Shooting Gardens from Oxfordshire to Provence

I decided to become a photographer when I was at University in Reading, England. I loved to travel and started taking pictures of the people and places that I visited. I started thinking to myself “You know what, I can be pretty good at this”, and I dreamed of one day becoming a photographer for National Geographic Magazine.

I had gone to University to study Geography, which gave me an insight into the beauty of the world, but I never studied photography. I am entirely self-taught and still struggle to learn new techniques. It was hell for me changing from film to digital (which I did about 4 years ago) but I have never looked back since.

My working life was far easier in the early 1980’s for me because there were very few photographers shooting flowers and gardens at that time. Also I was very focused on selling the images that I shot and so I was able to get work placed and paid for. I was also lucky that my girlfriend Jane (now my wife) had a great job with Mars and so she was able to support me financially in the early days.

My big career break came in 1994, when I was asked by the Royal Horticultural Society to write and illustrate a book on how to photograph flowers and gardens. “Photographing Plants & Gardens” became the standard text on the subject for many years to come.

Half of my shooting days are in gardens and the other half are spent shooting interiors. My perfect day would definitely be in Provence, in France, ideally in late May or early June.

I would rise early, having stayed at the farmhouse of the garden that I would be shooting. I would be in position for my first shot by dawn, with the scent of roses and herbs tickling my nostrils and surrounded by flowers and foliage heavy with dew. Ideally it would be slightly misty, so that as the sun came up over the horizon it would be slightly diffused so I could shoot straight towards it without the worry of flare. I would work quickly, recording the beauty of the dawn garden before the sun rose too high and bright, killing the romance and atmosphere. Two hours later, with plenty of morning shots in the bag, I would be breakfasting with the owners, chatting about people and places we had seen. The middle of the day would be spent walking around the garden, getting to know it intimately so that by the evening and after an afternoon siesta, I would be ready again to shoot the gardens charms right through to sunset.

I very much admire the work of Damien Lovegrove. He shoots mainly people, but he does some excellent workshops on lighting, which I will be booking myself into in the New Year. I also love the work of Jean Cazals, which is very simple and classic. I am also a great admirer of the work of Ditte Isager and Roger Stowell.

My wife Jane, son Robert and daughter Hazel and I live in a barn in rural Oxfordshire. It is very peaceful and there are wonderful views of the countryside all around. My office is a great space in which to work and I am very happy there. However, I also love to travel, mostly to France. Usually I go for a few days or a week and I am always glad to be back at home.

I love food and I wish I could grow what I eat but I am not a great gardener and I don’t have the patience needed to nurture fruit and vegetables. I like to go out and buy good food and cook it myself. I worked as a chef for four years in an Italian restaurant in Reading after I left University and that taught me a great deal about how to cook great ingredients.

There are so many new trends in food and gardening photography. There are some people who prefer the more relaxed, simple country way of living but equally there are plenty of people in the towns and cities who like to be very contemporary and cutting edge. I am pretty relaxed myself as I actually like photographing in both styles. I like to change the look of my photographs as I am easily bored!

If I had to give advice to young people coming into the industry I would say they should not expect to earn a fortune straight away. Photography is like slow food, it takes time. There are so many great photographers around nowadays that it is difficult to make an immediate impact in this industry.

Contact Details

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Follow Clive on Twitter: @clivenichols

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