Inside this issue
Lizzie ShepherdFeatured Photographer
Your humble editor, ex-mathematician, A&R for U2, web developer to the Queen, guitarist and general geek-boy.
Other articles by Tim Parkin
Can you tell me a little about your education, childhood passions, early exposure to photography and vocation? A little background on what your first passions were, what you studied and what job you ended up doing.
I come from a large family – all creative and musical, with a love of the outdoor life. Summer holidays were usually spent camping in Scotland, Wales, the Alps, often in the rain… I was an avid collector of things from the natural world – nowadays I’ve restricted myself to just the odd rock! Various pets, including a cigar-smoking crow and postman-attacking magpie, were also a big feature!
My parents and two of my brothers were keen photographers, so that certainly influenced me. I got a little Boots instamatic for my 9th birthday – just don’t ask me to show you my first pictures! I had various cameras thereafter, but I didn’t use an SLR until I borrowed my parents’ OM10 to take photographs of student play productions at Edinburgh University. I did my own B&W processing and printing and sold the prints to members of the cast.
The long summer breaks gave me time to travel and my camera was always the most important bit of luggage. Before long I had my own SLR (Nikon F301) and found myself doing a mix of colour and B&W photography, probably more people than landscapes in those days.
I had thoughts of becoming a travel photographer/writer and, after graduating (in English) I worked for a couple of commercial photographers in Scotland on an ad hoc basis. However, for various reasons, I decided not to go down than route, eventually ending up working in the ‘new media’ industry as it was then known. I sometimes wonder ‘what if’…
What are you most proud of in your photography?
I don’t know if ‘proud’ is the right word but there’s no doubt I get most pleasure from some of the feedback I get from people who’ve bought my prints. There’s something incredibly heart warming, knowing someone you’ve never met can take such pleasure in something you’ve created.
In most photographers lives there are ‘epiphanic’ moments where things become clear, or new directions are formed. What were your two main moments and how did they change your photography?
Well I think I’m still waiting for things to become clear! Seriously, I don’t think I’m the sort of person for whom anything is ever absolutely clear – there are always too many ways of looking at things, too many possible answers. That’s not to say I don’t have strong opinions – anyone who knows me will assure you otherwise!
If anything can be called an epiphany, perhaps it was the tribute to Steve Day in Outdoor Photography, shortly after he died. He was clearly a remarkable man and super photographer. However, I was most taken by the poem, Shadow People, written before becoming a professional photographer, expressing his fear of stagnating in his existing career and of not pursuing his dreams. It struck a chord at a time when I was increasingly unhappy in my own job (as a project manager at Wanadoo) and it made me start to think again about the possibility of making photography a career.
Tell me about why you love landscape photography?
For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve found myself framing things in my mind – trying to imagine how they might work as a photograph. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to landscapes – but I love getting out there and discovering new places, and then returning, seeing how those places (or elements within them) change in different conditions and light.
I’ve also come to appreciate that you can even visit somewhere that has been ‘done to death’ and find that there are aspects to that place that you never knew existed. I used stubbornly to avoid the so-called ‘honey pot’ locations but I’ve learned not to be too dismissive – there’s usually a good reason why they are so popular and there is always something new to be found. Once you start looking around you and exploring, you can immerse yourself for hours… you just need to open your eyes and mind, and you’ll find something.
Could you tell us a little about the cameras and lenses you typically take on a trip and how they affect your photography.
I have very recently completely changed systems – it’s not something I’m afraid of doing as I made a big change when I moved to digital about six years ago. It’s certainly not a decision to be taken lightly; on top of which you need to buy and sell carefully to make sure you are not out of pocket. However, having had repeated problems with my back and wrist over the summer, to the extent I only used my tiny little LX5 for a few weeks, I really felt I needed to carry a bit less.
My 1DSiii was the most fantastic camera to use and took everything I threw at it over the years but, particularly when using it with some of the heavier Canon lenses, I was finding it too much. Having taken the decision to sell it and a few lenses, I found the lure of the relatively diminutive Nikon D800E too much to resist –it wasn’t just the extra resolution it offers but more its ability to handle the light. Does it affect my photography? I think the improved dynamic range makes processing a little easier and quicker – that has to be a good thing! And I do believe the files have greater depth to them, super tonality. And of course I really notice the difference in weight! But, within reason, it doesn’t really matter what gear you use – you only have to look at the fantastic work being produced by so many photographers, all using very different types of gear.
What sort of post processing do you undertake on your pictures? Give me an idea of your workflow.
I do all of my organising and most of my processing in Lightroom – the latest version is greatly improved and a very worthwhile upgrade. I’ve tried other software and have found it too unintuitive and too slow. I tend to start with a white balance akin to daylight film, so I know where I am, and then adjust according to memory and taste. I have various presets that also provide me with a good starting point. I also use Photoshop – mostly for working with layers and masks when required, and also for any finishing touches, such as dodging and burning. In addition I sometimes use plugins – usually Topaz Labs Adjust – always on a new layer, as I find you need to apply it very subtly, often only to parts of the image.
Do you get many of your pictures printed and, if at all, where/how do you get them printed?
I almost do all of my own printing – on an Epson A2 printer – and almost always on Hahnemuhle Photorag – I love the texture and gentle tonal graduations, even if it may not have the ‘wow’ factor of high gloss. In the old days, I always used to get cibachrome prints and I do still love that look – I’m very keen to try Fujiflex. I’ve also had a couple of things printed under acrylic, which can be very effective. I’d also love to try printing on metal at some point.
Tell me about the photographers that inspire you most. What books stimulated your interest in photography and who drove you forward, directly or indirectly, as you developed?
Where do I start?! There are so many photographers whose work I admire, so it is hard to single out a few, but I’ll try. At university, I was a big fan of Doug Corrance – super documentary style photography, and of Scotland in particular. I also remember being particularly keen on the work of Ansel Adams and Man Ray – but then, who wouldn’t be? Around the same time I was also very partial to the paintings of Turner and Kandinsky – perhaps there’s a parallel there?!
I can quite clearly remember my first visit to Joe’s gallery and I was absolutely blown away by his prints – as close to artistic and technical perfection as you can get; and I think it’s rare you see both to quite such a high degree. I never tire of looking at Joe’s images – he just seems to get everything ‘right’. More recently I was particularly struck by Hans Strand’s work – he was featured in Outdoor Photography a few years ago and I find his style of photography, and the scenes he captures, really resonate. They have such incredible depth, and on so many different levels. I could mention so many more but, for the sake of relative brevity, will resist…
Tell me what your favourite two or three photographs are and a little bit about them.
My favourites come and go to a certain extent, but I do have one constant among these:
Lone Skier, Rondane
It’s rare that I look at one of my images and don’t feel I might have changed at least one tiny aspect, even if that’s just the conditions – but I tend to be fairly self-critical so I usually think I could have done something better! However, this is one image where I really don’t think I’d change a thing. It was taken towards the end of a long day out cross-country skiing in the hills of Rondane in Norway, when conditions had not looked promising, but I’d lugged my gear on my back all day in any case. It’s very much an opportune photograph – the skier in the distance is in just the right place and, very obligingly, is even sporting a red jacket! It sums up everything I love about Nordic skiing – great scenery, no ugly lifts, good exercise and the possibility to get away from the crowds…. And then there’s the light – proof, if ever you needed it, not to pay too much attention to weather forecasts!
This is a recent image, from last Autumn – believe it or not, my first photo trip to the Lakes. All too brief, but I now know I need to go back! We were lucky and experienced some really interesting light at times. Judging by the feedback I’ve had on the photos from that trip, I don’t think most would put this at the top of the pile but I really like the gentle light, the different zones of subtle colours and textures, and the almost velvety feel to the image.
This is quite an old image from 7 years ago – back in the Velvia days. I like to think I would frame it slightly differently now, though perhaps I’m nit-picking again. Either way, it’s still one of my favourites – the inky black sky, the intense light and the shape of the tumbling wall – I always think of it as the Loch Ness Monster… Although it is of course a quintessentially Yorkshire scene and, needless to say, it absolutely poured down a few minutes later!
If you were told you couldn’t do anything photography related for a week, what would you end up doing (i.e. Do you have a hobby other than photography..)
I think it would depend on whether I used the time to catch up on some of the things I need to do and keep putting off, or whether I indulged myself and just did as I pleased! Amongst the former would be some much needed decorating, gardening and DIY – I tend to do as much as that kind of thing as I can – why pay someone to do something you can do yourself? I would love to get back to playing some music, rather than just listening to it – I have a neglected piano and violin sitting in the house. If the weather is poor or there’s a key match on TV, then I may well find myself watching the tennis, rugby or cricket. Both my husband and I also love opera (and music in general), taking the dogs for long walks, watching wildlife, playing tennis, travelling; more than there is time to do.
What sorts of things do you think might challenge you in the future or do you have any photographs or styles that you want to investigate? Where do you see your photography going in terms of subject and style?
There’s no doubt the biggest challenge is how to make money, at a time when so many revenue streams are being eroded. Then, at a deeper level, there are all sorts of other challenges, both personal and professional – yet they all overlap.
It’s vital that you keep on improving as a photographer, explore different techniques and subject matters. At the same time, you need to think about what will sell – and that may not always be the images or type of photography nearest to your heart. But I’ve also learned that I must devote plenty of time doing what I want to do – be that personal projects or just having the odd day where I go out and photograph whatever takes my fancy on that day – without that, I think you can stagnate very quickly and lose creativity. I’m probably fortunate in that I can get a great deal of pleasure out of many different kinds of photography – so whilst I may not always go out and do the things I love most, I still enjoy the challenge of creating the best possible work I can.
I’m also lucky to live in a huge and incredibly photogenic county – though I still feel I’ve barely scratched the surface! Every time I go out to do a recce, there seems to be another great location to add to the list. I just wish fuel wasn’t so expensive, particularly as I’m quite a long way from the coast, somewhere I’d like to visit much more. Regardless, it’s certainly not just the wider landscapes I like to cover – I get huge satisfaction from working on more intimate scenes – and again, Yorkshire is blessed with super opportunities in that respect. I’m hoping to be running a few more workshops in Yorkshire this year, and also further afield – with Alex Hare, my Tripod Travels colleague.
I have a couple of idea for books on the back burner – I’m not sure either of them would be very commercial but I’d really love to produce a book. Most photographers I’ve spoken to don’t seem to view books as big money earners – but, as well as being very rewarding, they help to raise one’s profile, and of course that is another incentive. I’m also really keen to do more black and white work – the trouble is I find it so hard to tear myself away from colour. It’s clearly something I need to work harder on – but then you could say that about everything. Standing still is just not an option. As with most things in life, it’s all about balance – and striking the right balance can be quite hard.
Who do you think we should feature as our next photographer?
Firstly, I’d suggest Helen Dixon – a professional (and female!) landscape photographer – I’ve not been in touch with Helen for years and am not sure what she’s up to these days but her work is superb. I’d also like to suggest my friend and aforementioned Tripod Travels colleague, Alex Hare – he combines landscape and wedding photography and I have huge admiration for someone that can combine and excel in both those areas. Peter Leeming is another I’d like to see interviewed, though I think others have also suggested this – I particularly enjoy his more abstract landscapes.
A big thanks for Lizzie for her time in answering our questions. You can see more of her work on her website that was launched just as this article went to ‘press’ and keep up to date with her work via the links below.