The Year In Pictures: A Lancashire Photographer Reflects

“Girls can’t take train pictures”. Really?
December 20, 2022

Most people think my photographic journey started this year. In reality, I have always taken photos. They may not have been award winning or technically great but I’ve always got a sense of enjoyment from them. I actually had my first photographic exhibition in 2010 at university.  

As a child, I was always interested in taking photographs, and remember the choice I had to make, whether to spend my pocket money on sweets, or saving some to have a film processed. At 13, I read Don McCullin’s autobiography, Unreasonable Behaviour. As a dyslexic, it took an age to read, but for me, it was an achievement, and I have always loved his images. As a result, and when I could afford it, the first ‘proper’ cameras I bought myself were a Nikon F, like McCullin used, and another iconic camera, a Rollieflex.  I had previously borrowed my grandparent's and more recently, my partner Nick’s cameras.

There are several photographers that I have long admired. One is Charlie Waite. Predominantly known for his landscape images, many taken in a square format, he has a great ability to adapt to a location, using his unique style to make the images his. He once gave me a great piece of advice: when I sent an image to him, ‘in the style of Charlie Waite’, his reply was “not to be Charlie Waite, but to be Natalie Hough”.  I also admire Laurie Campbell; his images demonstrate his dedication to fieldcraft, and his ability to see and record the smallest of details in the natural world.

More recently, when the government decided I had to shield due to Covid-19, it was the perfect time to think about my future. My partner Nick had bought me a Fuji X-T10 that I never felt entirely comfortable with, as it was too menu-driven, so that year I traded it in for second hand Fuji XT2 and my world changed. The reason I mention second hand is that there is a misconception you need to buy new when you start out; you don’t. Buy the camera you are going to use and take out with you. Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) is a thing that stops many photographers moving forward: it’s a misconception that you have the newest of gear to get the shot.  

Early this year, I was told by more than one photographer, that “Girls can’t take train pictures”. Being told openly that “Girls” couldn’t do something in 2022 was quite a shock, but it made me determined to prove the misogynists wrong, and it certainly hasn’t stopped me. This year’s body of publicly displayed work has largely been dominated by heritage trains, but that is in fact only a small part of my catalogue.  


A few years ago, my father retired from the London Fire Brigade, after forty years’ service.  I wanted to represent his years in the fire service, and as he still has his first set of fire boots, I thought they would make an interesting subject. This is an emotional image for me, and really the only family - based image I have released so far.


The year started off with me taking a picture of a train, and I have a fondness for this photo. A Northern Rail train coming over Ribblehead Viaduct. The rain is belting down, the sky is dark with a little blue stripe in the top half. This was pulled apart by competition judges. It wasn’t pretty enough: but it was a rainy day. I was soaked and it was an accurate shot. Being told of its faults made me more determined to succeed.


Pendle in Pink. A snowy image taken from above the village of Barley, at sunset, and a salutary lesson in keeping a camera handy, even if there appears to be no chance of an image. The light conditions changed for a few minutes, and I was ready to capture the last light on the hillside.


Duchess of Sutherland, taken at Selside. The day was cold, but conditions were right for impressive steam from an iconic locomotive, and I was more than happy with the resulting photos. My Monochrome image of her is still one of my favourite prints, and these pictures remind me to carry on, even when conditions don’t seem to be right, or it’s cold or difficult.


April will always be a special month, as I took my most successful image so far. The locomotive Tangmere, crossing Dent Head Viaduct in perfect weather. This photo was used by Fuji in their display at this year’s Photography Show at the NEC in Birmingham. It still resides in the Fujifilm Print Life gallery.


The Sir Nigel Gresley, one of the iconic A4 locomotives, and one of the best-known engines still running. In black, it can be one of the most difficult trains to photograph well, but once again, conditions were good, and my pre-planning enabled me to get a clean shot, showing its iconic aerodynamic lines.  


A camera club visit to Broughton Hall enabled me to combine my love of heritage and photography. Having driven past innumerable times, I have always been impressed by the grandeur of the building, and being allowed to access the grounds, I could photograph a place familiar to many from television shows such as Gentleman Jack and All Creatures Great and Small.  

It was also in June that I decided that I wanted to advance my photography more, but didn’t know how. I had learnt so much with the assistance of a very patient partner, but I needed more, or perhaps a different perspective. I reached out to a photographer called Ray McBride, regarding the workshops he runs, sponsored by K&F Concept. They usually consist of a relaxed group of like-minded people, who all have something to offer. I was invited along and have been on many since. Some of the images were taken as a result of being on the workshops, or over weekends when attending them.


Bidston Mill. As part of one of the workshops, I had an opportunity to photograph Bidston Lighthouse and Mill, despite it being extremely hot and there being brush fires locally requiring the fire brigade’s attendance. The sky was a featureless blue, but the black and white version allowed the textures and forms to dominate the image, using the tree’s leaves as a frame.

Within a couple of workshop sessions, I had noticed a difference in my photography.  My confidence had improved and I was trying things I would previously never have thought of trying. For instance, soft, fluffy water was now being called long exposure photography. I was like a sponge soaking in all this newly gained information.


I acquired a set of photographic filters for my birthday, and after trying long exposure during the workshops, I was able to try it along the banks of the River Thames while visiting relatives. This image is of Garrick’s Temple, situated close to Hampton Court in Surrey, and combines long exposure with monochromatic processing for a different view of the building.


I’d always wanted to try Street Photography but never had the confidence. I was always scared I would upset people by shoving a camera in their face, but as my confidence increased, I decided to go on a walk about workshop in Sheffield. It was really strange meeting Sean Tucker, as I had lived with this man’s videos all through lockdown, but I enjoyed the day and came away with some good images. I have taken several images of hands this year, and saw many hands holding cameras on the workshop, so felt I had to capture some. This participant had an unusual camera for street photography: a twin lens reflex, made by Seagull.


There were many leaves fallen from the trees at the end of my garden. This leaf photograph has been well received both online and in competitions. It was a quick grab shot in the garden whilst the rain came down, but I knew it wasn’t about autumn colours, but the textures and droplets. Black and white was a natural choice, and as a close up, was another different technique to try. I have always seen small details within the bigger scene, but this was a well isolated subject.


I saw this scene while visiting Dunsop Bridge, a village considered to be the geographical centre of Great Britain, although its exact point is at Whitendale Hanging Stones (4 1/2 miles north of the village). The leaf was isolated on a stone by the river, but this time the colour made it stand out from the dark rock, and a long exposure blurred the flowing river behind it. Combining several techniques I’ve used during the summer allowed me to simplify the image and show the fundamental components.


Has been quite a busy month. We have had some wonderful snow and ice scenes and I was privileged to be featured in the Settle and Carlisle Advent Calendar. Raymond McBride organised a Christmas trip to Llangollen where I shot the Santa Express in the station and some of the surrounding area. Thanks to the powers of Facebook, the Llangollen Railway Trust have been given much positive publicity and increased their subscription rate as a result of my photographs.  

Photography has made me some wonderful friendships, and the thing I have found invaluable is to listen to everyone. Use all sources available. Books, YouTube, courses, even social media will help your development. You don’t need to spend big money, but you can use your local camera club. Take on board criticism and use it to improve. Remember one person’s opinion doesn’t mean the end of your photographic journey, but consider how valid their criticism is. Social media is useful, whereas just listening to your family and friends can be destructive. They will mainly say nice things, and you will never learn as they don't want to hurt your feelings. Achieve, but don’t give your work away: if people think you are free, they will never pay. Print your work, and see your mistakes. The screen hides a lot of flaws. Print, and print as big as you can. See it before someone else sees it. It can be a cruel world, so be prepared.  

Natalie and her partner Nic are both finalists in December's Amateur Photographer Magazine Christmas Special.

Natalie's work can be seen:

Vero: @nhough

Instagram: @natalieehough

Facebook: Natalie E Hough