In the 1990s, Ronn Ballantyne was asked to take photos for the front covers of the early incarnations of the Gazette. Now recently retired, we spoke to him about a life behind the lens.
How did you start in photography, Ronn?
I started doing weddings and portraits in Selkirk in 1980 but I soon landed some contracts in commercial and advertising photography, so we expanded to a much larger studio in Galashiels, eventually becoming the largest commercial studio in Southeast Scotland.
I got a lot of work with the electronics industry, which was a big thing in the Borders at that time. I’d been an apprentice in the industry myself, so I knew the buzzwords.
Later I got into fashion photography, but that didn’t last long – it was prestigious, but too fake for me. I met a lot of very interesting designers and struck up a good friendship with Vivienne Westwood. We were both outsiders in the otherwise false industry.
When did you come to Lanzarote?
Around 1993 we sold up everything – house, business, equipment etc, and came to the island after spending holidays here. I was finished with photography, and thought we were going to live on the interest from our savings and the sale of our assets – do you remember interest?
I was asked to provide a few front covers for the Gazette and didn’t think much of it, but a few months later I got a call from Airtours, asking me to do a shoot for a hotel in Gran Canaria. Then they called me again asking me to do a shoot over the New Year period, I wasn’t very interested until they said it was in Jamaica. So off we went.
And it all took off from there…
Yes, other tour operators got in touch, and because brochure photography had always been done by relative beginners, my experience meant I went to the top quickly. I was flying everywhere between Las Vegas to Singapore, Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Morocco, Greece, the Maldives – staying in luxury hotels and photographing them, with Lesley as my assistant.
Did the switch to digital photography affect you?
I didn’t know anything about digital, but knew I needed to learn, so I bought an €8,000 camera. Lesley said, “You could buy a car for that!”, but that camera put me a year ahead of everyone else, and I sold it on later to a dealer in Bangkok for €5,000 when I upgraded.
Later on, after about 20 years, everything got a bit tighter and meaner. The clients wanted more work for less money. I’d have less time to do a job and it wasn’t worth Lesley coming along. I started focusing on villa photography which gave me complete control, and is much easier than hotels, where there are people wandering about all the time. It was always Lesley’s job to encourage the more rotund guests out of the shot – the offer of a beer or a cocktail usually did the trick!
Nowadays it seems everybody’s a photographer. What are most common mistakes you see?
With property shots, squaring off is the main one. Photos that appear on pages in print or online have to have straight horizontals and verticals to match the right angles on the page. Eye Sweet is the term us old lags call it! You can do it in Photoshop afterwards, now, but a good photographer will set up their tripod about a metre from the floor, square the shot and avoid “keystoning” – It hasn’t done my knees any good, but I got the work done.
What do you do with your time now?
We love to go out for meals in Playa Quemada or El Golfo. I like to go out riding trails on my e-bike now. We still travel for fun – we are just back from Lefkada in Greece – but I don’t take my camera now, I don’t miss all that high end stuff at all. My phone photography is fine.
Thanks, Ronn, and all the best!
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