Campaign to Protect Rural England Standing up for your countryside

Skip to navigation

My England: the photographer’s vision

Benniworth Haven, Lincolnshire Benniworth Haven, Lincolnshire Martin Birks

One of England’s leading landscape photographers, Martin Birks was shortlisted for Outdoor Photographer of the year in 2014 and 2015, and became a winner of the Take A View Landscape Photographer of the Year in 2016. Here he writes about his motivation and offers some tips for aspirising snappers. 

Despite its incredible big skies and coastline, Lincolnshire is a relatively undiscovered county. This does create an opportunity to capture places that many people haven't seen before, so you can take quite personal images. If you go to places like the Lake District, you’re more likely to come home with photos you'll be happy with due to the dramatic scenery and changeable weather. In Lincolnshire, you have to work harder, but the satisfaction is greater.

It was amazing to see my photo on the 80ft big screen at Waterloo Station! It was my first Landscape Photographer of the Year-commended photo, of St Benet’s Mill in the Norfolk Broads, and also appeared in the book of the 2014 competition. It was equally surreal to then appear on live radio with Take A View awards founder, the great Charlie Waite, and hear him say that “on that winter dawn Martin was ‘in the zone’ and produced an image that was really moving.” 

As a hobbyist outdoor photographer I studied people like Charlie to improve. For the first few years my photos often weren't very good at all. I nearly didn't even enter the Norfolk shot - I only started to like it towards the competition's entry for deadlines. By 2015, I felt I'd improved enough to enter 25 images! I’d recommend that any aspiring landscape photographer should study the images in the competition’s books to understand how to use light better if they really want to learn the ropes. I’m quite a perfectionist and every year I’ve worked hard to improve my pictures and become more consistent.

martin2

What makes a great shot?

A great photo can often be about interesting weather. Misty valleys, foggy woodland, moody skies and dramatic light can all add atmosphere to an image and bring the scene to life. For St Benet’s Mill, I got up early on that cold winter’s day to try to capture the frosty morning and eerie atmosphere of the Broads. When it's freezing outside it can be hard to motivate yourself to get up, but it can be worth it.

Last September, the motivation was a forecast of a morning mist lifting into a sunny day. I'd wanted to capture a sunrise in the White Peaks of Staffordshire, so set a very early alarm. It was a difficult drive from Lincoln, in thick fog, but I finally made it up the hill just after 6am. I enjoyed talking to some other photographers (who’d obviously had the same idea) while the sun came up and the mist flowed. Eventually one of the others went back down the hill and it looked like he'd add some interest to the scene – that shot ended up winning the Living the View category (for people in the landscape) in the 2016 competition. 

I like to capture the nature of each season. Autumn is always enjoyable in the Peak District – from the green of Chrome Hill to the misty Hope Valley. But the Lake District is the place to go for possibly the best October colours in what are surely the most stunning landscapes in England. I sometimes wish I lived closer, but summer in Lincolnshire can make up for that.

A summer's day doesn't always work. But a place like Roseberry Topping in the North York Moors really comes alive in May – lovely light, and the wild garlic, bluebells and rape seed do smell good! Generally, summer sunrises are way too early for me to travel far, so I usually stay local and try a slightly more creative approach.

martin3

Tucked away

Smaller, more intimate views come into their own in Lincolnshire. As Charlie Waite says: "Lincolnshire has tiny, tucked away places that the landscape photographer can find and bring to wider attention." That’s really how I started in landscape photography in 2010 – just trying to capture the local countryside. We don't have the dramatic scenery of the National Parks, but the Lincolnshire Wolds AONB has to be one of the most underrated places in the country - very scenic but usually empty. It's best in summer with wide views over rolling farmland alive with golden crops or bales in the fields.

I found one of Charlie’s ‘tiny, tucked away places’ near Benniworth Haven last year. I captured a gate smothered in cow parsley on another misty morning in early summer, and was delighted that it was chosen by CPRE as their favourite picture of last year’s Take A View competition, for “perfectly capturing the essence of the countryside as a haven of tranquillity.”

You don't need expensive equipment to take award-winning photos. You can take a great image on a camera phone these days. People can obsess about equipment but that misses the point, it's the photographer’s vison that's the most important part, and how you use the elements and the light. 

Martin’s work can be enjoyed at www.martinbirksphotography.co.uk and in collections 8-10 of the Landscape Photographer of the Year books (AA, £25).

You don't need expensive equipment to take award-winning photos.




Back to top

Cumbria Stockghyll forest Lake District 5