My Photographic Journey
A geologist by profession, I’ve spent over 35 years spent working within the Oil Industry. A significant portion of that has been spent working overseas, often in quite remote but interesting places, although to be perfectly honest there have been many I wouldn’t care to return to either. It hasn’t all been glamorous, but overall I can count myself rather lucky. I have worked in pristine tropical rain forests of Borneo, 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

The spark that ignited my curiosity in photography probably occurred towards end of university days, upon seeing a shiny, rather posh looking, Pentax SLR, produced by a fellow student whilst on a geology field trip. It was probably the first camera I’d ever really taken any note of, but I knew right that moment then I wanted one. 
A Kodak_Instamatic

Kodak Instamatic

Until then I’d only used my Mum’s Kodak Instamatic. I’d also admired the wonderful sepia photographs of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (1853-1944), that I’d seen on family trips to Whitby. A copy of one occupied a place on my bedroom wall even as a teenager. The summer after graduating, with a very modest budget, I purchased a Praktica SLR with 50mm lens, and followed that up with some photography evening class that autumn. 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 Tinsley in Rotherham (where I had worked as a student) for my first real foray into photography. I can’t say my initial results were that successful, but it was a start, and the memories of capturing those first photographs still remain vivid.

Adventures Overseas

Several months later I arrived in Singapore to start a new job.The lure of a multitude of electronics shopping arcades, containing shelf upon shelf of shiny new cameras, proved just too much. The spending money I’d brought disappeared that very first weekend before I’d earned a single penny, in exchange for a brand new Minolta XD7.

My Minolta XD7 with Vivitar Zoom

My Minolta XD7 with Vivitar Zoom

Unfortunately my photographic skills were pretty amateurish, but enough to document the travels of a young man and amass a fair collection Kodachrome-64 slides. My knowledge of ‘proper photography’ still remaining very much in its infancy. My photographs were probably shot on automatic I’m sure, but every once in a while a moderately impressive shot occurred, by luck than any photographic skill. A Vivitar zoom lens was acquired, a rather heavy affair I seem to remember. However, soon the lure of other activities of a young man in his twenties, and the effort of carrying all this ‘gear‘ around soon began to take it’s toll, and sadly, my photography was put on the back burner. After 4 years in the Far East, and 2½ years in California my photography still remained in the snap-shot realm. California however, introduced me to the awe of Yosemite and the wonderful photography of Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell. A return to the UK followed but work then dominated, followed by married life and raising a family; any real photography was kept well in the background. Videos of kids and family holidays gained the forefront, and XD7 disappeared to the loft. A small, much more portable, automatic Pentax film camera was the weapon of choice, and even then, just for family snap-shots.

The Digital Age

Fujifilm F601Z Compact Digital Camera

Fujifilm F601Z Compact Digital Camera

Whilst working in Pakistan for a client, the country manager charged me with the task of purchasing a ‘good’ digital camera at the Heathrow duty free on my next trip out. This was 1997, and a state-of-the-art camera turned out to be a Casio QV-700, sporting a resolution 640 x 480 pixels, and costing a whopping £800! (how things have changed!).This produced grainy pictures the size of a postage stamp! I was soon designated unofficial office photographer, and a copy of Adobe Photoshop (version 3?) was at my disposal for the very first time. My interest in digital photography was thus driven by a need to learn Photoshop for the job I was doing.
A few years later and I acquired my own digital camera, a 1.2 megapixel Fuji MX-700 compact, and soon after upgraded to the whopping 3.1 megapixel Fuji F601Z 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. 
Konica Minolta A2 Bridge Camera

Konica Minolta A2 Bridge 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 EOS 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 other photographer I really admire is the late Galen Rowell. He was also a highly accomplished mountain climber, and took his photography to places I could never imagine going. It’s his many images of California though, that hold special interest to me, as I lived there for a spell whilst in my twenties, and still cherish the memories of my visits to some of those unique places; a wonderful photographer and well worth checking out.

Canon EOS 20D DSLR Camera

Canon EOS 20D DSLR Camera

I also love the UK landscape as well, which is a varied and as beautiful as anywhere else in the world. It’s all down to geology of course (and being a geologist I should know). A geological map of the UK depicts a seemingly vast hodge-podge of vivid colours, each represent rocks of a different bygone ere. The UK has it all, from the youngest to the very oldest rocks. No other country of such size exhibits such a great degree of variation over such short distances. That’s what makes our landscapes of our little island nation so varied and truly unique.


Today I possess the perfect kit to fulfill my passion for photography, which currently comprises a Canon 5D MIII camera and a healthy array of rather good L-lenses. Landscapes are my ultimate preference, the wilder and moodier the better, but there’s also a space within my hobby for occasional portraiture and nature photography too, and anything else that may happen to catch my eye.

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe

Work in Uganda, East Africa, spawned an appetite and provided the opportunity to shoot wildlife in it’s natural habitat, and holidays to the USA initiated a desire for the wilderness of the American South West. In the last few years I’ve sampled the remoteness and wilds of Iceland and the last great untouched wilderness on Earth, Antarctica. There’s plenty more places still on my list though, if only I can find the time!

Thanks for visiting.

John R Birch

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