There is an old saying, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men and women to gather wood, divide orders, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” That same passion and yearning can be seen emanating from Thomas Heaton, a photographer based out of North East England.
It took only the first of Thomas’ videos to make my hand fly to my phone, sending an excited text to a friend, “WE NEED TO TAKE PHOTOS LIKE THIS AND GO TO PLACES LIKE THAT”. His one man-one video camera approach, and it’s hard not to sound cliche here, really gives you the feeling that you’re with him on his explorations. His adventures become your adventures.
After Netflix-style binge watching his YouTube archive, I was eager for the opportunity to talk to him about what drives him to be a photographer and creative influence.
CreativeLive: To begin, I’d love to know how you got started in photography! What prompted you to first pick up a camera and what keeps the camera still in your hand?
Thomas Heaton: “I first discovered photography when I was at college, studying media. I was 16 & had the opportunity to learn about photography & the dark room. It was a little unnerving at first as I am claustrophobic, so stepping into a cramped dark room was a challenge in itself. I fell in love with the science behind it and the illusion of magic as images start to appear during the developing process. Ever since then, I have been hooked. In 2003 I bought my first digital SLR; a Canon 350D and this was a revelation… instant images! For me, photography has been a way to express myself, as a frustrated artist who can’t draw and as an excuse to wander and explore. Sometimes a walk can feel aimless but put a camera in your hand and your walk can soon turn into a wonder of exploration. I believe photography changes the way I look at the world and without it, I think it would be a less interesting place to be.”
CL: I originally found you through someone on Reddit posting one of your YouTube videos, my favorite being the Lake District Cloud Inversion. When you first started out posting on youtube, did you have a specific direction that you wanted to go with your videos or were they more “just for the heck of it”? Now that you have a growing subscriber base, has that direction changed at all?
TH: “YouTube is a funny one. Last year I was browsing, as you do, searching for videos of interest such as climbing, mountain biking & photography. Unfortunately, most of the photography videos out there are either ‘How To’ videos or ‘Gear’ videos. I was looking for a video for inspiration, a video documenting a photographers shoot, their techniques and the landscape around them. Of the videos I did find, most were trying to sell something, promote a product or they felt disingenuous so I decided to make my own.”
“I get a lot of requests to make videos showing how to do something like how to use a particular filter & I get approached by a lot of companies wanting me to showcase their products, which I don’t mind doing if they are top quality products, however it’s mostly junk and they want me to review it, read scripts, link and tag them, all of which defeats the purpose of the videos. I am very wary that the internet does not like being duped into watching a video just to be sold to.”
“With regards to the future, I would like to create more content, but I don’t want to churn out the same thing time & time again. The videos main purpose must always be to inspire others, I have a plan for 2016, which will allow me to create lots of interesting content, grow my audience & hopefully inspire many. Unfortunately this is top secret until I work out the finer detail.”
CL: Do you have a favorite image or some that speak to you the most? What makes an image stand out to you?
TH: “It’s difficult to choose one image in particular, which stands out as a favorite. For me, it’s not only the image but the experience whilst taking it. At the moment, one of my favorite images is of Lake Mead in Nevada. I flew over the lake twice. The first time it was interesting, but it wasn’t particularly awe inspiring. The 2nd time we flew over it, about 3hrs later, the sun was setting and the sky was reflecting the most beautiful light from the setting sun and the entire scene had changed completely.”
CL: Can you tell me about what kind of things/people/places motivate and inspire you to create images like this?
TH: There are many people & many things that inspire me get out and take images. Inspiration comes in many forms, from reading a good book, hearing about another person’s journey or seeing a beautiful sunrise. The people who inspire me the most are those who go the extra mile, people who explore & follow their own dreams such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Mark Beaumont who cycled the world, Aron Ralston who is was the guy trapped by a boulder for a week, these people and many more have all done extraordinary things and continued through adversity. These are good people to look to when you are struggling with self-confidence or belief in your own ambitions. Motivation is one of the most important things in photography and without it you never push yourself far enough to get those magical images & have those life changing experiences.
CL: In a lot of your videos we see that you’re up late and wake up early. What other types of challenges have you come across when pushing yourself to get the shot?
TH: “There are lots of challenges in landscape photography, not only the early rises & late nights. Finding new & exciting locations can be challenging. It is nice to step out of the car and take a beautiful image, but the magic can be lost when you are surrounded by 15 other photographers taking the same image. Another problem can be time. Landscape photography is very time consuming, a single image can take days and this isn’t easy if you have other commitments. Obviously financing photography is a challenge, it can be an expensive hobby to start, but as you grow & explore landscape photography you will find you have very itchy feet and the cost of traveling & exploring can be high. A way to solve this problem is to try and make your trips fund themselves by selling the images you take or perhaps offering workshops in various locations around the world (something I have yet to look into). The biggest problem of all can be a motivation; dragging yourself out of the house in the freezing wind in the hope of taking a nice image… which, by all accounts, might not even materialize. This is a mental game and one that you need to master.”
CL: You’ve been all over the world making videos and creating beautiful images, what’s next on your list?
TH: “What is next on my list? Hmmm, well I am writing this on New Year’s Day, so what better time to answer that question. I would like to publish my own book, but I want it to be so much more than just a book of my images to date. In fact, I would like it to be a book that documents a journey as well as offering technical tips, travel tips, location info & much more. I would like to create a book that can inspire others to get out & shoot more.”
CL: If you were to give 3 pieces of advice to someone interested pursuing landscape photography, what would it be?
TH: “1- Keep it simple. 2- Read books & learn from others. 3- Don’t give up, persevere & believe in your vision.”
CL: Where can people find you and find more of your work?
TH: “To find out more about what I do you can visit my website: www.thomasheaton.co.uk & from here you can find all of the social medias.”
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