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Mark Littlejohn – Landscape Photographer of the Year

Lake District photographer Takes Top Prize

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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Mark Littlejohn

Mark Littlejohn is a landscape photographer based on the edge of the English Lake District. He specialises in moody, atmospheric early morning conditions and offers bespoke one-to-one workshops and Lakeland tours.

marklittlejohnphotography.com



Take a View's Landscape Photographer of the Year was announced yesterday and it was great to be able to announce that Mark Littlejohn had won the top place. His image of the side of Beinn Fhada is beautiful and just the sort of high quality photograph we'd hoped would win. And Mark couldn't be any more deserving. Despite only starting photography a few years ago he has produced a stunning array of images, mainly from the Lake District and Scotland (and also a couple of his beautiful Maine Coon cats!). We called Mark and had a chat about what winning the competition was like..

TP: First of all congratulations on winning Take a View's Landscape Photographer of the Year. How do you feel about winning?

ML: Errm interesting one. It still feels slightly surreal. If you talked about this as a journey I still don’t think that I’ve traveled very far. I’ve probably traveled quite along way since I started but I’ve got so much further to go if you know what I mean. I don’t feel comfortable with being called UK Landscape Photographer of the year. If it’s a lovely image, then great but there’s so many people out there who are more qualified than I. Just that title feels awkward.

TP: I feel a lot of people are saying it’s the year of a very deserving winner and I agree with that. How many did you enter?

ML: I think I entered fifteen

TP: Out of the fifteen pictures, did your personal favourites get through?

ML: I don’t really rank them because they are different. I suppose that I’ll take an image and it’ll be straight forward in the dramatic sense, but it’ll be an image that everyone knows. It could be the view up near the Quiraing or it could be Neist Point.

A Beginning and an End

A Beginning and an End

You have got the clichéd shots, the shots that everyone wants to do because people want to say that they’ve done them at least once, the usual suspects, but I suppose that it’s awkward when you decide what goes through and what doesn’t go through. You take those shots more for throwing your hat into the ring to say "I’ve done that".

I had a shot from Neist Point which was from a totally different viewpoint as it was half way down the cliffs, really awkward. I shot the Quaraing in perfect light, which was one of those occasions when you’re at the right place at the right time with the right lens on and everything is going great. These shots are really dramatic and striking but perhaps not individual or unique.

On the other hand I’ve had two or three other shots that were more for me if you understand that. It’s like little snippets of time, ideas which have been in my head that I’m trying to put together. A collection of images that people might walk by.

These (icon) shots are really dramatic and striking but perhaps not individual or unique. On the other hand I’ve had two or three other shots that were more for me. It’s like little snippets of time, ideas which have been in my head that I’m trying to put together. A collection of images that people might walk by.

It’s all about keeping an open mind and collecting these tiny snippets - that’s why I think that’s why a lot of my images are with longer lens. It could be from the 180 or the 85. Some of my favourite landscapes are from the run of the mill 50mm lens. I don’t tend to go hugely wide these days. It’s just these little snippets in time, freezing a moment. That stream is called "A Beginning and an End", it can have two meanings as you can see the start and you can see the end of the stream, it’s purely physical. But it’s a fact that it’s there and it’s not there.

We were talking before and  as you said you come past that spot there's no stream there unless you get the right rainfall and the right conditions. I just love the way it came down and there was a squall coming from the side and you’re just freezing that moment in time. I suppose that’s the challenge and what I love. It’s being keeping an open mind. Don’t go out with preconceptions or with a stated objective in mind. It’s a free wander both mentally and physically.

TP: Do you want to tell us a little about the day of taking the picture as you weren’t set on taking that style of picture. I think you were out for the bigger mountains.

ML: That’s the thing, if I’m out with other people, I don't often get into that "free" state of mind even though I’m very comfortable with Billy Currie and Scott Robertson, the two guys I was with. We were going to a location and Billy wanted to down under the three sisters in Glencoe. There’s one or two pools and different things. We’d stopped two or three times as the weather was dire. I’ve never seen Loch Tulla so high.

You've  got a gorgeous picture of a sunset over Loch Tulla that you took with your Dad haven’t you. Well those trees were completely under water and it was almost up by the road. It was incredibly high so we sat there with a coffee for while.

I think I’d got up at one in the morning and traveled to Billy’s. Then traveled to Bridge of Orchy and met up with Scot who’s got a little campervan so we were sat there by Loch Tulla. It was just horrendous and I wanted to do those trees, that’s why I’d travelled up there.

You know what it’s like when your with your friends, you say "what do you want to do" and I said I really want to do Loch Tulla because every time I got to Loch Tulla it’s been dire. So of course it was dire again. So we decided to explore the Glencoe valley pools which was Billys idea and when we first went up, that stream wasn’t running. There was no sign of it - the next time we went the stream had appeared. Weather was still horrendous but I just loved the temporary nature of it. Just going back to the fleeing moments again, it was just a wee moment of temporary beauty.

TP: This is quite different from the standard landscape photography shot as I believe it was hand held. Is that right?

ML: Yeah hand held. I had three images in the book last year and they were all hand held with a D800. I use the D800 as a point and shoot. I maybe shouldn’t but that’s the way it goes. The photo was taken on the D800, aperture was 5.6, ISO was 800 just so I could get the shutter speed to 1/320 of a second because I was shooting with an 85mm lens.

People go on about you can shoot fine at one over the focal length but I bump it up a bit. Not because I’m old but because I’m out in the wilds and with the D800 I just like to make sure it’s really fast and everything is fine. So it was really a case of bumping up the ISO, which didn’t really matter so much because everything is vague anyway as you’re shooting through a rain storm nothing’s going to be sharp, you’re not going to see the detail through that. I turned away and focused on something behind me because the rain was coming in so fast, knocked off the auto focus and kept the camera down and it was more like gun slinging, raising the camera, shot and away again with the big hood on 85mm. So it really was trying to prepare each shot in advance, make sure you had a decent enough shutter speed and bang go for it.

TP: Were you on your way anywhere else? For people who don’t quite know where it is, it is on the mountain by the Lost Valley isn’t it (Beinn Fhada)?

ML: There’s an old white house that’s sort of derelict and there’s a tiny amount of land in front if it, with a grit box for the winter. So we dumped the car there. It was quite a strange experience actually because when we got out of the car and walked across the road which is roughly where I took the photo, there were three dead deer which had been hit by cars and thrown over the fence. It was a really horrendous sight. The streams down there were gorgeous though, silver birch at the waterfalls and when you go down below and you look back at the three sisters they are just amazing.

Wall Holm

Wall Holm Island - I've always liked the balance of Wall Holm Island. The trees have an almost oriental feeling of calm and I've always wanted a good image of them. On this occasion I happened to be in the right place at the right time on a gorgeous July morning. It was shot with the Pentax DA70 lens on the K-5 at a fairly large aperture. I really wanted to highlight the island against a softer, more subtle background and I think it worked. This has been cropped to 2:1 and is full width but a fair amount of sky removed.

TP: Is this going down opposite the white house? Over the crash barrier

ML: Just going down there yes. Quite a steep slope and there’s a stream alongside going down as well. It’s quite awkward as it gets quite sheer and it wasn’t conditions to be crossing the stream.

TP: In terms of post processing you didn’t really do much to it?

ML: It took five minutes. I split tone quite a bit. I have it in my head that quite often the atmosphere or mood of an image is quite specific in my head and it can be accentuated, or exaggerated if you like, by the use of split tones. I use Lightroom with a variety of presets that I use for different occasions. So I opened it up in Lightroom, looked at it and on this occasion I'd already decided that it was a square that I was after. As I’d taken the photo in portrait mode all I had to do was take a bit off the top and bottom. The D800 files are quite robust in Lightroom. I played a bit with the highlights as well to brighten the stream a little but again I just use general adjustments. I don’t use Photoshop or masks. Coming from computer forensics spending 12-14 hours in front of a computer and then another 3 or 4 at night processing an image when I'm supposed to be relaxing doesn't make sense. So I have a target figure of maybe 5 minutes or so; if it’s a bigger woodland scene or stitches maybe an hour on those.

I had a vision in my minds eye what I wanted to achieve and surprised myself by how quickly I got there. I didn’t tinker after that point, I left it as it was. I did it and really liked it and I thought it was just an image for me if you like. I didn’t really see that it was going to be a big popular image. I didn’t put it on Flickr straight away which what I tend to upload to.

TP: You could almost say that it’s a photographers photograph isn’t it?

ML: Yes I think so, but that’s true of most of my favourites. They have been more photographers favourites. You can tell when you put a picture online. I live a decent distance away from other photographers so I’m not in the pub showing them a picture or having a crack about it. As soon as I put that picture online it was the good photographers who were giving it praise. Which is always a nice sign.

Deepdale

Deepdale - A view from the route up to Boredale Hause. I'd wandered up there the day before to do Angle Tarn for dawn and was struck by the shadows. I have always liked this composition, looking up towards the back of Fairfield. Its a stunning valley. The key was returning two or three times over the next couple of days and checking for the right sidelight and shadows. I was very happy with this one as not only did I get the right light there were also nice clouds and some lovely contrast. I shot this with the big Nikon and the 85mm lens. It has been marginally cropped to improve the composition but only by a very small amount.

TP: I know people are going to say it’s a curious choice for The Landscape Photographer of The Year. I take it as a good sign. Having seen few of the choices on the Sunday Times Magazine it’s looking good for the book to be honest.

ML: I tell you what I think there’s a couple of gorgeous shots in there. I love Nigel Morton’s, I love the tonality and the mood it creates. That’s what I’m talking about with the tones, it’s the greyness of the image just works with those waves. Robert Oliver's image of the tree with the berries on it I really liked. It would have been nice to see better coverage in the Sunday Times, I think it’s been better in previous years and sticking some sort of supplement across it doesn’t help.

Charlie declared it a winner. Interesting choice, very pleasing choice but it’s not perhaps the most obvious choice but I think today the response that I’ve seen online to it has been great.

I was slightly concerned. You know what it’s like, you put an image in and it gets publicised. I was worried it was going to get slated to be honest. Insecurity about whatever image you put up. Charlie declared it a winner. Interesting choice, very pleasing choice but it’s not perhaps the most obvious choice but I think today the response that I’ve seen online to it has been great. Again good photographers making comments, which must be satisfying to Charlie and the team. Comments which have come out are like ‘Great choice’, ‘interesting choice’, ‘photographers choice’

TP: You could say it’s controversial but I don’t think it is? I think anyone who’d knows anything about photography will look at it and go, that’s a good photograph, as would anybody who loves the mountains.

ML: People who don’t like it, won’t say anything. There’s a lot of people who have made comments and I’m very happy with them. I’ve been very pleased with the response as lot of people have made comments about the fact that I’ve got a good portfolio and that I've been consistently taking decent images which is really nice to read actually. It wasn’t something that I’d considered. I still think of myself as, well not as a new comer as I’ve probably spent as much time photographing in the last five years as people have in the last twenty five years. At the end of the day I live and breathe it. It’s a passion.

TP: So what’s the prize money going towards?

ML: Wife hasn’t told me yet! I’ve always liked Russ Barnes' infra red images so I'll be exploring that avenue. Emily is coming up to university age, Matthew is doing his GCSE’s so I’m treating Matthew to a holiday in Iceland at half term because he’s always wanted to go and he’s very much into his geography. Emily will be going on a school trip to Paris at the same time. I’m going to buy a D800e second hand. I don’t see the point in buying new and I don’t think there’s enough of an increase with the 810 to justify buying one of those new. I'll get some advice from Russ Barnes before converting the D800 to IR. I was looking at one from Duncan Fawkes earlier on today, which was gorgeous. Don’t know if you saw that, it was on Facebook. That’s my sort of stuff. I’ll probably treat myself to another lens, very wide maybe a nice Zeiss 18mm and I quite like the look of the Lee landscape polarising filter. I broke my Lee 0.6 soft grad so I’ll need to get another one of those as well. T

TP: You don’t use wide angle often though do you? But when you do you go wide?

ML: I owned a 16-35 for a while and when I reviewed my images in Lightroom the widest I ever used was 19. So I'd like to treat myself to a nice 18mm. I also have the Nikon DF, so that’s my walk around because the image quality at high ISO is tremendous, handles beautifully. A few foibles with it but the image quality is great and fits my hand perfectly. I can use the controls great and is robust. I did have the Fuji Xpro one which I liked but I found the files a bit brittle with Abode. The Df files work beautifully in Lightroom.

The problem was that I was looking to buy a nice 35mm lens but left myself the choice of either the 23 for the Fuji or the Sigma 35 for the Nikon and they were both £800. I couldn't buy both whereas if I sold the Fuji and all the bits and pieces and bought the DF I could get one lens for both. I ended up buying the Sigma 35mm as a consequence which is great. I love wandering around with the Df.

The Formation

The Formation - This is a wee group of trees in a lovely open space down by the River Eden near Temple Sowerby. I've always liked the way they are arranged. On this occasion I'd been elsewhere for dawn trying to get the edge of the mist. I found it here. The next key was getting a nice angle. I chose the Nikon 24mm f1.4 for this and also used a tripod and the Lee 0.6 ND (my favourite filter). I spent a long time getting the arrangement/composition sorted and involved getting all the angles and placement of branches interspersed with trees correctly. I already had it in my head that it was all about the "Formation" so a lot of work on the composition was necessary. The mist worked perfectly for me as it highlighted the depth of the field and the shape of the trees.

TP: Do you use a tripod very often then being as many of your are not taken with one?

ML: I usually just use it to break down the ferns when I’m trying to get somewhere else!

If it’s low light I’ll be using the tripod. One of the images which was commended was taken at dawn, and that was using a tripod. I’ve moved away from long exposure photography. I think it’s that thing where I’ve gone to catching fleeting moments of time. It’s about capturing the moment, not creating one. Using a long exposure I do find it slightly less satisfying somehow. Perhaps because I’m creating things as opposed to capturing them. I not saying I can’t create things but it’s just the way I’m going at the moment. It might be in a year or two I’l be doing something different. But I really do just like wandering around and letting the mind roam. Just taking what comes. If you’re down to slow shutter speed, there’s no option but to use the tripod and I always carry a tripod but it might be that I won’t use it. But if I need to use it, I’ll use it.

I’m always very carful on my shutter speed. The cameras I use are good at high ISO. So I can raise them up a little bit. The DF is an amazing low light camera in that respect. The other thing is that I’m not adversed to using larger apertures than perhaps most. But then again ultimately this isn’t the be and end all. I don’t usually go much past f8, I don’t think I’ve ever shot anything at f/16 in years.

Creating mood and atmosphere I think its imagination which is the key thing in photography for me. You don’t need to see everything perfectly as you’re in danger of losing the mood. Some people will bracket every time. Sometimes it can work but on some occasions I think that can kill an image. It can become too perfect. It might as well be a computer graphic. Some people say I err on the side of being too painterly but at the end of the day that’s my inspiration. I love Turner, the only exhibitions I’ve actually gone to see have been painters, so I suppose it’s the desire to be a painter that comes out.

TP: Do you think that the honour of being the Landscape Photographer of the Year winner will open  opportunities to doing more professional landscape photography?

ML: At the end of the day I’m not doing anything else. I work part time on the old steamers and I do photography. I was lucky enough to gain Hunter Boots as a client this year, I do workshops for the Inn on the Lake and two or three other people so I’m moving slowly in that direction and I have a lot of thoughts about photography in my head and ultimately I would like to get a book sorted, I was going to call you two or three weeks ago about that.

TP: We’ve talked to you about writing for the magazine on a regular basis which we are really looking forward to.

ML: I’d love that. I would like to out my thoughts down onto paper. I would like to move towards doing it as a full time occupation. I emailed a couple of pals earlier on tonight as we’re going to get somewhere in January and see if we’re going to do Harris or go abroad.

I was actually going up to Suilven at the end of the month, myself and another pal were going up in a camper van and walk into Suilven and get there at dawn, but of course some thing is in the way on the 1st December. So I’m going down to London for that instead and do the Suilven trip another time in December.

TP: We’ve also got you as one of our stewards at the Meeting of Minds conference as well.

ML: How posh can you get! The doorman is the landscape photographer of the year!

TP: Many thanks for the chat Mark!

ML: It's a pleasure..

We had an in depth interview with Mark in 2013 which you can read here and you can see more of Mark Littlejohn's work at his website or Flickr stream.

You can also come to our conference on the 21-23rd of November and say hello to him in person. Either way we recommend you pay a visit to the Take a View show in London in December and January.

You can watch his video interview with Tim Parkin which was filmed in the run up to the Meeting of Minds Conference.



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