Photocrowd winner Nick Jackson on photographing wildlife, inspirational conversations with strangers and why he loves HDR.
Here he answers our questions about his photography history, passions and influences.
How did you get into photography?
I was very lucky to be born into a travel-loving family. From an early age, while my friends were heading to Nice, I ventured off to Nepal. I started using an old film camera to document the trips, but it wasn't until a few years ago, when I invested in my first DSLR, that the bug hit hard and I went from taking pictures made for holiday albums to really trying to improve my skill as a photographer, and now to slowly building a career out of it.
How often and when do you take photographs?
For the last couple of years I've been adding a photo a day to my Facebook page. Before this I mostly updated my website whenever I'd been travelling, but I really wanted to challenge myself to get out and explore more as well as to improve my technique sufficiently to be able to create an image I'm happy with each day.
Usually I'm wandering the streets of London, where I live, a couple of nights a week and try to get half a dozen shots I'm really happy with on a theme or location I've chosen. Nighttime photography is what I enjoy most, so the bright lights of the big city work well for me. I also try to get out to new parts of Britain once a month and travel outside the UK as much as possible to keep the photos varied and challenging. I'm currently in Tokyo beginning a two-week Japan trip coinciding with Cherry Blossom season. This is somewhere I've always wanted to go.
What is your technical set-up (cameras, favourite lenses, software etc.)
I shoot with a Nikon D7000 and my don't-leave-home-without kit includes a Tokina 11-16mm wide-angle, which has quickly become my London landscape lens of choice; a 16-85mm Nikon which is a very versatile walkabout lens; a Vanguard SBH-100 tripod and my remote control shutter - both of which are integral to my night photography. I've got a 70-300mm Nikon for wildlife and a 35mm Nikon for portraits, which is currently used a lot less than I'd like.
Software-wise, because my niche has become nighttime HDR cityscapes, I'd be lost without Photomatix Pro 5 to merge my various exposures together, and then Lightroom 5 to tidy up and make tweaks.
How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
I visit a lot of exhibitions, never missing Wildlife Photographer of the Year. And while most people are looking only at the photos, I'm trying to absorb all the info that goes with them - where the image was shot, what technology was used, what the settings were.
I've always been fairly comfortable with my ability to spot or plan a scene that will make for a good photo and to frame it well, but the technical aspects have taken (and still take) plenty of improvement. I find spending some time with like-minded folk and comparing images is a good learning tool, or just getting out as much as possible to see different types of photography. The great thing about DSLRs is that you can practice with hundreds of photos to get better.
Whose work has influenced you most?
In the early days I was really influenced by the Wildlife Photographer images, and they definitely led me to spend a lot of time doing underwater and safari photography. However, it was when I stumbled upon some of Trey Ratcliff's HDR work a couple of years ago that I became fascinated in using that technology to create vibrant images. Until then I hadn't seen it used to any great effect and it really clicked that this was how I could push my work in the direction I'd been aiming for. Now much of my nighttime urban landscape imagery is created this way, although for flora and fauna I prefer a more natural feel.
Among your works, which one is your favourite? Why?
I really like some of my wildlife photographs because they take me back to why I first took up photography - to be able to remember those early adventures. The photo of the gorilla and her baby brings back strong memories of good times spent in Uganda with my family.
Then there are shots where I was trying to achieve something particular, such as the geometry of the spiral staircase or the beautiful sunset behind St Paul's, which I'd been visiting and revisiting for weeks waiting for the sky I imagined to arrive.
However, the one that I think means most to me is the black and white image of a homeless man sat on the Millenium Bridge looking up at St Paul's Cathedral. It was taken on a New Year's Day and he told me of his hopes for that year and how he imagined his life changing for the better. I wanted the image to convey that hope via the path to the Cathedral.
What do you get out of being a photographer?
It's something that I've worked hard to succeed at solely because I'm content when I imagine, create and share my work. It's not a direction I've been pushed in and although it's not always easy to convince people that being a photographer means more than having a camera as a hobby, the last couple of years have given me experiences and adventures I would never have seen if I hadn't picked up that first DSLR.
In day-to-day life I find that since truly focusing on photography, I look around a lot more. There are so many unique and wonderful scenes to capture if you don't follow the trodden path and skip to the destination. It's the moments I haven't seen created before that I'm really excited by.
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