In the latest BCOMS’ feature Nigel Wallace talked to freelance photographer Barrington Coombs about his career, where his passion for the camera came from and what advice he would pass onto the next generation hoping to follow in his footsteps.
Barrington, based in the north-west, covers a wide-range of sporting activities; football, commercial, portraits, features various publications, websites and photo agencies.
The talented photographer has enjoyed seeing life through the lens for over the last two decades, producing an array of amazing pictures for the likes of PA photos, Getty Images, Manchester City, Everton and his beloved Stoke City. Coombs is well-known in the industry and well-respected amongst his peers.
Tell us about your passion for photography?
I suppose it goes back to family holidays; everyone would try and take photographs but they weren’t the best. I’d always ask if I could take the pictures but was knocked back every time, being told I was too young to handle a camera but the pictures they took were terribly blurry and with heads cut off, I knew I could do better!
My first camera was a Christmas present from my parents and, having learned plenty about the technical side through photography magazines beforehand, I took to it quite easily to be honest.
Who inspired you to pursue a career in photography?
I wouldn’t say it was any photographers in particular, it was more of a self-interest thing really, something you just discover for yourself. I guess you can say I’ve always enjoyed seeing life through a lens!
Talk to us about your career path; how you went from being an aspiring photographer to becoming one of the few black photographers in the sports industry?
I did three years at college after leaving school; and just before I left school I did some work experience at a photography & print processing business where professional photographers would take their films to be developed and prints made. The main thing was I got to get a feel for how the industry worked.
After finishing my Art & Photography college course I was accepted for a well respected Landscape & Documentary Photography course in Newport. I didn’t end up going on the course because the cost was just too much. My parents did offer to help me out but I just thought it was a lot of money & didn’t want to put any financial pressure on them so I decided to find another way to get to where I wanted to be.
Sport had always been what I wanted to photograph but I knew about the equipment required to do – and it was really expensive. I worked as a dishwasher in a hotel restaurant as well as having another job in warehouse just to save up enough money to get the camera equipment. That was hard work! Running between two jobs and trying to save every penny… Once I had the equipment in place I approached a local newspaper; a free weekend paper who used to cover some sport but I didn’t see great pictures in. I saw it as an opportunity for me to cover sport over the weekends. I began putting a portfolio together from there.
Someone I’d met doing the work experience at the film processors knew a photographer at a sports agency (EMPICS, now PA Photos), and got me his details. I was able display the portfolio of work I’d done for the local newspaper to him. He took me on and I was soon covering football matches up and down the country every weekend. I’ve been freelancing for them for the last 24 years now and from there I’ve done work directly for football clubs such as Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton and whole host of other clubs and clients.
What has been the highlight of your photography career and why?
The highlight of my career to date would be whilst working at PA photos, they had a contract with Everton Football club. The manager at the time was Roberto Martinez and I was sent on pre-season to the USA with them. So we spent 12 days out there; we started off in San Francisco then we went on to Los Angles and Miami, staying in places like the Four Seasons Hotel.The internal trips between the different states used a chartered plane just for the club staff & players so that was pretty cool! It was nice getting to know the players & staff plus you’re wearing club colours so you felt part of the team.That was a really good trip, I recently ran into one of the players a couple months ago and funnily enough we were talking about it. That was probably my own personal highlight.
What advice could you give to the next generation of aspiring photographers trying to break into the industry?
The main thing I believe it comes down to is how determined you are to do whatever you choose to do. A number of people would come to a stumbling block and that’s it… they’ll decide to go into something else. In any career there are always set-backs, it’s just a matter of dusting yourself off and going again.
It all comes down to your interest and finding your own niche. It’s your interests that will drive you through when things aren’t going so well. And don’t be afraid to do something else in the meantime if it’s not working out straightaway – at the end of the day you’ve got to keep money coming in. I worked as a dishwasher and in the warehouse for a good many years until I was eventually able to leave it behind and just concentrate on the photography.
Finally, don’t be put off by negative comments either, as – if anything – you can use those comments to drive you on. If it’s something you really want to do you would find a way, I always believe in that!
IMAGES Copyright owned by:Barrington Coombs Photography, Empics Sport, PA Sport, Sunday Times, Getty Images and Sportimage