When did you discover your love of photography?

When I was ten I persuaded my Pa to let me loose with an Instamatic loaded with Kodak film. We lived in Kenya and that first roll of film included ‘the kukus’, (our chickens), and the rear end of a hippo. From that moment in I was hooked. I still have those photos somewhere. Aged about fourteen my godfather showed me how to develop black and white prints in his darkroom, and the magic of seeing my first print develop completely caught my attention. I understood at that moment that photography was going to be significant in my life.

What do you most enjoy capturing?

I’m fascinated about the relationships between animals and humans, particularly dogs and horses, and capturing these moments is something I have worked on over the years. I started out as an equine photographer and this is a comfortable place for me to work. Other recurring themes are how portraits can tell a story. Finding that moment in a shoot when you know you’ve got the picture, often after the formal shoot is over. Like candid wedding moments, or a horse nuzzling its owner. Those moments of repose, when the subject relaxes, are often vital images. I am also interested in water, and how people need it in their lives for spiritual and aesthetic reasons. These are recurring themes, often in the context of India.

Early morning prayers on the River Ganges, Varanasi Ghats, India.

The horse and his boy, Carmargue, France. 

You capture a lot of black and white photography. What is it about black and white imagery that you find evocative?

I am very drawn to strong images in black and white. In life, as in photography, there is often a lot of visual noise. Black and white helps me to concentrate the image, and focus on the details. The simplicity of black and white is a solecism: good black and white photography is difficult and I’m always learning from my mistakes. It forces you to look and think differently behind the lens. We see the world in colour. When I’m shooting I’m looking hard at how the light falls, and imagining how the subject might look in black and white.  Good exposures are key. I also am inspired to make work that is beautiful.

The view from Daymer Cliffs, Cornwall.

Did your early years influence what you love to see behind the lens?

Definitely. I think growing up in Africa sparked a lifelong interest in seeing. I grew up looking at people and places and especially the Indian Ocean. My childhood in Kenya meant that I was always on the outside looking in, and it taught me strong observational skills. I think my DNA must have been influenced by the huge skies and light - maybe it’s one of the reasons I live on the coast in West Sussex and need both water and open space in my daily life.

Life behind the lens is varied. I like the freedom of being a diverse photographer. I’m equally comfortable working on big, fine art landscapes or detailed portraits. Horses are a big passion and my early riding days definitely influenced my decision to work as an equine photographer. I still work on shoots where the main focus is the relationship between horse and human, something I find fascinating.

Seahorses, Carmargue.

What places have you really loved capturing? Tell us a bit about your travels.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in India. I run photography holidays there in the winter, and I think my two latest favourite photo shoots have been the Nilgiri tea estates in Kerala, and the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, on the River Ganges. 

The tea are up in the Southern Ghats, India’s southerly mountain range,  and these are so beautiful. I love South India. The tea estates have a calming effect on me with their coral-like structures, like seeing a tightly clipped living reef above ground, and then the estates have amazing factories and people involved in the industry. It’s a lifelong family thing for the estate workers, and I’ve visited some brilliant tea estates and met some wonderful people. And taken a few images...

Tea estates in Munnar, Kerala, South India.

The Kumbh Mela is the largest religious festival on Earth. I took a small group to Allahabad. Taking photographs in India is a joyful experience. People largely are mustard-keen to have a snap, and the difficulty is knowing what to focus on, when there is such a visual feast. The Kumbh Mela has many pilgrims from all over India, and sadhus who come to meet their spiritual gurus and bathe in the River Ganges on auspicious days. It’s a fast track to salvation.

The portrait photography was amazing. When I say many people, think three million over three months with a peak on the key bathing days. And many of the sadhus sky clad (or butt-naked). We were there on a big date. I’ve never been in such a huge, peaceful, happy crowd. 

So two photographic extremes.

Is there somewhere you’re yet to go that you would love to photograph?

I photograph Chichester Harbour most days and love its dynamic seascapes and light on the water. So I have an extraordinary resource at the end of my garden, and I am blessed. But I do love to travel, and there are places I really plan to see from behind a lens. New Zealand, for its wild coastlines and gorgeous beaches.  Senegal, for its markets, outfits and people. I collect Indian rivers, and I’m researching and organising a photography holiday in 2022 down the Bhramaputra River, to see the wildlife, a load of great history and the monks in the little island mid-river that the Bhramaputra is slowly eroding. India by river is beguilingly romantic. Wonderful for a lensman. 

Now over to Ali to share some top photography tips…

Photography Tips & Tricks

Photography is not about the camera. It is about composition and the light. And mainly about composition.

You can take great photographs on your iPhone, and since most of us have a smart phone in our pockets, this is where I’m going to focus.

The simple things first. Clean the lens of your iPhone with a clean micro-fibre glasses cloth, and do this regularly. This improves whatever you look at!

Think about how you hold your camera. Try not to tilt it too much or lean in, and if you are shooting something with a horizon, try and make it level. (This can sometimes be fixed afterwards but you’re better off keeping it level when you take the image).

iPhones work best when you don’t zoom in. Either walk closer to the subject, or crop the image afterwards so the image is bigger in the frame. Zooming, roughly, reduces quality.

Think about where you are putting the subject in your photograph. If it’s bang in the middle, make it symmetric. If it’s off to one side, leave enough room that the subject has space to breathe. If you’re thinking about a simple portrait, walk in closer. Fill the frame. If it’s an animal or a person, think about where your portrait subject might be looking. At you, they’re acknowledging you’re are taking the image. Away from you, either over your shoulder or across the frame, or downwards, all add a different vibe to your portrait. Be brave and ask the subject to look away. And look back. Animal portraits work best when the eye of the animal is looking at you and the viewer can see the eye.

River Dog, Varanasi Ghats, India.

When you take a photo, another top tip is to have a quick mental look at the image and see if there’s something in the foreground that clutters, or that the telegraph pole isn’t coming out of the head of your subject! Move yourself or your subject to tidy it up.

This spring, make use of the soft blossom on a  tree to frame your subjects. Natural frames of tree branches focus the eye and make wonderful images.

Lead your eye around the picture. By placing your subject at the end of a leading line, the brain automatically follows the line, ending at the visual hook of your main subject. The brain likes the feeling of this aesthetically. It makes a good picture. Leading lines can be natural: hedges, strandlines on the beach, or man-made: an old pontoon, a line in a road.

Baryo, Ladakh. Western Himalayas.

My hottest photography tip is this. During the first and last hour and a half of daylight, the sun’s rays hit our little planet at a different slant to midday. Shadows are longer, and the light is softer. Editors call it the golden hour. Take your pictures when the sunlight is soft and golden, and your photographs will improve 100%. Print them out to enjoy them fully.

Midday Zizz, Kolkatta.

Ali runs photography tuition workshops on Chichester Harbour and photography holidays across India. See her website www.aliwarnerphotography.com if you’d like to have fun with your camera and perfect your photography techniques.

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