I’ve always considered myself an artist. From a young age I had an interest in drawing and graphics – my grandfather was a graphic designer and my father an art director. After finally picking up a camera in secondary school I immediately knew I’d found a medium that made sense to me.
I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but I think that’s what made it so appealing, I was able to take my camera wherever I pleased, whenever I pleased and shoot a vast array of subjects from sports cars to landscapes, there were no constraints.
I went to university and gained a degree in photography, this taught me a great deal about the techniques, but also developed my understanding of the industry, and importantly how to make a living from it.
I’m a perfectionist; I always want everything to be 100% perfect first time every time, and so university was a great place to step out of my comfort zone (I often fell out with my lecturer about that), push my boundaries and, most importantly, learn from my mistakes. This was a vital part of my learning as it allowed me to grow as an artist.
‘Photograph things you really care about, things that really interest you, not things you feel you ought to do.’
– Chris Steele Perkins
Starting in photography
Entering the photographic business is not an easy task. It’s a very competitive and saturated market; especially with the rise in camera phone capability, everyone’s a photographer. You need to be proactive and resilient, create your own projects, collaborate with fellow new artists and learn on the job.
One theme that ran through university was the importance of shadowing a professional in the business, learning the tricks of the trade and understanding how a professional working environment works. I was lucky enough to assist a professional photographer on a couple of shoots for ‘The Times’ magazine and spend a couple of days in a large studio in London. It was a short, quick insight into a completely different world. Fast paced, high pressure and intense. It was a little daunting; I thought photography was meant to be fun, not stressful. It highlighted to me how much I had to learn about photography as a business, not a hobby.
It was this that prompted me to become more proactive in contacting modelling agencies, creating projects and attempting to get my name out into the public domain. I was fortunate enough to pick up pieces of work, although not regular, it was reassuring to know I was good enough for people to want to pay for my work.
This lasted for a year or so and it was then I saw the role as a photographer at Defence Equipment & Support. I saw it as an opportunity to transfer my photography skills into a completely new environment.
The job description sounded interesting, with the chance to photograph a wide selection of subjects across the country. I was fortunate enough to be offered the job and became part of a great team who really made me feel welcome.
On first impressions I found the large corporate world a little intimidating. An establishment with over 11,500 employees seemed terrifying but I was taught all about the business, the work I would be undertaking, and the training available to me. This soon meant my nerves were put to one side.
I have been at DE&S for nearly two years now, it’s flown by. I have been incredibly fortunate to photograph some important historical moments in defence, meet interesting people and learn a great deal about an area in government I previously knew nothing about.
There are many occasions that come to mind when I think of career highlights but there are a few that stick in my mind and that have prompted my friends to say ‘you’ve got a great job, you’re so lucky’ when I tell them.
The Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is the UK’s largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy – and I was fortunate enough to be invited on a press tour around the ship from the kitchens to the flight deck. I’d seen many photos of it but it’s not until you see it in the flesh/steel that you fully appreciate and realise the true scale of it.
The tour began in the hangar and as soon as you step on board you can’t help but look around in fascination. The scale of everything is vast. I was thinking ‘how on earth does this float, it weighs 65,000 tonnes?!’.
We ventured all over the inners of the ship, seeing the kitchens, the hospital, the bedrooms and so on. Moving up the flight deck, 16,000 sq meters in size, looking around you get a real sense of the ships size and capability. We walked to the ‘ski jump’ where future aircraft would be taking off. I couldn’t help thinking it must be terrifying launching a jet off that with the ocean in front of you, but that’s why I’m a photographer and not an aspiring pilot.
We spoke to many different members of staff on board the ship that were extremely accommodating, you could see that they were so proud and excited to be part of this historical ship, they wanted to tell you all about it. It was only when I got back to the hotel did I realise how fortunate I was to be given that experience and capture some great imagery of it too.
F-35 landing – one chance to get the shot
Although a photographer first, I’ve been able to expand my skillset at DE&S into filming – and another memorable experience was when I was called upon to put this to the test at the recent arrival of the first of Britain’s F35-B Lightning jets touching down on UK soil – with hundreds of press present to capture the historic moment, the pressure was on.
I was fortunate enough to be placed next to the runway to capture a unique shot of the moment they landed. It was nerve racking because although I’m capable, it’s still a new skill set to for me and this was a situation where everything had to go well – no second chances.
Luckily it all went to plan and I captured the landing, and gathered a selection of interviews from the head of the RAF, the Defence Minister and a pilot. I felt a lot of pressure that evening, however I could sleep well knowing I had done the best I could and produced a unique and informative video, an example of stepping out of your comfort zone, getting on with the job and having self-confidence.
I have many other career highlights. From my image of an Atlas transport aircraft (A400m) covering the front page of the Telegraph Business page, to speeding along the Dorset coastline in a speedboat trying to photograph a mine-hunting vessel, there’s too many to list. It’s a fantastic and unpredictable environment to work in, I’ve got an outstanding and very supportive team around me, I have photographed some amazing subjects, and met great people along the way.
Finally, if I was to give advice to anyone entering the photography business it would be to remember this quote from photographer Carl De Keyzer: