50 years a professional photographer!

50 years being a professional photographer

Looking forward to many more great years shooting images

This August I will have been a Professional photographer for 50 Years! 

This is me aged 16 with my first camera

 Let me tell you a story….
It all started some time ago when I was at school. I was just 16 when I was watching a school rugby match and saw an older boy with a camera taking pictures of the game. I was more intrigued with what he was doing than the game and this moment just ignited an interest in photography. 

I knew absolutely nothing about it and I was determined to find out more. Back in my school days there was absolutely no way I was going to ask this boy anything about the camera etc as he was 18 years old and seemed intimidating! I did, however, notice the name of this camera…The Praktica is an East German SLR camera and is now known as a ‘Vintage Camera’!! 

 At this time my parents had moved to Singapore for my father’s work. I was very fortunate that in Singapore all cameras were extremely cheap! My father bought me one with a standard lens and I was off and running! The manual was basic… as was the camera fortunately. I also knew nothing of films, ISO/ ASA, exposure taking etc. I had, therefore to learn as I went along.  

Singapore was full of photographic opportunities back in the 1960’s and looked so different to today’s cosmopolitan country. It was strange but I was instantly drawn to the ‘street life that was so abundant and colourful. I say strange, as my photographic journey has taken me through many different genres of photography including sport, press, portraiture and landscape. 

What I learned on the streets and markets of Singapore was a natural ability ‘to see the composition’. Market stalls and traders were everywhere back then on the streets and shops were open through the night. I began to understand how to use my camera in all sorts of different lights.


This photographic education took some time as I had to take my films in for processing before I could evaluate my images. I then had to try and figure out how technically I could make them better. Remember please all you 21st century photographers, that I had no internet learning or instant digital appraisal of my compositions. Back then I had to learn fast or run out of processing money!! 

 Anyway, after my summer holiday in Singapore I returned to school determined to improve my techniques. I started up a photography club and persuaded the school to set up a small darkroom. I took my new ‘street’ eye to document life at school. 

When I left school I decided the time was right to find out more about photography. I enrolled at a School of photography that was in my home town then at Bournemouth. Unfortunately the syllabus was biased towards fashion and still life photography as this was the tutor’s discipline. My one year here wasn’t wasted though as the processing and development part of photography was very good. I left in my 3 year course after 1 year as I had no money for film or a social life! 

 This is me at College aged 18 - trying to look like David Bailey in the film - 'Blow Up'!

One thing I’m fortunate for is that I can ‘blag’ myself into things! My grandfather used to take me to see football at Bournemouth when I was very young and I had remained very interested. I went down to the club and told them I wanted to take action photos for the programme! They gave me a press pass and I was away and running. I wasn’t getting paid, but I gained a great deal of experience and travelled with the team all over the UK with the team all over the UK 


A proud moment when I got my first Press Pass!!

Bournemouth were in Division 1 so were a good club and I learned a great deal from other sports photographers sitting alongside me by the goal mouth! I also ‘blagged press passes’ to matches at Arsenal and West Ham as at the time I wanted to try and photograph some real super stars, especially Jimmy Greaves. Talking to sports photographers all the time set me up to approach newspapers to become a full time, and paid, photographer in 1972. 50 years ago this August!

Some of my personal training ‘seeing the image’ as a young photographer in Singapore now came in very handy as a press photographer. I was interviewed at a large newspaper group with only my Bournemouth sports photographs to show and a bundle of enthusiasm. I still remember my interview with Jack Penycate to this day. He hired me on the spot! 

The other older experienced photographers on the paper found me difficult from day one as I wanted to express myself differently to them! Not a great approach I know, but I saw things differently to them… an age thing I suppose? The editor gave me a direct bit of advice…
                                              'always give me an image that ‘tells the story’. 

The types of jobs we were sent to were mainly boring. Handshakes, presentations, golden weddings, flower shows etc, etc! This didn’t faze me however as I always tried to find a different image to the expected that ‘told the story’ without a real need for a caption. I still had an ability to walk into where I had been sent by the paper and instantly know what image I wanted/ needed to take. 
Terence Cuneo artist- famous for including a mouse caricature in his paintings

Princess Margaret

Mick McManus - TV personality wrestler

Cliff Richard presentation

Yvonne Goolagong Cawley


John Lodge -Moody Blues

Chris Evert & John Lloyd

This ability to think on my feet I had learned instinctively in Singapore. I had one job which was going to become life changing, but at the time I had no idea! 

I was sent to The American Community School in Cobham to take a long service award image of the headmaster. I turned up and introduced myself in the normal way and he immediately admonished me for being so late! I wasn’t late… I never am!

He said to me, “You are the school photographer aren’t you?” I said no, I’ve come to take your presentation picture. He then said could I take the children’s school photographs. I had no idea what he meant, so I asked him to show me an example. He said could I take the school portraits of 800 children in a months’ time?

I remember to this day saying,  “Yes, of course I can!” - Remember my ‘blagging skills?’ Luckily, he gave me a sample pack of what the school photographer normally delivered to take away which did give me some information. 

Back in the 1970’s there was no internet to help with research and all I had in this sample pack was the manufacturers name on the cardboard frame and the name of the photographer. I had very little time to put things together. I booked a week’s holiday with the paper for a month’s time and started my research. I visited the mount manufacturer, Walter Phillips in Perivale Middlesex for advice and help.

They produced thousands of school card mounts for many photographers and one was actually there when I visited. He was very helpful with the how’s, what’s, why’s and wherefores in taking school portraits. 

The time came to revisit the school to take the children’s photographs. I made sure that I was early! As I get on well with kids, I found the shoot to be great fun and as I was having fun, the pictures made the kids happy, so parents were pleased with the results! 

The big surprise though was still to come. I had no idea at this stage that any pictures would sell. I was very worried as I had taken time off work, paid for a couple of photographic studio lights and processing etc.   I need a few hundred pounds to cover everything. I shot 800 kids and 80% were bought. I nearly made more money at this school than I earned in the whole year at the paper. I had found my next stage in my career as a photographer. 

By the way we still take photos at this school! I started my new life as a school photographer and worked on my own with my wife supporting on all the admin etc. This company is still trading today with my family running it in over 800 schools! 

Whilst this business was growing well I had another of those ‘sliding doors’ moments. I was still freelancing as a press photographer locally and was sent to the opening of a new photographic portrait studio opening in Walton-on-Thames in Surrey. This studio was called Parasol and the photographer/ owner Eric was dressed up in the most colourful clothes I’d ever seen and I was totally taken in with the whole concept. 

I spoke to Eric about things etc and watched over a couple of weeks how this studio concept panned out. I began to formulate an idea of how I could do the same thing myself. I approached my local Boots store in Woking and I suggested I ran a ‘Baby of the year portrait competition’ in this store for a week.     

You must remember in the early 1980’s there really weren’t many studios where parents could get pictures taken of babies and toddlers. Boots was a great pick because at this time over 90% of new mothers got their supplies from Boots. 

Well, suffice to say, in our first week we were overrun with Babies and the store was ecstatic with the feedback and huge volumes of mums coming into the store. The regional manager paid a visit and immediately booked me into all his 20 stores. 

Another career change was taking place!

We trialled with this local regional manager and then the business really took off as more and more regional managers booked me up. 

I then took on my first full time photographer, Mick. He was fantastic but we needed more very quickly. Within another month I suddenly head 5 photographers, company vehicles and office staff. The Boots business meant I was now running a nationwide business organising Baby competitions in over 1200 stores. 

I then booked up Mothercare and BHS and we were now visiting over 2500 stores annually all over the UK. In 1990 I sold this Baby event company and concentrated on building the school business. This continues still today with my 3 sons now effectively running it. I now concentrate my time shooting landscapes and annoying my sons with ‘help’ and ‘ideas’!! 

                                   IT’S GREAT BEING A PHOTOGRAPHER!

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