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Real Life: From shooting guns to photographs

Life has been anything but ordinary for Nigel Wallace: he’s represented team GB in Olympic rifle shooting, battled an aggressive form of cancer and is now a flourishing dog portrait photographer

Most days you’ll find Nigel Wallace romping through the woods or lying in the mud, capturing incredible shots of dynamic dogs in mid-flight, their floppy ears poking skyward. As an award-winning ‘on location’ dog portrait specialist, he’s a master at photographing happy hounds in their natural environment, though a different type of shooting dominated his early life.

Nigel, who lives in Mildenhall, was 15 when he discovered a talent for rifle shooting. “I really wanted an air rifle, but my dad said I could only have one if I joined a club,” he recalls. “So I joined a club, went into a competition and won that, and basically within six months of picking up a target rifle I was in the British junior team.”

Dog portrait photographer Nigel Wallace (53660246)
Dog portrait photographer Nigel Wallace (53660246)

From that point forward, Nigel dedicated his life to shooting, setting his sights on the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

“Olympic shooting is a very technical sport so I put in many hours down the range and in the gym, keeping up my fitness. I lived, ate and breathed the sport,” he recalls.

Nigel qualified for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where he came face-to-face with sporting icons. “Linford Christie and Colin Jackson would be having their dinners in the main canteen; these were people you’d normally only see on the telly!”

Nigel went on to compete in three Commonwealth Games in 1994 (Canada), 1998 (Malaysia) and 2002 (Manchester) winning four medals, including gold.

Having reached the pinnacle of his sporting career – and with a wife (childhood sweetheart Cathy) and three children to consider - Nigel decided to retire from shooting.

He continued to work for long-term employer BT, where he’d been supported throughout his professional shooting career.

Keen to maintain his fitness levels, Nigel also took up time trial cycling, though fell ill whilst training for a triathlon in 2015.

“I had a really sore throat that wouldn’t shift. It was quickly getting worse, so I ended up in A&E,” he explains. Doctors diagnosed a swollen tonsil, so prepared Nigel for a tonsillectomy, but before he reached the operating theatre, he received devastating news.

“I was told I’d got Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in my tonsil. It was such a shock,” he recalls. “It was rapidly growing, my tongue swelled up and the tumour went down the back of my throat so I could barely drink or swallow.”

Fortunately chemotherapy proved an effective treatment. “Within the first session I was able to drink and eat, within two the cancer had almost disappeared, within three it had gone completely, but I had three more rounds to be safe,” explains Nigel.

A further 15 radiotherapy sessions were needed, which unfortunately damaged Nigel’s saliva glands and blistered his mouth, but did eradicate the cancer – and he got the five years ‘all clear’ in 2020.

“Obviously people go through an awful lot worse and don’t make it, so I feel very lucky,” he says.

In 2018, with BT restructuring, Nigel seized the opportunity to bow out of his job of 35 years, giving him the freedom to set up his new photography venture.

Bella pictured by dog portrait photographer Nigel Wallace (53660248)
Bella pictured by dog portrait photographer Nigel Wallace (53660248)

“I always loved photography at school and when we got our border collie Darcey, I was taking pictures of her and thought how brilliant it would be to do this as a job,” he explains.

So, in 2019, Nigel launched his dog portrait business. His fun approach, coupled with picturesque locations, from Thetford Forest to wind-swept beaches, and a cast of adorable dogs, including Chihuahuas, Bullmastiffs and Newfoundlands, makes for truly breathtakingly imagery.

“My photography is all about the dog being happy, allowing me to capture that character of the dog that the owner loves and that can then become wall art,” he says. “I want the dog to have such a good time they are spark out on the sofa for the rest of the day!”

Boss by Nigel Wallace (54089498)
Boss by Nigel Wallace (54089498)

Nigel’s imagery is so eye-catching, he’s won a clutch of awards, been featured in multiple magazines and even appeared on TV’s Escape to the Country.

And his success feels sweeter considering the hurdles he has overcome to get there.

“I think anyone who has experienced life-changing moments, whatever they may be, appreciates life to a greater degree; it gives you an altogether different perspective. It’s about enjoying every day and appreciating whatever you’ve got because you never know what the future holds.”

Find out more at nigelwallacephotography.co.uk

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