My Photography Mentor

wedding photography mentor

My Photography Mentor

When you are young and you start to want to go out and work and earn a living you are like a sponge.. ready to soak up knowledge.  We all start off this way and its lucky if you have a mentor to teach you the craft and how to be good at what you decide.

This is my story on how my life was changed by one great man.

I was 14 years old and like every 14-year-old I wanted to go out and earn some money so I could get the latest trainers and go to the cinema with my mates.

I asked about and started working at a photography studio on a Saturday 10 am till 5pm.   I was making the tea, emptying the bins, hoovering, making customers coffees and generally watching how the business operated.

One of the jobs that I did as a Saturday boy was to cut up the print’s with the trimmer as they came through the paper processor.  My boss had 8 photographers working for him and I was very lucky because I saw everyone’s photographs as they came off the machine as they were printed after the day’s shooting.

I saw within less than a month who the best photographers were and my boss’s pictures had the master level about them… they just looked a cut above everything else that came through the machine.  My boss very quickly saw that I could separate good from bad images and I then was given the responsibility of deciding on what pictures made the cut… a very important job.

A year on of doing this every Saturday and seeing all the pictures then asking lots of questions afterwards to all the photographers. One day whilst all the photographers were out taking pictures on the weddings a girl came into the studio and needed some headshot’s taken very urgently.  I picked up a camera set the lights up in the Studio and shot 2 rolls of film photographing her for 30 minutes, I then processed the films myself and printed them. The prints were hanging up in the lab when my boss returned from his wedding and he was speechless… he couldn’t believe that the Saturday boy could produce such a beautiful set of prints – that girl turned out to work in the fashion industry and my pictures were put into the shop window and my boss got the shooting rights for three fashion designers. I   then did the Studio photography when he was not there and started to take a keen interest in Fashion Photography.

For the next year I shot  portraits on Saturdays and understood how to use light and how to create beautiful pictures in a controlled area.  I then started to shoot modelling portfolios outside as I was limited on what I could do inside and had so many ideas.  A girl came in with her sister enquiring about modelling  and wanted a portfolio done so I booked her an appointment for 2 weeks time. I shot her pictures in 5 locations in Barnet .. finishing by using a commercial unused print works and an old warehouse.. these type of pictures just weren’t taken back then and my style was different and proved to be very popular. That girl 2 years later became a model for Christian Dior and I went on to photograph her at many fashion shoots and best of all her wedding.

I turned 16 years old and was about to leave school and my boss asked me if id like to work for him full-time, I immediately accepted as I knew this was what I wanted to do.  I said to that I wanted him to train me to photograph weddings but I wanted to continue with Fashion.  Once he agreed I went out on about 25 weddings with him before I was allowed to take any shots.. my job was to get the people organised and I learnt how to talk to people and get the cooperation.. not easy to be taken seriously when you’re a spotty 17 years old… but i realised then it’s not what you say but how you say it.   I was so fortunate I was being trained by one of the ten best photographers in the world.

I couldn’t wait to start taking pictures and as part of my training I was given parts of a wedding to go and do.

  1. The home shots
  2. The Arrival shots at the church
  3. The Ceremony
  4. The Group shots
  5. The Bride and Groom shots
  6. The Cake shots

Once you got to master all the different parts of a wedding and could do it under all conditions you then got to photograph a whole wedding.

Just shortly after my 18th Birthday on Saturday 29th June 1991 I photographed my first complete wedding – it was the Model that worked for Christian Dior, my boss kept it a secret and didn’t tell me until the day… that she had requested me and wanted me to do it.

The sun was out, she was naturally stunning and so photogenic that I found incredibly easy – I was a natural at weddings, they loved me and my natural fresh style.  I went on to photograph more than 50 weddings a year for the studio and gaining professional qualification with the BIPP and MPA and was a master photographer aged only 19 years old. I could have gone on to gain extremely high qualifications but I have never been a person that it is important to, for me and my boss we knew and clients knew how good we were by the pictures – they spoke for themselves not certificates.

I worked at the Studio until 1999 doing Fashion assignments and weddings and had now photographed well over 600 Weddings and 300 fashion assignments. I had gained enough knowledge and experience now to go and set my own studio up and in November 1999 I started John Paul O’Donnell photography and from there I never looked back.

I was always very thankful to My Boss David Morgan for training me and giving  me the opportunities.  He was always a man who I looked up to with the utmost respect and gratitude and it was very tough when we parted company.

We didn’t talk for 9 years – but I knew he was ok.  Sadly my mother passed away and a mutual friend mentioned this to David, he rang me and said if theres anything he could do just ask and that he would like to attend the funeral.  At the funeral later on in the evening we chatted and repaired our relationship.  I went over to his house on a few occasions sitting in the garden with a gin and tonic talking about old times and how different it is with Digital to film.

Most recently I spent the evening with David at a wedding where we were both guests and we had a great time with him consuming a few glasses of wine.

He passed away on 19th October 2015 aged 70.  He will live on in every image I take and every time I hit the shutter button.

Here are some pictures that best describe the post, please share and comment if you have found yourself in a similar situation.

dfm and me
Me holding a Nikon D4s with a 70-200 mm Lens and my  Mentor using a Kowa Super 66 with a Carl Zeiss 80 mm Lens


DFM and me 2
David and I Taken in June 2015


First camera that I ever had and still have


My Pre Digital camera Equipment which I still have




cameras 2015
Current Camera equipment


My Mentor and Boss David, doing what he loved most at this stage in life – Driving his beautiful cars and seeing people smile.


Thank you for reading.  Please like and Share.

Photography and written by John Paul Odonnell ©

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