The Challenges Of Being A Disabled Photographer

When I bought my DSLR camera 3 years ago to take blog photos with never did I think that photography would actually end up becoming one of my biggest hobbies and something I'd like to pursue as a career. At school the idea of studying photography at A Level was appealing but I opted for more academic subjects instead and didn't give it much thought again until I started striving to improve my blog and Instagram photos. It really was theatre that ignited my love for it though, I'd loved taking photos up until that point but the thrill of photographing a live event or performance was amazing and I loved being able to capture these moments of joy and emotion. The rest as they say, is history. Since then I've been taking photos wherever I can to improve and learn, everything from bows during theatre shows (where allowed) to one off concerts and performances and even roping in my girlfriend to help me improve my portrait photography. I've grasped every opportunity I can over the past year and in doing so it's become overwhelming obvious to me that I face quite a few challenges as a disabled photographer, especially within the theatre industry.

Cameras are heavy

Firstly, cameras are heavy! Of course this really depends on what you're using but most DSLRs and their lenses are weighty objects and I do struggle with holding mine for long periods of time. Mirrorless cameras tend to be lighter so are a good option if you're looking for something powerful and light, but I think regardless of what camera I own I think the weight of it will always be a challenge for myself. Buying a monopod was one of the best decisions I ever made to try and combat this, they aren't as cumbersome as a tripod but it still does the important job of taking the weight of the camera for me.

Inaccessible spaces

As a wheelchair user my biggest problem is simply inaccessible spaces, it's a huge barrier when it comes to theatre photography. Backstage shoots are just about completely off the cards for me as I can barely get into some theatres auditorium spaces to watch a show, let alone anywhere else in the building. Rehearsal spaces are also equally as inaccessible which rules out that as an option. It often feels like all the usual avenues to make a name for myself within the theatre industry are completely off limits for me. The opportunities to build experience can be so few and far in between. Over the past year I've relied a lot on shooting the end of West End shows where it's allowed, but even then the accessibility of the theatre itself limits that. I've learned to adapt though. For example, at Six The Musical the wheelchair space is at the back of the circle and once the audience stands up I can't see a thing. So, I bought myself a monopod, memorised the megasix so I knew where to point and took just about every single photo without being able to see the screen, the stage, anything. I'd set my settings beforehand, raise my camera above my head and hope for the best. And I'm pretty damn proud of the shots I managed to get. I proved to myself that I didn't need to be sat close to the stage like other photographers to be able to get a decent photo.

Moving around

Leading on from that, as a wheelchair user my movement is obviously heavily restricted. I can't crouch down, I can't squeeze into small spaces or change my position quickly. I can raise my powerchair up to eye level but that's about it. I remember when I first got into photography and relied on google for tips, the one that came up again and again was about shooting from different levels and the importance of moving about. And well, I can't do that. It takes me longer to move from A to B, I can't take photos from low down or climb on things to get height. My powerchair isn't massive but it's not small either and so I need a certain amount of space around me, something that is definitely an issue inside theatres. Even when I've enquired about doing backstage photoshoots in theatres with accessible backstage areas they've said that there just isn't enough space for a wheelchair user in areas such as dressing rooms. I don't get the luxury of choosing where I take photos from, or being able to change my position to get a different or more interesting photo, and that frustrates me. But again, I've managed to prove to myself that sometimes you don't need to be front row to get a good photo. My photos from Waitress The Musical are some of my favourites that I've ever taken and I shot them from the back row of the stalls between people's heads.

I can't be discreet

Another photography tip that I've read time and time again is about how photographers should be invisible, and that is certainly true when it comes theatre. I'm always acutely aware of other people's experiences when taking photos within a theatre's setting, I never want to take anything away from another person's night by distracting them with my camera or presence. However, you can imagine this is difficult to do when you're a powerchair user. I'm not discreet, I'm not small, I can't tuck myself away in a corner. Whenever I'm taking photos I feel very aware of my surroundings and my presence, and it's likely that I'm the only one noticing myself in these situations but nonetheless, I do wish I had the ability to just blend in a little more and not be so noticeable all the time.

Despite all of this however I think I do okay, the photos I've shared throughout this post are some of my favourites and remind me everyday that I'm doing better than I think. I make my own opportunities, photographing every free event I can find, dragging in friends to model for me and just generally trying to get my name out there. There are barriers in my way but so far I've done an alright job of finding solutions for them and I'm determined to continue that.

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