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Terry Donnelly: Imagery created as the best it can be

by Editor Marius Cinteză

My passion for photography is permanently there, I tend to view the world from a photographic point of constantly observe not only photographic opportunities but the way light falls and interacts.” – Terry Donnelly

Terry is an award-winning freelance photographer from Liverpool, England, working in sports, editorial, PR, promotions and is a Sony Europe Imaging Ambassador, Rotolight 'Master of Light' and Fotospeed Ambassador.
He has interest in many photography genres, but there are two that Terry enjoys the most: environmental portraiture and sports photography.
Terry is the holder of four Fellowships, including the Royal Photographic Society FRPS, the Societies FSWPP, the Master Photographers Association FMPA, the British Photographic Exhibitions FBPE and holds a Masters with the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain MPAGB. His work has been exhibited in over 25 countries and has earned more than 230 international awards.

In the interview below I invite you to discover more about Terry and be inspired by his remarkable portraiture and sports photography projects!


Terry, first of all I would like to thank you so much for taking your time to answer my questions! To begin, please introduce yourself shortly and tell us more about you, your hobbies or other jobs/projects you are involved in!
Hi Marius, thank you for the opportunity and this is really great to meet you, if only online. I am Terry Donnelly and I am a photographer living in my hometown Liverpool in the north west of England. I have always had a passion for photography, people and sport, and combine all three in my current work. My hobbies are the same as my work, photography and sport, so my work never feels like work and I consider myself blessed to be able to work in an industry I love as a hobby also.


“Southbank smooch”

Let’s start from the beginning: when and how did you start your photographic journey?
Since as far as I can remember I have always taken pictures or video. In 2008 I became involved commercially supplying photographs to property developers and architects.  A series of chance meetings and opportunities then led to me doing what I do today. The photography industry can be a really great place for meeting people who give opportunities.


“Losing My Religion”

For many of us photography is either a hobby or a way of life. How would you define your relationship with the photography?
Photography for me has no boundaries between work and hobby. I suppose you could class it as an addiction to taking pictures, I have always enjoyed it and always will, on whatever basis I am operating at.



What would be the most important experience so far that has influenced your steps in photography?
Very difficult to bring one to mind as there has been so many, I suppose the best way I can answer this is that photography is a people business, and meeting the right people that are prepared to enable you to encourage and help you on with your photography are the most important experiences you can ever have. This is why I allocate time to enable and encourage others in the way I do. I consider this as pay back and also pay forward to the photography community.



How do you maintain and grow your passion for photography?
My passion for photography is permanently there, I tend to view the world from a photographic point of constantly observe not only photographic opportunities but the way light falls and interacts. It may sound strange but when I watch a movie I often appreciate more the way it has been shot and lit than for its content. I take great inspiration from the movie industry, with Stanley Kubrick in particular.



Can you please describe in a few words your photographer philosophy and mission?
To create imagery that is the best it can be. If we have poor light to work in or uninteresting content, we still have to make the imagery the best it can be. I currently hold 4 Fellowships with 4 organizations, I consider the standard of the work that I was awarded those Fellowships for to be the platform I need to work from.

“Ribbon routine”

Terry, among your works you mostly enjoy environmental portraiture and sports photography. Why are you so drawn by these photography types?
I have an interest in so many genres of photography, and there exists a cross over or merge between many of them. Sports photography and environmental portraiture I think I am drawn to more because there is always an element of things outside your control, and the additional challenge is to make the best of that. For instance, in sports photography, at a football or rugby game, the play could be at the far end of the pitch if one team is dominant, these are the things that are out of your control. In environmental portraiture we are on the main in an uncontrolled environment unlike a studio setting, so controlling the light and what is taking place around is an additional challenge. I suppose I just love an additional challenge above just usual photographic challenge, and I think that has benefits also in personal development.



What do you think are the top three secret ingredients for a remarkable photograph?
Emotion certainly is my number one. If you can invoke human emotion in a photograph, there is nothing more powerful. Timing would be my second, it is everything, a split second between two frames can give a totally different image. Good technique, I know some people may disagree, but if you can’t capture the moment with enough quality, it is lost. When all three ingredients happen that is when magic is made.



What do you think that makes your environmental portraiture works differently?
I try to differentiate myself from others. I have huge respect for so many photographers but will only occasionally look at their work because I do not want to be influenced by their work. As previously mentioned when I watch a movie I look at it from the manner it has been shot and lit. I use this as inspiration into photography, and you will see a lot of brave composition and cropping from me, but it is things like that which helps makes me different. I also try to go against the current trends in photography, if the industry goes right, I go left. 


“Gold Carolina”

Where do you look for to find inspiration for the stories you want to convey by your portraiture works? What inspires you?
As mentioned some movies really hit home with me, and also music. It may only be a line in a song or a small piece of a movie, but once it is there it stays with me. I have also had inspiration from dreams with some of my creative works being a direct result of a dream.



Can you please tell us something more about your workflow for portrait photography?
My workflow is very simple. Get as much right in camera as possible, that is where it starts and I’ll spend as much time as I can doing that. From there I import into Lightroom and do initial culling and editing. If there is a need for cloning or layering then the file is imported into Photoshop. That is my workflow for 95% of what I shoot.



Terry, do you have a preferred sport/competition you enjoy shooting it? Why?
This is an easy question to answer. Being born and raised in Liverpool, it has to be Football and in particular Liverpool Football Club. Football in my home town is the dominate sport and one that supporters are very passionate about. Football has so many facets, action, personalities, tactics, supporters, so many compelling stories at every match.



What are the main features of a successful sport photographer in your opinion?
To be successful photographing a sport, you must understand the sport. For action reading the game is critical, you need to be one step ahead of the play to anticipate what is likely to happen next so you can capture the moment as it happens, there really is only one opportunity to capture a goal as it happens. Your skill set also has to be of a high standard especially in top flight, you don’t have time to think about changing camera settings or deciding which of the available cameras to shoot with, it has to come naturally and that can only happen if you have a high skill set.


In your opinion how has the sport photography evolved over the last years? How do you see the future of the sport photography?
I think sports photography has evolved in that camera gear is much more advanced and gives the opportunity for much higher quality images. Some may think this has made shooting sports easier, but I think this means we all have to work harder as the general standard has raised so much. Digital workflow now means that picture desk editors and agencies expect the pictures much faster during match play than ever before.


What would be your favorite photo from the last years? Please tell us the story behind it.
Another easy question! Well, if I had to choose one it would be a photograph I took of Georgia, who was new to modelling and in this case was her first photography shoot. One of the pictures from that short set we did ended up as a front cover of a national photography magazine in the UK and has been used in several advertising campaigns. It’s a beautiful image and has been very successful, but more importantly for me it showed that even brand-new people to the photographic industry can have success, there are no barriers, only the ones we self-impose.



Terry, you are a Sony Europe Imaging Ambassador. Can you please share with us what is the gear do you use for sport and portraiture shooting?
I have 3 cameras, 2 x A9’s and an A7R3. Lens line up is 12-24mm G lens, 16-35mm G Master, 24-70 G Master, 70-200 G Master, 400mm G Master. 24mm G Master and 85mm G Master.

For sport I would use all 3 bodies. An A9 on the 400mm G Master, an A9 on the 70-200mm G Master and the A7R3 on either 24-70mm G Master or 16 – 35mm G Master depending on the stadium I am working in and distance to the pitch.

For portraiture I will use the A9 or A7R3 depending on the final output requirements coupled to the 85mm G Master which is my go to lens but occasionally I will shoot with the 70-200mm G Master.

I am a Rotolight ‘Master of Light’ and use Rotolight NEO2, AEOS and ANOVAPro to light my portraits.

I should also add that my make-up artist Jenna Hacking works with me on many projects, and having a make-up artist in your team can make a big difference.



You are an experienced and awarded photographer, holder of four Fellowships and a Masters in photography, including a Fellowship with the Royal Photographic Society FRPS. Which aspects of your photographer life so far do you find the most challenging?
In terms of distinction awards and competitions, the aspect I find most challenging is my constant battle with myself to produce content of a high standard. This is a personal battle and not one put on me by others. Distinction awards, competitions, etc. are all about ourselves, nobody else matters in that regard. Same as a long-distance runner will train alone and constantly try to push his limits, that is how I feel about photography, nothing ‘will just do’ it needs to be the best it can be and improved next time.


“We can work it out”

Who are your favorite photographers or mentors whose works have influenced you and your photography?
I don’t really have favorite photographers as such, but do have admiration for a few. If I had to pick a name, Joe McNally would be one of them. His ability to make a great image from virtually anything has always created great admiration from me. I have had advice over the years from so many people which I am eternally grateful for.


“Selfie Rabbit”

Now, since we almost reached the end of this interview, I would kindly ask you to share with us your future plans or photographic projects you would like to involve in.
The projects I am looking to do in the future are all about people and telling peoples stories. I have one due to start early in 2019 where I will be working with an emergency service in the UK, detailing the crew’s day, missions and down time. I won’t go into further details on that particular project but it will be quite a story with lots of emotion.


“Railway Sleepers”


“Train station”


“Freedom Tower”


“Icelandic church”




Wonderful interview,amazing work.Compliments to both of you!
Thank you so much, Julien! Have a great day!! :-)
Thank you for your great effort bring us the story about Terry, and thank you Terry for sharing your ethos and experience with your passion for photography. Your portfolio is outstanding Terry and is a great inspiration, thank you very much and all the best to you both!
Thank you, Wayne, for your kind words!
Thank you Marius! Terry shows a very diverse portfolio! Terry's image make me feel humble... in a positive way.... :)
You are welcome, Wicherbos! I'm glad you enjoyed the article! Terry's portfolio si amazing I was very pleased working together for the interview!
Excellent interview - Great work as always Terry :)
Thanks Howard ;)
Thank you, Howard!