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Landscape photographer Jeff Mander on Derbyshire’s woods and Peak District scenery

PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 May 2016

Bow Wood

Bow Wood

Photographer's copyright Jeff Mander

Landscape photographer Jeff Mander specialises in capturing the Peak District scenery. His ‘Derbyshire Woods’ exhibition is currently on show at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery

Tell us a bit about yourself

I have always been interested in art and enjoy craft activities such as wood-working and ceramics. I studied Fine Art at Newcastle University, specialising in sculpture, graduating in 1987. After moving back home to Derby I began my own business making sculptures, furniture, paintings and drawings. Finding it difficult to make a living from my art-work, I got a part-time job at the Silk Mill Museum in Derby. I am still employed by Derby Museums, mostly working in visitor services but I also spend some time helping to make new displays. I continue to run my business and the emphasis now is very much on photography.

How did you become interested in photography and what equipment do you use?

Jeff Mander at workJeff Mander at work

I became more interested in photography about ten years ago when I acquired my first digital SLR camera. I have explored the countryside since I was a child and landscape was the principle subject of my paintings and drawings. With a digital camera I felt more able to represent the landscape photographically. I like the way you can review and re-shoot with a digital camera, adjusting exposures and checking the composition.

The camera I use now is a Canon 5D mark2 digital SLR. My favourite lens is a 24–105mm zoom. Sometimes I employ graduated filters to balance the light in my pictures and I usually attach the camera to a tripod as I often take long exposures.

What attracts you to the Peak District as a subject?

Miller's DaleMiller's Dale

The location for most of my photographs is the Peak District. There is such a great variety of scenery in a relatively small area, it is really special. I have been walking the area all my life and I am still discovering new places. A couple of weeks ago I photographed Deep Dale near Buxton for the first time. On the day I was there the low winter sun poured across the dale from a side valley, producing a very dramatic picture.

What do you hope to capture with your images?

In my photography I try to convey the sense of peace and tranquillity I experience out in the landscape. My subjects vary from wide vistas of moorland and mountains, to more intimate views in valleys and woodland. I try to faithfully record the tone, colour and textures of the landscape in front of me, but I am always limited by the available light. Occasionally something exceptional happens. I was once in the perfect position to capture a double rainbow arching across a valley. Another time I caught a beautiful reflection in a stream. I went back a few days later and the water level had altered and the stream looked completely different.

Photographer Jeff ManderPhotographer Jeff Mander

Is there a photographer who inspired you?

There are a few photographers whose work I am inspired by. I love the work of the American photographer Ansel Adams. His pictures of the American wilderness are amazing. I saw some original Ansel Adams silver gelatin prints in the Phillips Collection in Washington DC a few years ago. The quality of the light, the great tonal range with deep rich black shadows made a real impression on me.

A British photographer I really admire is John Blakemore. John has done a range of superb work and has inspired generations of photographers with his teaching at Derby University. John came to my first photographic exhibition and was kind enough to give some insightful and encouraging comments about my work.

Shining Cliff mistShining Cliff mist

What advice would you give to anyone setting out?

One of the best pieces of advice I received when beginning photography, was to use a clear file numbering system for storing digital images. This sounds a bit nerdy, but with digital cameras you quickly accumulate thousands of pictures and having a way to retrieve image files easily is a big help.

Have you any photographic best or worst moments?

In 2010 I was taking some photos of Watendlath Tarn in the Lake District. I reached in to my rucksack for my camera and was shocked to find it wasn’t there. I ran back up the path and after about a quarter of a mile found the camera, still on the wall where I put it down whilst checking my OS map!

What is a typical working day

I usually travel to locations by public transport. Sometimes I catch the train to Sheffield and then on the Hope valley line to places like Grindleford and Edale. Often I catch the Transpeak bus from Derby, and can be in Monsal Dale by 9am. I can happily walk for seven or eight miles, enjoying the countryside, and I can almost guarantee finding something I want to photograph and record.

Light is key to my work so some days are much more productive than others. Unpromising conditions such as thick fog, can on some occasions work out really well. I recently captured some exciting shots of Shining Cliff woods as the sun broke through mist hanging over the valley.

In the evening when I get home I review the days work, and in subsequent days I will pick the images I want to edit. The best shots need few adjustments, maybe a little sharpening and slight alterations to get the colour accurate. Not until I have printed an image can I see whether it is really successful.

Have you a favourite season/country scene?

My favourite season for photography is winter. I love being out in fresh snow. There hasn’t been much snow in low-lying areas this winter, but one Sunday morning I did get some shots of Elvaston Castle, near Derby, after snow. The trees were gorgeous, laden white with snow and frost, the topiary hedges in the gardens there looked like boulders, with a thick white coating.

It is hard to pick out just one favourite location in the Peak District. A place I find really special is Monk’s Dale, a quiet valley tucked away between Miller’s Dale and Wormhill. The valley closes in and the path follows a little stream, with a tangle of branches and a broken down stone wall, covered in moss. I have tried to photograph Monk’s Dale several times without really capturing the unique atmosphere of the place. My most successful attempt was one winter’s day when I had walked over from Taddington. The sun was already low in the sky when I arrived, so half of the valley was in deep shadow. I wasn’t very optimistic but put the camera on the tripod and took a few pictures. Only when I got home and saw the pictures on the computer did I find that one of the shots worked. Light reflecting in the stream lifted the dark foreground just enough to make a decent image.

Any new projects in the pipeline?

Following my current exhibition at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, I hope to show some work in Sheffield. Its proximity to many of my photographic locations makes it an excellent place to present my pictures. w

There is a display of Jeff Mander’s photographs at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery from 9th April to 19th June. The exhibition, called ‘Derbyshire Woods’, is open 9.30am–5.30pm Tuesday to Friday, 9.30am–5pm Saturday, 10.30am–5pm Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays. www.jeffmander.co.uk.

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