Internationally renowned photographer John Beatty’s seasonal views and top tips
- Credit: Archant
Bamford resident John Beatty is an internationally renowned travel, wildlife and adventure photographer and editor of the 2016 Wild Nature Diary and Calendar. He explains his philosophy on ‘keeping it simple’ and shares advice on how to get the best shots on a day out in the countryside, even if you are only carrying a small compact camera or just your smart phone
Even though I’ve travelled to some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the world, it is still in coming home to the wild places of Britain that I find my source of inspiration. As editor and publisher of this year’s Wild Nature Diary and Calendar, selecting the final cut from the many hundreds of images submitted online each year is a privilege. I still find I’m learning about style and composition from the very best nature and landscape photographers in Britain.
My advice is don’t look at it, feel it. Be ‘in’ it not ‘on’ it. The day out is memorable because of what it does for you and to you. It is not a box-ticking exercise of going from trig point to waterfall to escarpment. It’s about what it does for your life and why you go there.
Being outdoors is re-creational. ‘Recreational’ means it’s fun. ‘Re-creational’ means it helps you feel better about the life you have. I’ve always thought that the outdoors is the antidote to the complexity of the life we live.
I don’t particularly like the new extreme movement in the outdoors where people have to go higher, faster, further. I think the media is largely to blame for that. Simplicity is all. Be fully engaged and absorbed about where you are all the time. I think an experience in the hills is all-encompassing. It’s not just a physical activity. It has enormous benefits.
Aim to use the camera to reflect what’s happening rather than going out with a singular idea of what you want to photograph. It’s sensible if you imagine there might be a good sunset to visit a certain place because of that, but in general go empty-headed about your photography and let the day emerge. Let yourself react to spontaneous events. Keep the camera accessible because it is all over if you have to dig deep to find it.
You have to be in a mindful state to take a good photograph because you are totally absorbed with the subject. It’s to do with focus. The camera doesn’t intervene in my thinking, it’s part of it. It’s like the old adage, ‘The arrow must hit the target before it’s loosed from the bow.’ You have to be there in your mind already. The camera merely delivers what’s happening.
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Realistically you are not going to get great photos of wildlife when you are just out for a walk. Wildlife photography itself is an observed craft. You have to know the habits of the animal.
That said, here in Derbyshire a hare might dash out or a short-eared owl might suddenly fly close. You might see a peregrine dive on a grouse, though it is going to be in the distance. Grouse tend to sit out on rocks and hang out on frosty mornings. So you can see wonderful things but you’re not going to get any serious, behavioural stuff. In general your day will be about landscapes, people, human reaction and the fun of it.
And remember, there are two aspects to wildlife – plants as well as animals. I was out in Fairbrook Naze the other day, intent on taking a serious photograph of the rowan berries in autumn colours, and I ended up photographing a spider, backlit, golden with beautiful, big silver hairs on its legs, spinning a web in some heather. It was much more intense than anything else at that moment.
I’m not one of those who criticise the ‘selfie’ culture. People have a desire to authenticate the fact they are there. It helps you feel part of it. Social media likes that sort of thing. It’s a good way to represent yourself having a good time.
However, I have recently been working abroad on a wildlife photography trip with some guests. They had their backs to the animals for the entire experience while they did selfies and they actually never saw the animals, so beware. I have pictures of them with their selfies with bears behind them. (Laughs) But that’s a fun shot – it demonstrates the absurdity.
Nonetheless, social media is the new language and image is what it’s about. The amount of images flowing around daily now is phenomenal. People talking to each through images. If I showed you three or four pictures now it would help me explain myself much more quickly than with words.
Video is something else I’ve started getting used to and it’s extremely useful. If you are out with a compact camera or smart phone and see something interesting, grab a video clip as well. It’s a stronger medium than stills. For example, if you’re at Kinder Downfall and the wind’s blowing it upwards take some video because that will engage people better.
And finally, don’t be afraid to bring the camera out in filthy weather. In fact get it out in the worst weather – blinding rain, whipping snow – because that’s the most memorable part of your day.
The photograph that inspired me years ago was in Chris Bonington’s first book ‘I Chose To Climb’. Dougal Haston is crouching in a snow hole in foul weather in the Swallow’s Nest on the north face of the Eiger using a piton as fork to eat from tin of beans. That made me realise the power of photography to bring you into the actual centre of an experience. But it won’t happen unless you get the camera out of the bag.
• Keep the camera in a convenient place eg. in a polythene bag in a pocket of your front outer jacket.
• Look for a camera with a good lens. The technology generally inside all cameras is the same but the glass counts. Don’t be afraid to wipe the lens clean if it steams it up or it gets dirty.
• In winter put it in a glove or the cold will deplete the battery power. Don’t waste the battery reviewing photos during the day.
• The key to composition is very simple. What you see through the viewfinder is what the camera will shoot. If it’s pleasing to you, it’s likely to be pleasing to others.
• Don’t be lazy. Don’t just point and shoot. Think momentarily about you want the viewer to look at principally and place that object possibly in a surprising place but certainly in a balanced place.
• Special light is the dream ticket. You can’t plan for it. Be ready for elusive conditions that can transform an ordinary place, such as strongly sunlit foreground on a black sky just before or following heavy rain, or sudden hailstorms and rainbows.
The 2016 editions of the popular Wild Nature Diary and Wild Nature Calendar, commissioned by the John Muir Trust, are now available from www.wild-nature.co.uk. Now in their 22nd year, the calendar (£12) and desk diary (£15.50) make a perfect gift, Christmas stocking filler or treat for your home or office. Or take advantage of our special offer and buy both for £26.