24th Jul 2022
Zoe Ardiff is a freelance photographer based across London and Dublin. Her work draws inspiration from many different sources but always shows beauty in all the unexpected places in which it may be hidden. Here, she talks all things fashion, creative process and working hard for what you want.
Did you always want to be a photographer?
I always knew I wanted to do something creative when I was younger but I never fully knew what exactly that would be. I used to really want to be a children’s book illustrator actually and, who knows, I might still follow that path later in life.
In college, I studied… photography! I have a BA degree in photography – I wouldn’t recommend the course I did, however. I think the best way to learn photography is through real-world learning… getting out into the industry and meeting people who do the role, then learning from them. My advice would be to reach out to other photographers who you look up to and ask them for advice or if you can come along and assist them on a shoot. No college course will give you this experience and being out in the real world learning will help you build confidence in yourself and your abilities. Also with the internet and social media we have everything at our fingertips so definitely use this to your advantage to promote your work and learn new skills through youtube videos etc.
My most formative work experience was… I did an internship with Not Another Intl agency in Dublin and this gave me such a great insight into the world of fashion and the work that goes on behind the scenes. While I was there I also got the opportunity to test shoot with some of the models that they represent which helped me build up my fashion photography portfolio. I did the internship with one of my best friends Eoin Greally (who’s also a photographer) and it was one of the best summers I’ve had in Dublin.
My first real job was… I think one of the first “proper” photography jobs I did I got through the agency and it was for Sian Jacobs, a beautiful Irish knitwear brand. I remember being so nervous but also being so grateful for the opportunity. The feeling of getting paid for doing something you love was such a buzz and definitely motivated me a lot going forward.
The most invaluable thing I learned early on in my career was… I think just how important it is to be a nice person in this industry and treat everyone with respect and kindness. The main reason I love my job is because it gives me the opportunity to meet so many people who I would never have crossed paths with if it weren’t for photography – it gives me a window into lots of different worlds.
A common misconception about what I do is… “just press a button” lol. I wish it was this easy but there’s definitely a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.
My main responsibility in work is to… make sure everyone involved feels comfortable and at ease. I think before the shoot it’s so important for everyone to take some time to get to know each other and have a chat before everyone gets to work so that people feel more relaxed. It’s also such a great opportunity to make new friends and connections.
Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to/seek advice from?
I go to my parents a lot for advice, they both have experience in running their own businesses and being in the creative industry. They’re also very encouraging of me staying creative outside of work and always tell me to keep drawing or doing other hobbies I like that aren’t necessarily related to photography.
The biggest risk I have taken in my career so far is… going freelance. I decided after college that I wanted to give it a go and try to be a full time freelance photographer and I’ve been so lucky that it’s been successful so far. I’m so grateful to any brands/clients that have reached out to work with me and have given me opportunities. I hope that it can continue into the future and I can keep growing and building my career both in Ireland and abroad.
I wake at… usually around 8am, but this definitely varies. My routine is all over the place at the moment because I’ve been travelling quite a bit lately.
The first thing I do every morning is… text my boyfriend “Good morning”. He lives in Amsterdam and we’re in a long distance relationship so it’s nice to wake up and let him know I’m thinking of him – as cringy as that is!
My morning routine is… non-existent! This is definitely a part of my life that needs a lot of work. I find myself editing at all hours of the day/night so I find it hard to work this into a routine.
I can’t go to work without… wearing a tracksuit! Being comfy is so important to me and I love that in this job you can wear whatever you like. In school I used to hate wearing a uniform and always hoped that in the future I’d have a job where I could wear what I wanted. Also, I usually end up on the ground trying to get different angles so it’s definitely easier to move in tracksuits too!
I travel to work by… I have gotten into a bad habit of getting taxis lately! I usually justify it by saying it’s safer than taking all my equipment on the bus but I think it might also be out of laziness too!
On an average workday… if I’m not on set with a client, I’m either editing in a coffee shop, doing mood boards or sending pitches out to potential clients. I definitely have weeks where I’m more motivated than others and being freelance is a constant battle of ups and downs, but I think I’m getting better at riding the wave of it.
I start my working day at… this varies. Sometimes it could be a 6am start or sometimes it could be a 4pm start. I think the earliest call time I’ve had was 4.30am for a sunrise shoot on a beach.
The first thing I do at work is… introduce myself to people on set. It’s always exciting to see what new people will be there on the day and what kind of location the shoot will be at.
I usually spend the first portion of the day… doing a location scout and finding the best places to take photos where we’re based. Then hair and makeup is done and the shoot begins. I usually try to keep it fun and chill throughout the day by bringing a speaker for music.
I break for lunch at… this definitely varies as well but usually 1pm for around an hour.
The most useful business tool I use every day is… Google calendar! It’s so handy and makes planning so much easier also because I’m not naturally a very organised person.
I save time by… preparing a mood board and photo references prior to the shoot. This way I know what I want the vibe and aesthetic of the shoot to be before I even show up on the day. I mainly use Pinterest or Instagram saved images to create mood boards.
The best part of my day is… meeting new people and seeing new locations. I feel very lucky that my job has allowed me to see places I never would have otherwise. Before I started photography I was a lot more unsure of myself and who I was as a person, I definitely gained confidence through doing photography. It still feels surreal that this is even my job.
The most challenging part of my day is… the editing, sometimes this can be a long process and mean late nights and a LOT of screen time. But it is always so satisfying to see the result.
I know it’s been a good day if… the clients are happy! This is so important to me – I want everyone on a shoot to have fun and enjoy it and to leave feeling excited about the results.
I usually end my day at… around 6pm. However sometimes if I’m super excited to edit a shoot I’ll stay up until 1am and get it done. I’m too impatient to wait!
I switch off from work… most of the time it’s 8pm, but as a freelancer it is so much harder to switch off sometimes. Especially because you’re in charge of yourself so sometimes there can be a lot of pressure to feel like you need to prove yourself and get as much work done as possible. I’m still trying to get into a healthier routine with work.
Before I go to bed, I’ll… say a prayer. I’m not even particularly religious at all but most nights I just say a small prayer to say thanks for my family, friends, opportunities etc. It helps me feel less stressed before bed too.
I often prepare for tomorrow by… buying film. I’ve recently decided to shoot my work mostly on film. However, the rising cost of film is definitely making me question this decision! My favourite film right now is Kodak Portra 400.
After a long work week, I destress by… meeting my friends or going out for food. I love going back to my family home in Mayo as well and seeing my family and my two dogs – Jake and Maisy. I’m also so close to my grandparents and it’s so special every time I get to see them.
The accomplishment I’m most proud of is… recently I’m most proud of a shoot I did for Nike in Amsterdam. It was my first time being flown somewhere for work. I was so nervous and excited but it went really well! It was definitely a bucket list brand to work for and nice to know that it was something that is achievable and I’m really grateful for the opportunity.
If you want to get into my line of work, my advice is to… work hard and be yourself! The main thing is to stay true to who you are and what you’d like to achieve within the industry. Practice lots and try to develop your own style, also use social media to your advantage to promote your work and to network with other people in the creative field. And to know the world is your oyster and not to be afraid to go for it!