How I got the shot: Richard James Taylor on capturing the rustic charm of the North Norfolk coast, UK
While grounded in Norfolk during a Covid-19 lockdown, Richard took the opportunity to explore the seaside charms of his home county for a photo story. We caught up with him and asked about his inspiration for the shoot plus logistical challenges he faced.
What drew you to this story and location?
With its remote and beautiful sandy beaches, pretty villages and rustic old harbours bobbing with boats, North Norfolk is often considered the jewel in the crown of East Anglia’s 500-mile coastline. Being a Norfolk boy, I’ve always wanted to shoot a story on my home turf, but I never seemed to be able to find enough time to do it justice. However, with so little international travel taking place during the pandemic, it was an ideal opportunity to take a closer look at what was on my own doorstep, immerse myself into the landscape and meet some of the characters that make this area so special.
On location, what elements are you seeking out for a successful shoot?
When shooting a travel feature, it’s important to remember that the images should be more than just pretty pictures — they should be a visually cohesive set of images that illustrate the story you’re trying to tell, preferably in an original and interesting way.
It’s critical to find an image that will act as a scene-setter — something that has an immediate impact to interest the reader, and sums up the main subject matter of the feature. This should be followed by a varied selection of portraits, landscapes and interiors, plus some food, perhaps — depending on the shoot — and generally lots of local colour.
With the North Norfolk shoot, it was important to do justice to the beautiful landscapes that can be found all around the coast, so I tried to devote as much time as possible to those, being such a fundamental element of the story.
Who was the most interesting character you met, and why?
North Norfolk is full of interesting characters. In Cley next the Sea, I met Glen Weston, who was smoking kippers at the village’s traditional smokehouse. In Morston Quay, I took a boat trip with Jason Beans, whose family has been taking visitors out to see the seals at Blakeney Point for generations.
I was particularly fond of Thomas Large, a mussel farmer based in Brancaster. He was good company and extremely generous with his time and we spent a great day together, walking out across the salt marsh to his mussel beds, where I spent some time shooting Thomas at work, hauling in the mussels against a rapidly rising tide. Thankfully, the return journey was made safely in his boat, bringing back the catch and mooring in the picturesque harbour just as the sun set. It was a fantastic experience. As a travel photographer, it’s a great privilege to be able to gain an insight into peoples lives that may otherwise be impossible to achieve.
Which is your favourite image?
I think my favourite image is one that came up rather unexpectedly. I was at home and the weather had been pretty miserable for most of the day. I do like a bit of a drama in my landscapes, however, so I decided to take a chance and go for a walk along the cliffs in Sheringham. This stretch of the coastline can be very dramatic. From Sheringham, you’re looking to the west, so there’s always the chance to make something interesting at sunset.
I found a good spot to set up, with the camera on the tripod ready should any good light appear. The potential was good, but what this shot really needed was for the sun to break through and for some people to walk along the coastal path, which would add scale and some human interest to the scene. This area is usually popular with hikers and dog walkers, but due to the cold wind and sudden downpours there were very few people around. I decided to stick it out until sunset, though — and I was rewarded with this brief moment where both the sun broke through for perhaps 30 seconds and simultaneously this lady walked across the fields to the cliffs and then out of sight down the other side. Had either of those elements not have happened (the quick blast of sun or the person appearing at precisely the right moment), the image would have been much less successful. It was one of those moments you thank the photography gods and go home happy.
Was this shoot typical of your career as a travel photographer?
In terms of the location, definitely not. Most of my work is located in some far-flung destination, preferably in a warm, tropical climate, whereas this shoot was quite literally on my doorstep and shot during a rather chilly early March.
Other than that, though, the basic elements of doing your research and pulling together a coherent feature that represents the area and the story you’re trying to tell remained the same. I was also able to devote a bit more time to it as it was shot during the pandemic and there was very little happening on the travel front, so I was able to work around the weather and give myself the opportunity to do the best work I could.
What do you take into account when packing and selecting kit?
This feature was shot practically in my own backyard, so I was able to cover the shoot in my trusty old VW campervan, affectionately known as ‘the Villa’. I was able to pack everything I might conceivably need and select what was needed as I went along.
Generally, though, what I pack will tend to be dictated by the kind of shoot I’m doing. Ideally three or four lenses, a couple of bodies, my LEE Filter kit, a tripod and some reflectors, then once on location I’d try to take only the relevant kit for what I’ll be mostly shooting that day. On a shoot where there tends to be a lot of hiking and activity, weight can quickly become an issue. I have to make sure I can cover a lot of different subjects, though, so I always like to be prepared.
What advice would you give someone starting out in travel photography?
The most important thing you can do is to get out there and shoot. If you want to be trusted to shoot an assignment you have to show that you can do it, so set yourself assignments and shoot them as though they’re real. Work in a visually consistent way and have a final layout in mind, even put one together yourself. In this way, the thought processes you need to produce a good feature will become second nature to you and help set you up for a successful career.
Richard's e-book The Art of Shooting Travel Features for Magazines is out now. An ambassador for LEE Filters, Richard regularly runs tours and workshops. For more information, visit richardjamestaylor.com or follow him on Instagram.
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