“Does the world really need another wedding photographer?”
That was the thought that ran through Saskia Nelson’s mind when, having spontaneously resigned from her office job at a London Olympics legacy project, she was thinking of her next move.
An amateur photographer, she decided four years ago, aged 43, that she was going to go professional.
But she hadn’t really worked out how, and so she used her three-month notice period to consider her options, one of which was to join the army of wedding snappers.
“But I thought, ‘I’m not married, it’s not my bag, I don’t really know anything about it,'” says Saskia.
What she did know about, however, was online dating.
Having spent seven to eight years doing it, her friends considered her a connoisseur.
“I just took a very light-hearted approach to it, I saw it as a bit of an adventure, or a story to share with married friends – they love that sort of stuff,” she says.
But one major bugbear for Saskia was the large number of bad and old – to the point of deceptive – profile photos.
“When you’re over 40, ten years is a long time,” she quips, adding that she’s seen countless bad selfies and shots with an ex cropped out.
So knowing the importance of having a good profile image, she realised that there was a gap in the market to become an online dating photographer.
Saskia couldn’t find anyone at all who was specialising in it, so she was effectively creating a new genre of photography when she launched her business Hey Saturday in 2013.
Explaining the name, she says: “It’s like saying hello to the most important day of the week in the dating world.”
Initially available in London, Hey Saturday has over the past four years expanded across the UK, and is now about to launch in New York.
Saskia and her team of seven photographers, all of whom are female, currently photograph up to 50 clients per month.
Saskia says that from day one she realised the photographs couldn’t look too formal.
“I know that I didn’t want the photos to scream ‘I needed professional help’,” she says. “So they couldn’t be in a studio, or too formal – people run a mile from that.
“So I developed this ethos of [it looking like] one of your best mates happens to be passionate about photography. You are just hanging out, and taking photos.”
To create that feel, Saskia says that being outside is key. And if rain is forecast the client has the option to reschedule – particularly useful for women worried about their hair apparently.
Before the shoot they are asked to fill in a short questionnaire about themselves and the website suggests they might want to bring a couple of different tops and t-shirts (there are always nearby loos to change in).
And while Saskia found she initially had more female clients, she says it’s now about 50-50, and increasingly she is getting younger people, no doubt more conscious of their online image.
She says that most clients turn up in a rush, usually with no clear ideas of how they want the photographs to look. They then pay for half an hour, one hour or 90 minutes of actual photography.
Saskia says that a large part of the job is making people feel comfortable, she says, as the clients can often feel vulnerable and a bit self-conscious.
“No-one ever comes to us saying, ‘I really want to do this.’ They come saying, ‘this is the last thing I’ll do, because I really want to meet someone,'” says Saskia, who despite being a photographer, does not like being in front of the lens herself.
Hey Saturday has been helped by the fact that the online dating industry has exploded in recent years, fuelled by apps that people can use on their mobile phones.
There are now 10 million active online daters in the UK alone, according to industry group the Online Dating Association (ONA).
Andrew McClelland, the ONA’s chief executive, says that having help with your profile, be it your photo or text description, can be helpful.
“I’m the worst person to tell someone else about me,” he says, “but if there’s somebody who can help me sell myself then why not?
“Of course there’s the risk it might be more polished than I am, but the same is true in real life.”
In the end, Mr McClelland says image counts. “We are social animals and we get an awful lot of information from when we look at someone, although you might argue that is not always a good thing.”
‘I found love via Hey Saturday’
American Samantha Lovell found love after using Saskia’s service.
The 36-year-old teacher had hired a professional matchmaker who strongly advised her to get professional photos.
So, while visiting her sister in London, she booked a shoot.
Her matchmaker showed the photos to one man, who really liked them, and Samantha arranged to meet him.
“We met up and hit it off immediately,” she says.
“We were married in less than a year, and now I’m expecting a baby in the summer.”
Saskia has grown Hey Saturday by word of mouth and by following a marketing mantra known as “know, like and trust”.
To do this, she writes blogs and articles for both news and dating websites, takes part in podcasts, and offers dating advice. The idea is that people will get to know, like and trust her, and therefore be more likely to make a booking with Hey Saturday.
As the company has expanded, Saskia says her biggest challenge has been finding photographers who she thinks fit the brand.
Saskia, speaking to me at the launch of Metier, a project profiling women and their work, says: “It’s so critical that we get people who can make people laugh, can be light-hearted and joke around, because you want to get natural, relaxed and happy shots.”
Saskia says she is also notoriously bad with numbers – describing herself as suffering from “dyscalculia”, or being dyslexic with numbers.
Luckily she has a banker boyfriend to help with the accounts, who, you will be glad to know, she met through online dating.