For most people, 2020 will forever go down as one of the worst years on record. As I'm sure I don't need to highlight, the Coronavirus pandemic has caused untold horrors this year; at the worst end of the scale millions of people around the world have lost their loved ones, jobs, homes or indeed their lives this year, while their more fortunate peers at the other end of the spectrum have had to endure the catastrophes of being stuck inside for the best part of 9 months, the ever present threat of completing Netflix and the many pitfalls associated with becoming new puppy owners. It is directly because of the fact that 2020 has been so awful for such a huge number of people that I feel a pressing sense of guilt in saying that in terms of learning, personal development and average level of contentment, it has been undoubtably one of my best. As this entire website will attest, my greatest acheivement this year has been becoming an at least semi-professional photographer, so I thought at the start of the new year I'd put together a collection of the photos that have been a result of this journey alongside a (hopefully) brief commentary of how this has happened for anyone that may care. Please forgive the length; I took 11,649 photos in 2020 so getting it down to this many is actually a minor triumph.
In the beginning, there were babies. Lots of them. Perhaps as a result of hitting peak 'mid 30s' this year or possibly due to the long, hot, sexy summer preceding it, 2020 was definitely the year that seemingly everyone I know had a baby. While this in itself has nothing particularly to do with photography, it was part of a perfect storm of factors that conspired together to make photography work look like somewhat of a possibility, or perhaps inevitability. At the start of the pandemic it soon became apparent that I would have to go on furlough from my beloved role at Hear and Now Entertainment due to global live music not really being a thing any more for the foreseeable future. I'd luckily had the opportunity to train on the basics of photography for a while on that job, so with nothing else to do (besides the odd Isolation Banger) and a plethora of ultra-cute new babies around to practice my new skills on, I suddenly found myself at the epicentre of a baby photography explosion in East London. Thanks to said friends being of the ultra-supportive/morally exquisite disposition that every man hopes for but never fully expects, I soon had my first paid shoot with The Murpheys and new baby Callum under my belt, with The Kells and The O'Connell-Reynolds's following in quick succession. While these may have been mostly touching displays of familial support as opposed to cold hard business leads, they certainly gave me a huge push in terms of establishing a process for shoots and delivering products to clients, but most importantly they gave me a little peak into how photography could one day, just perhaps, become a viable source of income.
At roughly the same time that the family shoots were getting going, another old friend heard I had started taking pictures and threw me a similarly kind hearted bone in the shape of another paid shoot. I'd seen Simon (pictured below) at what has since come to be known as 'The Covid Wedding' a couple of months before and we'd discussed the viability of a photography business, so it was a pretty great surprise when he asked me if I might want to take some shots of his tennis club and new business Bath on the Beach which had just by the skin of it's teeth been given the go ahead to proceed right after the end of the first lockdown. Since I'm trying to be brief you can find more details on this shoot in my blog post about it here, but in summary, the place is an idyllic beach in the middle of the city complete with tiki huts, deckchairs and cocktails and the weather was about as perfect as it could have been for a shoot of this type. For someone that had been locked down for about 4 months it seemed more like a holiday than work, but again taught me valuable lessons, particularly in shooting in midday sun (nightmare), lens selection (or rather, what lenses I didn't have) and editing large numbers of photos (think I took 2200 over the 2 days I was there). It also had the pretty hilarious side narrative of Simon and his lovely wife Steph finding out they were going to become parents the morning I arrived then having me staying at their house so not being able to discuss it for the entire 2 day duration of my stay; no doubt coming to hate me quite a lot! Ah well, congrats again guys!
Towards the end of the summer things started getting exciting. Emboldened by the family photoshoots with friends, some kind words from people that had seen the photos and a friendly nudge from my good pal G Man who had been having some ideas, I started ernestly advertising my services to actual strangers. G was a member of a gigantic whatsapp group for new parents in Hackney so he posted some pictures from the shoot I did of him, Rosie and little Lyra, and lo and behold, we got a booking! Reema (below) got in touch to ask about a family shoot and before I knew it I was on my way up to Hackney marshes for my first non-friend, actual client shoot. Now, anyone that knows me well can attest to just how out of my comfort zone a purely client facing shoot is for me, so the lead up to the shoot was equal measures wild excitement at the prospect of a new business avenue and sheer, unbridled terror of my own social awkwardness. Thankfully the shoots with friends had actually prepared me far better than I would have imagined and I somehow found myself slipping quite easily into a professional mode I wasn't fully aware that I had, and despite the unpredictable weather or all the worry I was actually now just doing it, and getting some great photos of Reema, her Husband Ed and beautiful kids Ava, Frida and Jackson along the way.
Not long after the Bath shoot another old pal from waaay back got in touch for a shoot in my old neighbourhood in Birmingham. Imran (pictured below, with outrageously cute daughter Remy also pictured in the pink dress) needed some updated photos of his business Yellow Penguin Nursery for the website so kindly thought of me to come up and take some. It was great to see such an impressive business in operation and lovely to get a trip back up to the homeland.
One of the main avenues I had always wanted to pursue was headshot work for actors and musicians, as I'd done some similar work with Hear and Now and really liked a) the creative scope and b) the one on one nature of this kind of work. When you're doing headshots you're essentially working solo with one person and completely aside from the actual shots (which are among my favourites anyway) I find just chatting away while you shoot and getting a brief insight into someone else's life for an hour or so to be a really fun thing to do. However at this stage I didn't know that and had never done a proper headshot so certainly couldn't charge to do so, which left me in a tricky place to find clients. Thankfully one of my very good friends Imogen (below) is a dancer/actress who has experience of headshot shoots herself, so she very kindly agreed to come down and let me do a practice session with her. I then used these shots to put a few posts out on social media offering free shots out to actors/actresses to which Kirsty (also below) responded. Again I thought the dreaded stranger danger would have been an issue but that immediately disolved as soon as we started shooting and it ended up being great fun, with the shots (such as the one below) being among the favourites that I've ever taken. Thanks for great shoots Kirsty and Imogen!
Later in the year, the Yellow Hat boys were kind enough to let me use the studio to further develop my headshot business, which I was now confident enough to start charging in. I did a few sessions for actresses and various business shots at severely reduced rates to help me develop my skill in this area while earning enough to cover basic expenses such as new backdrops. Towards the end of the year I even did a session with the big man Paul Reynolds which was a lot of fun, but also gave me another of my favourite shots of the year (above).
I quickly realised after a few sessions that if I was going to get serious about headshots, I needed a flash. Flash photography is essentially an entirely different beast to the solely natural/static light photography I'd been doing up until now, so having to learn a whole new set of rules and techniques was a pretty daunting prospect. To say I'm glad I did would be quite the understatement, as insane contrast shots like the ones of Russ and Lauren (with Phoebe) below are absolutely impossible without one. Figuring out the flash felt like a real 'Eureka!'/levelling up moment that really gave me a new fire for what I was doing and where it could lead, so that was definitely another highlight.
As summer turned to Autumn and bright clear sunshine turned to vivid autumnal tones something amazing started happening... I started getting random enquiries for family shoots in response to some free ads I'd put out as testers! This was a real surprise, as I hadn't put any money into this yet or even properly thought about advertising, so the clients must have been quite taken aback by my immediate response of "how on earth did you hear about me!?" when they called to enquire. Thankfully though, the initial shock subsided and I started booking more shoots based purely on the merit of my own work rather than through connections of friends, which was a pretty special feeling. It couldn't have been timed better either because the colours in Autumn really are quite outrageous.
Probably my favourite headshot session of the year was with singer Rosie Middleton (below), who didn't want a standard 'headshot against a backdrop' session, so we basically went into the studio with a 'let's just see what happens' kind of attitude. This lead to a lot of experimentation with my new toy the flash and really pushed me to try and think of new techniques on the spot, which I'd say is pretty invaluable experience. The resulting photos are again among some of my favourites from the year. Thanks for a great shoot Rosie!
Around this time I was also helping Joe and Rosco with their new business Yellow Hat Studios in Bethnal Green, where I did some building work and photography for them. I also shot a live video there for a great band called The Young which was the first video I've done everything (including video, sound, mixing, mastering and editing) for, which I absolutely loved. If you're interested you can find the video here. Shot from that day below:
One of the more random ones of the year was when Cellist Rachel Leigh (below) got in touch asking if I could take some shots of her at the studio. I've definitely never even thought of taking pictures of a Cellist, so this was a great learning experience!
With the year drawing to a close and new lockdown restrictions coming into place I had essentially resigned myself to the fact that my shoots for the year were over and I was heading into a pretty bleak winter photography wise. This made it extra special when my good pal Jackie over at Containerville asked me if I might be free to come and take some photos at their Christmas market. Now we all know I absolutely love Christmas, so this was a dream come true!
And with that, the year was pretty much over. I'm not usually one to reflect too much at the end of every year, probably because in normal years not all that much really happens, and even though I haven't exactly started the next Amazon this year it does feel quite rewarding to have taken the fairly terrible hand we've all been dealt, match it with a new skill I seem to be fairly OK at and come out of the whole disaster with something I'm fairly proud of and could even help sustain me in the future. I hope everyone else had a similarly fruitful year and here's to hoping we can all continue to grow and use new skills we've developed to shape the new normal in the coming months and years. In case you haven't seen enough photos yet, I'll close out with a few more of my favourites from 2020. Happy New Year!