This is something that I get asked quite a bit. Although I was always the guy with a camera on a night out, it hadn’t occurred to me that it’d be possible to do anything else with it, so it’s all been a bit of a serendipitous whirlwind. Anyway, here’s what happened…
In 2005 I was working as Elwood in a Blues Brothers tribute show in Gran Canaria (if you can find another photographer who can say that, you get a free shoot). We used to do two 45-minute shows per night, & I was only out of the house for three hours, so my days were completely free. That’s me on the right, being out-posed by a seal.
I’d taken up web design the year before to fill up my daytimes (I’ve never been a sunbather), & as an indirect result of this, I ended up translating (porque hablo Español tambien) for a TV company that came over to shoot Holiday Showdown. I bought a camera with the money from that just so I could take photos of the bars & restaurants I was designing websites for, I had no plan at this stage to become a photographer, or even any reason to think it was an option. Incidentally, the translating led to a couple of other interesting jobs, including appearing on 10 Years Younger in front of 8 million people at one point).
I’ve always been someone who learns well from books, so I bought a book on photography, & it was full of pictures of girls on beaches in bikinis (the girls were in bikinis, not the beaches). At this point a small light bulb appeared over my head, as I was working in bars full of girls, & living in a beach resort. I asked a couple of friends to pose for me, with no plan other than to get used to the buttons on the camera. (The photo on the left is of Katja, the first girl I ever shot, who was a barmaid in Covent Garden Disco Pub. Ah, lovely Katja *sigh*) The photos came out really well, I shot some more, word got around, & by September I decided it was worth upgrading to a better camera (Canon 20D), thinking I could earn a small amount of extra pocket money shooting local portraits, families & weddings.
I joined a UK forum online for technical advice, & in early 2006 a model came on asking if anyone wanted to help her with her portfolio. I jokingly said I’d do it, as I hardly thought anyone would travel 1800 miles just to have me take their photo, & she pointed out that shooting on the beaches of Gran Canaria would make anyone look like an international supermodel, even if they’d paid for it themselves, & I should advertise in the UK. She helped point me at some sites where I could find models (most came from Starnow) & around 10 girls came out that summer, some paid & some as a test.
I still had no thoughts of being published, or even shooting full-time, but in early 2007 I received an email out of the blue from a picture sales agency offering to sell my work, & asking if I’d be interested in having them send models over to Gran Canaria, as it’d be cheaper than flying a photographer out. This unsurprisingly made a huge difference to me, in their first trip out I met the likes of Elle Liberachi & Lauren Pope, and shot my first Page Three Girl (Ruth Reynolds) & a Miss Great Britain runner-up (Claire Evans, who now does make-up for me). My first published photo also came from that trip (Rachel Cole in Zoo Australia)
By the end of that summer I was getting published fairly regularly, & I’d noticed that I was getting a few emails from myspace, which I’d joined but not really used. I beefed up my account & it all went a bit crazy. I’d had a couple of previous shooting trips to London, & shot maybe 4 girls each time, but the first trip I mentioned on myspace got me over 20 bookings, followed by another 20 two months later. Myspace gave way to Facebook over the next 12 months, but it was clear that, largely thanks to The Social Network (not the film), there was an awful lot more work for me in London than in Gran Canaria.
My plan for 2008 was to spend one week each month in London shooting, & the rest of my time in Gran Canaria retouching the London shoots & shooting anyone who could afford the trip overseas. This meant giving up the day (well, night) job, which was a bit of a leap as I’d be relying solely on photography for my income (wow, have I really only been pro for four years?!) but I figured the extra bookings from the UK trips would cover it. The London trips sold out, & were extended to two weeks each, whereas only three or four models were making the trip to GC each month, so it slowly began to dawn on me it might be time to move permanently to London.
A chance meeting over an Itsu with an old school friend who’d just got divorced & bought a place in Notting Hill meant I had an offer of a place to live & shoot in Central London at an affordable rate (“So, you want to bring a succession of models into the house, in their underwear, & you want to give me money as well? Is there a downside I don’t see?”), & it really felt like London was calling me, so six weeks after that Itsu I moved back.
Since then it’s been a bit of a blur… clearly there’s been a huge element of luck throughout, but I should point out that I’ve mostly worked 7 long days a week, shot over 1000 girls & taken 200,000 photos in that time so it’s not been entirely random. A big factor in getting to a decent standard quickly was that with me working at night, my days were free to practise practise practise, but it meant doing 12 hours a day of photography, then going to perform in the evenings. Still, I’m not complaining, it beats working for a living