Lizzie Shepherd was nine years old when she was given her first camera and has been taking pictures ever since. Ruth Campbell meets the North Yorkshire-based award-winning landscape photographer

IT is a good thing Lizzie Shepherd was too shy to take to the stage when she was a student in Edinburgh. She chose to get behind a camera and capture the performances through her lens instead. And it was a hobby that soon had her hooked and led, eventually, to an award-winning, full time career.

Today, her large, sweeping landscape photographs and stunning intimate pictures capture the drama and beauty of North Yorkshire, from Brimham Rocks in Nidderdale to the rugged coastline around Whitby. Full of colour, mood and atmosphere, they have an abstract, painterly quality that marks her work, which is exhibited in the Joe Cornish Gallery in Northallerton, as quite unique.

Her striking photograph of Wensleydale in snow, entitled Zigzag, recently won the Landscape Photographer of the Year, Living the View category prize, and she has been commissioned to work on a book about outdoor photography in the Yorkshire Dales.

But despite all her success, Lizzie, 49, who also gives talks and runs photography workshops, is modest about her achievements. Photography is a difficult business to make money in, she says: “I do it because I love it, I’m certainly not doing it for the money,” she laughs. Having worked in commercial photography after leaving university, she went on to have a successful career in new media before deciding to give it all up in order to pick up her camera again.

Lizzie, who has recently created a studio to showcase her work in an outbuilding at her home in a pretty village outside Boroughbridge, grew up in a particularly creative and talented family. Her father, Richard Venables, rose to become chairman of the international advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather before retiring early to concentrate on his passion for making musical instruments and the whole family is musically gifted, including brother, Stephen, who went on to become the first Briton to climb Everest without oxygen in 1988.

Lizzie’s interest in photography was sparked by both her parents and older brothers, who did their own developing and processing, and she recalls being given a Boots instamatic on her ninth birthday. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve found myself framing things in my mind – trying to imagine how they might work as a photograph,” she says. She has since discovered her mother’s great grandfather, Auguste Michel, who died in the Second World War, was a studio photographer in Paris in the early 20th century. “You could say it’s in the genes,” says Lizzie.

She was studying English at Edinburgh University when she started taking photography more seriously. “I hadn’t the nerve to do acting and probably would have been rubbish, so I took pictures of the student plays and really got into it,” she says. She even processed and developed her own prints to sell to cast members.

During the long summer holidays, she travelled extensively and dreamed of being a travel photographer. “I went to places like Turkey and Thailand and my camera was always the most important bit of luggage. I was lucky enough to see wonderful sights and I wanted to capture them.”

Although she went on to forge a successful career in new media, ending up as a project manager at Wanadoo, she kept up her photography, particularly when she and husband Rob, who works in finance, travelled abroad, to countries like India and Namibia.

When Rob’s job brought them to North Yorkshire in 1999, it opened up a whole new series of landscapes for Lizzie. “It’s one of the most amazing parts of the country. I love the Dales, the Moors and the coast. And Saltwick Bay, with all its abstract rock formations, is a bit of a favourite.”

Inspired by the landscape, Lizzie eventually left her new media job, keen to make a full-time career in photography. She started off slowly. “The trouble is, everyone’s doing photography now. It is difficult to make it financially viable,” she says.

Today, her landscape photographs sell from between £100 to £500 and her talks and regular workshops have become increasingly popular. “I do quite a bit of writing for photography magazines as well,” she explains. But often she feels the urge to get out into the open. “I love getting out there, discovering new places and then returning, seeing how those places change in different conditions and light.” She believes in ‘being in the moment’: “Although if you want to get that really great photograph, you have to enjoy the moment first, otherwise it is meaningless. It’s about capturing something that is moving you one way or another. Instinct is every bit as important as planning in photography. I enjoy that adrenaline rush of having to work quickly to make the most of fleeting opportunities.”

She admires the work of Swedish photographer Hans Strand and Korean Johsel Namkung. And North Yorkshire-based photographer Joe Cornish is hugely inspiring. “His prints are as close to artistic and technical perfection as you can get,” she says.

Lizziee still loves travelling, and has ambitions to photograph further afield, but she also plans to capture more of North Yorkshire, particularly what she calls its hidden landscape. “I still feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of North Yorkshire’s stunning scenery. I have been exploring the areas immediately around me recently, looking for landscapes, which aren’t so obvious. I enjoy smaller scenes and trees and woodlands have become a passion. I hope that, as well as showcasing classic views, my photographs reveal a bit of the less obvious, things people might otherwise just walk by. You can visit somewhere that has been done to death and find aspects you never knew existed.”

She likes to photograph at dusk and dawn. “I prefer the softer light. I love snow, too, because it can simplify the landscape and you also get that soft light reflected.”

North Yorkshire’s inclement weather certainly doesn’t put her off. In fact, it’s a bonus. “Misty mornings are lovely… sleety, grey skies and drizzle too. In strong winds and rain you can work on photographs that are a bit different. A bright sunny day is generally not what you want.” Recently, she did a workshop in stormy conditions in Saltwick Bay. “It was the worst weather, with no cover and incredibly challenging. But it is a magical place and it ended up being invigorating and so much fun.”