Peak Photo Centre's Simon Watkinson
Peak Photo Centre's Simon Watkinson | Derbyshire Life
Peak Photo Centre's Simon Watkinson
When Simon Watkinson
decided to take the plunge by leaving his
job as a professional photographic printer in London, he
was well aware that there were no guarantees that he
would stay afloat financially when he
relocated to the Peak District.
However, as a natural risk-taker with a taste for adventure, he
was more than happy to make the move.
Eleven years on from this life-changing decision, he
is living his
dream in a remote farmhouse in the heart of the national park.
Testing my satellite navigation system to its limit, I travelled to meet Simon
isolated house in order to discover the secret of his
We began our conversation by talking about one of his
earlier life-changing moves.
has loved taking photographs since childhood, but he
working life as a maker of musical instruments.
Although this job fitted in quite nicely with his
passion for music, he
soon found that he
was spending much of his
spare time taking photographs and processing them in his
own dark room.
At the age of 21, he
decided that it was time to convert his
hobby into a job.
Despite being entirely self-taught, Simon
managed to obtain a post as a photographer with a food research company in Surrey and spent the next four years 'taking arty shots of everything from food packaging to company directors in their offices and cows in fields'.
After this valuable experience as a taker of images, he
switched to a job that involved developing photographs for a printing company that ran the largest professional processing laboratory in Europe.
The house was available for rent to anyone who could prove that they would use it for a rural business, and when Simon
saw the farm's dilapidated 300-year-old barn with its mezzanine and exposed rafters, he
knew that it had the potential to become a terrific photographic studio.
A new business plan began to form in his
would set up a digital studio and use Spout Farm as the base for courses in digital, wedding and landscape photography.
Participants would stay in local hostelries, receive instruction at Spout Farm and then try out their photographic skills in the beautiful countryside surrounding his
As well as winning over the Peak District National Park Authority with his
managed to obtain grants from the Rural Regeneration Programme and the Environmental Economy Grant Scheme.
As soon as his
new venture was advertised on the web, people began arriving from all over the country to learn new skills whilst enjoying the delights of the Peak District.
Even though digital photography was in its infancy at that time and somewhat frowned upon by the purists, Simon
made a decision from the start to work exclusively in the digital mode.
One again, his
risk-taking paid off.
For a time, his
enterprise was the only one in the country offering digital courses.
As a result, business boomed and he
was soon looking for extra premises in Buxton where he
could establish a portrait studio and a state-of-the-art computer room with a series of workstations.
Lightroom and digital imaging courses have proved to be very popular and the recession has actually increased business for Simon
, because many people who have been made redundant are looking to photography as a new career.
This also applies to people leaving the armed forces and returning to civilian life.
Although there is no shortage of photographers who are keen to practise their skills as landscape photographers in the Peak District, the minibus that stands in the grounds of Spout Farm is also available to take groups on regular courses to the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District.
Seasonal locations for those interested in wildlife photography include Lyme Park during the rutting season, when students can take 'behavioural shots of stags as they strut their stuff'; the Lincolnshire coast in December, when the seals come ashore to give birth to their pups, and Skomer Island in late May, when there are great opportunities to take photographs of puffins.
even organises 'Classic Journeys' to far flung destinations, where he
can not only provide his
students with fabulous subjects, but also exercise his
own considerable skills as a photographer.
Moroccan tour provides opportunities to capture an exotic mix of European and African influences, and his
Indian tour includes visits to shrines and palaces, as well as the world's largest camel fair at Pushkar.
is planning to add Namibia to his
portfolio, because it will provide subjects ranging from shifting sand dunes and dramatic mountains to wildlife in the bush and grasslands, but Nepal continues to be his
preferred tour destination.
says, 'It is my favourite country on the entire planet: it contains eight of the world's ten highest mountains, a world heritage site in Kathmandu Valley and a multitude of wonderful temples and shrines.'
Although Simon's sense of adventure has contributed to the development of his
business, it is his
willingness to take risks and his
entrepreneurial skills that have ensured its success.
He now shares Spout Farm with his new partner Tammy, who also acts as his business manager, and the couple have a young child.
With a thriving business and a house in an idyllic location, Simon
is understandably pleased with his
life in the Peak District. 'It's peaceful and safe here,' he
says. 'Wild horses wouldn't drag me back to London.'