avatarSusie Kearley


“My Cancer Scare Led To A New Career in Photography”

I’ve never looked back

Ian at a match — Image courtesy of Ian Randall Photography

When Ian Randall from the UK was forced to retire from work on health grounds, he found new purpose in volunteering as a photographer for a cancer charity. He’s since developed a passion for sports photography and has turned his hobby into a career.

I met Ian at a photography class at the start of our respective freelance careers. He was recovering from cancer treatment and suffering from brain fog. Yet he tackled each new challenge with great positivity and enthusiasm. I was inspired by his incredible shots and how he went on to make professional connections and become recognised for his stunning sports photography.

Ian was as a Fire Officer for 18 years, until he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma (bone cancer) in 2010. He made a good recovery but health issues meant he was unable to resume his old life.

Freelancing gives you control

Self-employment made it easier for Ian to manage his health issues. As a freelance writer myself, I’m able to balance my health and emotional needs with the demands of work. I’m in control of my hours, environment, and workload. Ian needed this kind of flexibility, too.

“Doctors told me not to look up my condition on the web,” he explained, “because the prognosis is bleak. So I didn’t find the Sarcoma UK charity until after my successful treatment. That’s when I decided to help others going through rehab. I wanted to tell them about the positive aspects of my experience.

“I couldn’t be as physically active as I was before and I had concentration problems, but I developed my interest in photography and offered to become the charity’s official photographer. I didn’t have to ask twice. They were keen and I started quickly!

“One of my first projects was photographing their participants in the London Marathon. They had around 15 runners at that time, but there are usually a lot more people running for Sarcoma UK these days.

London Marathon © Ian Randall (used with permission)

“It’s been an incredible experience, which has included event photography and medical shoots. I meet lots people in my situation, recovering. Some have lost family and friends. My photography gives us a point of interest for conversations about the charity and helps us chat, so I can share my experiences too.”

Career advancement with photography

Ian’s pictures get used on the charity’s website, social media, brochures, and in their magazine. He shoots with a Canon camera and has a prime lens that’s his favourite because of the stunning, pin-sharp action shots it takes.

As a freelance writer myself, photography has also helped me advance my writing career. Back in 2012, the editor of a travel magazine told me to invest in equipment and go on a course to up my game in photography. I had the writing skills, but my photographs were sub-par. I did as he instructed and I’ve never looked back. For years, that magazine was my best customer. I’ve since sold photos to calendars, and done a lot of stock photography.

Ian enjoys seeing his work in print and online, too. “It’s nice to see how the charity’s designers use the images,” he says. “They don’t always use the pictures I think they’ll use, and often they crop them in interesting and unexpected ways!”

He created a set of images for the charity’s calendar, which sold well and helped raise awareness. Then he shot London Fashion week, where he met some amazing and inspiring people.

“I started photographing sporting events about six years ago,” he says, “and loved the results I was getting. Then I went to the Houses of Parliament in 2018 to represent Sarcoma UK as part of the Cancer 52 awareness campaign.

Ian’s photo of a football match © Ian Randall (used with permission)

“I loved photography before I got ill, but I didn’t have the time to dedicate to it properly. I was working a lot in the fire service and in fire safety, so I didn’t have time to improve my skills and practice as much as I’d have liked.

“When I realised I couldn’t return to work and would need a more flexible and less physically demanding occupation, I decided to focus on photography. A colleague in the fire brigade taught me the basics of photography, then I went on a course.”

Since then, Ian’s career has flourished. His work has appeared on BBC News and in the press. He started doing weddings, portraits, corporate events, and sporting events. A lot of it was informal as he learnt his craft and was helping people out. The newly weds loved his photos.

“My main thing now is the sports photography,” he said. “I’m working professionally for Queens Park Rangers Football Club — the team I’ve supported since I was six years old. I enjoy it. I also work for a football photography agency, which covers league games.”

So what does Ian enjoy photographing most when he’s not watching his favourite team?

“I love photographing the London Marathon,” he says. “It’s challenging to get the best shots of the Sarcoma UK when there are so many people around, but I enjoy it.

Sarcoma charity at the London Marathon © Ian Randall (used with permission)

“I’ve done overseas weddings in Italy, and Iceland. Both resulted in amazing photos and all my costs were covered as part of the assignments. I’ve seen some beautiful places. In Iceland I got a free helicopter ride!”

Ian’s still working with Sarcoma UK. “I do the Sarcoma UK events when they need me,” he says. “I did one shoot where I was taking clinical shots of patients with doctors. It felt a little intrusive, but I told the patients about my own experiences, so they knew I’d been in the same position as them and had a positive outcome. It was very worthwhile. The charity has used those images a lot.”

Photography gives Ian a great sense of achievement, a new career, and he remains passionate about helping Sarcoma UK and those still fighting the disease.

A lasting impression

I was really impressed by Ian’s achievements and his drive to help other people suffering from cancer. It helped me understand the challenges faced by people in cancer recovery. He looks OK, but still has a lot of issues to deal with. His scans and health problems are ongoing, years later, and people can be unsympathetic because he doesn’t ‘look ill’. Yet he’s living his best life. I feel privileged to have been able to share Ian’s story.

You can see more of his shots on his Facebook page: Ian Randall Photography and his Instagram account.

© Susie Kearley 2024. All Rights Reserved.

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