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  • Writer's pictureGareth Partington

Why photograph things you are not paid for?

As a professional photographer you should focus on one thing and one thing only in order to make money, or so we are told. So why then do I photograph lots of different things? Does this not make me an amateur in doing so?

A breath of fresh air

My specialism is in portrait photography and whilst this is the area I wish to excel in, I find myself drawn to the landscape. I don't claim to be an amazing landscape photographer but I find that going out and spending times in the outdoors allows me to recharge my batteries and switch off from the world.

It is a different skill set to portraiture and requires a completely different approach, there is no controlling the light, or asking the mountain to move just a little to the left if I don't like where it's placed. You have to work with what you have and this forces your brain to work in a different way.

It is frustrating and when you have left the house at 2am and driven four hours to get to a location only to find the sun does not rise but remains hidden behind the clouds. So why do it? Why not just stick to what you know and photograph people.

It's because when the sun does rise in just the right way, and catches the mountain water and reflects back into your camera, high lighting and bathing the world in golden light, it's worth every frustrated cursed word you have spoken in the failed attempts from the previous trips. There is something very satisfying about creating a beautiful or mysterious landscape photo.

The legends of the world

Another reason I love going out and creating landscapes is because I adore the feeling that there is a whole world of history about the different locations I visit. Who has walked these paths before me, who has lived in these remote locations or what creatures were once associated with these lakes or caves?

When I head out I try to find locations which have folk tales associated with them. All of the portraits I create have been influenced by films, stories, or folk tales. It may not be evident when you first look at them, but the lighting, colours or pose have all been inspired by things I have heard or seen.

So it may appear tedious but there is a connection between the landscape images and the portraits.

Gaining inspiration

When I'm out photographing in the landscape I find that my imagination is recharged, I'm more relaxed in doing so and thus ideas start to form on projects I would like to create. I find it's very important for me to spend time away from the computer, away from the paid jobs and just to create for myself.

I know the locations I visit have been photographed a million times before by far better photographers than I am, but what can I bring to the landscape? It is my ideas, my interpretation of the world that will result in me producing different images. No one photographer has ever capture the exact same photograph of the gate on Mam Tor. The light will always be different, you may stand in the same place, choose the same lens and same aperture but the experience will never be the same. How you interpret that world will never be the same as someone else.

Improving my skills as a photographer

By going out and creating images in different genres it will improve you as a photographer. My portraits have improved because my landscapes have. My still lives are better because of my knowledge of lighting from portraits. It is a reciprocal relationship, one improves the other.

Sometimes its very difficult to produce an image in an area you are not comfortable with and sometimes the results are far from good, but pushing yourself and working in different areas will make you stronger. If you are an athlete think of it as cross training, working on your core will make you a stronger cyclist or climber. It's the same with photography the more images you make the better you will become. So get out there and create.

As Neil Gaiman says

"Make good art"

Do you ever work in an area you are not known for? How has it affected your skills and do you improve by stepping out of your comfort zone? I'd love to hear ways to improve my photography.

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