Irregular Shooter by Darren Whiteley
Despite a burning desire for an outlet to express my creativity, I never had an aptitude for art. However, as a mathematician, I was immediately drawn to the use of geometric concepts and numbers in photography but I knew I would need to see quick progress to maintain interest. A key moment in my journey was the capture of Dunstanburgh Castle at sunrise. I had been there a few times previously and seen the sky light up for a few precious moments before daylight took hold.
I knew if I could get a long enough exposure with the right wind conditions, I would make the most of those colours and the reflections on the wet sand. It will never win any awards, and in hindsight I wish I’d kept the RAW file to process it in a less heavy handed style, but it was the first time I’d set out with a concept and achieved the desired result.
Being an irregular shooter, it has taken time for my style to evolve. The last few years have been busy on both the family and work fronts with the arrival of our son Alex, post graduate study and four house moves all in the space of five years. Unsurprisingly, photography took a back-seat and while I was still shooting I found myself just taking pictures rather than expressing what I was seeing, capturing the mood or taking the chance to try something new.
Although I attended photography workshops they did little to develop my style and, given the cost, added pressure to come away with something noteworthy. I was frustrated with my output and lack of progression and as a result, my passion had waned.
In 2016 my job moved us to Whitby, North Yorkshire, a location rife with photographic opportunities. This gave me a creative kick and I found myself relaxing more when out and being prepared to take chances knowing there was always a next time. As a result, I have seen a decrease in shots just capturing the moment and an increase in shots with feeling which communicate a story to the viewer. They also have a real essence of me and I can see a clear transition to line, shape and colour dominating my shots with texture, form and pattern appearing sporadically.
Instinctively, I assumed this progress was a result of shooting more regularly but looking back it was no more than the historic one or two weekends a month. The main change has been perseverance to continue and make the most of the conditions available. Armed with the knowledge I can return with relative ease if unsuccessful, I am more comfortable trying new things and attempting shots I would not have before. Key weapons in my arsenal are my Lee Little and Big Stoppers that make the most of whatever colour is in the sky and emphasise the shapes and lines formed by clouds and water.
Initially surprised at how different and interesting a long exposure scene could look, I now have an eye for opportunity. I often arrive at a location to find another photographer packing up due to poor conditions only to purview the scene and know I’ll capture something. Whitby Piers, Admiral Von Tromp sunset, Saltwick dawn and Sandsend light are examples of shots I took when others were leaving.
As with anything which is time-dependant, planning is essential. In the past, I regularly changed my mind on where I was going, regretting it as I realised the conditions were better suited for my original choice. Conversely, I have also been prone to setting my mind on what I desire to photograph and then committing without a second thought to the conditions. Sunrise at Staithes was a shot I had in mind for a number of months and set off in all manner of unsuitable weather conditions in the forlorn hope there would be perfect weather at the location before finally getting lucky.
Similarly, it took me several visits to capture the wooden groynes, having on previous occasions failed to check the tide conditions. In those cases, it was maddening to know I was unable to make the most of the time with the camera.
Finally, as a hobbyist support is a must, not only in the form of a sturdy tripod but also from those dearest to you. I have a wonderfully supportive wife who never moans when I get up at some ungodly hour or disappear when I have a hunch the weather is right. In fact if I listened to her encouragement more often I’d have more shots in my portfolio. My five year old son is also keen to join me and the shot of Runswick Bay was captured while he and I spent a wonderfully calm Boxing Day morning alone on the beach.
I credit him with finding the ‘big rock in the pond’ and then an eight-minute exposure and the rising colours did the rest. As a hobbyist, we can’t have it all but making the most of what we have, including location and weather, and playing to our strengths is key. Our time in North Yorkshire is coming to an end and I am keen to build upon the lessons learned from the last two years to continue my photography development alongside a busy life as a husband, father and military officer.
I am an officer in the Royal Air Force who when work and life allows gets out with the camera to photograph anything and everything. I came to photography reasonably late even though my Dad was an enthusiastic lover of slide film - I have recently converted him to digital! It's hard to say where I am based as I’ve moved around so much but local landscapes and wildlife remain my passion. I am still using my Nikon D300s as my skills have yet to outgrow its capabilities but I’m hoping that will change soon. As I approach the end of my military career I am looking forward to the next challenges where I hope photography will feature front and centre.