As this article is sponsored by Sigma, you might be thinking “Can I trust this guy’s opinion?” Well, it is easy for me to say “yes, you can” but, honestly, I really mean “yes, you can.” Anyone who knows me knows that I hate lying. If a particular item of equipment is exceptional, I have no trouble endorsing it. If It is not, I’ll say so. I have used Sigma lenses that have ticked both boxes but, thankfully, 95% of Sigma’s output is extremely good, with some of them (the ones I use), simply being exceptional and the best in their class.
I was introduced early to photography; my grandfather gave me a Kodak Box Brownie when I was four or five. Through my younger years and then into my teens I loved taking photographs. Not because I had any great desire to become a professional; my passion was driven purely to capture personal moments. You see, great photography is all about emotions for me. It is not how a photograph is taken that is most important, It is where the photograph takes you. I think the best photographs have an intricate vocabulary of their own – what they capture and relate to is a powerful feeling. It is futile to try to verbalise about the emotions in an image because, if It is not in the picture, It is not worth talking about. A great photo is great because the emotions are visible and the viewer is able to connect with them.
It became apparent through my schooling that I had a natural gift for the arts; my paintings and drawings at school not only brought me good qualifications, they also brought me awards from winning competitions. As I approached my 18th birthday, art school beckoned. However, I decided not to go to art school and I ended up working in a musical instrument retail store instead – I also play piano and guitar.
So, was photography shelved? Of course not. I still shot away; mainly music related stuff. However, all that quickly changed.
In May 1989 my father was killed in a road traffic accident. The experience changed my perspective on life completely. It made me realise what is truly important. It was a very difficult period for me but, in time, I learned to overcome my grief and to accept that death is part of life. And so, after much soul searching I decided to give up my career in music and return to photography – and landscape photography, in particular, became my great release. For me, the space outside filled the space inside. The way out, was the way in.
So, how hard was it to turn professional? Well, I can safely say it would surprise most people how difficult being a professional photographer actually is. Although I love landscape photography, you will never pay the mortgage by photographing landscapes.
I shoot landscapes, amongst many other genres and, let me tell you, it is the other genres that make the money. Don’t get me wrong, my landscape work has had accolades. I have had images featured by Saatchi Art, curated by Jamie Lee Curtis – and It is all very nice. But, what makes it art? Well, I don’t have an answer. I just take photos to please me, primarily. If someone likes it, then that’s grand, but I would never classify myself as a fine art photographer. In actual fact, I have a little chuckle when people refer to themselves as a fine art landscape photographer. They obviously use the term to try and differentiate themselves from the millions of other landscape shooters out there. The problem is, anyone can roll up at Elgol, in the Scottish Highlands, step out of the car and take a picture-perfect-postcard of the scene. The challenge is how do you make your image different? How do you develop a unique signature? How do you impose yourself, as an artist, on the subject at hand? Unfortunately, I don’t have a quick-fix answer.
It is great that digital has democratised photography and many creative people have an easier and cheaper point of entry. However, like all things that become easier to attain, things get over saturated, so quality becomes harder to find.
I meet many aspiring photographers during photo show presentations for companies I represent. Unfortunately, most of them ask “What camera did you use to take that?” or they ask about the settings I used to capture a particular picture, or what lens I used, or what software I processed it in. My heart always sinks a little at this, as they are so caught up in talking ‘tech’, that they forget what real photography is primarily all about. Being creative and hopefully achieving a strong connection to subject. This constant focus on tech baffles me.
Have I mentioned that I hate social media? Always have and always will. I couldn’t care less about how many followers either I, or someone else has on Facebook or Instagram. Followers do not measure how respected our art is. All they measures for is how adept we are at pimping ourselves via social media.
I grew up being inspired by photographers such as David Bailey, Ansel Adams, Jeanloup Sieff, Albert Watson, Arnold Newman, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and Aubrey Powell, so I always aspired to achieve the best through traditional mediums. Social media is so topsy-turvy in comparison. For example; I recently met a guy who was presenting on how you should use Instagram to gain business as a photographer. I thought I should have a quick look at his stream and, for me, his photography was the most mundane. However, I did notice though that loads of big corporate companies had lots of product placement in every post. And, there folks, is the rub; the posts weren’t about photography. Both he, and the posts, were just another vehicle to sell product.
Another aspect of social media that confounded me at first, was how many photographers there were online. I was looking through some pages on Google Plus recently and I noticed that everybody seemed to be a pro photographer. Indeed, after reading more than twenty profiles I began to think that everybody is a photographer nowadays. On further investigation, I ascertained that most of these 'photographers' were actually doctors, lawyers, accountants, anything but photographers. It was obvious that photography was their hobby – and not their profession.
I was talking to a UK established landscape photographer last week, Colin Prior, about where professional photography is headed and the conversation threw up some interesting points. If you have Amazon Prime, you can tune into the new photography TV series I’m presenting, called Gone Shootin. The show tries to focus on real photography, as we like to call it. In addition to Colin, I’ll be interviewing the likes of Albert Watson, Michael Adams (son of Ansel), and many more interesting photographers.
To sum up; there should be a few of my landscape images accompanying this feature. If you like them, then thanks. If you don’t, then that’s cool too. It would be a funny old world if we all liked the same thing.