Brian is a noted local, landscape photographer. He has had many photographs printed in national and local press, including magazines such as Dorset and Hampshire Life. In 2019 he won the National Trust Landscape Photography competition and his winning photo appeared on every National trust membership card (more than 5 million of them!) Brian travels across Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire to take some extraordinarily beautiful images which we occasionally share in our social media. Rachel Parsons, founder of NFE, interviewed him on the phone, during the Coronavirus lockdown.
Brian, can we start at the start. How did you get into photography?
I initially started aged 17. I was inspired by my best friend who was really into his photography. He had an SLR (nothing was digital back then). I found it very intriguing and bought one too. I guess it took me around a year to learn how to use it properly, learning many techniques from the magazines on sale. Back then cameras were almost completely manual, but looking back that was a good thing as you had to learn what each setting did and how it would change the outcome of the photograph.
But after a while, life took over. I got married and then got a mortgage, we hit a massive recession a few years later and my work as a self employed ceramic Tiler really struggled. Photography was and still is a very expensive hobby and I had no choice but to hang up the camera for a few years.
I guess I felt I would always go back to photography again at some point. After many years away from it and the seeing the introduction of some very sophisticated digital cameras, I felt it was time to go and do something creative again.
What inspires you?
I love the whole process. Landscapes photographs are a brief moment locked in time. I work hard to show how stunning the world can look. I research for days beforehand, looking at the weather, satellite views, tide times etc… everything. Even with all that work nothing can be guaranteed, but every now and then you get rewarded. The sunrise is my favourite time of the day. To actually witness that daily and very private part of nature revealing itself is magical. For me, there is nothing more inspirational than that. If I get a shot from it that is just a bonus.
This week (end March 2020) we have started Coronavirus lockdown, It’s been so hard not being able to get out with the camera. This morning I got up super early and sat in the garden looking for bird shots. It was freezing cold so I wrapped up in a blanket. It was so beautiful and I love to sit and listen to the dawn chorus I find it opens my mind and senses.
What is on your bucket list (camera-related please)…
Hard question! I’ve got so many.
First place to visit is Iceland. It’s one of those iconic destinations for landscape photographers. Iceland is best known for its otherworldly beauty, extreme weather contrasts and geological features that are quite unique.
I also want to travel the UK more in a photographic way. I have visited many place whilst on holiday and I do take the camera along with me. However holidays are family time to spend with my wife and 8 year old son, so I try and limit it a bit. I had planned Dartmoor, North Devon this year but due to the Covid 19 virus many plans are now on hold.
Who is your favourite photographer?
I think the person who has inspired me the most since I re-started is a photographer called Mark Bauer. His work really caught my eye and I have continued buying his books ever since. I have met him a few times now, he is a really nice guy and knows Dorset like the back of his hand. He has a particular skill to catch soft light and his compositions are beautiful.
What limits do you have to work around?
Landscape photography is different in many way to other types of photography. Quite often I will be facing the camera towards the sun or a very bright sky. There will be a massive amount of contrast between the light and dark in the photo. It’s very important to expose the photograph correctly so that I can retrieve the colours from it later. If you over or under expose an area in the frame too much, you will loose all the information from the pixels. Once a pixel has become clipped white or black you can no longer retrieve any colour from it.
In these high contrast conditions the human eye is so sophisticated, it can see a colourful sky and the detail of the land and combine the two in an instant, your brain knows what it is supposed to look like and can produce an instant image for you.
A camera doesn’t see what your eyes see, It just see light. If you point it to the sky, the colour of the sky will look great but the land will become a silhouette, point it to the ground and the sky will be almost white. To overcome this I often use neutral density grad filters which act a bit like a pair of sunglasses over the bright part of the image. I also take all my images in RAW and then process myself in Adobe Lightroom later. The skill here is making sure you have exposed the shot correctly in the first place, or you won’t have data to process later.
I try and process a shot as naturally as I can remember it. If you try to make it look something that it’s not, then it won’t look right. For me, it’s not about making it look more colourful or dramatic. I just want to make the image look real.
In digital photography there is no such thing as an image ‘straight out of the camera’. Every single image that you take on a digital camera is taken as data, a RAW file and then converted to a JPEG using the manufactures processing algorithm. In landscape photography the algorithm simply doesn’t work very well because the high contrast differences in the shot.
The other thing you must always have in any shot is composition. It is absolutely the most important element of any photograph. You can have all the skills possible around a camera but if a shot has bad composition then it will almost always be uninteresting for others to look at. Like all photographers I don’t get it right every time and I am very hard on myself when I get it wrong, but once that moment has gone, it’s gone…
What do you love about the New Forest?
It changes so much. The National Park is unique. In particular I love the heathers there which are amazing. It’s the best place I’ve ever known for heathland pictures. At the right time of year you get the mist rising above the heather and through the tree’s it is quite breath taking to see. The sunrises there are unbelievable. The birdsong for the dawn chorus is just magical. It’s a vast area and I am always finding new places to explore. Sometimes you can find a new pond that has appeared in the winter that has completely dried up by the summer. I find using Google Earth is a good way to look for unusual features from above, Its a bit of a lottery but sometimes you can find a real gem.
The picture of the mossy tree. I particularly love that. Tell us about that picture.
Woodlands are one of the hardest things to photograph. It’s trying to find something organised in the mayhem. There is always so much to look at. So many angles, colours, view points. When I came across the mossy tree I took several shots straight away from various angles. My thoughts were I had to work fast, as the light was critical, after I tried to relax a bit taking in as much information as I could about the scene. All the time trying to improve on my previous attempts but knowing if conditions change I had hopefully managed to capture something of worth. Quite often though you know straight away when you nail a shot.
Thank you Brian. Fantastic. I have a much broader sense of the work that goes into your work now. Thank you for sharing your work with our social media followers and we look forward to working with you in the future.