Photographer Derek Smyth loves the landscapes of Northern Ireland. Recently we spoke with him about his passion for the profession.
What are your own roots?
I was born and raised in Warrenpoint, County Down in Northern Ireland. I have lived here all my life and would never dream of moving away from such a beautiful part of the world. Photography has always been a passion of mine and I was able to pursue that along with a career as an IT Manager. I have now retired from IT and am able to devote all of my time travelling around Ireland enjoying its beauty and sharing it with others through my photographs.
When and why did you first become interested in photography?
When I was a child my parents had a Kodak Brownie Box Camera, which was used mainly for taking family and holiday snapshots using black and white film. It was from this that I developed an interest in the art of photography, using that fairly basic camera to go out and photograph the lovely countryside that I grew up in. When I grew older, I was able to buy a 35mm Olympus OM2 Camera with a selection of lenses and started travelling around Ireland photographing the beautiful landscapes that this country has to offer.
Are they the same reasons that you continue to be involved today?
Yes, basically the reasons are still the same. I have always had a love of nature and like nothing better than being out in the countryside, up a mountain or walking on a lonely beach. When I am out walking my mind is always mentally composing images and then my love of photography takes over and I have stop and compose a photograph to satisfy my creative urge.
How has your work evolved over the years?
Back in the day when I was using the 35mm Olympus Camera using colour film, and not having access to a darkroom, I had less opportunity to be creative with my images. Now that I am using digital cameras, I find that I am able to use techniques that enable me to be more creative, for example using filters to extend shutter times giving longer exposures to create motion blur in rivers and open water. I am also more able to manipulate the image in the processing stage digitally, similar to what the old masters like Ansel Adams used to do in the darkroom which could then be classed as a ‘fine art image.”
What are the challenges of the vocation?
When I have a composition created in my mind the challenge is getting the right conditions to create the composition and photograph it. This usually involves going back to a location many times as the weather in Ireland can be very unpredictable. Sunrise and sunset shots in particular can be quite a challenge as it can vary from blinding sunlight in a cloudless sky to dull and overcast conditions. Usually, I am looking for something in between the two.
What are the rewards?
That’s easy to answer. There is no better feeling for me as a Photographer than when all the elements come together to give the perfect or near perfect conditions to create an image that I have formed in my mind. Being able to create a photograph that stirs emotion in others and myself gives me a great sense of achievement.
What have been some career highlights to date?
I always get a sense of pride when my work is published in various publications or is commissioned for business enterprises. My photographs have been used as front covers of various magazines as well as having featured articles in many others.
Is your creative process more ‘inspirational’ or ‘perspirational’?
It was Thomas Edison who said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” I would have to say that my creative process would lean probably more to the perspirational side of the process. I love looking at famous works of art and other photographer’s images, especially some of the greats like Ansel Adams from which I can draw inspiration for my own work. For as long as I can remember I have been doing this, so I can only imagine all of those images are locked somewhere in my mind and plays a part in my subconscious when I come to create my own compositions
What makes your work unique?
Not sure I am able to answer that question myself, that’s maybe for other people to decide. However, I am always looking at other photographers work and, in my mind, thinking how I might have done it differently. When I’m on location seeking a potential photograph, my mind explores all angles trying to make a good and hopefully unique image. Today there are many fine photographers out there all shooting beautiful landscapes. The challenge is to make my images different and stand out from the crowd.
What makes a good photo?
A good photo for me is one that grabs people’s attention and gives them a sense of love and joy at what they are looking at. A photograph of a beautiful location will mean different things to different people, and each will take their own interpretation away with them from the image.
What is it about the Irish landscape that is so inspiring?
Ireland is a beautiful country with many different locations to be photographed. But I think it is the ever-changing Irish weather that makes it so inspiring. Every time I revisit a location the light and weather conditions are always different. That’s why as I mentioned earlier it sometimes takes many visits to a location to finally get the photograph that I have composed in my mind.
What’s on your creative agenda for the rest of 2021?
The Covid situation has more or less put my photography work on hold the last 18 months or so. But now that we are slowly getting back to a more normal life, I would like to resurrect my photography again. I don’t really like the harsh bright sunlight of summer. I plan to get back on the road again during the autumn and winter this year. Starting off with a photography trip to County Galway that had to be abandoned in the spring of 2020 because of Covid lockdown.