The QT

Monday 13 May 2024

My life through a lens: Owen Humphreys

Each week we’re asking a North East-based photographer to open up their archives and select two handfuls of images which encapsulate life as they’ve captured it
Press Association photographer, Owen Humphreys

Owen Humphreys’ journey into press photography started while he was still at school  and got a job as Saturday tea-boy at the Derby Evening Telegraph.

“I soon moved into the dark room, back in the days of film,” he recalls. “I would help the staff photographers print their pictures as they arrived back from assignments. This experience sparked a passion in me and I knew that being a photographer was what I wanted to do.”

After leaving school, Owen got himself on a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) with a local press agency, enabling him to shadow and learn from experienced photographers.

Once his training was done and dusted, an urge to see a bit more of the world saw him jet off to Miami and take a job as a cruise ship photographer.

“This was an amazing experience and really helped me learn how to deal with people, a really important skill needed in my profession,” says the 51-year-old who lives in Whitley Bay.

Back on UK soil, it wasn’t long before he landed a job at the Evening Chronicle and The Journal in Newcastle.

“This was a fantastic job and a great opportunity to learn more about news and sport photography. But I wanted more; I wanted to cover a wider variety of assignments and had my heart set on the national media.”

An opening for a photographer in the North East office of the Press Association served up the opportunity he was looking for… and he’s been there for the past 28 years.

“I’ve photographed everything from the visit of Nelson Mandela and George Bush to royal weddings and tours of Pakistan and Afghanistan. From the beauty of astro and weather photography, the agony and ecstasy of football World Cups and Olympic Games to the pressure of capturing breaking world news stories such as The Queen’s death… it has been an incredibly varied career.”

Having had photography as his proper job since he was just 16, Owen believes that being a good photographer is about having patience and the eye for a picture. “Freezing that moment in time along with the composition… but I’d say enjoying your photography is the most important. 

“For me there is nothing better than having a picture published so others can enjoy your work.”

Football and the dark skies across Northumberland and Cumbria sit at the top of Owen’s photography league table, while he reckons the most challenging thing about his job is getting “that different picture to everyone else and coming up with new picture ideas”.

I wanted to cover a wider variety of assignments and had my heart set on the national media.

Worldwide wildlife assignments would be Owen’s dream job — but he already branches out from his PA work during time off.

“I take a small group of photographers to Iceland for a five-day photography workshop maybe once or twice a year to capture the Northern Lights and photograph Iceland’s beautiful landscape,” he says. 

While the November 2024 trip is fully subscribed, the March 2025 one is open for bookings.

Asked to list the photographer’s he admires, Owen cites former Press Association photographer John Giles who taught him a lot and sports photographers Marc Aspland and Bradley Ormesher from The Times.

“But this is just to name a few of many many talented photographers I have worked with over the years,” he adds before sharing his top three tips for aspiring snappers.

Enjoy your photography for yourself; Listen and learn from others and don’t be afraid to ask for advice; and get your pictures in focus (ha ha!)

You can follow Owen on X (formerly twitter) @owenhumphreys1 and on Instagram @owen.humphreys

1. The Duchess of Cambridge (now Princess of Wales) during a royal visit to Pakistan in 2019. Pictured at the Badshahi Mosque, Lahore.

The Duchess of Cambridge portrait is my favourite picture I’ve taken of Kate.

This was on a 10-day tour of Pakistan with Prince William. I love this picture of her because it’s such a natural relaxed look on her face as if there’s no cameras about, and it’s set off with the traditional clothes she is wearing.

2. Word War II vintage Tiger Moth over Bamburgh Castle

What an incredible experience flying high over Northumberland alongside a World War II Tiger Moth with the stunning Bamburgh castle as a backdrop.

You could have the wind through your hair and take a pleasure flight from Eshott airfield in Northumberland in one of these magnificent aeroplanes.

3. King Charles III and Queen Camilla on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London, following the coronation in 2023

I chose King Charles and Queen Camilla on the balcony of Buckingham palace because this was such an iconic day in the British Monarchy.

4. South African President Nelson Mandela and Prime Minister Tony Blair take a stroll

This was my first big assignment for the Press Association and a surreal one at that. I was the only photographer on this shoot and it was at the then Prime minister Tony Blair’s house in Sedgefield. 

It was an amazing experience having coffee in the living room and walking around the gardens with the Prime Minister and Nelson Mandela on his first visit to the UK.

5. Team GB’s Mo Farah in action during the men’s 10,000m final at the Olympic Stadium in London, 2012

This was one of my sporting highlights — Super Saturday at London 2012, when Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah all won gold in an unforgettable 44 minutes inside the Olympic Stadium. 

This picture is what is called a slow shutter pan shot capturing the movement and speed of Mo Farah heading to the finish line to win the gold medal. This image of Mo winning his medal won me an award too.

6. The Spice Girls at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics, 2012

I’ve photographed many pop stars and singers but I chose the Spice Girls because of the colourful outfits and the fact they were the world’s most famous girl band.

7. Gale force winds from the North — Seaham seafront getting battered, 2013

I shoot a lot of weather pictures but this one at Seaham is my favourite just for the sheer power of the sea and height of the waves. What’s very important in this picture is the light against the dark sky which makes the details pop out.

8. The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, shine over Derwentwater, near Keswick in the Lake District

I love photographing the Northern Lights and capturing them in the North East and Cumbria where I’ve had some amazing results.

This was one of the strongest displays I’ve captured in northern England, taken at Derwentwater near Keswick. I always look for a landmark or subject for my northern lights pictures, this had everything from reflections to an old fashioned boat.

9. France celebrating their World Cup win in Moscow, 2018

I travelled abroad with the England team for nearly 13 years in World Cups , Euros and many qualifiers.

I thought 2018 was finally going to be the time I saw them lift the trophy, but it was not to be — it went to France. However, I was lucky enough to stay in Russia and cover the final where I captured this image of the winning French team celebrating with the World Cup.

I love the emotion and expressions of delight on the players’ faces — the torrential rain made it very difficult to work but made for some great pictures.

10. The Milky Way and millions of stars over Dunstanburgh Castle in the early hours, 2019

I love being out photographing the night sky.

Northumberland’s dark skies offer one of the best places I’ve been able to capture the Milky Way. This one of Dunstanburgh castle is one of my favourites with the core of the Milky Way on show with hundreds and thousands of stars, and a lone figure for scale.

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