Interview for Epson
The interview below was written for Epson's FotoFlock website, which is India's first community photography portal.
How did you teach yourself photography?
When I purchased my first SLR I initially took pictures on full auto mode, feeling apprehensive to experiment. But after reading photography books and magazines I started to practice with manual, recording the details of every exposure in a little notepad I carried around with me. Apart from reading magazines, and looking at other pictures on internet sites like Ephotozine.com I spent a great deal of time on location taking pictures, and then reviewing the results once the films were developed. For me this really was the best way to learn, as I was photographing the subject matter that inspired me the most and really enjoying myself in the outdoors at the same time. To this day, I pretty much solely photograph landscapes; being outdoors at dawn or dusk is a tremendously enriching experience that for me beats all others.
Being a self taught photographer, how difficult was it to carve out a niche in this highly skilled and competitive profession?
I think it is notoriously difficult to break into the landscape photography profession, especially more so in today's industry where digital has brought about a huge surge in high quality readily available images. But from my point of view, I never made a conscious attempt to break into the business side of things; it just happened. I kept taking photographs and visiting new locations, built my own personal website, and found that magazines started approaching me. Over time, the business side of my photography grew to a point that I was able to reduce my day job to 3 days per week. Then in 2008 I decided to move to the Southwest of England, which meant leaving my day job completely and focusing on landscape photography full time. I have been fortunate in that I have never needed to go out there and find business; virtually all the projects I have been involved with have arisen from businesses approaching me. For me the key thing is to keep capturing high quality imagery while at the same time maintaining a professional relationship with my existing business contacts.
You have been working as a full time professional landscape photographer since 2008. What led you to specialise in this particular genre of photography?
I initially became interested in landscape photography because I have a passion for nature and the outdoors. That naturally led to me specialising solely in landscapes when I turned professional. I have little interest in other genres of photography.
We are aware of your affinity with the lush green backdrops of Southwest England. Why is it among your favorite locations for shoots considering you have photographed five of the seven continents?
I have been fortunate to visit many beautiful locations around the world. If I could choose favourites without any restriction on distance I would say the South Island of New Zealand is a very special place, and the Antarctic Peninsula is utterly breathtaking. But realistically such far-flung locations could only be very rare trips; my conscience would be ill-at-ease knowing the environmental damage caused by air travel.
In view of this, I try to base my photography mainly in the UK now and the Southwest is undoubtedly one of the UK's most photogenic locations. The Southwest is brimming with photographic potential, from endless patchwork rolling fields that are so typically English, to rugged moorland wilderness and two incredible National Parks. On top of this, Devonand Cornwall has some of the most rugged and breathtaking coastline to be found anywhere in the world. All this means I don't have to travel far to find a lifetime of photographic possibilities.
You have worked with numerous large and prestigious organisations including British Petroleum, The AA, The Times and National Geographic. Which has been the hardest assignment so far and why so?
I think the hardest assignments for me personally are ones that involve photographic subjects that are outside of my comfort range. Sometimes commissions will involve shooting within towns and cities which are particularly uninspiring for me, and a world away from photographing trees, coast and hills. Of course I am happy to shoot such jobs, but the countryside and coast would always be my preference.
When was the first time you felt inclined to write about photography?
I have always enjoyed writing about my photographic experiences, and am eager to contribute words as well as pictures to magazines and books. I prefer to write about experiences and locations rather than overly technical "how-to"; guides, which I feel often miss the point. Too many people seem to be consumed with the technical aspects of landscape photography, rather than having a genuine passion for the outdoors. When I write, I tend to concentrate on describing the location and moment while conveying the excitement I feel when I am trying to capture a little bit of that moment.
You have authored three books to date and you plan on publishing two more in the next couple of years. Can you tell us some more about your upcoming publications?
I have already submitted to my publisher the photographs and words for my next book, which will be a pictorial guide to the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales. The book will be similar to my last title "A Year on Exmoor", and will focus on the Brecon Beacons over the changing seasons of one year. This will be published in early 2011.
I am well underway shooting for my fifth book, which sees me photograph views from the spectacular South West Coast Path, which runs through the counties of Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. This is a very exciting project for me, as it encompasses such diverse and wonderful coastline, and will include many of my favourite coastal images. This book will be published in 2012.
Your images have been published on the covers of more than 100 magazines, books and calendars. Which of your photographs is your favourite?
I only photograph subjects where I feel inspired by the moment; finding a favourite is a virtually impossible task as so many photographs recollect treasured memories for me. One photo that does spring to mind is "Fires of Wharariki" in my New Zealand gallery. I cannot describe the experience of walking on this fantastic beach in the pre-dawn darkness; it was a moment that will live with me forever. Everytime I look at this image I am transported back to that special moment.
Have you ever thought of switching to a movie camera?
I have never given it any thought whatsoever! But I have heard that is the way photography is heading in the future; if this is the case then it is something I will need to explore at some stage.
What are the primary requirements of a good landscape photographer?
The most important requirement is having a passion for the outdoors, and enjoying what you do. On top of this you need to be dedicated, and have both perseverance and patience because the most important element of your pictures, light, is out of your control. I have lost count of the number of times I have jumped out of bed at 3am and been on location at 4am only to return empty handed when the sunrise decides not to show.
If you can keep smiling through the cold on a freezing winter morning, the lack of sleep in the summer and the wet feet at the coast, then you probably have what it takes to be a landscape photographer!
What is your approach to photography?
As mentioned above I am passionate about nature. I love to visit and capture the outdoors, whether that's the coast, moorland or countryside. This is what inspires me, and continually motivates me to keep taking photographs. Other than understanding as much as I need to, to capture high quality images, the technical side of photography doesn't interest me.
What are your thoughts on photo manipulation?
I am a bit of a dinosaur in this respect. I learned photography with a film camera, and always strived to capture images authentically in-camera. This approach has carried across now that I am digital; I still aim to capture a photograph in a single exposure, correctly at the picture taking stage. I exclusively shoot in RAW format, which means I need to process my images on the computer afterwards. But I endeavour to do that processing authentically, without manipulating the scene to something it was not. Many people manipulate their photographs nowadays with great results, but for me personally it is not something I feel comfortable with, and do not think I ever will.
You started your photography career shooting film. Do you still play around with negatives in the darkroom?
I never did play around in the darkroom! When I used film cameras I always sent my slides to be developed at labs. All my developed slides are now filed away and haven't been looked at for a very long time. For me, digital is very much the way forward.
The interview can also be found on the FotoFlock website here.
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