A number of years ago I interviewed at long distance David Noton, eminent landscape photographer, when his book Waiting for the Light was published. It has become one of the books that I constantly pick off my shelf when I feel the need for inspiration. Here is the article I wrote and which was adapted for use in Australian Photography magazine when it was combined with another interview which I did, again at long distance, with Tom Mackie, another equally eminent landscape photographer.
It was a cold November day in England’s Lake District with regular showers from the jumbled clouds that scudded over a landscape filled with the glowing colours of late autumn. I was on a weekend workshop with Charlie Waite, one of England’s finest landscape photographers and it was then as I stood guard over my tripod mounted camera with a plastic bag hood over it that I learnt that most valuable lesson for the making of landscape photographs — “wait for the light”. When the light did eventually come, it was fleeting but I got the shot. It was worth the wait.
When I heard that David Noton, another of England’s fine landscape photographers, had written a book called Waiting for the Light I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I had known of David’s work for many years and during the time I spent in England a few years ago, I had read his articles in the photographic press with enthusiasm.
I suppose the answer was inevitable when I asked David what attributes he considered important for a landscape photographer.
“A feel and understanding for natural light, with all its endless variables and subtleties,” was his reply and his book bears that all out.
In it he explains about what he calls the happy hour — the period immediately before and after sunrise and sunset when the light can be fantastic. David reckons that about ninety per cent of his photography is done at these times. It also confirms the advice given by another photographer I interviewed who, when asked what was the most important piece of equipment for a landscape photographer, answered, “an alarm clock”.
So, how had David Noton become a photographer of the landscape?
“I think all photographers, indeed all artists, work best when they have a real connection with their chosen subject. For me I’d always been into the Great Outdoors. It started when I was 8 with summer camps in Algonquin, Canada, and continued through my teens with school hiking trips and the army cadets, so when photography captivated me it was natural that my first inclination was to turn the lens on the landscape.”
What about photographers who have inspired and influenced him.
“I think individual images have inspired me more than any one photographer’s work. I gain inspiration from all sorts of sources and artists, from Van Gogh to Cartier-Bresson.”
I then asked, “When photographing the countryside, what do you look for or, to put it another way, what is it that motivates you to actually release the shutter and make a photograph?”
“Any photograph that works is a fusion of the photographer’s vision and technical expertise with the elements that Mother Nature chooses to offer. Normally I will have completed a thorough location search to determine where I need to be and when. To do this I need to pre-visualise how the image could look in different lighting situations. This is probably THE key skill that a landscape photographer needs to develop. Once I’ve got the location sorted it’s a case of returning, often many times over, until persistence is rewarded with gorgeous morning or evening light. The quality of the light is the key element which nature provides.”
“Where are your favourite spots for landscape photography?”
“This is a question I’m always asked but can never answer. I like to go to new areas, experience fresh challenges and explore different environments so generally I try and avoid returning to scenes of previous shoots. Also the challenge of working somewhere like the Australian Outback is an entirely different experience to exploring the back roads of France; both are stimulating and benefit from the contrast between each other. Having said that, I do have some favourite corners of the globe; South East Asia, Italy, Canada, France, Scotland, our home patch of Dorset, New Zealand and of course Australia. Family connections in Australia and New Zealand mean we’re frequently knocking around the antipodes. Oh, and Peru, and Chile, and what about Africa? As you can see, once you start trying to make a list it just grows.”
Having prised that out of him, I persevered and asked, “Why those places?”
“South East Asia; lemongrass, tuk tusk, tropical languor, colour, food, markets, faces.
Italy: piazzas, Carabineri, tomatoes, villages, food, poppies, pointy trees etcetera.
Canada: big open spaces, room, massive landscapes, pristine wilderness, and I grew up there.
France: baguettes, lavender, sun dappled squares, campsites, lush, verdant landscapes.
Scotland: Northern Light; you have to wait for the light, but when it’s good, it’s very good.
Dorset: England’s green and pleasant land.
New Zealand: the light, the water.
Australia: the colours of the earth, the light on the eucalyptus, the sounds of the outback, the totally unique environment, the stubbies, Utes and space — but not the flies.”
And, lastly, I asked if he had any hints or tips for somebody just starting out to take photographs of the landscape? Yes, he has many. Just go to David’s website at http://www.davidnoton.com/startingup.htm
“There’s a wealth of information on my website, particularly in the monthly dispatches which go back 7 years.”
To which I might add, “And, buy his book. I think it is full of great advice for any level of landscape photographer.” I shall certainly be referring to it regularly for the inspiration that comes from looking at fine photographs.
The book is set out in four sections covering Vision, Environments, Gallery and Mechanics. These sections are interspersed with Photo Essays, Photo Journals and Travel Diaries all of which contain valuable information about how David makes the great images that sell to publishers, advertisers and the news media.
From the Vision section, I focused on the need to really see and pre-visualise an image, Light (“Being a photographer means living your whole life subconsciously considering the light”), Shapes (Composition) and Motion (to blur or not to blur).
In Environments, I noted Ice (how to expose for snow), Wood (tripod essential) and Concrete (great urban shots).
The Gallery is very worthwhile with extended captions that explain the making of each image. And, in the Mechanics section David talks about the nuts and bolts that are so essential to a photographer. While he shoots much of his work on a panoramic camera using film (there are no digital versions at present), he also uses a DSLR.
Waiting for the Light is a good book but I do wish that publishers of photographic books would stop printing pictures across two pages so that much of the image is lost in the binding. If they do want the large pictures — and I do agree that size is important — why not do what Ken Duncan has done and bind the book at the top of the page rather than down the side? And, greyish type on black is not conducive to easy reading!
If you are serious about being a landscape photographer, David Noton’s book should be in your library. It is published by David and Charles (Australian distributor Capricorn Link) and its ISBN is 978-0-7153-2741-8.
And, don’t forget that being there is the first requisite for making great photographs because then, and only then, you can wait for the light. The virtue needed for this type of photography? Patience.