Please join me in congratulating this month’s featured photographer: Greg Whitton. Greg is a landscape and travel photographer from the United Kingdom who’s well-known for his powerful compositions and ability to find and capture the unseen.
In this interview, you’ll get to know more about Greg’s photographic journey and vision.
Start by telling us a little about yourself and how you got started with photography.
My first ever camera was a Kodak 110 way back in the late 80’s when I was about 10 or 11 years old and then various 35mm FFL consumer cameras until my first SLR, a Canon EOS300 sometime around 2000. I really didn’t know what I was doing with it back then, but I coveted that camera for several years, eventually losing interest in favour of my other passion, hillwalking.
Digital photography was in its infancy around this time and I bought a 4MP Pentax camera to record my walks, but I really enjoyed the instant nature of digital and the ability to be playfully creative for very little in the way of cost. A friend of mine in our hillwalking group was heavily into landscape photography and in 2010 he decided to upgrade his Canon 40D, offering me that camera for a ridiculously low price, which I gladly bought off him.
That’s when the real passion ignited. Suddenly I had the technology in my possession to both be instantly creative and be able to produce a quality image.
I still look through images taken with that 40D even now, some of them still stand up well against their more recent peers in my opinion…although I like to think my eye for composition has improved greatly!
How would you describe your work and what do you want others to take away from it?
In essence, real. Ninety-nine point nine percent of what I reveal to the world has nothing more than basic editing principles applied. No stretched mountains, no multi-focal blends, etc. Very occasionally, for an individual piece, I’ve gone a step beyond and experimented with a sky replacement, especially when the piece has been more about mood rather than a record of what I actually saw.
I guess in recent years you can break my photography down into two categories of landscape; panoramic and foreground dominant.
With the foreground dominant pieces I want to place the viewer in the photo, I want them to feel like they are standing there, their eye being led around the frame how I want it to with subtle editing techniques, light, dark, highlight and shadow, etc. The foreground in these images is everything, the background is almost incidental to the story I’m trying to tell and are there more for context than anything else.
Panoramics became more dominant in style as a result of an injury I sustained that meant I’ve been unable to get ‘into’ the landscape more to work on those foregrounds. I’ve instead had to focus on what would normally have been the background, with longer focal lengths.
What are some of your most memorable (both positive and negative) experiences in the field?
As mentioned above, my injury, sustained on a photoshoot that went very wrong, is the most negative experience. It forced me to change how I shoot. Hopefully, in time, it is something I will overcome, I’m still healing, but it certainly changed my mindset from being super comfortable and confident, heading out into the hills by myself, to one where I now worry a lot more about safety and having company.
In terms of positive, that’s a tough one, I’ve had many positive experiences in the field, be it whilst solo or when leading workshops. One of the most positive was perhaps way back in 2013, setting out on a 4-hour journey through the most appalling weather because I predicted it would break in a specific location right around sunset…and it did. I was in the right place at the right time and witnessed the most spectacular light as a result. I was so happy at that moment I actually failed to do the scene justice in the image.
Life is full of learning experiences, that was one. The photos were ok, but the memories were better.
In addition to landscapes, you’ve got a quite impressive portfolio of travel photography. What is it about capturing these moments that fascinates you?
Thank you. My wife is a great lover of travel so it’s often easy for me to persuade her that we should go to XYZ country for our vacation…obviously with an ulterior photographic motive! I’m sure she grows bored of me a little when there, always looking for a photo.
My approach to travel photography is no different from my approach to landscape, constantly looking for the most interesting aspect of these scenes before me and focusing down on that. Be it an architectural detail, something colorful or shapely, or perhaps a little scene of something or someone that catches my eye.
A lot of travel photography you see is staged, I’ve certainly learned that having visited the same locations. That makes me a little sad. Sure, the images are spectacular sometimes, but knowing that it’s staged removes any authenticity for me. A good example is the cormorant fishermen in Guilin in China. Some of these images win awards, and that is fine, but that makes me think that the judges just don’t have a clue about what they are judging.
Tell us a little about your book ‘Mountainscape’ that you published back in 2015
Mountainscape happened as a result of winning Outdoor Photographer of the Year, it’s as simple as that. As a project, it was pitched for a book before I won the award, but was rejected due to lack of profile. Winning the award changed that. The project itself was born out of a love for the UK’s wild places, the mountainous areas of England, Scotland and Wales. It’s a portfolio of images taken over a 5 year period, mainly recorded from many of the hillwalks I was doing at the time.
It’s not a compendium of honeypot locations, although some images are familiar to many, it is a study of these environments through the eyes of someone who loves the mountains for what they are, not what they look like.
One thing I like about your work is that you rarely see any ‘classics’. How do you go about finding these lesser-known locations?
As mentioned above, I’m not a big honeypot (aka classic) shooter. Sure, I do enjoy occasionally going to these places to see what I can come up with, but for me, I’m just constantly looking for compositions wherever I go. Sometimes they come about because I’ve looked at a map, studied it, and decided that the terrain is something that looks interesting or fun to explore.
People are also quite lazy, so even when it comes to honeypots, they rarely stray beyond what they have seen before. I’m always looking for a new angle on something.
What are some essential equipment that you always have in your backpack?
This has changed since my accident in the hills. On that day I was only carrying my camera and a headtorch. I was going ‘light’. That was a big mistake. Now I never go anywhere without a Personal Locator Beacon, food & water, a bespoke first aid kit and the usual map & compass.
In terms of photographic equipment, I usually have my Gitzo tripod, as well as my Sony a7Riii, Sony 100-400mm telephoto, and either the Sony 24-105 or Canon 24mm TSE. Sometimes I’ll also have a Voightlander 15mm. I also take a polariser and occasionally a couple of filters.
What are your top 3 tips for someone just getting started with landscape photography?
Everything else is just gravy, as they say.
What’s next for Greg Whitton?
I’ve just lost my job a few days ago. A 21-year career ended involuntarily. Having looked for other jobs similar to the one I lost, there are plenty out there, it wouldn’t be a problem getting one…except my heart isn’t in it anymore.
Landscape Photography has become a passion and so I am throwing myself into that full-time. It’s an exciting time for photography. I’m really interested in technology and the advancing decentralized technologies of Web 3. Part of that is the explosion of NFTs and this has opened a huge door for photography that is being snapped up with gusto by many people.
I’m continuing to explore this area and soon I’ll be launching a new website with additional services available that I haven’t been able to offer until now due to time constraints with what was my job. I’m now free and I’m relishing the challenge!