Jessica Miller speaks with Mike Will to find out about the concept, ethos and global expansion of the ever-growing creative community, UK Shooters
Founded by Mike Will in 2016, UK Shooters began as a small group on social media, hosting unique meet-ups and creative events around the UK. Now, thanks to Mike and his team, UK Shooters has grown into a popular community and a recognisable brand with photographers, videographers, and content creators around the world.
Where UK Shooters began
Social media has become a powerful tool for interaction, with plenty of photography communities and groups forming over the years encouraging photographers to share their work and engage with others. Alongside his professional ice hockey career, Mike took up photography as a hobby in 2016. But the potential of Instagram as a place for collaboration and being social with others soon became clear as he began sharing his own work.
The idea for UK Shooters first came about following a trip to LA. ‘I saw the scene that was out there, and everyone knew each other… you’d be walking in the streets and if you had your camera out someone would come up to you and be like “Ah cool what are you shooting?” No one would do that in the UK.’
Mike started to search for this community in the UK and began reaching out to other photographers to go out and shoot with. Every Monday he would travel into London to practise photography and always tried meeting up with another photographer. Many of whom hadn’t met up with others to take photographs before, and this is what led to Mike hosting his first meet in September 2016.
‘I obviously had success in terms of turning a hobby into a job with hockey. I’ve always had that drive and I knew that if I wanted to do something I could do it… The people I originally reached out to came and supported, then so did others. It was all about networking and meeting like-minded people – which was especially hard back then. I was very lucky to progress pretty quickly, and social media was an amazing part of that for me.’ From here, UK Shooters was born and blossomed around the UK.
Mike also met his team through Instagram. Several people came and went early on, but now the team is more settled: ‘The people that stayed were those who continued to hustle, work on their own photography and also wanted to build a community, which was the driving force behind UK Shooters.
‘We did a call out on Instagram to expand the team. There’s six of us in the main team, four in UK Shooters and two in UK Portraits.’ The team is made up of Mike Will, Luke Jackson-Clark, Keenan Lam, Cyrus Nezami, Gigi Umbrasaite and Gareth Davies. Mike met Gigi and Gareth several years ago and always had them in mind for UK Portraits, so when the opportunity arose they ran with it.
‘It was a good time to move the team on… Now we’re also doing everything, a lot of the campaigns and events, as a six. But it’s very hard to get six incredibly talented people in a room, as we all have our own clients and work going on.’ Mike retired from ice hockey in 2020, due to the pandemic as well as the increasing shift in focus to his growing business and photography.
UK Shooters offer a range of meet-ups and events that cover as many different photography genres as possible, as well as film and video. ‘Our meet-ups can be anything from a UK Shooters Presents social event where guest speakers come in and talk about their journey as a creator, to our main flagship meets which are based around creating content and the community coming in to take photographs, meet like-minded people – and just have a good time really!’
Each meet is themed slightly differently, for example Halloween, and many also collaborate with models and make-up artists. Part of the aim is to offer photographers the opportunity to have a go at genres that may be inaccessible to them, such as portraiture. ‘Another one we did was with Bentley, we had 14 Bentleys, again people wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to just go and shoot all of those cars. Also, sometimes the meets are in the day, and sometimes at night.’
Community at the heart
Collaboration, community and networking is very much at the core of UK Shooters, feeding from the work ethic of Mike and the team through to how they connect with photographers online.
Mike explains, ‘At the start I knew a lot of people and no one was really open and willing to help. I thought that was a weird way of going about things and another reason I wanted to foster the team around me. It’s actually better to work together and help each other… the mistakes and things you are learning or things you do well is going to transcend into everyone and you’re all going to learn from each other. Therefore you’re going to grow. I wanted to have that at the heart of UK Shooters. It was an opportunity to help each other out, even if it’s business as well.’
Instagram is used as the main platform for engaging with the community and sharing their work. Mike added, ‘I wanted to showcase as many up-and-coming shooters, and as many locations from around the UK as we could with the feature page of UK Shooters.’
Taking over the world
Since 2016, other Shooter communities have been created in the US including, Bay (the San Francisco area), LA, Chicago and Pacific North West (PNW), plus more recently Philadelphia. ‘They were sprouting up and we were putting our heads together about how we can grow things and have people running meets.’ A big part of expanding at a global scale for Mike was ensuring that the teams behind the new pages were talented and all-round good people who support the UK Shooters ethos.
In January 2020, Mike and Luke flew to New York to launch the NY Shooters hub. Their plans to continue flying around the world and launch others was halted due to Covid-19. ‘We had this amazing team and plan in place, then obviously Covid hit and it shifted everything that we could do, we couldn’t go out and finish launching. People running the pages stopped for various reasons and it’s kind of really reshuffled everything… Now we’re at a stage of rebuilding in the US with lots of the team.’
The Dutch Shooters community also began in March 2020. ‘That was really exciting and they’ve just run their first event. It’s great they’re building really well. We have this amazing hub of photographers behind it.’ World Shooters launched in April 2020 to extend to a global audience, with hopes it can act as the head for all Shooter groups formed worldwide. ‘We thought, “we’re in lockdown, we’ll be on our phones a lot, let’s just launch this new page!” Hopefully it will be the biggest hub one day that then feeds down to all of the different individual pages.’
There are plans to launch more communities around the world, but it’s just a matter of time. ‘In the UK we’re running one to four events every month. I’m very busy with my own personal clients and work… and I haven’t been able to travel but I intend to. We have some potential locations in mind as a few tourist boards have reached out about events, which is exciting. We’re waiting for travel to hopefully open up even more.’
Advice to newcomers
Keep an eye on the @uk.shooters page for the latest information on events. Mike says, ‘Just get involved! Come and speak to the team. A lot of events you come to, you might have been messaging some of the other photographers for a long time and this might be the first time you can meet them face to face.
We want our events to be a safe environment, so it is an opportunity for people who maybe don’t have the confidence to meet up one-on-one; with UK Shooters you can meet in groups. From there it’s who you vibe and get on with, friendships and relationships can then be built.’
The future is looking incredibly bright for the UK Shooters team so watch this space.
Visit the Shooters Instagram hubs
UK Shooters Team
Mike Will @m.visuals
Luke Jackson-Clark @watchluke
Cyrus Nezami @cyrusnezami
Keenan Lam @keenanlam
Gareth Davies @87shots
Gigi Umbrasaite @ggphotographyofficial