In January 2015, at the age of 58, I commenced study at TAFE Queensland in Toowoomba with the intent to complete a Diploma of Photo Imaging. By November of that year, I successfully presented my portfolio as a final assessment and graduated with my diploma in February 2016. I was also privileged and humbled to receive the 'Syd Owen Trophy for Photo Imaging' and the ‘Bob Walker Memorial Award’ for outstanding student achievement.
I choose this diploma to attain the skills and a qualification I felt necessary to have confidence in incorporating photography into my existing digital media and graphic design business. After completing an apprenticeship as an offset printing and platemaker, I worked in the printing industry for many years gradually adding camera, paste-up, and art room skills to my skillset. For the past 15 years, I have been operating my own business under the ‘Jinglestix’ publishing brand. I have enjoyed photography as a hobby since my youth, so when I learned the diploma course was available at the local TAFE, I enrolled.
Given my age and business experience, I had considered myself to be a reasonable communicator in personal and business contexts. However, I was uncertain about my ability to interact with a group of fellow students who were generally much younger. I soon realised that our common aspirations and goals became the basis for mutual respect and positive encouragement. I complemented them on their artistic talent and enthusiasm, and shared insight into managing finances, business practises, and solutions that worked for me.
By the time I was mid-way through the program, the assignments were increasingly forcing me out into the public arena. I was required to approach businesses and individuals to source photographic subjects across a variety of situations and genres. Initially this was quite daunting; however, it gradually became easier as my confidence increased. By the latter part of the course, I was periodically engaged in photography work that was returning revenue. By early 2016, the photographic component of our family business had increased substantially. It is no doubt that my ability to pursue this additional work is due to my participation in the diploma course.
In my view, an opportunity is an achievement not yet attained and often the catalyst for this is a more focused learning environment with good equipment, clear goals, and a capable mentor.
On numerous occasions, opportunities arose to assist TAFE Queensland with photographic work outside of the course requirements. In order to gain further experience, confidence, and proficiency, I volunteered my services. Inevitably, this commitment was met with the challenge to ‘deliver’ and sometimes this meant a restless night thinking of how to satisfy the client’s brief. I would also consider contingencies and a creative approach to the task. In the end I successfully photographed a number of assignments, including a 2015 graduation ceremony in Toowoomba, a professional portrait shoot for approximately 20 staff, and photography of about 160 hairdressing tools and resources. I also ran demonstrations in the photographic studio and interacted with visitors during the campus open day, and assisted with the production of a promotional video.
The portfolio presentation was heralded as the critical assessment of the course because it presented our work before a panel of professional photographers. It required me to think about the genre in which I wanted to focus. I had developed an interest in portrait photography and then considered how I could take this to the next level. An idea was born when I decided to emulate movie posters using dramatic lighting and high impact backgrounds. I set about purchasing flash units and backgrounds, and then set up a studio in my garage. Finally, with help from family, fellow students, and anyone I could rope in to be a model, I produced a series of posters, had them printed to A1 size and successfully presented them as my signature product.
My photography course was designed to prepare students for real-life commercial applications. Previously I had developed my skills through trial and error, and although this approach had some merit, it did not equip me with the best or most efficient method of attaining the product I wanted. The course helped me to refine my existing skills and provided access to a supportive instructor who could offer practical advice and correct bad workflow habits.
My diploma also provided valuable insight into running a business and keeping abreast of industry trends, alongside how to gain more experience and improve my overall professionalism. It coerced me to leave my familiar territory and venture out to canvass businesses and individuals to utilise my services as a photographer. It also alerted me of the need to improve my understanding of the legalities of accessing locations and applicable copyright law. Valuable components of the classroom environment for me included a qualified teacher/mentor, a professionally equipped studio with graphics computers, and last but not least, interaction with other students. These combined elements simply do not exist with online courses.
Age differences posed no disadvantage and to the contrary, it stimulated more creativity and diversity, challenging my more traditional perspective.
Now that I have achieved my diploma, I have registered and operate a new photography business, called ‘Lightscape Studio’. I am also well aware that I need to continue improving my skill set. I am constantly exploring new techniques, trends, and advancements in technology, equipment, software, data storage, and communication mechanisms, as well as experimenting with lighting. To inspire me to create new styles and applications, I visit blog sites and subscribe to online resources like Seemless, Australian Photography and Digital, and Capture Magazine. Clever artists and their perspectives fascinate me; however, I baulk at some techniques like the current trend to use harsh single flash lighting. However, I am prepared to consider alternatives and I am watching with interest those who are re-exploring film photography and image discoloration.
I would encourage any prospective students to carefully consider their career aspirations, opportunities, and financial situation. They should also seek a reputable provider who can offer professional advice for the best pathway to attain training and employment goals. Students should also take ownership of their training by recognising the value of the education, applying a genuine commitment to their studies and accepting the responsibility to apply the skills they have learned.