Turning my passion into my full-time career / by Karen Staniland-Platt

I’ve always loved photography. I remember having a camera as a child. It was one of those long thin ones, a Kodak I think, that would take a film lasting 26 shots. On our family holidays in Dorset I’d carefully ration the shots out over the week we were there, take it to Boots as soon as we got back, wait the 3 or 4 days for the film to be developed and then excitedly examine every single shot, hoping like mad I’d have at least 1 or 2 good ones. Inevitably there weren’t many…usually the light would be really bad, and I’d end up with a murky looking brown photo of my Dad holding up a mug inside the caravan we stayed in, or an overexposed shot of him squinting at the camera whilst pointing at a sand castle.

After a few years the family camera got upgraded to a slightly more ‘normal’ shaped camera with a built-in flash, which inevitably didn’t last as the batteries would run out before the film did. We’d still be limited to the 26 shots, but now we’d maybe stretch to 2 or 3 rolls of film per holiday and skipping Boots, we’d send them off in an envelope found in one of the Sunday papers where you could pay for 2 but get all 3 developed. The results were nearly always still the same toffee-colored shots, but we’d have an adequate record of another year spent on the beach at Lyme Regis.

As I grew older, the benefit of my camera changed and instead of family holidays it became a way to record pictures of whatever boy I liked at the time. That makes me sound like some stalker hidden in a bush but in reality, it meant I would take my camera out with ‘the gang’ during our 6-week summer holiday adventures., trying to get pictures of Scott Goodwin when he wasn’t looking.

Suffice to say I never for one-minute thought of becoming a photographer when I ‘grew up.’ I don’t even think I knew photographers existed, not as a job anyways, so it still stops me in my tracks to think it’s now what I do, and even crazier that people PAY me to do it. I ultimately still find it quite odd that I would be paid for something I enjoy doing so much. 

Some sexy 80's ad for my first camera.

Some sexy 80's ad for my first camera.

Growing up in the 80’s meant I’d witnessed grandfathers who had been in a job for life, their only reprieve, if you can call it that, being to serve in World War Two. Jobs were simply that, jobs, a means to earn a living and whether you enjoyed it or not didn’t enter into it. My Dad worked as a bus driver for most of his life, despite a small stint as an insurance salesman, even though he’d always wanted to be a History teacher, and my Mum gave up her dreams of being a fashion designer in the 60’s in order to become a housewife.  

Whilst I was encouraged to follow my dreams, growing up in a household where your parents definitely hadn’t, did subconsciously lead me to believe that paying the bills was priority number one. Enjoying it? Well that’d just be left to chance.

With all that in mind it’s hardly surprising that my early careers centered around being fiercely ambitious, climbing the corporate ladder and basically earning as much as possible…that was the trade-off. Can’t do the job you love? Then make sure you earn enough money to make you happy instead. Hmmm, not sure that went as planned and so it was I took a rather long way round to get to my ‘perfect job’, stopping along the way to be a dancer, salesperson and marketeer. 

I believe we live in incredibly exciting times. Not least because of the incredible advances in technology, but mostly, I think, because of what we can do in our ‘careers’. Whole books have been written on remote working, the rise of the multi-potentialite and portfolio careers (I’m currently gorging on Emma Gannon’s phenomenally successful book The Multi-Hyphen Method – I highly recommend it!) but what excites me most is the potential people now have to generate an income from their creative talents. Whether that’s turning a side-hustle into something full time or whether it’s looking back to what you loved most as a child and following that dream. For me it’s writing, and not surprisingly, photography. 

My faithful Olympus Pen which accompanied me to New York

My faithful Olympus Pen which accompanied me to New York

It would probably make me look far more successful if I told you I’d woke up one day, devised a plan to make the dream reality and the rest was history, but truth be told it kind of evolved in a far less intentional way. 

In my early 30’s I decided to invest in a nice camera, I mean we’re talking something still under the £100 mark. Back then my hubby and I were a child-free couple still in the early days of our romance and taking lots of holidays, be they long weekends away or jetting off abroad for a week of sunshine, and so my camera began to come along too. I started to create a record of us in different places, capturing selfies (yes even before you could take photos with your phone) and those fond memories of my childhood holidays and the film to be developed were being relived, expect this time the developing was more a case of hooking the camera up to the computer, so we could see what we’d got. 

Fast forward a few years, throw a baby into the mix and I was seriously addicted to photography, having upgraded cameras quite a few times and refusing to leave home without one. However, this also coincided with phone cameras getting much, much better and so eventually the nappy bag took the place of the camera and everything was being captured on my phone instead.

However, it wasn’t long before I began to see the limitation of what my phone could do and since we no longer needed the nappy bag, I decided to invest in a camera again. I remember this investment well as it was a white Samsung mirrorless camera and I adored it. Not only did it allow me to capture pictures of a far, far better quality than ever before but also, due to its shiny whiteness, it also had its fair share of admirers wherever we went. Thanks to Facebook, the improvement in my shots was also getting noticed by family and friends which began to plant a seed…maybe I was actually alright at taking pictures. 

I’ve loved interiors just as long as I’ve loved photography, possibly longer, and after collecting a lot of great shots from a trip to Decorex, a trade interior show which takes place in London every year, I began to think more about the tiny possibility of combining my two loves and wait for it, getting paid for it!!!!


I wasn’t naïve enough to think I could walk straight into that, so I started by booking a couple of exploratory lessons with a fab photography tutor called Jane, otherwise known as Love Your Lens. At first my only ambition was simply to get off auto, which with Jane’s help I did fairly quickly and as my skill grew, so too did my passion. At the time I was still working as a freelance marketing consultant and worked with a lot of clients that needed photography on a regular basis and so I began to explore the possibilities of doing this for them, doing some work free of charge at first while I proved myself worthy of a fee.

This I combined with more tuition, a 1:2:1 programme, still with Love Your Lens, taken over a period of time which allowed me to focus in (forgive the pun) on the type of photography I wanted to do more of, gaining real experience with my clients and getting regular critique on my work from Jane as I went. By the summer of that year I’d expanded my kit, buying my very first DSLR, with Jane’s help and had racked up quite a bit of paid photography work locally.

This shot of my husband was quite literally the 3rd shot I took on my first DSLR, my Canon 5Diii, still with me today. Much like my husband!

This shot of my husband was quite literally the 3rd shot I took on my first DSLR, my Canon 5Diii, still with me today. Much like my husband!

Was this my transition from marketeer to professional photographer complete? Not quite. You’d think that once you’re being paid to do something that would be it, but it took nearly another year of securing paid work before I could utter the words out loud, ‘I’m a professional photographer.’

I do think that’s one of the tricky things about changing the direction of your career. You can have the kit, a website and be getting paid by lots of people to do it, but it’s so difficult to shake off the dreaded imposter syndrome. It was like unless I set out to be that from the beginning, I couldn’t call myself a photographer now, like I had less talent because I started later than my counterparts. Of course, I do have less shoot experience than someone who’s always done it, but what I’ve found incredibly useful is the life experience I bring to every shoot whether that be my marketing experience which I can draw upon to get the right type of tone when shooting say an interior or a product, or my own experience of being a 40+ female and the hang ups we sometimes have, which is incredibly useful on a lot of personal branding shoots.

Me, on a recent branding shoot. I still can't get used to seeing me with a proper camera!

Me, on a recent branding shoot. I still can't get used to seeing me with a proper camera!

Despite the imposter syndrome, which still lurks, I am proud to call myself a professional photographer now and it’s opened up a whole new world to me. In just the last month I have photographed a restaurant and bar, a fashion shoot, agricultural machinery, an awards launch party, an NHS team and several amazing business women. No day is the same, not in the slightest, and I don’t think I’ll ever lose the thrill of getting back from a shoot and starting to edit the shots. It feels just like that girl I once was, rushing home from Boots ready to examine the prints.

So, do I have any advice for someone considering a similar change of direction? 

Very simply:

1.    Focus not just on your strengths but your loves. It’s a bit of a tired cliché now to suggest looking back to what you enjoyed as a child but in my case, it’s provided the greatest insight. I loved photography, interiors, dance, writing and generally being creative and in some shape or form I’m now finding time to indulge all of those passions today. Some I get paid for, some not so much, but I am deriving just as much pleasure today as I did as a child.

2.    Look for opportunities to ‘trial’ your passion in the real world. If you want to get paid for something new, you might as well look for chances close to home first whether that’s an additional service to offer existing clients, testing your products at a local market or even just getting friends and families to give you some good honest feedback. Don’t be afraid to do some work for free either, whether it’s to boost your confidence or start your portfolio.

3.    Look to the experts. I began to see that I had a talent for photography and could naturally compose and style images, but I didn’t know anything about the technical side like which lens to use for what and how to cope with bad light. Seeking help whether that be paying for tuition or spending time shadowing an expert in the field will always pay off. If you find you’re not quite in love with it as you thought at first, at least you’re finding out now before you’ve given up the ‘day job’.

4.    Believe in yourself.The most important and most difficult of all. If you’re starting out in a new field, possibly as a second career, you will have to prove yourself, have no doubt about it, but if your potential clients see that you believe in yourself and are confident in your abilities then you’re halfway there. I think I’ll always get nerves before a shoot, will always suffer from imposter syndrome and will always question if I couldn’t have done something differently after a shoot but they are all the things that keep me developing as a photographer and mean that I’ll continue to get better at what I do. You just have to know the difference between genuine nerves and major wobbles about your ability.

A few more from my collection including the Fuji Xt10, an amazing camera which produces incredible colour.

A few more from my collection including the Fuji Xt10, an amazing camera which produces incredible colour.

NOTE: I’d like to make special mention of Love Your Lens, who’s support, and tuition has been fundamental to my progress as a photographer and to developing my confidence. My lessons with Jane were always fun but incredibly informative, something I always looked forward too and I have since done further courses which have helped me refine my own style and helped with specifics such as editing, lighting, pricing and advise on building a portfolio. 

Find out more at Love Your Lens