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News > Life After Hymers > Leo's Photography Career

Leo's Photography Career

Photographer for Red Bull, Leo Francis attended Hymers from 1986 to 1996
Photography of a new Formula E livery by Leo Francis, OH 1986-96
Photography of a new Formula E livery by Leo Francis, OH 1986-96

For the last fiften years, Leo Francis (OH 1986-96) has had a career in photography. He started as a portrait photographer, but ten years ago started shooting for Red Bull; something he continues to do.

Working with Red Bull has made my photography career explode. As well as being a Red Bull photographer, I'm now a commercial photographer and an adventure photographer. I get sent to different locations around the world shooting people pushing their boundaries through various endurance expeditions and to capture this, I often have to take part on these adventures too.

His photography career has taken him all over the globe on expeditions, including dodging polar bears whilst cross country skiing across the Arctic Islands of Svalbard, completing the first kayak of the entire 250km length of the Great Exumas in the Bahamas, camping on a frozen lake in Outer Mongolia in -30 and also in the depths of the Namib desert. He has shot all kinds of famous people, had magazine covers and his work has been featured in the UK's papers. He works with international brands photographing anything from motorsports to celebrities in Sport Relief challenges. 

My work is my passion and I enjoy every part of it; my photography career changed my life and I am so grateful for the satisfaction it brings me. It can be hard, often gruelling and the travel requires a lot of sacrifice in my personal life, but it is exceptionally rewarding, whether I'm shooting a new formula one delivery or capturing memories for someone on a life changing adventure.  I love the challenges photography brings.

Who'd have thought from developing my first photograph in the dark room at Hymers Physics lab (is that still there?) my photography career would take me to all these places!

When Leo left Hymers, he knew he wanted to do something creative but didn't know exactly what that was then.

I was never particularly academic and I did an Art Foundation Degree at Riley. Following this I went to Sheffield to do a Product Design degree. I spent three years to find out that wasn't exactly what I wanted to do, but I had good fun whilst doing it. I then went travelling for three years, working ski seasons in the US, sailing yachts and visiting as many countries as I could, before coming back and starting my creative career path, as a Digital Artist back in 2007.

I've worked a lot of jobs and I like variety so I haven't really followed a traditional career path! I've been anything from a deckhand, a ski lift operator, mobile phone tester, landscaper, graphic artist, studio manager and an art director to name a few, but the thing that has been my passion in later life is being a photographer. 

Since leaving Hymers College, Leo has kept in touch with his best mate Rob Reid (OH 1985-96) who he met in the junior school when he was nine years old.

The first time I saw Rob in my class room he punched a boy over a desk. At that point I realised Rob would be best as a friend rather than an enemy! We have been best mates ever since and we were best men at each other's weddings.

I hung out with loads of really good people at Hymers and had a really good laugh most days.

Leo had a lot of favourite teachers from Hymers, mainly because he felt that they treated you as individuals and not like kids; that they had respect for you and a genuine interest in you. 

He recalls Mr Grayson as really wonderful and a teacher that Leo would genuinely look forward to just chatting with in form before assembly. Although Leo wasn't a huge fan of chemistry, he enjoyed classes with Mr Sutton and he really liked Mr Exley and Mr Walmsley, as again they had a genuine interest in the pupils, wanting each and everyone to reach their full potential.

Chippy (Mr Price) was a legend. I used to love CDT. Making a trowel was a rite of passage into Hymers Senior School and that trowel held pride of place on most kids shelves at their homes.

Of course one of Leo's favourite teachers was his art teacher, Miss Summer.

Being an artist herself, she had a genuine love of creativity and always pushed me to carry on with art. I never had great grades through school, except in art and that was from Miss Summer being invested in me creatively and making me believe I was good. Art and the creative field didn't carry the same gravitas and respect in those days as it does now, so I'm really pleased she made me believe being a creative artist was a valid career path. 

In the 90s basketball became really popular. Leo and his friends used to play "obsessively" every lunchtime. Mr Walmsley saw this passion that a group of them had for the sport and formed a team. They started to get games with other schools and became the first basketball team in Hymers.

Leo's funniest memories of school are often the things he got in trouble for, such as locking each other in lockers, using the watch reflection to dance across teachers' foreheads, using a Bunsen burner as a water gun, making dens in the bog weed in junior school, sneaking onto the lake island and of course all the things you get up to on the ski trips and the infamous geography trip.

As I said I was never super academic, I wasn't one of those kids that really loved school. My report was generally 'must try harder'. I spent a lot of time in detention. Seriously, I was often double booked for detentions after school!

But in retrospect I look back at my time at Hymers fondly. You meet a lot of good people there and it did give me an ideology I wanted to achieve something. It took me a while to find out what that was though!!


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