I recently met Tora through a mutual friend. Her photography blew me away with its imaginative and limitless flair. Her energy and passion for what she does and how she does it is simply contagious; I couldn't help but ask her for an interview. She graciously agreed.
From a 9-to-5 career in the corporate financial world, to a freelancing photographer, it must have been a radical change! Why and how did you decide to become a photographer? Was the transition difficult?
It was indeed a radical change. I used to be under a fixed schedule, following the orders of a boss, and having very specific responsibilities. As a freelancer all that was gone, and it was really confusing at first. I had a plan, but there was so much to do and I didn’t really know where to start. Well, I started off by registering my business, but then there were so many other things to do--from putting together my contracts and invoicing system to my website and social media presence, and so on. There’s so much to do, you don’t realize it until you’re in it. But I love it, I was doing photography as a hobby for some years, but truth is, I always knew I wanted to follow a creative path ever since I was 17 and I interned in an advertising agency, but I was scared. When I moved to Canada I wanted a sure income, so I went to study Accounting at Concordia, but in my last year of university, I was doing graphic design and photography projects on the side and that’s when I really knew Accounting was not for me. But it took me a few years to figure out my creative path. The biggest surprise for me was the makeup part; I was always doing my own makeup for my photoshoots when I was in photo school, but then it started to pick up, and my photographer friends started asking me for help--one thing led to another, and whaddya know? I am a makeup artist as well now.
Every artist has their own artistry that distinguishes them, but surely they have at least one muse that drives them. Who and what influences and inspires your photography?
Oh there are so many…When I first started photography I really liked event photography (concerts, festivals, etc.) and I can say the photographer that really got me to consider a career in photography is Rutger Geerling (a Dutch festival photographer). I was studying accounting, and looking at a life of working in a cubicle, and then I found this guy, who also did a career switch, and it was unbelievable where his photography path took him: From the stages of some of the world’s largest festivals, to crazy photoshoots from hot air balloons, to diving with sharks and exploring all sorts of exotic locations. In this case, it was a lifestyle that really inspired me. But in terms of photography style, some photographers I like and follow are Benjamin Von Wong, Brooke Shaden, Lindsay Adler, Kirsty Mitchell, etc. I wouldn’t say they influence me, but I find their creations truly amazing and they motivate me to keep learning and getting better.
Have you ever experienced photographer’s block? How do you keep the creative juices flowing?
You know what? That’s exactly why I didn’t follow a creative path initially: What if I reach a block and I won’t be able to deliver? And I had moments when I was less inspired, and I even wrote a blog post about my sources of inspiration. But truth is, I’m rather hyperactive and I always get involved in all sorts of projects--if it’s a quiet period and I don’t have too many clients, I’ll do personal projects, or collaborate with other creatives. And I push through it. But I find that my blocks don’t come from the lack of inspiration, but from fear. I always have ideas, but for every idea, I have 10 doubts and fears that keep me blocked. But the more experience I get, the more confidence I get, and that fearful voice is less and less loud.
I imagine that being a freelancer doesn’t mean you work less, if anything, the investment of hours and effort can be more than you bargained for on a weekly basis. How do you deal with trying to not burn yourself out?
This is actually one of my current struggles. But I would say this is exactly what I bargained for. I am a workaholic in nature, I was always working long hours. For two years I was working a full time job and was going to full time photo school in the evenings. When I was at Concordia full time, I used to have a student job, but I was working an average of 30 hours/week. And now I work a lot, and I am also part of CreativeMornings/Montreal and I photograph their events all the time. I love everything I do, but I feel sometimes that I push myself too much. Retouching is the "worst;" when I get in the zone, I can’t stop until my eyes get foggy 20 hours later. But working on my own terms sure does help with not burning out. And I have to be honest: This question is the most challenging for me to answer from the whole interview. I didn’t figure out an answer yet.
What are some of your favorite perks of being a freelancer and a photographer? And there are obviously challenges and obstacles like in any profession--how do you overcome them?
My favorite perks: Working from home and flexible hours…I’m not a morning person, and what was killing me at my old job was having to wake up at 6 am, and then the morning rush and running to the metro, and stress not to be late. That was really hard for me. Now I do wake up rather early, at 7:30-8:00, but I work from home, so I don’t have that morning rush and stress anymore. I drink my coffee in my pajamas while I reply to messages and e-mails. I get to do things at my own pace. It’s true, there are days when I have to wake up super early because I have a gig or something, but it’s not every day, it’s much more manageable.
And the challenges…There are many, but I have to push through. And if something doesn’t work out, I see it as a lesson, not as a failure. I feel that the biggest challenge as a freelance photographer is that it really tests all of your abilities, from your photography skills, to your business and sales skills, to marketing, social media and networking skills, and so on. But I’m an avid learner and I always read and watch tutorials. (for example, when I do stuff around the house, like cleaning, I listen to podcasts or tutorials); that’s one way I overcome challenges: I improve and learn new skills.
How would you advice a professional who wants to work in their own terms to become a freelancer or an entrepreneur?
As a freelancer you are indeed an entrepreneur, and I think understanding that you have to be both is the key to making it as a freelancer. You don’t just manage yourself and your career, but you also manage your business. You have to treat what you do very professionally to be seen as a professional. For me this came rather naturally, as I do have a passion for business and marketing, but for most creatives out there, this is generally a (huge) challenge, and they get really lost in everything. So be organized, put together a business plan. It doesn’t have to be a finalized document, but make a plan, don’t just go with the flow. And you need to be aware that you will end up actually working on your craft only a small percentage of the time. The rest will be admin tasks, sales, marketing, social media, client meetings, planning, networking, etc. You have to love doing these, or to really want the other perks (flexible hours, no boss, etc.); otherwise, it will be more challenging for you than working for someone. And another important tip: Self-discipline! Know how to be your own boss! I personally struggled with this one in the beginning, and I kept procrastinating certain (important) things for days.
More photographs by Tora Chirila: