Susan: My Story, from Headteacher to Wedding and Family Photographer

One of the questions I’m most often asked as a wedding and family photographer is ‘How did you get started?’ And so I thought I’d share my photography story here on the blog……

I’d never considered the career of wedding and family photographer whilst at school.  My Secondary didn’t offer photography as a ‘subject’ back in the day.  It was art I was interested in.  I spent hours in the art department painting, drawing and making things out of clay.  I thought that maybe I could be a Graphic Designer and went to see round Gray’s School of Art but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. So, when some of my friends said they were going to teacher training college, I thought ‘what the heck? Sounds good to me’….and off I went.   

And being a teacher suited me well.  In the year 2000, I became one of Aberdeenshire’s youngest headteachers at the time, at the age of 29.  It was also the year my first son was born and as many new mums do, I picked up a camera for the first time in ages.  

Now, I’m not much for spa weekends and that sort of thing, but I fancied a break and saw a workshop entitled ‘The Art of Pictures’ advertised.  It was being held down in the Lake District and I signed myself up.  Well, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head.  There were people on the course who were REAL photographers, and I suddenly saw a way of expressing myself again, but this time through my camera.    I signed up for a year long course – still being a headteacher – and headed down for a weekend, once a month.  

Like all good stories, this one involves a little bit of luck. One day my Pro Photographer magazine landed on the doormat and I read the word ‘COMPETITION’ in bold on the front. They were offering one lucky entrant an all expenses paid trip to London to attend a huge industry conference, plus membership of the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers (SWPP). On a whim, I entered. And then, unbelievably, I won. 

So off I went to London, chatting to everyone and anyone of the 16,000 (!) attendees who would listen to me. I laugh now when I think about how naive I was - sitting at the bar and talking nonsense to some huge industry names! People asked me what kind of photographer I was and I had to admit that I was erm, in fact a headteacher.  I didn’t have a clue about being a photographer really - but I knew that I was excited, inspired and I wanted more.  

Attending that conference was ‘the moment’ – I was like a kid in a candy store.  I’d never met so many people who had a love of photography like I had and it was enlightening! And so I pushed on - shadowing, carrying bags and eventually second-shooting for some of the big names I’d met in London.

Meantime, my school was inspected and we got one of the best inspections Aberdeenshire had ever had to that point.  I’d been the headteacher there for six years, so I was proud (and relieved) that my interest in photography hadn’t actually impacted my ‘day job’ in any way.  And of course, I had the best team around me – and they are still friends to this day. 

I got promoted and then there was a bit more luck. A colleague of mine in the Education Office asked if I’d be interested in photographing her daughter’s wedding - it was all very casual: ‘Oh Susan, you take pictures, don’t you? Would you fancy taking some at Emma’s wedding?’ I agreed, later realising that the gorgeous Emma was marrying the equally gorgeous Scott, who just so happened to be a footballer. The photographs went viral - blogs, magazines, the works - and I started getting enquiries by the dozen. 

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Over the years I’ve invested in myself and in some seriously quality photography training. I’m so proud to say I’ve trained with the very best in the business - from newborn training with some of the world’s leading baby photographers (Kelly Brown of Little Pieces Photography, Amy McDaniel from Dewdrops Photo and Russ Jackson) to family photoshoot coaching with Bobby and Doug of Twig and Olive Photography

I hold an Associateship with the British Institute of Professional Photography and my mentor was the wonderful Kevin Wilson, who really helped me to raise the bar beyond just ‘taking a good photo’.  I also wanted my training to go beyond the technical aspects of taking photographs that people fall in love with, but also focus on the quality of my clients’ experience at Kingshill. Kenneth Martin has been the most inspiring business mentor - educating me, inspiring me and basically giving me some tough love when it was needed. 

I finally made the big BIG decision to leave my job as a Quality Improvement Officer for schools in Aberdeenshire  to become a full-time photographer just over three years ago.  It was difficult leaving a career I loved (and one that I was actually quite good at ;) with all the security that brings.   However, I can honestly say I’ve never looked back.

And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Except, you see, it isn’t. I’ve never been one for standing still, and while I could happily photograph brides, grooms and stunning venues for the rest of my life, I also love variety and to keep challenging myself. And so the second branch of my business Kingshill Studios was born - our stunning studio in the grounds of our home where we shoot family, newborn and even pet portraits under cover from the wind and rain and then venture outside for some beautiful, all-natural countryside shots. 

I find it really difficult to think of work that I would be more suited to or would enjoy more than being a wedding and family photographer. I love dealing with families, children and capturing special moments before they’re lost to memory. And I’ve got to admit that a daily cuddle with some gorgeous newborn babies is a pretty decent perk of the job…!

So in a nutshell, that covers the question, "How did you get started?" Could I turn moments from your special day treasured memories? Let’s talk. 

Interested in some family photography? Then head to my other site here