From a small town in England to the beaches of Burleigh Heads, Tony Scott has built himself a career and a company around his love and passion for photography. In a world of iPhones, Instagram filters and snapchat, it seems as if photography is becoming harder and harder to make a living from. However, there are those among us who have a knack for capturing the unseen beauty in life, and Tony’s unique eye for the ocean and a hard earned intuition for business has helped him to live his creative passions.
StartUp Creative spoke to Tony about discovering his industry as a teenager, how he fell in love with the Gold Coast, and his best advice for emerging entrepreneurs looking to forge their own creative path.
“My passion for photography started in my late teens in North East England. I was working with a photographer called Graham Oliver who was an Advertising / commercial photographer. I was the bag carrier, tea maker, carry and set up lights, film developer and black and white printer/ lab assistant. Graham taught me all aspects of photography but on top of that he taught me how to run a business and make a living out of photography”, he says.
“That’s how it started. We had a friendship, surfing and traveling together, he saw something in me and offered me a job at his studio in Newcastle. As it turns out, surfing and traveling would be the two things that would lead to one of the most significant turning points in Tony’s career. His interest in surf and ocean photography took him from England to the beaches of Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast.
“I came out to Burleigh to watch the then famous Stubbies surf competition and take some shots for a UK magazine. I fell in love with the beauty of the place, warm water, clear blue sky’s, and after staying for six weeks, returned to the UK and decided that England was not for me any more. I also realized that Graham’s business was really only going to provide a good living for one person, but not two.”
Armed with a one way ticket to Australia, Tony went about paving his own way as a freelance photographer.
“I learnt early on about the lifestyle. It was a lifestyle, it was never a job, it was something I loved doing and got paid to do it,” he says.
“I actually worked as a lifeguard on Surfers Paradise beach. I was having a coffee one morning with a friend and a local photographer called Bill Fairhall walked past as I was showing my portfolio. He took a look at it and to my surprise simply said here is my card you start tomorrow at 8.30”.
“In a time when then the Gold Coast was experiencing its first influx of hi rise apartment building -with some 60 odd cranes on the skyline, we had plenty of work shooting aerial photography for the local real estate agencies”.
“The largest agency at the time was PRD Realty. I was approached and offered a job to set up their marketing department. After a couple of years the real estate market slowed down and I moved from PRD and partnered with a Brisbane Ad agency to set up a local Gold Coast office servicing PRD and its developer clients.”
Even as an established entrepreneur – Tony is CEO of Gold Coast based Quadrant Creative, and a photographer, Scott still remembers the risks involved with starting his own business instead of working for someone else.
“Thinking back it was scary, but I thought ‘surround myself with a good bank manager who understands my business, a great accountant, a good lawyer and a few mentors who were older than me’. At that time my job was really just a co-ordinator of creative people and production/suppliers. I was just the leader and I guess the decision maker.” he says.
A firm believer in surrounding yourself with the right people, Tony says mentors are still an intrinsic part to any good business. “Mentors are so important. Throughout my career I have had two or three people who I approached to be my mentor and have over time become very close friends as a result of sharing ideas, problems, fears, possible direction changes. I have always got an honest answer, a different point of view, but always encouragement.
“They don’t always agree with me, which is good. If you have a mentor you must listen to what they say, you don’t necessarily always have to act on it, still go with your gut instinct, but it’s really good to have someone to bounce your ideas off,” he says.
“Sometimes they’ll give you a bit of a kick up the backside if you need it, if you’re heading in a different direction they will point you back to true north, focus, refocus. As humans we tend to wander, our minds and thoughts wander, motivation goes up and down, stay focused, keep the compass on North.”
Hearing Tony describe the development of his career from photography lab assistant to CEO of Quadrant Creative, with a national client base, it’s clear to see that he has that rare perfect balance between business intuition and creative passion. Yet he still refuses to let the idea of making money interfere with what he truly loves to do, capturing moments that inspire people.
“To me my photography is not about the money as a lot of the time I just do it for the love of it, I do it for the images I produce and give them to the customer and then being told ‘wow we just got 150 likes in an hour on Instagram’. Fantastic”.
“How do I keep my passion alive? I talk to a lot of people, read a lot of books, look at a lot of magazines. I absorb a lot of stuff. The influences are huge; obviously just the landscape of the Gold Coast is an influence. Just being out there and amongst it, and living every day like its the only one”, he says.
How do you ask a long-time creative and business expert for their best advice for emerging entrepreneurs? Luckily Scott has already honed his experience into four tips to live by:
1. Find what your passion is and you’ll never work another day in your life.
2. Understand your passion, but also understand business.
3. Share it. Share your work with as many people as you can. Give stuff away.
4. If you take your mind off money, and you pursue your passion, the money tends to follow. But if you focus on the money, your passion is going to fall away.