Tales of a teenage photographer

Peter Summers swapped his home in Elgin, north-east Scotland, for Peter SummersBournemouth in September 2012 to study an NCTJ press photography course at Up to Speed. In his own words, Peter has been “taking photos for the last four years and doing it seriously for the past two”. He was employed as a photographer by Birmingham-based press agency News Team in July 2013, four days before his 18th birthday, and has already had his pictures published in every national newspaper in Britain.

Prior to this, he completed work experience placements at the South Wales Evening Post, The Times and Getty Images. In this blog, Peter tells us about his NCTJ training and how a mountain biking accident led to a desire to be a photographer…

You were 17-years-old when you were offered your job at News Team- when did you decide you wanted to be a photographer?

My decision to become a photographer was the product of a rather unfortunate accident I had four years ago. Whilst out mountain biking with my friends I crashed and broke my back in two places. As you can imagine, I didn’t feel too confident doing the same after the crash but I still wanted to be involved in the sport, so I took up photography as a hobby.  My local newspaper, The Northern Scot, let me come on work placement with them and that’s when I started getting interested in press photography.

Why did you choose to study at Up to Speed?

It was because of the calibre of the tutors. Neil Turner worked for The Times for a significant period of his career and that really appealed to me. There was no doubt that the knowledge he would be able to share with us would be useful to say the least. I had also spoken to other press photographers who had completed the NCTJ course and they all recommended it.

What did you find useful about your NCTJ photography training?

Ethics and media law. I think these two things are absolutely vital to any press photographer that wants to enter the industry, particularly following the Leveson inquiry. It teaches you how to behave in an appropriate way and learn to treat your colleagues with respect whilst fighting for a photo. I also thought that having tutors on hand all the time to answer any questions was useful. The portfolio reviews were really handy too as it allowed you to get feedback on your work.

How did you secure your job?

I came about securing my job through the NCTJ. I met Paul Walters (picture editor at South West News Service) at a meeting at the Press Association in the first week of my course and badgered him for a few months about work experience. I think he finally had enough of hearing from me and put me in touch with the SWNS Scottish office, and I was offered a work experience placement with their Aberdeen office. After that I freelanced for them when I wasn’t learning to drive.

I pitched Rockness music festival (on the shores of Loch Ness) to them from which I got The Times picture of the day on the Saturday and more pictures in The Sunday Times. It really opened my eyes to how well connected SWNS were so I decided they were who I wanted to work for. I eventually got my driving licence, a job came up at the Birmingham office with News Team and I took it.

What are the challenges of being a young photographer at a top press agency?

I think one of the challenges is being taken seriously by members of the public. I’m a pretty small guy so whenever I have to go to a big event I always get told to go away to begin with…until I show my press card. You also have to be mature to be able to work with such a big agency at such a young age. Being confident also plays a large part of it but if you get the photo at the end of the day then it’s all good.

What is your most memorable assignment to date?

My most memorable assignment to date is probably Rockness, as I previously mentioned. I couldn’t quite believe it when Mark (photographer at the Glasgow office) phoned me up on the Saturday morning and told me I had made The Times. I’d only had pictures printed in my local paper before so to make a national paper was a crazy feeling. Then when I got down to the press office and flicked through the papers I realised I had made pretty much every Scottish national and it was amazing.

To search for NCTJ-accredited photography courses, see here.