The Photos that Changed My Life – How I Got My Start in Photography

We all have a story about how we got our start in photography. I got my start with an unexpected complement from a critical art director.

Each of us has gifts and talents given to us by our Creator, but most of the time we spend our lives wishing we had someone else’s talents (or looks). Maybe it is because we don’t really know (yet) what our true gifts are. Or maybe it’s because we really cherish ours gifts so much that we can’t bear the thought of being criticized for them. I suffered from a little bit of both.

When I was young, I was fascinated with cameras and pictures. When most kids were looking through the Sears catalog for toys (yes, I’m old enough to remember the Sears catalog), I sat on the couch looking at cameras and flipping through National Geographic looking at the amazing pictures. Now, my family didn’t have enough money buy me a camera (or the film to go in it for that matter), but it didn’t stop me from dreaming. I dreamed of being a photographer. I dreamed of traveling to tropical islands and traveling to Africa to take pictures. I had big dreams, but no camera.


I don’t think my parents really knew much about my dreams, I kept them pretty private. The longer I kept my dreams bottled up, the more far fetched they seemed and the more embarrassed I was to tell anyone about them.

When I graduated from High School, I really wanted to take photography in college, but I felt like I needed to get a “practical” degree. So I became an Electrical Engineer. That may sound completely opposite from becoming a photographer, but it really wasn’t. I learned about optics (lenses) in my physics classes and I specialized in Digital Signal Processing (which is how digital image processing is done). Do you see my plan? I got a practical degree where I could stay really close to the new trend in photography; digital images. For years, I was a closet (wanna be) photographer masquerading as an Engineer.

Boy Sitting on a Tree

Years later, I accepted an invitation to go on a Christian mission trip to Central Mexico where we played and taught basketball. My next trips were to the tropical islands of Trinidad & Tobago and (drum roll please) Africa. I had dreamed about this sort of thing since I was a kid. I just couldn’t go to Trinidad and Tobago without a camera! So I bit the financial bullet and bought my first SLR camera, a couple of lenses, a flash; the whole kit. The trips were a success and the pictures turned out really well, but I didn’t show my pictures to anyone (outside of my family). I kept my pictures to myself. It was a scary thought to show them to other people. I didn’t know if I were really good or if I was the only one who liked them.

Maybe you can relate. I was a very shy person and I wanted to be good at photography so badly that I didn’t want people to tell me I was no good at it.


Some years later I started a new job (new career actually), and I talked about my oldest son enough (our youngest wasn’t born yet) that the people at my work asked if they could see some pictures. The next day I brought in a few pictures of my wife and son and I got the most surprising responses.

When the Creative Director of the company walked by he looked over our shoulders and asked, “Who took those pictures for you?” (because, obviously, it couldn’t have been me). I told him that I took them. Then he paused and said, “Well, when you’ve got talent, you’ve got talent.” My jaw dropped.

Over the course of that day I had people asking if they could see the pictures and one person asked if he could send a couple of my pictures to his friends at Kodak to be considered for greeting cards (seriously). Still others showed me their pictures and asked me for pointers.

I could hardly get my head around what happened that day. But it was that day that I finally accepted that I had some talent (raw as it may have been) and it made me want to learn and learn and learn.


It has been nearly 20 years since I started and now I have an online training course for photography, and make money doing what I love to do; taking pictures and teaching others how to do the same.

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Word of Encouragement

If you have a God-given talent (of any kind), don’t keep it bottled up and hidden by fear of rejection. Be bold. Let it out. There is nothing more rewarding that working and doing what you were designed to do. I waited too long to take that risk. I don’t want you lose out on the satisfaction of doing something you are gifted to do.


Doug Marshall
Founder, Modern Photography Course

Doug Marshall

Doug Marshall is a freelance photographer, photography instructor, professional blogger and pizza enthusiast. You can follow him (dougmphoto) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.