AWARD-WINNING PHOTOGRAPHER, MARIA MURRAY, TALKS TO US ABOUT INSPIRATION, SINGLE-MINDEDNESS, AND MOVING TO HAMPSHIRE.
Nine years ago, when she had recently given birth to her daughter, Izzy, Maria, like many parents, decided that she wanted to mark this special time with some professional photographs. However, her poor experience at a high street photography shop prompted her to decide that she could do a better job herself.
“I waited six weeks for the appointment, only to be told that we had just fifteen minutes. There was no flexibility – it was a set of contrived poses, basically a production-line service. The photos were not properly in focus, some of them had closed eyes, and they were presented in cheap plastic frames. There was no empathy or warmth – it was just a very cold and rushed experience.
At around the same time, Maria returned to her job as a mortgage broker, and realised that she was losing interest in it. “I had no idea that I had any particular talent as a photographer, but I’d always been snapping away as a hobby - my bill from Boots used to be about £50 a month from developing snapshots!”
On these, it has to be said, fairly flimsy, bases, Maria decided to take a flying career-leap into photography. “I bought a semi professional camera, took some images of Izzy, taught myself Photoshop, practised on friends and family, and soon the other mums started asking me to photograph their children.”
Fast forward nine years, and Maria has become a highly successful family photographer and the winner of several accolades, including UK Portrait Photographer of the Year at the British Photography Awards.
How did she do it? “I’m a bit of a control freak,” she admits, “once I get my teeth into something that I’m passionate about, I give it 120%.” And, although Maria is almost entirely self-taught, she certainly hasn’t got where she is today without a substantial amount of hard work. “There were moments when I lost sight of the fact that I set this job up to spend more time with family and have more time for me – I was working 90-100 hour weeks, going to bed at 5am for weeks on end and being absolutely shattered during the day, meaning that although I was there with my family in body, my mind was asleep.”
It took a personal tragedy to prompt Maria to regain control of her work-life balance. “Last year a good friend of mine passed away, suddenly, from cancer, and that really put things into perspective. I don't want to miss my daughter growing up, nor do I want to feel like work is my life anymore. As much as I love what I do, I feel so much better now that things are now becoming more balanced. It’s so nice to get seven hours sleep and feel clear-headed and ready to go in the mornings!”
As well as being an inspiration for taking time off, Izzy is a continuing inspiration for Maria’s work. “My daughter is just such a beautiful child, inside and out. She makes me laugh all the time, and is a daily reminder of why I do what I do. I just love looking at her – she can be brushing her teeth or pulling a silly face, and I will have a little voice in my head saying ‘how will you remember this when she’s all grown up?’. It prompts me to grab a camera and photograph the most ordinary of activities. To me the best photos of Izzy have not been the ones which are posed, but the ones that I’ve caught on the fly.”
Maria has taken another big life-changing decision in recent times – she’s moving from her old base in Essex to Winchester. “80% of my clients come from London, so I needed somewhere that was easy to get to. I sat down with a map, did some research, and decided that Winchester and the surrounding areas fitted my brief – Winchester has been quoted so many times as a great place to live, and it’s about an hour away from a nice coast, has great schools, and it’s just over an hour’s drive for most of my London client base.”
Location is particularly important to Maria because 95% of her sessions take place in her own studio. “My studio is set up for the shoots – I know my light inside out, have the props handy, and am able to control the temperature. It’s impossible to schedule a certain date for a newborn shoot, unless it’s a C-section, so my diary chops and changes every week – home sessions would really complicate things. Ideally, I would have been by the sea, but I think a two and a half hour drive would be an overwhelming thought for most new parents.”
When she settles in to her new home Maria hopes to take on some employees, which should help to ease the pressure on her time; though she admits that she can be a tricky employer. “I have tried to take staff on before, but it never works out – I’m not an easy person to work for! It’s hard for me to delegate. I expect very high standards of myself, and from anyone who gets involved in my business. I’m just hoping that I can find people with the same mindset as me.”
Though it may make her a difficult boss, being such a perfectionist clearly seems to have worked for Maria in terms of her work. “There are newborn photographers springing up all over the place. I’ve been photographing babies for almost nine years now, so I certainly hope that my experience in that field, as well as the quality of my images will keep me on top of my game. I want to be the person people think of first when considering photographing their newborn.” And If the glowing reviews on our directory are anything to go by, Maria is not going to have too much trouble achieving this.