Tell us a little bit about how you approached shooting the English-Scottish border.
Having read the brief for the shoot as well as the article by Mark Rowe, I came up with an itinerary that would allow me to photograph all the main locations in the story. My sister came with me as my driver, but she also ended up being a great model for some of the shots. We started in Berwick-upon-Tweed, on the far east side of the Borders. It took us four days to reach the Solway Coast on the western border.
I’d never travelled to this part of the UK before, so all the locations were completely new to me. I’ve travelled extensively in exotic places around the world, but haven’t spent much time exploring my home country. So, the shoot was a great experience that made me yearn to see more places and meet more people in the UK.
Were there any challenges that you had to overcome?
The main difficulty with shooting in the UK, especially in mid-February, has to be the weather. It’s completely unpredictable, and for a lot of the time, it was cold, rainy and windy. This can be a real challenge when you’re trying to bring landscapes to life.
Our first day in Berwick was a complete washout, which is a shame as it’s an incredibly pretty seaside town — I’d still love to capture it in all its glory. I’m always attracted to colour in my photographs, so I tried to bring some vibrancy to the shots by finding pockets of colour, such as the red lighthouse, the rainbow fishing nets and the blue rowing boat.
You were following in the footsteps of the travel writer, Mark Rowe. How did you interpret his piece to plan your photography?
This was a new way of working for me and it definitely had its advantages and disadvantages. I was able to interpret the piece in my own way, which I enjoyed, but a couple of times, we ended up driving down farm lanes looking for specific spots Mark mentions in the writing only to find ourselves stuck in bogs! Mark talks about so many locations in his piece, but not much about the journey. I was curious about how he got from place to place and, sometimes, even if we were on the same route as him.
What was your main focus of the photography?
I really wanted to focus on the people and culture of the borders, rather than make it an entirely landscape-based shoot, which it easily could have been. Before we set off on the trip, I secured shoots with some of the guides Mark mentions in his piece, as well as access to businesses such as Chain Bridge Honey Farm. I knew these people and places were essential for bringing vitality to the story, and I hoped I could then feed that into a story with beautiful landscape shots.
My target in the end was to try to get away from the borders’ usual depiction as a ‘no man’s land’. I wanted to capture some of the wide-open spaces, but also the culture and friendliness, which is really what makes any trip to the borders.
In the end, I was happy with how the piece came out as it really represents the journey we took and the people we met along the way.
Did you need any particular camera equipment for the trip?
I like to travel light with my camera equipment and usually carry the same kit with me wherever I’m shooting in the world. A Canon 5D Mark III and a 24-70mm lens are my essentials. I also use a 50mm lens for portraits and a 70-200mm to capture detail in landscapes. Additionally, I brought a tripod and a few filters with me. But, the most important piece of equipment for this trip was a warm coat and thick gloves!
Were there any funny moments?
I’m not sure how funny it was at the time, but the car broke down somewhere in the middle of Northumberland National Park and we spent a very nervous morning wondering if we were going to be able to continue. We also found ourselves sleeping in an unheated barn with a snorting pig outside, and running back to the car in the rain numerous times.
What would you do differently next time?
Shooting the entire border in just four days was the biggest challenge, and we were definitely rushed for time in a few places. In Northumberland National Park, it would’ve been great to get out of the car to hike into the hills and capture different viewpoints of such places as Kielder Water, which is a stunning spot. Almost everywhere I go in the world, I always wish I had more time to get a little deeper into the landscapes and culture, and despite the weather, this shoot was no exception.
What was your favourite shot from the assignment?
Shooting at Chain Bridge Honey Farm was definitely a photographical highlight for me. The shots I took of Steven, the beekeeper, with the smoke swirling around him are some of my favourites from the trip.
One of the difficult things for this assignment was the weather, but you managed to include the grey skies in some beautiful shots. How did you work around this?
The bad weather meant I had to really think outside the box about how to get energy into the shots, without relying on an amazing sunset or beautiful morning light. I think the last shot in the story, taken on the marshes of the Solway Coast, is a good example of how you can bring a dull sky to life. My sister jumping across some of the marshes has turned a nice picture that’s reasonably unexciting into something much more energetic and vibrant.
You also got some great close-ups of bees at Chain Bridge Honey Farm. What precautions did you take to get these?
Visiting the farm was a really wonderful experience. The team were incredibly helpful and accommodating, and let me have full access to the honey-making process. We went out with the beekeeper, Steven (also known as Waspy), who took us to some of the hives on both sides of the border.
The bees are dormant at this time of year, which meant there wasn’t much bee activity. Even though the farm wasn’t as lively as it might have been in the summer time, it meant that the bees weren’t aggressive and shooting them up close wasn’t an issue.
Steven used smoke to get them out of the hives, which made for great photographs. I then got a tour of the factory where they make everything from honey to soap and lip balm. We scoffed a quick scone with the farm’s delicious honey before setting off to the next location.
What would be your top three rural photography tips for our readers?
- Find life between the landscapes. The challenge with rural locations is trying to add energy into photos of quiet and sleepy places. It’s easy to gravitate towards landscape photographs, which is definitely essential, but also think about the culture that exists in these areas and the people that make the place run.
- Don’t be afraid of bad weather. Sure, we all hope for bright blue skies when heading out to take photographs, but often, especially in the UK, this is a rarity. Grey skies can actually complement rural landscapes nicely, when done right. That mix of deep greens and greys can be very atmospheric. Think about creating movement in your frame, by finding people, animals or buildings to break up the land and sky.
- Explore further. The best pictures often come when you really go exploring off the road and deep into the hills. Carry light camera gear, plan a hike and be prepared to venture a little deeper to get some excellent shots.
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Published in issue 9 of National Geographic Traveller (UK) Photography Magazine