Taking a Shot
Life-changing experience turns a passion into a profession
For Jon Robertson, 2006 was a year marked by a life-changing event – and some corresponding life-altering decisions.
“I was diagnosed with cancer and had to take a year off for treatment,” he says. “The experience caused me to change my perspective and realign my priorities. I realized that I had gone as far as I could with my job and wanted to make a career change.”
With his treatment underway, Jon spent time considering his career options, aptitudes and passions; he found inspiration in a lifelong hobby.
“I had always done photography but never thought about pursuing it as a career because I didn’t have any formal training,” he says. “So I thought I could start by taking some photography courses and ultimately work toward the journalism industry.”
With that in mind, Jon began taking courses toward the Digital Photography Certificate offered through Continuing Education at George Brown College in the summer of 2007. He became a de facto full-time Continuing Education student as school was his sole focus. When he was not resting or in treatment, he was in class or working on assignments.
“My instructors were very helpful and always accommodating. When I needed to miss time due to treatment or due to illness, they made sure I was up-to-date,” Jon remembers. “I didn’t have a lot of energy, so my goals were to get my schooling done and not get sick.”
Jon appreciated the support of his teachers and colleagues. However, he insists it was the caliber of the instructors and the practical knowledge they taught that ultimately made the difference for him.
“The classes gave me a lot of knowledge about photography and that, hopefully, shows in my work,” he says. “The school helped me take my talent further and really launched my career.”
That career has certainly taken flight. Jon launched his own business, Flying Lizard Studio, in 2008, shortly after completing his certificate. He used many of the contacts he made during his time at George Brown to grow his company.
“I’d do one gig and that would lead to another then that would lead to another and so on. Word of mouth was very powerful for me,” he says. “But my big break came during Advertising Week in 2009. I went and took a lot of pictures at the event and, when people came by and asked to see the pictures, they were impressed. When I left, my wallet was so packed with business cards that I couldn’t close it.”
Jon remains busy with work and does not take his success for granted. He continues to draw on his George Brown training in his career. To this day, two classes in particular stand out.
“The Photography of People class showed me how to set up studio lights – an essential task I had never done before,” he says. “When I completed all the assignments for Digital Photography III, I knew I finally got it. It was like a switch was flipped and I was ready to be a photographer.”
Even with his success, Jon continues to return to the school that has taught him so much (he is currently taking Wedding Photography). Jon’s career aspirations still include breaking into the journalism industry, and that means he will again be a familiar sight on the George Brown campus – something that he is looking forward to.
“My ultimate goal is to use my Digital Photography Certificate in conjunction with the Journalism Certificate I plan to take. I like telling a story through my pictures and would like to have the skills to take it a step further,” he says. “I find myself very focused since I returned to school. To me, it is better the second time around, probably because it’s what I want to do.”