough clients to go full-time with photography.

Portrait by Holly McGlynn

The most invaluable thing I learned early on in my career was… be brave! Just give it a go – the worst someone can say is no.

A common misconception about what I do is… that I actually spend all my time taking photos. I always say that I spend about 10% of my time taking photos, the rest of the time is spent at meetings, planning shoots, filing expenses, meeting potential clients, editing etc.

My main responsibility in work is to… provide a respectful environment that values every person on set. That’s my first job. After that, getting the shot and delivering the brief to the client. But you can only do that with the support and creative talents of everyone on set.

Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to/seek advice from?
My agent, Sarah at SARAHDAW, has provided me with endless support and guidance since I signed with her. She has challenged me and my opinions over the years, which is what you want from an agent.

The biggest risk I have taken in my career so far is… going freelance. It’s wild out there!

I wake at… it gives me absolutely no pleasure to write this but 5:45 am.

The first thing I do every morning is… make a coffee!

My morning routine is… wake at 5:45 am to get some work done before the kids get up. The kids wake up around 7am and myself and my husband get them ready for school and nursery and share the drop-offs. If I’m working from home, I usually do a quick gym session and then am back at my desk – with another coffee – by 9.30am.

I can’t go to work without… my camera! On one of my first shoots after my first child was born, I left home without my camera gear and my mum, who was looking after my son for the day, came running after me with it!

Photo by Holly McGlynn

I travel to work by… tube. Most of my work is based in London so I can just take public transport. Occasionally if I have to hire gear and it can’t be delivered straight to the location, then I’ll take a taxi but that’s pretty rare.

On an average workday I… it depends on what role I’m in that day. I am a photographer, a lecturer in fashion communication, a board director, and a sustainability communications consultant. If I’m on a shoot, it’s an early start. I get to set, meet the team, set up the lighting with my assistant, run through the looks, speak to the client and creative team and shoot for the day until we wrap. If I’m teaching, then I go to the office, catch up with colleagues, deliver my teaching and complete the significant admin that goes hand in hand with teaching. If I’m working on a comms project, then I’m discussing strategy with the client, overseeing press materials, speaking to journalists, and pitching angles.

I start my working day at… it depends on the day but it could be anywhere between 5:45am and 9:30am!

The first thing I do at work is… say hello to everyone. It’s a really important part of a photographer’s job to ensure everyone feels safe, valued and welcome on set.

I usually spend the first portion of the day… in any of my roles, the first part of the day is spent preparing. Preparing lighting on set, preparing teaching materials at university or preparing for a meeting with a client when working on sustainability comms.

I break for lunch at… around 1pm and usually have soup.

The most useful business tool I use every day is… I don’t think I use enough business tools to be perfectly honest! Any recommendations!?

I save time by… only doing what is necessary. This has been a game-changer for me, actually. Looking at my to-do list and asking ‘Do I have to do this?’ or ‘Do I have to do this today?’ really streamlines your priorities.

Photo by Holly McGlynn

I rarely get through my working day without… snacks! I am a walking snack dispenser.

The best part of my day is… reading the kids their bedtime stories and then watching Bargain Hunt with my husband once they’re in bed!

The most challenging part of my day is… managing pick-ups for the kids. It’s difficult because the children finish school in the middle of the working day. I do think work and school need to be better aligned. The whole system is designed under the assumption that one parent/responsible adult doesn’t work. Like a lot of families, we don’t have local family support for emergency pick-ups or to help out once a week but really, I don’t think people should have to rely on the help of grandparents to be able to work. Nor do I think children should have to stay in after-school clubs until the end of the day and be absolutely exhausted in order to accommodate parents’ work schedules. I don’t think it’s that wild to suggest that everyone finish work around 3pm… go collect your kids if you have them, or just enjoy your free time if you don’t. Lots of companies now have a four-day working week and productivity has vastly improved. Why not trial a shorter working day?

I know it’s been a good day if… I don’t have to open my laptop after the kids go to bed!

I usually end my day at… well, I often need to truncate the day to do the school run. So I might finish work early to collect the kids but then catch up either after they’re in bed or by getting up before 6am the following morning. It’s not ideal but it’s positive that work is becoming more flexible to facilitate those with caring responsibilities and life in general outside of work.

I switch off from work by… reading. I read several books a month. I think Matilda says it best; “reading is like a holiday in your head.”

Before I go to bed, I’ll… read!

I often prepare for tomorrow by… sitting down with my husband and running through what needs to be done for the following week. Usually, on a Sunday night, we get the calendars out and work out who can do which drop-offs and pick-ups, who is out on which night, who has to work late which evenings, what activities the kids have on and work things out from there. I have to say my husband was resistant to the idea because, well, it’s boring I suppose. But it makes life so much easier and we plan fun stuff too!

After a long work week, I destress by… a bottle of beer on the sofa on a Friday night. I look forward to it immensely!

The accomplishment I’m most proud of is… becoming involved in climate action. I would urge everyone to join your local climate action group and get organised. We are facing a planetary crisis and the sooner we all demand rapid action from our governments to transition away from fossil fuels and prioritise a liveable future for us all, the better.

If you want to get into my line of work, my advice is to… work on your portfolio as much as possible. Organise collaboration shoots with stylists and make-up artists and new faces at modelling agencies and shoot the kind of thing you’d want to get commissioned for. Then approach small brands and magazines with your work and try and build a reputation. Network and never forget; if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Rejection is a natural part of the industry, just don’t let it stop you from dusting yourself off and trying again.

Photo by Holly McGlynn

I’ve just finished working on… my summer tan! At the moment I’m working on several projects that I’m really excited about. Firstly, a project with Banshee of Savile Row – Savile Row’s only bespoke tailors for women. I’m thrilled to be working with such a cool brand. Secondly, a sustainability event with the Association of Photographers where I am both a Board Member and Chair of their Sustainability working group. Lastly, an ongoing personal photography project which I am carving out some time for.

Imagery provided by Holly McGlynn. This article was originally published in 2023.