Meet Tiree Dawson. Marketing executive. Self-caterer. Mother of two. Commercial, food, portrait and wedding (72 ceremonies last year) photographer. And quite possibly, Superwoman. How does she do it? It’s a question people commonly ask. “What I find is, that rather than being exhausted doing these things, I actually get more energy from it,” says the hard-working, energetic, yet humble England patron who resides in the nestled and picturesque Lake District.
Here, she discusses her weekly schedule and why she finds joy, not stress, in doing the jobs it would typically take a pack of people to tackle.
Tell us about all of your jobs. How does photography fit in?
I did 72 weddings last year. I do a lot of commercial work as well, so volume-wise, photography is full-time. In addition to that, I do marketing two days a week—I’ve been with that company for 11 years (Impact International). When I decided to do photography I changed my roles slightly and cut down to two days instead of five. I do that on Monday and Tuesday of each week. And then my husband and I run a self-catering business, so we’ve got a couple of apartments that we market and rent out in the Lake District (Stay Tiny and the Crosthwaite House). Time wise I spend the most on photography; out of the three it’s probably like 60/30/10.
Do you ever get a day off?
I get the odd day off, but it’s rare. But, my days off tend to be days when I get to do the nice bits of the job, if that makes sense. I’m totally happy just to edit the pictures on the computer and have a glass of wine or go on Pinterest and start planning a shoot I’m doing with some other wedding suppliers, and chatting with them. Although it’s still work, I enjoy doing it, so it doesn’t really feel like work. I read a quote somewhere the other day that said, “If you love your job, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” And it’s kind of like that, because I absolutely love it.
And you have kids, too?
Two kids: eight and six. They’re good. Luckily, my husband’s great. He does a lot with them, and he’s really supportive of everything. I couldn’t do it without him.
How did you get started in photography?
It coincided with maternity leave. I bought a camera when I was pregnant with Milo (my first child), because I just wanted to get nice pictures of having a baby and everything. It started when I would post pictures on Facebook and people seeing them would asking if I would take some for them. I never really intended to do it professionally—it kind of organically happened. I haven’t had any training (laughs). It’s a bit of a strange thing, really, because it took me a long time to feel confident about pricing jobs because I felt like a bit of a fraud since I’d had no training at all. And then a few people spoke to me and said that it doesn’t matter what training I had; what matters is what my images are like and whether people like them or not. If you do a good job, it’s completely irrelevant.
Would you ever be at a place where you would just do photography, and not anything else?
I don’t think so. I do think about it because the workload I have at the moment is massive, and I would like to find a way to have a better life balance, I suppose. But it’s not a massive problem. The obvious way would be to cut out my two days doing marketing. Financially, I could be in a position to do that, but I don’t want to give up doing that because I love that job and the team of people I work with. Another reason is having the balance and that variety of different things each week. What I find is, that rather than being exhausted doing three things, I actually get more energy from it. I am really lucky because both of the jobs [marketing and photography], although very different, benefit each other. As a photographer, you’re dipping in and out of people’s lives, and working with them for a short, set time and then not seeing them again. If I just did that, I would really miss being part of a team, working toward longer-term goals and the whole social side of it as well.
Another thing I’ve found from having different jobs including a self-catering business is it triples my network for business opportunities. For example, the company that I do marketing for owns three country house hotels, and of course they all do lots of weddings. If I didn’t have that job I wouldn’t have such close connections from those hotels, which brings me loads of work for my photography business.
What kind of photography do you do?
I don’t really specialize because I do all sorts of different things. I do lots of weddings because the Lake District is a scenic, popular place to get married, so there are a lot of weddings in this area. But then out of season, November through March, I do more commercial work. I do lots of food photography, some interior photography for hotels and apartments and things, and then I do a bit of newborn and portrait photography. Mainly weddings and commercial… but food photography is growing quite fast. I just got a few new clients so I really like doing that. I’m going to hopefully grow that a bit. And it’s nice to be able to eat anything (laughs).
Do you use any programs that help keep your businesses organized?
Not particularly. I have three different jobs and three different email accounts. I try as hard as I can to keep those three things totally separate. Other than that, I don’t really use any apps or anything, except Zenfolio—which I use and love the folders. I literally could not run my photography business without Zenfolio. Organization wise, I have a Filofax. It’s a paper-based system, but in the ‘80s in the UK it was the thing that posh people had—I’m really dating myself now! (laughs) It’s just like a leather-bound diary. I still have paper, just in case the cloud breaks.
And, the much anticipated question, how do you stay sane?
I don’t sleep, and I drink loads of alcohol (laughs). It’s hard to give advice to people on how to find the right balance because it’s such a difficult thing. It’s something everybody is constantly trying to achieve in life—the biggest challenge is determining how best to spend your time. Personally, I have loads of energy, and it’s very rare for me to get demotivated. I have a big capacity for doing stuff, and I think that’s only because I’ve managed to do things I absolutely love doing. I am a strong believer that if you’re really passionate about something you’re doing, then you find energy for doing it. And if you find yourself lacking energy, then it’s probably because you’re doing something you’re not really interested in. So I try to avoid things that I’m not interested in or excited about because I think they drain you of energy.
I try to be sensible and really look after myself. I eat pretty healthfully; I go running; I do exercise classes; I do a lot of weights classes because photography equipment is so heavy. I do strength exercises and then relaxing wise, I love doing that but don’t have enough time to catch up with everybody. That’s life, isn’t it? Within the first few years of starting up a business, it’s completely normal to be consumed by it. When it’s your own business you feel a lot of responsibility for it, and it’s harder to not answer an email you get at 11 at night, or think of doing that in the morning. You get an inquiry and it’s work that you really want, so you are always there, always replying.
Describe your dream day off?
I would do something with my husband and kids, definitely. The area we live in is absolutely amazing and beautiful. If we travel 10-15 minutes in the car, then we’re in this huge national park with fells and rivers and lakes, and the kids absolutely love it. Packing snacks and going on a walk, jumping in rivers and having a little BBQ and then going to the pub, sitting by the fire, having a few beers… just simple.
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Tiree Dawson lives in the Lake District in England and has a photography business, Tiree Dawson Photography, shooting everything from weddings to newborn photography. Tiree uses Zenfolio and raves, “I honestly and absolutely love Zenfolio. I literally could not run my business without it.” She also works in marketing part-time and has a self-catering business with her husband.