Diddipix creator Kirsten Harvey

Kirsten Harvey is a photographer, teacher, children’s writer and illustrator, mother of two, and creator of new kids’ photography club Diddipix. Diddpix has been featured in Photography for Beginners, Times Educational Supplement, Digital Camera news and more, and was recently awarded a Mumpreneur bronze award. We asked Kirsten what inspired her to start her business and how she found the time!

How did you first get into photography?

After qualifying as an art teacher I worked for a couple of years in schools in the UK. But I had a passion for travelling, moved to Kenya where I taught for a number of years as Head of Art. I loved working in Africa, but after spending all day helping children discover the joys of art, I wanted to do something creative for myself.

So I set up my own darkroom, taught myself black and white photography and started taking pictures of tribes-people in remote villages. I was fascinated by their culture and way of life – and also wanted to create a permanent document of their lives, as many of these tribes may not be around in 20 years time.

At that time, photography was just a hobby and I was completely self-taught. I lived and taught in Italy and France before returning to the UK to teach during the day and study for professional photography qualifications in the evenings. I was thrilled to be awarded the prestigious associateship status with the four main photographic bodies.

What inspired you to create Diddipix?

I was inspired by my own love of photography and my experience of teaching primary age children. Photography isn’t on the UK school syllabus until GCSE level, when children can choose to study the subject. I thought it was a shame that younger children didn’t have the chance to explore the world and their own creativity through this amazing medium.

My sons have their own camera, and at weekends, when we are out and about, we always take our cameras with us. We all get so much out of the experience and results. I soon realised that other children of this age would be equally excited about photography. Children don’t have the same inhibitions as adults and explore their world organically, with no pre-conceived views and opinions. All children have the potential to take amazing photographs, whether it simply is with a camera phone, a toy camera or something more sophisticated. I wanted to inspire and enable other children to discover the joy of photography and being able to create images too.

Why did you want to start your own business?

I had always planned to go back to teaching once my sons started school. But some serious things happened in our lives which prevented this from happening. My son went deaf when he was a year old and we spent a lot of time in and out of hospital with him. A few years later, my husband was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I spent the next three years nursing him back to health.

My husband and I both had our own businesses – I sold my own prints and canvas images and my husband made furniture. But just after his recovery the recession hit, and our businesses really struggled. Then my youngest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome which meant even more appointments and adapting our family life significantly to meet his needs.

As my days have always been filled with appointments around the cancer, the deafness and the Asperger’s, my plans to return to teaching full time never really took off. But instead of giving up, I considered how I could use the skills and experience I had and do something that fulfilled me, but which had the added potential of making money to support the family.

I took up writing for children, and two years ago I gained an MA in writing for children. I now have a novel for 9-12 year olds and four picture books under my belt. Over the following year and a half I dedicated all my spare time to designing and creating my website which would become my new business.

So my three biggest passions are photography, teaching and writing, and it seemed obvious to combine them and create a business that would fit around my family. I had looked around for kids’ photography websites to share with my own children, but there was nothing really out there that provided what I was looking for, so I decided to start my own. Setting up a web based business means I work anywhere in the world – whether it it’s away on holiday or in my little studio in the garden. I love the flexibility it gives me and the fact I’m not tied to anything or anyone.

How did you find the time to start Diddipix?

With everything that was going on in my life, I needed something that was for ‘me’. I’ve never been good at sitting down and doing nothing. As well as juggling family life, I’ve always had something on the go, whether it was managing my husband’s furniture business, writing children’s novels, illustrating stories, or hosting photography exhibitions. As a teacher, I’ve always been an organised person, so I allocated chunks of time to developing my business and made sure that I stuck to them. So for example, if I had a hospital appointment one day with my son, I devoted the next day to working at my computer on my business. I believe that if you’re motivated and determined, you’ll find the time somehow!

How does Diddipix work?

Children and schools from all over the world can join Diddipix – we have children from Australia, Kenya, Canada, Lebanon and many other countries. Members receive a certificate, get handy hints on taking great photos, can see what cool gadgets are in the marketplace, view current news and events and learn from our inspiring professional experts.

The real excitement for children is they can upload their photos in their own galleries. Kids can rate each others’ photos and leave comments about their work. Children love incentives and awards so I’ve also created weekly, monthly and termly competitions, and their work can be featured in a Diddipix yearbook.

The site also has a schools membership which provides clever marketing potential for schools and a great way to showcase the children’s photos to their parents.

How have children responded to discovering photography?

They love it! When I was developing the site I also ran children’s photography workshops in schools, outdoor pursuit centres and youth groups to gauge what inspires and excites children in the world of photography. I really enjoyed seeing their enthusiasm and creativity blossom. I also teach photography a local Prep school and offer private tuition to children in beginners’ photography and Photoshop techniques.

Some of the feedback I’ve had from children using photography includes, ‘Taking photos is like going on an adventure in the outside world,’ and ‘Photography has made me look at things in detail. I now see things that I would normally walk past without noticing.’

How long did Diddipix take to create?

It took me over a year to research, plan, design and develop the website. I needed to consider things like the gallery, star ratings, creating the artwork, designing the logos and graphics, and researching for the content. I even invented a fictional character to ‘run’ the site – Professor Pixel.

Once the site was finished I launched it quietly at first, inviting a few people to use it and making sure it worked as I wanted. Now I’ve finally finished tweaking it we’re ready to go live nationwide!

What do you hope to achieve?

I want to build a website that inspires children to start taking pictures, and helps to build their skills and passion. I love helping kids look at world in different ways, increase their confidence and get pleasure through sharing the results of their work. I also want to make raising money for other children a big part of the site, so I have created a section called ‘The bigger picture’ – children love to help others, and what better way than through their own creativity.

For myself I want to create a successful business that uses my skills and passions, maintains the buzz that I get from my own photography, and gives me a sense of fulfilment.

What advice would you give to other mums wanting to start a business?

Set yourself goals, work out your priorities and believe in yourself.  If you really feel passionately about something, just do it! Life doesn’t always pan out as you expect, but instead of giving up, you need to look at the skills you have, the things you love doing and the opportunities available to you – and make the best out of your situation. I’ve proved that it’s possible to steer a slightly different course in life and still have successful and positive outcomes.