Hi, I’m Lydia, a twenty-something so-called photographer bumbling my way through life one job after another. I got into photography from a young age, and no, I’m not talking about getting the best lighting for the perfect selfie. Similar to a lot of photographers my passion began through landscapes and being able to capture their perfect beauty to look back on and remember the feeling that you got when you were stood right there, in that moment, looking at that. After school, I of course had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life so I continued down the creative path and found myself doing an art foundation course, which somehow led to me doing a three-year photography degree and moving to Wales (still not quite sure how that happened). Throughout Uni, I again just bumbled my way through, always finding new ways to experiment and try new things to ensure a lack of boredom. Boredom being something I struggle with in many areas of my life, which is what makes photography so fascinating to me, it’s always different, and you always have the power to change things, to mix it up and end up with a completely different result. I experimented in a variety of areas, but I found the rawness of the streets and documentary most appealing. Capturing something real. Real people in real environments doing real things. Did you know that the majority of photography students go on to do careers that have absolutely no relevance, and reside to only ever picking up their camera 5 or even 10 years later at a rare family event to show the world how momentarily happy they are. In the back of my mind I wondered if I was going to be one of those majorities, where on earth would I be in 5 years time? (I still don’t have a clue, and probably never will).
I did the usual post-graduate job as a bartender waiting for the perfect opportunity to sweep me off my feet. Granted, it was a very fun, alcohol fuelled few months, but I wanted more. Thus, I got an email from my university with a list of random graduate jobs for a variety of careers, there I saw in small print… “CE Photo”. Having caught the infamous “Travelling bug” a few years earlier after a trip around South East Asia (yes, it is as amazing as it sounds), I knew I always want to travel, whatever I end up doing, I want to be given the chance to travel, anywhere and everywhere, I want to go. So this opportunity, this job, 6 months in Europe? Greece, Italy or Croatia? Sun? Sea? Sand? Photography? Unbelievably ideal.
The job involves sports and action photography, along with family portraiture. Two areas that I had briefly experimented with in my degree and my time working at Camp America (another travel bug experience), but admittedly were not my forte. Shiny new equipment (well not so shiny, scratched and second-hand) hanging from my neck, I quit my job, moved out of my house and packed my suitcase for Greece. There’s something incredibly exhilarating about leaving everything and everyone you know behind and starting from scratch in a new place (I’d highly recommend it).
I had the knowledge of what made a good photo, and I had the techniques to capture moments in time, but posed portraiture, bossing people around to make them sit in the exact perfect position with that fake perfect smile on their face to get that postcard picture; it was so foreign and unnatural to me. I’m not going to lie and say that I was perfect from the get go, sure, I could chat the chat and be polite and friendly, that parts easy, but the pressure of getting everything spot on in that short space of time that you have with the family is difficult to get used to. I used to get so nervous before each photoshoot, praying that the family were easy-going and natural in-front of the camera. Downing a double expresso to bring out the extrovert in me. Inevitably, each family is different, some you have to direct more than others, some families take control of the entire thing and you just become the one holding the camera.
The job didn’t half bring it’s challenges (if it was piss-easy it would be boring). One big challenge was the race against time to make the most of the natural sunlight before it started going dark – particularly hard later on in the year when the days are crazy short. Let’s not forget having those super awkward families with the kids that can’t sit still and NEVER smile so it’s almost impossible to get just one photo where every family member is looking at the camera and smiling at you. Yet you sit there patiently waiting and snapping away trying to think of new ways to distract the kid just to stop them from whining. It’s times like that where you wish they were dolls who you could mold into the perfect position, and you start to understand why photographers like having control over their subjects and everything in the images that they create. You want to try and make each photoshoot different to the last, mainly to stop yourself from getting bored and also to add variation to your images and find out what locations and techniques work best with different aged kids or different kinds of families. These are the things that can’t be taught, the annoying little things where people say “oh don’t worry you’ll get there”. You have to find your own way of doing it. Everyone’s style is different and no-ones photoshoots will ever be the same. You have to figure out what works best for you, and unfortunately that’s something that takes time and experience. I realise now that half of the locations that I was using at the start of the summer were pretty much just a waste of time, and rarely gave me the “hero shots” (or “winner winner chicken dinner shots”) that I needed. Infact, I ended up changing my entire route for my portrait shoots and limiting it to just two or three locations where I had most success and focussing on variations with positioning and couplings. I would always try and do a mix of images for each family, obviously the usual everyone-smile-and-sit-perfectly images along with some candid and natural shots trying to catch them whilst they’re laughing or whilst they’re walking all together, the random shots that no-one would usually get of them just being together as a family.
Nothing can prepare you for your first viewing, the first time you sit down with the family and show them your work of art, your documents of them, your insatiable efforts to capture the life and soul of their family. Awaiting their reactions, you hover nearby. You hear the glee in their voices and you wonder if they’re even looking at your photographs, at your work. Being exposed to these reactions, and all of the positive feedback, helped me massively to build my confidence, and building my confidence helped me to improve my work, and now, I look at some of my portraits from the summer, some of them posed and “fake” and I love what I’ve created, it’s thrown a totally new angle into my portfolio and has made me adapt my skills and my style of photography for the better. I’m now not afraid to make adjustments, and change things for the better, even if it means moving your subjects completely to get a better background or experimenting with sun flares.
Mid-way through the season I was given the chance to get promoted to “Senior Photographer”. This meant that I was given more responsibilities and learnt more about the admin side of the job, as well stepping in for the team leader when they were on their day off. I’ve never had the opportunity to be in charge of a team before and it’s not entirely within my comfort zone, but having had a few different team leaders throughout the summer I quickly began to pick up on good ways of dealing with situations. Surprisingly I actually enjoyed the admin side of the job, having always wanted to have an active job (the idea of sitting in a stuffy office everyday seems vile to me), dealing with spreadsheets and databases appealed to the logical, slightly OCD side of me. It also adds another level of variation to the job which is always appealing.
So if you’re a buzzing photographer who wants to add more to their portfolio, it’s a good way to go. My portfolio has never looked so bright (partly because I used to do a lot of night-time photography) and all of my images show different ways in which I have used my techniques and skills to embrace the moment and capture the scene.
Seasonnaire life is one of a kind that’s for sure. You get the chance to live in an incredibly beautiful country, you can travel throughout Europe in your time off, you get free access to amazing activities such as water-skiing, sailing, kayaking, tennis, cycling and more. Yeah it’s tiring, but what job isn’t, and it’s so so fun. You can spend your day off cliff-diving or island hopping, or suffering from a mega hangover on a beach somewhere. You get to meet so many like-minded people. People who have had so many experiences and all have a good life story to tell. Those people are my kind of people. So if you’re like me, a twenty something something bumbling your way through waiting for the optimum experience, I can safely say, it’s one hell of a job.