One of the proudest achievements of my photography career. It’s not every day 1X asks to interview you. In my opinion, it’s the most highly regarded photography website in the business. Never in a zillion years did I think I’d ever reach this point. Anyways, if you have a few minutes spare please take a read & let me know what you think of my “make it up as you go along approach” rather than stressing about technicalities & what others may think of you.
To begin, please introduce yourself shortly and tell us more about you, your origins, your hobbies or other projects you are involved in!
Born and raised in the north of England but always felt something missing deep in my heart. Aged seventeen, I met my husband a passionate mountaineer who introduced me to the Scottish mountains. We spent as much spare time traveling from England to our favorite place in Scotland called Glencoe. This opened a whole new world to me and instantly became my heart and soul. I was falling in love with of course my Husband but also this new land. Each time we left it became harder to leave, our hearts were yearning to return but work commitments took precedence in England. However, in 2007 we escaped the rat race, followed our hearts, and moved to Scotland never looking back. We now live on a horse farm within a private Highland estate in the far north. Even now whilst driving around this beautiful area I call home for mundane daily chores I pinch myself in disbelieve that I actually live here & think how wonderful it would be if my eyes were a camera.
What would be the most important experience so far that has influenced your steps in photography?
Without a shadow of a doubt in 2018, when I faced the biggest fight of my life. My world came crashing down when I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer aged 45. My Consultant told me I’d be out of action for over a year with surgery and treatments. A few weeks after diagnosis a Fine Art Gallery in Glasgow approached me to display some of my work. This provided mental balance, something positive to focus on and true hope. It took a few weeks after surgery to get back to doing some post-processing, only able to use one hand. Sadly, I wasn’t able to hold my camera as I was so weak and sore. Cancer might have put my life on hold but there was no way it was controlling my love of photography. Within this time I wrote a full post-processing tutorial of one of my images from start to finish for Photography Masterclass magazine and also had a selection of my work published in a hardback coffee table style book that same year. Eventually, I got through surgery, five months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and albeit a little battered and bruised, I survived! It’s the old cliché that you often hear after a life-changing diagnosis “The world looks different now”. It’s so true! Before my diagnosis, I would shy away from certain opportunities but now I want to grab life and live it to the fullest. I received many messages of support from fellow photographers who told me their stories of how cancer had touched their families. It gave me the confidence to hold my head up high, I was alive!
As the saying goes “Every cloud has a silver lining”. I had just started chemotherapy, my biggest fear when six horses came to stay at our farm. I’d never had much experience but always loved their sheer grace & beauty. They gave me a purpose to carry on each day & not throw the towel in. A two-year-old rescue filly named Winter had liver disease, the odds were stacked against her, it was like we were in the fight together. It took a lot of effort for me to visit her as I was weak but she gave me the mental strength to face each day and hopefully I did the same for her. Winter went on to make a full recovery & is now living on the north coast expecting her first foal next spring. Another rescue horse named Twinkle was also not too well. However, blood tests revealed she was pregnant! Her beautiful foal Ashara was born a few months later here on the farm. Twinkle became my best friend, she would stand at the side of me resting her head on my shoulder, her sense of calmness soothed my soul & still does to this very day. There is now a herd of thirteen horses who I love very dearly, each & everyone has a special place in my heart. This is why Equine photography is so important & meaningful to me.
My relationship with photography?
For me, my camera is like being with a joyous old friend. Photography instantly takes me to my happy place where I can reflect on my own thoughts, shut out the reality of the noisy outside world. It’s my savior and still continues to help rebuild “me”. No matter what life throws at me, my escape is always art, it allows me to bury my head in my own little world where truly anything is possible.
How do you maintain and grow your passion for photography?
I believe the way I flick between Landscape & Equine prevents the rot from setting in. Oftentimes, I reach a point with say Landscape that I lose inspiration, almost like a factory worker on a production line doing the same-old job day in day out. When this happens I throw myself into Equine, then I reach another brick wall so I swop to Landscape. It really helps to keep my internal creative fires burning & enrich personal development.
In my opinion, colour is very important in your photographs. Your use of colours really put a personal stamp on your work. Your style is at once recognizable and wearing your signature?
Yes, color work is extremely important to me and the most painstaking job spent in post-processing. It comes mostly from spending time in the great outdoors, you soon learn which colors work best, you can’t beat nature’s own color wheel which heavily influences me. On the flip side, some images speak louder in monochrome, although they really do need a strong personality for this treatment, meaning an impactful composition &/or mood. There is a game I like to play in Photoshop with the color picker tool, by creating a Hue/Sat adjustment layer I test myself to see what color it actually is as sometimes colors can take on color from another juxtaposed, it really is quite surprising & a fun way to learn color.
Can you please describe in a few words your photographer philosophy and mission?
Firstly, be true to yourself, do what makes “you” happy, and don’t worry what others may think. Don’t follow the crowds or chase the followers it will become stressful and dull your creativity. Take inspiration from others but don’t copy. Try to find your own unique style which in return will give you more abundance. Never compare yourself to others, it’s a slippery slope of despair. Social media can of course be inspirational, however, at the same time can leave you with a feeling of lackluster, loneliness and can quickly lead to unhelpful comparisons. If this happens take some time away even if just a couple of hours and do something completely different as it can suck the life from your creative flow. And finally, practice, practice, and more practice, it’s the only way. Oh… and don’t be too hard on yourself – it’s about having fun!
Don’t make photography complicated. Once you strip down an image to its bare bones it reveals more emotion. Almost by making the image naked, you see the truth rather than dressing it up with hair/ make-up & clothes. Strike a balance, offer something new when photographing a famous location/building/structure. Try to stand out, otherwise, it’s just another Dunnottar Castle that we’ve all seen a zillion times online & quite frankly boring. Make it your own, try to bring something else to the table that will stop the scrollers in their tracks & look at it properly. Make it shine! Planning is great, however, spontaneity works a treat, living for the moment. You are the magician, in your world anything is possible. Self believe is paramount. The secret is believing.
How would you describe your work? What is it you want to achieve?
I’m not sure how to describe my work as I really do not see what other people see. I’m very much a perfectionist and OCD with my images. My heart & soul is in each & every image, they become almost like my babies with their own personalities. I procrastinate far too much, some images will sit part processed on my hard drive for months, even years have been know. I truly wish I had a set workflow but I don’t, I simply follow my heart and let it develop as I go along. Achieving perfection is my ultimate goal but not sure if it exists.
What do you think are the challenges of this activity, especially in these days of coronavirus pandemic?
The pandemic has changed everything for me. I had workshops booked in 2020 which had to be canceled. Most photographers have returned to their workshops but sadly my cancer diagnosis in 2018 left me with no lymph nodes in my arm which leaves me more vulnerable. This has made me more of a recluse & quite honestly I’m nervous of being in close contact with my students. So for the time being & especially now as new cases are rising in Scotland, I’m taking a back seat from workshops and seeing what happens over the next few years. The past few years have taught me good health & family/friends are more important than money. I can still enjoy my photography within these parameters.
You travel a lot I guess, and you get to know many known photographers, thus having access to different cultures and photographic visions. How does this influence your work?
It’s not about how far you travel but how you see it. I don’t travel so much and never photographed outside of the UK as I won’t leave my dog. Scottish mountains are my friends, I talk to them all time, genuinely miss them whilst am away. I have to make the most of what I have & how I view it. In all honesty, I dont know many photographers on a personal level, sure I have many on social media which is great but that’s not the same.
Many are of the opinion that the gear is not very important when the passion for photography is strong. However, can you please share with us what gear do you use (camera, lenses, tripod,etc.)?
I’ve always been a Canon girl right from the beginning. Currently, I use a Canon 5d mark iv body, Canon 16-35mm (ii) L lens, Canon 70-200mm (ii) L Lens, Gitzo Systematic 5 series Tripod & Ball-head, selection of Haida filters and Haida Anti-fog belt for Astrophotography.
I don’t have a ton of gear but have learned over the years that it helps to have the best you can afford. Again, the perfectionist in me use to get terribly upset when I first started using a lesser quality tripod, nearby roads caused vibration, admittedly only very slight, you had to pixel peep to see it but that wasn’t good enough for me & something I had to remedy. I bit the bullet and invested in my beloved Gitzo tripod, the best piece of kit I own. The same thing with lenses & filters, I started out buying third-party lenses & cheap filters, again this did not work & almost put me off photography as I struggled a lot. As soon as I invested my work improved & I was able to stop blaming myself ” a bad workman blames his tools”. I know a lot of photographers would disagree with me for saying this but this is my experience & how I upped my game. We are all different & would be boring being all the same.
What would be your favourite photo from the last years? Please tell us the story behind it.
The story behind my image “Elysian” instantly springs to mind & literally there is part of my heart within. After a morning of heavy rain and patiently waiting in my car with a flask of peppermint tea I really thought I’d have to turn around and go home. You know when the kid in you wants to stamp your feet and throw a tantrum? Thankfully, only thirty minutes from home but my heart was sinking. Then suddenly, something switched inside me, almost determination sticking two fingers up to the world! It’s only rain I won’t shrink! I gathered my waterproofs, rucksack and went for it. Sat at the top of a peak with all my gear set up under a large golf umbrella and generally feeling rather sorry for myself, black mascara running down my face to complete the look! Then suddenly out of nowhere the clouds opened like they were saying hello and welcoming me. The beautiful sunlight peeped out, I was scrambling for the remote and Haida filters in a real fluster with cold/wet hands. Finally pressed the remote, let the camera/filters do their job whilst I sat back & let the light flood in. Such a beautiful moment, it seemed to last forever but in actual fact only 152 seconds of exposure. I drove home in more rain with the biggest smile ever on my face. Scottish weather isn’t the most predictable, but it sure gives a great mood.
Who are your favourite photographers or mentors whose works have influenced you and your photography?
My favorite photographers are Ryan Dyer & Marc Adamus. Both their work totally blows me away & a huge inspiration. In my early days, I would have loved the luxury of a mentor, someone to hold my hand & show me the ropes would have been amazing! I made many mistakes & believe it took me much longer to learn my craft. I hadn’t met or knew anyone who was a photographer, it was all a whole new language to me. In many ways, I was afraid to meet one encase I said the wrong terminology or they thought I was ridiculous with my dipsy to make it up as you go along the approach. I’ve never attended a workshop as I literally couldn’t afford it, plus I am a slow learner & would most probably have struggled in a group, however, I do think it’s a worthwhile fast-track path for most.
We almost reach the end of this interview and I would kindly ask you to share with us your future plans or photographic projects you would like to be involved in.
I would really love to do more writing, how it can be a creative outlet for photographers. I thoroughly enjoyed writing my first book Earth, Wind & Fire last year with the help of an Italian publishing house and the satisfying feeling of seeing it in print. Again the perfectionist in me wasn’t 100% happy so I would love to tweak things slightly & maybe self-publish this time.
Are you working on any personal projects right now?
Actually, yes! I have a trip planned to the Outer Hebrides next month where I want to concentrate on intimate scenes using only one lens. I aim to avoid grand vista’s typical with a foreground interest, some form of water, followed by mountains & sky. Whilst I’m there I will be doing some test reviews for my sponsors at Haida with their new Magnetic ND filters. The Hebrides are such a special place to me where the light is quite unique, I call it “sparkly -light”, it looks so dramatic against the dark brooding sky. On my Equine side I’m documenting a rescued foal from Wales who came to the farm this summer with his Mom aged two weeks old named Boyo, he is now four months old & such a super friendly character.
Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
Firstly, a huge heart-felt thank you for giving me this opportunity, it truly means the world to me on a personal level & something I never thought I’d ever achieve on this highly regarded & incredibly talented photography platform. I often visited the site in total awe seeing other photographer’s work get published, something I only ever dreamt of. I enjoying the indulgence of viewing the stunning work of others, I love noting more than pixel peeing shadow detail. I cannot understand for the life in me the whole Instagram craze, the restrictions of a square format is not for me. I have an account but rarely visit the site, kind of feel pressurised to keep up with fellow photographer’s, almost like its a duty to post. Whereas 1X feels organic, with no BOTS or favouritism, I genuinely look forward to uploading with a sense of excitement.