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Wilkinson Cameras Ambassador: Clive Nichols

Clive Nichols is one of the UKs foremost garden photographers and with over 95,000 images in his collection was named ‘Britain’s Best Garden Photographer’ by PhotoPlus Magazine.

With more than 30 years experience photographing gardens worldwide, we’re proud to have Clive as one of our Wilkinson Cameras ambassadors.

And as spring finally emerges from one of the most challenging winters on record, we caught up with Clive to see what this year holds and to find out more about his career to date and his enchanting garden and flower photography.

How did you get into garden photography?

I studied Geography at Reading University and worked in a restaurant whilst doing it so I thought I would be a chef – within 3 years I became head chef at an Italian restaurant but the hours nearly killed me!

So, overnight, I decided to become a travel photographer, as I loved taking pictures on my holidays. I just phoned up tourist boards and they gave me press trips – in the first year I went to Malta, The Falkland Islands and Japan but after a couple of years I realised that to make a living I would have to do something closer to home.

So again, I switched overnight to photographing flowers and gardens and never looked back. In 1994 I was asked to write and photograph a book for the Royal Horticultural Society on how to photograph plants and gardens and that really put me at the forefront of the genre.

After more than 30 years shooting flowers and gardens (and still going strong!) you must really love what you do – how do you keep your work fresh and evolving?

Actually quite easily – I love getting up early and getting to gardens for dawn or sunrise when no one is about – it is literally like being in heaven. Increasingly, I am travelling to gardens abroad as well – last year Greece, Morocco, Spain, France – and many of the gardens there have not really been photographed so they are new and exciting.

You have a very strong following on Instagram, with more than 65,000 followers. How have you grown (no pun intended!) such a lovely, engaged community?

Simple really – consistency – we’ve posted an image almost every day for the last two years. With each image I like to give a little information regards the location, the planting, opening times (where appropriate) for the gardens featured etc Many of the images featured are published in the key home and gardens magazines – so I include those details too in case people wish to read the full features.

We have the advantage of being able to draw on my vast collection of images to keep things fresh and seasonal. We’ve grown Instagram entirely organically – and that’s something we’re really proud of.

Do you always shoot in natural light, or do you use any lighting?

When shooting gardens I only use natural light – which is a challenge of course. A lot of photographers don’t realise how hard it is, landscape photography is easier believe me, because it doesn’t really move, whereas flowers blow around in the slightest breeze so you have to pick and choose your days.

If I am shooting plants indoors then I may use lighting – I have a very good lighting technician called Neil who is great because he has all the kit – tungsten and flash – so I can concentrate on the composition. Stephen Johnson of Copyright Image sometimes comes on shoots with me and I can tether my camera to his laptop so that the client can see the shots as I take them. I’m lucky to have a great team.

You run your own garden photography workshops and work closely with International Garden Photographer of the Year. What can guests expect from a garden photography workshops, are they suitable for all experience levels?

I am a judge as well for IGPOTY and yes, my workshops are good for anyone who owns a digital camera – I am not a particularly technical person so I use simple techniques really. I try and do as little post processing as possible and try and stay true to my subjects. Flowers are like humans really, they have character and personality, so the skill is to bring those out in the photograph. On the workshops we have early access to some amazing locations, so we can focus on capturing the best images in the best light possible. I’m always on hand to offer advice and help guests achieve the best images they can and my partner Annette usually helps out too.

You’ve photographed some absolutely incredible gardens, home and abroad, do you have a favourite and why?

My favourite is usually the one I am in at the time! But seriously, there are some amazing gardens as you say – in the UK I would have to say gardens like Malverleys, Wynyards Hall, Morton Hall and Pettifers, which is in my village. In Europe, I would say some of the French gardens are just mind blowing – Marqueysaac in the Dordogne for instance.

The garden I would most like to photograph – that I haven’t yet – is The Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. From the photos I have seen of it, it just seems to sum up what Moorish Paradise gardens should look like.

A little bird told us that you’re working on a new book project at the moment – what can you tell us about that project or is it under wraps?!

Well it’s a book featuring the brilliant English Gardens that I have photographed in the last few years – there are over 30 in the book and it will be a big, coffee table book with loads of big pictures, which I think is what people want to see. The book is due to launch later this year.

I’ve also been working on a project with Woodmansterne – they are one of the best card producers in the country – we have just launched a new range of my images on greetings cards which are now available in store at John Lewis, W H Smith and Sainsburys.

You’ve been involved with International Garden Photographer of the Year Awards from the very start and the competition has really highlighted our beautiful landscapes and gardens worldwide. What advice would you give to anyone considering an entry?

I have, my wife Jane was one of the original founders of IGPOTY. I would encourage anyone to enter as long as they have an image or images that are top class – remember the competition is intense these days. There is now a really wide range of categories – so entrants should select their images carefully and as well as the creative elements should ensure they meet the brief for each award.

Another great thing about IGPOTY is there is the option to pay for an ‘Entry Review’ – where one of the judges looks at your images and gives specific feedback. This is very valuable for aspiring garden photographers and can provide valuable insight as to how to improve and develop.

The weather has been horrendous this winter – what would you say to aspiring garden photographers who want to get out shooting now and don’t want to wait until spring?

Winter is very difficult – I usually wait for frosty or snowy days and target gardens that look good at this time of year – generally one that have strong structure – hedges, statuary, walls, gates, topiary etc.

But there are also a lot of flowers at this time of year and increasingly the bigger gardens are planting areas that have good flower, stem or bark colour in the winter months.

What are your top tips for those just getting started?

Look at the very best photography of gardens and plants in magazines and books etc and try to understand why the images are being used. In most cases it is the light and composition, which works. (Clive’s Instagram is a great place to start!)

Quickfire questions:

Sunrise or sunset? Sunrise
Trees or flowers? Flowers
Formal gardens or natural? Formal
Favourite flower to photograph? Tulip
Bluebells or Poppies? Poppies

What’s in Clive’s camera bag:

Canon EOS 5Ds R

Canon lenses:

TS-E 17mm F4L
TS-E 24mm F3.5L II
TS-E 45mm F2.8
EF 24-70mm F2.8 L II IS USM
EF 70-200mm F2.8 L III IS USM
EF 180mm F3.5L Macro

He also uses a Manfrotto tripod with a Gitzo Fluid head.

Do you have a ‘go to’ set up, or a favourite ‘must have’ piece of kit or accessory?

My go to lens is the Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8, or if I am shooting flower portraits then my EF 180mm F3.5L Macro – all Canon lenses. Another absolute essential is a sturdy tripod in order to keep the camera still and maintain perfect sharpness in photos.

FREE Screen Wallpaper

Clive has generously added several images to his shop as ‘free wallpaper’– so for a daily burst of garden photography inspiration, pop on over here and download yourself a beautiful view!

To find out more about Clive’s beautiful photography, workshops and books, visit his website or check out his Instagram!

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