Recipe for Success – Martin Gillman – Reader Profile
Proving that it’s not just professionals capable of creating stunning images, AP reader Martin Gillman explains how his photography takes place in the head, with the camera being just a tool. He talks to Features Editor Debbi Alle
Behind The Scenes
‘I spent five days in Glen Coe in the Highlands of Scotland last summer,’ says Gillman. ‘I drove past this scene a few times, always noticing its potential, but the light was never quite right to justify the walk to it. I wanted a partially cloudy day so I could wait for the foreground trees to pop with sunlight and have them contrasted against the darker mountain.
‘On the last day the weather turned that way, so I braved the midges and walked some way to set up. Once framed, it was really a case of waiting. I knew exactly in my head from days before how I wanted it to look, and eventually I got my wish and managed the shot. The light was particularly bright and blue, and I had to use a 0.9 graduated filter to even come close to keeping the sky from blowing out.’
Looking at the photographs that illustrate this article, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were taken by a professional photographer. However, Martin Gillman is a business development manager for an engineering product company by day, and an amateur photographer in his free time.
Martin is an avid reader of Amateur Photographer. ‘AP gives me the news, the goss, the gear and even the politics,’ he says. While Martin specialises in landscapes and fashion, he says he is still finding his photographic self. ‘I am drawn towards landscape, I toy with fashion, but I feel strongly drawn to editorial and street these days too,’ he says. ‘I like telling stories.’
‘Cheddar Goats’ Nikon D600, 50mm, 1/500sec at f/8
Although Martin embarked on his photographic journey in his youth, he didn’t pursue his hobby seriously. Like most amateurs, he is honest about his skills when he started out. ‘I was awful back then,’ he says. ‘I used a tiny cheap 110 camera and took lots of blurry shots of wildlife that had bolted long before I hit the shutter. Yet I was attracted by both the art and the technical side, and the complexity of the cameras themselves interested me.’
It wasn’t until he returned to photography seven years ago, when he bought a Nikon D40X, that the photography bug really bit. Martin decided to pursue his photographic passion by putting himself through a diploma in photography, to get a handle on the basics of the craft.
‘That served me well,’ he says. ‘I then went on to start a BA Hons in photography on a correspondence basis.’ However, like most amateur photographers, holding down a job and family life left little time for education. ‘I finished the first year, but I could no longer find the eight hours a week to continue study and had to pack it up,’ he adds.
Having gained a huge amount of knowledge about composition and the art of photography during that year, Martin says that education has, without doubt, done more for him than any piece of kit has.
Speaking of kit, Martin’s kit bag holds a few items to make most amateurs drool, including a Nikon D800 and a Fujifilm XE-1. ‘They are a fine pair of machines,’ he says. ‘I also have a few 35mm film bodies, but those are just for fun and nostalgia.’
In fact, Martin is so happy with his current camera set-up that he admits to not wanting anything else. ‘I am happy with what I have,’ he explains. ‘I do believe in the old saying that the best camera you have is the one in your hand. One day you wake up and realise that the photography is happening in your head, and while the camera in your hands is the tool, and it should be good, it is just a tool.’
‘Derwent’ Nikon D700, 24-70mm, 1sec (multiple exposure) at f/22
While most photographers start out shooting for fun and for the love of their hobby, for some, their thoughts turn to ambitions of selling their images and turning professional. However, Martin is still wrestling with that decision. ‘I’d rather be a good amateur than a mediocre professional,’ he says.
Martin takes his photographs for the same reasons most amateurs do. ‘I enjoy the creation of something unique – something that, although it was there for all to see and to capture, perhaps has been captured in “my way”,’ he says. ‘It’s a print of my personality in many ways, an output; it flowed into me and out of me. I think I’m quite spiritual about my photography and it means a lot to me.’
That’s not to say Martin is happy standing still, as he likes a challenge. ‘I want to get noticed, it’s that simple,’ he says. ‘I don’t need recognition to stroke any part of an ego, but I do as a marker of my progress. I want to know if I am getting better, if I am doing it right and if I should continue.’
And his philosophy is working for him. Martin has sold some of his images through stock sites like Getty Images and Vogue Art + Commerce, as well as having had photographs published in fashion magazines. ‘I have done a few magazine shoots in lower-end fashion titles, including shooting published covers,’ he says.
Ultimately, though, as an amateur, Martin gets to shoot what he loves, rather than what someone else wants him to. ‘For me, I like to sell the images as they are rather than shoot what is in someone else’s head or agenda,’ he says. ‘I like that freedom and am lucky enough to have it. However, who knows what the future will bring as I am constantly’
‘The First Tree’Nikon D700, 20-35mm, 1/60sec at f/16
Specialising in landscapes and portraits, Martin needs to be able to switch between techniques depending on what he’s shooting. He says he is able to do this by keeping ‘common threads’ between the two genres. ‘With portrait photography, I want to tell the viewer something about the sitter, while in landscapes I want people to see it how I saw it. So one is outwardly descriptive and the other inwardly. When it comes to making the image, I am a natural-light fan. There is something about artificial light, no matter how well it is done, that doesn’t convince me. I need to believe an image for it to work for me.’
In terms of editing, Martin insists less is more. ‘I try to keep editing to an absolute minimum,’ he explains. ‘I enjoy the challenge of getting most things in-camera, which is the best bit for me. In a landscape, I may add a digital grad into the sky or even foreground to help with tonal balance or dodge and burn – especially in mono versions to get some added “pop”. In a portrait I will just tidy up.’
Creating his stunning landscapes means that much of Martin’s time off work is spent on the road, scouting for new and exciting locations. ‘I love to drive and explore,’ he says. ‘I like to avoid the obvious places. I like to discover the odd tree or feature in an otherwise bland vista and make something of that small section. I often shoot landscapes at 200mm.’
Finding his own style has brought Martin some form of recognition, but he still tries to keep his techniques fluid and keep evolving his skills. ‘I like the low-sun hours and a backlit tree at sundown, but I keep myself free from routines and methods,’ he says. ‘If the light isn’t right, look around you, as there will be a spot in shade or part shade that will be interesting. I’m a very spontaneous shooter.’
Having dabbled in wedding photography, stating, ‘It’s too fussy, too rushed and it doesn’t inspire me,’ Martin is looking for his next photographic challenge. ‘The world is a huge place,’ he says. ‘In my military days I travelled extensively, without a camera, and to go to some of those places again, good and bad, would be a dream. To document some of the terror I experienced, as well as the beauty back then, would have left me quite a portfolio. However, I’m sure it all influences me now. A free trip to Namibia is, of course, welcome should you need me!’
PICKING A FAVOURITE
Of all his photographs, Martin Gillman says he struggles to pick a favourite. However, when pushed he says he currently likes his shot of West Bay beach in Dorset (above).
‘I probably make less than six photographs a year that I feel really proud of,’ he reveals. ‘My current favourite is this rather simple shot. I sat waiting to capture walkers and passers-by from one viewpoint, purposefully keeping a really simple composition and letting those who entered it make the story. At one point a small dog entered my frame and I hit the shutter just as he stopped to look at me. It’s a shot with a lot of great tones, simplicity, good geometry and a touch of comedy.’
As well as learning his craft from his education, Gillman has attended a number of workshops, which he says have helped guide his skills. ‘I read a lot, I study the classics a lot and try to attend courses where I can,’ he says. ‘I have spent time with Charlie Waite in the field and also been critiqued by AP Editor Damien Demolder.’
So what is Gillman’s advice to fellow amateurs looking to progress their own photography? ‘Learn your craft, practise, practise then practise some more,’ he says. ‘Then study the best, both classic and contemporary. Truly understand how a great photograph is made. Oh – and get off internet forums and get behind your camera, walk the walk.’
Do you want to see your pictures in print, share your photographic journey and experiences with other readers? Send up to ten low-resolution jpegs and a short covering letter on an email titled ‘Reader profile’ to AP@ipcmedia.com, or post a CD/DVD to Reader Profiles at the usual address, and you could see your work published in AP.
‘Stormlight’Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 1/60sec at f/22