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Birth of a professional photographer

Over the weekend, I was reminded of my former career and my birth as a photographer. I was photographing two truly epic weddings and at each, like at many weddings, I get asked “What did you do before becoming a photographer?”.  As many already know I was a banker.  It is interesting how banking prepared me for my photography life and even my short stint certainly helped with my success. As a young employee experiencing mergers, take overs and uncertainty in my career, taught me that change is inevitable.  That is certainly the case in the photography industry, where change is constant and the playing field is forever new.  It is exciting times in our industry and for me it has also proven to be a great time to reflect back on my photographic career, finding comfort in knowing that uncertainty has always been there.  It is simply a matter of how you view it – as a challenge or something to fear.

During my career I have found that sometimes it is the simplest of events that can set your direction.   In my early twenties, when my business was part time and probably more of a hobby than a job, an encounter with a mystery Irish man helped set me on my path as a professional photographer.    This story is in the book “Masters of Wedding Photography” (so apologies to anyone who’s read it) but I’ve reproduced a shorter version here.

“The Irishman”

This image recalls for me a day that changed the way I viewed myself as a photographer.

In 1998 I embarked on my first photography journey, a trip that was four years in the planning and would take me through Europe for six months. Constantly on my mind during this trip was the question of whether I had what it takes to be a professional photographer.

Six weeks into the trip my wife, Penny and I were exploring the bottom east tip of Ireland, near Ballinskellings, just off the ring of Kerry. We drove for miles up a dirt road and came across an artist village on the point of this peninsular. It was very remote and deserted – a beautiful, peaceful place. As we were driving away we passed an isolated, little farm house. There was nothing else around for miles. A man jumped out and waved us down. We pulled over and he started talking. He had such a strong Gaelic accent that we could barely understand him.

Finally we worked out that he was trying to give us his dog to look after.  It seems he could no longer afford to look after it and was desperately looking for a new owner. It was such a sad story.

Being travellers we could not agree to taking his dog and after a difficult conversation we left with heavy hearts and headed down the road. A little further down the read it dawned on me that I should have asked to photograph him. Being so touched by the emotion of his story, and a little confused by what he was saying, I had completely forgotten my camera. Here he was, an older man who didn’t appear to have much and he simply wanted a better home for his trusted friend, his dog.

I stopped the car, grabbed my camera and ran back to ask his permission to photograph him. He was reluctant at first, but as we kept talking I started to fire a few shots off and he began to relax, slowly forgetting about the camera and just being himself. I noticed tears swelling up in his eyes and I took this shot – “Irishman”. Thinking I had taken things too far, I apologised and he told me it wasn’t the camera, but the fact that few people ever stop to even listen to him.

It was another six weeks before I was able to get the film processed (yes film, it was 1998 – showing my age) and a contact sheet made.  It was at this point the image just jumped out at me and I got a shiver down my spine. Never before had an image given me this feeling. I supposed I realized then that I could really give my dream to be a professional photographer a shot.  I guess this image helped me to start to believe in myself.  I still look at it for inspiration in my career.

Reflecting back on the day, – I had met a man who was in the twilight of his life, trying to take care of his best friend, his dog.  At the time I was just a young man, at the beginning of my journey as a photographer, with my best friend; my wife.  It is probably my most memorable and favourite photograph, still to this day.   Hope you like it too.

The extented story about the “Irishman” and my transition into photography is also included in my book published a few years ago by Amherst Media in New York: “Master’s guide to Wedding photography: Capturing unforgettable moments and lasting impressions”. Available through Amazon and on Kindle.

6 thoughts on “Birth of a professional photographer”

  1. the picture is amazing – has so much depth and feeling to it, and your story gives it more power and meaning.

  2. The image is so haunting, I loved reading about hwo you got started- I have to go buy the book for the full story!

  3. Awesome story…and just what I’ve been needing to hear.
    Listing to your story and a few others(the late Steve Jobs) today i think its time to start making the transition to to full time photographer. I just need to take the chance, realize that that it will be a long and difficult road but could be hugely rewarding…oh love your work

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