This is my very first post here and hopefully one of many to come, so I'd like to start by welcoming you to my new blog!
As you might have guessed from the title, this article is going to be about working as a photographer in Greece, which I did over the summer of 2015. This was a job which I got thanks to Clare Edmead Photography (you can find all the details about the job and how to apply on Clare's website, including a really cool promotional video showing what working in Greece is like)
The reason I decided to write about this is because during that season I grew a lot as a photographer and had a blast as well, so I wanted to share both my experience and some of the photographs captured there. Also, the information in this post will hopefully be useful to whoever is interested in applying for the job and answer some of the questions you might have about it, questions which I know I had in the beginning, before moving to Greece. Therefore, I decided to go pretty in-depth with this article, so just to give you a heads up, this is going to be quite a lengthy read!
Let's get started!
I could say I got this job by chance, because to begin with, by the time I found the advert for the role, the applications had been closed for about 2 months. However, because I liked the promotional video so much I decided to ask a question and see if there was any need for another photographer. To my surprise, there was an available position...the only problem for me though was that the new photographer was needed there by the end of the month, whereas I was still in my final year in university, with around a month and a half to go until the end of the year.
Despite mentioning this, I was told to submit an application anyway. I did that and a few days later I had a phone interview, followed by a face to face one. Long story short, it all went great, but I ended up not getting the job because they found someone who was available to go to Greece earlier than I possibly could...bummer!...However, about a month later, I got another email from Clare, saying that a position had become available and it was mine if I wanted it. About a week later I was landing in Greece which became my home for the next 4 months.
Arriving in Greece
My position was in Limnos, which is a tiny island in the Aegean Sea and one of the 5 Neilson resorts where Clare sends her photographers every summer. It is a windy island and people go to that specific resort for windsurfing and sailing, but there is also waterskiing and wakeboarding as well as other activities on both water and land. Because I arrived in Greece some weeks after the season had started, I pretty much had to start working right away and I only had a couple of days to learn how things worked and what I had to do. If you apply in time and go there from the beginning of the season ( which usually starts in April) you will undergo a week of training at one of the 5 resorts, so you will be told pretty much everything you need to know, but also get to meet the other photographers and have some fun.
A day in the life of a CEP photographer
For the first two days I followed the other photographers around the resort trying to pay attention to how they were going about photographing the seemingly infinite number of activities that the guests were taking part in. I was given a rota which showed me exactly what I needed to photograph when, and that made things easier...once I had learned how to find my way around the resort.
For example, one morning I'd be on ski, which meant I had to start the day at 8 and be on the ski boat all morning, taking photos of people waterskiing and wakeboarding until 12. After lunch, a different photographer would jump on the ski boat and I would go do something else, which was either beach or kids club.
When you are on the beach you basically have to capture everything that goes on there, which typically includes windsurfing, kayaking, sailing and paddle boarding (SUPs) and in order to get the best shots you need to get on one of the safety boats that go around making sure everyone is alright.
Now that can be a lot of fun, believe me, but once the wind picks up and the sea gets choppy, it all suddenly becomes really challenging...and wet. The sailing boats will capsize a lot more, so the safety boats will be on the move almost continuously, making it that much harder to frame your shots right while holding on to the boat and avoiding your equipment getting soaked at the same time. But it's definitely doable and the more you keep at it the better you get.
Then there is the kids club which is a different beast altogether. This was arguably the trickiest thing to photograph, but also the most important one in peak season, which can be quite hectic, with hundreds of kids to photograph each week. The reason why it is challenging is because there are 9 groups of kids which are doing different activities at the same time, all over the resort (which is not small), and it is your job as the photographer to make sure you capture every single group doing different things. The schedule for each group was always written down on boards along with the time of the day when they would do each activity.
Therefore, before the activities started I would go around the resort writing down the schedules for each group and then sit down trying to figure out where I need to be and when, in order to photograph everybody.
At the end of each day, all the photographs had to be processed and uploaded to the computers in the pool bar, for guests to look at and add to their carts in preparation for sales day, which in our case was Thursdays (other resorts had different days). Generally, in order to save time, I used to edit all my morning photographs at lunchtime, so they would be ready to upload before I got to the afternoon ones - I should probably mention that one of the reasons I was doing that was because my laptop was tediously slow and exporting from Lightroom was taking very long ( about one hour for roughly 600 images). It was so slow I actually missed the beginning of our Photo Jolly towards the end of the season, because I had to upload my images but couldn't finish exporting in time.
Sales day was usually the longest day of the week, especially if you were on Ski in the morning and started at 8, because you would take photos until lunchtime and after that all photographers would start taking orders from the guests and burn photos to CDs, until 11pm. However, it did have its good parts, like talking to some cool people and having your work appreciated, which is always nice.
One of the things I really enjoyed was doing the family/couple photoshoots on the beach, at sunset. I enjoyed it because this was one area I was a bit scared about when I got there and by the end of the season I managed to improve so much. Up to that point I had only photographed friends or relatives and I didn't exactly know how to work with strangers and how to pose them. On my first two portrait sessions, I actually acted as a second shooter for another photographer in order to see how he interacted with the subjects, which places he took them to and so on.
Once I started doing them on my own though, with each new photoshoot I was getting more confident and I was finding it easier to talk to the families (most of them, some were simply not very chatty by nature) and by the end of the season I was looking forward to each new shoot. The location was great too and there was something special about the whole place being soaked in that soft, golden light.
Accommodation, internet and food
One of the nice things about this job is that you don't need to worry about finding a place to stay, as the accommodation is offered and paid for by the company. We were a team of 3 photographers and we shared a 3 bedroom flat in Myrina. Depending on your background you would have found the living conditions to be anywhere from poor, to actually quite nice. I thought there was nothing wrong with the flat, it fulfilled its purpose, which was putting a roof over our heads. Sure, it didn't look modern by any means, and the washing machine was leaking all over the bathroom everytime we'd use it, but hey, at least we had a washing machine. Most of the resort staff were saying how nice our place is, compared to where they lived and some would even come over to do their laundry because they didn't have a washing machine. I thought it was a decent flat and it even had a massive balcony which was a bonus.
Internet is quite a big thing, because at the flat it was non-existent, so what we did is bought Greek sim cards for our phones which we topped up with data only. There were a few different data packages to chose from and the one we went for had 6GB of data, which is not that much and at around €20 it was quite expensive too, but we thought it was the best option available. The way to make that last as long as possible was to not really watch any videos. There was wi-fi at the gyros shop on the corner of our street, as well as in the staff canteen at the hotel, so I used those as well in order to save data.
When it comes to food, we had 3 meals a day at the resort, which to me was great, although some people kept complaining about how bad the food is. I think they simply liked moaning more than they liked eating. I love eating and I found nothing wrong with the food. I found it tasty and varied enough to keep things interesting. The fact that it was a buffet and you could eat as much as you wanted was great because running around and photographing kids all day was no easy job and I was hungry all the time.
Leisure and free time
The work schedule was 6 days a week with one day off, which in our case was Friday. (for other resorts there were different days) Friday was transfer day, when the guests would leave the hotel and head back to chilly UK and be replaced by new guests. So there was no need for photos that day. Because some of the resort staff were off on that day too, we'd sometimes do things together and there is lots to do on that tiny island. You can hire cars quite cheaply in low season or get bikes and go explore the island which has a many other nice beaches, low mountains, waterfalls, caves, abandoned hotels and even a desert.
There is kite surfing available, scuba diving and besides, you have access to all the resort's equipment so you can go sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, etc.
We even rented a big boat once and had a party in the middle of the sea. There is no shortage of things to do there. My biggest regret is that I really needed to save money and didn't see more of the island. Also, and this is quite ironic, I regret not taking more photographs outside my job.
If I knew back then I would be writing this article now, I would have taken many more photos. In a way it's understandable though, because when you take thousands of photographs a week, you don't really feel like doing it again on your only day off.
Lastly, I want to talk about an important part of the job and that is gear. What camera and lenses should you have for the job? Well, there are definitely many options available, but generally you want a DSLR which can track moving subjects well and a good telephoto lens. Full frame has some advantages, but some of the photographers used cropped sensor cameras and still did a great job. I am a Nikon shooter and the gear I had at the time was:
- Nikon D700 w/ battery grip
- D3000 as a backup body (never used it and actually sold it to someone at the end of the season)
- Tamron SP 70-300mm f4-5.6 VC
- Nikon 50mm 1.8G (never used it)
- Nikon 18-35mm G (never used it)
- Yongnuo Speedlite (never used it)
- a tripod (never used it)
- 3 batteries
- plastic covers (used when photographing from speed boats in order to protect the camera and lens from getting wet)
- protection/UV filters for the lenses (these are a necessity as no matter how careful you are, you WILL get small drops of salty water onto the front bit of the lens and it is better to wipe it off a cheap filter than off the glass element. they also do a great job keeping dust and sand away)
When I took the job I was wondering whether the 5 fps of the D700 will be enough for shooting action, or if my £200 Tamron lens would be up for it. Well now that I have done it, I can confidently say that I would've been alright with lesser equipment too. I know other photographers who used cameras like the D800, or the Canon 5D mark 3. To be completely honest, I'd be a bit concerned bringing my £2000 camera on a job like this, because the conditions can be pretty harsh sometimes and getting your gear covered in salty sea spray can pottentially cause some damage in the form of rust or sticky buttons.
My D700 was great because it is an all weather sealed body made of metal so it can take a beating, but I am the kind of photographer who babies his equipment anyway so I kept it nice and clean all the time (which is a good thing because the better you take care of it, the longer it is going to last and also, the more it is going to be retain its value should you eventually decide to sell it).
You can definitely get by with a cropped sensor camera though, because 95% of the times you will be taking photos outdoors, under the hot and bright Greek sun. For the family photoshoots, done at sunset in dim light, the full frame sensor of the D700 was great, allowing me to push the ISO quite high with very little noise, but cameras like the D7200 or the 7D mark 2 could still work great for a job like this.
In terms of lenses, again, there were photographers shooting with 70-200mm lenses, that were worth at least double the money that I paid for mine. I got really sharp photos out of my Tamron 70-300mm VC lens, which in decent light has no problem aquiring focus precisely and fast enough. However, for Nikon shooters, I wouldn't reccommend any other budget, variable aprerture lens than the Tamron model I used (The Nikon 70-300mm VR could work, but keep in mind that it has a max aperture of f4.5, compared to the f4 of the Tamron, so you loose a bit of light).
Would I recommend the job to others?
Absolutely. You get to live on an island for up to 6 months, it is hot and sunny most of the time, you meet a lot of cool people, your food, accommodation and flights are all paid for and you get a salary on top of that as well as different performance related comissions. Sure, sometimes the working hours can be long and tiring and you don't take a job like this to get rich, but it can be a lot of fun and you get to improve a lot as a photographer, in an area of photography which is not within a lot of people's reach (talking about action photography here).
On the whole, it was a unique experience and personally I would go back there in a heartbeat if I had the chance.