Welcome to our photography blog!
In this exclusive interview, we have the pleasure of diving into the fascinating world of Simon Furmston, a passionate photographer currently residing in Beijing, China.
Originally from the UK, Simon has spent the past five years immersing himself in the vibrant atmosphere of Beijing while pursuing his full-time profession as a Design teacher.
However, his true passion lies in capturing moments through the lens of his camera, seizing every opportunity to explore the world and capture its beauty.
Simon’s journey into photography commenced nine years ago when a friend gifted him an old Nikon D40 camera and a couple of lenses.
Initially, he had little knowledge about using the equipment, lacking understanding in essential aspects such as exposure and proper camera focus.
At that time, Simon’s photography primarily revolved around capturing simple snapshots with his smartphone, placing emphasis on technicalities like megapixels.
Everything changed when he began delving into the fundamentals of photography—composition, lighting, and mood.
It was a revelation that these artistic elements held far greater significance than the technical intricacies he had previously fixated on.
As Simon developed a deeper understanding of these foundations, his perspective transformed, allowing him to appreciate the world’s beauty in an entirely new light.
He acknowledges that mastering the art of photography is a perpetual journey, yet finds immense joy in every step along the way.
I enjoy photographs that capture emotions, so when I saw Simon’s pictures, I was immediately drawn to the emotions conveyed in them.
Specifically, the way Simon’s photos capture raw and authentic emotions is what caught my attention.
His ability to freeze moments in time, evoking genuine feelings and storytelling through his imagery, is truly remarkable.
Simon’s eagerness to share his photographic creations stems from a desire to invite others to join him on this captivating odyssey.
While his primary aim is personal fulfillment, the added benefit of others finding joy in his photographs brings him great satisfaction.
So, fasten your seatbelts and prepare to embark on an inspiring visual adventure as Simon Furmston takes us behind the lens and shares his remarkable story.
Cameras Trends: What inspired you to start taking photographs?
Simon: The only constant in life is change.
People and our environment are constantly changing and we will only ever see a very small window of it.
What I will see in my life and what my children or grandchildren will see will never be the same.
Our memories are also not as good as I think we sometimes want to believe.
I wish I had more photographs from my childhood.
I have many happy memories of fun times with my friends and family and of the beautiful landscapes of England, but I also know that these memories have many details missing which I know now I would cherish.
Looking back at photos from just a few years ago brings me immense joy.
There are so many wonderful things in life to enjoy, but often they are all so brief.
Whether it be a beautiful sunset, a reunion with loved ones, the way that sunlight casts interesting shadows on the streets or just the way my daughter laughs as she enjoys her own joke.
I suppose capturing those fleeting moments is what inspires me.
Can you tell us about your experience with the Nikon D40 and the old lenses your friend gave you?
When I was given this camera I really did not truly understand anything about how to use a camera.
One of the lenses was an old Nikon 50mm f1.8D lens which would not autofocus on the D40 and a variable aperture 70-300mm lens.
I suppose the best word to explain my experience would be “fumbling”.
I did not have a clue how to use it other than putting it in Auto mode, pointing at something and pressing the shutter.
I would be mystified why sometimes it would take forever for it to take a photo when I was inside with the telephoto lens and why it would work much quicker with the 50mm.
The best thing I did was learn to take it out of auto mode and start to take some creative decisions with the camera settings myself rather than get the camera to make all the decisions for me.
This was quite an intimidating thing for me to do even for a technically minded person like me.
However, the first thing I recommend people do is to get out of auto mode as soon as possible.
Start with Aperture Priority and have fun with a decent prime lens with a wide aperture and play with depth of field.
Then start using shutter priority to do something like long exposures and then migrate to manual mode.
How did you develop your photography skills, especially given that you had no prior experience?
When I knew that I wanted to really pursue photography then I decided to buy a number of books to help me understand of the key fundamentals of photography.
This included learning about the technical aspects of operating the camera such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO and then learning some basic concepts about composition and colour.
I found learning about the technical aspects initially challenging and had to re-read the chapters many times.
However, learning about composition is something I am still learning about today.
Books only got me so far and what I found the best way of learning was to go out with my camera with the intent of just trying to practice one concept at a time.
So for example I would go out and spend a day just shooting to understand depth of field and then another day I would go out to take long exposures.
That way I was able to get at least some understanding of each of the different elements of photography.
I then repeated that over and over again until some of these things have become instinctual so that when I see a moment to capture I am much better at trying to include as many aspects of what I have learnt into each of my photos.
This is not to say that I feel like I have learnt everything that I want to or need to learn to become a great photographer.
Far from it. I am very far away from where I want to be as a photographer and I continue to learn all the time.
I love learning from some great photographers on YouTube and I also love to look at photography books from truly inspirational photographers.
Just looking at their photos and trying to understand what draws me into the photo and engages me is really something that I learn a lot from and it also inspires me.
What do you believe are the most important aspects of photography?
There are so many things that are essential to good photography and I am still trying to learn these aspects myself.
I suppose the first thing would be a subject.
In the world we live in now where there are billions of photos taken every day it is important to think about what you are taking a photograph of.
Why are taking a photo of that subject?
What interests you about that subject?
What aspects of that subject do you want to capture?
Once you have a subject that you want to photograph then you can think about where you want to place that subject in the frame and how much of the frame you want to be taken up with the subject and how you are going to compose the subject against the environment.
Then, of course, light is a crucial part of photography and this has a dramatic effect on your photos.
It does not matter how interesting your subject is if no one can see it properly in your photograph.
It is important to remember that we are naturally drawn to the brightest part of a photo first and this can help to either draw the viewer towards the subject or pull them away from your subject.
You need to always think about the light.
Where is it coming from?
How do you want it to interact with your subject?
These are all crucial things to think about when you take a photograph.
It is also important to think about the role shadows have in a photograph.
Just as light is essential to the photo so are the shadows.
I have heard a lot of photographers talking about raising the shadows in editing, but this is not something I ascribe to.
Shadows bring contrast and shape to our photos so I like to embrace the shadows as much as I like to embrace the light in my photos.
Finally, composition is a huge aspect of photography and this is something I am continually trying to learn.
I believe that this is the most difficult part of photography and I think that there are a few things that I want to touch on here.
Firstly we need to think very carefully about both what we like to include in our photos and what we want to leave out of our photos.
When I am framing a photograph I think about what I want to keep in my photo and what I want to leave out of my photo.
So many times I have taken a photo of a subject which is ruined by the inclusion of distracting elements within the frame.
Learning about the rule of thirds and the role that negative space can have in your photos is a great way to help with this.
Secondly, I want to talk about depth of field and compression.
As I said before deciding what you want to have in your frame is super important so controlling your depth of field really helps with this.
A wide aperture allows you to remove distracting elements and a narrow aperture allows you to keep more in the frame in sharp focus.
Again it really depends on what you want, but the key thing is that it should be your decision and not the camera’s decision.
In terms of compression what I mean is how your choice of focal length will affect the size and appearance of the background in regard to the subject.
Wider focal lengths emphasise the foreground and tend to push the background further away whereas a longer focal length will bring the background closer and play a much larger role in your composition.
Once I realised this then it gave me much more control of how I wanted to compose my photos.
Can you describe your personal style of photography?
I believe that I am still trying to find my style.
My primary motivation is to try and capture fleeting moments and find beautiful compositions and if I can combine these two things into one photo then this makes me happy.
I think in the world of social media and the obsession with likes and followers we can often lose sight of who we are taking these photographs for and for what end.
I have learnt that I want to take photos for myself.
This might sound selfish, but what I mean is I am making compositions and shooting subjects which I enjoy and this is the way that I am trying to find my style.
If other people enjoy the photos on social media then that is nice, but many of my favourite photos are not ones that did well on social media and I am ok with that.
I think it is important to make sure that you are taking photos that you enjoy and that you are involved in a process that brings you happiness.
I believe that we need to be passionate about our work and what we choose to do in our spare time and that passion helps to drive us to become better at whatever we have decided to devote our energy towards.
How do you balance your full-time teaching job with your passion for photography?
Balancing my photography with my full-time teaching job is a great challenge indeed, and now that I am a dad it has become even more challenging.
I try and find time to take my camera out with me as often as I can helps.
Then also spending time planning good locations to shoot before you go out really pays dividends in terms of making sure that I can make the best use of the time that I have.
Also since I became passionate about photography I am always looking out for photography opportunities and I have found that I notice more things in the environment than I did before.
This could be the way the light is hitting a building or the juxtaposition of colours or those fleeting moments.
Having my phone with me all the time helps me to try and capture these things and helps to think about times and places I might want to go out with my camera when I have the time.
Do you have a favourite location or subject to photograph?
When I first got really interested in photography then I followed a number of landscape photographers on YouTube and tried to use some of what they had taught me to take photos of my local landscapes.
I found that this became ever more difficult as I was trying to balance my full-time job with photography and I lived in a big city and a long way from the type of landscapes that I wanted to capture.
Then with the help of a friend, I realised that you can find interesting and beautiful photos anywhere, but that you might have to try a lot harder in some places than others to see these compositions.
Since I moved to Beijing I have enjoyed taking photos on the streets and I have found that the varied landscape of China has given me a wide variety of photo opportunities to photograph when I go on holiday.
I have enjoyed photographing the grottos of Datong, the arid landscapes of Gansu, the unique landscapes in Zhangjiajie, the Mountains in Yunnan and beautiful city scenes in Fenghuang, Xian and Pingyao.
I really look forward to seeing and photographing more of China.
Have you exhibited your work or entered any competitions? If so, can you tell us about your experience?
I displayed some of my photos last October in a photo gallery in Dashilar last October which was part of Beijing Design Week.
I really enjoyed the process and the chance to speak with fellow photographers.
It is definitely something that I would like to do more often.
I have not entered any photography competitions.
I think maybe because I have never really looked into doing so, but maybe I should.
I suppose that I should also try and become less humble.
How has your perspective on the world changed since you started taking photographs?
I think that one thing I have loved the most about taking up photography is how it has changed the way that I see everything now.
I really pay attention to light and how it interacts with the environment, noticing the small details in scenes which before I would miss.
I suppose in short it allows me to appreciate the beauty in so many different aspects of the world from wide expansive landscapes to the narrow alleyways in Beijing’s Hutongs.
Looking at and studying great photographers’ work has really helped me to appreciate the environment around me.
Ansel Adams’s landscapes have helped me to understand composition and light, and Steve Mc Curry’s Street photos have helped me to understand the power of photography and storytelling.
I am currently really enjoying Wang Fuchun’s book One Billion Journeys where he has photographed 40 years of travel on Chinese Trains.
So many beautiful scenes of life that I would have not appreciated before I took up photography.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting photography but has little to no experience?
I would advise you to get a camera.
It does not need to be an expensive camera, but I suggest one where you can change the lens so you can play with different perspectives.
Then learn how to take control of the camera to help you capture what you want to capture. (by getting out of auto).
Learning these basics of photography has never been easier with the abundance of tutorials that are out there.
Then work out what you want to photograph and get out with your camera as much as possible.
If you enjoy the process of photographing your chosen subject then keep going and sharing your photos.
If you do not enjoy the process then try a different genre of photography which motivates you to want to go out again and again to take photos.
It has to be something you enjoy and brings you joy.
Finally, I feel that is so much you can learn from looking at the works of great photographers.
Go to your local bookshop and look for photographers that really draw you in and then try to analyse the different aspects of their work and what you can learn from them.