Inside this issue
Greg Whitton is a landscape, travel and adventure photographer based in the Midlands with a love for mountains and wild places. Happy just to hike, but if mother nature presents the opportunity, delighted to capture the drama of the landscape.
Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.
Can you tell me a little about your education, childhood passions, early exposure to photography and vocation?
I had an unconventional upbringing as I was a 'forces brat', my dad was in the Army. I didn't live in mainland UK until I was 15 when he was finally posted back to blighty. We lived mainly in Germany with a couple of years in Hong Kong.
Holidays tended to partially involve the Alps en route to the Mediterranean via road, so I guess my love of all things rocky and pointy started there. I remember I absolutely loved visiting Klamm's (Gorges) and enjoying the peaceful start to a day camping by a mountain lake. Living in Hong Kong and visiting places like the Philippines exposed me at a fairly early age to very different cultures, shocking in some cases.
This fairly nomadic lifestyle has transcended into adulthood I think. I don't like living in any one place too long and I always feel the need to get away from home, to the mountains or to travel. Despite all of this, my interest in photography has only been relatively recent. Like a lot of people I've never really had a strong desire to be anything in particular, which is probably why.
I fell into my career as a Contract Manager rather than actively pursuing such a vocation. I enjoy experiencing lots of things, but to really get good at anything? That is not really me. Perhaps photography is starting to change that. I should have realised I had a little artistic talent at school. I did ok in my GCSE's but my best grade was in Art, a very late discovery of sculpting clay, but that was it for artistic vision until over a decade later. I can trace my interest in photography back to about 1999.
I kind of had a feeling I'd like to take some nice photos. I bought a Canon EOS300 35mm SLR with one of my first proper paychecks. I took some photos, and frankly they were rubbish. I persevered for a while but got bored very quickly and sold the kit...I guess there was a bit more to photography than point and click.
Ironically it was a point and shoot camera that relit the fire a few years later on a rather splendid day on Crib Goch with my mate Simon. I took a shot of him on the trig point with my Pentax Optio S40 (4mp). Later I was playing around with it and I really liked the backlit shot of him...I ran it through Picassa and came out with something that would make even Peter Lik's eyes burn. I look back now and recognise it was horrific, but back then it seemed cool.
What are you most proud of in your photography?
The obvious thing to say would be winning Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2014, that was the moment things started to really happen for me, but I'd like to think I didn't just fall into it by accident, I worked for it, not necessarily in a conventional sense, although the 6 day hike to get the photo that won was a little testing, but no, I think the work I put in to establish a network of photographic contacts on Social Media, to draw inspiration from them, learn from them and share my own ideas all led up to the win.
But, what am I proud of? I think that is a sense of helping to make 'Wide' cool again. Before the win I was seeing a lot of commentary on wide-angle photography being cliche driven, boring even. I can understand why, it's hard to be creative with a view that millions of folks have taken a shot of before you.
I got the sense that people were actively trying to avoid wide-angle photography, I was, but that type of commentary seems to have abated a bit. I'm seeing less postcard photography these days and seeing a lot more mood...and I like it. Mind you, I've resolved in myself that I want to concentrate a little on a more considered approach to my photography rather than just strive for the epic big vista images.
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?
I think I've already mentioned them, the first would be that day on Crib Goch. That was the first time I came away from a trip with a photograph that made me say "I want more stuff like that", even though it was a load of rubbish! The second would be the winning OPOTY image. It had been sat on my hard drive for 5 months before I processed it. I had gone through a really low time with my photography after my return from the trip, I wrote about it in my blog,
I felt like I was a bit of a failure. It taught me to step back sometimes, walk away and come back another day, another week, another month, with a fresh perspective. Consequently although I now have a clearer vision of what I want to shoot before I go out, experience has taught me that I should not try to process everything straight away. I'll process 'something' from a shoot, to get it out of my system, but the shots I think are really good I'll leave for a while so that when I do process them my vision of what they will be will have matured.
Tell me about why you love landscape photography? A little background on what your first passions were, what you studied and what job you ended up doing
I love being able to show off our wonderful planet, and most of all our country, at its best and when it is most enigmatic, when the weather is, let's say, changeable. We all love sunshine, it's good for us, but most folks only want to experience the landscape on the best days.
They are few and far between. With my photography I would like to think I'm able to show folks what they are missing. Ultimately I want to convey to them a mood, I want them to experience the claustrophobia of being on an open mountain in low cloud, when the rain (or snow) is lashing you. If they even get a small sense of that from my photos, then I'm happy.
I studied engineering and then construction, nothing at all to do with what I do now or what my passion is. There was an element of law in those courses which I did enjoy, which is why I probably ended up being a contract manager. If I could go back and do it all over again I'd just study law straight up, it's not as hard a subject as that lawyer you pay £300 an hour would make out. Having said that, if I was a lawyer, perhaps in the city, there is probably no way I'd have the time to pursue an alternative interest in the likes of photography, at least not the type of photography I do.
Could you tell us a little about the cameras and lenses you typically take on a trip and how they affect your photography.
It's no secret that I have a love of all things Fuji right now. When I started getting really quite serious about photography about 5 years ago I bought into the Canon system, opting eventually for the old 5DII workhorse and a set of 'L' series lenses.
But, I found the weight of them in my pack was holding me back. They were fine for short hikes, but anything approaching a full day on the fells was tiresome. A friend of mine couldn't decide on which camera suited him, he seemed to have a new camera each week. Eventually he seemed to settle on the Fuji X-E1 and would rave about the IQ constantly. Figuring he must have a bit of an idea of what he was talking about, and needing a lighter alternative to the 5DII at least as a back-up, I bought an X-Pro1 with some lenses at the height of when Fuji were doing cashback promotions. It is a great camera but I wasn't convinced.
That was until I did a duel shoot on Stac Pollaidh. I camped up there and did an evening and morning shoot. I had the 5DII on a tripod and was using the X-Pro1 handheld with the bottom of the line 16-50 lens. All sorts of things were kicking off in the evening, showers passing around me and over me, I was jumping from one side of the mountain to the other, it was dynamic. The 5DII stayed where it was whilst I ran around with the Fuji. Occasionally I'd take a shot with the 5DII and the 70-200 f/4 IS (as my 'main' serious shot)...but crucially I also took a shot of the same thing with the Fuji way out at 50mm.
Back at base I found I had got better images from the Fuji, and most surprisingly the images I had of the same subject were better, clearer and with more contrast on the Fuji than the 5DII. That was the moment, I realised I could achieve everything I wanted with the smaller and cheaper Fuji system than I could with the DSLR. Consequently I now use the Fuji system exclusively. It's not perfect, no system is, but it does everything I ask of it and even now it still surprises me.
My typical hill kit includes the X-T1, XF10-24 and XF55-200. Most recently I've been fortunate to try the XF18-135 and when coupled with the X-T1 gives a great all round solution that is weather sealed. For a typical day on the hill without any photographic purpose it's perfect. I've also been fortunate to use the new XF16-55 f/2.8 and the XF50-140 f/2.8...let's just say I'm a little bit in love with these lenses right now.
What sort of post processing do you undertake on your pictures? Give me an idea of your workflow.
I subscribe to Adobe's photographer package which gives me Lightroom and Photoshop. I only use Photoshop when I have some particularly difficult cloning or if I need to stitch a panorama. Everything else I do in Lightroom. Now that the new Lightroom can do stitching too I think Photoshop is virtually redundant for me.
In terms of workflow, once imported to Lightroom, typically I'll adjust curves, introduce some shadow recovery (I almost always shoot at between -1/3rd and -1 EV, play with the grad/radial grad, selective individual colour channels and sharpness. Two minutes work for the most part.
Do you get many of your pictures printed and, if at all, where/how do you get them printed?
Last year I felt the need to see my work in print, seeing stuff on screen wasn't completing the process for me. So, I invested in a Canon Pro 1 which is a behemoth but produces fantastic quality prints up to A3+. I take occasional print orders through my website or if people contact me via social media, but for the most part I print for myself.
I've not had reason to print larger but I do have an idea of who to go to if the need arises. I typically use Fotospeed paper, they've done a lot over recent years to build a great photographer friendly business model and have some really fine quality papers.
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?
I'm a great admirer of Colin Prior, his work influenced me perhaps earlier than most. Having an interest in hiking I would see his work in calendars and large pints in most outdoors outlets. I've been fortunate to do one of his workshops and think I learned a lot from him. He has a real connection with the landscape and nature.
On one of the days whilst the other workshop participants were photographing a rather nice tree in Glen Etive, I walked with him for a while up the hill. We looked for compositions along the way but the light wasn't helping, the weather was particularly grey and overcast, that sort of flat grey nothingness which makes you head for woodland. Anyway, we stumbled across some erosion caused by water running off the hill which was exposing fragments of ancient Scots Pine tree, wonderful carved shapes formed by time. Photography took a back seat for a while whilst we hunted for nice bits of wood. This was a moment that reinforced my philosophy that photography is a mere byproduct of spending time with nature. I'd prefer a great day hiking and no photos than a good photo shoot from the back of the car.
In terms of other names, I'm a bit of a fan of Alex Nail, David Ward and Julian Calverly and there are some fantastic guys and girls emerging in the UK who I greatly admire, like Lee Acaster, Andy Gray, Anita Nicholson, Russ Barnes, Duncan Fawkes (now in Australia unfortunately for us) and Matthew Dartford to name but a few.
Tell me what your favourite two or three photographs are and a little bit about them.
This may seem like a bit of a cop out but I don't really have any favourites. Of course, from time to time I might get a little attached to an image, but because I think we tend to develop as photographers fairly quickly these days (with the advent of digital photography), what I really thought was awesome only 18 months ago probably now wouldn't make it into a top 20.
I've noticed my tastes change almost as quickly as my processing techniques and my skill at handling my camera have. Consequently, although I won OPOTY with a shot taken in July last year, I actually think some of the stuff I've done over the winter is better...other folks will probably disagree, but that is how I feel. I've really enjoyed my photography over the winter and I've made a concerted effort to get out and into the mountains far more than I have the previous two winters, which is probably why I am now nursing a knee injury that might keep me off the mountains for the foreseeable future!
If I absolutely had to say 3, I'd probably go with Vertical Limit (a cool blue toned image of Catstye Cam and Helvellyn).
The Reckoning (A rather angry image of Dow Crag next to the Old Man of Coniston), and Shadows Rising (an image that hasn't been shared on any media yet but will be in the book and a future issue of Outdoor Photography magazine).
All of them were taken this year, two whilst on solo hikes and one was when I was with a group of about 20 people! Why do they appeal right now? Well, it's not totally obvious at first, I rather like the compositions and processing of course, but it's actually that they all feature people in the landscape. You have to look really hard, but they are there. Vertical Limit for example has at least 19 figures in it, they are tiny, but that really helps to give the image scale.
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..)
This is an easy one, sometimes I go weeks, even months, without taking a photograph. I spend a lot of time trying (and failing) to keep fit, I'm normally in the gym most evenings. I used to play American Football but one too many concussions and bad knees means I've had to knock it on the head, so to speak. My main passion though is hiking.
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?
Earlier on I mentioned a more considered approach to photography and also that I'm a great admirer of David Ward. His compositions blow my mind sometimes and I'd love to produce work even mildly comparable to his. I've said for quite sometime now, if I could only do one more workshop with anyone in the World, cost not being a factor, it would be his. I've had the pleasure of meeting him on a couple of occasions most recently and thoroughly enjoyed his talk on Colour at the Meeting of Minds conference last year.
So, when I say "considered", that is what I am talking about. I feel I already have in some sense a connection with nature and the landscape as a whole that enables me to produce half decent images, but having a greater sense of the landscape around me and pulling it back towards me is what I want to discover now. In terms of styles, I'm kind of happy with where I am, I'm known for 'moodyography' and I'm fine with that.
Occasionally I dabble with ME and ICE and other trends, but ultimately they are not me and I have no desire to change that. Travel is a big thing for me, travel and adventure. There are so many places in the world that are without words. Having the opportunity to travel and photograph these places is perhaps what I desire most.
Who do you think we should feature as our next photographer?
I've mentioned him already, Lee Acaster without a doubt. Week in week out he produces sublime images. He has already won one major competition, the BWPA with his one and only wildlife shot, and given time he'll win many others of that I'm sure.
Don't forget Greg's book 'Mountainscape' is available on preorder from Triplekite website.