16 October 2014
Region: South East
Interview with Dan Horton-Szar by Chelin Miller.
I met Dan Horton-Szar, a relatively new member of the RPS, during an Advisory Day organised by this Region in Crawley last September. Like everybody else in the room, I was immediately impressed by the panel of 15 images that Dan submitted for advise, and I wanted to find out more about how he makes his photographs.
Dan makes a living as a GP and he lives in Canterbury with his wife and their five sons. He is Chairman of the Parkwood Camera Club in Gillingham and has been a member of the RPS since January 2014. In April he obtained his Licentiateship and he is a member of the Visual Art, Contemporary and Creative Special Interest Groups. On 14 October Dan received a recommendation for an Associateship Distinction in Bath, and I am sure it will be confirmed in due course!
Recent ARPS Panel
CM: How would you describe your photography?
DH-S: Photography has been a much-loved hobby for most of my life, although I’ve started to work on it more seriously in the last couple of years. As my personal style has progressed I’ve discovered I am very much a monochrome photographer at heart, but with fairly eclectic tastes in subject matter. People pictures and landscapes mainly - with a particular interest in environmental portraits (often featuring my children) and images of the Kentish countryside and coast. My work is entirely digital now, but I was shooting medium format film as recently as 2010.
CM: When did you start your journey into photography?
DH-S: I started taking pictures when I was about 10 years old, borrowing my mum’s Halina Paulette 35mm camera and taking numerous bad pictures of the cat!
Cobblestones and Waves
CM: What motivates or inspires you to take photographs?
DH-S: I’ll often see the beauty in the light, or in the structures or situations around me, and feel the urge to capture that in an image. It’s hard to express it in words, but I’m sure most photographers will know that feeling. It is also true that sometimes I will be ‘in the zone’ where photographs in need of taking leap out at every turn, and at other times there’s barely a flicker and it’s best to just leave it till another time.
One of the best motivational things I’ve done lately is to start a daily photo project. I use Blipfoto for this, and so far I’ve managed more than 500 days without missing a photo. There’s a bit of self-discipline involved but once you get into the habit it just becomes part of your life. The best thing is that it really trains you to look for images wherever you go, and the project has been hugely valuable in improving my photography over the last 18 months - I would strongly recommend it to anyone struggling with their motivation or wanting to improve their skills.
CM: Can you tell us a little bit about your workflow?
DH-S: For most of my work I use a pair of Fujifilm X-E1 cameras, with the excellent X-series Fujinon lenses - the 14mm, 23mm and 35mm primes are my favourites. For infrared photography I use a Hoya 720nm filter.
I shoot RAW and process these files in Lightroom, using the Nik Software plug-ins Silver Efex Pro 2 and Color Efex Pro 4. I tend to use Photoshop for blemish removal, and modest image correction, straightening verticals etc. I rarely do any editing that alters the underlying truth of the image - not that I have any particular axe to grind about that level of creative photography, just that I’ve not yet developed the skills to do it well enough to be happy with the results.
One observation I would make is that it helps to see the whole workflow from planning the image, through capture to post-processing, as equally important parts of the image-making process. When out shooting, I try to plan ahead for how I want the final image to look, and the editing I will do to achieve this. At the capture stage I’m trying to get the best RAW file I can to make this possible, rather than trying to get the picture to look good straight out of the camera.
At the moment, I don’t run my own printer but get the finished photographs printed commercially once I have fine-tuned the files. I may reconsider this in future, but for now I find it very cost-effective in terms of time and money. I know that if I did buy my own printer I would be endlessly fiddling, tweaking and re-printing - costing myself a fortune in paper and ink in the process!
CM: I notice from your flickr account that you make a lot of photographs of your children. Is it difficult to interact with them, do they object to being photographed and their photos shown on the internet?
DH-S: I have five sons, aged from four years to thirteen. The boys have grown up with photography as part of daily life, and are well accustomed to having a camera pointed at them. We often make a game of it, and the best images come when they are engaged in the project. In most of my portraits the idea for the shot arises spontaneously from something the boys are doing, but then I enlist their help to make the best image from that idea. Truly candid shots are less common as the boys move and change what they are doing so quickly that the ‘paparazzi approach’ only yields the occasional lucky shot – usually it takes more work than that!
For the most part they enjoy the process and love to look at the pictures afterwards – my older boys have sometimes gone through phases where they become more reticent. I always respect that and never push the issue if they are not in the mood to be photographed.
Most of the time they are quite happy to see their pictures being used online – the internet is just a natural part of their world – and it is even better if one of ‘their’ images does well in a competition or gets accepted in an exhibition. I’ve always given them power of veto, however, and occasionally the older boys have decided (for example) they did not like their expression in a particular photograph so I have not displayed the image.
CM: What is your favourite subject or style?
DH-S: Monochrome environmental portraits are probably my favourite form at the moment, and I seem to gravitate towards square format for some reason! I do love monochrome landscape photography, and have a particular interest in infrared imaging which comes a close second. I also enjoy street photography, and wish I was better at it – will just need to keep practising.
The Lego Engineer
CM: What next?
DH-S: There are so many areas to explore in photography that I sometimes feel like the boy in the proverbial sweet shop – I’d love to explore studio portrait work, sport photography and close-up work more than I have so far but there are only so many hours in the day!
Under Deal Pier
CM: Where can people see your images online?
DH-S: Daily photo project – www.blipfoto.com/danhortonszar
Flickr stream – www.flickr.com/photos/danhortonszar
My Licentiateship panel can be seen here http://www.rps.org/distinctions/distinction-successes/lrps-galleries
Feature image: Motney Hill View
All images by Dan Horton-Szar