It occurred to me recently that having bought my first proper camera in the summer of 2009, it had now been ten years since I first got started. So I thought I'd share a retrospective of how my photography has evolved over that time, and how it's affected my style, and my approach to the art. I'm going to go through each year, and share one photo from that year and why it represents that point in time for me.
In 2009 we bought our first house, and in contrast to renting, I was looking forward to being able to put pictures up on the wall. I'd always loved trees so I wanted some woodland photos in our new house. We bought what I thought was a lovely canvas photo of a bluebell wood from a high street chain, and that took pride of place. But I wanted something more personal too. Photos of the places I'd been, and the trees I'd seen. I'd always liked drawing and painting, but I simply wasn't good enough at them to create something wall-worthy. So I decided to dip my toe in the water by buying a second-hand Olympus E-410 camera. It was the perfect starter camera really. It had all the controls I would need to learn, whilst being small, lightweight, and low-cost. At the same time, I borrowed a couple of books from the library, most notably Digital Photography Masterclass, by Tom Ang. That was a great book, and it laid the foundations for all my learning to come. It covered shutter speed, aperture, ISO, histograms, compositions, rule of thirds, golden ratio, black & white, colour, as well as RAW format and the technical aspects of digital photography. I was pretty disciplined. I read that book from cover to cover (possibly twice) before I allowed myself to rush out and start taking photos. But once I felt I had a handle on the theory, I was off and away.
It wasn't long before I realised photography was way harder than I thought it would be. Cameras just don't capture scenes like the human eye does. Having thought I was halfway up the learning curve, I realised I'd only just made it to the slope.
We went to France in August that year, and I took this photo of a vineyard at sunset...
Not a great photo, but it's better than I remembered. And it features some classic elements I would return to in future; simple sky, flat-on composition, and back-lighting. I should stress though, that this is not representative of the photos I took that first year. It was a very difficult year, and the vast majority of my photos were complete rubbish.
Another difficult year photographically. I would regularly pop down to the woods with my camera, and take some incredibly dull photos of the trees. But increasingly I was getting distracted by the squirrels, birds, and deer that I encountered. I remember stalking a muntjac deer with my wide-angle lens, desperately hoping to get close enough for a good photo. But it wasn't going to happen. I would need a longer lens if I wanted to branch out into wildlife. So I began collecting bigger and bigger lenses, and I started to visit Woburn Abbey Deer Park, to see bigger and bigger deer. In December that year I took the photo below, which became a real springboard for me.
Red Deer - Family PortraitThree large stags, in the snow, looking right down the lens.
My favourite shot of red deer so far.
British Wildlife Photography. Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK. Not only was this photo a great result on it's own, but I was also learning the field craft; how to get close to the deer, and how to get the angles I wanted. This photo got me some attention on social media, such as it was at the time, which was probably the encouragement I needed to believe I might be able to do this. I was just getting into Flickr at the time, so I was learning a lot from others on there, as well as sharing my own photos.
Red Deer - Head On - Centred - On WhitePortrait of a red deer stag, in high-key lighting style.
Placed centrally, staring down the camera lens.
British Wildlife Fine Art Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK. One of my favourite ever photos, and certainly my most popular. I took this during a chance encounter, freakishly close-up to a rutting stag. The background was a little bright, and messy, so I just decided I'd over-expose it, and see if I could create this abstract high-key portrait. I'd made a couple of low-key portraits earlier that year, but this was the day my On-Black and On-White projects really began.
I started my website in 2011, with the intention of having somewhere for my portfolio online. And I started to offer prints, as that was the direction I always wanted to go. Since the beginning, although I chopped and changed between landscapes and wildlife, I always saw wall art as the primary goal. Both to spruce up my own walls at home, and for others who liked what I was doing.
I'd also switched to Nikon this year, as I was growing frustrated with the limited lens choices from Olympus, and the four-thirds system. I took this photo with the brand new D7000, and the Nikon 300mm f/4 lens.
2012 saw another grand adventure, to Canada, and another camera upgrade, to the 'full-frame' D800.
I was still torn between landscapes and wildlife, and although my landscapes from Canada were better photos, it's this moose encounter which brings back the best memories of that year.
Canadian Western Bull MooseI took this photo in a chance encounter at Jasper National Park, Vancouver. Moose range over many miles, so I was very fortunate to see some in my short time there.
Wildlife Photography, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.
It's not a great photo. I really wish I'd shot the wider scene, rather than zooming as close as I could. I also don't like the background blur. It's kind of ugly and mechanical looking. But for me this photo is really all about the encounter that day, and the fun we had. It represents the unforeseeable adventure that photography has taken me on, and the benefits of enjoying the moment when these opportunities present themselves.
By this point photography was becoming something of an obsession for me, which has it's pros and cons. But the good thing about it was that it fuelled our growing interest in travel, and helped direct us to some spectacular destinations around the world. In 2013 big dramatic landscapes were in. Bright colours, and attention-seeking compositions were the order of the day, and this style certainly influenced me. It was also our first trip to Iceland. I'd wanted to go for years, but photography gave me the drive to make it happen. And when I think of that first trip, this photo comes instantly to mind.
Skógafoss BlurThis is the mighty Skógafoss waterfall, in Southern Iceland.
It's really a sight to behold, and I'm thrilled to capture it in such green surroundings. We were fortunate to have had a week or so of rain shortly before our visit, and that left the grass & moss in great condition for us to find.
Landscape photography, Skógafoss , Iceland.
It's Skogafoss waterfall; photographed to death both before and since this visit. But we were very lucky to find it surrounded by such lush green; the result of two weeks of rain before we got there. I used a long exposure (another growing trend of the time) to blur the water and the clouds. I now see this photo every day, as it hangs in our living room. It took four and a half years, but I'd finally taken a photo I wanted on my wall! My taste has certainly changed since I took it, but I think it generally holds up, for this style of landscape photography. These days I prefer more modest, muted images, as we'll see in the remaining photos.
Wow, a prolific year, it turns out. After shooting a lot of landscapes in 2013, I started to lean back to nature in 2014. This was a year when I made a conscious effort to work on my On Black project, and I took quite a few portraits in this style. This cow in black and white stands out as a favourite. The sun was low in the sky, and I'd found a subject that wasn't too cautious of me, which was a refreshing change from wildlife.
Low Key CattleLow-key studio-style portrait of a horned cow.
These cows make for fascinating portrait subjects, because of the way they will stand and stare. They're inquisitive animals, and that long stare is inviting and engaging.
Taken in the New Forest, Hampshire, UK.
This probably marked the time when my interest in wild animals began to wane, in favour of these more intimate portraits of more familiar subjects. I started to realise that I enjoyed the creative aspect of portrait photography more than the chase and the patience required for wildlife photography. I also won a couple of photography competitions this year, both for captive nature photography.
It's almost impossible to choose just one photo for this year. I was lucky enough to photograph bears in Finland, as well as puffins in Skomer, a successful autumn deer season, and another trip to Iceland. I also made a concerted effort to visit the bluebell wood several times through the season, and try a little hard to get some decent woodland photos. I've chosen this photo as a favourite of mine from that spring, as it's one which I felt was an improvement on the bluebell wood photo I'd bought back in 2009. So it represents a landmark moment for me, when I started to feel like I was taking photos of equal or better quality than those sold in shops up and down the country.
Low Sun in the Bluebell WoodThe green trees are painted gold by the setting sun, and the bluebells are illuminated from behind. The sun is placed to one side here, so we see the shadows of the trees stretching out at an angle.
Part of a bluebell landscape project.
Fine Art Landscape Photography, Bedfordshire, UK.
I think this year reignited my love-affair with trees, which had been a big driver in wanting to learn photography in the first place. Woodland photography, it turned out, was a particularly difficult discipline. But I started to get the hang of it, and visiting Skuleskogen National Park in Sweden presented a challenging opportunity to capture the character and scale of the Scandinavian pine forest.
Skuleskogen ForestA wide-aspect view of the forests of Skuleskogen National Park, in the High Coast (Höga Kusten) region of Sweden.
The Swedish High Coast is a spectacular area of the country, situated around halfway up the East coast of the country. Skuleskogen offers easy hiking trails with views of green forests, granite mountains, big skies, and the many nearby off-shore islands.
Travel photography, Hoga Kusten, Sweden. By this point, I'd reversed my taste for bright colours, in preference of more muted tones. I was also enjoying the natural look of the 50mm focal length, which I used here for this two-shot panorama.
When I think of 2017, I instantly bring to mind my trip to Australia that year. But despite the enjoyment that brought me, I don't think the photos I took there were as progressive as what I was doing back home. So I've chosen this puffin photo for 2017, which is not only a favourite of mine, but it represents the blending of several disciplines together at once. I was able to combine my knowledge of low-key photography, built over the previous few years, with my passion for nature and my experience of Skomer and the puffins which I'd accrued over visits in the years prior. I was really pleased to use all those tools to create a wildlife image with a simple and minimalist aesthetic, which appeals to me. It was a photo very different to anything I'd seen done before.
Low-Light PuffinAn Atlantic Puffin on a cliff top in low light.
Taken in the traditional low-key style, to retain focus on the subject and allow the background to fall into shadow.
Fine art nature photography. Taken on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, off the coast of mainland Wales.
For 2018, I can't think beyond Iceland, and the Laugavegur Trail. I probably took better photos that year, but this was a huge achievement for me; to complete this multi-day through-hike, and it opened up opportunities to see and photograph landscapes which would be otherwise inaccessible. I was able to connect with the Icelandic landscape in a more meaningful way than the busier tourist route of previous trips. It has also given me the confidence to book more adventurous trips in the future. This particular photo is where my mind jumps to when I think of this trip. We're in the hills over the Hvanngil valley, looking East towards the volcanoes of Stórasúla and Hattafell. Lurking on the horizon is the infamous Eyjafjallajökull ice cap.
Hvanngil Valley PanoramaThe stunning Hvanngil valley. A grassy meadow surrounded by volcanos and glaciers. In sight, behind the Hvanngil hut are Stórasúla, Hattafell, and the infamous Eyjafjallajökull.
Fine Art Landscape Photography, Laugavegur, Iceland.
Again, I've kept the colours and contrast relatively muted; a trend which is evident in my photos of the last three years. Although more saturated colours and clear shapes appeal more to social media, it's less suited to wall art. It's just too much. Softer-toned photos can still create a focal point for a room without shouting about it, and that's the aesthetic I aspire to these days. So as time has gone on, I've evolved my style to work best as wall art - as that's really been my intention from the start.
I'm not going to share a photo from 2019, since it's technically my eleventh year. We'll have to wait and see what's to come, but I'm certainly keeping busy. In fact I've got so many photos in the queue to share, I can't write the blog posts quickly enough!
Over the last ten years I’ve bounced around trying lots of different styles and techniques, which is important as you learn a new craft. I would look at the works of inspiring photographers and artists and wonder how it is that their style is so recognisable, and how they came to find that within themselves. Everyone always says just go out and create, and your style will emerge naturally. I think that is proving to be true for me. After several years of playing with different ideas and influences I started to realise what sort of aesthetic I enjoy, and that guides the nature of the work I now create. These days I do have my own style, and I think most of my photos are recognisably mine. At least they feel that way to me. Not that I’m finished learning though. I still have so much more to work on, in an environment which is constantly evolving. Since I bought my first camera, things have changed massively. Camera technology has raced forward. Processing software such as Lightroom and Capture One have arrived and matured, providing incredible control and refinement of the digital image. New techniques such as HDR, auto-stitched panoramas, focus-stacking, have become available to the mainstream. It’s never been easier to take good photos. So as a result, there are now more photographers than ever before. This has destabilised the photography market somewhat, as the value of an image is often considered negligible. Yet the power of imagery has never been higher. In a world dominated by the internet and social media, images are a predominant amongst that media. So I do believe that photography remains a high value product in society. For me personally, I don’t see a time when people won’t want wall art. As trends and styles evolve over time, I think there will continue to be demand for fresh and modern imagery. My hope is for my photography to find a place in modern contemporary art, while remaining accessible to the mainstream. On a personal level, as long as I'm able to have an outlet for my creativity, and the subjects I shoot still bring me inspiration and awe, I'll be happy.
If you enjoy my photography, the best way you can support me is to like and share my photos on social media. It really helps to bring my images to a new audience. If you want to buy a print for your wall, you can do so on my website and you will also get a tree planted in your honour. Thanks for sticking around, and I hope you enjoy my photos over the next ten years too!
Post by George Wheelhouse, 2019.