Hailing from the city of Preston, freelance photographer David Townhill talks about how he was first introduced to the medium, and the effect that moving to London has had on his practice.

How were you first introduced to photography?

I was first introduced to photography during sixth-form. I was studying Graphic Design at the time and in our second year they introduced a one hour slot per week for photography. I quickly found myself incorporating what I was learning in those lessons into the rest of my work, before going on to base most of my final project around photography, rather than design.

Why was it important for you to continue to study photography, and how has it changed your relationship with the medium?

After college I went on to study photography at university. I’d love to say it gave me all the building blocks I needed to go out into the real world and begin my career, but honestly I’m glad I took the Foundation Degree and ran at the end of second year, rather than seeing out the full three. 

It very quickly became apparent that industry experience and portfolio strength were much more important than anything I was going to get from studying, and that’s why I left when I did. 

After that I began assisting various photographers in both Manchester and London as my way of learning how to take photos professionally and how the industry works – and I would advise any aspiring photographer to do the same. 

The ‘pick up a camera and make an Instagram’-approach might work for a lot of people, but I believe working as an assistant has provided me with the know-how on how to carry myself and my general approach when it comes to photography as a vocation.

"I worked in Manchester for a couple of years before making the leap to London last year – which I have to say, has really been the most incredible time of my life"

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Self-portrait

After completing your studies, you moved to London from Preston. What opportunities did this bring, and what do you like most about London?

I worked in Manchester for a couple of years before making the leap to London last year – which I have to say, has really been the most incredible time of my life. 

To go from having a very basic understanding of life as a photographer to what I have under my belt now, in such a short time, really has blown my mind. 

My portfolio has tripled in both size and quality, and my network has expanded way beyond what I thought would be possible in just over a year.

Are there any projects over the years that have been particularly significant for you? Why, and what did you learn from them? 

I always find it difficult to single-out particular projects or shoots, but I suppose the one that will really stand out to me when looking back in 10 years time will be my shoot with heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua last month for Complex Magazine. 

I had about 90 seconds to shoot him in a tiny changing room at York Hall Leisure Centre and the pressure/resulting adrenaline rush that came after was just crazy. But, I have to say, I’m very happy with how those shots turned out (especially given the situation) and he was an absolute pleasure to photograph! 

I’ve never had to think on my feet so quickly and somehow managed to hold my nerve when the pressure was really mounting up – and it doesn’t get much more intense than it did that day (I certainly hope not anyway!).

"One thing I know now that I wish I’d known from the beginning is not to compare yourself to others"

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Boxer Anthony Joshua

Who, or what inspires your work and professional decisions?

In truth, I’m not 100% sure where my inspiration comes from! I really like Nabil Elderkin’s work – and I’ve been a huge fan of his as long as I’ve been into photography. 

I quite often see shots in movies and on TV that spark ideas in my head too (Breaking Bad is good for that), and old photos of rappers like Tupac/NWA that are now timeless often get my creative juices flowing as I’m a huge hip-hop fan, and I’ve always found the two go hand-in-hand. 

I try not to follow the crowd too much – yes, it’s good to be relevant and I definitely take some influence from what others around me are doing, but building up my own style has always been something I’ve believed in from the get-go. 

What one thing do you know now, that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?

One thing I know now that I wish I’d known from the beginning is not to compare yourself to others. 

I’m still guilty of it from time to time, as I’m sure most photographers are or have been at some point. Everyone’s on their own journey and all that I need to worry about is myself and how I can continue to decorate my own career, rather than worrying about where I stand in the rankings, or what other people are doing. 

It really doesn’t matter if someone has more followers than you either - anyone with half a brain cell should recognise quality beats quantity every time. I also wish I knew not to wear layers before shooting at London Aquatics Centre (it’s REALLY hot in there!).

davidtownhill.co.uk

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Musician Craig David
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Musician Ghetts
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Model Joel McLeoud
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Musician Shakka
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Model Huw Mitchell

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