Work-life balance. An interview with Mandy Charlton
Posted on June 09 2019
Mandy Charlton is an award-winning wedding and portrait photographer based in Newcastle. She expertly juggles her work with an extremely busy family life, and is founder and CEO of the Inspire Network, a group of entrepreneurial business women with more than 11,500 members. Recent photographic awards have included Family Photographer of The Year 2018 (TMT Media Awards), Wedding Portrait Photographer of the year UK 2018 (Global Wedding Awards) and Portrait Photographer of The Year 2017 (Lux Wedding Awards). We spoke to Mandy about her life and career - and her Billingham bag!
Mandy Charlton with her Billingham Hadley Small Pro Camera Bag - Photo taken by Harriet Randall
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m 45, a single mum to three young adults and I’ve been a professional photographer since June 2007. I started my business as a way to conquer agoraphobia and I’m happy to report that it worked completely and I’ve been all over Europe on assignments on my own, always remembering just how lucky I am to have this wonderful long-lasting career.
Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was actually born not far from the mouth of the Tyne and still call Newcastle my home. I live 20 minutes from the city centre in the urban jungle but it’s perfect when you run your own business.
A bridal photo by Mandy Charlton.
Who or what inspired you to become a photographer?
At the age of 29, I suddenly discovered how creative I was. I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and through photography, it helped me not only to connect with the best and most creative parts of me, it saved my life. Running businesses keeps me sane and I heartily believe that you can do anything you want as long as you do it on your own terms.
Are you still predominantly a wedding and portrait photographer, or do you also work in other fields?
I have a multi-armed business, so one day I’m photographing small people and their families, the next it’s a wedding, and then the day after that I could be on a boat or in a hotel photographing travel destinations.
Le Petit Chateau - One of the hotels photographed by Mandy Charlton
You are founder and CEO of the Inspire Network. What is the Inspire Network, and how did it come about?
The Inspire Network is a networking organisation for women at every stage of business. I went along to my first meeting in 2009 and through hard work and serendipity, I now own the company. We are a social enterprise and we aim to educate, inspire and empower all women in business, no matter what stage they’re at, and quite simply, I won’t stop until every woman is achieving equality and winning in business.
We love your blog as it’s so diverse – you combine photography, family life, your beloved pets, lifestyle content and much more. Tell us about your blog and why it’s important to you.
My blog started as a way for me to document life. I started it in February 2006 and I still write on it at least once or twice a week. At its heart, it’s still a diary of my daily life and progress in the world, and although I do use it commercially now, it’s very much still focused on whatever is happening in my life.
Do you have an ‘idol’ in the photography world? Who and why?
I actually don’t. I’m more inspired by life, nature, the environment. Yes, there are photographers whose work I love and who have achieved the most amazing things, but I never wanted to be like anyone else. I wanted to be the first Mandy Charlton, not a copy of someone else.
Did you study photography or have formal training, or was it something that developed over time?
When I mentor photographers, I always say they should get some kind of training and definitely shouldn’t do what I did. I don’t regret a single thing but I wish I’d studied and second shot a lot more before I took on my first wedding.
You have a busy family life, as we have seen on your blog – how do you manage your work and your family commitments?
I get bored easily, so I like to always be doing things - and on paper, it does seem like I’m doing things all the time, but I tend to work smart not hard. So I still have enough time to sit in the garden listening to the birds.
What equipment do you use for your photography?
I’m primarily a Canon girl. I tried Fuji, for a while but have always come back to the amazing Canon full frame cameras and my favourite lens of all time, the 50mm f1.4. I can shoot an entire wedding with it, it’s just so versatile and suits me as someone who believes you should zoom with your feet and not with your lens.
Some of Mandy's Wedding Photography
Most photographers have a personal favourite photograph. What would you consider to be the best picture you’ve ever taken and why?
I honestly don’t have one. It changes often but my favourite images are on my Instagram feed. I take photographs in the moment and I love them for that moment and then I move on and they change. I do have a home full of photographs but they’re not necessarily award-winning or massively technical. I’m pretty heart-centric in my work.
What’s in your kitbag currently?
I have a Canon 6D MkII with a 50mm f1.4 attached, some memory cards, and spare batteries. My assistant usually carries the rest of the kit in a backpack, although one day I’d love to own one of the big Billingham bags which would fit everything in.
Mandy's photo of her Billingham Hadley Small Pro Camera Bag in Burgundy Canvas and Chocolate Leather.
If you could take one piece of equipment with you to an important event or trip, what would it be?
I always carry with me my Canon 6D MKII (the 5D series are too big and heavy for my hands) and it usually has the 50mm f1.4 attached to it. It’s all you need. I am not someone who has masses of kit.
What’s your favourite / most cherished piece of equipment? Tell us more.
As above really, it all connects to my iPhone so I can edit in Lightroom mobile and share almost straight away - and it doesn’t matter if I’m shooting a wedding or in a garden shooting flowers for my personal collection. That’s the equipment I always have with me.
Which is your favourite Billingham product and why?
You are currently using a Billingham Hadley Small Pro. What are your thoughts on the bag? How do you find it useful?
I absolutely love this bag. It’s perfect for me during weddings or on days out, and even when I’m not using it to carry camera equipment, I take the padded insert out and use it as an adventure bag. I’ve never been a woman who has handbags. In fact, I own one which I only use for conferences. The Billingham Bag is just perfect for all my needs.
Mandy Charlton with her Billingham Hadley Small Pro Camera Bag in Burgundy Canvas and Chocolate Leather. Photo taken by Stacey King.
What exciting developments do you expect to see in the world of photography in the future?
I think we’ll see more advancements in the world of mirrorless shutters, smartphones which can truly compete, and smaller and smaller items of kit which can do the same work.
What advice would you give to young people thinking about a career in photography today?
Don’t do it!! The field of social photography is utterly over saturated and it’s harder to make a living out of. If you are serious about photography, make sure your business is multi-armed as one discipline just isn’t enough anymore.
What is the project or piece of work you’re proudest of?
Actually, the thing I’m most proud of is flying the flag for people who have mental health issues. I run two companies, both of which are successful for different reasons and I’m still open enough to say I have bipolar disorder and chronic anxiety. My work ethic keeps me sane and my camera is my super-power. Even though I have chronic anxiety, when I shoot a wedding, I am the calmest person there.
What’s next for Mandy Charlton? What are your next big projects?
The Inspire Network is just going into year two and I’m still massively focused on building its paid memberships, so that in turn we can offer small grants and have our own co-working office. Through paid memberships, corporate sponsorships and collaborations I really believe we can change the lives of so many women, including the ones who may, like me, be sitting there, thinking, “How can I achieve my goals when my life is falling apart?” I’m the greatest example that if I can do it, anyone can.
Where can readers follow you on social media? What can they expect to find?
I’m pretty easy to find, on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest I’m just @MandyCharlton and on Facebook I’m @MandyCharltonPhotography. My Instagram https://www.instagram.com/MandyCharlton is my happy place. I’m in love with my garden and living a mindful and more purposeful life and I’m on a mission to help others transform their small urban landscapes in the way that I have with mine.
View this post on Instagram
The world is a bright happy place filled with the most beautiful colourful flowers like the pink of the alliums, the orange of the calendula and the deep purple hues of the aquilegia. I’m trying to get out as much as possible to look for ideas of the things I love to bring back to my own small garden. Not only that, I need the escape for my sanity. I’m not going to lie, the last couple of business weeks have been bloody hard, May is a weird month in business and Brexit uncertainty goes on and on and on... I started my first business in 2007 in a bad economy but it was actually a dream by comparison to what we have now. Still, it can’t be bad as long as we have big blousy bright flowers to surround ourselves with and that’s why I’m passionate that no matter how small your patch is, you should create your own little haven in your small urban gardens. #smallgardenideas #smallurbangarden #alliums #plantresearch #heaton #walkingisgoodforthesoul #gardenersofig #gardening #urbangardener #newcastleupontyne #newcastle #heatonpark #mybackgarden #mybackyardgarden #mybackgardenview #urbangardener #calendula #aquilegias #gardening #garden #gardeningtips #gardenlife #gardendesign #garden_styles
What was the subject of your last tweet or Instagram post?
It was exactly as above, it was about enjoying the small things in the landscape and the outdoors.
View this post on Instagram
I’ve just sat in bed writing a blogpost about living a mindful life, it’s something it’s taken me nearly half of my life to figure out. I always wanted to be making progress but living at light speed can only last for so long before you burn out. - Spending time in nature is the most amazing thing you can do for your own self care, take this wisteria I spotted at @wynyardhall gardens, I stood for ages just enjoying it’s beauty, framing it exactly as I wanted, I took time to breathe before I clicked the shutter and I enjoyed the process. - This week I’ve taken my camera with me on day trips, my actual big camera and I’ve loved it because I’m living and working at a slower, more enjoyable and fruitful pace. - Life is glorious at its slowest, time away from chaos heals the soul, something I can attest to. - Take some time this weekend if you can, take that time to stand and stare, to breathe deeply so your shoulders relax, a mindful life, is a happy life. #springinthegarden #canon6dmarkii #gardeners #canonlifestyle #wynyardhall #wynyard #wynyardhallgardens #wynyardhallgrandmarquee #wynyardpark #durham #countrydurham #gardens #showgardens #walledgarden #walledgardens #formalgardens #englishcountrygarden #minfulness #livingtheslowlife #slowdown #mentalhealthawareness #mindfullife #mindfulliving #mindfulphotography #slowlifestyle #thegardensatwynyard
Where can people come and see your work / meet you? Do you have any forthcoming exhibitions, talks or appearances?
After experiencing a few road bumps in my mental health I’m just starting to speak in public again. I haven’t anything planned as such but I’m always available to talk about my own personal voyage through photography.
What do you get up to when you’re not out taking photographs or enjoying your family? What’s your biggest passion outside these areas?
Gardening! I transformed my own urban small garden and it’s made me so much healthier, happier and a more thankful person. I’m so much more mindful and enjoying life at a slower pace (I know it might not sound like that if you read this interview but honestly, I am!)
Mandy Charlton's stunning garden.
Mandy Charlton can be found at:
Web site: www.mandcharltonphotography.com
The Inspire Network: https://www.facebook.com/groups/mumsbusinessclubnortheast/