Most of the time I use a big Digital SLR and equally big lenses. That’s because they help me get the shots I want in demanding situations and it’s important I have the right gear. But I’ve always believed that you don't always need the biggest camera to take superb pictures and you can shoot memorable images with anything that captures light. You just have to adapt.
Well this theory was put to the test recently when Fujifilm and Millican bags asked me to take part in their Freedom through photography campaign. I was to go up to the Lake District, leaving my Digital SLR at home and have fun with one of Fujifilm’s superb X-series cameras. In this case the X-M1.
The X-M1 is a compact system camera – in other words it has interchangeable lenses but it’s not as bulky as a typical DSLR. I was able to fit the X-M1, four X-series lenses to use with it, and a Fujifilm X20 compact into the new Millican bag, rather sweetly called Christopher, that's been designed specifically for Fuji's X-Series cameras.
The X-M1 is a lovely camera and it genuinely offers stunning image quality but it’s a different animal to my usual DSLR. Apart from the size difference, perhaps the most striking adaptation I had to make was to shoot all day without looking through a viewfinder. For me, this was a bit strange. I spend most of my time with my eye glued to the viewfinder but as the X-M1 doesn’t possess one or the means to add one via the hotshoe, it was the LCD screen only. If you are moving up from many of the digital compacts or even your phone, then the lack of a viewfinder will feel totally normal. And let's be honest, the sheep didn't seem to care...
So what was my task? I was to visit a working farm high in the Cumbrian Fells and shoot a series of images about life there. If you are immediately thinking that the farmer was a creaking 80-year-old with a weatherworn face then actually you are way off the mark. I’ve no doubt there are a few of those characters about the Fells but the farmer I met was young, not originally from Cumbria, and the farm itself was immaculately maintained. To be honest I’d hoped for a few dilapidated barn doors as backdrops but clearly my farmer (Tom), kept his farm absolutely ship-shape.
When you meet someone with the intention of photographing them, whether that’s for 10 minutes or a whole day, the most important thing to do is try to build up a rapport. Just being friendly and interested in them and what they do goes a long way to relaxing people and getting them to work with you.
Tom was great. I didn’t have to work hard with him. He was a really genuine guy and I was interested to learn about what had brought him to farm in Cumbria and what’s going on in farming in general. It was a real education to observe him going about his daily routine. I certainly left at the end of the day with a much greater knowledge about hill farming and the whole industry.
I wanted my images of the day to show that hill farming is something still done by young people – it isn’t the exclusive domain of those weatherworn 80-year-olds. My preconception might be way off the mark but I bet it’s yours too. I also wanted to show Tom’s connection with the land and the sheep. To show how his sheep dog (Moss) was a vital cog in this particular industry. And, I just wanted to reveal how beautiful the place (High Snab Farm in Borrowdale) is.
So the X-M1 and me just got on with it. I tried not to be too clever, making most of my creative choices via aperture changes, careful focusing and angle of shooting. I photographed Tom around the yard working with the sheep. I tried to snap a few of the little details too – like the yard brush and tools that were leaning against the wall, as these were his everyday items to keep the place looking so smart.
I wanted to capture the Cumbrian sheep – herdwicks mainly – on the hills and I wanted to try showing the controlled enthusiasm of Moss, the sheepdog as he went about his business. Did I succeed? I’d like to think so. But I guess you’ll be the ultimate judge of that. Here is a small selection of images from the day to help you make your mind up.