Posted by Claire Wade

I think it may be in the blood a little from my Mum’s side of the family. My Mum is a keen amateur photographer and comes back from her holidays with an excessive amount of photos. Her brother was once a professional photographer, having shot many weddings and also was an Industrial Photographer for Shell Oil.

My Great Grandmother, Maimie and her father John Russel Dodds had a photography business in Watford from around 1900-1906, which was eventually undercut by cheaper competition. Maimie had worked in the dark room, touching up the negatives until she became married – I think that this must have been a really cool job given the times. Her father went to work for Kodak after his business went under.

When I was little I always wanted to pinch my parents camera and was overjoyed when I was old enough to be trusted with the family cine camera!

I’m not sure what age I was given a camera, but I think it was a hand-me-down from my parents and I was so happy. Starting as I meant to carry on, a lot of my early shots were of my cats and the neighbour’s cat.

I set up a studio in the attic with old sheets as a backdrop, unfortunately the only old sheets my Mum could spare were  dark grey, bright yellow and white stripey ones so they did not look quite right. I was not deterred though, grabbed both cats and locked us in the attic trying to bribe good poses out of them with treats. The results were unintentionally humourous and mostly of cat bums as they constantly ignored me.

I always took my camera when we went on holiday and tried to get decent shots of where we’d been. One of my favourites is of an island in a small lake in front of a chateau somewhere in France taken when I was about 10 years old.

As I became a teenager, a lot of my photos were typically of my friends and bands. I was (and still am) very much into punk and alternative music, so my friends and I dressed fairly outrageously and I had a photo album of some really cool and colourful people. Sadly this album went missing during my student years 🙁

I was always a bit arty, having various qualifications in art and design and was a figurine  painter for many years. After being made redundant, I trained up in Graphic Design and learned a lot about the relevant software, including Photoshop.

One of my previous jobs was working at Venture Portraits where I would touch up photos before they were printed. This job entailed removing zits, making people slimmer, softening wrinkles, brightening the colours, removing spit, dribble and even wee off babies! Then I prepared the files for print and sent them to HQ. I sat in a dark attic office for almost two years doing this, was sent on advanced courses and became very fast at using Photoshop. There were four photographers where I worked and I soon realised that the better or more experienced the photographer was, the less work I had to do.

All this time, I always used a snap shot type camera, and mostly on auto. Some years ago I went to Egypt with my Mum and was gutted that so many of my photos were washed out as my camera couldn’t handle the harsh Egyptian sun. Fortunately, the photos were digital and with my Photoshop skills I was able to ‘rescue’ many images. I looked with envy at my Mum’s photos and saved up for a bridge camera before I went on my next holiday.

The bridge camera was far superior and I was very happy with the results, but I was still using auto. I knew that I would get better photos if I just understood what the other settings were about. I asked my Uncle, but it didn’t really sink in. And then I saw that Burslem college were offering a three week free photography course so I quickly signed up – as did my husband.

Within the first week or two of this course, my bridge camera was no longer the bees knees to me. It’s still a great camera, but I couldn’t do any of the aperture lessons with it as there seemed to be no visible difference in depth of field, no matter how I adjusted the f stop. Also, I wanted to do slow shutter speeds on water and funnily enough, all the images were over exposed. The photography magazines I subscribed to told me I needed filters. It was time for my first DSLR.

After some discussion with other students, my hubby and I went halves on a Nikon D3000 from Ebay and we loved it! At this point we enrolled on the two term course and this is when photography started getting more expensive. Within a few months, sharing the camera was not feasible and we bought each other half another Ebay Nikon D3000 for Christmas. It made sense so that we could share lenses and not fight over a better camera! We thoroughly enjoyed using those D3000s and I still have mine as a secondary camera.

Soon we started noticing other students’ more advanced cameras and became aware of how important higher ISO was, about bracketing, plus other more advanced features. My hubby got a work bonus and upgraded to a Nikon D5100. I wasn’t jealous….. much! Some months later, I did upgrade to the same camera, thanks to some money left to me by my late Grandpa. I’m sure Grandpa would think the money well spent but is also grateful not to be subjected to having to look at 1000s of photos – although I have learned the important skill of editing down the number of shots so as not to bore people – I think!

Towards the end of college, it got less interesting. Our teacher seemed to run out of things to teach us and the next course did not entice me as it was more about shooting for industry. A visiting speaker suggested joining a camera club instead, so with a few other students and my hubby we visited some clubs in our area and opted for Willfield. We chose Willfield Camera Club because it was open all year round, the members were incredibly welcoming and it was OK that we weren’t very experienced or knowledgeable.

I’ve been a member of Willfield Camera Club for about 18 months now and my photography has improved a lot, I don’t need Photoshop as much, sometimes I don’t need it at all!! Shocking I know. I’ve also become Vice Chair of the club – how on earth did that happen? The first time I stood in front of the group to speak, I was absolutely terrified and my knees were shaking, but now I’ve given presentations and even enjoyed doing it. My most important contribution to the club so far I would say, is now we have biscuits with our tea and coffee. 🙂