We meet the Bishopsteignton based professional photographer to talk inspiration, must-have tech and his latest book celebrating the beauty of our South West peninsula.
Q: So, where did it all begin?
My parents gave me my first camera when I was 10 and I was hooked right away. It has been an important part of my life just about ever since.
Q: Are you self taught or did you study photography anywhere?
Totally self-taught through books, trial and error, experimentation and experience.
Q: At what point did you realise you could do this professionally?
I was in my 30’s living in Hong Kong working as an editor for Elsevier, a famous medical publisher. In my spare time I was increasingly supplying both photography and text to a growing range of East Asia’s English language magazines and book publishers. Eventually, I started to become so busy with this that I was struggling to manage my ‘proper’ job, so I quit and became a full time professional photographer/writer.
Q: Shooting images for National Geographic Creative must be high on the potential achievement list of many landscape/wildlife photographers. Which got you the gig?
It takes a lot more than just one image to get anything with NatGeo Creative. I did a couple of projects, photographing for guide books on Hong Kong and China, for AA Publishing except that it turned out it wasn’t really the AA – they were acting on behalf of NatGeo Creative, and when the latter subsequently wanted to negotiate extended rights for the use of the photos they came to me directly. She had a word in someone’s ear, and I subsequently received an invitation to join NatGeo Creative as one of their photographers. You don’t think twice about an invitation like that.
Q: You’ve recently published a book showcasing the stunning landscapes and wildlife of the South West – it looks amazing! Can you tell us a bit more what it includes?
Wild Southwest showcases the natural landscapes and wildlife of southwest England, covering the four counties of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. It includes examples of just about everything to be found in the region, from the high moors and bogs, to its ancient woodlands, heaths, chalk grasslands, lowland marshes, river estuaries, rocky shores and cliffs, and submarine mudflats and reefs. Plant and animal wildlife ranges from bluebells to basking sharks, and an awful lot in between. It is not an exhaustive record of everything we have in the southwest but it is quite comprehensive!
Q: What is it about the South West in particular that inspires you?
Well, apart from being so close to both my heart and my home, it really is quite a stunningly beautiful place. It can be enormously varied over quite short distances, and some of its landscapes and habitats stack up pretty well against some of the best and environmentally most important places in the world. OK, so we don’t have snow-capped mountains and glaciers or vast arid deserts (thankfully), but we do have incredible, rugged coastal cliffs, wild open moorlands, and lush ancient woodlands – environments that many countries do not have much of.
Q: How do you include your own personality in your photography?
Ooh. Aah! Not sure I know the answer to that question. Most of the photography is intuitive, at least in terms of subject matter and composition. The technical stuff I know about because I teach it a lot, but when I’m out shooting by myself even that is largely worked out subconsciously. I use wide-angle lenses a lot, and I have a certain graphic way of instilling dynamic energy, mood and atmosphere into much of my photography which all adds up to my own style, I guess.
Q: What’s your current weapon of choice? Are there any pieces of gear that you can’t be without?
I’ve used Canon equipment for years. Right now I’m using a Canon EOS 5D Mk 2 and an EOS 7D Mk 2, but with the current headlong technological rush the former is starting to look a little long in the tooth. When it comes to landscapes and a lot of general travel photography, I’m pretty sure I’d be lost without my lovely 17-40mm lens!
Q: How important is post-processing using editing software?
These days the computer is pretty much an integral part of most good photography. Composing the view and pressing the shutter to get a good, well focussed exposure, are the crucial first steps to generating good images. However, post-photography processing in the computer can then turn those good images into great ones, finding detail otherwise lost in shadows, rescuing over-exposed areas, improving contrast, exposure and colour balance and saturation.
Q: With technology advancing at an astonishing rate, what do you think will be the next big thing in photography in the next ten years?
A few things that are probable are the steady improvement in image quality among mobile phones; ever better low-light and night time performance by the DSLR cameras; increased convergence of stills and video technology; and constantly increasing file storage capacity.
Q: Finally, where can our readers get their hands on a copy of Wild Southwest?
It’s stocked by all southwest branches of Waterstones and WHSmith as well as through many of the online book stores, including Amazon. You can also find it on my website at: http://www.nigelhicks.com/WildSouthwest.html