Photography is an art. It facilitates the immortalisation of moments that shape lives and alter the Earth. As there is an evocative beauty in an intimate portrait, so too there is raw attraction in an untainted landscape capturing the power of nature and the awesome forces that move unruly within it. The art is in portraying this in all its immensity and transporting the onlooker to these wild and inhospitable places.
There are few who do this better than Finn Beales, an award-winning photographer based in the Black Mountains of Wales. It is impossible not to be drawn into his images – you can almost taste the salt in the crashing waves, feel the strength of the katabatic squall and sense the danger that comes with being so far off-the-beaten-track.
Through his work he has the ability to connect continents that are thousands of miles apart, drawing parallels between the severity of the environment and the sheer beauty that can be found within the lesser-explored pages of the atlas: the West Coast of Ireland, Newfoundland, Stromboli and the Isle of Skye. His work makes you appreciate that we are part of something truly huge and epic.
We catch up with the intrepid traveller to find out more about his art form, and the incredible places he visits.
When and how did your love for travel and photography blossom?
My dad was never one to sit by a pool and read a novel on holiday. A keen sailor, our family vacations were always spent aboard his sailboat Spellbound. I didn’t know it at the time, but his love for “the passage” to each new destination we visited had a profound effect on me. Like him, I can’t think of much worse than a week’s holiday in the same villa/hotel. I have to keep moving and I enjoy the stimulation associated with travelling. I don’t own a boat, but I’d say my camera has become a sort of vessel through which I am able to explore the world.
Do you have a favourite place on Earth?
I love the great outdoors and the wilderness areas of the US as well as National Parks like Yosemite and Big Sur. Iceland fascinates me, it’s the closest you’ll get to a lunar landscape without visiting the moon itself. I’m also very fond of the West coast of Ireland; the Irish people are marvelous company.
What is the biggest danger you’ve faced when travelling?
Not so many of late, but a few close shaves on the water. Engine failing halfway across the Irish Sea, near misses with 500,000 ton oil tankers… that kind of thing.
How many months of the year are you on the road?
It depends on the time of year. Summer is usually busier than winter. I’d say 2-3 times a month.
Where’s next on your bucket list?
I don’t really have a bucket list as such… although I’ve always wanted to visit Antarctica, the Atacama Desert and Svalbard. All fairly remote and barren which suits my style of photography.
What’s your golden piece of advice for aspiring photographers?
I’d say work on building a consistent portfolio. Focus on quality content over quantity. A small number of killer images in the area that you want to work will land you more jobs than an unfocused, image heavy folio.
What cameras do you shoot with?
For digital work I use a Canon 5d MKIII, Sony RX100 IV and a iPhone 6s. I also shoot with some old film cameras: Hasselblad 500 c/m, a Contax T3 and my Grandfather’s 35mm Leica.
Who is your favourite travel companion?
I’m at my happiest when travelling with my partner Clare and our two kids. We have been travelling with them since they were babies and they are the best company. I also enjoy travelling with other photographers I have met through Instagram, many I now class as good friends.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned from your travels?
That I’m always learning.
If you had one day left on Earth, what would you do?
I would spend it in the company of good friends and family around our kitchen table at our home here in Wales. A lengthy meal, fine wine, conversation; after which we’d hike to the top of the mountain behind our house, hip flask in hand, ready to toast the time we had.
If you were to recommend 5 places everyone should visit before they die, what would they be?
1) Camp at Crane Flats campground in Yosemite NP and rise early to watch dawn break over Half Dome Mountain.
2) Travel the ring road of Iceland when there is a new moon and marvel at the Northern Lights dancing above you.
3) Climb Mt Stromboli (a volcano off the coast of Sicily) in time for sunset and watch the eruptions light up the Mediterranean far below.
4) Enjoy the craic at Matt Malloy’s bar in Westport, Ireland.
5) Barter with the traders in the Souk in Marrakech. They will drop their price in the end, but you have to work hard, and they’ll love you for it.