Loving The Light – Reader Profile – Martin Leighton

AP reader and amateur photographer Martin Leighton 
reveals the secrets behind his beautiful landscape photos

I love being outdoors,’ starts Martin Leighton. ‘I live in a bit of a concrete jungle, and photography is a way of escaping that. I always wanted to draw and paint, but I was no good so I chose photography as a way of recording what I saw.’

A part-time gardener and full-time amateur photographer, you might recognise Martin’s photos, having previously starred in our Reader Spotlight pages. ‘Last year I spent a lot of time going through my old slides and getting scans. I then sent them to AP and it has all started from there.’

Having got into photography ten years ago, Martin admits that, like many amateur photographers, he can blow a bit hot and cold. ‘I go through phases when I can spend less time on my photography and less money. Especially with film photography, I can’t just snap away until I’m happy.’

Martin is one of that band of enthusiasts who still shoot exclusively on film. He also boasts medium-format cameras and prime lenses that would make most landscape photographers drool. ‘I have a Bronica ETRs and a Pentax 67II. I’ve never used a digital camera. I joined a club recently and was looking at them but I get great results from what I’ve got, so why would I switch?’

Admitting he may have to take up digital if film becomes hard to come by, or if costs pile up, Martin doesn’t relish this change. ‘There’s so much detail with film. I think that film is still better than digital in terms of results.’

Sawley reflections ‘Pentax 67II, 75mm, 1sec at f/11, 0.9 ND Grad, tripod

Being Joe Cornish

Martin started his photographic journey with just a ‘cheap throwaway camera’, and it was the work of Joe Cornish that inspired him to invest more in his 
new hobby. ‘Cornish’s book First Light inspired me to go out and get a Minolta 35mm camera, and then I bought a Canon EOS 5. I still shoot on film to this day.’

Other than books like Cornish’s, Martin is entirely self-taught, a fact he put down to the simplicity of film cameras compared to digital. ‘I could take my camera apart and put it back together; I bet most people couldn’t do that with their digital cameras.’

As well as his trusted medium-format models, Martin’s kit bag also holds two prime lenses of 45mm and 55mm. These wideangle lenses allow Martin to create his foreground-rich landscape images. ‘You also have to buy the right filters,’ he continues. ‘I always use a warm-up filter from Lee Filters for my sunsets and sunrises. I also always have ND grads with me.’

Martin advocates trying to get as much right in-camera as possible, so being prepared is obviously important to him. ‘You can’t expect to just turn up at a new location and take great photos, you have to do your research.’ For Martin, this involves more than just scouting the location beforehand. ‘I look at weather and pressure charts. I go out in high pressure, especially when it is coming up from the south. The types of skies that this produces are what I want in my images. It’s also nice and warm!’

Having done his research, Martin always ensures he takes his sturdy Gitzo tripod and his light meter along with him, and his camera is always loaded with Fujichrome Velvia film. And generally speaking, he’s happy with his kit bag. ‘If I had the money, I’d probably buy a hybrid like the one Joe Cornish uses, which is half large-format and half digital, and means he can blow up his images with no loss of quality.’

More orange and yellow than Moorgreen ‘Canon EOS 5, 28mm, 1sec 
at f/22, tripod

The Next Level

Having only just started showcasing his work, Martin’s still driven by his ambition to create amazing photos rather than turning professional – although this isn’t something he discounts entirely. ‘The sort of feedback and results I get from these bits of exposure will decide whether or not I turn pro.’

For the time being, Martin’s happy shooting for the love of it: ‘The best thing about photography is when you see the results. When you see the prints and scans, and get the film back from the lab. It’s nice to see you’ve done a good job. When you get the right light, it’s very therapeutic. It’s like sitting with a blank canvas and creating a painting from scratch.’

Martin uses a local company BPD Photech to do his processing, not having had the time or money to create his own darkroom. He’s only just started to dip his toe into the world of post-production. ‘Up until recently, I never even looked at Photoshop. I used to slate post-production. But I’ve had a play with GIMP software and what I do is only what you can traditionally do in the darkroom. I never add anything that wasn’t there. I remove blurred sheep or dust spots, for example, but I’d never change the sky. I get it as near to perfect in-camera.’

Shooting mainly landscapes – ‘I don’t have the patience or kit for wildlife’ – Martin is out and about in all weather, explaining: ‘There is no such thing as “bad weather” – you simply need to be prepared. Some of the best light is flat lighting. If you go into a forest in autumn, flat lighting shows off the colour. It depends what you’re shooting and what you want to achieve.’

Amateur advice

With an impressive portfolio and more to come (‘I’ve only just started looking through all my slides’), Martin has achieved a lot in a short space of time. Much of this seems to be down to his methodical approach to preparation. ‘When you shoot on film like I do, there’s no safety net. There’s no auto.’

He continues: ‘If you’re going to go out shooting landscapes, learn weather patterns, know how the British weather works. Secondly, get to know your camera inside out. Buy all the kit you need – lenses, filters, tripods and light meters. Then, try to create your own style. Learn from other photographers but switch it up, try shooting a scene in a new way. A good photo is never going to be a point-and-shoot effort, so do your homework.’

Setting his sights on his next challenge – ‘I’d love to visit Lofoten Islands in Norway and shoot the Northern Lights’ – Martin is one to keep an eye on. Talking of which, you can see more of his work on Flickr, under the username Martini36. And remember, you can follow in Martin’s footsteps and see your photos printed in AP. ‘I love Amateur Photographer magazine,’ he says, ‘because it gives people like me a chance to showcase my work, and share my experience with other readers!’

‘My Beach’ Pentax 67II, 45mm lens, 2 secs at f/22, 0.9 ND Grad, tripod

Behind the scenes

‘This is my favourite photo from my portfolio. This was my first trip to Scotland and on the first night of arrival I ended up catching this shot, against all odds. At one point I was going to turn back because I thought the sky wasn’t going to put out at sunset. It would have been a disastrously wasted journey.

‘It was a very spiritual moment for me. It was shot at 10.15pm in July 2010, and after capturing this image I sat on the beach until midnight and the sky still had light encroaching on the northern horizon. That’s why I love photography in summer.’

In The Bag

  • – Pentax 67II
  • – Fujichrome Velvia 50,
  • – 45mm, 55mm, 75mm and 105mm lenses
  • – Lee Filters polariser, 0.9ND grad filter, warm up filter
  • – Gitzo tripod
  • – Jessops light meter

To see more of Martin Leighton’s images, visit

Do you want to see your pictures in print and share your photographic journey and experiences with other readers? Send up to ten low-resolution JPEGs and a short covering letter on an email titled ‘Reader Profile’ to AP@ipcmedia.com, or post a CD/DVD to Reader Profile at the usual address, and you could see your work published in AP.