Derry, Donegal, Ireland and Northern Ireland creative and documentary style wedding photographer   email : mail@jaydohertyphotography.com   tel : UK 07736004203   facebook.com/jaydohertyphotography

I’ll know my song well, before I start singing…


The last time I had paced the floor of the McGrory’s toilets was new year’s eve 1997. Anxiety-ridden, not quite enough beer in me, I prepared my approach on a girl I’d earlier talked to for 3 seconds at the bar, for a court and a cuddle. Here I was once again, same place, same feeling of self-doubt, nausea, panic - all the good stuff! I stood in McGrory’s toilets – but it felt like backstage at Wembley Arena to me.

And how did I end up here and how did this scenario come to be, and furthermore how did I learn to have the balls to start a sentence with the word ‘and’ !? You see there are times in life when a man opens his mouth to say ‘no’ only to hear the word ‘yes’ flowing out. This same scenario happened when my friend Marie Allen, ‘el presidente of the PPANI’ asked if I would host a wedding photography workshop. True, I am no stranger to public speaking and teaching, but surely to try to educate a rowdy busload of Northern Ireland’s finest and most respected wedding photographers would be beyond my capacity to inspire and motivate. I guess my weakness is the word yes, maybe my strength too. I have some kind of ‘yes’ turrets. Ask me anything and no doubt I’ll confirm in the affirmative. A weakness maybe but then again ‘open minds lead to open doors’ I’ve heard is a good attitude to live by. A challenge to a bloody dual accepted, so I find myself alone pre-match nerves reading at an all-time high, heart rate hammering. Momentarily I caught myself in the bathroom mirror – the face looking back was one of a 4 year child leaving the family car on his first day at Ballykelly Primary school. My ma wasn’t here to hold my hand this time, more’s the pity, I could have been doing with a few words of her wisdom and a hug. The weather outside was a scorcher, matched, and then some, by the heat indoors. I opted to go barefoot the day long – the cool ground was pleasant relief from the heat and the pressure.

A minute from ‘on air’. Only fear now, silent creeping fear, paralyzing and suffocating. I feared being an affront to my family, ‘get down off that stage young Dordy’ I could hear the masses jeer! Would today’s students be peeping at me through gaps in their fingers as if witnessing some kind of car crash scenario, would I stammer my way through a stiffly worded essay, would I be sick on stage – would I spew blueberry vomit over the crowd like my man Lard-Ass Hogan, would my trousers fall down as I climbed the stairs upon entrance. Yeah, how many scenarios could I dream up for ways this ship I captained could sink to the ocean floor? Overcoming fear by charging at it head first may be a naïve practice but it is one that has served me down the years. Preparation too, long hours after dark, the office lit only by the monitor.

I had been preparing for this for months, mostly while on long haul drives, the words of Bob Dylan and Nick Drake my soundtrack. Ideas and the odd turn of phrase recorded on my phone and scribbled on bits of paper and tissue, all the while trying not to veer the van into the ditch. The miles, the conversations, the long nights of life reflection now summarised into a fist full of notes. Small essays and tales on my journey and my motivations carefully scripted and sculpted for the students gathered. Members of the PPANI community and hopeful newcomer photographers too, assembled together now, enjoying the community feel and the friendships they were fostering as the early morning passed. No man is an island, none indeed, and in an industry where only a small percentage of our time is spent in the social arena, we mostly lurk behind computer screens, solitary and silent. I place value on the community of photographers I have made it my priority to spend time with. Time spent recalling tales from the field; tales heroic victories from the jaws of windswept rainy defeat, sharing knowledge and notions and craic. I’d safely say I’ve 2 dozen or more good solid shoulders to cry upon, and that’s some reassurance in this industry, this, the wild west of the creative arts. I’ve learnt that quite often the folk met and time shared on a workshop or course can be every bit as valuable as the education and motivational injection. I aim to attend one major workshop per year, to avoid stagnation, to keep the blade sharp and stay relevant in an ever changing environment. No better investment I reckon, some workshops are purely fun and entertainment, and others are game changers. I attended one in Dublin last year that will forever alter my outlook on life, the challenge of self-employment and life management. Failure in this game, I reckon, is rarely due to external factors such as the changing economy, or the mass influx of new and cheaper labour, or new technologies, or age or whatever might be fine excuse to bow out. No way - the answer lies within; you are the master of your own destiny. Remaining on-point, being the very best version of yourself, maintaining drive, staying ambitious for the higher gifts, ploughing on through the muck and misery year after year after year will pave the path to success and greatness. But I digress, like so often I do when I teach.

I can only truthfully teach what I know, can only talk of my life and lessons learnt. Humble beginnings and gratitude for the gifts I have been given. I recall failures and defeat and their foundation for success. The importance of knowing your song well before you start singing, the value of true camera knowlege – like the Lone Ranger and his trusty Colt 45. The value too of true self-knowledge – knowing what path you journey upon, having a clear vision of your short term and long term goals, and all the while knowing that the road trip itself is every bit as important as the journey’s end. Taking special care to remember inside that my mood and energy are contagious, and it is imperative that I send out the message of positivity and self-belief. I believe in this world we can begin to live the dream not only to get paid to shoot photographs but to shoot photographs to our own taste and present our personal vision to the world, and get paid – yeah that’s the dream. A dream we can all realise with enough hard graft and determination.

So here I stand, alone and barefoot, on a stage that seems 100s of metres from my audience, staring at faces of some of the land’s finest and well decorated, faces I have witnessed achieve awards and recognition time and again. Parts of me wishing I sat amongst them, awaiting some better-versed educator than me take to the stage. Maybe a cappuccino in my hand and a notebook, maybe cosied on the sofa at the front between to summer scented babes. Handy and pleasant indeed – but not the ride through life that I signed up for…


Jay Doherty is a wedding photographer, born and raised in the hills of Glack, now hiding from the real world in Muff, Donegal. He is current PPANI documentary and contemporary wedding photographer of the year. Jay is also a photography teacher and host of ‘Learning to Fly’, an annual education retreat in north coast of Donegal. He is a proud husband and daddy and still enjoys scooting down big hills on his skateboard. He is also a fan of writing about himself in the 3rd person…


THE BELIEVERS - WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP - CULDAFF 2016