Landscape photographer David Lawton has always had an eye for a good picture.
But he never thought about making a living from his hobby until wife Liz bought him a new digital camera for his 50th birthday.
Now he has successfully showed his work at local arts festivals and sold prints of his evocative scenes of spectacular sunsets, moody moorlands and languid lakes to stores such as The Flower Box in Meltham, Lionhart Boutique in Holmfirth and the Month of Sundaes in Marsden.
Earlier this year, David got the opportunity to meet the owner of furniture retailer Housing Units in Oldham and is now supplying a range of his stunning photographs in the store’s gallery. He has also been spotlighted as its featured artist, projecting his profile still further.
David’s work captures the natural shapes and lights of the landscape. His collection is almost abstract in how the shape of the landscape and the colours of the sky come together. And none of his work has been digitally enhanced.
Running his own photography business is a far cry from his previous employment in the leisure industry – but Sheffield-born David, who lives at Meltham with wife Liz and children Abigail and Tom, wouldn’t change things for the world.
“I trained as a chef,” says David. “My first job was as a comis chef at the Old Bell in Barnby Moor, Nottinghamshire. I worked for Trusthouse Forte for many years then I went on to work in leisure management before going back to hotels with leisure facilities. My last job was at the Moorside Hotel in Disley, Cheshire, where I was general manager.”
Liz worked as a senior manager in the NHS and when their children were born, David agreed to stay at home as “house husband”. Cutbacks meant Liz’s post became redundant, although she was able to get a job as a manager in the NHS, but at a lower pay grade.
When she broke her arm badly and had to spend a lot of time off work, David began exhibiting his photos. “While Liz was off work it was an opportunity to look at our pictures,” he says.
David exhibited some of his work at Month of Sundaes in Marsden and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. “We sold quite a lot of them,” he says. “That gave us the cash to start doing it ‘properly’. We got a big break when Lionhart Boutique agreed to sell them and another break when we met up with Alan and Julie Sykes at Bluebell Trading in Milnsbridge, who now do our framing.”
David soon learned all about the ‘business’ side of things when he attended a Dragon’s Den-style presentation at Housing Units in Oldham.
Says David: “I took a lot of samples over and they gave me Buying Room One in which to set up. Then, one woman came in. She was the cost controller. Another came in who was the gallery manager, then in came the accountant and the assistant buyer.
“Finally, the director, Harry Fox, came in and took all my prices apart. He said ‘you don’t really know what you’re doing, do you?’ I agreed that I didn’t have a clue! He said he would help us along. He took us under his wing and introduced us to other contacts as well as agreeing to buy some of our photographs. He’s very good at anything to do with sales. He knows what will sell and to whom.
“When Mr Fox left the presentation, I just collapsed in a heap. I’ve been in some meetings in my time, but I have never been through anything like that!
“They told me that I’d only had a 50-50 chance of selling anything and that someone had travelled all the way from New Zealand to try and sell kitchen utensils. In just a few minutes, Mr Fox had said ‘no’ and walked out of the door – and that was that!”
David said the photography business was now picking up pace. “In the past year, we seem to have turned a bit of a corner. We got a grant from the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce and a two-day business course as well as some mentoring.
“As well as supplying Housing Units and local stores, a garden centre operator in Nottingham is looking at stocking our photos as part of its autumn ranges. Now I have become a photographer and a businessman.
“We are concentrating on production and marketing. We must be a real business because I have had to set up a home office with a desk and a laptop and a printer!”
David favours “old school” photography. “I’m not very computer literate, so I don’t do any digital enhancing to the photographs,” he says. ”Part of our selling point is that each photograph is ‘a moment in time’.
“I buy cameras second-hand. A lot of good cameras are bought by wealthy people who don’t know how to use them and they sell them on. I used to look for fantastic cameras that did this, that and the other. Now I want a camera that’s built like a tank with water-proof lenses – and low-tech!”
Says David: “Taking a good picture is about being in the right place at the right time. I know the local area well, I know where the sun goes down and I can tell if the weather is going to help make a dramatic picture. You can wait 15 minutes and the weather will change.”
David has several willing helpers. “Tom will look out the window and say ‘red sky tonight, dad – it’s going to be fine tomorrow’. Even our local postman will text me early in the morning to suggest it might be a good day to get out with the camera!”
Friends have also rallied round. One of the Lawtons’ friends has even had a photograph named after her because she was the one to suggest that certain image.
Atmospheric shots of Digley and Wessenden are popular along with images of the Lake District. “We’re lucky being where we live,” says David. “I can stop at the side of a country road and watch the wildlife – foxes, owls and weasels.”
David has also perfected a way of shooting Christmas lights using a slow shutter speed and nifty camera work to create dazzling photos that resemble firework displays. Housing Units was particularly impressed with the images, which also go down well on the walls of teenagers’ bedrooms.
Says David: “I learned photography over a four-year period while I was at home with the kids. I have always liked walking and being outdoors and I like the peace and solitude.”
David’s photo albums include a “trick” picture taken by his father of David as a young boy apparently standing among giant plants and mushrooms. “Photography must be in the genes,” he says, joking: “I’m certainly not going back to the hotel trade. I’m probably unemployable by now!”