The designated photo taker…

For years I have been your trusty friend who takes the pictures… I’ve been photographically documenting our lives; nights out, nights in, messy states, days out, concerts, festivals, holidays, weddings, kids etc… whatever is happening you can rest assured I would be there with my camera… I have some where in the region of 900+ albums on my Facebook personal account alone… In 2008 a friend jokingly made a group ‘I’ve officially been tagged by Linda Steele’ It was a running joke that you would wake up after a night out to find the entire night captured frame by frame and you would be tagged before the sun came up the following day! They even used to run competitions to guess how many people used my pictures as profile pictures… We once counted over 30!
The thing is I love photos… I love capturing people in the moment… I love capturing genuine moments of joy and happiness…

In the beginning…

I guess my love for photography was inspired by my Grampa Steele… He wasn’t the best photographer and framing the shot was just not his thing but he enjoyed it anyway, I love looking at photos of my childhood and grateful that someone bothered to capture those moments, he took pictures of absolutely everything. My sister and I used to get shipped up to my grandparents in Scotland during the summer each year and I would always get one of those disposable monster cameras from Superdrug…I used to take my 24 photos and then excitedly take it to get developed… It was a great way to show Mum and Dad what I had been up to all summer, I’m sure they were fascinated by pictures of my dolls and Grans garden etc. Eventually my grandad bought me an easy to use snapshot camera and a handful of films…Film processing started to be done in an hour rather than days or weeks and I could get through a couple of films each summer capturing landscapes and people … I still have all the negatives from these days…
I remember one summer visiting my Grampas sister and she had developed Alzheimer’s. It was difficult to understand why she didn’t know who I was anymore, because we used to visit every summer, but her memory was almost gone… I remember how my Uncle and Grampa would show her photos to try and help her piece together what memories she had left. For me this was the moment that photography became more than just a way to tell a story of my adventures it became a tool for capturing the most important memories that I never want to lose.

So I’ve always had a camera…

As I grew up and started to earned money, I spent lots on films and processing. Everyone would get photo gifts from me… I loved spending hours hand making photo albums and collages, cutting out individual photos and creating these huge memory boards. Then processing went digital, I would take my film and have it put on disc to put on to the computer…Brilliant now I could really have fun! I started making slide shows…selecting music to add an additional level to the sentimentality… I made them for friends, family and even for work (I worked in a Preschool/ Holiday Club and parents loved slide shows of school trips). Eventually I got my first digital camera a Little Sony Cybershot and I loved it! The world was my oyster…no longer limited to 24 or 36 pictures… I was trigger happy and catching such epic shots that it became an addiction…my late teens and early 20s I partied hard and documented everything.

Then came social media

MySpace was my thing as I plastered my wall in Photos… I completely personalised my page, made collages, slide shows and started adding photo albums… When I started going to big Drum and Bass events I found out about a site called DontStayIn, for those that don’t know; ‘DontStayIn was a social networking site based around clubbing. Primarily covering the UK, it listed nearly 185,000 events, and at its peak had over five million verified members. Members were encouraged to upload picture galleries to the site for events they’ve attended, add events and venues and otherwise contribute. “Spotters” were DSI members who reviewed and photographed events.’ (Wikipedia)

I very quickly became a ‘spotter’ because of the amount of photos and people tagging themselves in my photos. It opened up some opportunities for free tickets to some events…I guess this was the first step in to the professional side of things…DontStayIn sent me cards to hand out to people I photographed, so I was promoting the site and my photography while benefiting from free tickets to my favourite Drum and Bass DJs and events!

I think that was my first mistake. I launched myself as a free service… I was happy with just a free ticket here and there. I wanted to give people their memories, I never even considered charging them for the privilege. I loved that people loved my photos and really it was still just a hobby for me, a passion, a way to meet people, make friends etc

My confidence grew and then shattered

Facebook launched and I instantly loved the platform… I transferred from MySpace sometime in 2007 and I uploaded 2 years’ worth of event albums. I loved tagging people and building my network.  People started to make comments that I should be doing it professionally, I would make a great event photographer as I capture the mood and feeling of events really well, but I didn’t take it seriously, Photographers have equipment and software that I couldn’t afford. So I positioned myself as a purist, raw photos only…no fancy business…I didn’t believe in editing etc I was good at taking pictures and that was enough. I was just finishing my teacher training and Early Years Professional Status qualifications, I had a good job and was for the most part relatively happy. But still I would get sent photography job openings by friends. Event photography was on the rise and all of a sudden everyone was taking photos I was losing my monopoly on peoples time lines so I decided the people were right, I could do it, so I applied for a photographers position in my local night club through a company called Picture-Pal. I worked 3 or 4 nights, I was given a Canon DSLR with zero training, (I had only ever used my Sony Cybershot or Fujifilm Finepixs) and a small room to process and print while the customers wait… it was intense and hugely mind numbing… We were encouraged to take posed photos only which was not really my style…the pay, commission based, was ok but my hours were not, I was still a full time preschool teacher as well … I was missing my regular nights out with friends and missing taking the kinds of candid photos that I enjoyed so much… I realised I had out grown the night club its self…the standard nights with cheesy pop or RnB music were just not my thing. Also drunk 20 somethings can be real dicks; Posers who demand a million re-shoots and never buy a picture, girls kissing each other for attention, guys making stupid gestures as to how big their parts are, the list goes on… I grew to hate the job… I decided being a paid photographer was not for me… I didn’t want to be a puppet and I certainly didn’t want to be in that environment.

My first DLSR

Phone camera technology came on in leap and bounds over the next few years and my documenting of life continued, racking up album after album on Facebook, tagging friends being known as the photographer… I still had this urge to take it further but I had been burned and still couldn’t afford the equipment to be taken seriously. I had a rough couple of years losing my mum unexpectedly and my marriage crumbling to dust I just need to get away and so I moved away in 2010 for a preschool management job about an hour away from all my friends, I was enjoying just being known for taking lovely photos, or popping back for birthday celebrations etc I needed the security and stability of a regular job. After a year or so, due to some more serious life events, I had to leave my job and move back closer to my family and friends… I was a bit lost to say the least, my family and friends kept encouraging me to do something with my photography skills. So with some help from my dad with a new laptop and my first DLSR; a Canon EOS 1100D. I was ready to take on the world…or not… I made business cards with Vistaprint and announced I was going to be a photographer to everyone, but… no one listened. I had no idea how to market my self or how to manage my self as a freelancer. I didn’t even know how to price my self or where/ how to print my images the overwhelming realisation of all the things I didn’t know hit me…On top of that my home town had a new photographer in town, one who knew what they were doing and I was just a nobody.. I had been out of the loop for too long and I just didn’t have the confidence to fight my way back to the top of the social circles and night club scene. So I settled in to a sales job and continued as everyone’s favourite designated free photographer even starting to take on more official photography jobs like a few family portrait shoots for friends, and a cousins wedding, some charity events and a captains day at the local golf club…all for free…I was portfolio building and talked endlessly about how I was going to set up my business I just needed to learn this or that… I became a pro with the excuses! I loved my 1100D though… It went everywhere with me and my passion for taking pictures never stopped.

A Fresh Start

So mid 2013 I took an unexpected leap of faith and accepted a teaching job in Dubai. It literally came out of no where… I was bored in my sales job… the 9 to 5 office life was not for me… I spent hours day dreaming about moving away and starting all over again… I would send ridiculous amounts of applications to jobs all over the world, some I was not even remotely qualified for and then bam I got a job offer and I accepted it. My family, friends and boyfriend were shocked but supportive and in just 4 short weeks I was off to pastures new. Now although I was going to be a teacher again I knew this was a chance to start again with my photography…No one in Dubai knew me already and so I wasn’t pigeon holed as the free photographer…finally a chance to try and see if I can make it work. We had an event at the school in the first few weeks and I offered to set up a photobooth as part of the event… It went down really well, My boss loved that and all the candid shots I had taken during the course of the day of the children, parents and staff. My boss was a great promotor of people and after a few drinks one Friday brunch she discovered my passion for Drum and Bass music and night life photography… She knew just the place to introduce me;  Bassworx… My boss introduced me to the event organiser and I was welcomed with open arms in to a crew of music lovers and DnB heads that come together monthly with some pretty epic guest DJs…and so this quickly became  my first regular photography job in Dubai albeit unofficially and of course unpaid because I was just grateful to find a community to be a part of… this monthly night however did get me noticed, my major selling point being my high quantity and fast turn over time, I didn’t edit or get bogged down in post production, my photos were good candid shots and the whole night or event would be there in still shots and uploaded before lunch time the next day. Pretty soon I was getting the enquiries and paid photography work including bar and restaurant openings, other event hosts asked me to come along and take photos and soon enough I was getting publish in the countries leading music magazines which of course lead to tickets for events, press passes and backstage access! I made it I was finally a photographer. My friends in the UK saw my posts about working as a photographer they were excited with one friend even booking me to be her wedding photographer during my summer visit back to the UK… Just me no back up… Finally I was being taken seriously!… Well sort of, I still didn’t really understand how to price myself, I still used the camera auto settings, I still didn’t do any post production or editing, I still introduced myself as a school manager first and photographer second, I still did far too much free freelance work… but it was a start.. I was published and had paid work, I finally had an insight in to how easily I can network and grow my business. That was the motivation I needed to take my self seriously, to see myself as a professional.