Ed Norton has been a travel photographer for the last seven years and has amassed an impressive client list including Lonely Planet, National Geographic, Forbes, BBC and Travel Channel. Originally from Bristol, he has been to 51 countries to date and is currently on an indefinite trip around the world. When he’s not travelling, London is his second ‘home’.
Surprisingly, you studied music production before becoming a photographer, how did you segue into a completely different profession?
In hindsight, it was a somewhat strange decision to essentially be starting from scratch, as I knew nothing about photography. At the time, it didn’t even cross my mind as I was fascinated by this new medium and would spend every second learning and wanting to know more. That process took a number of years until I was able to start earning any money from it.
Your work has taken you to some incredible places, what’s been your best shooting gig so far?
That is certainly a tough one as I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all around the world. But, it has to be Iceland. There’s just something about that place that is so special and after 9 visits, I’ve still not finished exploring there!
Since you’re largely a self-taught photographer, what key ingredients does a good photographer need that’s hard to teach in a classroom?
Can you teach passion? I think that’s the biggest factor for me in my progression. I absolutely love everything about photography. I’m not saying that going to university to study any arts is a bad choice as it’s down to the individual. But ultimately, work comes from your portfolio and not because you have a degree in it. The proof is in the pudding as they say. As long as you understand as a creative that you’ll work 16 hours a day/7 days a week and for the most part, for minimal financial return. If you’re self-motivated, persistent and can handle and learn from rejection, then you should get there.
What do you find most difficult to shoot? How do you overcome these difficulties?
I would say people. In previous years, I feel I’ve been a little too reserved in approaching people through fear of offending and being too polite with a sprinkle of my own shyness. That might be part of being British and also because I want to leave the best impression of someone who is a guest in another country.
I’ve seen some photographers and tourists really invade people’s personal space and irritate them, so I would act to the extreme opposite, to offer a balance. The reality is that, the majority of people really don’t mind getting their photo taken and in many cases, are flattered. In recent years I’ve found some middle ground and comfort in photographing people, which means I’m not missing the shots, but not annoying anyone. It’s natural to find it a little daunting to ask complete strangers to take their photo but with good intentions, a smile and gratitude, there are really no issues.
Let’s talk inspiration. Who among contemporary photographers do you admire?
With social media these days, it’s all too easy to find a wealth of talented people out there. There are a few standout names for me – so here’s just a few! – Etienne Bossot (@picsofasia), Drew Hopper (@drewhopper), Serena Ho (@serenavsworld), Gunnar Freyr (@icelandic_explorer), Joe Shutter (@joe_shutter), Benjamin Hardman (@benjaminhardman), Stian Klo (@stianmklo), Ness Farmilo (@ness_farmilo), Michael Shainblum (@shainblumphotography) Andrew Studer (@andrew.studer) – and that’s just a few in the travel and landscape world! There’s so many I admire so I could be here all day adding to that list.
How about among the old photographers?
One of my favourite projects is by Gregory Colbert – it’s called Ashes and Snow. It’s a film and still images that shows… actually, I’m not going to tell you. Everyone just needs to go and check it out.
There’s also a stack of names I could add in answer to this. Ansel Adams, Cartier-Bresson, Capa, McCullin, Arbus, Borden, Penn.. In the relatively short lifespan of photography, we’ve had some pretty special people!
If you could own one work of art, either a painting or a sculpture or a photograph, what would you pick?
No prizes for guessing which artist… Gregory Colbert. There’s one particular image from the series of a small child, holding his hand against his chest whilst sat next to a cheetah. That’s my favourite image of all time.
If you could have taken any photograph in history, what would you pick?
That one. It’s just so….
Apart from your subjects, what inspires your work indirectly?
I derive a lot of inspiration through other mediums. I love great design, illustration and architecture. And music, of course. I think it’s important to study and enjoy all aspects of the creative industry. *Netflix users, check out Abstract: The Art of Design series to see exactly why that’s important.
What three photos are you most proud of, and why?
Ooooooh. Tricky one! Well one I know for sure and that’s my recent shot of the Northern Lights of Jokulsarlon in Iceland.
This icy lagoon is my favourite place in the world and I waited eight years to get this photo. When I finally did (November this year), I was very happy.
I also really like this one from the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. It represents just how small we are against Mother Nature.
And finally this one from U-Bein Bridge in Myanmar. It’s such a well photographed bridge that people forget about the surroundings, and that you don’t need to have some crazy sunrise or sunset to get an interesting image.
Let’s get technical. What camera and lens do you enjoy using the most and what are they more useful for?
I have a Sony a7rII as my main body. I now have a full prime lens (no zoom) setup: Zeiss 18mm/25mm/85mm/135mm. My second camera is a Fuji x100F which has a fixed 35mm lens. I work with primes only now because they’re so well built, offer sublime sharpness and are often faster (wider apertures/lets in more light/allows you to shoot faster shutter speeds in low light). But mainly, I use primes because you have to zoom with your feet. It’s all to easy to stand further back and zoom into your subject but I found you get more connection when you get in close and can create more interesting compositions. It’s easy to get caught up in what gear you have but truth be told, 80% of my images I could have taken with a £300 second hand camera. The reason I use expensive gear is that my imagery is used for larger printing and needs to retain a high level of detail at those sizes. I’ve got images in my portfolio taken with an old GoPro so with good light and an understanding of photography, you can get some cool images at a fraction of the price.
What do you use to edit your photographs?
I use Adobe Bridge to organise my images and Adobe Camera RAW to edit. I’ll then bring some photos into Photoshop to make further corrections if they’re needed. But I never manipulate or ‘Photoshop’ my images to be something that wasn’t in front of me at the time of shooting.
Finally, it’s not easy to summarise in one sentence, but can you share one core piece of advice that will be useful for someone trying to become a full-time photographer like yourself?
I do get asked this one a lot. There’s no straight forward answer but you’re off to a good start if you’re passionate, work your absolute socks off, and never stop learning or thinking ‘I’ve made it’. Be honest with your work and show respect to your peers and anyone who shows interest in what you do. Honestly, it’s hard work. You’re trying to make a living where a large percentage of the world has some form of camera. Set yourself goals but be realistic. Don’t get bogged down in what gear you have or how many followers or likes you get. Just be yourself and share with the world the way in which you see it.
Finally, backup your photos. Always. On more than one hard drive. (I have 20!)