Skip to main content Go to Site Map
A dreamy scene of two models holding candy floss in front of a ferris wheel from below.

Jessica Williams – ‘AUB shifted my perception from competition to collaboration’

Photos by Jessica Williams


  • Student Journal
  • |
  • Commercial Photography


My journey into photography was a little unique, in that I’d never actually had any real experience in it. Anything close to a portfolio I had was my Instagram posts, which I’d spend so much time editing to get the most vibrant and aesthetic pictures. I’ve spent most of my primary and secondary school years being more on the academic side – unsurprising with a teacher for a dad and tax accountant for a mother. I always loved taking pictures, but I never really saw a serious future in it until I came to university.

Initially, I studied psychology at Bournemouth University in 2020 but it left me feeling directionless. A friend, Georgie Watson, a talented photographer and AUB alumna, inspired me with her work on the BA (Hons) Commercial Photography course. When meeting for beach walks and iced coffee or a pint, I started to become energised – and slightly envious – looking through the work she was creating, all made from scratch. I packed BU in, created a portfolio website (hoping to be taken seriously) and enrolled at AUB. I’ve genuinely never made a better decision.

In first year, the focus was on technical skills and it all felt so alien. Practical workshops allowed us to explore high and low-key lighting using a variety of cameras and equipment from the University's media store. These experiences forced my creativity to flourish, and I formed a close-knit group of friends. We collaborated on exciting projects, like photographing a classmate in shorts and a scuba mask on Hengistbury Head in the middle of November.

The novelty of diving in meant that I took on lots of opportunities. I contacted a lady who lived in a small village called Dottery in the south west, took my new toy (the medium-format Mamiya camera) and went to stay in her cottage. It was English-looking on the outside but completely Japanese-inspired inside!

Second year came with a little more freedom and a lot more professionalism, collaborating with larger scale teams and making a strong, consistent personal brand for ourselves. My technical skills improved massively, evident in my work. One standout project was based on an AI matrix concept, resulting in one of my favourite images. I also dived into new styles of work, homing in my portraiture skills, highly influenced by one of my favourite photographers, Malick Sidibé. I followed his techniques and printed in the dark room, which was a good experience to have.

This also came with work experience. The most common thing that people did was assisting work – if you can get it – or the second option is a live brief where you work for a client of any size and collaborate with them. I was getting a little worried that I wouldn’t find anything, but I ended up getting really lucky with a modelling agency in London that needed fresh portfolio work for their new models. This was my first real taste of what life in the industry could be like, meeting real models outside of scouting friends of friends at university, and it felt good to have that under my belt. I took the coach to and from London in a day with my best friend and got some great work that I felt proud of.

Every year, your progress in your skill set improves and the satisfaction after a successful shoot is unparalleled. I was excited for the final push of third year and realised this is the last year where I have all the equipment I could need at my disposal. I experienced a little bit of a creative drought, but after looking through final-year work from previous years, I was keen to start shooting again. This term, I’ve completed my biggest project to date. I found a girl named Arwen in first year BA (Hons) Fashion, who worked with me on a bird feather exploitation-inspired fashion editorial. Together, we hand-created eight crazy feather garments. Four models, four MUAs, five shoots and three breakdowns later, I had a project that I couldn’t be prouder of.

I think the biggest thing for me is the visual amount of growth in my ability and creativity in such a short space of time on the course, and it really does fly by. Despite my friends usually perceiving me as spontaneous, I generally shy away from things I feel less skilled at. Commercial Photography at AUB has changed that perception I had, teaching me that all people have their own unique view of the world and way of thinking. It shifted my perception from competition to collaboration, which is so rife with students on fashion design, styling, hair and make-up.

In all, the course has been an insanely valuable three years of my life. I’ve created forever friendships, delved into a new world and career course, gained confidence in my creative ability and felt an unmatched sense of gratification from every single project.

Something to think about

If you liked this post you might be interested in BA (Hons) Commercial Photography

Explore Categories