Johnny McTaggart

Pentaxian Profile

By PF Staff in Pentaxian Profiles on Mar 8, 2012
Johnny McTaggart

It was really like coming home for me.

Or like the first time I laid eyes on my wife.

It was so comfortable, so right, that I just knew we’d be together for the rest of my life.

That was the feeling I got when I pressed my eye against my Pentax, clicked the shutter, tilted the camera forward slightly, then looked at the image on the LCD screen.

I know that might sound dramatic, but it really is the best way to describe it.

Now, this wasn’t something that happened to me at a tender age either - I was 38 years old.

To understand how I got to this page, though, I need to tell you where I’ve been.

For the better part of a dozen years I was an award-winning sports columnist. I was young, confident, and on the fast-track in my profession. However, in Nov. of 2005 I lost my job. I was okay with that though. I really thought my skills would land me at a bigger and better location, with more prestige, more exposure, more money.

loss

Months went by and nothing happened. Then, those months turned into a year, and then another year, and another. Before I knew it, I had been out of work for more than five years. Nothing was working out. I went on a few interviews, freelanced for a few publications, but nothing I could hang my hat on, nor pay my bills with month after month.

Needless to say, my confidence withered away, I sunk into a deep depression, and really felt myself losing hope.

In early 2011, however, I landed a steady freelance job with an online publication.

To really secure the job, however, I told them I could shoot the games I covered as well.

ThunderNow, I really had no experience at all with photojournalism, no equipment at all nor any money to purchase it, and no clue how to shoot - sports in particular.

Of course, I told my new bosses I had some experience with photography. Which I did, I guess, I had a class in middle school, but nothing since. Luckily, they didn’t ask to see a portfolio.

I hated to lie, but I really needed the money.

Believe me, there is no worse feeling than not being able to provide for your family.

Anyhow, I went online and did some research, then went out and bought the best camera I could afford (and one that let me make payments – thank you QVC) a Pentax K-r with the kit lens, and went to my first assignment camera-in-tow.

It was the girls basketball state semifinals and finals at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI.

For a week or so before the event, I read as much as possible about shooting, watched as many educational videos on YouTube as I could and emailed as many professionals as you could imagine, hoping I could get a crash course in photography in 10 days.

collage

Next I headed up to Michigan State University for the two-day tournament, my new Pentax K-r in tow, along with a 24-75 Tamron f/2.8 I picked up literally on the ride there (my wife was quite upset about that purchase at the time).

Just before the tipoff, I found a spot along the baseline beside photographers with gear worth more than my car, work published in prestigious publications, and years of experience. I was way over my head, I thought.

Then game started, I took a deep breath, pressed my eye to the viewfinder and pushed the shutter.

I fell in love with it from the very first frame. Every aspect of shooting – the creative, the mechanical- all of it.

I chimped and chimped and chimped that day, each photo giving me more confidence and more motivation.

During halftime, in fact, one of the veterans came up to talk to me. I told him my story and he took a look at some of my photos through the LCD screen on the back.

“You’ve got a real knack for this, you know!” he said. “I’m not just saying that either. Promise me you won’t stop shooting.”

I did, then immediately I called my wife from the stadium and relayed the message to her.

The coolness of that assignment didn’t end there either.

When I came back the next day for the state finals I noticed that many of the students from the school playing that afternoon had taken one of my photos from the previous day, from the website I was shooting for, and gotten it printed on t-shirts!

I took this as a sign from above that I'd found my calling! And I feel like I have.

Since then, I've had hundreds of photos published in a wide variety of publications all over the state and beyond. Had dozens and dozens of reprints sent out to readers, and shot everything from more sports to military homecomings to portraits and even a wedding. I've even been contacted by a publisher to possibly put together a book of pet portraits.

portrait

To this day, I'm still shooting with my K-r (although I want to upgrade to a K-5 ASAP) and loving every shot, every moment, every image.

I’ve got lots to learn and experience yet, but I feel I’m on my way.

I'm proud to call myself a professional photojournalist these days and, despite what other pros might say, I'm proud to be a Pentaxian.

I hope that by reading my story you might see that it’s never too late.

If shooting is where your heart is, then dive in head first.

Gabe

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