David Shawe interview
SL: Congratulations David. How does it feel to be the commended in the first ever Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year?
DS: Thank you very much. To be highly commended in SLPOTY means a lot to me as it’s my first little bit of success in a major competition, especially as it’s the first one. It’s also rather poignant as I have a love of the Scottish landscape and its people which draws me back time and time again, even though I’m from the south of England!
Tell us a wee bit about your background and when you first start taking photography seriously.
DS: I’m a recently retired Air Traffic Controller living in West Sussex, and have been a keen photographer for over 20 years. I only started taking it seriously about 12 years ago when I had more time to devote to it. The landscape of the big outdoors is my passion, and photography is my way to try to be creative – my ‘art’ if you like, as I have no other artistic ability.
SL: Has anyone influenced your style of photography? An artist, another photographer?
DS: I have been inspired by many photographers. My very first workshop was at Inversnaid in 2003 with Joe Cornish so it was straight in at the deep end! I love his work and technical approach. I wouldn’t say I was especially influenced by others, but have learned so much by being with other photographers in the field – watching and listening.
SL: What’s the story behind your competition images? Can you tell us a little more?
DS: This is a tricky question, as it’s hard to remember what was going through my mind at the time. I’ll give it my best shot. Lilies on the Loch was made during a week long trip around Sutherland. It was my first visit and I was immediately struck by the wild beauty of the landscape, with more open spaces than Assynt and Wester Ross further south. For most of the week the weather was far from ideal, with wall to wall blue skies in October! This particular day however was more promising. On arriving at Loch Stack I spent some time exploring the loch side by the little boathouse, and the reed patterns. It was only when I headed further east to where a burn flowed into the loch that I spotted these lilies. I spent ages eying up angles and compositions before getting what I was looking for. For Mystical Wester Ross Woodland it was a case of making the most of what little daylight remained as it was early winter. I was on a black and white workshop. I wasn’t particularly looking for a long exposure but the low light gave me no choice. Fortunately the movement in some of the branches actually enhanced the final image. In colour the raw file looked promising, with nice contrast between green, orange and white, but black and white looked vastly superior. For Blaven-Approaching storm there wasn’t much time to mess around. The whole day was one of brief sunny intervals and torrential downpours with a chilly wind – typical Skye! I had seen a similar image before and the hillside was scattered with these rocky outcrops. Once I found this spot I set up a composition and waited for the right light to fall on the rocks. The waterproof camera cover was put to good use!
SL: Many photographers know when they’ve captured a great shot. Do you ever know when you’ve captured that great shot?
DS: I know when I hope I’ve captured a good shot! When I find a location I like I tend to get a surge of adrenaline and creativity. I find it easier to concentrate and focus the mind when I am inspired by a place, subject or lighting condition. Being quite experienced now I usually know when it’s right, and check focus, composition and exposure thoroughly. Of course this is all so much easier these days with digital but I had the same approach when I used film.
SL: What cameras and lenses do you shoot with? Why did you choose them and do they influence how you work in any way?
DS: My main equipment is Canon, a 5D Mk3 as the workhorse with a range of lenses from 17mm to 400mm – 17-40, 24-105, 70-200 and 100-400 plus 24mm and 35mm primes. The 100-400 often stays at home although it will be in the car boot if there is a chance of some wildlife! My favourite is the 24mm TS-E Mk 2 lens – it’s quite superb and I love the creativity and front to back sharpness it provides. I also use it with a 1.4x converter as it gives me the 35mm focal length I often like. I have a Canon 40D converted to infra red which is great fun. I love monochrome IR and the creative potential it gives. I am impressed with the Fujifilm range and have an X-E2 and 3 lenses for when I want to travel light. The image quality is on a par with the Canon. Before digital I used a Canon film SLR so it was natural to remain a Canon user. I also used a Pentax 67 medium format system for a while. I was a willing convert to digital – it was the original 5D which convinced me that this was the way forward.
SL: Do you use any post processing in your work and if so can you tell us about your workflow?
DS: I always shoot raw and use Lightroom for converting and organising my images. I find that Lightroom alone can be sufficient for processing many images, but will export to Photoshop CC for more intricate work. I often use Silver Efex Pro for black and white, but I’m very careful not to overdo the use of the sliders. I hate looking at images which say ‘processed in Silver Efex Pro’ – it’s all too common unfortunately!
SL: Do you have any personal favourite photographs of your own and can you tell us more about them.
DS: 2 or 3 favourites from a library of 25000, now there’s a challenge! OK here goes. Many of my favourite images are monochrome. I’ve attached 3 to my email reply. 0410-0420 was one of my earliest black and white digital images, taken with a Canon 20D in B&W jpeg mode. I was just trying it out for the first time. The location is Glen Brittle, Skye. I love it because it captures the grey mood of the grey day and subtle tones in the marram grasses and gate just right. It is still one of my all time favourite images! 1409-0380 is a favourite for its simplicity and almost abstract nature. Just a simple reflection in Loch Duartmore, Sutherland taken last September. Finally 1409-9809, my favourite local coast at West Wittering in Sussex. I have done so much photography there and love the feeling of space, the quality of light and sand patterns at low tide.
SL: Do you have any new projects on the horizon? Have you set yourself any new goals and where do you see your photography going in the next year or two?
DS: I am co-hosting a photo tour of Wester Ross this autumn – my first foray into this field. I have no wish to compete with the true professionals who run workshops for their living but would like to put my extensive knowledge of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to good use, and to regularly meet up with fellow photographers I have met over the years. I would like to expand the type of photography I do and not get stuck in a creative rut, eg. more wildlife and architecture. I also hope to organise an exhibition of my work in due course.
SL: Lastly, are there any specific tips or techniques you can share with our readers?
DS: In just three words – ‘take your time’! When arriving at a location it is so tempting to rush into taking photographs. I suggest walking around to take in the place and its atmosphere, not erecting the tripod straight away, looking in different directions and forming a plan if possible. Of course the conditions will sometimes mean that you have to get your skates on, but if there is plenty of time, use it. The results will be better!
More of David’s work can be found on his website at www.davidshawephotography.com and he can also be found on Facebook.