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ePHOTOzine Chats To Paul Marsden - We chat to Paul Marsden, who's been all over the world shooting stunning landscape imagery.
How and why did you get into photography?
Many photographers talk of an epiphanic moment when they become 'serious' about photography. I guess mine was in 2007 during a three month trip around the Grand Circle in America visiting places like the Grand Canyon, Zion and White Sands.
Up until then I had only toyed around with a camera on family holidays. While my parents introduced me to photography from a very early age in the form of a Kodak Ektra 12-EF Instamatic, I wasn't pursuing it as a hobby.
Before that trip, I'd never experienced the desert landscape before, and I was blown away by the size, scale, features and colour. Watching sandstone bluffs glow pink and red as the sunset crept over them was pretty much my gateway drug into landscape photography.
I was hooked, suddenly I felt myself wanting more from my photography. I wanted to capture the feeling I had travelling through these places and to capture my personal visceral experience.
'Alchemy' by Paul Marsden
Your images often focus on the land and its features, like flowing water and trees. Why do these subjects appeal to you the most?
I love everything that goes into landscape photography. It is a great excuse to escape to remote and beautiful places and it's pushed me to visit places I wouldn't have otherwise visited or experienced.
Part of the appeal is the challenge that landscape photography poses. Nature is full of complexity and contrast. Harnessing this, trying to break its forms down into a 2D rectangle, whilst recreating your 3 dimensional 7 sense-driven experience of the landscape, is a really satisfying creative process.
All nature has an indisputable beauty, the rising sun hitting lofty granite peaks is always going to be an impressive sight, though I'm also drawn to the underlying 'smaller shows'. The elements that are all around us that pass unnoticed as they are more everyday – like forests, rivers and trees.
They all have their own character, and it's often more challenging (and rewarding) to create shots from them. Water is always a massive draw, which is maybe why I'm drawn to seascapes so much, there's something primal about the ocean, the roar of surf, the sea mists, and it's a place you can really use the camera's ability to see the passage of time, that 4th dimension we can't see through our own vision – only our minds eye.
'Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants' by Paul Marsden
Having grown up on a diet of DSLRs, with their rugged bodies, full creative control, powerful lenses and über megapixel counts, I’ll admit to previously not having an interest in digital compacts like the Ricoh GR. Whilst often feature rich they have previously appeared to suffer from being jack of all trades master of none.
I didn't see they had anything to offer me as a landscape photographer, but the Ricoh GR's promise of RAW and full manual control definitely piqued my interest, and the fixed frame lens is a great touch.
The Ricoh GR gave me all the freedom to control any scene as I wished, which combined with RAW support, adds up to a tempting package of end to end control from image capture to darkroom development. This is something which has been lacking in other compacts and as such has steered me away from the compact category in the past.
What features do these cameras have that made them stand out from the bunch?
The Ricoh GR makes a great field camera being so portable, and the full manual controls and fixed focal lens are vital tools to enable me to fully control all aspects of exposure in the field, and the RAW support is great for darkroom development.
The fixed focal wide angle lens is a huge draw for me, being drawn as I am to big vistas and the landscape format. It's a perfect accompaniment to my camera bag, it allows me to be mobile and test shots in the field before deploying my main DSLR kit and the shots and feedback it produces give me the assurances I need that I have chosen the correct composition and shot.
'The Last Supper' by Paul Marsden
We especially like the 'ruins' series, and your images of the ghost town of Bodie. Can you tell us a bit about how you found out about this place and how you went about composing such atmospheric and thought provoking images?
Firstly, thanks for the compliment!
Bodie is a unique place. It came on my radar whilst researching a photo-vacation to California. I'd been to some ghost towns in Death Valley, but there was hardly anything left resembling human occupation, and I was looking for a place where daily life was still recognisable amongst the abandonment and decay.
I've been back several times over the years, and each time several elements have stuck out to me. Especially how everyday household objects lie around in ordinary settings in otherwise extraordinary circumstances; a table set but having had no dinner served for 100 years, the beloved chair in front of a residents main window weathered by the elements. They are familiar, yet their setting, patina, texture and situation seem to make them something else entirely.
In particular, I tried to evoke that sense of time passed by introducing subtle movement, or capturing specific textures and patina, or the past occupants lives through more mundane objects we'd recognise and use today.
If you had to give three top tips for creating arresting landscape images, what would they be?
1. If it doesn't feel right it probably isn't
We all have our inner critic. That voice or feeling in the gut that tells us when we hit the shutter or open the RAW file that the image isn't 'the one' for whatever reason. I've learned to listen to that little voice, it’s always right and when listened to usually results in a better photograph.
2. Keep going back
With so many places to see at home and abroad, it's tempting to only visit a place once before moving on. Routinely going back to a location across concurrent days, seasons, tides and weather conditions will help you see more potential and increase your chances of capturing what you've envisaged, or uncovering something you (or others) have previously not seen.
3. There is no such thing as bad light
Whatever the weather (within reason), you should head out with your camera. Too many times I've looked at the forecast or out the window and thought it's just 'not right' today. Avoid the Goldilocks syndrome. There is no such thing as perfect conditions, and often the worst weather makes the best light, or forces you to adapt to the situation, which can result in unexpected gems.
For more information on Paul and his photography, take a look at his website, f29.