Last year I had the great privilege of supporting humanitarian operations in the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma. I was there as the Royal Air Force’s deployed head of strategic communications, a role that involved a lot of hard work liaising with UK and international media and, from time to time, escorting journalists through some of the worst-hit areas. I was lucky enough to be working with a truly superb RAF photographer, Jimmy – but I could also turn to my own skills to turn out news photography when the situation called for it. It’s a job I still think back on with huge pride – and one that still leaves me feeling more than a little shaken.
In April I completed the Pennine Way – a 16-day adventure (and ordeal), and an outstanding opportunity to take time to make landscape photographs. Below I’ve reproduced part of my travel journal covering the final day of the walk – one of the toughest days of my life.
Thu 27 Apr: Byrness to Kirk Yetholm
The final leg of the Pennine Way – from Byrness to Kirk Yetholm – takes in more than a mile of ascent and 26-plus miles of walking – nearly a tenth of the entire trail, making it possibly the longest day walk I am ever likely to attempt. [My walking partner] Adam and I set off before 0600, almost immediately ascending nearly 200 metres steeply to the bare, windblown summit of Byrness Hill. We set off for the Cheviots through intermittent sunshine and screaming winds. Appropriately enough, some of the features of the route bear names that suit the conditions: Windy Crag, Windy Gyle, Plea Knowe, Foul Step, Windy Rig, Murder Cleugh (times two!). Let’s not talk about Randy’s Gap.
Mercifully, much of the final stage of the Pennine Way is paved or marked. Here and there, slabs are entirely submerged in boggy water, as though to remind walkers of earlier boot-sucking slogs across Ickornshaw Moor, Saddleworth or Blenkinsopp Common. Principally, though, the route is challenging because of the constant climbs and descents – by this point my knees were in blazing pain whenever I walked downhill.Read More
When planning a travel photography job, preparation is important – especially for something as challenging as the Pennine Way, which I’ll be tackling in April. I’ve spent more than enough time in mountains and on long-distance trails like the Annapurna Circuit and West Highland Way to know that nothing can be left to chance. That’s especially the case where kit is concerned, and no less so for cameras than for boots, bivvy shelters and backpacks.
I’ve not had much of a chance to get hands-on with my camera – an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk II – so far this year, so I took the opportunity of a frosty Saturday morning to take it on a traipse through the South Downs National Park. My aim was as much to escape London as it was to re-engage my creativity.
Life can be tough for a freelance photographer. There are plenty of challenges to overcome, day-to-day – from keeping records of expenses (huge) and income (tiny, for the time being) to finding potential clients, pitching and waiting, seemingly endlessly, for responses. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love it. But one thing seems to be missing for me: making new travel photography.
The issue is simple: without income I can’t travel; and unless I travel, I can’t make income – at least not while concentrating on doing what I really love. I’m a freelance photographer, so I can’t afford to be too picky: event photography, stock and headshots will help tide me over (and in truth I love getting behind the camera, whatever the subject), but unless I get into the great outdoors and explore the world I still feel I’m just biding time.
Lately I’ve been reviewing my travel photography from the last few years: Nepal, Rioja, the West Highland Way, Ardnamurchan, Dunnet Head, Cornwall, Guatemala… and it feels rather like I’m looking in through a shop window, unable to get hold of what I really want. The solution is simple: a new adventure, making new landscape photography along the way.
Travel photography and writing have taken me to some wonderful places – from the mountains of Nepal to the chalky clifftops of the South Downs and stormy Scottish coastlines, I have been lucky to see places that live in my heart and mind – and to make landscape photography along the way. Few have as strong a hold over me as Rioja, a region of Spain whose wines have long been among my favourites. Back in September 2014 my then fiancé and I visited, partly so that I could make travel photographs for Pride Life magazine – partly so that we could simply soak up some sunshine away from a dreary British autumn.
We started our trip in Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque Country (of which Rioja is the principal winemaking region). Basques are a famously independent people, and around Bilbao it’s hard to escape outward signs of the region’s autonomy. As cultural as it is political, autonomy is reflected in the widespread use of the Basque language and the Union Jack-like orange, white and green ikurrina flag. When we visited, saltires uttered alongside the ikurrinas, a reminder of our own country’s debate over independence and identity as Scotland went to the polls for an independence referendum.