Words and pictures by John Gravett
A professional photographer with over 20 years of experience John Gravett is also the photographic partner of Lakeland Photographic Holidays. John spends his time in the Lake District tutoring photographers of all ages and abilities through landscape photography and travels across the world fulfilling his passion for photography. John is recognised as one of the leading photographic tutors in the country and continually exhibits both in the UK and internationally. So ePHOTOzine took the opportunity to get to know a little more about the man behind the lens.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into photography?
I picked up my first camera at the age of 9 – and got my first SLR aged 12, with over 40 years of playing with cameras, hardly a day has passed in that time when I haven't had a camera in my hands.
My early photographic years were spent photographing sport, in fact I very nearly became a full time sports photographer instead of going to university (where I trained as a surveyor). I also spend a great deal of time at gigs photographing groups and can list Thin Lizzy, Dire Straits, the Jam and many others that I have photographed over the years.
After university, my first career was as a quantity surveyor, but within 2 years of joining a London practice, had taken up the role of photographer, which added architectural photography to my skills.
Through contacts, I also moved into Theatre and Commercial photography in the mid 1990s, setting up my own business alongside my surveying career.
Although I had never done it on a professional basis, landscape and travel photography was always high on my list of “likes”, then in 1999, we saw Lakeland Photographic Holidays was up for sale.
Tell us more about the Lakeland Photographic Holidays business you run.
We bought the business in 1999 as a going concern, but it wasn't really “going” when we moved there from Hertfordshire in June of that year, there were only 20 bookings for the remainder of the year. We put enormous time and effort into building the business back up and for the past 5 or 6 years, have been 99% full every year. 65 – 70% of our guests return annually.
My role at Lakeland Photographic Holiday's
is Photographic Director and I get enormous pleasure every day I am working, seeing photographers develop their own way of seeing, understanding photography and their cameras more fully and simply seeing others become better photographers. I have been involved with photography for most of my life and the ability to give experience back to other photographers is great.
I claim to run workshops rather than courses, as the former have a less structured, more flexible approach – I only want to teach my guests what they want and need to learn, there is no point trying to teach them what they already know.
Our guests range in age from 11 to 90 and from total beginner through to world-famous experienced professionals.
Why did you decide to specialise in landscape photography?
That depends on what you define as landscape photography – I am as happy taking a close-up texture of moss on the bark of a tree as a sweeping panoramic vista of a Lakeland valley. Being based in the Lakes does lend itself more to a general landscape theme, as it's a fairly picturesque area. I have some [regular] guests who spend 90% of their time peering through a macro lens despite being surrounded by beautiful landscapes. At the end of the day I simply want people to increase their own seeing eye and whether that is wide vistas or small details is of no consequence. I personally shoot a lot on a telephoto lens, often taking details out of a landscape to simplify the overall scene.
Our overseas workshops, particularly Tuscany and Marrakech, move away from landscapes and also into town, travel, and people photography, so there is always a subject to suit all tastes.
What essential kit do you take with you when you're going on a shoot?
- A camera that's good at higher ISOs.
- A 28-300mm lens is a must but I use a range of lenses from fisheye to 600mm, so I can cover most subjects, but it's important to take only what you'll use – no point carrying too much kit, you'll only get tired out and get to the stage “I have the wrong lens on for that shot, but I'm too tired / can't be bothered to change it.” I hear this occasionally at the end of the day on my workshops. The more kit you have, the greater the chances of having the wrong lens on – if you're not going to change the lens – leave the others behind. But don't compromise your shots by being lazy. I'll typically carry about 5 lenses on a days walk, from the fisheye to a 70 – 200mm f/2.8 zoom (I like working with shallow depth of field).
- I never go anywhere without it! I'd sooner be restricted to one lens and my tripod, than all the lenses in the world and no tripod. My biggest bugbear is people who buy cheap plastic tripods and use quality SLRs on them – it simply won't give a good result. My rule of thumb is to spend as much on a tripod as you would on a lens. The tripod will ensure sharp, shake free shots on all your lenses, and maximise the quality of your glass.
- Grads, polarisers and a big stopper. I can't imagine landscape photography without them.
- It protects my camera from rain, sand and anything else the elements can throw at it.
Who's your favourite photographer and why?
Two photographers have been inspirational in my life – I love Ansel Adams
for his black & white landscapes and print quality and I have been a huge fan of Jay Maisel
and his amazing use of colour in city work for the past 30+ years, I would love to meet him, as he can be wonderfully controversial in his views, we have a lot in common.
If you could photograph anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
I'm running an annual workshop in Iceland from 2012 – it's somewhere I find fascinating, other places I would love to visit include the Rockies and the Grand Canyon, Thailand and I'd really love to visit the Arctic or Antarctic, cities including Prague and St Petersburgh.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a landscape photographer?
Photography is one of the most competitive businesses today, with so many people now owning good cameras and able to take good quality photographs, it's never an easy lifestyle choice. Be prepared to spend many more hours cataloguing, filing, post processing and trying to lodge your photos with picture libraries, galleries etc, that you ever spend in the field. It does become a lifestyle, I never go out without a camera with me and I spend my life looking – just looking for pictures, different angles and subjects that can create an image. To take it up as a career, it needs to be a passion, not simply a job. On the research side, look at art books, not just photography books, for technique and composition.