The camera is his paintbrush, the magnificence of the Peak District his ever-changing inspiration
Chris Gilbert loves rain – or rather, the milliseconds afterwards, when just sometimes there comes a scene that is pure photographic gold.
He heads out into the heart of the Peaks in the middle of a downpour, sets up his camera and tripod – and waits.
Sometimes, the whole sodden experience is in vain. However, every once in a while, there is some magical occurrence of nature, a unique phenomenon of shifting light and cloud – maybe even a shaft of sunlight or a watery rainbow.
It sends his finger into a twitching spasm on the shutter release – and Chris Gilbert goes home a happy man.
“All bad weather is good, but rain is the best. It brings contrast, unexpected shadows, bursts of light, atmospherics and colour. It creates dramatic skies,” he says.
“But exploiting it does take planning. I live on weather forecasts and satellite images. You have to understand your location, too – hills create their own weather. You need to be able to predict what might happen. But there’s a beautiful, Forrest Gump unpredictability. You never really know what the weather will do for you.”
Choosing a bad day is Lesson Number One for the fair-weather amateurs he passes on skills and advice to in one-to-one and small group photography sessions in what he considers to be the best place on God’s earth to photograph weather-infused landscapes.
The second lesson is wrap up and become a winter snapper.
“Autumn and winter days are great for photography; the light is so sympathetic – and you get the weather at its most extreme,” he explains. “Landscape photography is all about capturing transient weather phenomena that happens in a few seconds.” Chris, who runs online gallery Ravenseye with his wife Jane, selling prints, photo calendars and greetings cards and Jane’s handmade earrings, lives in Cressbrook, in the middle of the Peak District National Park.
He revels in introducing people to the corners they never knew existed. He does it personally, by taking photographers out to his favourite viewpoints – but he also transports thousands more through his pictures, which are displayed at the Peaks Photography Gallery in Bakewell.
It is run by Chris and four other talented photographers, and he sees the gallery as one big advertising campaign for the Peaks.
He says: “Statistics prove that one-third of visitors from Sheffield never go any further than Stanage Edge; hopefully our shots entice them to explore.”
Now aged 51, Chris bought his first camera with his first pay cheque at 18. It became a passionate hobby, with him finally quitting his career in IT to be a full-time photographer in 2006.
He describes the camera as his paintbrush: “I love painting - I started when I was 10 but I never got skilled enough to be able to reproduce the intricate detail I so wanted in my pictures. That’s why I turned to photography; the camera allows me to do that.”
His proudest achievement? Getting two images published by National Geographic last year. One was of Wastwater in the Lake District, the other of low sunlight eerily piercing through a crop of winter-naked trees on Bradwell Moor. That was not a long-awaited, carefully timed shot, but glimpsed as he was driving past. He couldn’t ignore it, ground the car to a halt and rushed to capture the fleeting moment forever.
He has won awards in his time – but no longer enters competitions.
“These days the problem for me is making my work stand out,” he says. “It’s perfectly possible for a major competition to be won by a total amateur with a good digital camera.”
Not that he’s knocking the digital age. “Digital cameras are incredible and have opened creative doors to so many people,” he adds.
They also make his job of teaching amateurs so much easier
“It’s so quick to learn with a digital,” he says. “I hope my explanations make it more rewarding. If you learn the technical and the artistic skills it opens up a whole new world - you can make the camera do what you want it to do.
“The camera sees things flat, so you need to create the illusion of 3D to fool the brains of people who look at your pictures and draw them in – make them feel they are seeing the view for real.”