landscapes with soul: one man’s visions of the Peak District
We all have our special places; we love Dorset, but there are so many more to discover – it’s a Dorset state of mind. Here we go into the beautiful wilds of the Peak District with the prize-winning landscape photographer James Grant…
James Grant is a mountain-walker and wild camper who accidentally became one of the UK’s finest landscape photographers.
It happened one day in 2008 when he was out hiking the remoter slopes of his beloved Peak District with a couple of friends. James had his camera with him – a decent enough DSLR starter camera, which he’d recently bought to preserve memories of his outdoor adventures.
As his rock-climbing mate dangled precariously from an overhang on Ramshaw Rocks, James saw something, and snapped it.
The picture came out pretty well. Man and rock are joined together in a jagged silhouette, the angles of limbs and rock echoing one another in one big, weird form, while the background of distant hills and blue sky is illuminated, creating a striking chiaroscuro effect. It’s a picture that says something.
The Last Push. James Grant Photography.
In fact, it came out so well that James gave it a name – The Last Push – and decided he may as well enter it for a national photography competition run by Trail magazine. It duly won, and James’ prize included a landscape photography workshop with top pro Nick Jenkins, who was so impressed with James’ efforts that he made a point of taking him aside at the end of the course to urge him to take up photography in a serious way.
What Jenkins and the Trail judges had seen in James’ work that made it stand out was a certain elusive something that escapes most hobby photographers. It’s do with narrative, with telling a story, with an indefinable connection to the landscape. You might even call it soul.
James took Jenkins’ advice. He started thinking seriously about his photography, going out into the hills at unsociable hours and in unwelcoming weather, and walking in order to shoot rather than shooting whatever he happened to see while walking.
Bamford Edge Heather Sunset. James Grant Photography.
Barn, Fiery Skies. James Grant Photography.
A Kinder Wonderland. James Grant Photography.
His image of a lone walker on Kinder Scout, titled ‘A Kinder Wonderland’, won the 2010 Peak District Photography Competition, and he was on his way. Now he runs his own photography workshops and gets to travel all over the world shooting for the likes of Monarch Airlines and the outdoor kit company Blacks.
But the Peak District is where he really belongs. A Derbyshire lad, about three years ago he moved to Matlock so that he could be right on the doorstep of the magnificent five hundred square mile national park.
Rape Seed Field. James Grant Photography.
Ladybower Milky Way. James Grant Photography.
James knows it better than nearly anyone now – and has even published a photographic guidebook. His favourite view is one from Parkhouse hill looking over towards Crome Hill. James says: ‘It’s not what most people would associate with the Peak District but that’s why I like it. It’s quite unusual. These two hills rise sharply out of the valley. It’s just a place I love to sit and watch time go by.’
Parkhouse Hill Starburst. James Grant Photography.
His work isn’t always so peaceful. One of his favourite shots required hiking solo up to the highest point in the Peak District. Conditions were miserable but offered a rare opportunity to shoot the famous Kinder Downfall in a south-westerly wind, when the water blows back on itself, and James managed to get himself in just the right position to get the perfect shot. True, he also got cold and wet – having forgotten his waterproof trousers – but nobody else has managed to recreate that almost impossible image yet.
Kinder Upfall Gold. James Grant Photography.
But whether the picture requires Herculean physical effort or just a gentle stroll out into the sunshine, James’ successful shots always have that one special thing in common. As he puts it: ‘It’s about narrative. For me, a good picture tells a story, otherwise it can be a bit empty. You can have a picture that is good technically, has a good composition, but somehow you can’t connect with it, there’s nothing behind it.
‘I feel like I’ve got a connection with the landscape and I always try to convey that through my images.’
He tries to pass this on to the students on his Peak District workshops: ‘I do talk to them about the technical aspects – but I always say to people, concentrate on the emotion and story of the image, not the technical. That’s how you get a great shot.’
Or to put it another way, look for landscapes with soul.
Mam Tor Gate. James Grant Photography.
You can buy James Grant’s prints and book on his website – and you can also find out more about his Peak District photography workshops, which include group and one-to-one options. See jamesgphotography.co.uk
And you can follow James on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Share your favourite place…
What’s your favourite place in the world? The place you dream of being when you’re commuting to work instead.
Is it a secret beach, or a favourite woodland walk? Or just the view from your bedroom window?