I’m really pleased to post this interview with Sheptonian photographer Martyn. He is generous with his advice about how to take good photos. He also shares the story of his remarkable birth, and paints a picture of his visits to the Mendip town of Priddy that is just wonderful.
Have you lived in Somerset all of your life? If not where else have you lived?
Yes, I’ve always lived in Somerset. I was born in Shepton Mallet in March 1962 and was told by my parents that it was a bad year for snow. In those days there were no mobile phones, not many home phones and definitely no internet. All this meant that when I decided to make an appearance my Dad had to run down the road to the nearest telephone box and call the midwife. Unfortunately due to the snow she was unable to get there on her bicycle to deliver me. This meant that my Dad who was a farm labourer at the time delivered me on the sofa in our lounge. He later said that he had delivered countless calves and lambs so this was no different! He said he just pulled me out and pushed a bit of straw up my nose to make me sneeze and breath properly before giving me back to my mum. I have also lived in Glastonbury, Bridgwater, North Petherton and now Creech St Michael near Taunton.
You call yourself the Sheptonian, tell us about that.
Quite simply anyone born in Shepton Mallet is known locally as a Sheptonian. Therefore I am not The Sheptonian I am one of many, so just simply Sheptonian and very proud of my home town where I have many friends and family still.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get started in photography? What equipment do you need?
My advice would be first of all just have fun, don’t take it too seriously. Take photos of anything and everything and you’ll soon discover which type of photography you like best, landscapes, portraits, macro, wildlife, sports or maybe just food, whatever you are interested in. My advice to anyone starting out would be don’t worry about the fully manual mode, there is so much to consider like aperture, shutter speed and iso. Just concentrate on framing the subject and composing your shot. I would recomend the semi auto modes at first which on the Canon i use are AV (Aperture priority mode) and TV (Shutter priority mode) . AV mode means you set the aperture and the camera sets the other values. In TV mode you set the shutter speed and the camera sets the other values. Believe me these settings really help and I’m told a lot of professional photographers use them most of the time, they work for me anyway. By the the way these settings are labelled diferently on most other makes as A (aperture priority) and S (shutter priority mode). Photography can be expensive and to start with a kit lens that usually come with your camera is all you need to get started and also a good stable tripod. Then just aquire more lenses, filters etc when finances allow you to.
What makes a good photograph in terms of the light, contrast, framing etc?
A good photo in my eyes has to be something that makes you want to look at it over and over, it has to be interesting and if its a landscape for instance it needs to be taken from a different view or angle. Glastonbury Tor is photograped all the time but I still see new angles and views of it and wish I’d thought of that. It’s quite easy to take what I call postcards or holiday snaps ( which I am guilty of) but something different always makes you stop scrolling through social media for instance and grabs your attention. Also if shooting outside the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset has the best light. Another tip would be when composing your shot look all around the viewfinder, there may be a stray leaf, tree or something else in the corner that you never spotted when framing your subject. My brother once informed me that a good photo looks interesting upside down as well, not sure if he was winding me up or not but its an idea. Also follow the rule of thirds and if photographing people the eyes are important to get in focus and I think this works for close up shots of wildlife too.
If you could pick one of your images that captures the essence of our beautiful county what would it be?
This image sums up Somerset for me , a personal favourite taken on the way to work one morning. The sun rising over the Tor which has to be the most iconic feature of Somerset, the mist of Avalon just about visible and the agriculture land in the foreground.
You’ve captured some close up shots of birds including egrets and starlings, tell us about the patience required.
Wildlife photography reqires a bit of patience, choose your spot, stay still and quiet if waiting for birds etc. The use of a bird feeder in your garden is good so you can set everything up and just sit and relax. Out in the countryside it’s little bit trickier where you can just stumble accross something and you need to act quick and quietly to capture your image. Always turn off your phone , I once spotted some deer in a local field and managed to crawl along the hedgerow until I was only a few metres away only for my phone to go off and the opportunity had gone. When I capture wildlife out in the countryside it gives me a great deal of pleasure and achievement knowing that I photographed them in their natural enviroment. Keep your ears and eyes open , there is lots to see in Somerset and we are lucky to live in such a beautiful county.
I really love your images of Priddy in the Mendip Hills, the one with the lit up sky and the image with the sun trapped behind the trees. Tell us more!
I actually drive a recycling truck which means I am in Priddy once every week. I soon learned where the sun rises every day and where the wildlife tends to hide. I’ve seen badgers, foxes, deer rabbits and hares as well as buzzards whilst driving around there. When I have time off I go back with my camera and wait. The wildlife has escaped me so far but the sunrises are beautiful. One tip – don’t venture up there at weekends it’s far to busy for photgraphing wildlife and you have to look out for cyclists when navigating the narrow lanes. It’s a great place to visit anyway and offers great views across the Mendip Hills and you can easily follow the road into Cheddar for a cream tea or an ice cream.
Which photographers and artists do you admire?
This is a tricky one, I like John Constable paintings so I guess thats why I like landscape photography. I get inspiration from a lot of photographers whether they are professional or not. I like black and white photography very much, no matter what the subject is and would like to try my hand at street photograhy too. I have recently discovered someone called Charlie Waite on Instagram and like a lot of his images and also Glastomichelle who captures amazing images of Glastonbury Tor.
Tell us about using a lensball, I’ve seen other photographers use these too – what are they?
I recently acquired a lensball which is just a solid sphere of glass. Once placed in front of the camera lens you can get some interesting photos. You can either hold it in your hand which is a little tricky as you have to hold your camera in the other hand and focus before taking your shot. Alternativly, you can place it in a tree on a fence post or on the ground if you want to which is easier for composing and focusing on your subject. The image in the ball is upside down as well and can be left like that or rotated in post processing which offers a different outlook to the image you captured. A good tip when using a lensball is to be careful in sunlight as it very quickly burns your hand and could cause a fire if left in direct sunlight for to long. Anyway it’s good fun to experiment with.
Where can we see more of your work and how can we get in touch?
You can see more of my images in the usaul places , Facebook , Twitter , Instagram , Picfair , Flickr and a new one called Clickasnap.com (where some are available to buy). All under the name of Sheptonian. As yet I don’t have a website.