Award-winning photographer Kieran Metcalfe on the Campaign for National Parks Photography Competition

23 Sep 2021

As we get nearer the deadline for our 2021 Photography Competition (4 Oct 2021), former winner turned judge Kieran Metcalfe reflects on what the competition means to him...

In November 2018, I was invited out for a sunrise shoot with a fellow photographer and good friend. He’d spotted a forecast for mist at Chrome and Parkhouse Hills in the Peak District National Park. 

Sadly, it was far too windy for the mist to hold, and clouds blocked out the sun as it crossed the horizon. We sat shivering on the hillside – myself especially so as, leaving home in the dark, I’d picked up my wife’s coat rather than mine so I only had a jumper and base layer to ward off the chill.

But then, after a brief spell under heavy grey skies, that same wind broke the clouds and allowed the light to burst through, catching in the humid air and on the hillsides. You can imagine the excitement with which we started shooting!

Kieran Metcalfe's winning photo taken in Peak District National Park

A winning entry

It was such a memorable experience that, when I saw a competition on Twitter run by Campaign for National Parks and celebrating moments of beauty in those places, I knew immediately that this image was one I wanted to enter. 

I was thrilled to learn, in February 2019, that the image had been shortlisted, and a few days later, bowled over that it had been chosen as the winner. 

It’s had a lasting impact for me. Of course, I enjoyed the media attention it brought from the BBC, Sky News, UK Newspapers, and a few international ones too. It also led to an invitation to be part of a large exhibition and I am now proud to be a photography ambassador with Let’s Go Peak District and a brand ambassador for Formatt Hitech filters.

Supporting Campaign for National Parks

But more that these, one of the most profound effects has been becoming more aware of the important work that CNP does. I had heard of the charity previously but not realised that it was they who were responsible for creation of our National Parks in the 1930s, or how tirelessly they work to promote and protect the parks we now have.

It was only due to their profile and connections that my image received the coverage it did. I’ve done my best to follow CNP more closely and learn how I can better align my activities with their goals. For example, I now try harder to find new and less popular locations to visit (rather than adding to damage and erosion in the hotspots) and adopt a “Leave it better than you found it” approach. 

CNP recently invited me to be part of the judging panel for the 2021 photography competition, and I couldn’t be more excited to take up that role as the Climate Change theme connects with issues I have been aware of in my photography.

Changing behaviours

I’m aware that when I’m looking for scenes to shoot, I lean heavily towards displays of natural beauty and largely ‘untouched’ areas (in quotes as I know there are very few truly wild locations any longer).

This is largely due to photography being, for me, a means of escape from the pressures of modern life. Sitting on a hillside away from the news, from the stresses of self-employment, and especially from doomscrolling on social media, I instead look for reminders of the beauty to be found in the world.

This means I often avoid including signs of humanity in many of the images I take. I find it hard to want to record the signs of damage from human activity and so I end up with a one-sided view in the images I present. This has been a growing challenge for me as to how honest it might be and whether I could do more to raise awareness of the realities.

Challenging images

So, strange as it may sound, I am looking forward to being challenged by the images we will be judging. I am sure many will not make for easy viewing. They will contain strong messages about the impact we’re having on our environment - maybe peat erosion from concentrated storms and rainfall, or areas of scorched moorland from wildfires, made more likely by drier periods between the storms; even the loss of wildlife diversity – there are many impacts to be observed.

But among these images with their bleak warnings, I very much hope to be cheered by seeing new eco-initiatives – from clean power generation to changes in land management and planning laws – which mean our parks don’t simply withstand being on the frontline of the climate crisis, but enable them to effect real change and be part of our desperate fight against the impacts we all face. 

The power of photography

We’re not necessarily looking for pretty images, but powerful ones – whether stark or joyfully so. If you have something that fits the bill, please consider entering. While this is a competition and winning will be something to genuinely take pride in, it could also open some doors for you.

There is real opportunity here for your image to be part of something of real and lasting importance.

Find out more about the competition, and how to enter, here. Deadline 4 October 2021.