Gallery: Yorkshire Photographer Mat Robinson
Yorkshire Photographer, Mat Robinson
Vivid white rose landscapes, in all weathers, at all times…
Tell us about how you started in photography – was it a career, a hobby, at school, or something else?
Growing up in Richmond, I‘ve spent most of my life exploring the nearby Yorkshire Dales – before moving to York for university, as beautiful a city as there is (if a little flat). In my mid-teens, I got my first point-and-shoot, as digital cameras became the norm, and used it regularly to record my outings and walks. I think this is how a lot of us start, we want to record the beautiful things we see in the countryside, but every so often we take a good photo and want more of them.
It soon escalates into a real interest in photography, rather than just the walking, and we begin to spend a fortune on camera gear and put effort into actively improving and sharing our work. I then moved on to Sheffield for a PhD in cosmology; living so close to the Peak District made getting out into the landscape too easy (and also a nice change from the maths and office work involved my studies), and the improvement in the photos accelerated dramatically. I passed my driving test at 18, but only now, ten years later, having left the student life behind, do I have a car.
So Sheffield was ideal with the trains up the Hope Valley (a return costing as little as £3 and coming and going every hour) to gain as much time out perfecting my technique and knowledge of the area as possible.
“Arts and sciences”
Before long I joined the photographers at Visit Peak District (a surprising amount of the Peak is in Yorkshire) and started to get a bit of publicity on social media – at which point the pressure to keep producing takes over and it increasingly pushes me to get out in all weathers to continually have something to share. I have a long way to go in terms of technique – we can never stop learning – but I‘m apparently one of the more prolific photographers out there.
What particularly appeals to you about the genre?
It’s hard not to love our landscapes. We may sometimes take them for granted but here in Yorkshire, we have some of the best balances between drama and accessibility anywhere in the world. They may not be the biggest mountains or largest waterfalls – but by being accessible whilst still rugged they have their own charm.
Landscape photography links so many things together – from the pure joy of walking, spending hours alone at unsociable times up a hill to the intimate knowledge you gain of geography and geology. Understanding how the light plays upon the shale/gritstone/limestone layers and where is best to be and when.
Never mind the knowledge and research that goes into meteorology and the constant input of other photographers – inspiring you with images you’d never even thought of before. It brings together the arts and sciences and gives you plenty of time with your own thoughts – and when other people happen to like the results of your endeavours, that’s even lovelier and makes it all worthwhile.
How do you go about looking for your images – do you research or is it more ‘spur of the moment’?
A bit of both, to be honest. I’ve done the research in the past for the majority of locations and know when they’ll work and in what conditions. Every day I check five different weather forecasts and have a good look at the probabilities of them being right – before finally checking the satellite imagery and radar to see what is really happening with the cloud cover and light before heading out.
Of course, you can never stop exploring and there are always new locations, so as much as I like to plan it’s good to just get out for an exploratory walk and you just never know, sometimes the light will come to you and you’re almost accidentally there, ready to capture it. Besides, no matter how much planning you do, the UK weather is inevitably unpredictable so the ability to adjust (often quickly, in a matter of seconds) and shoot something unexpected as it happens is a key skill. Only with experience do you learn to predict such changes and give yourself a few extra valuable seconds to get your settings right and make the most of the magical moment.
What is the most challenging part of being a photographer/taking good images?
Making them different. It’s almost too easy to take nice landscape images in Yorkshire. I love doing the slightly clichéd images (Roseberry Topping from the south, Higger Tor from Carl Wark, the Muker meadows) as much as anyone but the aim is always to differentiate myself in either composition or quality. Many of these views have been done thousands of times before, but you just never know, if you time it right you could just be the one to capture it in conditions better than anyone else before.
New compositions are hard with such famous views – but it’s still possible to put your own twist on it, even if you don’t get the once-in-a-century conditions you hoped for. The challenge is to figure out just how to do this – and your chances are greatly increased if you go out in poor weather. All the famous views have been done in golden hour light over and over again – but how many times have you seen them in the murk? Learning to enjoy the bad weather is certainly a challenge, but a worthwhile one.
Tell us about one of your favourite images – how did it come about and what do you like about the photo?
I’d waited many, many years for this image. I remember an old-ish photograph by Ron Guckel of Richmond above a decent inversion, and spent many a morning walking to school above just such conditions – but since my interest in photography really developed when I was no longer living in Richmond, it was difficult to witness and capture such conditions.
The last thing I expected was for it all to come together on an evening, rather than a morning! But one summer’s day, after a number of downpours, we headed out to just see what we could get and it soon became clear that as the sun appeared, all the moisture from the day was evaporating and creating a beautiful mist. We jumped back in the car from our original location and quickly made our way to the fields above Easby where I thought we’d be able to make the most of the situation – and I was right.
It all came together into one of the most perfect moments of my life. Richmond is a beautiful town at the worst of times, but when seen like this, as the light fades, there’s nowhere I’d rather call home. Many years of trying, a last minute chase, and a bit of luck with the light – and it was all worth it in the end.
What, if any, specialist equipment do you use?
My camera bag is actually less full than quite a few others. I‘ve never bought into the idea of a dedicated photography bag either – they seem to double the price just for the ability to compartmentalise it. I much prefer a general rucksack and usually I have plenty of clothing layers in the bag to pad out my gear anyway. So, I’m still using the Canon 5D II and, for landscape work at least, simply take out the 17-40 f4 L, 70-200 f4 IS L and 50mm f1.8 lenses. They cover the range I need, even if in an ideal world I’d also have something longer.
I also can’t say enough good things about the MeFoto tripods. Made by Benro, the quality is top notch and their size and weight is ideal for long walks – without compromising too much on stability. Then there are the usual filters; polarisers, 10 stop ND filter… but I am a committed photo blender rather than grad-filter user as I believe it allows more flexibility and realism than the old-fashioned methods.
Is there anything, e.g. events, people or locations that you would particularly love to photograph?
There are a number of things. I have waited years and haven‘t had the chance yet to photograph Ingleborough, Park Fell and Simon Fell above a temperature inversion from Whernside. I still need to make the most of the under-photographed Moughton Scar and there‘s plenty to be done with the rare gritstone outcrops of Swaledale, above the mines. Away from landscapes though, photographing the people of Yorkshire also interests me and I have spent years on the streets taking portraits of strangers – who often go on to become future models for me too – and I think there must be plenty more interesting faces out there for me to photograph.