Each month, we showcase a Northern Ireland-based landscape photographer and go behind the scenes to find out what makes their photography click.
So for this month, let’s hear from Leigh Parke!
Leigh, tell me a bit about yourself…
Hi David. I’m Leigh, a full time photographer from Kilkeel. Growing up I worked with my Granda at Kilkeel harbour mending nets and also would have helped my dad fit fasciae board on occasion too. I lived in Cardiff for a few years studying Photography at university. To be honest I only went to university for the craic but coming away with a degree was definitely a bonus. Hobby-wise I do a good bit of running (training for marathons keeps me fit) and I like a good jam, playing the drums with my friends. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll sometimes get to hear lovely metal music on my story!
So you grew up in Kilkeel?
Yeah – I attended Kilkeel Primary school followed by Kilkeel High School. While at school I was a big fan of playing football until I started skateboarding and then I would have spent every minute of daylight outside skating with my friends. It was a brilliant way to spend our days!
And how did you get into photography?
As well as skateboarding when a teenager I started to play drums and in Kilkeel we were lucky to have a spot like the Spice Tree to go to hang out and play gigs. Without the Spice Tree and Tully who ran the gigs I really don’t know what we would have been at! Playing gigs in the youth centre led on to playing gigs in pubs, when I wasn’t playing a gig I still wanted to go but with being 15 it was hard to get in (I still get ID’d now so it would have been harder then). So I went and bought my first camera and started photographing bands playing and it all progressed from there!
Is it your full-time gig?
It is yes, I am very lucky to have a job that is also a hobby! My full time business would be 80% weddings and then I also shoot portraiture, newborns and landscape. When I’m not doing a paid job I am usually thinking about my next plan of attack for a landscape I’d like to shoot. Living in the middle of the Mournes – we are surrounded by beauty!
What do you most like to shoot?
I am a big big fan of coastal images. Sitting by the coast watching the sunrise/set is amazing! It is so peaceful! Especially when you are used to shooting weddings it is nice to completely switch off and just take time to sit for a few hours watching the waves.
Would you say you have any influences?
I would mainly look at the work of wedding photographers, the likes of Jay Doherty, Steven Neeson and Chris Semple. The talent we have in this country is absolutely amazing! I suppose landscape-wise I am always looking at the work of Steven Hanna, Ryan Simpson and Alistair Hamill. Again, another three from our wee country. There are loads more of photographers work I look at as I am always having a browse on Instagram and photography magazines – also through being part of the BIPP, PPANI and SWPP I am surrounded by amazing photographers! Way too many to name on here!
What was your first camera, and what do you use now?
I first bought a Nikon D40X with the kit lens. Made getting into pubs easier with a ‘proper’ camera, even if I did only look about 10. I used Nikon gear for everything until last year when I bought a Fujifilm XT2 and I was blown away by it. When the XT3 came out I made the move over to completely Fujifilm and I have loved every second of it. I believe it has 100% helped me improve my work to the next level as when you are enjoying using a bit of equipment you just want to keep on shooting and practising.
What software would you recommend for editing?
I used Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. I have just always used them and have never set aside any time to learn another bit of software. I don’t do the biggest amount of editing on my images as I like to try to get it bang on in camera. I use LEE filters to help me get exactly what I’m after.
And what are you working on at the minute?
At the minute I am really looking forward to my honeymoon before a bit of a mad end of the year of weddings. Landscape-wise I have a few ideas in mind and it’s just getting the time to get out and pursue them. With my work weddings take first priority, but at the start of 2019 I set myself a target of taking at least one landscape shot I’d be happy to sell. So I make sure to get outside and do that, and it gives me a wee break from editing.
Any future projects planned?
Nothing in mind really. I’d love to go shoot the North Coast for a couple of days, that will probably be next on my list of spots to go.
What do you enjoy most about photographing the Northern Irish landscape?
The feeling when everything falls into place is something that I can’t really explain, but it is really good! It’s a given that you might have to head to the same spot 10 times to get exactly what you’re after but that’s the joy of living in Ireland. Last week I set off at 3:40am for sunrise up Slieve Meelbeg as the weather apps were all looking great. Even the drive and start of the walk was clear. But the sun didn’t want to be seen from Meelbeg that day. It still got me up and outside so I wasn’t annoyed.
Give us your “golden rule” for photographing the great outdoors!
Check the tide times over and over when planning on shooting the coast – the sea is a very dangerous place and you definitely don’t want any surprises. When shooting in the Mournes make sure to check the weather too, the wind being a main factor – if it feels risky, don’t do it. Tell folk where you are going and carry your phone in case of emergency. When it comes to actually shooting I think rules like straight horizons, rule of thirds, lead in lines, etc, have just been embedded into my mind so I don’t really think about those. If it looks good through the eyepiece, I just go for it!
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