From Gamekeeper to Photographer

From a very young age, I always wanted to be a gamekeeper, following in the footsteps of my father. When I wasn’t at school, I could be found helping Dad. From the age of seven, during the shooting season, I would be amongst the line of beaters and there was many a day when I would I try to miss the school bus on purpose so that I could go bush beating.

Back then for a girl to become a gamekeeper was unheard of. Whilst at primary school my parents bought me a Kodak Instamatic Camera one Christmas, and then, when I was in my teens they bought me a Praktica. We had a friend of the family who was a professional photographer and I began to spend time learning from him.

After leaving school and after many rejection letters from shoot applications, I ended up going into catering. I worked at an outside catering firm and I saw a whole new world of food as it was a fine dining operation. I started attending evening classes at college to achieve my City and Guilds qualification in cooking. Then, to everyone’s shock, I enrolled full-time to study catering and hotel management, surprising even myself, as I did not enjoy school at all. All this time, however, my heart was still in game keeping.

So, college passed and I wondered in which direction to go next, when my father was taken ill and had to have a spell of time off work. It was at the time of year when he was incubating and hatching pheasant eggs. I stepped in to help, as at that time, there was no one else who he really trusted to run the incubators. I was in my element. During the hatching season, I began to get a really good success rate and the shoot owner, my father and others began to see this.

The shoot owner suggested to Dad that I should be taken on, but my father was against it. Eventually he relented. I had to start at the very bottom and had a couple of years doing all the menial jobs. Part of my employment condition was to attend Agricultural College, to achieve National Vocational Qualification in game keeping.

Eventually the time came for my Father to retire and I was promoted to Head Keeper, the first female in the country to achieve this. So, here I was, where I was meant to be!

One day, while working on a shoot, I collapsed at work. I brushed this off and returned to work the following day, not knowing this was the start of a life change.

I fell ill and it got to the point when, after many doctors and specialist visits, my GP sat me down and told me I would have to give up work. My life was turned upside down, and for several years, I was unable to do anything. I did not take kindly to this and was my own worst patient.

A couple of years ago, with my health improving, I picked up my camera and started to snap away. I bumped into our old family friend photographer again, who saw my images and suggested I thought seriously about doing something in photography. Encouraged by his advice, I purchased my first DSLR camera, applied to a stock agency, created a website and started my new career as a professional photographer.

Recently, on sorting through some old things in the attic, I came across an old, empty folder of mine. I had designed a logo aged 15, with the words written on the front ‘Karen Appleyard Photography’. Maybe this career change was meant to be, but the digital era has produced so many new photographers, which means the industry is really competitive.

I generally work on my own (with my dog, a poodle). I am based in East Yorkshire at present. All my food shots are shot here at home and I now have a studio built outside my house. I have recently purchased a campervan for when I head further afield. If you see a woman driving a Bongo, with a poodle beside her, stop and say hello, the strong chances are it’s me.

In food photography I am very much inspired by the work of Jean Cazals, David Munns, Lara Ferroni and Marie-Louise Avery. I am planning do to a lot more food photography in 2012, as well as creating a portfolio and approaching more businesses to sell my work.

Above all, I love food shopping. Often when I do my grocery shopping I see something that might work in a photo shoot. We are very lucky indeed to have so many small family owned farm shops, greengrocers and delicatessens here in Yorkshire. What a great fortune it is, also, to have a Michelin starred restaurant, The Pipe and Glass Inn, so near my home.

I have just started designing my vegetable garden this year. It has been a building site for several years and very rough, but I have made big changes to it already. I am hoping to achieve home grown produce to shoot as well as to eat, but I am also am making it wildlife friendly, with plenty of butterflies, bees and birds.

I have learned a great deal from my experience in the last few years, and if I had to give advice to anyone who would like to make a start in this profession I would say the following:

1. Keep shooting as many photographs as you possibly can. If it is your passion then stay with it.

2. Approach other photographers and studios to get as much work experience as possible.

3. Be prepared to work from the bottom as it will give you a better grounding and you will learn more as you progress upwards.

4. Take rejection on the chin and learn to improve with it: it is not always your work which is at fault as different work appeals to different people.

5. Step out of your comfort zone every now and then.

6. Most importantly of all, enjoy your work.

Contact Details

Karen Appleyard’s website:

Follow Karen on Twitter: @Karenspix

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