Based in Derbyshire, UK, Canon Ambassador Rosie Hardy is one busy photographer – online, where her images speak to thousands of social media followers, and in person. Not only is her wedding and portrait photography business thriving, she has produced imagery for numerous global brands, such as Penguin Books and Universal Music Group. Her work has been published in the pages of Elle magazine, The Telegraph, and The Sun, and she also holds workshops, writes tutorials and has created her own photo editing DVD.
When Rosie isn't buried deep in work, you may see her hanging around with various celebrity pals, including Spice Girl Geri Horner (née Halliwell) and TV presenter Matt Johnson. And the 27-year-old will be the first to admit that at the root of her success are the expansive collections of pictures on her social media accounts, where she features centre stage. Elevating the selfie, they seek to transport viewers to other worlds – filled with fairytales and child-like imagination. Rosie's ethereal imagery currently holds the attention of 150,000 followers on Instagram. An advocate for giving back to the community, the self-portrait artist reveals her secrets for social media success.
"The more you engage, the more random doors open. Maroon 5 found my pictures when I was 19, and asked me to shoot a self-portrait for their album cover, Hands All Over. I consider this the start of my professional career, though of course the years between then and now have involved a lot of hard work.
"In my last year at secondary school, I became fascinated with art websites like DeviantArt and Flickr. MySpace was booming, and I felt a real connection to the art I saw. I started taking 'artsy' profile pictures and the more I delved into the depths of the internet, the more I felt like I was accepted and surrounded by people who had similar minds to me.
I decided that I wanted to be taken more seriously by my peers, so I joined Flickr and took up a 365 day project [sharing a picture for each day of the year], which was a big thing at the time – I was one of thousands of people attempting it globally. I wrote a little paragraph about my day with each picture and since nobody at my school knew about my profile, I was quite open and honest about how I felt. This kind of visual blogging was very new and people were interested. I didn't mean to start a brand at all, but before I knew it, my 365s were getting hundreds of thousands of views and hundreds of comments. I tried to see the people online as my friends; I gave back to the community and spoke to an awful lot of people."
"It's important to move with the popular platforms. In 2012, I moved over from DeviantArt to Facebook as a way to grow my photography work more consistently, but there's never a guarantee that your audience will go with you. This is why your work and personality has to speak for itself."
"I've always been open and honest with those who enjoy and follow my work. I interact with as many people as I can – but the most important thing is to do these things because you genuinely want to. I never really tried to go viral, or become popular – I was always interested in other people's experiences of life, so networking came very naturally to me. If your goal is to create a huge following and to be applauded every day, that's quite narcissistic and shallow, and your followers will eventually realise that. If your goal is to make real art and real connections, building followers will happen naturally, because ultimately it doesn't matter what your social media numbers are."
"I would describe my style as like stepping into Narnia or Wonderland. Use the things that inspire you to find a style that reflects who you are as a person and a photographer. I loved books as a child – I was mesmerised by them. I love the idea of having an imagination that doesn't age, of staying young, free and alive in a world that has no physical limits in creating art. My style is reality, with a magical twist... pretty to look at, but fascinating to look into!"
"When it comes to creating an image to post on Instagram, most people will be viewing the images on their phone. So I always try to maximise the space I have available on screen by shooting in portrait, rather than landscape."
"My spare bedroom is filled to the brim with shoot props! I have princess dresses, a six-foot pair of wings, a life-size suit of armour and lots of other interesting bits and bobs. I love having so many wardrobe options – I can theme the outfit to the shoot, and I can work in props or add them digitally afterwards to really carry that idea forward. You can find odd and interesting props almost everywhere, from people selling things online to local car boot sales. Props can help add an extra dimension."
"I love natural light and natural spaces, which probably shows in my pictures. I grew up on a farm in the middle of the Peak District, and when I was a teenager we moved to our local town of Buxton, but I still insisted on walking to school every day – in the sunshine and the rain. Today, I still live in the Peak District and love the joy that comes from having beautiful countryside at my feet. This is why I stick with natural light; it can often be the most flattering and simplest to work with."
"I've set up presets to edit colours and tones in my images quickly and consistently. This is where you can master your style and look. I personally like to create images with complementary tones and colours, and you'll notice every one of my images has an overall hue."
"Looking at the number of Likes you get on social media can help you to improve as a photographer, because it can give you a good idea of themes and ideas that work and are popular. However, if your goal is to make art, then don't let this affect you too much – art is subjective and only important to the person making it. If you like your work, that is the most important thing. Some of my most Liked photos are images I'm not too keen on. If your work makes you feel better, for getting it out of your head and onto a page or a screen, then that is success."
"The best comments I have received are the ones from people who feel moved enough to share their own personal experiences with me, and when people tell me that my work has helped them or comforted them. The worst comments are ones from trolls. I used to get a lot more negative feedback. At first, my images were imaginative but technically quite poor, and I think a lot of photographers who had worked hard to create quality work felt annoyed that someone like me was becoming more popular. I understand why they felt that way, but I also think we all need to grow – there's no need to push people down when their intentions are to do something they love. Nowadays, if I get negative feedback, I just don't dwell on it too much."
"The key to social media lies in connection – to feel like you're not alone in the world. I credit all of my success to being open, vulnerable, and seeking out connections with others. Those things are the prize, not the success. Be inspired, and pass it on. Use art to encourage other people, rather than to tear them down."
"To help your images gain exposure, you need to keep on refining your tastes. Regularly check out work you love, and keep on testing your style until you are just 'you'; an amalgamation of everything you've ever loved or felt connected to. I adore paintings, illustrations and writing as much as photography, and although it's only my photography work that I show, my mind and work style has been shaped by all of these other things that I adore."
"You will gain more clients if you're good at what you do. And to be good at what you do, you should love it! Loving your work means doing things on your own terms, not someone else's. There's also a difference between getting more clients and getting quality clients. A nightmare for me would be working for someone who doesn't value my style, time, prices or ideas. I don't want those clients! My business is very simple. I shoot weddings, bands, musicians and portraits for people who like my work. I've done a few celebrities, but it's not an area I want to get into. I'm happy getting up in the morning and cracking on with normal work – it makes me feel like a photographer, and gives me stability for when my social media spotlight eventually fades away. I teach workshops to people who enjoy my personal self-portraiture, but I make very little money directly from social media. My personal work on there is just that: personal work."
"My attitude towards social media and making money is that if a brand I already like contacts me and wants to give me a product, or have me promote them, then great. I'll be able to get paid for something I do anyway. But I am wary about being over-sponsored by companies because I think it takes away from the reason I shoot: to express myself."
"In terms of thinking ahead: don't. Look around you and enjoy right now as much as you can. Use art to channel your sadness, pain and anger. I love the quote by the philosopher Henry David Thoreau: 'That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.' I think the key formula for any success is this: what you love + what you're good at = success. It sounds clichéd, but the reason my photos do well is because I shoot good photos.”
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