Adam Burton has worked for a long list of impressive clients that includes The Times, National Geographic, AA Publishing, Ford, First Great Western (now Great Western Railway), the Dartmoor National Park Authority and the Woodland Trust. Not bad for someone who, in Adam's words: "Was very late into photography - I wasn't interested in photography at all and didn't take a single photograph until I was eighteen." But today, he is one the UK's leading landscape photographers.
Adam left school at sixteen to work for British Gas, "My background is IT and project management, although I'm not a technical person. I stumbled into database development and then into training people in IT-related subjects. But I'd say that my key skill was being able to communicate with people, including customers."
Adam's interest in photography grew organically, "I learnt as I went on. I was given a point-and-shoot camera for my eighteenth birthday and I used it to take photos of my family or trips to the zoo."
In 1996, Adam's interest in photography was sparked by a trip abroad, "I had been with British Gas for eight years and decided to go backpacking to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific," he says, "I was still using the same point-and-shoot camera and I saw so many incredible sights that I wanted to share with people back home. I was excited about sharing the locations. This is the reason why I take photographs – I'm excited by what I see. You have to remember that, back then, the internet was still quite young and people weren't that familiar with going online to look at locations around the world."
Back in the UK, Adam would go the New Forest to capture sunsets. Over time, he upgraded his equipment (he bought his first SLR in 2000), learnt how to use the camera's manual settings and switched to slide film for better results. Later on, he moved to digital.
Adam has only ever been interested in landscape photography, "I think it goes back to my backpacking trip. I'm not someone who is in love with their camera - I enjoy the scenery. I love being outdoors and being with nature. I'm not interested in photographing people (apart from my kids) or wildlife. I just stuck to landscapes. I guess that makes me a one-trick pony, but it also means that I'm really tuned into what I do, and I'm passionate about it. Being passionate about what you photograph is massively important in photography."
Adam's journey from amateur photographer to professional was also a slow process. At the end of 2002, he visited New England and took along his camera. By now, Adam had created a website to showcase his images, and was working for Centrica. "I was really surprised when I was contacted by two photography magazines that wanted to interview me for multi-page features – I couldn't believe it!"
Later on, Adam was contacted by AA Publishing, "The AA produce a lot of travel books and I got this big commission to photograph loads of locations – I took hundreds of photographs. I was working full-time with Centrica, so I took paid holidays or did the photography during the weekends or after work. "
Adam moved to the IT department at Southampton University, where he stayed for three years. "Two things helped me make the move to full-time professional photographer," he says, "the university kindly allowed me to work four and then three days a week, so it was a gradual process. And at the time, my girlfriend (who is now my wife) went to America for eighteen months, which meant I could focus totally on photography."
Adam went full-time in February 2008 and at the same time, moved to Devon, "It's got two national parks – Dartmoor and Exmoor - and you've got the Devon and Cornish coasts. It seemed like the ideal place to settle."
Being a landscape photographer has its pleasures and its challenges, says Adam, "The pleasure is obvious – it is so rewarding to be able to go out to capture a sunrise. To be all alone on the top of a hill and see the world waking up – it's so inspiring. The challenge is that you're working with light and nature and that is totally out of your control."
Not surprisingly, Adam has seen many memorable places and had a fair number of dream assignments. "New Zealand is a very special place for me. I've been lucky enough to go to Antarctica – it's an amazing place. I love Dartmoor – it's such a stunning rugged area. The Lake District is as good as anywhere in the world for me – it's got this wonderful blend of wilderness and rolling green countryside."
One of Adam's most memorable assignments was for First Great Western railway, which he did with his friend Mark Bauer. In early 2014, part of the main rail line between London and Penzance was washed away by floods in Dawlish, Devon. It was several months before the line was restored, and in effort to attract tourism back to the area, First Great Western launched a massive campaign, "Be a Great Westerner."
"Our job was to photograph all the beautiful places the train passed along the whole line," says Adam. The award-winning campaign used TV adverts and the photographs taken by Adam and Mark, which were on posters, billboards, taxis, trains and the Imax cinema in London. Prince Charles was so taken by the photographs that he was presented with a special book of them.
Adam says the three most important things for getting good results are: light, composition and equipment. "Light is everything - I don't think non-photographers appreciate the massive effect it has on your pictures. Composition is a close second. Even in dull light, if you have a strong composition of your subject, you can still get a good image. The technical side comes a long way down the list, because if you have special light and a good composition, you can still take great shots with modest equipment."
Adam uses a Nikon D850 camera and three lenses: a wide angle (18-35mm), mid-range (24-70mm) and telephoto (70-200mm). "I don't need any more than that," he says, "you can get too bogged down with equipment and spend so much time thinking about which lens to use, that you've lost the moment."
Preparation is also key to success, "I take in the weather forecasts and scrutinise the tides. I have a tide app which I use when shooting on the coast," explains Adam, "If I'm revisiting a place, I'll look at the metadata on my old photographs and work out the best times to shoot there. The Photographer's Ephemeris [app] provides information such as sunrise and sunset times. I also use Google Maps, Streetview and OS maps. I might search for images of the place, although this can be dangerous, because you don't want to be influenced. The level of planning is huge and you need to find locations yourself and not just shoot in the Top 20 spots in Devon. Having said all that, it's also nice to be occasionally surprised by what you see."
A combination of talent and being passionate about his photography has helped Adam reach the heights of his profession, but what else do you need to become a successful landscape photographer? "You have to be motivated and good at motivating yourself," he says, "you have to be on location when the light is doing something magical. It can't be overstated how challenging that is, because the amount of effort you have to put in - get up before sunrise; drive to the location and walk to the top of a hill. If the weather doesn't turn out as expected, then you have wasted a day. After several trips like this, you can sink into despondency, so you have to keep motivating yourself to find a reason to go out again."
He adds, "You need a good business head. My business strengths are customer service and administration. I always respond to people, even if I'm away. You have to be on the top of your game from a business side of things and you need to have your fingers in lots of pies."
Adam makes a living from stock, commissions and workshops - he runs Discovery Tours, which takes small groups of people on landscape workshops around the UK. "It's not just about making an income," says Adam, "the workshops enable me to share my experience with others and they are great fun. You also meet an amazing range of people. I'd say to anyone who wants to be a professional photographer, that if you are passionate, dedicated, motivated and creative, you can do it."www.adamburtonphotography.com