Ryan Watts

We chat to travel and wildlife photographer Ryan Watts

Ryan Watts is a nature, wildlife and travel photographer based in North Devon. His colourful shots have captured our imagination here at Maverick HQ, so keep your eyes peeled for his photography on the cover of our upcoming Dorset Guidebook… 

Ryan, what got you started in the world of photography? 

My first memory of using a camera and taking photos would have been when I borrowed my parents’ digital camera at a young age. Whilst on various family camping trips in Cornwall, Dorset and Wales, I would head off and take lots of photos of landscapes, wildlife, or surf shots. These photos quickly filled up their – now minuscule sized – SD cards and I would return home with countless blurred and out of focus images! I absolutely loved it.

It wasn’t until I got my first job that I managed to save up enough money to purchase my own camera. It was an entry-level DSLR camera from Canon (that I still own to this day) with two kit lenses – an 18-55mm and 75-300mm. I would take this camera out for walks in the Devonshire countryside and snap away at anything that was of interest to me, mainly the inquisitive sheep and cows.

A few years down the line, this same exact camera travelled the world with me. It was at this time that I really started to enjoy photography. I became quite obsessed and used my camera to document my backpacking travels across many different countries, climates and cultures. Since then, my passion for all things camera based has grown, alongside finding new styles of shooting, inspirations and creating lists of locations I would love to visit.

Do you have any formal qualifications or are you largely self-taught?

I’d like to think that I’ve always had an eye for photography. A lot of my learning has come from trial and error over the years, whether I was simply messing around with friends, practising different styles of photography, or learning manual camera settings with my first film camera as a teenager.

I’m constantly trying to improve my skills and I really enjoy adapting to different environments/genres of photography. I don’t think you’re ever completely satisfied as a photographer or artist – there will always be a desire to improve or critique your own work and I think that’s what keeps us so hooked!

How would you describe your aesthetic?

This is a tough one. I wouldn’t say I have a particular style or aesthetic as I often find myself changing the way I shoot depending on a range of factors. But if I had to chose one genre of photography, I think it would have to be anything coastal related. I love everything about the coast and I can’t keep away from shooting it; put me in a seaside town, harbour, or beach and I’ll be happy. I also try to focus on the everyday details alongside capturing candid moments.

What’s your go-to piece of equipment or camera lens? 

It’s such a cliche answer, but I’ve always been a firm believer that the best camera is the one you have with you! Some of my favourite images have been taken using a phone or an older camera. I’m currently really liking an 85mm lens. Sometimes on day or weekend trips away I like to challenge myself, only using one focal length for the entire time to get me thinking more creatively and helps to combat tedious imagery.

Where are you based and what’s the best thing about your current location?

I’m North Devon based, in the coastal village of Braunton. I’m very lucky to call it home, we have it all really. I’m a short walk away from some beautiful beaches (Croyde, Saunton, Woolacombe and Putsborough to name a few), epic woodlands, stunning Exmoor National Park, great waves, classic Devonshire pubs, historic villages, amazing coastal paths and lots of great wildlife! Not to mention we’re sandwiched in between Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset, so we have plenty of options for road trips in the South West.

Do you have a ‘bucket list’ shot that you really want to capture one day?

I haven’t got a ‘bucket list’ shot-list as of yet but I’m sure this will happen at some point. However, I do have a long and growing list of countries I’d like to visit or re-visit to take more photos. Japan is up there for sure, along with the Lofoten Islands.

I’ve longed for a northern lights shot. Unfortunately the weather hasn’t been on my side on the few times I’ve had an opportunity to photograph the aurora. Each time it wasn’t meant to be, so I’d guess that’s the closet I have to a bucket list shot? I’m happy to wait if it means I can get it in the future one day!

Are there any unexpected perks to being a photographer?

I would say the biggest perk to being a photographer is having the ability to see the world in a different light. Everywhere I seem to go, I’m looking out for unique compositions, fun lighting or shadow plays, even in the most mundane places. So I think photographers have a great outlook and can often find interesting perspectives in everyday ‘normal’ situations. Another great perk is meeting and making lots of great friends, these people I’ve met through having a shared passion for photography. It’s nice to see so many like minded people but everyone still has their own individual style and ways of expression.

What challenges do you encounter most often? 

In all honesty, it’s not knowing when to stop taking photos at a location. I’m constantly on the hunt for a ‘better angle’ or a shot that gets me thinking differently. Not to mention the dreaded look over the shoulder when leaving a spot to notice that the lighting or conditions have suddenly improved, that never helps.

Being too trigger happy is also a challenge for me as I really enjoy taking photos. So unfortunately the number of images I have collected over the years heavily outweighs the amount of images that actually get edited. I currently have thousands of travel photos to go through that I am saving for a rainy day. Basically, I much prefer being out and about taking photos than being sat down editing them!

What’s one topic you could talk for hours about?

It will probably have to be combining travel and photography, alongside a bit of small talk about surfing and wildlife. Does all that count as one topic?

If you could swap jobs with anyone in the world, who would it be?

Ever since a young age I’ve always been envious of expedition camera crews, filmmakers and photographers that get tasked to travel the world and document their unique experiences. I know the reality isn’t always going to be what you see on TV but the thrill of being somewhere new and doing what you love has always interested me. Whether it be exploring the Amazon rainforest or Antarctica, the sights they see must be incredible.

What’s your go-to coffee order? 

It’s nothing too exotic, I like to keep it simple with a latte. We have a great coffee spot in the village @heartbreakhotelcoffee (Braunton) so that’s my go to. Try the donuts as well when you visit, they’re unreal!

What music or podcast is playing when you’re working?

This is very much depending on the mood but it needs to be something chill. I have a few playlists that I have been creating over the years and they never seem to let me down, I back myself on those. Either that or you can’t go wrong with a good Lofi beats mix playlist.

 

Where would we find you on your days off?

More often than not I’d be near the sea. If the surf is good I will be in there, if not I will be on the coast path with the camera or inland photographing nature. When I put the camera down, I also love mountain biking, skateboarding, trail running, road tripping, camping, festivals. In a nutshell….. being outside.

What’s the best advice you could give to a budding photographer?

To just head out and get amongst it. Try not to limit yourself to one single trend or topic, you’ll learn what you like and dislike on your way and alongside that what your strengths/weaknesses are. Take photos of anything that triggers an interest in you and don’t get disheartened when things don’t work out how you expected – every photographer has good and bad days. You only ever see the good shots that get posted; behind every good image there’s hundreds of potential failures and ways to learn.

Ryan uploads his favourite images from around the South West to his Instagram page (@rsw_photo) so the best way to get hold of him for prints and commissions is by direct message – he’d love to hear from you and chat!