Adam Burton Photography

Interview for Landscape Wizards website

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I was contacted by the Indian landscape photography website 'Landscape Wizards' and asked to feature as one of their Guests of Honour.  The questions below were put to me by the Landscape Wizards team; I hope you find my answers useful.  I often get requests for information from students who are studying my work for their photography project.  If you would like to quote any text from this interview for project work please go ahead.

What draws Adam to Landscape Photography, given the various other forms of Nature Photography?

I have always been inspired by being outside in the countryside and photography gives me the perfect excuse to venture out as often as I want!  I first got into photography while travelling abroad and visiting many breathtaking natural locations.  I really wanted to be able to share some of these moments with friends and family back home, and photography became my way of doing so.  I still love to share my pictures with people, although I can't say whether they are quite as enthusiastic about viewing them as me!

I find grand views bathed in magical lighting much more inspiring than the smaller more intimate landscapes such as those found in close-up photography.  I think its probably about the experience of being outside and capturing the picture as much as the end photograph. 

You have done a lot of work in Great Britain, any particular place and image which you would call your favorite location?

Britain is a wonderful destination for landscape photography.  In a heavily populated island it often surprises me just how much countryside there is in Britain.  But as well as countryside there are plenty of National Parks offering freedom to roam in spectacular natural surroundings, from forests and mountains to waterways and moorland.  Not to mention coast; Britain has some of the finest coastline to be found anywhere in the world.  With so much to offer it would be difficult to name just one favourite location so I will offer two.  For a coastal location, my favourite area would definitely be the southwest peninsula which includes Cornwall and Devon. And for landscape, it would be difficult to find a more photogenic location than the Lake District National Park in the north of England.

You have authored 5 books all on British Landscapes, any plans on publishing similar coffee table books from your travels to outside your country?

My books have all been targeted mainly for the British market; this is the area my publisher specialises in.  I would love to work on new book projects dedicated to images of my travels, but I think this would have to be with an international publisher.  So hopefully, it is something for the future.  If any publishers are reading this, please do contact me!

Most of the conventional Landscape images are made from an elevated position showing a wide expanse or at Sunrise and sunset times. How do you think we can break this monotony and still make beautiful and interesting Landscape images?

That's a difficult question to answer and something I was discussing recently with my friend and fellow landscape photographer Patrick Di Fruscia.  I have recently noticed a movement of photographers looking to break out of the 'conventional' landscape photography mould by capturing pictures that both break the compositional rules and are photographed in dull flat lighting.  Now each photographer's vision is a very personal thing and it is not up to me to decide what is right or not.  But from a personal standpoint, while the images did 'stand apart' they did for all the wrong reasons.  The compositions looked awkward and uncomfortable and the lighting dull and uninspiring.  

The stereotypical landscape image 'works' for a good reason and we should not feel the need to change that just to be different.  If you are inspired by flat lighting that's fine, but for me and many others the light at either ends of the day can be magical and elusive.  When you are fortunate enough to witness how a landscape can be completely transformed by beautiful light, why would you stop taking photographs and wait for dull lighting just to be different.  That would make no sense. 

First and foremost I have always and will continue to photograph what appeals to me.  I think thats the most important thing to consider.  If you are passionate about what you photograph, this will radiate through your images.  But as long as you are enjoying what you photograph I think variety makes the difference when viewing a photographers portfolio.  Luckily for me, as much as I enjoy a beautiful sunrise, I equally love a dark misty morning in a woodland.  Like many others I really enjoy shooting seascape pictures but also love landscapes.  And I vary my lens focal length to suit the scene, rather than the other way around as is often the case.

All these things appeal to me and help keep my images looking fresh and different.

What according to you creates the perfect conditions for landscape photography? Do you prefer “Sunny f/16 conditions” or more dramatic & inclement weather conditions?

I have a whole list of favourite conditions for different types of landscapes.  For conventional landscape photography, I love to photograph when the sun is low in a partly cloudy sky, and side lights the subject I am shooting.  When shooting at the coast, I am equally happy for a beautiful afterglow after a cloudy sunset or a completely menacing cold cloudy sky.  Of course, some of the best lighting occurs during stormy weather, with sunlit subjects backed by dark ominous skies.  Although there are opportunities to shoot in most weather conditions, I find sunny and cloudless skies the least inspiring.

What according to you is the most important thing you think of before you trip the shutter? And what are your thoughts on presentation of an image?

Composition and light.  These two factors can completely make or break an image.  They are of almost equal importance for me, but I think I consciously pay more attention to light.  I am very fortunate in that composition comes very naturally to me; often people are surprised at how quickly I set up my composition.  To an outsider it could appear that I decide to set up my gear in the first spot I happen to stop at.  And it sometimes seems that way to me also!  But from many years of doing this, I recognise that I am always subconsciously thinking about composition and when I wander past a certain spot I instinctively know it is ideal for a photograph.

So although composition is incredibly important, its taken care of intuitively, leaving me time to consider the light.  We have all taken pictures of the same scene before and after it has been bathed in sunlight.  I am sure other photographers are just as astounded as I am at the difference a fleeting moment of light can offer.  So its those moments that I am waiting for and paying most attention to; is the mountain sunlit enough? What about the light hitting the sea stack? Is the light bathing the landscape rich enough to photograph, or if I wait will it shine all the brighter?  All these little decisions can be the difference towards the making or breaking of a photograph.

Tell us about some of the best moments you have experienced while out in the field.

In my years of working as a landscape photographer I have been fortunate enough to experience many special moments.  It is an incredible feeling to visit such beautiful locations, but the best experiences always come when the weather offers up something memorable.  I recall a very magical evening on the coast of the Isle of Skye years ago.  I had been shooting in the Scottish highlands in the morning of that day, but had agreed to meet a photographer friend on Skye for sunset.  So I had to leave a gorgeous highlands morning for the 5 hour drive to the coast at the little village of Elgol.  When I arrived upon Skye, the weather had deteriorated into heavy cloud and rain.  Typical Skye conditions!  By the time I arrived at the coast, the rain had stopped but the cloud was thick and it seemed that no sunset would materialise.  Fighting off the urge to leave the location, I decided to make the most of the trip and set up my tripod and camera anyhow.  In the next 10 minutes the scene turned to complete magic – a small gap in the clouds appeared and in burst a ray of pure gold, lighting up the mountains in the distance.  In the next moment another shard of rich light hit the foreground rocks, providing spectacular illumination throughout the scene.  I took several photographs before the light disappeared and the scene returned to murkiness.  Those few moments provided me with some of the best conditions I have ever photographed.  It was a very special moment – one that I will never forget.

What sort of groundwork and preparation do you do before you head down to any of your shoots ?

I spend much time reviewing the weather forecast, and the tide if visiting the coast.  I often think I spend too much time considering the weather forecast, and have talked myself out of trips because of it.  The UK weather is so unpredictable that, while its good to have an idea of the forecast, its best not to get too hung up on it. The tide tables on the other hand are entirely accurate and its important for me to know exactly how much of the coast will be revealed. 
If its a location that I have not previously visited, I will do some research both using maps and pictures on the internet.  The former is incredibly useful, maps in the UK are very detailed and accurate, and can be very helpful when planning.  Researching a location from looking at pictures on the internet is also useful, but can be dangerous.  As photographers if we see images which appeal to us, there is a danger that we, either consciously or subconsciously seek out the exact same location to try and replicate the picture.  Sadly, due to the ever growing popularity of digital photography this happens all too often these days.   So, if I need to research a location through pictures I try to look for general snaps just so I can get a broad idea of the location without being over influenced by a certain viewpoint.

Next I check the sunrise/set time and calculate how long it will take to drive/walk etc in order to be on location for the best light.

What's in the bag on a typical day when you are out shooting Landscapes ?

My bag contents have just completely changed!  Up to now my bag would have been loaded with the Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon 16-35 Mk II, Canon 24-70, Canon 70-200, plus a range of Lee filters.  But I have just moved across to Nikon, and now will be carrying the D800E, Nikkor 14-24, Nikkor 24-70, Nikkor 70-200, still with the Lee filters.  I also carry a Gitzo 3541 carbon fibre tripod.

Your advice to younger generation / photographers who are just starting off?

First and foremost, be passionate about what you shoot.  As mentioned above, this will show in your pictures, and will keep you motivated to the more challenging aspects of landscape photography.  Don't feel pressured to change your style for popularity or positive feedback, and certainly do not look to imitate others work.  Your passion, your vision and your self belief will all contribute to developing your own style.

Secondly, get out in the landscape as much as possible to take photographs!  It may sound an obvious one, but so many people read everything there is to photography without actually taking any photos.  By getting out in the landscape to practice you will be developing your skills while immersing yourself in the incredibly enriching experience of being on location.

If you are looking to become a professional photographer you will need to gain yourself a presence on the internet.  Create your own website to showcase your very best work and keep it regularly updated with pictures and information.  Also, social media sites are becoming more important so get yourself a page on Facebook (mine is AdamBurtonPhotography.com) and Google+ (mine is +Adam Burton).
And finally, get out there and enjoy yourself!

The full interview, with accompanying pictures can be seen on the Landscape Wizards website here.

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