Posts Tagged ‘Photographer’

Nick Smith’s interview with pinhole photographer Nick Livesey in Outdoor Photography magazine

February 10, 2011

Patagonia through a pinhole

Nick Livesey is best known as an Emmy-nominated maker of short films and documentaries. But he’s also a leading exponent of the art of pinhole photography. Nick Smith hears his story…

nick-livesey-by-nicksmithphoto

Nick Livesey looks up at his pinhole camera. Photo: Nick Smith

A Lancastrian, Nick left school at 16 and went to his local art college in Blackburn. At the age of 19 he was accepted by the Royal College of Art and became on of the youngest ever to graduate with an MA. He moved to New York for a year where he started making moving images, as well as embarking on a career with Ridley Scott Associates that represents him to this day.

Although widely known for his short films, commercials and documentaries, Nick is an avid exponent of the pinhole technique. His camera is ‘a bunch of MDF’ that cost him about £40, put together by a ‘garden shed genius.’ On his extended honeymoon he took this camera around Chile, trekking for days off the beaten track. The result was the intriguing and popular ‘Patagonia through a Pinhole’ exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society.

With pinhole photography ‘you’re at the mercy of the elements’ says Nick. And although he’s equally comfortable with digital technology, there’s something about the stripped-down aspect of using basic wooden boxes with film in them that he likes. ‘It’s such a basic communication and fundamental way of composing images.’

Nick Smith: When did you realise you were going to become a photographer?

Nick Livesey: It was more of a quest. I was frustrated and wanted to understand light while I was making films. I was working with Directors of Photography and was really curious as to what they were doing.

NS: What was your first camera?

NL: Nikon FG-20 that I bought at a flea market in New York in 1993. It felt like an investment. It was something like $130. It’s just a great 35mm camera.

NS: What formal training do you have?

NL: I went to the Royal College of Art where I did an MA in graphic design and art direction. I pretty much lived in the dark room when I was there. At the end of the first year they asked me if there was any reason why I wasn’t working in colour. They said ‘why don’t you work in colour in your second year?’ So I did.

NS: How important is it to specialise?

NL: It’s great to specialise to the extent that you can get a handle on the subject. But I do like working in so many different areas. If you specialise too much you can start to wear blinkers.

NS: What is the best assignment you’ve been on?

NL: I did a pinhole piece for a fashion magazine in Moscow. That really freaked out the fashion label. They kept saying ‘we need to see stuff’ and we kind of said ‘well we’ll send you a contact sheet.’

NS: What’s the worst thing about being a professional photographer?

NL: There’s no downside. There are so many plus factors. Maybe it would be nice to not smell of dark room chemicals. So you do have to wash occasionally.

NS: Film or digital? Why?

NL: They complement each other. I’m looking into ways of cutting the front off an Ixus and replacing it with a pinhole. I think it would be interesting to see what you could get with a digital pinhole.

NS: What’s the most important thing you’re learned from another photographer?

NL: Just stand back from it all. Get close to the subject when you’re shooting it, but when you’re arranging a show, learn to stand back from it all. Try to look at everything in its entirety.

NS: What does photography mean to you?

NL: I feel like a conduit. I love taking photographs, but the only point of that is if people want to see them. I’ve always been hungry for creating images. I also love the quiet world of the dark room.

NS: What makes a great travel photograph?

NL: It’s all about the reaction of the person viewing it. If you can see someone’s reaction to your photo in a detached way – say at a show – then you’ll know what they really think.

In Nick’s gadget bag

Cameras: Wooden pinhole camera, Canon 7D, Arri 435 (movie camera), Red and Sony (digital movie cameras)

To see more of Nick Livesey’s photography visit www.nicklivesey.com

 

 

 

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Nick Smith’s interview with Georgina Cranston in April 2010 Outdoor Photography magazine

March 23, 2010

Out of Africa

From gritty reportage on social issues to highly original travel photography, Georgina Cranston has a stunning and diverse portfolio. Nick Smith hears her story…

Women displaced by post election violence in Kenya, including one who fled a torched church where at least 18 people died. Photo: Georgina Cranston

British Photographer Georgina Cranston began her career in 2000, focusing on documentary photography of humanitarian issues. For the past decade she’s travelled the world on assignments for NGOs such as UNICEF and broadsheet newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph and the Times.

Working on a diverse range of subjects including slavery, leprosy and communities living in exile, Georgina has a personal interest in women’s issues. Recently working in the Congo’s gold mines she focused on the extreme conditions faced by women working as ‘human mules’ deep inside the disused mines, carrying up to 60kg of rocks on their backs, at times when eight months pregnant.

Georgina became a professional photographer as soon as she graduated from university and has worked in the industry ever since. She is currently based in London having lived in East Africa for the past three years, working across the continent.

Nick Smith: When did you realise you were going to become a photographer?

Georgina Cranston: I always had a camera with me when I was younger. After university I had this idea I wanted to work in the charity sector, but I ended up a photographer working in social issues. As I started getting more jobs and I thought maybe I could make a living at this.

NS: What was your first camera?

GC: Other than a point and shoot? It was a Minolta Dynax 500Si 35mm SLR. The first one I got the hang of was a Nikon F100. I took it with me on my first job, and every time something flashed I had to dive behind the sofa to read the manual.

NS: What formal training do you have?

GC: I’ve got a degree in psychology, but as for photography I’m self-taught. I learned on the job and also did assisting to get an insight into different types of photography.

NS: How important is it to specialise?

GC: I do think it’s important, but in order to survive in the industry as it is at the moment you need other strings to your bow to earn a living. But I am going to specialise in women’s social issues.

NS: What is the best assignment you have been and so far?

GC: I went with a newspaper to see the gorillas in the Virunga National Park in the Congo – tourists don’t get to go to the Congo at the moment, so to see the gorillas there was pretty special. The millennium celebrations in Ethiopia was special too – it was bizarre to celebrate a second millennium in my lifetime.

NS: What’s the worst thing about being a professional photographer?

GC: The thing I probably struggle most with is spending a lot of time on my own – airports, computer and so on. I don’t think that’s healthy. Having a balance is probably the essence – if you’re always doing assignment photography you’re always on the move.

NS: Film or digital? Why?

GC: I use digital and it helps in the work I do – transmitting images to newspapers from overseas. Logistically it makes life easier. When I taught photography in Kenya I used film. I miss the way of working with film, not knowing what’s in the camera at the end of the day.

NS: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from another photographer?

GC: A friend of mine once encouraged me to show my work to him. It took me a while to pluck up the courage, but once I’d done this I realised how beneficial it was. It makes you look at your work in different ways.

NS: What does photography mean to you?

GC: I’ve always been fascinated with people and cultures and photography has been a great way to learn about them. Maybe that’s why I did psychology at university. An important thing for me is to capture emotions or the essence of where you are. But it’s also about transmitting these things and evoking emotion in the person who’s looking at it.

NS: What makes great travel photograph?

GC: The thing that I think that makes a good travel photograph is the energy of people or places – peaceful, highly excited, whatever. The great ones are the ones that give me that feeling.

Georgina’s golden rules

1) photograph what you’re fascinated in

2) establish relationship with subject

3) shoot RAW files

4) research your subject

5) don’t be afraid to have fun

Georgina’s kit

Cameras: Nikon D3, Nikon D700

Lenses: 17-35mm f/2.8, 28-70mm f/2.8, 80-200mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.8

Check out Georgina’s work at www.georginacranston.com

Nick Smith’s interview with wildlife photographer Henry MacHale in Outdoor Photography magazine

February 24, 2010

Beating about the bush

Most people dream about giving up their day job to become a wildlife photographer. But Henry MacHale went one step further and turned the dream into reality. Nick Smith hears his story…

Adventure and wildlife photographer Henry MacHale. Portrait: Nick Smith

Adventure and wildlife photographer Henry MacHale. Portrait: Nick Smith

Henry MacHale read business studies at Edinburgh University, but in his holidays he spent much of his time in east Africa. In Kenya he took the first steps from being a burgeoning amateur to entering the world of the professional. Over the past decade he’s lived there, worked as a guide, managed a game reserve and got to know his way around the bush. ‘I can speak the bit of the language and so I just get in my Land Rover and go.’

After college Henry worked in a well-known financial institution in the City, but after a year it was clear that it wasn’t working out for him. He wasn’t enjoying his job and the call of Kenya’s wide-open spaces was too strong. And so at the age of 25 he turned his back on a lucrative career and a jet-set lifestyle and set off with just one camera and two lenses.

Success came quickly for Henry, who within a year had his first exhibition of his evocative black and whites in London. Called ‘Images of East Africa’, Henry’s work can also be seen online.

Nick Smith: When did you realise you were going to become a photographer?

Henry MacHale: I’ve been taking photos seriously since I was about 16, but the moment I realised I wanted to become a professional was about a month before I left my job. I thought: I’ve got an eye for photography. I love Africa. That’s it. I’m going.

NS: What was your first camera?

HM: A Nikon F65 film SLR. Quite basic, but I liked the control and the way you could take real photos with it.

NS: What formal training do you have?

HM: I went to London School of Art for four months where I did a crash course on the marketing side of photography. This was hugely helpful, not so much form the creative side of things, but from the business angle.

NS: How important is it to specialise?

HM: It’s important to me. I’ve always been interested in Africa. I’ve got a huge competitive advantage out there because I’ve spent so much time in the bush and know my way around.

NS: What is the best assignment you’ve been on?

HM: Gorillas in Rwanda. I think I enjoyed it so much because I’ve only done that once, and there was a novelty factor in that it was a very different kind of photography from what I’m used to.

NS: What’s the worst thing about being a professional photographer?

HM: I’m away seven months of the year and my friends are in London. So I’m saying ‘no’ to weddings and parties. But you can’t have it both ways. Also you tend to worry about where the next pay cheque is coming from.

NS: Film or digital? Why?

HM: Digital. It’s cheaper. You save all that money on processing. I suppose the equipment is more expensive, but you’ve got that ability to edit in the field.

NS: Which photographers have had the most influence on your work?

HM: One of the photographers I most admire is Sebastião Salgado. His work isn’t wild or wacky or crazy, but it’s beautiful and simple. He’s done quite a lot in Africa and so that links in a bit. Peter Beard shot exactly the same areas that I photograph now, and so I’ve always been interested in his work. Nick Brandt’s stuff is really cool too.

NS: What does photography mean to you?

HM: In twenty years time Africa will be a different place – some of the people and wildlife will simply not be there in the same way. It’s important to try to capture this moment in a skilful and beautiful way. It’s impossible to capture an African landscape as you see it sitting on a hill. But I want to get as close as possible to that.

NS: What makes a great outdoor photograph?

HM: Everyone knows what a wildebeest or a Maasai looks like, and so what you’ve got to try to do is make the familiar look beautiful, perhaps with the light, or the dust or the way they’re standing.

Henry’s 5 golden rules

1 You can shoot a 1000 shots but don’t

2 Be patient and willing to sit there for five hours

3 Be prepared to throw yourself into it

4 Spend a long time on location just looking

5 The unusual is not always a good photo

Henry’s gear

Camera: Canon 1DS MkIII

Lenses: Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS, 24-104mm f/4 IS

Check out Henry’s website: www.henrymachalephotography.co.uk

Nick Smith’s ’10 Questions’ with adventure travel photographer Aldo Pavan as published in Outdoor Photography magazine February 2010 edition

January 22, 2010

10 Questions – Aldo Pavan

With his experimental style and background in philosophy, Aldo Pavan is the ‘thinking man’s’ outdoor photographer. Nick Smith hears his story…

Aldo Pavan is a journalist and freelance photographer specializing in travel reportage. He’s been on hundreds of assignments in five continents, publishing books and working with magazines. He has taught photo-reportage in Milan and is dedicated to photographic experimentation, crossing over into the role of artist.

Born in 1954 in Treviso, Aldo has been a painter since he was young, becoming interested in aesthetics and experimenting in the dark room. After graduating in philosophy, he began writing for the local newspaper Tribuna di Treviso. Since then he’s worked on countless magazine and book projects.

In 2003 he began working on a series of hugely popular photographic books about the rivers of the world. The Ganges, The Nile and The Yellow River are published by Thames and Hudson, with The Mekong and The Danube, lined up for the near future. Another project he is preparing is entitled The Routes of Man, a series of books dedicated to the great trade routes of the world.

Nick Smith: When did you realise you were going to become a photographer?

Aldo Pavan: I have always been interested in visual media. I used to paint and draw a lot. My parents had many cameras and I started taking pictures for fun. After my university degree, I began writing for a local newspaper and using my photographs to illustrate my words.

NS: What was your first camera?

AP: With the money I got from my first job I bought a Canon FT 35mm film SLR. I remember that the first reportage I did was about a gypsy camp, but it has never been published because it was too strong. After that I photographed and interviewed a doctor who carried out abortion, which was illegal at that time in Italy. It was a small scoop.

NS: What formal training do you have?

AP: I have a degree in philosophy and I am self-taught in photography. I never took a specific course about it. I studied aesthetics, attending semiotics courses by Umberto Eco at the University of Bologna. I think that to be a good photographer you need to study a lot, as well as working on the field. Studying Roland Barthes is not wasted time.

NS: How important is it to specialise?

AP: I should say that it is very important, but I never did. I had to adapt to what my clients were asking for and sometimes keep my passions quiet to make them happy.

NS: What is the best assignment you have been and so far?

AP: I am doing a series of books about the big rivers of the world. It’s a huge work, first at home and then on the field. To photograph each river I needed from 5 to 8 trips, at least two weeks long. And after shooting I spend two months writing and laying out the book.

NS: What’s the worst thing about being a professional photographer?

AP: I’d like to answer ‘nothing’. It’s a big game for adults… it’s fun. How can we compare this to some really hard jobs, such as miners, surgeons, judges. I spend too much time away from my family.

NS: Film or digital? Why?

AP: Digital, of course. We don’t use horse carriages to go from Venice to London any more because there are faster, better, more modern means available. There is no competition between film and digital. Digital has endless benefits that give more space to creativity.

NS: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from another photographer?

AP: I spent hours studying the forms of Chagall, the colours of Matisse and the portraits of Francis Bacon. I love the shadows of Caravaggio, Titian’s reds and the backdrops of Giorgione. Photography has taken the place of the paintings that illustrated the history of man.

NS: What does photography mean to you?

AP: Photography is a language that works along with traditional media like text and words to form the human being and the society we live in. Working with it is a great privilege.

NS: What makes great travel photograph?

AP: Walking and walking. Good photographs do not come out alone, you have to look for them, chase them. You can get there with patience and research, plus a lot of obstinacy.

Aldo’s Golden Rules

1) Avoid cliché and break aesthetic rules

2) Always look for new ideas while you are shooting

3) Don’t be satisfied – you can always do better

4) Establish good relationships with your subjects

5) Don’t ask your subject to pose – look for a spontaneity

Aldo’s Kit

Cameras: Nikon D300 and Nikon D700

Lenses: 12-24mm, 24-120mm, 35-70mm, 35mm f2.8, zoom 70-200mm, 300mm

Flash: Nikon SB800

Tripod: Manfrotto

Notebook and pen

Check out Aldo Pavan’s work at  www.aldopavan.it

Nick Smith interviews BBC wildlife photographer Doug Allan in Outdoor Photography magazine

December 1, 2009

Into the cold, wet world

BBC wildlife cameraman Doug Allan spends his life in remote, freezing places, quite often underwater. All in the pursuit of that magical image. Nick Smith hears his story…

Doug Allan is a freelance wildlife and documentary photographer and cameraman working underwater, on land and especially on the polar ice. Born in Scotland, he graduated with a degree in marine biology from Stirling University in 1973. This was to propel him into a career in field science that gradually transformed into one of wildlife photography. Today he is one of the leading wildlife photographers of his generation with a feast of credits including the BBC’s  ‘Blue Planet’ and ‘Planet Earth’.

Doug was working as a diver on an Antarctic research station when he met David Attenborough in 1981 while the BBC was filming polar sequences for ‘The Living Planet’. For Doug that was the ‘decisive moment’, as it dawned on him that the cameramen he was watching weren’t doing anything physically that he couldn’t. With his specialist knowledge and prodigious abilities as a diver, all he had to do was ‘work on my photographic skills’. And so a career-long relationship with the legendary presenter was launched.

Much of Doug’s wildlife photography involves physically overcoming the environmental harshness of some of the world’s wildest places and then waiting for his subject’s behaviour to reveal itself. ‘I do like working in really wild situations’ he says. The advent of digital has improved his life no end – he can spend more time underwater without having to surface to reload film. As for processing, he remembers Kodachrome film taking a year to get from Antarctica to a UK lab and back.

Doug has won the underwater category in Wildlife Photographer of the Year twice as well as the Royal Geographical Society’s Cherry Kearton Photography Medal. He has also won Emmy and BAFTA awards for his moving images.

Nick Smith: When did you realise you were going to become a wildlife photographer?

Doug Allan: When I first went to the Antarctic in 1976 I was thrown into an overwintering environment with only about 15 other people on base. Most were photographers and some had a very good eye. With the penguin colonies and the seals on my doorstep a serious interest was kindled.

NS: What was your first camera?

DA: A Petriflex given to me by Dad in 1971. It was a very simple SLR. I don’t think I had a wide- angle lens, just a standard 50mm. For underwater photography it was the old faithful Nikonos II – it was the most advanced then, but no electronics at all.

NS: What formal training do you have?

DA: I didn’t have any. I feel almost more in need of formal training now with digital than I did back in the days when we used to do our own processing. Now there is so much you can do in post processing, and you have to be careful if you want your digital files to be around in 30 years time.

NS: How important is it to specialise?

DA: I’m a specialist in wildlife and wild places with an even narrower niche of cold weather environments both underwater and topside. I don’t shoot weddings. Well, I shot a wedding once as a favour and it was the most traumatic thing I’ve ever done in my life.

NS: What is the best assignment you’ve been on?

DA: It’s hard to pick one or two. What I’m interested in is ‘difficult-to-get-behaviour’ from genuinely wild animals. That’s where I get the buzz – being in the wild and seeing things happening for real. What turns me on is being in the company of big mammals. You can’t hide from a polar bear – he hears and sees as well as you do, and yet his sense of smell is better than a bloodhound. In those situations your body language, behaviour and even what you’re thinking are ultra important. It’s like you have to talk to your subject in a non verbal way.

NS: What’s the worst thing about being a professional photographer?

DA: It can be frustrating if you’ve put a lot a lot of effort into a shoot and you feel it’s not been given the best chance on screen because the editing or production is sloppy or misses the point. But, mostly I’ve had the chance to work with high class production teams.

NS: Film or digital? Why?

DA: Digital encourages experimentation and as a stills photographer the field is absolutely wide open to interpret whatever you see in whatever way you can imagine. Shooting with film teaches you  the basics very well, with each press of the shutter having an associated cost. There was no alternative when I started. Digital frees you up creatively and the sky’s the limit.

NS: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from another photographer?

DA: I just went the classic route – the base I was on in the Antarctic subscribed to National Geographic. We’d look at the pictures and admire them. I’ve always preferred the wide-angle from up close rather than the telephoto. I liked Ernst Haas with his long exposures to experiment with blurring movement. We used to try that on base and quickly realised it was much harder than it looked. Also the early Jacques Cousteau and Hans Hass books influenced me a lot – the idea of exploring the undersea world with a camera.

NS: What does photography mean to you?

DA: I realised after 10 years in Antarctica that photographing and filming animals encapsulated so much of what I enjoyed doing. Travel, adventure, being part of a team, doing something you think is worthwhile – all those things come together in what I do.

NS: What makes a great wildlife photograph?

DA: You have to take yourself to exciting landscapes or put yourself in front of inspiring animals. Unless you’re really interested in your subject you’re not going to catch that special magic.

Doug’s 5 golden rules

1 Look around and find out what impresses you

2 Ask yourself what your shot is trying to convey

3 Stand on the shoulders of the great photographers

4 Get out into inspiring landscapes

5 Underwater, remember: the closer the better

Doug’s gear (stills)

Canon EOS 1Ds-Mk II,

Lenses: 14mm f/2.8, 17-35mm f/2.8, 24-105mm IS f/4, 100-400mm IS, 600mm IS f/4

Seacam housings

http://www.dougallan.com

 

Nick Smith interviews extreme photographer Gordon Wiltsie in Outdoor Photography magazine

October 15, 2009

The Call of the Wild

Dangling off a craggy cliff face in the name of work is not a daunting prospect for adventure photographer Gordon Wiltsie. Nick Smith hears his story…

After more than three decades as a professional photographer, Gordon Wiltsie is known as one of the best adventure and expedition photographers out there. Brought up among the wide-open spaces he started off as a keen mountaineer studying chemistry, before a chance meeting with Galen Rowell lead him to his true vocation. He quickly switched his academic interest to the creative fields, but before long realised that he simply wanted to be in the mountains with his camera.

After a ‘long hold-out to film’ Gordon switched to digital two years ago and says he’ll never go back. But it’s not as though he’s a newcomer to digital because he’s been scanning his old transparencies for a decade now, in order to supply them to magazines, and to build up his photographic library – Alpenimage – a famous resource for art directors on the lookout for unusual adventure images.

Gordon has ‘done a lot of work for National Geographic and Geo’ as well as broader cultural photography, and has recently won the 2008 Lowell Thomas Award for best Magazine Travel Photography for his piece in National Geographic Adventure on Russian reindeer nomads called ‘Vanishing Breed’. He has contributed to many books, and his most recent is To the Ends of the Earth: Adventures of an Expedition Photographer.

Nick Smith: When did you realise you were going to become a photographer?

Gordon Wiltsie: When I was 17 I met a guy called Galen Rowell. He wasn’t even a famous photographer at that time, but he’d had stuff printed in various magazines, and I thought: ‘wow, if this guy can do it then so can I…’ To make that kind of assumption was a bit ridiculous.

NS: What was your first camera?

GW: I got a Brownie when I was 8 and I had some ancient Kodak bellows camera from the 1920s. But finally my parents bought me a Pentax Spotmatic and I’d say that was my first real camera which I had until I accidentally backed my car over it.

NS: What formal training do you have?

GW: I started off as a political science major and then I became a chemistry major and then I wanted to go to Nepal, which was a life dream. So I changed my major to creative writing and photography. But I’d say I’m largely self-taught.

NS: How important is it to specialise?

GW: It’s important to be known for something. For a long time I was known for ski, mountain and adventure photography. Going to really wild places that no one had ever really been before was my niche. If it was cold, miserable and dangerous, editors would send me.

NS: What is the best assignment you’ve been on?

GW: There are two actually. My assignment to Queen Maud Land in Antarctica was probably the best adventure because it worked so well for me as an expedition leader as well as photographer – it was my first cover story for National Geographic. The other one was a story I did of a migration in Mongolia. It was an unbelievable human story experience.

NS: What’s the worst thing about being a professional photographer?

GW: Uncertainty. Because I’m freelance my employer is me. Also, with the advent of digital photography and easy-to-use cameras the supply of photography outstrips the demand and as a result quality falls off as some magazines realise they don’t have to pay so much for photographs.

NS: Film or digital? Why?

GW: I used to always shoot film because I thought that it gave a better image in the long run. I do a lot of lecturing and I thought slide shows using real film looked better than digital. Bt the latitude you can get out of digital compared with film is astonishing.

NS: What’s the most important thing you’re learned from another photographer?

GW: I went on to assist Galen Rowell and he became a bit of a mentor. I learned a lot from him, but the most important thing was always ‘be ready with your camera set to go’. Other photographers who really inspire me are Steve McCurry, Reza, Bill Allard. They’re all trying to capture a moment in time with their own different way of seeing things.

NS: What does photography mean to you?

GW: For me it is a means of communicating a human relationship with a natural world that is beyond description in words. People sometimes call me a landscape photographer, but I’m not. I’m a people photographer.

NS: What makes a great travel photograph?

GW: Two things here: one is a travel story where there are ten different pictures that add up to something. But a single great photo needs a human element, it has to make you want to me there – or not want to be there – and it has to have some emotional component to it.

Gordon’s FIVE golden rules

1 Use the simplest lightest gear

2 Be prepared and ready for action

3 Simplify things – home in on what is important

4 Patience is important – wait for the shot

5 Build trust rust is important in cultural photography

Gordon’s gear:

Cameras: Nikon FM-2, Nikon D200

Lenses: Nikkor 12-24mm f/4, 35-70mm f/2.8, 80-200mm f/2.8, 400mm

Accessories: remote switch, monopod, polarising filter, split ND filter, flash

***

To the Ends of the Earth: Adventures of an Expedition Photographer by Gordon Wiltsie is available on Amazon

Nick Smith interviews polar photographer Martin Hartley in Outdoor Photography magazine

June 19, 2009

Following in the footsteps of his heroes Frank Hurley and Herbert Ponting, Martin Hartley literally walks to the ends of the world in search of the perfect photograph…

Put simply, Martin Hartley is one of the leading expedition photographers of today. His extraordinary images are drawn from the Polar Regions, deserts, mountains and other remote corners of the world. He is fascinated by landscapes and the people who live in them.

As an expedition photographer he often ends up covering more ground than the actual explorers. ‘I hate the phrase Yorkshire terrier’, he says ‘because I’m from Lancashire. But I do end up doing a lot of running around.’ He ruefully admits that because of his job he ends up having ‘more cold dinners than most people.’

Inspired by the great explorers of the Golden Age of Scott and Shackleton, Martin has been on plenty of tough expeditions. And yet he refuses to call himself an explorer: ‘Too many people use the word when they’re little more than adventure tourists.’ He prefers the word ‘photographer’.

Martin’s work has recently featured in Land Rover’s ‘Spirit of Adventure’ Exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society and ‘Face to Face’ at the Scott Polar Research Institute. This exhibition of polar portraits – which is the subject of a forthcoming book of the same name – also includes historical expedition hardware, including Martin’s battered, gaffer tape covered Mamiya 645 Pro-TL. He also has a permanent exhibition on display at the Royal Geographical Society.

When did you realise you were going to become a photographer?

When I realised I wasn’t going to get four straight ‘A’ grades at A-level, and when I came runner-up in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 1993.

What was your first camera?

It was one I coveted for quite a while. It was my Dad’s old Pentax ME Super. The thing I liked about it was that it had two little buttons to change the shutter speed, which I thought was pretty tasty. He gave me that when I was about 17, and it was probably my first serious camera. Somebody at my college nicked it, so I didn’t even have a camera when I left college.

What formal training do you have?

I did a National Diploma at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design. At the time it was the best photography course in Europe. I didn’t learn much about photography, but I did have a great time being among other photographers. The freedom of the course was the most important element. You were allowed to do anything you wanted to do. You could really experiment.

How important is it to specialise?

Unless you’re extremely good at one particular thing you can’t afford to specialise because you won’t get the work. I’m an expedition photographer, but last Saturday I photographed an 85th birthday party and I had a great time. It was a great brief and I was able to roam free and take photos of anything I liked. And I got paid the day after. The days of the specialist are over. If I were an athlete I wouldn’t be doing the 100 metres… I’d be a pentathlete.

What is the best assignment you’ve been on?

I’ve done a couple of jobs for National Geographic. Doors swing open and opportunities arise because you’re working for these people. But there is a lot of pressure to come up with the goods all the time. I did Brazil and Yemen for them. The beauty of those jobs is you’re working for a prestige magazine, you know you’re going to get paid, and you go to very interesting places.

What’s the worst thing about being a professional photographer?

I find it quite hard to understand why certain magazines employ you, print your pictures and then refuse to pay you. There’s one in particular that does this and then even hides your credit in the gutter. That to me is a magazine that does not respect the value of photography or photographers.

Film or digital? Why?

They’re different. You can’t compare red wine with white wine and you can’t compare an oil painting with a watercolour. Digital is another tool in the toolbox. If Herbert Ponting or Frank Hurley were alive today, they’d be shooting digital and probably film too, because they would want to achieve what the client wanted. Ponting and Hurley were way ahead of their time.

What’s the most important thing you’re learned from another photographer?

It was from a book by Galen Rowell called ‘Galen Rowell’s inner game of outdoor photography’, where he talks about pre-visualisation, which is thinking about the shot before you take it. On the basis of that I always gather a shot list in my head before going on an expedition.

What does photography mean to you?

The camera is a better passport than a passport. You can use your camera to get into places that no one else can. I love the expedition photography best. I know a lot of photographers that earn a lot more money than me, but I have the best job in the world.

What makes a great travel photograph?

A great travel photograph is one that makes you want to be a travel photographer.

Martin’s 5 golden rules

1 Make sure you have a shot list

2 Shoot RAW. Don’t mess about with jpegs

3 Use proper gear – cheap stuff falls apart

4 It’s okay to shoot weddings and parties

5 Photograph what the client wants

Martin’s machinery

Nikon D3, Mamiya 645 Pro TL, Fuji Provia 100 F220, Fuji flash cards, Gitzo tripod