Photographer of the Month Interview: Nigel Turner | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, July 2014:   Nigel Turner

We want to thank Nigel Turner, this month's featured guest photographer, for taking the time to share his thoughts, comments and incredible fine art photography with all of us! Please visit his links to see more of his beautiful work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: How did you get your start in photography?

I just stumbled into it basically. I felt that there had to be more to life than getting up at the same time everyday, going to the same place of work and doing the same job day in and day out. I was so bored with life at the time that I realized that I wasn't going to spend the rest of my life in this conundrum at any cost. Of course at this point I had no real idea how I was to rectify this problem but knew that there had to be a way out one way or another.

:: Your bio mentions that a trip to the US from your home in the UK in the 1980s is what caused you to get into landscape photography. What was it about that trip that changed everything? Were you doing photography prior to that time? Was the subject different?

I decided back in 1988, more or less out of the blue that I wanted to try and make my living as a Landscape Photographer. Having spent a couple of months travelling around the USA a year or so before I had a new found interest in photography. I felt that the opportunities in the US were greater than what they were in the UK. At the time I had been looking for a way out of the 9 to 5 existence that I found myself in and as I was still young enough that if I failed it certainly wouldn't be the end of the world for me. I had no real commitments in the UK at the time and just felt that this move would allow me to fully commit myself to the long learning curve that this specialized subject was going to need. I was more or less a complete beginner when it came to photography at the time but was looking forward to the challenge.

I was also fortunate that I could sustain myself financially for a full year without the need to actually have to make a living and concentrate on the goals I had set myself.

:: Are you still using large format film or have you switched to digital? What about the large format film do you like working with the most?

I realized very early that if I was to be taken seriously in my chosen field that the only way to go was to adopt the large format camera system. Back then in the late 80's, especially in America, using large format for landscape photography was considered normal, especially if you wanted to enter the fine art gallery market. 35mm was wildly accepted for magazine, calendar and postcards submissions, and of course the stock agencies used mostly smaller formats, but this wasn't the direction that I wished to pursue.

When I landed in New York the first port of call was to B&H Photo Video where I purchased a Wista 5x4 Technical Field Camera and a couple of Schneider lenses. To show you how naive I was back then I need relate to you something that I still find amusing to this day, due to my total lack of knowledge of all things photographic back then.

Having acquired this brand new gear I returned to the hotel that I was staying at. I recall that it was very hot in my room as the air conditioning wasn't working. It took me well over an hour just to figure out how to open the camera and slide the front standard onto the focusing rail. After finally mounting one of the lenses onto the lens panel and fitting it onto the front standard I looked through the ground glass screen and to my sheer shock and horror noticed that the image before my eyes was upside down and back to front!

With sweat pouring down my brow I thought that there must be something wrong with the lens and called up the guy who I had dealt with at B&H and explained the situation to him. All I could hear was his sniggering and talking in a low voice to others in the background. It would appear he said that all was fine and that I would get used to this over time and of course I did.

So as you can see I had an awful lot to learn. Looking back today I wouldn't change a thing. Learning on large format cameras gives one a true understanding and grounding on many principles in photography. Viewing the world upside down and back to front makes you work hard when it comes to subject arrangement, composition and focusing. Camera movements such as front and back tilts, rise and swings, if you decide to utilize these movements, have to be taken into account in the making of every image. And every image is unique. It's a slow process and one that really makes the photographer think - anything slightly wrong can and will destroy the image.

And then you have to be able to appreciate light and how to measure this light. There are no built in light meters with these cameras and the use of a handheld meter is a must. I used to use a Minolta Spot Meter F to get an appreciation of exposure. I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a 'correct' exposure, but rather an exposure that matches ones pre visualization, in my case the final print that is in my mind. As Ansel Adams once commented "The negative is the composers score, but the final print is the orchestras performance" something which has always stuck in my mind.

I stopped using large format towards the end of 2007 and now use the digital medium exclusively.

:: Your work seems to focus largely in the American west. Have you moved there? What about that landscape speaks to you the most?

I moved to the United States on a permanent basis during the mid 1990's and based myself initially in St George, UT, which is very central for many of the locations where I spend most of my time. There is such a large diversity of subjects in Utah alone. One day I can be exploring the Canyons and the next I can be in the Mountains shooting Aspens. There is a never ending array of subject matter to choose from.

:: After nearly 30 years photographing landscapes, what do you still find to be challenging with the medium?

I'm more of a purist shooter if that makes sense and that has certainly made life much more difficult since digital has come of age. I sometimes feel that I should change with the times and learn more about the software that is now available to photographers to enhance images in such a way that wasn't possible a few years ago.

To me, and this is just my opinion, I find some of what are regarded as the best landscapes have been overly manipulated. Todays images seem much more saturated and I'm blown away by the number of fantastic skies that you always seem to see nowadays.

Skies were always the biggest problem a number of years ago, or lack of interesting skies should I say before the birth of digital. Rarely did a photographer manage to capture fantastic skies to go with his or her subject and composition but nowadays they seem to be a dime to a dozen. I don't think nature has changed that much but the ability to work in digital has made a huge difference. I often wonder what is real and what is fake and added at a later time in processing? I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with this but it just isn't the way I like to work.

:: What is your favorite piece of non-photographic gear that you must take with you on every shoot? Why?

Well, due to the sheer nature of the work I do there is an awful lot of waiting around for the right conditions so I'd probably go with my Samsung Galaxy Note II cell phone, which of course is much more than just a cell phone. It's built in GPS which functions without a working cell signal is fantastic especially when I'm way out in the wilderness. Being able to read books, play music and watch videos all on the one very small and light device really helps the time pass more quickly. Also because I spend so much time off the beaten track I also carry a search and rescue beacon should I encounter a real life threatening emergency.

:: How involved with the social media side of photography are you, and what are your thoughts on the state of photography now and the relationship it plays with social media?

I'm not that savvy when it comes to social media mainly because I don't have much to say at the best of times, so I can't see why anybody would be interested in anything I would say on such sites as Twitter or Facebook. I do have a Facebook account but rarely if ever update it.

I'm not sure if you count 500px as social media but I do have an account there where I like to share images and view other photographer's work which is a lot of fun. I've discovered a lot of world class photographers on 500px but I find that if you don't post images of nice sunsets or coastal scenes then you are by and large likely to be overlooked. It seems to me that many well composed images with great subject detail, clarity and sharpness are often overlooked.

:: What was the best learning experience for you when you were getting your start with Photography?

Just being out in the field most days practicing and learning from the mistakes that I made has and still is my greatest learning experience. Whenever I am out shooting I still try to learn something new. There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to landscape photography. You are only as good as the last image you made and that first and foremost you really need to be your own self-critic and never make do with second best.

:: Do you shoot any other subject matter? If so, what?

No, not really, but I do try my hand at a bit of wildlife when I'm in such locations as Yellowstone, where there is an abundance of available opportunities.

:: IF you had to choose only one lens to use for the next 5 years, which would it be and why?

I'd go against the grain here and go with something along the lines of something more telephoto. I can't possible step of a cliff to get closer to my subject but can at least normally walk backwards to achieve the same composition. I'm not a huge fan of really wide angle landscapes as I feel they often lack a real focal point of interest and that the foreground in many isn't really that interesting but was added as an after though because that is what we are told to do when we first begin shooting landscapes.

:: What is the scariest thing that has happened to you on a shoot?

Accidentally dropping my Wisner 8x10" Expedition camera, lenses and all the other associated gear down a remote slot canyon in Arizona back in the late 1990s and hearing it bounce from one side of the canyon to the other until it finally came to rest at the bottom. A journey of about 100ft. Once I finally managed to retrieve it I was surprised at how well it had survived this calamity. Even the ground glass screen had survived although the rear standard needed replacing.

:: What areas are on your bucket list to shoot in the year to come? What about these locations has caught your interest?

Some of the places that I have always wanted to visit are surprisingly close to home. One of these locations is a remote slot canyon called Peach Canyon and is on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Northern Arizona. Unfortunately it is on private land and access is denied.

Further from home I'd love to visit Iceland, Patagonia and Namibia at some time as they all have fantastic photographic possibilities and I'd like to try my hand at getting some usable images.

:: How do you approach shooting a location you've never been to before, or are planning to shoot for the first time? Walk us through that creative process.

If it is a new location that I have never visited before I try to just explore the area for its potential and I do this without even taking a camera with me. I know this may sound strange to many as I may actually miss a 'shot of a lifetime' but I find if I do this I actually see more of the area and what it has to offer. I'm therefore less inclined to get to involved with trying to capture something just because it presents itself. I can frame whatever it is I see in my minds eye for composition. I look for subjects that have strong compositions and a focal point of interest. I look at the subject and think about the best kind of light that the subject needs, does the light need to be gentle or stormy, overcast or direct, the time of year that the subject would be best showcased? What time of day, sunrise or sunset or even mid day under the right circumstances? This all depends of course on what kind of image it is I'm looking for, the grand vista, a more intimate subject or even an abstract image.

I will keep all of this information in my memory and may not even revisit the area in the immediate future, but they become potential images at some stage, a bit like a library for future use.

:: What piece of advice would you leave for a newer photographer getting started in the landscape business?

Just go out and enjoy yourself, learn from your mistakes and try to make the strongest images that you can but ones that please you first and foremost. Oh, and just one more thing… don't get hung up about having the latest and greatest gear, as they say, the best camera is the one you have with you. A small, sharp and well composed image of an interesting subject is far superior to one that is overly enlarged and has a poor subject and weak composition. You're in for the ride of your life!

Nigel Turner

"Just being out in the field most days practicing and learning from the mistakes that I made has and still is my greatest learning experience. Whenever I am out shooting I still try to learn something new."

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