Picking up your first camera can be a very special moment, one that leads you down a new path of creativity and wonder. For some photographers, falling in love with a camera leads to a lifetime of curiosity and a passion for visual storytelling. For others, it leads to a career dedicated to photography and a new outlook on making a living in a creative field.
What’s your origin story? We asked a few PhotoShelter members what led them to become photographers. For some, hobbies became larger projects, which led to full-time businesses. For others, established photographers and media outlets inspired them to give it a shot.
I actually didn’t set out to become a wildlife photographer or filmmaker. I certainly dreamed of how amazing it would be as a young girl while watching nature documentaries, but I became a graphic designer and then art director as my career and in my free time volunteered as a wildlife rescuer.
I started photography as a hobby in my mid-twenties and took photos of my pet reptiles. After a few years I started a pet photography business while also continuing to photograph wildlife as much as possible. This was so much fun and an incredible way to practice my skills of photographing moving subjects.
With the gift of hindsight, photography for me started when my mom would take me to the library as a kid. She would always take me to the kids section but I seemed to find my way over to the adult section where I would page through magazines like LIFE and National Geographic. I was taken in by the imagery and would constantly wonder what it felt to be like in those images.
It wouldn’t be until much later in life I would use those experiences to create the imagery I do. Now, my wife and I are 100% self-employed, I draw my living from photography and I couldn’t be any more passionate about sharing that on my PhotoShelter website.
In 2013, I quit my day job and spent my savings in a first photography training that was purely technical. I got my first assignment in December 2013, during Nelson Mandela’s funerals, but after that, I did not get much work for a year. I was quite desperate.
Then I enrolled in a Photojournalism and Documentary training, at the Market Photo Workshop. Although I did not complete my year there because I got pregnant, I understood the necessity to work on a story that would be a reflection of who and what I care about. So, although I had to quit school, I continued working on my project “I See You with My Heart” about interracial couples in post-apartheid Africa. This project opened a lot of doors: it granted me my first exhibition in South Africa. It also allowed me to be invited to travel to the US to exhibit and give a talk at Stanford University, and meet editors and curators on my way back. I was also selected by the East African Masterclass of World Press Photo thanks to that project. It was a real game changer.
I started in the ’90s as a news, documentary and sports photographer for the French agency Sipa Press. After a few years, I turned to travel photography, working mainly with the agency Corbis and for several travel magazines. My assignments have taken me to over 100 countries. Fifteen years ago I then decided to photograph wildlife, which I have always loved. I was always told: “Photograph what you love and you will get great shots.” This was the key that allowed me to join Nat Geo as Image Collection contract photographer and to start contributing with the various departments.
I still remember my first meeting 8 years ago at the annual Nat Geo Seminar in Washington D.C. Sitting among all the legends of photography! I didn’t sleep at night … It was the turning point of my career because since then my images are selected by great photo editors and I’m regularly in touch with many NG photographers. This helps a lot to improve. One of Nat Geo’s mantras is: “We publish images, not excuses.” So it’s important to do your best, always.
I started out as an oil painter and used photography as a way of capturing scenes I wanted to paint once back. After a while, I realized my photography was strong enough to stand on its own and so I stopped painting and started exploring photography as my new medium of expression. Semblances of my past life as an oil painter can be seen in the way I edit my photos – very vivid with a lot of heavy contrasts.
I was backpacking in Australia and SCUBA diving a lot, shooting with a disposable camera and having a lot of fun. One day I opened a magazine that featured Doug Perrine’s amazing Wildlife Photographer of the Year winning image of sharks feeding in South Africa. I knew I could never make a picture like that unless I invested in the proper gear and spent a lot of time in the ocean. So, I made that my goal and have been slowly grinding away towards it ever since. I love the whole process.
I love researching ocean conservation issues, thinking about what images might help to tell that story, being in the water and trying to execute on my vision, reviewing and processing the images afterwards and finally, showing them to the world. Each step along the way is exciting and the people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had along the way make me feel like I’ve already lived 10 full lives.