It took 20 years for Martin Smith’s love of photography to creep up on him.

After starting to take pictures for fun in his early 20s, it gradually went from being a hobby to a passion.

Mr Smith, 53, who lives in Hadley Green, set up his own Barnet-based company, World on Film, in 2001, and began selling a handful of prints.

But then the sudden death of two friends — one of cancer, only five days after being diagnosed, the other of meningitis — gave him the shock he needed to leave the business world and concentrate full-time on photography.

He says: “I thought, ‘This is crazy. That could easily be me.’ It made me think about what I was doing and what my priorities should be. I was slaving away, doing really long hours. I had a really senior position. But I decided I’d rather be doing other things.”

Mr Smith’s work now combines photography and his other love: travelling. He aims to go on three trips a year to take pictures in far-flung destinations, from Iran to Wyoming to Burkina Faso.

Last week he left for a two-month trip to New Zealand and the Australian outback. Most recently, his photograph Distant Volcano was commended in the Travel Photographer of the Year Awards, an international competition open to both professionals and amateurs. It was the first time he had entered his work into a competition.

He took the picture, which shows the silhouetted volcano Tavurvur erupting alongside a beehive and behind an upturned boat, in Rabaul, while on a two-week tour of Papua New Guinea.

He says: “Early one morning I went round parts of the area round Rabaul. The volcano there is pretty much always erupting. It was soon after sunset and it was a really nice light. There was this boy fooling around next to me, trying to get into all my shots. In this one, he walked across just at the right moment, and made the picture, I think, much better.”

Rabaul is the only human settlement in the world built entirely within the rim of an active volcano, and in 1994 it was almost destroyed by a volcanic eruption, covering the area with ash.

Mr Smith says: “It’s the filthiest place you’ll ever go to — there’s dust everywhere. But not everyone left after the volcano. A lot of people wear masks, but a lot of people don’t bother to do that.”

While Mr Smith loves discovering new places and visiting isolated communities such as the Mursi tribe in Ethiopia, his favourite subjects are gritty urban scenes. He says: “I like murals and grafitti and people going about their everyday lives.”

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