Thomas Neil Clarke – Capturing Wonder

Whether it’s through landscape or portrait photography, Thomas honestly captures the wondrous beauty of his surroundings. Check out his story below.


Say hello to Thomas:

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Where are you from?  Where have you been?

I’m originally from the UK but grew up in Northern California. I love to travel and experience new places, but I find myself drawn back to some of the same sites over and over. I go back to Turkey every few years and always find something new and fascinating to photograph. England and Denmark are enchanting for me because this is where my family is from. I see additional meaning behind simple things in those places. Italy is a recent discovery for me, and I fell in love soon after stepping off the plane. I lived in Mexico for a while and I could happily spend my days with a few pesos and a camera, wandering the streets of Mexico City or exploring the high desert. I made it to Singapore last year and had a ton of fun photographing the skyline all night long until the sun interrupted. Japan is next on my list.


What’s your favorite place in the world? 

If I had a favorite place, I would never travel to see something new! I love different places for different reasons. One of my favorites is Glacier Point in Yosemite. I camped there last February in the snow for two nights. It was incredible to see this bustling tourist spot empty except for a few intrepid skiers who made the trek.

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What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?

I started a series of concept portraits based on the Greek concept of the Oread, or the wood nymph of the conifers. I’m interested in images of female power against the background of the mountains surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m actively seeking models for this project.


How would you describe your visual style?

I would like to think my style is honest and vibrant. I gravitate toward textures and motion.


How do you find your inspiration?

I step outside and look for the light to show me a story that needs to be told. Often times, the visual in front of me sparks an idea I can apply in another location.


Do you get photographer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?

Creativity doesn’t always flow, but I find it important to just get outside and shoot, even if it means walking around my neighborhood with a prime lens looking for angles I haven’t considered before. Photography requires a lot of muscle memory so practice is essential.


What types of photography do you do?

I’m a landscape and portrait photographer, and I love to combine the two. Landscape photography, for me, is a personal dialog with my environment as I try to understand why I’m drawn to a view and how I can express those emotions to my audience. In the portraits I take, I want to show the spark I see in my subject as they interact with the environment we’ve chosen. Some shoots are very scripted and some much more organic.


What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?

I was in Amsterdam and I wanted to re-create a photo I’d seen of the Skinny Bridge lit up at night. I bought a tripod and sat at a cafe waiting for the light to change. The magic was addictive and I’ve been shooting ever since.


What is the strangest situation you’ve ever faced as a photographer?

It is hard to choose. I had to negotiate in Turkish with a security guard at an archaeological site in southwest Turkey to convince him I was a harmless photographer, more interested in shooting the Milky Way than in stealing antiquities.  


What has been your biggest setback as a photographer?

My biggest setback is that I have to sleep. I sincerely wish there were more hours in the day. Shooting sunrise, sunset, Milky Way and finding time to process photos, and then making time to learn and study is always a challenge.


Of the photos you’ve taken, which are your three favorites? 

So hard to choose!

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Milky Way over the harbor at Knidos. This is the photo taken after negotiating with the Turkish security guard at midnight. I took the photo of the harbor while the moon was still up and then waited a few hours to take the Milky Way photo. This is a five shot composite.

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Amsterdam Bikes. I spent fourteen hours straight shooting in Amsterdam on a Saturday in October, and I loved the endless stream of bicycles. They add a wonderful geometry to the scene. I wanted to capture some of the architecture with the bikes speeding along and I think this image works.

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Amphitheatre at Hieropolis in Turkey. I planned this shot well in advance, but I had very limited time to make this photo. I had to run from my car to this ancient Roman site to get there before the sun disappeared. I wanted a sweeping shot showing the depth and grandeur of the space without losing the detail of the steps or the stage and the marble columns. The photo is a four shot composite.

Photography is competitive.  How do you stand out?

Photography is extremely competitive and it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing your work with someone else’s. There are a lot of photographers I admire and many I learn from. I try to do the best work I can and continue to learn and grow. I try to publish work that is better than the last photo I published. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it keeps me moving forward.


What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?

Focus on seeing how the light paints the subject and how to compose the scene to make your viewers wish they were there with you. You’ll be a better photographer much quicker than your peers who lament not having a better camera. Your smartphone is better than the first cameras I owned, so technology can’t be an excuse.


What is the best thing a model can do to make the most of a photoshoot?

Talk, ask questions, interact, be yourself but engage in the process.


What was your most memorable photoshoot?

My most memorable photoshoot was a cold windy morning in Rome. I went to a park on a hill with great views of the city, only to find it didn’t open until 7AM. It was 5:30 and I wasn’t going to wait, so I found another way in. I ended up on scaffolding in high winds shooting St. Peters Basilica from a distance. I finally had to leave because the construction workers were arriving and entering the scaffolding. I headed back to my hotel and warmed up with cappuccino.


What’s the funniest story you have from being a photographer?

The model I was shooting climbed up into a redwood tree and then screamed because she almost stepped on a banana slug. She insisted on picking it up with a stick and handing it down to me.


If you could photograph anyone in the world, who would it be?

I would photograph Amy Adams in northern Iceland among the wild horses with snow on the ground. The morning sun is lighting the hills in the background and a ray of light breaks through the clouds to light her and the horse closest to her. She is my favorite actress and Iceland is on my short list of next places to explore. I think capturing her reaction to seeing the wild horses in such an extreme environment would make for a powerful image. And yes, I totally have a crush on her.


Who was the most unforgettable model you’ve ever met and why?

The most unforgettable model I’ve worked with thus far is Katie Anderson. She is only seventeen and is just getting into modeling. She has a depth of understanding of photography that is unusual in someone her age. She really sparkles with an approachable intelligence that makes her a joy to work with.


Who do you want to give a shoutout to?

Michael Housewright has the coolest job title anywhere. He is a Vineyard Photographer, but to think his skills are limited to this genre would underestimate his talent. He’s adept at portraits, landscapes, and directing video. He’s a renaissance man in the truest meaning of the word.


How do you bring out your model’s personality in a shoot?

I make sure to get to know them during the planning phase of the shoot. This helps to make them comfortable during the shoot and allows me to motivate them to get the emotions I’m looking for.


How do you express yourself through your photography?

I see the world as hopeful and optimistic for the most part, dramatic, but also tinged with sadness. I try to express the hope I see around me. There is so much that can be expressed in a single image. I don’t claim to be any more than a student of the art of photography, but I am enthralled.


What’s the most inspiring photo you’ve ever seen?

The most inspiring photo I’ve ever seen would have to be Magnus Wenmann’s “Lamar 5 yrs old.” It shows a small girl, a Syrian refugee, sleeping on a blanket in the forest at the Hungarian border. It broke my heart and reinforced for me the principle that art matters because it has meaning. On a lighter note, I’m also a huge fan of Laura Zalenga. If I need motivation, I often look at her Instagram feed. She effortlessly combines a broad landscape with a stunning portrait.


What are 3 tips you have for aspiring photographers?

  1. Be extremely selective about the work you publish – this will force you to think critically about what is ‘good’ and what is ‘great.’
  2. Shoot more than you do and write down what worked and what didn’t.
  3. Learn from the masters. Many of the best photographers working today have published e-books that cost very little. Many more have online tutorials so you can learn by doing. Read and study!

What kind of gear do you have? 

I’ve used Canon, Sony, Nikon, and Fuji over the years, but right now I shoot mostly with Fuji. I’m always hiking somewhere to get a shot and so weight is an issue for me. I use Sirui tripods and I love them. My lighting equipment is really simple – just a few flashes and an umbrella.


What’s one lighting tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

Keep it simple. Study Nick Fancher for portrait work. He’s based in Ohio. He accomplishes more with a simple kit than studios that cost six figures.


What’s one post-processing tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

I don’t know anything I didn’t learn from someone else when it comes to processing. Jimmy McIntyre’s tutorials on Luminosity Masks in Photoshop were a game changer for me, and I’ve applied the techniques to much more than landscapes.


Do you have any projects you’d like to show off?

This is the link to the work I did with Katie Anderson who I mentioned above.


Who’s your biggest hero in your life?

It is a solid tie between David Bowie and my Grandfather, who lived to be 103. David Bowie, for his artistic integrity and non-conformity and all-around genius. My Grandfather, Eric Clarke, was the first photographer I met, and I didn’t appreciate his talent until I was much older. He was a hobbyist, but very knowledgeable and understood the important details. I would have liked to have shot with him while he was alive.


What’s one of your biggest fears?

Spiders. Enough said.


What will you be doing five years from now?

More photography.


What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

It’s a great story over a beer…


What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t?

I haven’t yet seen the Northern Lights.


For anyone that wants to get in touch with Thomas, here’s some contact information:

FStop: Profile

Website: www.thomasneilclarke.com

Instagram: @tclarkephoto

Flickr: Profile

500px: Profile


Thomas, thank you for sharing your story with us! 🙂

If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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