Since graduating in Photography from Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA) in the 1990s, Mike Harrington has acquired a wealth of experience the spheres of advertising, stock and editorial photography, and greatly enjoys each of them for a variety of reasons. “I love the challenge of advertising”, he says, “because the task of fulfilling a client’s vision and adhering closely to briefs involves a lot of problem-solving. The editorial work offers a different challenge. I’ve worked on features for the Times and the Telegraph, and there’s a lot more creative freedom in it. It’s also a test of my interaction with people, getting the best out of different characters – everyone from authors to eco-warriors!”
Over the past five years, Mike has also produced a range of photographs for Getty Images. “Shooting for Getty is completely different. It’s satisfying at a personal level, because it helps me to identify trends in photography and allows me to keep track of the new ways of working which emerge every year. It’s all about personal development – and I work closely on my Getty shoots with an editor based in London.”
One of the challenges of professional photography is the task of creating fresh ideas consistently. At a basic level, Mike argues that there is a comparatively simple formula for addressing the creative side. “Make sure that the concept comes first”, he says. “Communication is essential. Is the image saying what you want it to say? All the aesthetic considerations have to come second. It’s important to make good use of elements such as colour, light, contrast and atmosphere, but these must always enhance the overall concept, and not distract from it.”
For much of the past decade, Mike has taught at NUCA as a freelance external lecturer. In terms of entering the field of commercial photography, the important thing for Mike is to be willing to learn and to develop as an individual – and not just on the creative side. “Learn as much as possible from as many photographers as possible”, he says. “I’ve seen some brilliant photographers fail at running businesses, and some uninspiring photographers do very well. It’s important to learn about customer service and communication as well as photography, and different photographers have different strengths with regard to this.”
Mike enjoys giving back to the industry which has served him well since his graduation. “It’s great to watch individuals progress. One-to-one contact usually works well on the degree course – it allows me to offer specific guidance and build strong relationships with students. Over the years, many of my assistants have come from NUCA.”
One thing which Mike often observes is a reluctance to get stuck in to photography. “Getting a job to earn some money and then trying to enter the industry is a big mistake. I often find that it’s a way of avoiding confrontation of fears. The best way is to attack those fears straight away, because as daunting as they are, they’re very short-lived, and they disappear quickly as experience grows.”
Mike’s favourite photographers include Julia Fullerton-Batten – “a genius, sometimes” – and Philip Lee Harvey, who has become extremely successful in the field of travel photography, “earning his living from the work that he loves.” Their work is well worth perusing. Along with Mike’s, of course.