Professional photographer Rachel Riley tells us just what it’s like to go pro and the challenges she faced..
By Rachel Riley
Sitting here, cup of tea in one hand, a sleepy puppy curled up by my side, I wonder I got to this point – writing a blog for the good people of Fuji about my journey in photography so far. After a good deal of umming and aahing, long, heart-searching conversations with those I love most, the decision has been made – leaving my 20-year career in education behind to take the first tentative steps into professional photography.
Like most folk of my age, I guess, photos played a huge part in my youth; from family snaps in albums to hilariously poor quality shots from primary school day trips, all blur and thumbs, either over the lens or enthusiastically held up by school friends. Growing up, through school and then into student years, photographs were a record – of parties, events, drama productions, collages of images of friends and family from home adorning the walls next to a dog-eared “Taxi Driver” poster. Photos always surrounded us, but as a way of recording our lives. My late Dad, as a gifted artist, used many media to great effect in his work, but never film – photography wasn’t really seen as an art form in our house.
Despite this, one of the first images of which I was very proud was taken in 1992 on a school Classics trip to Greece. I had in mind a shot I really wanted to capture – that of the Parthenon against a clear blue sky. In the end, our visit coincided with snow in Athens – so my eventual photograph was the Erectheion dusted with snow against a moody grey sky. Not quite what I had intended but I was pleased nonetheless!
Digital photography soon began to seep into our every day existence – although our wedding in 2003 was shot entirely on film – at about the same time as the birth of my daughter. Sharing photos suddenly became an instant activity – grainy snap shots from my Nokia 3650, or on our tiny 1MB digital camera were so easy to ping via email to family at a distance and, by the time my son arrived in 2007, social media provided the perfect forum for visual sharing.
For me, the turning point in photography from babies and holiday snaps came when our family relocated to Portugal in 2009. Leaving behind my teaching job to give my children the chance to experience another country and to support my husband in his own career, I was keen to grasp the opportunity to use this sabbatical wisely. The original plan had been to co-write a sitcom with a friend back in the UK, but once faced with the fresh light and unique environment of the Atlantic and the river Douro, the ranging, tightly-packed cobbled streets of Foz and the beautiful city of Porto, my heart was lost. Capturing the curious fog on the beach, the mussel beds and driftwood revealed at low tide, the endless beautiful tiles and ancient doors became a wonderful challenge.
Armed with my little point & shoot and a woeful lack of technical knowledge or expertise, I wanted to learn more and, indeed, achieve more at such an opportune time. After a while, a DSLR seemed the logical next step. Slipping back into a little teaching at the local British School meant I could save up for a Nikon D5000 which, from the moment of purchase in April 2010, rarely left my side. My new hobby grew from that point on. A little win in a Facebook Photography competition led to joining a group of similarly minded keen amateur photographers around the UK and beyond. They were undertaking a 365 photo a day project which proved to be a fantastic experience – a daily image, shared with the other group members, learning from each other, through both successes and mistakes!
On our return to the UK, it was back to work. Although with a lot less time for photography, it continued to play a big part in my life. Through some work with Photobox, I met landscape photographer Paul Sanders and together we started Camera Kids, working with Fujifilm, to teach children photography in school-based workshops and after school clubs. We had some success with this, even working with Travel Photographer of the Year at their annual exhibition. I attended an Aspire training course in Cumbria – right out of my comfort zone – and fell in love with the intuitive design and ease of use of the Fuji X-series cameras, eventually choosing the X-E2. And so my photography took another huge step forward.
Having taken another break from teaching as my husband was working in Kazakhstan for two years, I had a little time back to concentrate on photography again. Requests began to come in – from a local gardening business, to portraits of family and friends for gifts and special occasions, greetings cards featuring my Instagram images (shooting square is something I love), photographing plays and events at my children’s school, running a photo booth at the summer fair. Gradually, however, it became clear that my interest lay in children’s portraits – after years of working hard to get the best out of youngsters and being blessed with two very patient and photogenic kids myself, this was surely what I wanted to do.
And so here I am. My husband is back in the UK and working reassuringly near by, and the decision to become a photographer seems to have been the right one. I have a batch of pleasing square Moo business cards, a Facebook page and website up and running, and six jobs under my belt already – there are a myriad of other things that need to be done and carefully thought about! But, for now, with my cup of tea and sleepy puppy, the love, enthusiasm and endless support of some wonderful people, here’s hoping that I am finally on the right track and facing the challenging but exciting times that lie ahead.
To see more of Rachel’s work click here.