Capturing a panoramic landscape in a photograph is a very different skill to the majority of commercial photography. And especially in the wide, flat surroundings in areas such as Newport, it takes a special talent to make an appealing picture of what could otherwise be thought of as a dull and featureless scene.
Most commercial photographers prefer to stick to photographing people or objects in the comfortable and controlled environment of a studio. There, the light is always perfect, the subject is at ease and there is no movement in the background to distract from the image. But for Mansel Davies of Newport, landscape photography holds a special attraction. Mansel is well known for his wedding and commercial product photography too, as well as being an experienced portraitist. But on the plains around Newport, or in the beautiful Welsh hills further north, his instinct for creative landscape photography comes to the fore. Here, creating the perfect picture is a very different proposition.
Being in the right place at the right time is crucial. Here, there are no flash bulbs, no diffuser screens, no painted backdrops or convenient props. Perfect lighting conditions may present themselves only for a moment as the sun peeps from behind a cloud, and then it’s gone again, for minutes, or an hour, or all day. A small animal scurrying through the foreground, or a brightly coloured moving car in the distance, either can be a distracting element on what would otherwise be a perfect outdoor shot. On the banks of the Severn estuary near Newport, landscape photography can be as dependent on cloud formations as on topography for a pleasing picture.
Another element which is essential for successful landscape photography is an eye for composition. In his Newport studio, Mansel can place his subject, light it, adjust angles and fine tune perspectives. For human subjects, a little makeup or special item of clothing can draw the eye and make an otherwise generic photograph suddenly special. Or when photographing a product, shooting at a slightly upwards angle or selecting a paler background can create a memorable image. In landscape photography, none of this is possible. Away from the comforts of his Newport studio, Mansel must make the most of the compositional elements nature and circumstance have provided him with. You can’t bring distant objects closer. You can’t make a mountain taller, move the sea nearer, or combine all the elements you want in a single foreground. You can only move yourself. By taking his camera and heading down overgrown paths, up steep hillsides and across pathless plains, Mansel has taken landscape photography around Newport to whole new places.
Because what drives Mansel Davies is to capture something different. In our information age, stock photographs of every landmark or landscape are just a few mouse clicks away. But for this Newport professional, photography still has far more delights to offer than a series of generic internet images. You just have to go out and find them.