Traveling the world, documenting cultures, capturing lives and shooting breathtaking surroundings sounds like an idyllic career for an adventurous soul. New Zealand born travel and lifestyle photographer, Adrienne Pitts, talks to us about her journey, the skills and sacrifices it takes to be a nomadic freelance photographer.

Where did it all begin? 

Well, I’m originally from New Zealand and did a degree majoring in photography so I always planned to shoot when I finished. The year I finished university, however, was when digital photography was really kicking off and I didn’t want to get further into debt by spending more money trying to kit myself out. 

I went down the graphic design route [freelancing] that led to a roles as art director and then later on as a creative director. I worked on magazines and publications for around 12 to 15 years. At a certain point, I realised I was commissioning photographers and sending them out on shoots that I actually wanted to do. I’ve always kept working in photography on the side so 3 years ago when I was wondering whether or not to make the leap, I thought its now or never. 

Photograph: Adrienne Pitts

What was your main concern when contemplating a full-time career as a freelance photographer? 

There were two main fears. First, a financial fear. Money consumes we freelancers most of the time, so I made sure to save up a good chunk of money before I made the leap. I kept thinking that at the end of my life, I wanted to look back with no regrets and as I didn’t have a mortgage or any major financial responsibilities at that point, I felt it was the right time. 

The other fear was that potential clients would not accept that I worked across multiple fields (photography and design). In my first year in the UK, I remember I mentioned in an interview for an art direction role that I could also take photos and was told in no uncertain terms that I had to focus on just one thing - it was not possible for me to do both. I still disagree with that.  


What do you like most about being a freelancer? 

I’ve been freelancing on and off throughout my career. I landed in the UK 10 years ago and freelanced as a designer/art director for the first 2 years. I love the flexibility and that I can plan my own schedule for the most part. Coming from New Zealand and being so close to my family, I can often take more time off during the quiet months over Christmas, which is important to me. That's definitely one of my favourite things about freelancing. 

Photograph: Adrienne Pitts


What’s the most stressful aspect? 

I worry about where the next job is coming from even though I have fairly regular work and clients. It’s a niggling fear. I like to always make sure that I’ve jobs coming up, and money coming in. The other stress is that it’s all down to me! We [freelancers] look after the marketing, accounts, clients, and the actual creation of the work… and have to hustle 24/7. 


Do you think the fear of where the next job will come from ever goes away? 

I hope so. I like to know when money will come in but perhaps we need the stress to keep us hustling. People in full-time work look at us sometimes taking long lunches or planning our time differently and think it’s an easy life but we work really hard. I spend a lot of time hounding people for work and hustling for new clients. It’s a tricky balance but one I enjoy. 

Photograph: Adrienne Pitts

Tell us about your style.

I call myself a travel and lifestyle photographer - a term that basically means I shoot everything! I shoot mostly commercial and editorial work. Most of the time people send me away on shoots where my brief is to give an impression or a feeling of a place. My style is usually quite light, bright and colourful.

I generally get sent to hot and sunny places however I would love to go to countries with bleak, snowy surroundings. I was sent to a lot of islands last year but would love to mix it up a bit - jungles, mountains, deserts. I love how different places yield different types of images.

I always want to give a sense of what somewhere feels like. I never want to give a cliche image of a person or a place, but rather create something so that you can feel what it's like to be there.

Why include people in your work? 

I love that wherever you go, people are all the same. We all want to live happy lives, generally be good people and embrace our cultural traditions. My favourite part of the job is meeting people. It’s really important for me that they feel relaxed and happy when I photograph them - you can tell if someone is uncomfortable. I like to make them laugh if the situation calls for it and keep it quick. Especially when you meet someone on the street, you don’t want to take too much of their time. 

Photograph: Adrienne Pitts

How does travelling impact on your life outside of work?

I’m very lucky in that I have friends all over the world and, when I travel, I get to see them. I also have a wonderful core group of friends in London. They get what I do and when I’m back with them in London, it’s amazing. I’d like a bit more steady work in London to have more stability but I still adore traveling. 


Was it always a strategy to integrate your photography with your love of travelling? 

I think so. It’s such a huge part of who I am. I’ve lived and worked in 3 or 4 countries so far and would like to do one more. It’s a New Zealand thing, it’s in our blood. When you turn 18, you leave to experience new things. I love New Zealand and will probably go back in the future but, for now, I still have a passion for travel. 

Photograph: Adrienne Pitts

You’re very active on social media. How much time to you dedicate to it and what is the main benefits of it for your freelance business?  

There wasn’t social media during my education so it’s never been ingrained in me to use it purely for business. I don’t rely on it to find work. It’s my own visual diary of my life and I use it as a way to connect with people. It would be terribly strange for me to build a career around social media. I'm lucky to have a decent following on Instagram but I try to use it as a way to connect with people and as a way of recording the places I go and the people I meet.

I share what is happening in my life. I like to post beautiful and real shots - it’s important to me that it’s authentic. It’s not all rainbows and light but it’s a wonderful document of my life.  I printed a book from the images on Instagram after my first 4 years of posting and it’s a diary that reminds me of my journey. I’d love to keep a written journal but for me photographs work best - I mean, who’s got time to write it all down!  


Where do you find new clients?

I am a relentless emailer and hunter of people’s details. I’ll stand by the magazine rack in shops, open the flannel panel and find out who the art director is or the email address of a photo editor. I try every email iteration. It makes me sound relentless and dogged but I don’t see that as a bad thing. I see it as a necessity. 

I’m not a great networker as I hate the idea of asking somebody what they can do for me. Email is a much easier way for me to reach out to people.  I also print self promos and try to catch up with people on a regular basis. 

Photograph: Adrienne Pitts

Do you have a system to contact your database?

Not really, it’s quite organic. It’s easy for me to stay in contact as I’ve a manageable number of clients. I also get a lot of work that happens last minute, so trying to plan things too far in advance can be tricky.

It may be a week or two, or just a few days before a job when I’ll be asked “Can you be in Spain in two days time?” This happens a lot.

I like to let people know when I have availability. I hit the emails during the quiet periods and post on Instagram that I’m updating my website, or that my new promo is going out. It’s a way to prompt without pushing. It’s all very transparent and real, a little jog and reminder. I know what it’s like being an art director. You can get 20 emails a day from photographers and you don’t have time to reply to them all but if you happen to see a nice picture on Instagram whilst relaxing on your couch at home, it’s a much softer way to remind people that you’re still here. 


What’s your opinion of the photography industry at the moment? 

I’m not a photography snob. I think it’s fantastic that everyone has a phone and can take a good image. It’s great that more people are taking pictures. I’m not of the school that mobile photography is not a real art. 

There are more photographers now than ever but that just means we have to try and stand out from the crowd. The best way to achieve this is to have a recognisable style that people know you for. It also means being flexible, approachable and prepared. If you have a level of professionalism and confidence to deliver a brief on budget and on time, that will stand you in good stead. 

In this age of social media, a lot of people take photos and share them. However, more and more people are keen to learn how to do it right, learn about the latest editing app or software, so the quality of output, even amongst people who aren’t photographers, is getting higher - which I think is great. I think anyone can take photographs but it’s another thing to know how to deal with clients and how to work professionally which is still perhaps being learned by the social media generation. I think a working photographer understands how to deliver work to clients, how to use different gear, light things, play with angles and have a real dedication to storytelling. For those who have grown up in this new age it’s just a series of skills that need to be learned. It’s exciting, everything that is happening. And a nice challenge to everyone to not be complacent, and to always be evolving.

Photograph: Adrienne Pitts

What's next?

My focus is on securing more commercial work as that’s where the budgets can be higher. As much as I adore editorial work and the creative freedom it often gives you, I’m getting to point in life where I’d like to make some more money and work on projects with bigger teams. The goal is to always be learning and expanding and creatively collaborating with more people.

To see more of Adrienne's work, website, and social channels, click HERE.