Get to know Nigel Riches
Find out more about what the outdoors means to travel photographer Nigel.
What inspired your passion for the outdoors?
"As a child of the 70s, I grew up without social media so, for me, it was all about the outdoors. As a kid, I rode my bike, went camping, all that stuff. As I’ve grown up and have looked back on my life, I’ve realised that it’s always been the outdoors for me. I never was someone who wanted a job in an office; I’ve always aspired to do something that was going to be exciting, that would be outdoors, that would be somewhere that I could actually go and explore."
How would it make you feel if you were trapped inside for a couple of days?
"The downside of all our jobs is being stuck in front of our computers. That is the nature of my job too, to a certain extent. I’d also have to admit to having a certain amount of stress in my life – it’s still case of trying to run a business, still trying to make a living. When it rewards, it rewards really well, but it’s highly competitive and it can really get to you. And those are the times when I need to turn the computer off and go outside, and when I say ‘need’ it is a real need. I don’t just want to go outside, I need to go outside. I think a lot of people are finding that that is their hope and if you take that outdoor space away from people, a lot of the hope is taken away as well. Losing that can only be to the detriment of all of us. "
What do you do that gets you outdoors?
"I’ve got the incredibly lucky job of being a travel photographer. I’m probably one of those guys who everybody meets and says they would love my job. It is amazing and it involves people taking me all over the world. I travel from the tropics to the arctic and although I’ve never quite made it all the way to the Antarctic, I’ve pretty much shot on every other continent. I’ve shot in, worked and had the pleasure of working with the people in those continents as well. I always try to express to everybody that it isn’t always the places that they would naturally think of but at the end of day, I never forget the fact that I do a job which takes me to some of the most beautiful places in the world.
For me, it is everything. That’s what gets me outdoors: yes, it is my job, but if I was to stop doing this job for a living, I would continue to be in the outdoors and would continue to do what I do. The only problem is I’d be paying for myself!"
What else do you do outdoors if you’re not doing photography?
"The outdoors is somewhere that I find truly inspiring so I try to use it for anything I can. I’m a pretty keen cyclist, though mainly road cycling since I’ve got too old and fragile to take on mountain biking these days! But I’ll go walking regularly: if I’m not working, I will go out somewhere and do something almost every single day. I’m also a very keen gardener – maybe not something I should admit and should try to be cooler than that but I’m proud to say I am a gardener! Pretty much anything really, as long as it gets me outdoors."
How could you describe your relationship with the outdoors?
"I think my relationship with the outdoors has always been one of respect really. I don’t think anyone can ever say that they are totally comfortable with it, because the outdoors will throw you the weirdest curveballs you never thought possible. I was in Morocco only last summer: it was the middle of summer, perfectly dry, and I had a shoot up in the mountains. A freak thunderstorm broke in the mountains and we literally ran for our lives! I like to think I’m quite astute when it comes to these things, but we were caught out with no prediction of rain but got a freak thunderstorm! So, there you go, that’s the outdoors! That’s what’s so exciting about it, but you should never underestimate it."
What does the outdoors mean to you?
"The outdoors really means everything to me. It’s my studio, it’s my lighting equipment and it’s my playground too – when I’m not shooting, I’m generally doing something outdoors. For me, it would be a terribly sad and boring world if I wasn’t able to go outdoors and work with it. The beauty that it throws at you every single day – it doesn’t really matter where you are: the tropics, the Arctic or even in your back garden – it’s everything for me. Nature, the environment, and in fact it can even be the city too. It’s not just about being in the Bornean jungle, sometimes it’s a cool little village in the mountains in Spain, or maybe it’s in Cumbria. It’s everywhere."
How do you think people can better look after the beautiful places we travel to?
"I think we’re all a bit guilty of trying to get a little memento of what we did when we travelled to places, even if it’s just a shell off a beach. But the thing we need to remind ourselves of is respect. Think of what you wouldn’t want someone to do on your doorstop at your home. Although you might only be in that environment for a few weeks, days or hours, people and wildlife live there; they don’t need others coming in and disrupting that environment.
I just think that sometimes we’re a little bit selfish and because we’ve paid to go to these places, we feel we have some sort of right to do what we want, take what we want and treat the place as our own. But it’s not, we’re visitors. There is the old phrase, ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’, and it’s a bit of a well-worn cliché but it pretty much represents what I believe and do as a travel photographer."
How do you prepare for your journeys outdoors?
"For me it is, without a doubt, about clothing. I’ve always been a bit of geek: I’ve always been into weather and cloud spotting so will do a certain amount of preparation. I’ll pack clothing that I think will cover what’s predicted, but you’ve always got to pack for the unpredictable too. It’s that clever use of modern technology in clothing now that allows you to take that sort of layering that lets you get away with all sorts of eventualities."
What kind of kit do you wear whilst shooting, travelling and enjoying the outdoors?
"My kit is as utilitarian as I can make it. I’m quite clothing savvy so I do still like to wear trendy stuff – although I’m sure my kids wouldn’t necessarily agree with that! When I’m shooting, I still want kit that I think looks relatively cool, but I also need it to be practical. If I’m shooting in the Scottish Highlands and it’s pouring with rain, a trendy new pair of jeans and a pair of sneakers just isn’t going to cut it! You’ve got to wear professional kit because the outdoors can make you miserable, especially in my job, if you allow it to do so by not wearing the right kit."
Is there anything you don’t like about the outdoors?
"Everything about the outdoors should be cool, but let’s be honest, when you’re out on a day when the weather changes and it’s windy, it’s in your face, you’re soaking wet and cold, it’s pretty miserable. Let’s not try and pretend that there aren’t days when that happens! It could even be in the sun: it can be swelteringly hot – you’re sticky, you’re fed up, you just want to get out of it! But equally, it’s partly that which makes it so much fun, when you get out of it and feel that sort of elation of surviving it, getting through it, and actually managing what you did. I’ve never had a day where when I’ve come in from the outdoors and gone ‘that is it, I’m never going back, it’s over for me, studios from now on!’. And it never will, because the outdoors never ceases to amaze me."
Do you prefer to explore the outdoors or with others?
"The outdoors is a lovely place to be on your own sometimes. It’s a place you can go to find yourself, it’s a place you can go to think, it’s a place that inspires you when you feel down. These days, we all live in a world of different types of pressure so it’s a place to get you away from all the things going on in your life and to be on your own.
Equally, there’s nothing nicer than being out there with a group of mates, especially if I’m on a photoshoot. Some of the nicest and happiest times I’ve ever spent have been sitting around fires, briers on beaches, sitting in mountains freezing cold, the laughs, sharing that with other people – there’s nothing cooler than sharing a moment or some amazing view and all of you are going, ‘wow that’s incredible’. That’s a really nice thing to share with others."
How has the outdoors changed for you throughout your life?
"The outdoors has changed a lot for me over the years. It’s not necessarily just about pollution and all those things that we’re all well-aware of now and are very saddened by. But what changes most is you: the way you interact with the outdoors changes. As a kid, it was about finding a wood which had a good ramp in it to ride my bike down or a river that I could go swimming in with my mates. Now the outdoors might be as simple as sitting in my garden, listening to the dawn chorus. It’s the things that change in you that make you realise that the outdoors is so multi-functional, that there’s something for everybody out there."
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