Friday 30th of August was a big day in my career. Maybe the biggest.
For the last 20 years I have been working in IT. I started in 1999 as a junior developer working for a company you have never heard of and I finished as a principal engineer at Sky, the largest media company in Europe.
However, three months ago I made the decision to quit my job, to get out of IT and to try my hand at something else.
This is the story of how I came to make the decision to become a professional landscape photographer.
How did we get here?
In 2007 my wife and I decided that we wanted to live in the Lake District.
At the time we were living in Aylesbury and I was commuting in and out of London every day for work. We would try and visit the Lakes as often as possible, finding it harder to return home each time.
We knew it wouldn’t be easy. House prices inside the national park are well above the national average and IT jobs are few and far between.
It wasn’t until the autumn of 2010 that we took the first step on our journey.
Step 1: Scotland
In October 2010 I accepted a contract role with Sky in their offices in Livingston just outside Edinburgh.
Although it wasn’t the Lakes it was a step in the right direction. Livingston is just two hours from the Lake District as opposed to the four that we were used to.
Following the global financial crisis the value of our house had fallen sharply and we found ourselves in negative equity. We had little choice but to rent out our home until the market had recovered.
We rented a house in Scotland and for two and a half years saved as much money as we could. Eventually we had saved enough to buy a house in Cumbria.
Step 2: Shap
In July 2012 we bought our house in Shap. As Shap sits just outside the National Park house prices are considerably lower than they are in the Lake District.
And it is also only 5 minutes from the M6 motorway, very handy for the weekly commute to Livingston.
That summer was an amazing time that I will never forget. It was the time of the Olympics in London and for the first two Saturdays in our new home we got to watch Mo Farah win a gold medal. We were in heaven!
We split our lives between Cumbria and Scotland. I would drive us up on Monday morning and Helen would drive us home on Friday evening.
This continued for two and a half years.
Since moving north in 2010 things had not been easy for Helen. She had struggled to find work in Scotland as an event organiser and had to endure knock back after knock back.
It was hard to sit back and watch her take one disappointment after another knowing that there was nothing that I could do.
For me things could not have been better. By now I had accepted a permanent role at Sky as a lead engineer and was making my mark. But for Helen those were dark times.
I am so proud of her for they way that she conducted herself during those years. She never gave up. After each set back she would pick herself up, dust herself off and try again. And again. And again.
Sadly the breakthrough that her determination undoubtedly deserved never came and at the end of 2014 she finally accepted defeat.
Step 3: Going Solo
Helen decided that she wanted to remain full time in Cumbria and try to find work locally.
In the years since she has retrained as a gardener and established her own thriving business. She spends her days outside, indulging in her passion with the Lake District fells as her backdrop.
I am bursting with pride as I write this.
Helen’s decision meant that I would have to travel to and from Scotland on my own. We would also be apart during the week.
By this time house prices had recovered and we were able to sell our house down south and buy a flat in Livingston.
We always viewed the flat as a safety net in case Sky ever grew tired of me. To my great surprise it eventually turned out to be the other way around.
We adapted to our life apart extremely well. If this was what it took to live in the Lake District, even part time, then so be it.
To get to this point we had had to make many compromises and sacrifices. I was very aware of the cost of our decision to move to Cumbria so was determined to make the most of it.
I started to spend as much time as possible exploring the fells. As a keen photographer I would take my camera with me wherever I went in order to record what I saw.
In time my interest grew into a passion. Photography became my reason for getting out and I started to venture further afield.
I started to read as much as I could about photography, particularly during the week when I was ‘stuck’ in the flat on my own. Eventually I found a Thomas Heaton video on YouTube and my life was changed forever.
That might seem a little dramatic but YouTube provided something that up to this point had been lacking in my photography. Purpose.
It was less than six months from finding Thomas on YouTube to starting my own channel. For the next 2 years I would head out to photograph my beloved Lake District and to film myself doing it.
If I am honest, for better or for worse YouTube was my primary motivation for taking photographs for quite some time. I revelled in the community that grew up around amateur landscape photography and enjoyed sharing my work with people all over the world.
I also made a load of new friends, more so than at any other point in my adult life.
Of course the time I was spending on YouTube meant that I was spending less and less time with Helen.
Eventually something had to give and it wasn’t going to be our marriage!
The writing was on the wall long before our holiday to Cuba at the start of 2019.
Helen has always supported me in everything that I have done, but never more so than with YouTube. She has even been known to shoot a bit of b-roll for me!
But even she found it difficult to hide her delight when poor weather would stop me from heading out on a Saturday morning as usual.
For me the penny dropped when whilst on holiday in January she made the casual remark that it was the first time that we had spent two weeks together for over four years.
That thought ate away at us for months and we both started to become more and more intolerant of our situation.
Inevitably it was Helen that spoke up first. She was fed up with us being apart all the time. We agreed that it was time for me to commit to our life in Cumbria full time.
But what on earth was I going to do for a living?
The End of an Era
After 20 years in IT I had grown weary of it. It is a young man’s game and hard for old fossils like me to keep up with the constant change.
I also felt as though I had achieved all that I could.
My promotion last year to principal engineer was a very proud moment for me. But it also left me with nothing more to aspire to. Once you are at the top there is nowhere left to go.
I have loved my time at Sky. The environment suited me perfectly and allowed me to reach my full potential. Working for anyone else just wouldn’t be the same.
If I was going to leave Sky then I had to get out of IT.
Time to Go Pro
It was actually Helen’s idea that I try to make a living as a professional landscape photographer.
I had toyed with the idea but had never been able to convince myself that I have what it takes to succeed. I even confessed to my good friend Julian Baird when we first met that I had absolutely no desire to turn professional.
But after a while it soon became clear that at this point in my life it was the only logical choice.
I want the opportunity to work for myself and know that if I am to be successful then it has to be doing something that I am passionate about.
So that is my back story. How I ended up in the position of attempting to earn a living as a landscape photographer almost by accident.
Whatever happens in the future this is just another step in a journey that I have been on for 12 years.
And a journey that I am very fortunate not to be taking alone.