I'm a geologist by profession, and have spent over 30 years spent working within the Oil Industry. This has lead to a substantial part of my career working overseas, often in some quite remote but interesting places, although to be perfectly honest I've also spent a good deal of time in many places I wouldn’t care to return to either. Some you win, some you loose, but overall I can count myself rather lucky. I have worked in pristine tropical rainforest in Borneo, the Deserts of Arabia and the African Bush, often in places the tourist seldom gets to see. I only wish I had the camera I have now way back then!

First Steps

My initial foray into ‘real ‘ photography began just around of my university days. It's some time ago and I can no longer recall what sparked that interest why, although I’d always much admired the fantastic sepia photographs of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (1853-1944) that I’d seen on trips to Whitby. A copy of one his pictures occupied a place on my bedroom wall even as a teenager. In the summer after leaving university I purchase a brand new Praktica SLR from a camera shop in Bath. A photography evening class followed in the autumn, and soon after, armed with a few rolls of Ilford black and white film, I ventured out to a rather snowy Derwent reservoir in Derbyshire and later to some steel mills at Rotherham (where I had worked over my student holidays) for my first real taste of photography. I can't say my initial results were that successful, but hey, we all start somewhere, but the memories of talking those first photographs still remain as vivid as ever.

Adventures Overseas

Several months later I was to arrive in Singapore for the start of a new job. The lure of multitudes of electronics shops containing shelf upon shelf of shiny new cameras proved just too much. Soon all the spending money I'd brought was speedily exchanged in the purchase of a brand new Minolta XD7 that very first weekend, before I'd even earned a penny. Unfortunately photography was restricted to mainly a travelogue of slides on Kodachrome-64, with my knowledge of 'proper photography' still remaining very much in its infancy; depth-of-field what's that? I guess most of my photos were shot on automatic; shame on me, but every once in a while a moderately impressive shot transpired, probably with more by luck than skill however. I also purchased a Vivitar zoom lens, rather heavy I seem to remember, however, the lure of other activities of a young man in his twenties, and the effort of carrying all this 'gear' around (in addition to your mandatory cassette walkman and a big box of tapes), soon began to take it's toll, and sadly, the camera began to ventured out less and less.

After 4 years in and around the Far East, 2½ years in California followed, but my photography was still in the snap-shot realm, although the latter did introduced me to the awe of Yosemite and the wonderful photography of Ansel Adams. A return to the UK followed and work dominated, then in the intervening years, married life and raising a family took to the forefront. Videos of kids and holidays replaced the camera, with small film automatics for snap-shots.

The Digital Age

Then came the ‘digital age’. The country manager of an oil company working in Pakistan asked me to pick up a 'good' digital camera at Heathrow duty free on my way over. A Casio I seem to remember, resolution 640 x 480 pixels, not even half a megapixel, costing a whopping £800 and which produced grainy pictures the size of a postage stamp! However, I was soon to become the unofficial office photographer and had at my disposal a copy of Photoshop for the very first time.

A few years later and I had my very own 1.2 megapixel Fuji compact, and soon after that a 3 megapixel model. Then on a trip to Assam, the photography bug resurfaced with a vengeance, when I realised just how much I was missing by not having a ‘proper’ camera. After much research, a Konica Minolta A2 bridge camera was acquired, which I thought would suite all my needs bill, but I was soon to be smitten by the silky smooth images from the Canon CMOS sensors and the lure of better lenses. Thus a Canon 20D SLR was duly purchased on eBay, following on to zoom lenses, wide angles, books, magazines; there was no turning back now.

Influences & The Present Day

As well as Frank Meadow Sutcliffe and Ansel Adams, one photographer I really admire is the late is the late Galen Rowell. He was also a very accomplished mountaineer, and ventured to places where I could never imagine going. I guess his images of California are special to me having lived there but a wonderful photographer none the less and well worth checking out.
I love the UK landscape however, which is a varied and as beautiful as anywhere else in the world. It’s all down to the geology of course (and being a geologist I should know). If you ever get a chance to view a geological map of the UK you will see a multitude of many different colours, each representing rocks of a different age. The UK has it all, from the youngest to the very oldest rocks and no other country exhibits such a great degree of variation over such a short distance. That’s what makes the UK landscape so varied and truely unique.

These days it’s a Canon 5D MII and several L-lenses and thus I have the ideal kit for my passion of photography. Landscapes are my preference, but I also love portraiture and nature too, not to mention many other aspects of photography. Most recently I have had the chance to shoot wild life in Uganda. Now only if I had more time...

John R Birch
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