In conversation with Antony Spencer

Antony Spencer

 In conversation with Antony Spencer

After landing the top prize in a major landscape photography competition, Antony Spencer s life changed forever. He talks to Steve Watkins about his extraordinary career journey and his passion for shooting auroras in the Arctic

There are so many photography competitions these days that it is easy to believe that the impact of winning any particular one has been diluted to the point of being almost inconsequential, offering no more than 15 minutes in the limelight. Antony Spencer is someone who would vehemently disagree with this, with good reason. When he scooped the Landscape Photographer of the Year title in 2010, even he could not have predicted how it would completely change his life.

Antonyjourney into landscape photography began not very long ago. A stonemason by trade, in 2006 he asked his father to buy him his first DSLR camera while he was away on a trip to Hong Kong. At that point in time, Antonyphotographic mission was simple; he wanted to get some good shots of his children. gave my dad some money and told him about the type of lens I was after. He came back with two things that were completely different. I wound up with a Canon 5D, which was great, and a Canon 28300 L series lens. After a week or two of taking pictures of the kids, I got a bit bored with that and started taking landscape photos instead.

Antony Spencer

I am quite good at getting hooked on things, becoming completely immersed in something, and that happened with landscape photography. Since then, it has only been landscapes, for me, never any other genre.’

Living in Dorset, Antony was not short of classic locations to cut his photographic teeth on. He recalls Dorset so well was a big help. The big icons were top of my hit list at the time: Durdle Door, Lyme Regis and Old Harry Rocks. I probably saw some potential in the resulting images but they are all long gone now! Ideleted them all.’

In that initial period, he was motivated by the work of some of the UKmost notable landscape photographers. He says, Waite was a big inspiration right from the beginning, but probably not quite as much as people like David Noton, Adam Burton and Mark Bauer. Just looking at what those guys were doing and what I was doing was, well, pretty soul destroying at the time! When you look at someone like David Noton and see him being able to travel and seemingly do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, it seems like a magical lifestyle. I love his work; he really knows his stuff.’

Despite not having much commercial success at first, Antonyfocused passion for shooting landscapes kept him going. did sell a little before I won the competition but not a great deal. It really just paid for the fuel to keep me going off on location. Because the building industry was having a tough time as the recession hit and work was starting to dry up, being self-employed gave me more freedom to do whatever I wanted with my time. If the light looked good in the morning or the evening then I was gone. Just selling enough images to keep the hobby going was all I wanted, and if I could continue to do that then that was okay.’One of the first turning points for Antony came just before he won the Landscape Photographer of the Year. He had built a small online following for his work, and used Flickr to promote a workshop he had organised to Norway to photograph the Aurora Borealis. He was stunned by the response. had put together an itinerary and put something on the site about it. The eight places sold in just 45 minutes. So, I thought this seems like a good idea and put together a couple more. Again, they were gone within a couple of days of putting them up on Flickr. That made a big difference financially, as the winter was always a difficult time in the building industry with the weather stopping you from working. I donthink my wife was overjoyed at the prospect of me running off all the time to run these workshops through the winter, but I remember thinking that this is my winters sorted from now on, and it has been for the last three or four years.’

 Landscape Photographer Year

Without a doubt, though, the big turning point for Antony came one evening in 2010 when none other than Charlie Waite, who lives nearby, knocked on his front door to tell Antony that he had landed the prestigious title of Landscape Photographer of the Year, for his evocative image of Corfe Castle on a frosty morning. had entered the competition the year before, too, hoping to make the book, and that was definitely the aim when I entered the second time. So, it was surreal to have Charlie come and knock on my door that evening. I was in complete and utter shock. There were some pictures in one of the local newspapers of Charlie and I in my back garden and there is just a big grin on my face; I donthink I have ever smiled so much in my life. It was just unbelievable, and from that moment on it has been absolutely crazy. The first impact was there was just no time to even imagine going back to work, so photography just took over; a click of my fingers and that was my job. Initially, there were all the emails and print orders to sort out, and once that started to die away another thing came in to fill its place.’

Although Antony is always eager to photograph in different locations around the globe, it is the aurora that keeps drawing him back to running workshops in Arctic Norway —he has run 25 tours there to date. is just such a fantastic thing to do because, ultimately, you are taking people to realise a lifetime ambition with something like the aurora. I have had people in tears because they are so in awe of what they are seeing. It is just an amazing experience. The trips are not always easy, though, and you have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get to the right location at the right time. We are normally based up on the coast, near Tromso, and on every tour we have done during the last two winters we have ended up spending at least one night driving for six or seven hours across into Sweden, shooting for six to eight hours, and then driving back again in that one 24-hour period. It really wipes people out, but the experience wins every time; I donthink we have ever got it wrong. Whenever we have made that call to go it has been well worth the effort, and put a smile on everyoneface.’His pursuit of auroras has led to a growing love for the landscapes and light of northern Norway, too. He says, better than Iceland for me, as Iceland is all about the big iconic locations, with very little in between. The Norwegian coast is the opposite, there is a composition around every corner, and it makes it very difficult to get to planned locations a lot of the time, because the light can be stunning and you have the group just begging to stop and get out. The trajectory of the sun makes a massive difference, too. I donthink sitting on the Equator watching a sunset be over in 30 seconds is ever going to compare. I have been in Norway in January, when the sun just starts to rise again, and you can have a two-hour predawn glow, two to three hours of the sun just skimming the horizon, and then another two to three hours of after glow. It is just divine, like nothing else I have ever seen. The first time I saw it, I was lost for words.’

At the beginning of this year, Antonycareer took another fantastic turn, when he was offered the role of managing Charlie Waitetour company, Light Sc Land. had been running tours with them for about a year, when David and Jenny Ward were running the operation.

I would just come up with an idea and put it to David and Jenny, then all the hotels would be sorted, everything was done. Since taking over from David, it has been far more involved and I am doing the planning for other leaders, too.

It is amazing; it opens up more opportunities for me, as well. We have just put a tour up on the website, to the Colorado Rockies for the Fall colours, and then across to Utah, to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and I am going to be running that with Joe Cornish. I would still gladly pay the fee to go along with Joe, so every day I am pinching myself; I am working with my heroes. Charlie and Joe are superb photographers, and to be able to call them friends and to be working with them is just incredible. Looking at the way they take and present their images is a big influence on me.’Antony has plenty of experience of seeing the impact that a workshop can have on someonephotography. think you can have a massive effect over the course of a week or two, though it does depend on each clientmental approach and their photographic ambitions and abilities. Ihad clients come out with me who have absolutely blown me away with their work. We had one guy on a recent trip who would walk around with a Panasonic LX5, and the images he would make with the macro function on that were astounding. Every day he would show the group his images in the evening while we were sitting around after dinner, and everybody was gobsmacked at what he was getting; Inever seen anyone with an abstract eye like that. More than anything, I think people just love the chance to put everything else on the backburner and immerse themselves in their photography.’Always thirsty for new adventures, Antony was about to set off on a recce for a storm chasing photography trip in the USA. is going to be ridiculously exciting! There is no itinerary, we are just going to rock up, meet the guide, and go wherever the storms are. Itgoing to be a crazy two weeks with over 5,000 miles of driving.’Something tells me that there wonbe a shortage of people willing to join him when this new trip is rolled out to the public.

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