The former chief photographer of the Darlington & Stockton Times has been described as a "true gentleman" and "consummate professional" following his death at the age of 57.

Nigel Whitfield died on Saturday, March 30 following a two-year battle with cancer.

He spent more than a decade as chief photographer of the D&S Times from the late 1990s onwards, more recently working as a freelance and producing several books of his work.

His wife Alison said: "He was a proper people person. He could communicate with, and get on with anybody, from being on the royal rota at the Great Yorkshire Show, to working with children with special needs.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Nigel Whitfield, former chief photographer of the Darlington & Stockton Times, with one his books

"He always said photography was 20 per cent photography and 80 per cent dealing with people."

Born in Hexham, as a child he was both artistic and technically-minded, so when the time came to choose a career, he wanted a job that combined both.

He studied photography at Newcastle College of Art and then began working at studios in Sunderland before getting a job with D&S Times' sister paper The Northern Echo in Darlington as a technician in the dark room.

A role as a photographer for the Echo soon followed before his move to the D&S Times.

Former D&S editor Malcolm Warne said Nigel was a "distinguished chief photographer during a period of great change".

"The introduction of digital imaging, full colour, the switch from broadsheet to tabloid were all developments he took in his stride," said Malcolm. "He made a major contribution to the D&S with his ability to capture the colour and life of this wonderful part of the world. His striking images helped the paper to be named as the North East Weekly Newspaper of the Year for an unprecedented three years in a row. He was a consummate professional, always full of ideas, and also a great team player.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Nigel Whitfield, former chief photographer of the Darlington & Stockton Times

"His passing at such a young age has been a shock to all who knew him through his work at the D&S, The Northern Echo and more latterly as a freelance. Our thoughts are with Alison, Jennifer, his wider family and friends."

Sarah Caldecott, photographic co-ordinator for both the D&S Times and the Echo, said she and Nigel "hit it off straight away" when she started work as a trainee at the Echo.

"Nigel was always generous in his knowledge, he was an excellent photographer," said Sarah. "We built up a great friendship over the years.

"He was a true gent, a real good guy who will be very much missed."

Nigel was well enough to walk daughter Jennifer down the aisle at her wedding in November. "He was the proudest dad on that day," Alison said.

As well as his family and photography, another life-long passion was motorbikes, with Nigel frequently building his own machines, and producing a book of photos of his bikes. Rides out into the countryside surrounding his home in Great Langton, near Northallerton, would often be used as opportunities to photograph the landscape.

His freelance work came in exclusively via word of mouth, and recently he had enjoyed being part of the team at Ripon-based Elstob Auctioneers.

David Elstob, founder of the firm, said Nigel was "a mainstay for the growing business" and added: "He was a fine, technical photographer with an indisputable artistic flair.

Darlington and Stockton Times: A typical Nigel Whitfield image - stone mason Richard Dawson recover stone from the River Skell to repair the walls of Fountains Abbey, taken in 2007

"Above all, Nigel was a true gentleman. He was a gentle, courteous man who was always free for a friendly chat and keen to offer a helping hand. He made a lasting impression on all of us at Elstob auctioneers and was a hugely respected and valued team member. It was a privilege and honour to have worked with him; he will be deeply missed."

His funeral will take place at 1pm on Wednesday, April 24 at Maple Park Crematorium, near Thirsk.