Interview with Neil Hulme

LEMAG has the pleasure of presenting works by Neil Hulme, a renown long exposure photography artist, specialising in monochrome, acclaimed for his images of Venice, of which he says is obsessed with.

Neil hails from Warrington, a large town and unitary authority area in Cheshire, England, on the banks of the River Mersey, 20 miles (32 km) East of Liverpool, and 20 miles (32 km) West of Manchester.

Interview:

LEMAG: Neil, thank you for finding time to talk to us. Tell, me how did your photography journey start?

Neil Hulme: My photography journey started approximately 8 years ago, I was at a bit of a crossroads in my life. I had played rugby union from the age of 7 years until the age of 46 , unfortunately the old body couldn’t take the punishment no more. So I had to hang the boots up.

My two sons had got to an age where they didn’t need my attention so much, and my wife works for the Police , which entails shifts. This left me with a bit of free time on my hands.

I decided to enrol on a night school photography course.

From the first evening I was hooked on photography. I went home and tried to absorb as much as I could, books, magazines, videos, and online platforms, I found flickr and this was where I found LE black and white photography. I was mesmerised with the silky smooth water and the cloud movement.

I decided this was the way I wanted my photography journey to go.

LEMAG: Do you often find yourself photographing the same spot? Do you prepare for a trip with a pre-conceived idea of what you are after or you prefer to go with an open mind and see what happens?

Neil Hulme: The simple answer to that is both. I visit the Wirral very often, either taking photographs or leading workshops. There are some sea defence groynes in New Brighton. I’ve photographed them so many times and I’m constantly coming away with different images. Obviously weather conditions and tides dictate how an image is going to look. I’ve taken two images stood exactly on the same rock, one taken on a very moody stormy day and one taken in beautiful sea mist conditions, both images look very, very different. I’m a great believer on getting to know a location and taking my time, working on different angles and focal lengths.

I regularly watch a YouTube video of Michael Kenna’s in Hokkaido. I learnt so much from watching this video. He visits a tree and photographs this on a number of occasions. He talks about taking his time and getting to know the tree, where he likes to have a conversion with it, he explains how he’s not a paparazzi photographer. I learnt from that to take my time get to know my subject. In the past I would often dart around from one location to the next , trying to capture as many images I could. Nowadays, I’m happy to work a location and try and come away with one really good image rather than several medico images.

Same with the editing I kind of let the image evolve as I’m working on each segment of the image.

LEMAG: Cheshire landscape is a very inspirational place, both for painters and photographers and there is a lot to be had there for long exposure photographer as well. You though seem to be drawn more towards water and man-made structures rather than rolling hills. Was it always so or during your development as an artist you discovered your preferences?

Neil Hulme: I do take images from around the Cheshire area, in fact I’m very passionate about my local images , I have a full section on them in my talk that I deliver throughout the photography clubs, but I must admit I do feel more at home on the Coastline, I much prefer a simple none cluttered scene . I visit the Lake District very often, I love the place and its beauty. But as for photographing it, I struggle because for me there’s just to much going on. I stand in front of a stunning scene and marvel at the beauty.

I’m most happy photographing an old pier or a stump sticking out of the water.

I love a simple scene with only three components in it, sea, sky and a pier. That’s not to say editing a minimal scene is easier, I actually find it harder. As there’s nowhere hide in the image, each component, composition, tones and textures all have to work together to make the image a success.

LEMAG: What makes you travel from the middle of England all the way to Venice?

Neil Hulme: Venice is a photographers paradise, around every corner there’s an image to be had. Be it long exposure, street, architecture or portraiture . The place is just amazing. It’s like no other city in the world –  the moment I arrived in Venice I fell in love with the life style.

Small coffee shops, tiny bakeries and wine bars dotted all around this small city, you can just let yourself get lost in this beautiful corner of the world. As for my style of photography, obviously the city is surrounded by water and of course the grand canal, this is just perfect for long exposure photography.

LEMAG: When did you visit Venice for the first time? What was your impression of the city? Did you plan the visit as a photography trip or was it just a few days of holidays?

Neil Hulme: My first visit was with my wife a couple of years ago, it was a mixture of photography and site seeing. The plan was that I had early mornings for photography and then the rest of the day we would wonder around the city taking in its sites and  also visiting its little islands, such as Murano and Burano.

We booked the trip 6 months in advance, I was so excited about visiting this beautiful City, during this 6 months which is  when i did my homework. Searching locations online , buying books on the city and viewing other photographers images just to get an idea of the place.

I would sit in front of my iMac each night searching on google maps scoring the City for locations and just getting a feel for the place. Before I’d set foot in Venice I knew the place like the back of my hand. I do have an obsessive nature but this helped in getting to know the place and its sites, Venice is like a maize, but that is the beauty of the place, you can just let yourself get lost in the City and immerse yourself in its culture and its beauty. On this first visit, one evening my wife and I attended a classical concerto in one of the churches.

That evening was one of the most breath taking experiences of my life.

I will never forget that feeling of being seated in a church in Venice (one of the most beautiful Cities in the world), waiting for the orchestra to appear. I was looking forward to the evening. But what happened next just moved me to tears. A lone violinist began to play his violin, the church was just filled with so much emotion coming from this one instrument. It was truly a magical emotional moment. One that I will take to my grave.

LEMAG: Do you have favourite spot there, one that you always come back to?

Neil Hulme: There are so many locations to name, but I guess standing on the Academia bridge looking down the canal towards Santa Maria Della Salute is absolutely breath taking. I always get goose bumps when I stand there. A good friend and photographer once said to me, that the view from the Academia bridge is his vote for the best man made view in the world and you know I totally agree with him. But I would just like to add that standing in front of a gondola bobbing up and down is where I feel most at home with the camera. Gondolas have become a bit of an obsession with me, I have received some banter from other photographers about my love for gondolas and the amount of images I’ve taken of this beautiful form of transport. I will never tire of photographing them.

LEMAG: You have been there a few times already. Knowing the city, understanding sunrises and sunsets surely plays to your advantage as your go there well prepared. Is the city still capable of surprising you though?

Neil Hulme: Each photography outing in Venice starts very early in the morning before sunrise. It’s a wonderful feeling walking through the empty alleyways of Venice  There is much serenity to be had at that time of day. The streets are empty from the hustle and bustle of the tourists, the stillness is so tranquil. One of the beauties of Venice is the size of the city. You can walk across the city in no time at all and take in the beauty and charm.

I tend to do most of my photography in 2 sessions, early mornings till 11ish and then back out again at approximately 3, o’clock till evening time. There’s a wonderful scene  to capture in Venice at dusk, when the street lamps get turned on and the crowds have disappeared.

Each photo session is different, be it the weather conditions or capturing a Gondola moored up in a different position from the previous session.

I tend to visit Venice in November, this is the best time to capture the city engulfed in fog and there’s a very good chance you will encounter an Aqua Alter, when St Mark’s Square is immersed in water through the high tide.

LEMAG: Where else in the world would you like to give your lens a go? Why there?

Neil Hulme: That’s an easy question to answer. Japan and in particular Hokkaido. I’ve seen so many images from Japan captured from the likes of Michael Kenna, Rohan Reilly, Stephen Cairns and many more. I just think Japan would suit my photography style. When I retire from engineering in a few years my plan is to hopefully visit Japan and go on one of Rohan’s and Stephen’s workshops which they run each year. This will be a present to myself. Fingers crossed that this plan will happen in the near future.

LEMAG: You said: ‘Nothing better than sitting editing an image with my music on and a glass of red wine.’ Tell us about your editing shooting and editing workflow.

Neil Hulme: My workflow starts in Lightroom. The first thing I do in Lightroom when I’ve imported an image is, press the auto button. I always do this, just to see what Lightroom can do for me. Next its lens correction, dust spots and straightening horizons. Once I’ve done that the images get fired into Silver Efex for a mono conversion.

The one thing I preach whilst delivering my talks is the importance of saving your own presets. I have about 20 different presets that I’ve developed throughout the years. It makes life so much easier. I can flick through my presets and this enables me to get 60% into an image within seconds. It kind of gives me which direction I want to go with the image, high key, low key, contrasty etc.

One other thing I also do is flick through the colour filters, just to see how they affect an image. Next the images gets fired back into Lightroom. This is where the real work commences.

I tend to break an image down into small segments, i.e. work on the sky, sea and rocks all separately. I normally use soft brushes, brushing in and out, shadows, blacks, whites, clarity and a little sharpening.

Gradients are used to dark the top and bottom of an image to try and draw the viewer eye to where I want the eye to go.

I’m no expert in Photoshop. I know a few little tricks, like blurring horizon lines out, but like I say I’m no expert.

LEMAG: As your biggest influences you give Rohan Reilly, Stephen Cairns and Josef Hoflehner. What draws you to their work?

Neil Hulme: I’ve followed Rohan’s and Stephen’s work for some years now. I feel these two photographers have inspired me more than any other photographers.

It’s funny viewing there images they inspire me but also make me feel like throwing the towel in at times. They are both masters of LE black and white photography. I think the words class, precision, eye for detail and the fact that both these guys ALWAYS produce images of the highest quality sets them above the rest in my eyes.

As for Josef Holfehner, I have several books of his, nothing better on a winters evening, pouring a glass of red wine, listening to a bit of JJ Cale and studying one of Josef’s books (a perfect evening). I use the word study as that’s how I see it, I see it as homework in a way. Getting inspiration and driving myself to improve and get to the standards of the likes of these three photographers (there are  many more photographers I could mention.)

LEMAG: Throughout a year you give photography talks all over the North West of England. Tell us a bit more about it – some of our readers might want to join you there.

Neil Hulme: I love visiting the photography clubs throughout the North West of England and giving my talk MOMENTS IN MONO. It’s so nice meeting up with like-minded people. It’s a great thrill to be able to stand up in a room and talk about your own work, (a very proud feeling). The talk is a lighthearted but informative, I go through some of my favourite images and locations where I’ve captured them and how I’ve edited them. It’s actually amazing how much you learn about your own work when your required to talk about your images.

LEMAG: What else do you enjoy doing when not working on your images?

Neil Hulme: I love my music . If I had to choose between music or photography I’m afraid music would always win.

I will never forget the day my father came home with, Lynyrd Skynyrd “One more from the road”, back in 1976. I can honestly say it changed my life.

My father and big brother introduced to such amazing music from the likes of, Tom Petty & the heartbreakers, The Allman Brothers Band, Bad Company, Free and many more.

Later on I discovered the likes of JJ Cale, Eric Clapton and Robert Cray.

A day doesn’t go by without me listening to my music. I think you could use the word obsessed.

I’m still as passionate about it now as I was back in my youth. I’ve just recently been listening to a lot of Jason Isbell, beautiful singer-songwriter, well worth checking him out.

LEMAG: Neil, thank you for offering us your time. Congratulations on your excellent images and best of light next time you shoot.

Neil Hulme: I would just like to thank LEMAG for giving me this opportunity to be published in its first addition of this magazine. I sincerely hope the magazine goes from strength to strength and I’m surely looking forward to viewing the works of many more featured photographers.

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