Michael Espiner - Finding Your own Style and Adapting to Change

In 2012 when I started out  in photography it was all about landscapes. Beyond family photos, I had no interest whatsoever in photographing people. So off I went, visiting local areas with nice scenery, carrying with me a typical landscape photography kit – a heavy tripod, full frame DSLR, remote release, heavy lenses and a few filters. Quite literally all the gear but no idea. 

 

Living in Scotland the expanse of beautiful scenery is enough to fill a photographer’s lifetime, however,  after visiting all the easily accessible places I wanted to photograph I soon encountered a problem.

 

In1993 at the age of 18, I was diagnosed with an untreatable, incurable genetic eye condition known as Stargardts Disease. As a result of this I have been registered as partially sighted since around 2003 and (quite rightly!) I am not able to obtain a drivers licence. This meant that  I was completely reliant on either the kindness of family and friends with cars or on public transport to visit new photography locations

It got to the stage where I took a day off work to go on a 7 hour round trip by public transport and taxi to capture 1 image of a castle, only to find when I got there that the weather forecast had been utter garbage and the light was pretty grim and the shot that I had travelled hours for, and was unlikely to get the chance to get again anytime soon, was impossible. I also couldn’t hang around for a few hours to see if the weather might change because I was limited in time before needing to catch the train home again.

This was the point when I realised that landscape photography wasn’t going to be a sustainable option for me with any regularity. I didn’t want to keep returning to the same locations over and over again as I am easily bored.

To reduce my frustration at being unable to easily visit new and far reaching locations I adapted my style of photography and started taking my camera in my bag when I went to work.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city and I began to photograph the sites – Edinburgh Castle, Carlton Hill, the Royal Mile to name a few, but there was something unfulfilling in the photographs I was taking, I felt like something was missing.

By 2015 I was growing tired of carrying a full frame DSLR with me 5 days a week and began researching smaller lighter alternatives. I settled on the Fujifilm X100T and as a by product of that research I also discovered the work of street photographers such as Matt Hart.

My perception of photography changed immediately, as if a switch had been flicked. I suddenly realised that beauty is not restricted to impressive natural landscapes and can be found anywhere if you know what to look for.

The thing that was missing from my images was the human connection!

For the next 2 years or so I couldn’t get enough of photography. I was hunting for street shots before work, on my lunch break, and after work, 5 days a week. As with most things in life, as you gain some experience in photography you become more critical of your own work and strive to improve, but I was growing frustrated again at my low success rate.

A major factor in good street photography is the ability to anticipate a shot before the scene unfolds – no easy task when you have 6/60 vision (this means that what a person with normal vision can see from 60 feet away, I can’t see until 6 feet away). Time to adapt again.

I have now settled on a compromise between my original landscape style and up close, people-centric street photography and my images now often concentrate on the wider scene, with a lone person included to draw the eye and to add a sense of scale.

Everyone knows the size of an average human, so it adds a universally recognised point of reference.

Whilst this may not be my preferred style of photography, I have made a compromise and found a style that I can do despite the limitations imposed on me by my eyesight. I have always believed that in life you have to play the hand you’re dealt and just get on with it.

If my eyesight deteriorates further to the point where I need to adapt my style again, then that’s what I will do, but at the moment I have developed a style that I enjoy, is accessible to me and I am happy with.

The low success rate is still frustrating at times but I am slowly learning to become more comfortable with that and to use it as motivation to keep learning and practising. The feeling I get when I do get a good image makes all the poor shots worthwhile.

One of the greatest things about photography is that there are so many different genres and styles that if you find yourself struggling you can usually find another way to keep the passion alive.

“There can be no life without change, and to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life.” ― Theodore Roosevelt“