Photo Insight with David Noton


One of the foremost travel and landscape photographers working today, David Noton tirelessly travels the world in search of new challenges, which he shares with you here

I took this image less than half a mile from my home in Devon, between the villages of Milborne Port and Charlton Horethorne, on the Somerset/Dorset border. It goes to show that you don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to capture beautiful images. The appeal of travelling to far-flung destinations is obvious, but photographing closer to home also has its attractions. The local knowledge you attain over a period of time is always useful as a photographer. For example, when photographing a scene that would benefit from a spot of mist, I need to know when and where the mist is likely to be – and local knowledge means I have a clearer idea. You get a feel for a particular landscape over the years.

I’m always looking to ‘collect’ locations and ideas for pictures. These are invaluable, as there inevitably comes a time when the shooting conditions are favourable and you think, ‘Where shall I go?’ If you have a list of ideas, you’re at an advantage.

The downside of being at home rather than away on a shoot is that there are always lots of distractions. You almost need to block off time in the diary to go out taking photographers, otherwise there will always be reasons not to do it.

Anyway, back to the image in question. I drive down this road virtually every day, so it’s a view I know very well. I had an idea for a picture with the road leading into the frame. It is a popular compositional device, but one that is very effective.

I took this image early in the morning one summer. As you can see, the hedgerow is in bloom. There are faint colours of the first sunlight and an overall blue colour temperature to the ambient light. The light is very soft, and very low contrast. I used a 0.9 ND grad filter to hold back the sky.

This is a magical time of the day. Quite often, it’s possible to get into a zone and to forget about everything else. Sometimes you feel as though you have been working on a picture for ten minutes and you discover that an hour has passed.

I was using my Fujifilm GX617 panoramic film camera loaded with Fujichrome Velvia 220 film. The camera was attached to a tripod and I was using a 90mm lens. There is a depth of field scale on the lens, which is always very useful. For a shot like this you usually need to calculate the hyperfocal distance and set the corresponding aperture and focus point. If I’d used a conventional 2:3 aspect ratio there would have been more sky and foreground in the picture, which I didn’t want. The width of the shot is pretty much determined by the panoramic format. The 90mm lens gives a relatively natural perspective top and bottom.

I like the panoramic format, as I find the ‘letterbox’ shape gives a pleasing perspective. This format won’t work at every location, but this scene suits it beautifully. When composing for the panoramic format, you need to piece together the composition to fit the format – take the time to think about how the elements in the frame work together to create a compelling image rather than just a record shot of a place. For example, there needs to be interesting elements in the left – in this case, the tree, the lines in the field, then the hedgerow and mist in the sky, to guide the eye from left to right through the picture. They all have an important part to play in the overall composition and come together to create balance and harmony.

You can’t leave the house thinking you’re going to stumble upon a picture, so you always need to have a plan, even if that plan changes. Consequently, there was a degree of pre-visualisation to composing this picture. I knew I needed an elevated viewpoint to capture the road as it disappeared into the distance. I was actually standing on a platform on top of my Land Rover. I put it there specifically for this purpose – to give me extra height if I needed it. If I had been at ground level, I wouldn’t have been high enough to capture the leading lines into the picture. I have lived in this area for 16 years and yet I still see things and think, ‘Why haven’t I photographed this before?’ Only recently I was photographing some horses exercising in a field within a mile from where I live.

This picture means a lot to me because it is taken on my home turf. I’m fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of the world. I have a real bond with this place and I hope this translates into my photography.

David Noton was speaking to Gemma Padley

David Noton’s book Full Frame, priced £25 and published by David & Charles, is now available. It follows David’s journey to ten different locations around the world and gives invaluable insight into his approach and working methods.

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