As part of a new feature, we’ll be getting to know some of the talented people who have exhibited their artwork at the Barn. For the first of these, we’ve chosen Chris Nowell.

Chris, a former serviceman who was wounded in combat, has built a large following on social media since starting his photography. With close to 10,000 likes on his Facebook page, it’s not difficult to understand why. His phenomenal images of the Peak District and the local Dronfield area routinely get hundreds of likes, and Chris has been a loyal supporter of the Barn for several years. He has previously exhibited his work at the Barn, and was recently involved in our successful ‘Virtual Market’. We sent him a few questions about both his work and the Barn during lockdown…

For anyone who is unfamiliar with your story, how did you get started in photography?

My love for photography was born after being injured in Afghanistan. I  was in the army for eight years altogether, before I was wounded in Afghanistan during a rocket attack. The attack left me with neurological memory loss and sight loss in one eye, and I also lost the ability to read, write and walk. After joining Blind Veterans UK in Sheffield, one member of staff, Dave Hicky, talked about his landscape photography and how it could be a good way to push me out of the house. After this, landscape photography seemed the way forward, as, with a military background, I already had a love for the outdoors, and it made perfect sense.

Where are you favourite places to take photos, both locally and in the Peak District?

My favourite areas to photograph around Dronfield are Frith Wood, both in spring when the bluebells are in blossom, and in autumn for the perfect colours. I also really enjoy the views looking down towards the Drone Valley Brewery on the hill side of Highgate Lane. Dronfield is surrounded by countryside so really there’s many wonderful views including the views around Barlow. My favourite Peak District locations are some of the local ones such as Upper Owler Tor, especially when the heather is in full blossom. I also like Bamford Edge for the good views, but my absolute favourite area is Derwent Edge. It’s perfect for wildlife photography, such as trying to see the mountain hares, as well as the outstanding views down towards the reservoirs. I’d say the best time to visit is at its best around August time when the heather is in full bloom.

One of Chris’ favourite images and views – Derwent Edge at sunset

Where would be your dream destination to photograph next, that you’ve not been to before? Either in the UK, or abroad.

There’s only a handful of locations in the UK I have not visited let alone photographed, but one location is the Northumberland coastline. For some reason I just haven’t even visited it, and before lockdown it was the top of my list with plans made already, but we had to rearrange for the future. I have visited the Isle of Skye before for photography but the Isles of Harris and Lewis are also on the list, because of the fantastic white sandy beaches and isolation.  Out of the UK, I would love to photograph the Dolomites in Tuscany, and perhaps a trip back to Canadian Rockies.

What’s your favourite time of day or season for photography? Is there any particular reason why?

My favourite time of day for landscape photography is the morning. It is when the world is at is quietest, and most times it’s just you and nature. The morning light is less harsh with much more gentle subtle shadows and cooler colours. My two favourite seasons are definitely spring and autumn for those new life and end of season colours.

Chris’ favourite local view – near Bull Close Farm in Dronfield

Out of all the photos you’ve taken, is there one that you are particularly proud of?

One photo I am very proud of is that of a sunset at Derwent Edge. For a few years I have set up my tripod for sunrise or sunset photographing into the sun to use the sun as a large feature. However this not the best way to do it. Instead, using the side light to cast shadows across the landscape enhances the colours and just creates a much clearer picture. That evening on Derwent Edge is when I really enhanced my skills with the camera, using the perfect side light to show the best details. That’s why I would put it up there as my top ten of images I’ve taken. I also have a really nice photo I am proud of up near Bull Close Farm, near the very top of Dronfield where we live. It was a wonderful morning photographing the sunrise looking down towards Chesterfield Road and the Drone Valley Brewery. Finally one other image I’m quite proud of is another morning just on the outskirts of Barlow photographing the sunrise in June across a wonderful misty farmland.

What is your favourite thing about Dronfield Hall Barn?

If I was to say, it would be the gardens. They’re very nice to walk through in the morning or the evening all year round, and enjoy the buzzing bees of spring and summer, and the fantastic colours of autumn. I enjoy just sitting outside and having a coffee, even in the cold. The organisation of the Barn is brilliant, with fantastic events all year round. Then finally it’s the team – Maria is very well organised and incredibly friendly, and it has been great to get to know a few of the volunteers as well.

Barlow sunrise

Finally, are there any tips you’d give to budding photographers, or anything you wished you’d have known when you started?

A few tips I would give any person is trying to get into photography would be, number one – know your camera. Before you rush to get outside, or organise events to photograph the world, spend more time at home learning every step of the camera. A good way is to get a tripod and set the tripod on the camera in your front room and slowly go through the settings step-by-step…practice practice practice! Do you need to get to the stage where you can adjust dials or switches without having to look at the controls? It takes time but it is available from any camera.

For landscape photography, I would strongly recommend a tripod. It does not necessarily have to be the most expensive tripod, but something sturdy is important. Something to stabilise and make your images sharper but which also gives you the freedom to step back and create the photo. Work the scene and make the photo – after all, you make a photo, not necessarily “take it”.

And finally, if anyone wants to, there is also the option of filters. Again, this is for serious landscape photography, but filters and tripods are the two most important thing. Like previously mentioned, they don’t have to be the most expensive filters in the world, but a bit of research is needed – you don’t want to buy any nonsense is for no reason! There are many brands out there which are not expensive, but if you don’t want to be buying too many, work out what works for you – good bit of research is important. However it’s not essential – one of the most important things is just to know your camera and everything else will work together!

Thank you to Chris for providing us with such interesting answers – and be sure to give him a follow on by Facebook, by searching for Chris Nowell Photography, or by following him on Instagram by clicking here.

A shorter version of this piece is also available in the latest Dronfield Hall Barn newsletter – which you can download as a PDF by clicking here.