In the mid eighties Adrian Oakes moved to Devon when inspired by memories of childhood visits to Dartmoor he once again began exploring the vast open moorland. It did not take long for him to get a passion for the dramatic landscape of Dartmoor along with which came the desire to capture it on film. Accordingly he purchased a 35mm film SLR camera along with a selection of lenses which then led to a steep learning curve of how to use them to the best effect. With the inspiration of the moorland scenery and varying light conditions Adrian soon got to know the various vantage points from which to capture both the dramatic vistas along with their seasonal tones and shadows. As time progressed a large library of negatives built up which represented the many treks across the rugged moors. Sadly during a house move in the mid nineties this valued and irreplaceable collection got mislaid, the disappointment of this event duly led to another loss, namely a shift in interests from photography to motorcycles.
The advent of digital cameras arrived and this rekindled Adrian’s passion for photography and in 2001 he purchased his first digital camera which was a 4 mega pixel Minolta. In the same year the opportunity to tour Scotland arose and so with new camera in hand Adrian headed north of the border. In 2002 he toured New Zealand when again he took the chance to photograph the scenery. By now the memory of the loss of his previous Dartmoor portfolio has somewhat faded and enthused by the new digital era Adrian once again returned to Dartmoor with a passion. In 2003, Canon launched their first digital SLR camera which Adrian soon invested £1,000 pounds on. He notes that whilst the Minolta served a purpose it could not cope with low light conditions whereas the new camera once again allowed the use of apertures, focal lengths, depth of field and shutter speeds. Over the next few years, Adrian, along with his camera began a moorland odyssey where he learned much about the landscape and history of Dartmoor. Before long his Dartmoor photographic portfolio grew but being a perfectionist he began to strive for even better results and as he relates:
‘I then moved onto a new realm. I purchased an EOS5D with the full 35mm frame sized sensor. This took me back to the days of the film SLR with no crop factor a more accessible wide angle. I reached deeper into my pockets and got two L series lenses. The 17-40mm f4L for wide angle and the 24-105mm f4L for the image stabiliser and longer reach. The quality of my low light photography improved in leaps and bounds. I still use the EOS5D today due to the exceptional quality of the images.’
Ever striving for Perfection the trusty EOS5D is about to be replaced by the latest version of this camera, the EOS5D mark 2 which has even more possibilities as it has a 21 mega pixel full frame sensor.
In 2005 Adrian began exhibiting and selling his work in Devon with support coming from amongst others the Dartmoor National Park Authority and the National Trust. This success encouraged him to spend even more time honing his photographic skills on the diverse Dartmoor landscape. In 2008 Halsgrove publishers approached Adrian with a view to producing a book which featured the Dartmoor landscape and later that year ‘Perfect Dartmoor’ hit the bookshops. Following the success of this title Halsgrove then requested two further books, the first of which, ‘A Winter’s Tale – Dartmoor’ will be published in September of 2009 and a further title in 2010. Having strived to reach an exceptional level of photographic skills Adrian decided to share his expertise with others in the form of location photographic workshops around Dartmoor and along the Devon coast. These take place during the Spring and Autumn along with numerous exhibitions and one day workshops throughout Devon each year. For those who read the Dartmoor Magazine they will be familiar with his works as many of them appear in it on a regular basis.
As with anything in life, to excel one needs many things; the technical knowledge, the best equipment but above all desire, perseverance, dedication, hard work and passion. There can be no doubt that all these qualities show through in all of Adrian’s work, this along with the inspiration and love of dartmoor has led to some stunning results. In the case of Dartmoor what sets the dedicated photographer apart from the ‘happy snappers’ is the willingness to walk deep into the heart of the landscape in all weathers and at all times. Adrian himself notes that: ‘I am constantly drawn to Dartmoor early in the day especially in Winter for the magical light and clear air. This just adds to the already diverse photographic possibilities available.’
Just look at the above photograph of a Dartmoor sunset taken from Sheepstor, if that does not capture a dramatic landscape then I do not know what can. For those who know Dartmoor there is a certain time in the evening when a silence descends over the moor. You can almost hear the land sighing with relief that the busy day is nearing an end and most people have gone home. It is at this very moment that the moor will reveal its true magic and majesty to those who are prepared to wait for its coming. Adrian has captured that very moment, the swan song of the day just before the mantle of darkness falls over the tors and streams shrouding it in oblivion until the following dawn.
There is magical spell that Dartmoor casts over some people and it instils an intense desire to capture the very spirit of its landscape. Some achieve this in photographs whilst others do it in words, drawings, paintings or sculpture, some will say it is an obsession but they are wrong, its the need to share a love of the moor with others. How does Adrian view this? Simply this, ‘I intend to continue visiting and photographing Dartmoor for many years as it possesses a magnetism that will always draw me back. My aim, when taking the images is to capture the essence of the moor, its landscapes and atmosphere.’
I strongly urge anyone to visit Adrian’s website (see link at top of page) where they will find several galleries of his work but I will warn you, don’t go there if you are in a hurry as the stunning photographs will ‘capture’ you for a long time. Even better, try to visit one of his exhibitions or buy his book, you won’t be disappointed.