Oddly, my story, doesn’t back to when I first worked at a camera shop in 1989, where I first was lent an Olympus OM-10 and 50mm f/1.8 lens but to 12 years later, when I first bought a Nikon SLR.
There is a reason why I mention the camera shop though and it is important. When I started at the camera shop, I knew nothing about photography but the manager said that he would teach me. This wasn’t the case, what he did instead was to give me a big white book to read, an Olympus OM-10 and a couple of rolls of film. Now one of the issues was that I was dyslexic and the book was not particularly accessible. So I just took lots of bad photos.
After 3 months I was sacked and told to that I had not photographic talent and to something more applicable to my skill set, the managers exact words were ‘why don’t you go and stack shelves at Sainsburys’.
This was a bit of a body blow and I really took it to heart.
Around 1994, my mothers partner passed away. He was an avid and at one time professional photographer (He also was one of the designers of the DB5 used in Goldfinger and his company built the rail system used in the volcano scene for You only live twice). He used Nikon cameras and once he passed away, my mother inherited his old photographic equipment and asked if I wanted them. Fool’ishly, with the worlds of my former manager, I declined and my mum sold the camera and lenses for next to nothing.
Moving on a couple of years and a few things had changed. I had just quit another working for Mencap, was suffering from depression and I had an idea that I could become a film maker. So I went to college and then university, finally getting my degree in 2001.
During my time at university, I had ended up working as a cameraman on most of our student productions. So I had thought that becoming a professional cameraman, would be a good idea.
At the time, ideally I would have liked to have bought a video camera but a decent camera, without lenses, cost several thousand pounds, which I definitely didn’t have but as a reward for getting my degree, I did have enough money to buy a camera.
Of course this was before digital and at the time Curry’s was selling the Nikon F65 camera with a combination of Nikkor 28–80mm f/3.5–5.6 and 70–300mm f/4–5.6 lenses for a rather low price.
My thought process was that I could keep my technical eye in, whilst looking for a job as a cameraman. Which I did, unfortunately, it took me much longer to break into television than I could really imagine.
So we have move forward to around may 2005. I had steadily become a decent amateur photographer by this time but still hadn’t found a way into the film or TV industry, though I had photographed my first wedding the year before.
I was doing quite a lot of photography by then and it was getting rather expensive developing film each week. I had started to read about digital cameras and how they were making dramatic strides in quality and I worked out that it would be much cheaper to buy a DSLR and memory card, than just spending £10 a week on film and developing.
At the time, several companies were bringing out DSLR’s, with the two best non professional level cameras being the Nikon D70s and the Canon 300D (Nikon also had the D200 and this was before Canon released the D5).
The Canon 300D had more megapixels (megapixels were a thing back then) but the D70s was a better rounded camera (8mp vs 6mp). So, a combination of me already using a Nikon SLR, along with the better design of the D70s, meant that I ended up buying one and since then I have never looked back.
This has been a bit of a long winded story but I think there are valuable lessons to be learnt, particularly looking at this 20 or 30 years on.
The first is don’t be negative with people. Whilst the manager of the camera store may have given me an opportunity to try photography for the first time and for that I should be grateful, his comments were out of order and it shows the negative effect that someone can have on you.
He may have thought he was helping me but the effect but he wasn’t and he put me off of photography for a dozen years. As a professional photographer, nearing his 50’s, I now know what he should have said to me because I have been in that position mentoring someone.
Firstly, never ‘just’ give someone a book, advise them on a book but interacting with a person will make a massive difference and make the learning process so much faster. The manager was an award winning photographer but in the 3 months I worked for him, he never gave me any useful advise.
So now, I will always try and help anyone, I take on to mentor (and you don’t just have to be new to have a mentor). I give advise and honestly critique someones photos (whilst not being brutal if the image is bad). I try to be positive about the persons photography and fingers crossed I have been a positive influence on a number of photographers.
So for anyone reading this, whether it is to do with photography or anything else, when someone wants help, try and help in a positive manner.