Taking Pictures

A good picture can be like a stage waiting for something to happen. Silent. Balanced. Something for your mind to wander into.

Taking landscape pictures involves getting up before sunrise and watching lots of sunsets. You need to get familiar with the light and your subject. This is the best bit. I can spend days walking miles and miles and take not a single picture. I might get up every morning and revisit the same spot a dozen times before I even get my camera out of the bag. It takes a patience which has to be practised.

The hard part really is being in the right place at the right time. When the light and weather and location all come together I can actually get the shakes. The picture is so obvious. Keep calm, put the camera on the tripod, compose the shot and shoot. Quickly: sometimes the shows over in seconds. You know immediately you’ve caught something special. Easy.

Neil Williams



Influences and Directions

I’m probably influenced in some way by every picture I see. But the work of Michael Kenna took my breath away when I first saw it. He in turn has been enormously influenced by Bill Brandt. When I think I’m happy with a print, I’ll stick it up on the wall next to a Kenna print, and suddenly the weaknesses in my image are only too obvious. It can be frustrating.


I was born in Reading, England in 1972 to a fairly nomadic family. We lived in England, Wales, and throughout the Middle East before settling in Scotland in 1983. I say settling, but I never spent two years in the same house until I arrived in London in 1996.

I have never studied photography or art in any formal way. Neither have I had work shown in any major galleries.

I sold my first picture to a bloke working in an Antiques shop on The Kings Road in London in 1996 for seven pounds. This was a few days after quitting my last proper job as a waiter knowing I couldn’t face another day, and needed to find something new to do fast. Photography seemed like something anybody could do and I’d been given a decent camera for my twenty-first birthday. I liked the idea that you could be judged by the quality of your pictures, and none of the nonsense that surrounds other jobs.

I did some nudes for a while, starting with the flat mates in Camberwell where I lived, and this took off in a small way. Once they know you can be trusted, it’s surprising how many ladies would like to be photographed without their clothes on.

But I wanted to work outside. I still loved the idea of travelling, and travel photographer sounded like the dream ticket. Before coming to London I’d spent a few years delivering yachts to places like the Caribbean and West Africa. This meant I could get more or less where I wanted for free, if slowly.

First of all, I needed a portfolio. By this time I’d set up a darkroom in our filthy basement (I found the kit in a charity shop). So I started photographing London. To pay the rent I started selling my photographs door to door. I couldn’t bring myself to ring doorbells and disturb people so I went around shops and offices. I did this for a couple years and made enough to get by.

Then I’d had enough of Camberwell and London. I headed of to India to rethink for a few months. I’d worked out, that thanks to the Internet and Stock Libraries, travel photographers didn’t really exist in the same way. But more than this, I realized I’d stopped seeing photography as a means to an end (travel) but as an end in itself. I’d actually fallen in love with photography, and I knew the sort of photographs I wanted to take.

I came back and bought a canal boat. I put my pictures in a dozen of local galleries spread around London, converted part of my boat into a darkroom, another part into a framing area, and sailed off. I wanted time to take pictures. And this worked fine for a few years.

The money dripped in from the galleries and I travelled around on my boat. When I ran out of money in Oxford, I just went selling door-to-door again until I had enough to move on.

In 2003 I sold my boat to buy a flat with my gorgeous girlfriend Clare. We moved into a place in Anerley by Crystal Palace in South London. In 2005 we married and in September 2007 our beautiful baby daughter Rosie was born. Our second daughter Tabatha arrived in 2010. Life is good.

But a mortgage meant I needed a regular income. The galleries weren’t enough and I really couldn’t face anymore door-to-door selling. (Although this was something I’d greatly refined. I only ever went around estate agents the last few years. They stand up and greet you when you walk in, are essentially bored but confident enough to have a look at what you have, and always have cash in their pocket.)

Neil Williams at Freshwater Bay

I found a lovely studio to work from in Dulwich Village, thinking I could photograph kids a couple days a week to subsidise my landscape photography. I took a stall in East Dulwich on North Cross rd market mostly as a way to advertise my new portrait business, and put some landscape photographs on show. I was flabbergasted by the enthusiasm for my landscape work. I sold enough the very first morning to know I’d wasted money setting up a portrait studio. I took my pictures out of all the galleries and concentrated on becoming best photographer of London, and having the best stall in London. In 2012 I moved my stall to Northcote Rd in Clapham.

Neil Williams Photography


Now I spend most of my time in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. We fell in love with the town and moved down in 2012. We're lucky enough to wake up and watch the sun rise up over the sea from home. I can't think of a better place to raise a family. Or to work to develop my pictures.

Neil Williams At Work from Jemma Ridley on Vimeo.