Just over one year ago British photographer Alun Richardson (59) decided to join Westend61. We fell in love with his exceptional landscape and outdoor images right away, all so real, authentic and often very atmospheric.
Why Alun prefers rough climate, how important it is to think about the message of a picture before taking it and how he found his way to Westend61, that all and more he told us in the following interview.
Dear Alun, you’re not only a photographer; you’re also an author and a mountain guide who has travelled extensively throughout the world. This all sounds like a dream job – is it?
Most of the time it is. The best parts are the people I cross paths with and the beautiful places it takes me, however being away from friends and family for prolonged periods of time can be difficult. The poor weather and the physical effort can also make life difficult, but without poor weather there would not be any dramatic skies that add majesty to images.
We know a lot of photographers who previously worked in other areas and discovered photography later in life, turning it then into their profession. How did things unfold for you?
I have spent most of my working life taking photographs on climbing trips and expeditions. In the early years of my photography life I returned from expeditions disappointed with my images. About 10-12 years ago I started to take my photography seriously. I worked with some professional photographers who showed me how to use my camera and why some images were better than others. I now strive to make each photograph unique and capture a moment that says something.
Many of your photos are very atmospheric and possess a magical element. Most of these images were shot in isolated and wintery landscapes, for example, in the Himalaya. Do these extreme conditions fascinate you? If so, why?
Taking photographs excites me wherever I am, but to capture the best images the photographer must understand the environment they are in. I have spent thirty years exploring wild places from the Alps and the Himalaya to the Arctic. I strive to capture the dramatic landscape and the people as they really are. I love the days just before or after an approaching storm and the moments that have made my jaw drop. I enjoy the challenge of operating in wild environments, when the temperatures drop and the air becomes so clear.
How important is it for you to work outside in a natural environment?
I am definitely happier outdoors than in a studio. The light and the conditions are constantly changing, the environment is never stationary and neither are the people. These aspects are both fascinating and frustrating.
How do you go about minimizing your equipment for a mountain expedition when you want to have the lightest load possible? In other words, what do you absolutely need to take with you?
Balancing weight and quality is a difficult thing that I am constantly trying to solve. During the trek into the mountain I take 2 Nikon camera bodies 3 lenses, tripod filters and much more. To obtain the best quality photographs requires top lenses and using gloves requires cameras that are easy to operate and change the settings without using the menu. The cameras must also be able to take a lot of abuse!! On the technically challenging aspects of mountain and skiing expeditions I can usually only carry my trusty Nikon D800 and 24 – 70mm ED lens, but I am currently experimenting with the Fuji XT1 and 18 to 55mm lens, which is much lighter. Time will tell if it lives up to my high standards and compares with the D800.
Can you tell us a story from your travels? A story which still makes you laugh today or one where you still get goosebumps just by thinking about it.
I have many stories relating to mountaineering some happy and some sad, but there is one story that changed my relationship with photography – I had taken a photograph of a young beautiful blind girl begging on a bridge in Kathmandu. As I took a photograph it dawned on me that this was her life…forever, it brought tears to my eyes! When I got home the image disappointed me because it said very little. The image I should have taken was of her amongst the blur of the legs of the passers by who were ignoring her, not even seeing her. This opened my eyes and made me realize that with a little more thought an image can tell a story. Every time I return to Nepal I go to the bridge and try to capture the image I want.
Which land captivates you the most and which place would you always gladly return to?
Without hesitation it is Greenland because the light is fantastic and the air so clear. Nepal is my second choice as the people are wonderful and the landscape so dramatic. I also enjoy the smaller mountains and countryside of the UK especially the coast and North West Scotland.
You have several years of experience as a photographer, author and traveller. Have you noticed any trends in outdoor photography, has the visual language changed in the last few years? In your opinion, what’s really popular at the moment?
I am frequently disappointed and amazed by the photography I see in magazines and galleries – disappointed by the media’s acceptance of mediocrity as long as the image is free. But I am also aware of how many great photographers there are and to stand out one must become unique and that is what I try to be. The advent of digital and post processing has also enabled the photographer and graphic artist roles to be merged. Bleached and HDR images seem to be popular at the moment.
Please show us a photo from your portfolio, which reflects one of your personal favorite themes, and tell us how the image came about.
This was a difficult shot to take. I first had to guide the clients to the top of the peak then solo down and climb an adjacent peak. I took a number of shots and used photoshop to bring the images into a panorama. It captures the scale and the beauty of South East Greenland.
Aside from small corrective adjustments, do you consider image editing as an important part of digital photography?
Image editing can be very important. In the mountains I cannot always take a tripod and filters so I expose for the highlights, which means that I often have to bring detail back into the shadows, which unfortunately adds noise. This can only be corrected through post processing or good use of HDR. I am also plagued by sensor dust and cloning tools are a fantastic. I am not a fan of ‘over saturated’ images and the market is awash with yellow grass. I try to emulate what the masters of old did in the dark room.
In addition to being a photographer, you’re also a writer and have your own blog. How important is an online presence for you? Which social media channels do you consider to be significant?
I am really only just getting to grips with social media and trying to experiment more with what it can do for me. I find it difficult to find the time to blog effectively but Instagram is my latest experiment.
Would you give us a peek into your plans for 2016?
I am currently in Scotland Guiding and taking photographs. March I am ski touring in the Ecrin massif, April is spent writing for magazines and uploading images to Westend61, June and July is spent in the Alps guiding and running photo workshops. August I am returning to Greenland and October is in the Himalaya. 2016 is a busy year for me as I prepare to return with the Gurkhas (nepalese soldiers) to record their attempt on Everest. The periods between my trips are spent on commissions for magazines and other photo projects.
And last but not least: Why is Westend61 the right place for your images?
Westend61 was recommended to me by another pro photographer. I had looked at a number of agencies, but Westend61 was very approachable and positive. They also gave me plenty of advice and help. The process of uploading and editing images is also clear and simple which helps me cope with my busy workload.
Thank you Alun, for speaking with us!