What happens when a group of top professional photographers, all experts in their specialist fields, take on the challenge of shooting a completely different genre of photography? How do they adapt, what do they learn from the experience and how does it change their work in the future?
That's what a new series of events, Canon Ambassador Exchange, is all about – photographers stepping out of their comfort zones and learning something from the mindset, practical approach and equipment used by those working in other genres. Professional photography is a broad term, and this highlights the nuances of genres within the craft.
For the first event, landscape and travel photographer David Noton invited four fellow Canon Ambassadors to shoot landscapes for a day. Family photographer Helen Bartlett, wedding specialist Sanjay Jogia, and two sports photographers, Marc Aspland and Eddie Keogh, joined David on his home turf: the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, England.
"I know the Jurassic Coast really well and have spent a lifetime photographing it," says David. "It's a south-facing coastline, so I wanted to do the shoot in the winter, when the light on the coast is particularly dramatic. I also wanted to introduce them to the kind of thought processes I go through when I'm scouting a location and planning a shoot."
The five Ambassadors met at West Bay in Dorset on a cold January day. David gave them some initial guidance, which included advice about using long exposures and ND grad, polarizer and 'big stopper' filters. After that, they were free to explore the location and get to grips with a completely new subject and way of working. Over the next 24 hours, the group worked in the chosen locations at different times of the day, relishing what they called their "job swap". Let's see what they learnt.
Marc says: "My world was turned upside-down by David as he allowed me to parachute into his world by using a tripod, filters and incredibly long exposures – all of which are utterly alien to me as an editorial sports photographer. At the start, he put his hands on the shoulders of Eddie and me and said, 'Alright, guys: slow. That landscape is not going to move. Put your cameras on single shot, close your eyes. Open them. Now look.'
"David is utterly at one with nature, and his working life has been spent in amazing locations around the world, simply waiting for the best light. It was fascinating to see how he sees things – how he will wait hour after hour for that non-moving subject, just for the light to change in a moment. Whereas in sports photography, it's all about reacting to 'that moment' and it's gone in a two-thousandth of a second.
"As I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow Ambassadors I quickly realised that I needed to find and see my own interpretation of this view. By walking along the beach and clambering up the rocks, I found myself on the harbour wall. And here my photojournalistic creativity matched perfectly with David's world, as on the rocks were a bunch of lilies with a memorial card and I knew I'd found what I was looking for. It was a simple, yet for me rather evocative, scene. That is my favourite picture because it says a little bit more about me as a photographer."
Sanjay says: "What I took away from the job swap was how intersecting disciplines can enrich my own. As a wedding photographer I often find myself in some interesting locations. I've shot in landscapes from deserts to Iceland, but my approach is quite different. I'm aiming to capture a striking portrait of a couple, and the landscape becomes the backdrop. What I really enjoyed about this event was understanding David's approach to photographing landscapes.
"The key thing was the stillness of his approach. He would see an overall scene and look for geometries and shapes in the landscape, and allowed the scene to develop over time. So if there were people in the scene, he would allow their movement to develop into the geometries that he was looking for.
"This approach has made me think about how I will do my next pre-wedding shoot in a beautiful landscape. It's made me consider how I would use the landscape more intentionally in terms of the composition and the way I would allow the framing and the narrative to develop. It really got me thinking in terms of how that would work. Taking a step back and looking at the whole event, I think it really did its job in terms of that cross-pollination of genres and approaches.
"My favourite picture on the day was a shot of the group in silhouette, wearing head torches. It's a combination of landscape photography with the sort of shot I do on a day-to-day basis."
Helen says: "I've always felt that one of the great benefits of shooting landscapes is in slowing down. My work is usually a frenzy of activity. Yes, there can be moments of calm and stillness (and also cake) during my photo shoots, but from the moment I arrive to the moment I leave, I'm constantly searching for pictures, moving around and reacting to what is happening in front of me.
"In the landscape we are reacting to the light and the weather and the world around us. By putting a camera on a tripod, we take more time to consciously consider each element of the photograph – where does the subject meet the edges of the frame? What is happening in the corners? Should a piece of the landscape be included or cropped out? I've found, over the years, that this process is hugely beneficial to my portrait work.
"I was shooting with the Canon EOS R, and I did find that using its electronic viewfinder set to black-and-white really helped with finding a good landscape that would work in monochrome. Having the focus peaking markers on the back of the camera meant I could check at a glance and be sure the focus was where I needed it to be. It's a small thing but one that I found incredibly helpful.
"My favourite image was taken on the dawn shoot at Bat's Head – a view looking down from the cliffs towards Durdle Door. I feel this image has captured the calmness of the sunrise, the time of infinite possibilities before the world wakes up. I used a 10-stop neutral-density 'big stopper' filter to slow the shutter speed right down to three minutes. This means the sea becomes a tranquil blur, but with the shadows of currents and eddies visible in places to give a feeling of movement below the surface and other worlds in the deep."
Eddie says: "For me, the best bit about the day was getting up super early in the morning (I know that sounds a bit weird) and walking in the dark with head torches so we could get to the location for first light. It's not often you find yourself looking over a 200 metre cliff at 6.30am.
"I've had a go at shooting landscapes before, but never to a serious degree. It's difficult for sure. It's a totally different set of skills to understand. That was the great thing about going out with David – we could ask real-time on-location questions. His knowledge is limitless, but the lovely thing is he doesn't come over as a know-it-all.
"I tended to shoot long rather than wide, because I felt going wide lost the feel of the cliffs. They are quite dynamic, and a slightly longer lens compresses those lovely curved shapes. Also, the people would be lost in the frame on my favourite picture [below] if I'd used a wide lens on that particular scene.
"I guess the main thing I learned from the shoot was patience. Sports photographers are always in a rush to move pictures, and on occasion I just need to hold on and see if a change in the light makes the picture any better."
David says: "It was great fun for me introducing the other Canon Ambassadors to the rituals of my world. I knew there was nothing I could teach them about how to create strong images, but what I could maybe do was show them how I approach my landscape shoots, from planning to waiting to execution.
"The others all work in quite hectic, fast-moving, high-pressure environments. Landscape photography is, usually, more measured; it's often frustrating, but patience and persistence almost always pay off. I hope that a slower, analytical approach and contemplative mentality may occasionally be useful to them in their specialisms.
"Typically over the course of the 24 hours we either had too much cloud, as happened in the afternoon at West Bay, or too little cloud, as transpired the next morning at Bat's Head. But that's the challenge of landscape photography in a nutshell: we are slaves to Mother Nature's whims, and conditions are rarely perfect."
"We spoke about some technicalities including colour temperature. The big difference between us is that they would probably all be shooting on either custom or auto white balance, whereas I shoot daylight white balance all the time because I want to capture the shifts of natural light.
"My favourite image from the ones I shot on the job swap showed a solitary figure on the Jurassic Coast cliffs, shot from Bat's Head. I like this particular image because of the strong shapes in the frame, the sense of place, and the tiny figure on the cliff top, which gives scale.
"Being in the company of such talented professionals who are all at the absolute top of their games was humbling. But what was really special was being there with them watching the light paint the cliffs, stacks and arches as day broke on the Jurassic Coast. I live for such experiences. It was a privilege to share it with them."