In February I was asked to answer some questions for the The Royal Photographic Society but ultimately the article was never published. So rather than just let my answers disappear into the ether, here are the originals….
What is it about outdoor photography that inspires you?
I’ve loved the outdoors from as far back as I can remember and all my various hobbies over the years have involved being at one with nature – early mornings at the lakeside for a spot of angling, riding my mountain bike over the North York Moors, kayaking in the North Sea and exploring obscure local woodland with my camera and my best four-legged friend, Meg. It’s only in recent times that I’ve become more aware of what drives me to be in the great outdoors and it largely boils down to privileged moments where you get to experience nature at its very best. Photography is simply a bonus to just being there and having a personal connection to where I shoot allows me to capture and convey the experiences that I crave. I’d love to trek for miles and hit towering summits but the feeling of solitude & well-being in the mystery of an atmospheric woodland is very hard to beat. I’m there because it’s right for me and what benefits me on a personal level will always be the ideal environment for me to create.
What has been your favourite location to work on to date? Why was it so successful for your photography?
It’s difficult to select a single location as the vast majority are all small and nondescript local woodlands that offer little nuggets of great photographic opportunities if you’re prepared to spend the time exploring and absorbing yourself into the locations. Not once did I ever expect the images I created in local woodland to be ‘successful’ in the sense of being recognised in competitions or admired by other photographers that I hold in high regard. Due to injury, I was forced to stay local but that restriction and need to find places that made me feel better gradually evolved into an unwavering love for shooting woodland and enjoying all the challenges it presents. The irrefutable fact is that I have as much love for small scale exploration and discovery as I do for the creation of images. It’s the solitude in self-discovered and complex environments that successfully helped me both physically & mentally and the byproduct of that was success for my photography. Simply put, what was right for me, was right for my photography.
Which of your own outdoor photographs is your favourites? Why?
That’s actually pretty easy for me to answer because I’m not looking for the image which is technically brilliant or the one which I perceive to be commercially viable. I simply think about my love for the location and not only the experience of the moment in which I captured the photograph but also the whole series of experiences that lead to the discovery of a subject and the repeated visits required to make it work as an image. With that in mind, an absolute all time favourite is a one-off image of a dead oak tree that I’ve titled, “Afraid of Time“. I love it so much that I turned the tree into my logo and embossing stamp. It’s such a rare and unique discovery and I love everything about it. It’s the only place that I shoot where I feel genuinely nervous because of the slightly creepy atmosphere, the silence and the darkness imposed by dense plantation. I’ve been working towards improving upon my original shot but after 20 months I am still waiting for the right conditions.
Some other favourites that are equally important to me include my OPoTY image, The Dysfunctional Family, Frosted Rowan, Distant Dale and Distant Dale Fog. They’re all local and they all signify my photographic journey and what I look for and connect with in the landscape. A favourite non local image is Guardians of the Forest which I captured in Wales after spotting the composition the previous day and then returning the following morning to terrific conditions. [Since first writing these answers, I also captured some photographs from Scotland which I’m fond of – see my gallery here]
Which weather elements do you think are over or underrated in photography? Why?
I think it largely depends upon your own style and what you enjoy, so I can only speak for myself. I certainly find obvious sunlight to be overrated for my own work because subtle light on the most bleak of days can still be used to create great images. Rain is often underrated – perhaps because it’s difficult to work in but it can do fabulous things for colour, light and mood. I think the trick is to find what works for your subject, what compliments the story and what you enjoy. I’m more than content in mist, heavy fog, frost, snow and horizontal blizzards. If I can really ‘feel’ the weather then it’s fun to try and convey that in your imagery.
How do you ensure the colour and light you’re seeing in nature is accurately recreated in your photos?
I see many photographers talking about ‘exposing to the right’ to get the maximum amount of detail from their images which is certainly something that I sometimes do but I often find that many of my images are exposed to the left because that captures the colour and mood of the scene more accurately for my style of image. There are no rules in photography, so you just adapt in response to the conditions, the subject and your own emotion at the time. I don’t have a single black and white image in my portfolio and that’s because I see colour as a huge part of the experience within the landscape and I very much enjoy trying to get colour, light and form in balance.
What advice would you give to others interested in outdoor photography? What tools are important to use in their workflow to capture colour accurately and translate what they see in real life into their photography?
My own approach isn’t for everyone as it requires a lot of patience, perseverance, passion and a degree of stubbornness but it works for me and the circumstances I found myself in. However, based upon my own experiences, I’d encourage others to try all forms of landscape photography and find the subjects and locations that you can truly connect with. Shoot only for yourself, be true to yourself and have integrity in your work. If you capture what you find personally fulfilling then you’ll always find happiness in your work and stories worth telling.
As for my workflow to capture colour, I always try to use the correct white balance in camera to capture the scene as I see it with my own eyes. I also shoot under soft light so that the colour and subtle details of the scene can shine through. The whole process always feels satisfyingly complete once an image is printed and I therefore calibrate my monitor, use custom paper profiles and choose a fine art paper which compliments the tone of the image.
How does it feel to be in the running to win OPOTY?
I am genuinely surprised, nervous and excited. A few years ago I was wandering around my local countryside, always in pain, often unhappy and never knowing if what I was doing photographically was ‘right’. It turns out that what was right for me physically and emotionally was and always will be right for me photographically. To have one of my favourite and very personal local woodland locations recognised in such a big competition is wonderful. If nothing else, I sincerely hope it may inspire others to look a little closer to home or perhaps even encourage other chronic pain sufferers to try outdoor photography to see if it benefits them to the same profound extent that it’s helped me.
My category winning image in Outdoor Photographer of the Year: Valley Stories III