Russ Barnes | www.russbarnes.co.uk
Well its been a while but this is my first photographer interview I have done for sometime. I hadn’t updated the old website recently and felt it was holding me back in areas so I have gone for a completely different look, more on that later but first I thought I would treat you all with a photographer interview and first to feature on my brand new relaunched website is Landscape Photographer Russ Barnes. I have been a massive fan of Russ’s work and his beautiful images. I hope you all enjoy Russ’s interview, this is something I plan to do on a regular basis so who knows you might be featuring next!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and also how many years have you been “behind the lens”?
I’ve been land-locked in the Midlands for most of my life. I used to be insanely jealous of people living in coastal locations as a photographer but actually as I’ve got older I appreciate my central location more and more in the UK. I know the first thing people probably think of is industrial dreariness and the sprawl that is Birmingham but actually I can get to most parts of England and Wales in a couple of hours. That gives me a huge amount of flexibility which I try and exploit more and more… At the time of writing I’ve really pushed by photography for the last seven or eight years or so I would say.
What type of photography to you mainly shoot and why?
It’s all landscape and then it’s turned into about 90% trees. I love the unique nature of trees and are drawn to them because I try to avoid shooting scenes that are immediately recognisable by their location. If all people see in an image is the location then they give up very quickly looking at what’s really there. I try and make the viewer work a bit more than that and try to appreciate the tone, texture or form more than merely where it is.
What camera gear do you use?
I’m a Nikon man but I also own Zeiss and Sigma lenses. My main body is a D800E, I have a 720nm infrared converted D800 and for lower light/higher ISO I also have a Df which I absolutely love. My two favourite lenses are probably the Nikon 45mm f/2.8 PC-e (Tilt Shift) and the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 – both are incredible.
Who are three of your favourite photographers that inspire you the most and how has your appreciation of their work affected how you do your photography?
Chris Friel opened my eyes to different possibilities in photography. He’s as charismatic in person as his pictures suggest too – he’s the one that got me hooked on Tilt Shift half a decade ago and all that has done is opened the doors to a more creative world. Let’s see now, probably the tree work of Dav Thomas & David Baker jointly made me really focus on how I was approaching woodland, I have framed prints from both of them on my walls at home which I look at every day. Last but by no means least I am a heavy admirer of the landscape work of Mark Littlejohn and Colin Bell – again, they both jointly manage to set a bar for me that is pretty tough to match on any given day.
What are the typical preparations that need to be made before a shoot/photowalk? (Both in terms of camera equipment and researching the location itself / weather etc.)
Honestly, I’m the anti-planner. There are some words that I read from Charlie Waite a few years ago that every landscape photographer needs in the back of their mind; “lower your expectation”. He’s right. I hold no expectation of weather though that doesn’t stop me from being hopeful. Yes, I check the forecast (I’m usually praying for a bit of fog), yes I check tide times (usually for my own safety), yes I know what time the sun is meant to rise (behind the thick cloud no one predicted) – after that I pick a location and go. No elaborate planning using The Photographer’s Ephemeris or anything similar, I like to shoot things as I find them. I rarely find any sort of plan in photography really comes off as you expect so I abandoned those principals years ago.
Example – I remember arranging to meet up with David Baker a couple of years back to take a tour of the New Forest. It turned into one of those grey lifeless sort of days. In the end we gave it up as a bad lot and headed to Southbourne Beach instead. It was there and then that I shot “Rebourne” which was Commended at Landscape Photographer of The Year and appeared in the 2013 book. Planning is over-rated in photography – be free, and shoot what you see, go with the conditions and what works best in the moment and you will feel a lot more positive about what you come away with.
What is your favourite post processing tool that you use? eg Nik Software, Photomatix, PS, LR, Topax etc
Like many photographer I would be lost without my digital workflow. It goes something like this: I always shoot in RAW, I convert to a 16Bit TIFF file in Capture NX2, then work on the TIFF in Photoshop CC. I also use the Silver Efex Pro II plugin for my mono work and Color Efex Pro 4 for everything else.
Are there any places that you would really like to visit to take photos and why?
The key ones are Harris, Lewis & Skye in the north of Scotland. I used to think I really wanted to get to Iceland but I’m less sure these days. It’s what’s immediately recognisable by it’s location again that plays on my mind with this.
Which out of your portfolio are your top 3 personal favourite images and why?
I was asked by someone else recently what my favourite image was. I find that favourites come and go but one I keep going back to is certainly “Colours Of Bolehill” which I shot in the Peak District last year. It just sums up everything I love about the area, but critically everything that I love about trees. There’s almost a translucent veil over the frame of the tree that I particularly like.
I must say I do like a couple of recent ones I’ve taken during this winter – “Precious Metals” is one I’m particularly attracted to. It’s a Tilt Shift image which works particularly well in the mist or me, the nominal amount of real colour is right up my street too.
Lastly, perhaps “Refuge” because it represents something a little different, I love the fact its minimalism could be a location anywhere in the world and I think the infrared helps deliver that sense too. We’re left with the basics in that frame and of course what’s not to like about sheep!
Do you have a highlight or something that you are proud of in your photography that you would like to share?
I’ve enjoyed some reasonable success in Landscape Photographer Of The Year which has certainly given me a certain confidence I suppose. Appearing in the same issue of Black+White Photography Magazine as Michael Kenna in January must rank up there – it doesn’t get much better than that for me.
Which part of photography do you find most difficult and why?
I have something of a mental block in constructing anything in portrait orientation. I seem to be incapable of making a square that works too. So much so, it’s embarrassing.
If you had one very important lesson that you think every photographer needs to learn from, what would it be?
It’s what I call my “what if” scenario. It’s a dead easy approach to greater creativity, too many photographers are way too one dimensional in their approach and thinking. You simply keep asking yourself “what if” questions… Example: “what if I choose to use a telephoto instead of a wide-angle here?”, “what if I take three steps forward or back here?”, “what if I frame the scene without any sky here?”. And so on. It relies on the fact that you need to be able to keep coming up with the questions, but to me it’s akin to having a guide or tutor with you all of the time pushing you to keep trying something different.
Any other comments that you may wish to share are always welcome.
I believe in personal and artistic development. Keeping an open mind is essential for that to happen, having fixed views about anything when it comes to photography will probably limit you sooner or later.
Check out more of Russ’s work on his website at www.russbarnes.co.uk