Category: Blog

11 Aug

Ninja Notebook Skills

admin / Blog / / 6 Comments

So we’re in the grip of the usual summer doldrums, the time of year when we we all pray for the onset of Autumn, the time of year when everyone hopes the soft early morning mists and sensible sunrise times will help erase the self doubt and lack of motivation many of us suffer from throughout the green, green, greeeeen months of May to September.

Whenever I hit this spot, I always find myself clinging to my notebook.  I use Moleskines because I love the feel of them, but any old notebook will do, it’s writing in it that counts. I’ve kept a notebook for a few years now, and it’s become an invaluable and inseparable part of my photographic workflow.

As a result I thought I’d share some of the ways in which I use my notebook and how I find it helpful, particularly when the glums come to visit, and I’ve also never done one of those Top 10 blogs that seem oh so popular over on the big photographic community websites.  So strap in, adopt your finest Bruno Brookes Sunday evening pop pickers Radio 1 deejay voiceover (other DJ’s are available, insert the one that dates you to your childhood) and we’re off…

In at 10. Have a dialogue with myself over time to discuss an image or idea

We all know how fickle we can be about our work sometimes, liking it one day, hating it the next, then being unsure about it before coming back to it a few weeks later and loving it or dismissing it totally.  Simply printing it out and sticking it in the notebook, then writing down how you feel about it over the period of a few weeks or months, responding to your earlier comments, can really help give you an objective view of it, and sometimes remind you that ‘You’ from six months ago really had no idea what they were on about and probably shouldn’t be allowed near a camera…it’s called personal growth apparently.

9. Break down an image and critique it

Print it off, stick it in the book, draw all over it, tear it apart, analyse the structure of the composition, look for the shapes and forms in the image, examine the tones, the colours, the textures.  Draw a big fat circle in red crayon around that annoying highlight near the edge of the frame or the branch that sticks in at the side and ruins your otherwise perfect composition that you simply didn’t see when you took it. Make multiple layers of critique by overlaying your image with several pieces of acetate or tracing paper covered in your own ruthless scrawl. Cathartic and therapeutic, just be brutal and honest, it’s your notebook, no one will see it except you…it’s a safe environment! Most importantly make a note to take the secateurs with you when you go back to re-take the image with the annoying branch in it…

8. Capture quotes

Hear something inspirational? Workshop leader say something zen like to you while you were up to your knees in cold atlantic seawater? Inspired by a piece of prose or line from a poem that sparked an idea in your frontal cortex? Or did a knowledge nugget drop unexpectedly with a clang from the mouth of one of your photography mates and you simply don’t want to acknowledge their sagely wisdom for fear of never hearing the end of it?  Write it down….have a page at the back of your notebook for the gold, and maybe a different page for the brief moments your mates transmogrify into a photographic guru…alright, maybe half a page, ok, possibly a crumpled corner…

7. Journalling when questioning self or work

We all go through chunks of time where we doubt ourselves and/or our work.  Journalling during these times is a great thing to do. Writing down exactly what you’re thinking helps your brain work through those thoughts. Any means of writing is fine, no bells and whistles required, stream of consciousness stuff is fine, bullets are OK, mind maps work for some too, the important thing is externalising those thoughts of self doubt, or self questioning, and the third person perspective gained by doing so doesn’t change the doubts but gives you a different relationship to them and can help you work through those questions.

6. Location or trip research

If you’re on location and spot something with potential, make a note of it.  Yes you can drop a pin onto a google map on your phone, do that too, it’ll help if you’re a millennial who can’t read an actual paper map ‘like what your dad used to use’, but you can’t easily note down how the scene made you feel, what it smelt like, what exactly caught your eye, what potential the scene holds under different lighting conditions…oh alright record an audio annotation….that you’ll never listen to again…ever…pah!

A notebook is just as useful for planning trips and locations from the comfort of your tabletop with an OS map and a mug of tea…and remember an OS map also doesn’t need batteries, works in deep woodland and deep valleys where the lack of data signal is why people choose to go there in the first place. Your map & notebook will never send you into a panic sweat with a flashing red 10% warning.

5. Collating ideas

A notebook is a really obvious place to harvest and store those ideas we all regularly have for images, locations, projects etc. They’re in one place and we can revisit them and build on them whenever we feel like it. One tip I’d have is to have a system for marking them up or writing them down….so you can find them again easily when you want to…nothing worse than having a great idea and burying it in the margins of a completely different note never to be found again.  Ideas are great….making them a reality is even better.

4. Contact sheets

Had a good day out shooting in the field? Working on a project? Gathering candidate images to enter into the next [insert random letter]POTY competition? Refining a set of images down for a blog post? Then print out a contact sheet, stick it in the notebook and get your crayons out all over it, go old skool and get your Magnum picture editor hat on.  Contact sheets for me are one of the things that have been lost in the modern era of digital, you can learn so much from them. How you eventually got to that composition that worked, how subtle tiny differences between two images make one work better than the other, how your shooting companions bright orange winter jacket really does stand out in those shots where they wandered straight through your composition. Yes you can use grid or survey view in Lightroom to view images in a similar fashion, but you still can’t write easily on the screen and make notes in the margins of a digital image file.

3. When you’re on location…and struggling – externalising a scene 

This is an interesting one I’ve deployed quite successfully a few times in the past when I’ve been struggling with a particular view. When you’re standing looking at a potential image or vista and wondering where to start or what you’re looking at, simply put the camera down grab your notebook and simply describe the scene, write down what you see, what you’re looking at…don’t overthink it, just let it flow, and you’ll automatically start to identify what the image is about, and what elements are the cornerstones of the composition.  For example, when I stood in this infamous little patch of woodland in Wester Ross, I wrote down what I saw…

Up the slope a large plantation of ghost white mature beech trees, a few ugly stumps and an old stone wall partly covered in green moss. At the foot of the slope in the other direction fifteen or so white to French limestone grey, trunks of maturing beech, softly textured not smooth, set against a very dark conifer plantation, the darkest patches almost black and featureless, but contrasting strongly with the white trunks. Trunks run not only vertically, but horizontally and at 45 degrees. Foliage on the trees is quivering slightly due to a gentle breeze.

Writing this down might seem like an exercise in pointing out the bleeding obvious, but by doing so, by externalising my own thoughts…and the key is externalising them…I not only noted the obvious white beech against black background, but also the relationship between the angles of trunks and boughs, and the fact that the movement of the leaves had caught my eye.  I then had the most important aspects of the image in my head and could make the image I wanted to make, with the elements I wanted to include. Most of us do this to some degree automatically without thinking, but for those moments when you’re struggling and find yourself stood in front of a complicated scene or at that moment when you know there’s a composition in there, right in front of you, right there, but you’re not quite sure where, and you can’t see it for looking..try it…it might help you focus and distil.

2. On location sketching…for fun…

Unlock your inner artist…even if you don’t think you can draw…grab your pencils, pens or paints and exploit the fact that even if the weather is crap or unhelpfully blue or relentlessly mid-grey, you can still sketch it how you wanted it to be, and without that annoying telegraph pole in there too, and while you’re at it, move that fence line a few metres to the left and into the right place in the composition so it works better….artistic licence is hugely freeing and a welcome break from staring through the viewfinder now and again.  More importantly it’s another exercise in ‘seeing’ in a different way.  it’ll make you look hard at the landscape in front of you, look closely at the forms and the relationship between them as you build the image and decide what to include instead of what to exclude as we normally do.

And for two years running and still topping the charts it’s:

1.  Looking back…so you can move forward…

This is the most important part of the whole notebook thing for me, and whilst some of these techniques require you to refer back to a specific image or idea, the ability to simply pick up your notebook and flick back through the last few months or years of your work, thoughts, projects and self doubt is incredibly valuable.  The rich picture it paints, the connections and associations you suddenly make by looking back through the pages are usually unexpected, refreshing and full of clarity.

Looking back really can help you move forward…

 

 

14 Apr

Droning on…

admin / Blog / / 7 Comments

Why are we as photographers…on the whole…such a bunch of stick-in-the-mud whining Luddites? We’re never happy unless we’re moaning about the way someone else has made an image that was different to the way we make ours, and if their image was made using technology we don’t use then all the more reason to complain about it and discredit its validity. And I think to do so is pitiful, pointless and most of all highly pretentious.

If you shoot using film then digital isn’t real photography, if you use a DSLR then mirrorless is cheating because you have a histogram in your viewfinder, if you shoot ‘full frame’ then a crop factor camera is just inadequate, if you use an iPhone then you’re just an instagramming millennial, if you use Nikon then all Canon photographers are just wrong…and if you shoot 8×10 using a wooden box in the middle of the desert miles from anywhere like Ben Horne, then…then….well OK you win and can rightfully sit atop the ramparts of Smug Castle with a Jeremy Clarkson like smug grin on your face….but as for the rest of you….if you have ever dismissed someone else’s work based purely on the fact they use different gear or technology to the gear you use, or claimed the images that were facilitated in some way by that technology aren’t real images then you should go to your bathroom look in the mirror and take a long hard look at yourself….because you’re being a churlish, whiny, Luddite photographer.

Every bit of gear we use in pursuit of making images represents a technological advance over and above something that wasn’t available before. Did the transition from glass plate to film mean that Cartier-Bresson’s work was less ‘real’ than Daguerre’s? Of course not, just as the introduction of the 35mm Leica and its portability doesn’t mean that Capa’s work is less authentic than that of Herbert Ponting and his glass negatives. It’s a nonsensical argument. Technology has marched forward relentlessly for the last 150 years and will continue to do so way beyond the time when any of us are left on this ball of rock we call home. Rallying against it and decrying that advance is as likely to be as successful as King Cnut’s attempts to thwart an oncoming tide…so why bother?  Why not embrace it instead?

Humans…we are weird things indeed….we don’t really like change on the whole, we like order, predictability, certainty…we like things to stay as they are and all too easily we use difference as a reason to snuggle down under the warm comfort blanket of I’m right and you’re wrong…nah-nah-nah-nah-nah to you with knobs on.

Now, the primary reason for this blog is as the title suggests….drones…or quadcopters if you prefer.  At the moment, nothing can enrage the average landscape photographer more than a good old drone discussion. For some, the merest suggestion of them being a valid means of taking ‘real’ images is enough to send them searching for quill and parchment to vent their spleens to the first magazine that will publish their fury….thankfully they almost certainly won’t be reading this because the the internet makes things far too easy and blogging isn’t real writing as it wasn’t produced on one of Caxton’s original printing presses.

Yes I’m being facetious here, but the arguments to me are just as feeble and irrational when you look at them. Drones have managed to split the landscape photography fraternity in two, with the most vocal protagonists declaring them as ‘fake photography’ and claiming that images captured by drones shouldn’t be allowed in the usual photography competitions. Claims generally levied at ‘Droneographers’ include, amongst others, that they could just get their images sitting on the sofa in their living room, that there is no connection with the camera and being behind the lens is what makes for a real photograph.

In my humble opinion that is balderdash and piffle. All a drone allows is a different perspective on the landscape than one we’re used to seeing. It’s just a digital sensor, with a viewfinder that allows you to see a representation of the light that’s falling on it through a highly engineered piece or pieces of glass via a lens. The only difference between composing an image on the viewfinder in a Sony A7rII and the iPad you’re using to control the camera on your drone is that the electrons have a bit further to travel between sensor and screen in the drone’s case than they do in the Sony’s. The craft we have to learn in order to operate a large format view camera, or a DSLR, or a mirrorless Fuji or a Phantom drone is just that…craft….and you still have to learn it in order to produce a technically good image.  And you still need to have artistic ability to produce imaginative and creative images using any of those tools.

The only difference between a drone and a tripod with a geared head as a camera support is a few hundred years of engineering…they’re both simply adjustable support systems for a light sensitive medium aligned along a plane. Should images taken on tripods be dismissed simply because they weren’t taken handheld? No of course not, even though a tripod affords us all sorts of advantages in terms of image making that our highly evolved arms can’t.  They can place the camera in positions high above our heads, or over perilous ravines where we can only see what they’re pointing at by tilting the screen on the back of the camera…perspectives that are different to those we could achieve without one. Using a drone is no different, it simply affords the opportunity to put a camera in a different place to capture a different perspective. And if you don’t like different perspectives, put away your Big Stoppers, your strobes, your wide angled lenses, your telephoto lenses in fact all your lenses….because unless you’re using a camera obscura you are in some way altering the perspective through which you see the world.

As for the argument that it’s a turkey shoot, and it’s not real because you can shoot from your sofa…for me an epic struggle across remote mountain ranges or getting up at 2am to make sunrise having climbed up a mountain and broken trail through thick woodland to get an image doesn’t impress me one bit if the image is bland, unimaginative or doesn’t engage me in any way. Write about the story, show me the image, but don’t expect the struggle to automatically improve that image or make it any more worthy. If an image is good it makes no difference if it was shot on your sofa, from the drivers seat of your car or from half way up Everest after a 5 day hike…it’s still a good image.

I think instead that drones are the latest HDR, in that the images typically taken currently are so obviously different to our trained eyes that they immediately stand out, making the technique the first thing we see rather than the content of the image.  I’m sure this will change in time and more and more we will see highly creative and beautiful imagery emerging where people have learned to harness and leverage the potential of the technology and we will appreciate those images for their creative merit alone. But to dismiss all drone images simply on the basis that they weren’t taken using equipment that we use, or in a way that we work, or because they don’t align to how we think images should be taken…..come on people…we’re better than that aren’t we?

Before I sign off, for the record, I don’t own a drone, I don’t see myself owning one anytime soon because as a piece of technology it doesn’t allow me to achieve what I want to achieve with my own image making process, and I can’t bear the ruddy noise they make if I’m out in the landscape enjoying a bit of peace and quiet.  However if I suddenly find myself wanting to make images that could only be made using a drone I wouldn’t hesitate to use one, it’s the right tool for the right job.

And finally, I’ll admit the majority of ‘drone images’ currently being produced don’t do it for me, mostly because the technique of capture is the dominant thing visible in the image as I eluded to earlier, however some photographers, such as David Hopley, are using drones to capture and produce intriguing imagery where the drone truly is the enabler for their vision.

Let’s embrace technological advances not seek to use them as a reason to reinforce the walls of our own work and creative processes…

20 Feb

Snoring and Stressing in Torridon

admin / Blog / / 4 Comments

Just a couple of weeks ago I arrived in Torridon, Scotland with a group of other photographers and mountain goats, having spent the best part of two days travelling to get there, exhausted, feeling a bit rough but excited and more than a little trepidatious.

Anyone would be excited about a week in a lochside Log Cabin in Scotland, and as a photographer even more so, surrounded by mountains, coastline and ancient woodlands that you just can’t simply drive to easily when you live down south, but I was also slightly worried about how I’d be able to represent that landscape in my own way.  I feared that finding simple, clean compositions amidst vistas of staggering beauty and complex woodland was going to be tricky and I’d come away with a week worth of images that simply weren’t me, but after a particularly fine meal laid on by a trio of ex-coppers, I can only assume from the Catering Division, and a quick trip around the dozen or so bottles of single malt brought by everyone, I put my concerns to bed and headed for a good nights sleep.  Unfortunately a night of heavenly slumber was disrupted for some by a bit of enthusiastic snoring…apparently…sorry gents!

The following morning we headed out, the group divided into mountain goats who headed for the high peaks and the less enthusiastic and/or knackered who instead headed for a short woodland jaunt in the Scots Pine laden Beinn Eighe reserve.  First stop along the way for those of us not in the goat party was Loch Clair…which upon arrival was like a millpond with reflections of Sgurr Dubh and the mighty Liathach. Stunning, classic, picture postcard landscape territory…beautiful, epic, not what I was hoping for. I duly set up, took some images and inwardly started to worry again.

 

 

Next stop a nice relaxing bimble through ancient scottish woodland, just enough to stretch the legs after a long weekend travelling…well not quite….a brutal climb up from the shoreline of Loch Maree topped us out well above the snow line next to some stunning frozen lochans with views of the Beinn Eighe range. Stunning.  An incoming snow storm blowing swiftly off the tops and swallowing them completely encouraged us to pack up and make back down, but the snow building up on the semi frozen surface of one of the lochans as the weather made better progress across the landscape than we did, made me stop and unpack again.  Working a few compositional options as the snow flurries thickened was interesting to say the least but then suddenly it all clicked into place.  In one of those rare moments where you know you’ve just nailed it, where you don’t even need to check, you just know you’ve got it, a few square meters of snow-covered lochan suddenly became the basis for one of my favourite images I’ve ever taken.

 

 

Instantly the self inflicted pressure was off. If I didn’t get another image I liked all week I was a happy chappy simply having got that one image.  As it turned out I needn’t have worried, that image was a creative catalyst, or maybe the release of pressure was the important thing, probably a bit of both to be honest, but I went on to have a fairly successful week I think, not just creating images of the staggering landscape I was in, but most importantly creating work I was really happy with.

I even managed to go to the almighty Elgol and get several images I was happy with, which is no mean feat given that every inch of that beach has echoes of other photographers footprints. You look one way, Paul Wakefield, another David Baker, turn again Pete Bridgwood and that’’s without even contemplating ‘Joe’s Boulder’…I sought it out, I found it, I smiled, I examined the compositional challenges it presents, I came to the conclusion Joe had absolutely nailed it and in much more interesting light and weather, and I stepped smartly away to look for other images instead.

 

 

I won’t bore you with details of the rest of the week, it was beautiful and tough with a smattering of woodland, plenty of beach action and a 12 mile hike into the mountains to ultimately take a photo of a puddle (I really wasn’t having a good day tbh) thrown in for good measure.  And the whole week was capped off by the most ridiculous Lik-esque sunset I’ve seen in quite some time over Rannoch Moor on the way back home, so bonkers in fact that I don’t think I can even bring myself to share it here.

So all in all it was a cracking week, with great and very, very talented company, so thanks go out to Mark Littlejohn, Darren Ciolli-Leach, Greg Whitton (hats off for driving all week chap and putting up with my constant bleating about your appalling musical tastes…you lost me at Roxette), Adrian Gidney, Lee Acaster, Matt Dartford, Stewart Smith, Scott Robertson and the venerable Jeff Ashton and his two collies Misty and Flash.

A gallery of my images from this trip can be found below (click on the image of Greg & Darren) so feel free to take a wander through them as I let them stew for a bit until I can be a bit more objective about thinning them out which I no doubt will.

And finally, and most importantly….heartfelt apologies for my snoring chaps, I’ll bring the camper van next time and sleep somewhere far away in another glen with a mountain or two between us…

 

 

02 Jan

2016, the Bandwagon Post

admin / Blog / / 6 Comments

So along with jumping on the end of year, look back, pick my highlights of the year bandwagon I’ve also taken Bruce Percy’s lead from his fabulous talk at the OnLandscape Conference, and upon whittling down my favourite images of the year I’ve also looked back at last year’s selection to see if there has been any direction changes or patterns emerging. Which, in and of itself was an interesting and hugely valuable thing to do.

There’s definitely been a simplification in my work, which is both a sub-conscious thing and also a conscious thing if that’s possible.  I still love a woodland…thankfully…I enjoy details and the quieter things, and also a little abstract now and again.  One surprise was the inclusion of a totally traditional landscape for me, and not only a traditional landscape but one of an icon, an instantly recognisable skyline, and the one that was directly responsible for me shunning grand vistas in the first place…the Langdale Pikes…and from no lesser spot than Blea Tarn. Trust me, three months ago I didn’t see that coming either, but I like it…so it’s in…although it’s a bugger to print and I haven’t made a version that I like emerge from my printer yet…but I’ll get there…

So in no particular order here they are, my top 10 of 2016.  Included in this ragtag bag of imagery is the one I snuck into the LPOTY 10 book, a couple that appeared in my interview in Outdoor Photography, some that I’ve shared online and one or two that some people may not have seen before.  I hope you enjoy browsing through them, and for all the pedants out there, yes my top 10 list of images actually has 15 images in it…but ‘My Top 15’ isn’t anywhere near as catchy and sounds far more self indulgent.  Anyway, enough wittering for now…in non-chronological order, onto the images…thanks for getting this far…and for those who have made it this far and can’t be bothered to read on….my personal favourite is the one with wildlife in.

 

karlmortimertop102016-1

A cold bright blue sky day, one where the best thing you can do is get in the shadows on a beautiful beach in Pembrokeshire and simply revel in the gold and blue. Another top tip is to also make sure you get the shot before inquisitive dog owners approach you from the other side of the deserted stretch of sand just to see what you’re taking a photo of, not realising that gallumfing labrador paw prints aren’t really the missing key ingredient to your composition.

 

karlmortimertop102016-2

The icon, The Langdale Pikes in their winter coat from above Blea Tarn. I love the light and tones of this image and along with the obvious mirroring of the pikes with the large ice plucked roche moutonnee in the foreground, the autumn detail in the woodland lifts an otherwise oppressively dark area.

 

karlmortimertop102016-3

An abstract from ‘around the back’ of the fishing huts of Southwold. You simply can’t beat a bit of rusty tin roof and a fence post or bit of old rock to enjoy some abstract textures and patterns.

 

karlmortimertop102016-4

A few strands of grass floating around the edge of a small lake in Snowdonia on my first visit there.  Vistas to be had everywhere but I just couldn’t help looking at my feet again.

KarlMortimerLPOTY2016-23

 

It would appear I spend a lot of time looking at my feet when on location, which suits me fine when I get to pick out details like this one of some wind bleached tree roots crawling out of a grike on a limestone pavement in Yorkshire.  I love the skeletal feel of the roots and the beautiful texture and similar colour palette of the limestone slab itself.

 

karlmortimertop102016-6

Boulders in the River Gruinard in Wester Ross lit by reflected light from the surrounding bracken covered slopes and blue skies above. A pivotal image in terms of working through and understanding my own photographic processes.

 

karlmortimertop102016-7

A reed study from a small lochan somewhere in Assynt, the precision benefits of a geared tripod head were vital to being able to carefully compose this as I perched precariously on the edge of the wee lochan

 

karlmortimertop102016-8

A lesson in trusting your eye when it spots an image, this was taken whilst walking off a beach after one of those subconscious neck snapping moments where your brain registers something in your peripheral vision. The whole  area surrounding this scene was covered in rubbish and various flotsam and jetsam washed in on the high tide, but somehow this small square meter or two remained free from paw prints, footprints and rubbish.

 

karlmortimertop102016-9

A very quick grab shot, again from Southwold, I had just enough time to catch the two jackdaws wittering away on the wonky telephone line before they flew away. This bizarrely is probably my favourite image of the year, I just love the simplicity and the lines and sense of space.

 

karlmortimertop102016-10

Now this is as local as you can get, shot from my study window on a super foggy morning, simplicity almost taken as far as it is possible to go. And misty telegraph poles make a nice alternative to misty trees now and again.

 

karlmortimertop102016-11

My LPOTY image, the one that finally got in, and thanks to Jasmine Teer for the Judges Choice award too.  Again a small tableaux from the back of the fishing huts at Southwold

 

karlmortimertop102016-12

The last gasp autumn colour of a birch at Bolehill in the Peak District.  Almost all the other trees were well past shedding their leaves but this little tree clung onto a few last handfuls of gold, which contrasted delightfully with the blue light in the valley beyond. A rare moment of ‘light’ for me.

 

karlmortimertop102016-13

Another from the same day in Bolehill, and a short wait for the right light which was critical to the success of the image, creating the contrasts necessary to pick out the two birch trees. For me there’s a definite parent-child relationship between the two trees, with ‘Dad’ waiting to catch the climbing child if he falls.

 

karlmortimertop102016-14

A small clearing in a particularly dark bit of my local woodland, lit by some soft diffuse light through the lightest of mist in the air. It’s a great patch of woodland, with a real mix of deciduous and coniferous planting.

 

karlmortimertop102016-15

And finally, the last chronologically of 2016, taken in the Forest of Dean on a cold morning where the promised mist didn’t really materialise. Unashamedly more than a touch melancholic with the deep blue shadows, ice and threatening form of the moss covered oak tree, but called a Glimmer of hope for a reason.

Here’s to 2017 everyone.

27 Sep

Sharp Things & Sticky Stuff

admin / Blog / / 6 Comments

Last weekend I spent a pleasant day in the leafy suburbs of North London eating pizza, drinking tea and playing with sticky stuff and sharp objects.  I was in the company of Eddie Ephraums and Joe Wright along with some other like minded photographers having oodles of fun turning our images into small, beautiful, simple fold out books.

We started the day with a relaxed round of introductions over a cuppa, before gathering around the screens sat atop the desk in Eddie’s magically transforming living room come studio.  Between the desk and long workbench bedecked with rotatrim, cutting mats and paper creasers was a behemoth of an Epson printer.  How the dickens that goes unnoticed as the space is transformed once again into a living room is beyond me, I can only assume Eddie has cleverly printed up some rolls of Fotospeed Smooth Cotton and then handcrafted a very clever slipcover in the guise of a grand piano.

As soon as I’d stopped postulating on all the potential disguises for the Epson monolith we began selecting and sequencing peoples images for their books.  It’s always an interesting exercise watching total strangers look at your work and draw their own interpretations from it, making their own selections and drawing their own threads through a sequence, finding relationships where you didn’t necessarily see any and omitting images you would have included.  I decided to go with groupthink and let them choose and sequence the eight images for my book…such a trusting soul.

Once they’d been printed and given 5 minutes to dry, we began with the creasing and the cutting.  I had no idea Rotatrim technique was actually a thing and that being a ‘there and back’ kinda person was bad, whereas precision use of the index finger as a guide when gluing was definitely an advanced and highly praised technique.  Much precision measurement was undertaken and at certain points, clamps and straight edges were deployed along with bits of cardboard and the occasional pencil mark.

Over the course of the day we made two different books using the same set of images for expediency, by using different folding and gluing techniques to create both a concertina and a drum leaf book.  Whilst the techniques themselves were fairly simple, the possibilities they opened up were enormous, and along with the cavernous box of delightful artist’s proofs that Joe brought with him, showcasing many, many, many different ways of creating jewel-like books of tactile delight and wonder, lots of ideas were sown in our heads.

  

I’ve been considering how to tie up and present a few projects I’ve had on the go for a while and seeing the results that can be achieved with a modicum of patience, a few top tips from some experienced old hands, some careful precision and a liberal sprinkling of creativity, I have several pages of my notebook liberally dotted with emerging ideas.  Not only that but take a look at Shepherds online store and tell me the vast array of obscure japanese handmade papers, bone folders and paper drills don’t have you wishing your office had enough workspace to accommodate them all….and therein lies the problem…I need more office space…so until I solve that problem my appetite for book making will be restricted to prototypes from copier paper…

Overall a superb day was had, great company, knowledgable hosts and an endless supply of tea and chocolate digestives ensured that a few hours returning with childlike enthusiasm to the act of making things from paper and glue with your own bare hands was time well spent and incredibly satisfying…

 

21 Aug

Distilled witterings & no, I don’t have a beard

admin / Blog / / 1 Comment

A while ago now, I somehow found myself in the living room of someone I’d never met before in deepest, darkest Swansea, sat across from them at a kitchen table, facing a microphone and nervously gripping a steaming hot cup of tea, wondering how on earth I was going to say something that was witty or erudite which would be vaguely interesting to those reading a future issue of Outdoor Photography.  I don’t consider myself to have an interesting backstory to my photography or life in general, it’s been fairly mundane in all honesty and no different from the vast majority of people who go to work every day and have a hobby of some description outside of work to keep them sane.

Somehow though, Nick Smith managed to do a grand old job of distilling my ramblings.  He’d read a couple of my blogs as research before we met, and by his own admission, his challenge for this interview would be to ‘keep things concise and keep me on track’.  I’d never met him before, but he’d already got the measure of me…damn him.  Clearly Nick has gone through this whole process once or twice before, ok, over a hundred times at least, but I still don’t envy him his job in extracting information and quips from photographers, most of whom I’d assume are like me and don’t really like to talk much about themselves.

OP209-1

Interestingly, much of the content that appears in the interview occurred after Nick had turned the recorder off, an all too familiar story apparently, but somehow Nick duly managed to weave that together with the conversation he’d caught on tape to craft the words that appear in this month’s issue of Outdoor Photography…issue 209 (on sale on 25th August and available from all good retail outlets, and some crap ones as well)

I’m hugely grateful to Nick for conveying what we discussed that otherwise dreary Sunday afternoon in Swansea, to Steve Watkins for asking me to be in the magazine in the first place and for pulling together a selection of my images and Nick’s words into a spread I’m immensely proud of.

Although, I do need a new headshot though.  I sent a new one to the folk at OP as the previous one they had on file had me with a beard.  An image taken during the only two weeks of my life where I actually had a full beard, which has led to several people meeting for the first time being shocked that I don’t have one.  I’m no hipster…I have no beard…it itches too much, however apparently the current one is no better as it makes me look like a serial killer…which again, I’m not. Back to the drawing board on that one then….

In the meantime, please pick up a copy of the magazine, and enjoy the wealth of great imagery and articles that are always on display month upon month in Outdoor Photography from a host of great photographers and writers.

OP209-2

16 Aug

Coping with sunsets, a golden-hour virgin’s guide

admin / Blog / / 5 Comments

Allow me to start this short missive by giving a bit of background for those who don’t know me very well.  I don’t do sunsets, and I really, really don’t do sunrises.  Admittedly if you rummage through the galleries here on my website a couple have managed to slip through the net, but they are a rarity, and to be perfectly honest those images are pretty much there as a record of the suffering I had to endure in order to get them in the first place…ahem.

Apologies in advance, I know I’m committing landscape photography heresy here, and it’s not done for dramatic photo-snobbery effect, or to somehow grab wildly at making my own drab images more ‘worthy’, but as a rule I just don’t like the golden hour.  I’m much more often to be seen walking off a beach or trudging back down a hill as the sky starts to go nuclear, usually accompanied by disbelieving looks from other photographers as they coo and hammer away at their shutter buttons from behind their sunglasses…I jest of course…a bit…I do sometimes hang around for the blue hour.

There are any number of reasons I guess for my personal dislike of golden hour, or more precisely Lucozade half hour, chief amongst them the fact that I generally think in black and white first, instinctively looking for structure, line, form and space and as a result my favourite colour images are more often than not those where the subject of the image is colour and colour itself provides one of the key compositional elements in the image.  Sometimes for me the glorious, soft, unctuous light of the golden hour is too easily used to mask an otherwise average or lazy composition, relying all too often on the viewer being seduced and made to ‘oooh’ at the sheer gorgeousness and drama of that brief moment of exquisite light. I know I’m hugely in the minority here…so don’t hate me too much…but a Peter Lik fan I ain’t.

Anyway on the weekend I found myself atop a greywacke pavement in Snowdonia helping a fellow tog recce a few locations as the sun started to drop away to the horizon over the Lleyn Peninsula and the sky began to colour up. I’d spent the previous hour or so with the lens pointed firmly at my feet searching out abstract patterns in the rock surface, but as the colour temperature began to increase, the familiar war cry of my photographic compatriot rang out…by text, as he was out of earshot…’Boom!’.

For some reason this sent me into a mild panic, and a combination of golden hour fever and groupthink set in, causing me to hastily frame up a vista with a sun-drenched erratic leading the eye…badly…to the distant peaks of Snowdon.  I fired off a couple of frames as I passed the camera on each of the 25m laps of the pavement I made whilst attempting to outrun the ruddy midge cloud that was intent on turning my calves into something closely resembling corned beef.

Then as Mr Lik painted the sky and turned the saturation up to 11 to make my retinas weep, I looked down….and there beneath my feet the bedraggled stems of heather were suddenly burning under the low orange sidelight and contrasting with the blue shadows of the sandstone…hmmm…interesting.  I grabbed the camera, pointed it down and for the next 10 minutes ran around exploiting the Lucozade effect and the slightly disorientating perspective you can get where the subject’s relief can appear reversed due to the strong sidelighting.  A few of those images are included below…don your sunglasses first though…

So I’ve only gone and enjoyed a photographic sunset haven’t I?  Does this mean I’ll shoot another? Probably…Does it mean I’ll walk off a beach or a mountain as it all goes nuclear above me? Maybe not, I might be tempted to hang around and point the camera at my feet again and exploit it that way. But as for sunrise…..nah….you can just sod off…you’re having a laugh there…

31 May

Constraining yourself as the sun sets

admin / Blog / / 8 Comments

Before I end my enforced couple of weeks on the sofa and escape the mind melting experience that is daytime TV…thank the lord for the Giro and the French Open is all I can say…I thought I’d share a quick ramble about a mini-project that has been birthed, undertaken and wrapped up all within the space of the last week.

Sitting on your sofa, knowing that you can’t drive and can’t lift your camera and tripod let alone carry a camera bag can be a touch frustrating…well for me anyway.  After the first week of imprinting the shape of my backside onto the poor cushion beneath me, and once I’d finished combing the archives for something new to process or something old to reprocess, watched a pile of films and documentaries, caught up on some magazines I’d been holding back, re-read some photography books, decided upon all my LPOTY entries, and then deciding not to bother entering, burnt through a pile of cash doing irresponsible volumes of printing, sorted and ordered my OS Explorer collection and spent far, far too much time rambling on Twitter…I was undeniably frustrated and bored.  I needed to take some photos and exercise the muscle memory with camera in hand, I just felt the need to actually create something again…but what?  I was restricted. couldn’t drive, couldn’t lift anything, couldn’t go far, so what could I do?  The answer was literally staring me in the face…my back garden…time to break out the macro lens and dive Bellamylike into the undergwowf.

I went out for a stroll up the garden with the customary mug of tea to see what opportunities were in the offing only yards from my back door.  Plenty of flowers were in full bloom, shrubs and perennials were growing rapidly, insects were everywhere buzzing from flower to flower and stem to stem, the pond was full of water boatmen, pond skaters and newts, but I’m no Mark Horton, I’ll leave the incredible capture of all things buzzy, crawly & globby to him. Instead it was the ferns that initially caught my eye.  Their unfurling fronds chasing one another up out of the border…graceful, architectural and most fortuitously at just the right height for someone currently having trouble bending down very far.

I retreated back to the house, broke out the notebook and started planning…

First and foremost, I told myself this was an ideal opportunity to accept the constraints that had been placed on me….there was bog all I could do about it, so embrace it.  We all need some constraints now and again, they can help us really think about what we’re producing, and give us a bounding box within which we can explore freely, giving us some focus and freeing us from worrying about everything that lies beyond that boundary for a while. It can be hugely rewarding and refreshing.  Now I’m the first to admit that self imposing those constraints is not always easy, and the temptation to ignore them…’just for this one shot’…can be overwhelming, but this time I had no choice. *

So it was time to grasp the opportunity, work with it and set the boundaries of the project. OK, so what would that mean for me?  Well I decided I wanted to produce a series, and by that I mean a collection of images organised around a common theme, with a common look/feel/style that means they all hang together as a whole.  Did there need to be a unifying message behind the images?  In this case not necessarily, this was simply a challenge, no deeper meaning than that.  It wasn’t going to be my magnum opus, the beginning of a defining series that would take months or years to complete, this was simply something to keep me going until I could drive again. That meant I had a few days at best to complete it, so I set myself the task of 10 images that met the brief.

I broke out the Canon for the first time in months because of the simply gorgeous 100mm f2.8 L macro lens I could slap on the front of it for this project, and using that single lens was an added constraint that would help to unify any images I produced.  By the time I charged a battery for the camera and headed outside it was around 9.00pm and was getting dark, but on the plus side it was also still and calm, which given that I was shooting handheld as I couldn’t manoeuvre a tripod around was going to be a bonus. Even so, when I started shooting it soon became clear that DoF was going to be an issue, as even with the ISO cranked up I was inevitably shooting close to wide open just to get an acceptably unfuzzy shot. Still, I persevered for a while and considered it a warm up for some more time the following day.

I looked through those first images on the laptop and had managed to grab one image I was happy with. I liked the comparative simplicity of it, the shapes and forms within the frame and the heavily restricted pallet, restricted to GREEN that is.  So I decided to let that image, see below, set the style for the series. It also helped steer its theme and purpose, so instead of capturing fuzzy UCM macro flower images…badly…I instead wanted to explore more simplistic graphical compositions, using light and form within a predominantly dark and monochromatic frame.  It also meant I could embrace a shallow depth of field instead of being hindered by it, so wide open it was going to be.

AsTheSunSetsColour-1

Over the next couple of days I went back out, at the same time of the evening to ensure the same quality of light and slowly began to build a set of images. I ended up settling on only 3 or 4 plants in the garden, revisiting them daily and being grateful that overnight they had grown and changed to afford me a few more compositional options. I quickly passed my 10 image target, but kept going as I found myself enjoying this precious 20 minutes or so every evening trying to find new forms and shapes through the viewfinder…I was just playing again, and it felt good.

A few of the images from the series are included below, but the full series can be seen here.

AsTheSunSetsColour-3 AsTheSunSetsColour-4 AsTheSunSetsColour-9 AsTheSunSetsColour-11

So what did I get out of this?  Apart from enjoying the pure exploration of light, form, shape and space with only myself to please, surprisingly more than I initially thought I would.  Working with constraints is not, well, constraining…it’s freeing.  It gives you permission to focus, to ignore other distractions and be a bit more creative with your subject matter at hand. I definitely took images I wouldn’t necessarily have taken normally, learning quite a bit in the process, and not just about my own inability to handhold at slow shutter speeds!  It’s a reminder to look at your own back yard, quite literally in my case, and not just stampede across the country looking for glamorous locations.  I enjoyed working to a brief, even if it was one I’d set myself, and having the challenge of creating enough images in such a short space of time made sure I kept focus for those twenty minutes each evening.  It was also nice to know that like all good projects should, it had an end, once I’d met the ‘done’ criteria…it was done and dusted.

In short, I think I’ll be setting myself more short run mini projects like this to stay fresh and challenge myself.  I won’t just stick to the comfort zone either, I’ll try different genres and styles too, and I fully expect that hardly any of them will see the light of day as this one has, but that’s fine by me as long as they stretch my photography, keep me developing and give me an occasional creative recharge.

As I’ll soon be able to drive again, but still won’t be able to carry anything heavy, maybe the next series will be taken from lay-bys…who knows? Time to make a cup of tea and break out that notebook again…


*I couldn’t help myself though, and despite the initial brief I set myself stipulating colour, I just had to process some as B&W because I know they’d just work.  So as a result I now have two versions of the series. Some images are common to both, but some only work in one treatment, so here’s the black and white version too.

AsTheSunSetsBW-13

22 May

How many chimps does it take to fill a bookcase?

admin / Blog / / 1 Comment

Sitting on the arm of the sofa, doors to the bookcase flung wide open, scanning the bound and jacketed tomes that fill the shelves, trying to decide which book I was in the mood for spending some long overdue time with, I became aware that i was subconsciously skipping entire sections of my collection in my quest for something to accompany my freshly made steaming hot mug of tea, but why?

When I talk about my bookshelves here, I’m referring solely to the collection of photography related books I’ve accumulated over the years that reside in this particular…now stuffed to the gunnels…bookcase.  I have other sorts of books obviously; autobiographies, fiction, textbooks, veggie cookbooks (I know…shock!), Haynes manuals, etc that don’t live here, and neither does my ever increasing map collection, that’s right ‘increasing’…listen up you millenials…google maps doesn’t count, you simply can’t lose yourself for several hours in google maps imagining views, crags, woodland and underestimating gradients…but I digress, that’s another middle aged ranty blog post [places pipe down, repositions slippers by the Aga, tuts and takes off a shoddy pair of rose tinted spectacles].  Anyway, back to the bookcase…The books on these shelves span some 20 years or so of accumulating, and are largely organised by author/photographer’s name. They’re not arranged alphabetically, or using the dewey decimal system, but in loosely associated clumps I’d guess.  David Ward lives next to Joe Cornish, Dav Thomas lives next to David Baker, Josef Koudelka lives next to Henri Cartier-Bresson and Greg Whitton has his own special mahogany plinth with a hand knitted green, beanie-hat styled protective dust cover.

So as I carefully dusted down the copy of Mountainscape sat atop the almighty beanie plinth, I realised I was sitting there looking at my own photographic journey, or was I?  Did the books on those shelves represent influences over those years, subject matter interests, dead ends, fleeting fads and fancies? Or was it just a collection of random books full of imagery.  I began to mentally reorder the shelves in terms of the approximate order they were purchased, looking for a pattern, and surprisingly…well to me anyway…I could clearly recall seeing some of those books for the first time and tie them in to my own photography at that point.

I quickly drew up a timeline in my notebook and started annotating with the photographers names from my shelves, Waite…Prior…Cornish…Ward…Kenna…Southam…Kenny…Sugimoto and all points in between.  As I looked at that roughly drafted timeline I held a copy of Iain Sarjeant’s ‘The Pool’ in my hands, one of the last books I’d purchased to complete my ‘Triplekite Collection’ even though it was one of the earliest titles released. I’ll be honest it hadn’t appealed to me for a long time, although I now consider it to be a little jewel upon my shelves, and I don’t think I could or would have appreciated when it was first published, I simply wasn’t ready photographically, I was on a different part of the journey, of my journey.

I started to group large parts of that timeline around the phases of my own photographic experience and a picture slowly started to emerge. I’ll spare you the inevitable powerpoint slide that followed, I do hate myself sometimes, but you just can’t take the corporate out of the boy I’m afraid…be grateful I’ve spared you all the post-its and brown paper. I also considered using Adobe Slate for this blog, to allow you to scroll with me through the timeline and annotations…but when I realised I was actually taking that seriously for a split second I jabbed at my own four day old hernia repair to induce a moment of clarity…thankfully that worked and you’ve been spared.*

And so it all began, landscape-wise, with Charlie Waite and ‘The Making of Landscape Photographs’. This was the mid 90s, and the point I decided I wanted to dig my camera out of it’s box and take it for a walk for the first time since being a geology student a few years earlier.

This moment signalled the beginning of the Big Vista & Honeypot Years, and lasted for quite a long time while I continued to ramble through the Lake District a few times a year and take ‘pictures’ along the way. Colin Prior quickly joined the fray quite soon after Charlie and eventually so did Ansel Adams and Joe Cornish.  Prior to this, the sum of my photography library amounted to a few general ‘How to take better pictures’ type books and some nameless bargain basement volumes of quintessentially pretty scenery bought from various garden centres around the Lakes.  This period will now forever be defined as BC, or Before Charlie.  Much like the Pre-Cambrian geological period it is a dark, dim and sketchy time, lacking in detail and visible progress but it contained the seeds for what lay beyond it.

The end of the Big Vista Years and with it my interest in the honeypots of the Lakes was heralded by a personal frustration with people looking at my photos and responding immediately with a location name, ‘Ooh that’s Skiddaw!’ or ‘Blea Tarn…nice!’ and the next chapter was signposted by some bloke called Ward whose images kept popping up in books I’d bought primarily because they featured the work of Joe Cornish.

From here on in, during The Simplicity & Intimacy years , the accumulation of bookery stepped up a notch, alongside my own desire to ‘grow’ as a photographer…and to do all of this ‘properly’. Sigh, the things you’d slap yourself for actually saying out loud in hindsight. In fact I hereby apologise to anyone who ever had to endure any form of photographic snobbery and pomposity from me…ever…I didn’t know I was a git at the time I swear! And if I do it again…please point it out!

Various strands then began to crystallise, an obsession with all things black and white stemming from Ansel Adams originally, but carried forward initially by Michael Kenna, then Paul Gallagher, Cartier-Bresson, Atget, Paul Strand, John Sexton and Bill Brandt.

An already burgeoning obsession with trees and woodland wasn’t helped with Triplekite’s first offering from Dav Thomas, and was fed more recently by John Irvine and David Baker through the delightful Landscape Editions books from Kozu Books. Here I have to highlight the fact that my woodland collection has two unforgivable and glaring omissions…it has no book in it by either Colin Bell or Russ Barnes…shame on you both for not publishing one, pull your fingers out please gents, there are gaps in my shelves waiting!

A brief period of introspection herein and after referred to as The Angst, as eluded to in other blogs resulted in searching for the constraints and freedom of all things project and/or series.  This has generally allowed me to indulge several photographic obsessions at once through the Kozu Books for example, through the narrative and storytelling of Jem Southam, via Matt Botwood and his ‘Travels in a Strange Land: Dark Spaces’ work, and as mentioned earlier Iain Sergeant’s ‘The Pool’. As a point of order I also feel obliged to call Matt Botwood out for his shocking and continued efforts to accrue more and more images for his Ephemeral Pools series when he should in fact actually be putting them in a book for me to enjoy, some people are so selfish I tell you.

However, in amongst the some would say, less traditional, landscape photography books added to my collection over the last few years, one book in particular can not be allowed to go unmentioned. ‘The Landscape’ by Paul Wakefield landed like an 800lb bomb on my lap, singlehandedly demonstrating how contemporary landscape images have been taken for the last 30 years…by him…and it continues to blow me away every time I open its massive pages on my kitchen table. If you don’t own it yet…buy it…and treasure it.

So, all being told, does that mean these particular photographers and their bodies of work set the tone for images I produced in each of those phases? Partly, yes, but not necessarily or entirely. They clearly resonated with me at the time I purchased them because I loved the work and wanted to be able to produce photos just like it, particularly in the earlier years, but in some cases they resonated because they were so incredibly different to what I was shooting at a time when I was internally dissatisfied with the images I was producing (more so than usual anyway) and they opened a new door for me creatively.

Lately I simply enjoy looking at books across all genres and points in the last century from Josef Koudelka, Saul Leiter, Joel Meyerowitz and Hiroshi Sugimoto to name but a few, letting them feed my subconscious, and I’ll be honest, giving myself a long overdue education in the roots of this craft we all love…in this sense I am admittedly, horribly, embarrassingly and pitifully uneducated.

So what’s the point of this evening’s ramblings then, I guess I’d better try to pull something out of the ether for those of you who have stuck with me this far…bless…have you nothing better to do with your busy lives than read my self-indulgent drivel?

Well I guess firstly I just wanted to get the point over that this is all ultimately a journey, and whilst my own journey has had several phases, BC, The Big Vista & Honeypot Years, The Simplicity & Intimacy, and The Angst, I’m now at a place I’m calling The Beginning (I promise to birch myself thoroughly for overuse of arty bollocks).  The path I’ve followed has at times been narrow and one-dimensional, but more than ever it now feels like it is broad and varied and that there are in fact many paths to follow, with many possibilities to explore.  For various reasons I’ve stopped looking to shortcut the journey in search of getting somewhere quickly, I’m now enjoying the journey for what it is, just that, a journey, an opportunity to explore and learn, a chance to take a path less followed or to really get to know the one you’re already on a bit better than you do right now. I’m always learning, and I always want to learn…that’s the fun bit.

Lastly this is a plea to everyone to buy books now and again. In a time when we are surrounded by online imagery 24/7, the experience of looking at beautifully printed images in a book, with a cup of tea, or a fine single malt can not be surpassed.  You will slow down and look, properly, and learn, and be moved, or maybe none of the above….but you won’t have just flicked right after a nanosecond of attention for an image that someone has lovingly crafted and nurtured.  The staggering efforts that David Breen & Dav Thomas of Triplekite or Greg Stewart of Kozu Books, or those over at Another Place Press go to in order to bring us the work of photographers we want to see should not be underestimated.  They, and many others like them are supporting our community and can only do so if we keep buying their dead trees. So please, buy more books, from the self publishers, the small publishers and if needs be the big boys, but buy more books…..fill your own bookshelves, get your next fix of inspiration, chimp some more images…

*[OK…you’ve endured this far…here’s the powerpoint slide…]

Bookshelf

 

26 Mar

A photographer’s practise and what I think about ‘sketching’ and ‘arty bollocks’.

admin / Blog / / 1 Comment

So there are a couple of catalysts for this blog, a large part of it follows on as a result of several months of personal discovery culminating in a recent workshop, but partly it’s in reaction to some recent twitter discussions of topics as varied as ‘sketching’, ‘photographic snobbery’ and ‘arty bollocks’…more on those later, but first a bit of context about the last few months.

I started keeping a notebook a while back, specifically a photographic notebook.  I wanted to capture the occasional thoughts I was having about my own photography and explore a few ideas, themes and questions. Over time it’s turned into a jumbled gathering of thoughts, images, ideas, questions, blog ideas, angst, self loathing, project titles, quotes, principles, references and other bits and bobs.  This in and itself was and continues to be an insanely useful exercise, I can heartily recommend it to anyone, but imagine my joy as a highly convenient and timely opportunity arose to attend a workshop with Eddie Ephraums and Paul Wakefield based around the act of keeping a photographers notebook.  It was an opportunity too good to pass up so I duly booked onto it and simply carried on writing my own personal brand of drivel between the soft, black covers of my moleskine.

Now I’m not going to bleat on about personal discovery, or other such ‘arty bollocks’ here as the detail isn’t overly important in helping with what I’m trying to get across, and it may or may not arise in another blog depending on how I’m feeling. However, what I do want to share is something about that workshop, in particular what I took away from it, and hopefully draw some parallels to ‘sketching’ and ‘arty bollocks’ in particular…honestly stay with me on this one.

The main premise of the workshop was for the attendees to keep a notebook in a style they saw fit whilst trying to address two key questions set by Eddie & Paul, then bring it to the workshop, and discuss it with a bunch of like minded loons.  Now, a workshop with homework sounds like a bit of a commitment granted, but I was already invested in this notebook process so for me it wasn’t an issue, although as the workshop approached I will admit some mild trepidation about sharing some parts of it with complete strangers, and also some concern about answering the questions that had been set.

What became abundantly clear upon starting the workshop was that everyone there had a completely different approach and level of commitment to the whole notebook thing.  Some used a set of prints to cover a particular project, someone used an online journal, another an iPad, another a whole collection of different notepads for different projects or topics (note to self…potential to develop a significant revenue stream by opening a notepad store next to where he lives…sorry Jim), some had barely written anything at all, and I had simply used my moleskine as a day book as I have done for most of my professional life.

The thing is, every person in that room, including Paul and Eddie, had a different approach to keeping their notebook, and a different set of content they included in it, and as a result each notebook clearly represented something of the character of the person who authored it.  Critically though, as we were sharing those notebooks amongst the group, each and every approach had something you could take away and add to your own, a snippet or nugget or concept that you could use to enrich your own notebook ninja skills.

The group was also not made up entirely of landscape photographers, there were people who shot street, reportage, architectural or documentary as well as or instead of landscape.  There were people who were definitely artists, some who were literary authors, and some who were a mix of the two or none of the above.  It was a rich and diverse set of talents, thought processes, approaches, technical skill levels and backgrounds all brought together on the coast of Scotland, and all willing to chip in and voice their thoughts and add their input.

As the week went on, we explored a number of mini projects and exercises, and as a group we reviewed them and bounced ideas off one another.  Not everyone agreed all the time, but I’m sure everyone took something away from other members of the group, no matter how small or significant. Everyone listened, and everyone wanted to learn, not just from the venerable Wakefield and Ephraums, but from all members of the group…and here’s the important thing for me, at no point did anyone say that the way someone else did or approached something was wrong because it wasn’t how they did it, at no point did anyone criticise someone’s use of a word and say it was wrong or inappropriate because it wasn’t how they chose to use it, no one said someone else’s approach was invalid because it was different to theirs, and no one claimed their work was more worthy than anyone else’s and that’s simply because everyone was right.

There is no wrong way to describe the elements of your own photographic approach and practise, what works for you is right…for you, how you choose to shoot is right…for you, what drives you to make images is right…for you, the way you see the world is right…for you, the amount of meaning you choose to attribute to an image is right…for you.   This whole game is about what you want to do, and anything you choose to see, say, do or not do is entirely right and valid.

If you want to use the word sketch to describe a step in your own creative process, or as a label to attach to an image you’ve taken, then great, that’s something that means something to you and your own personal practise, if it doesn’t resonate with you then fine, so what, it doesn’t matter it’s not a part of your personal practise so why get upset about it?

Likewise when people complain about ‘photographic snobbery’ and ‘arty bollocks’ in landscape photography.  Having an image-making practise driven by other creative pursuits such as poetry, literature, painting or music doesn’t make it ‘arty bollocks’ by default, it simply means for that person, for that image or for their work in general they feel a connection or influence that is entirely valid…for them.  Similarly an image isn’t necessarily full of ‘arty bollocks’ by default if it’s complex or more difficult to access. Equally a staggering vista draped in breathtaking light isn’t necessarily devoid of ‘arty bollocks’, again it’s the photographer or artists choice.  A complex image of flatly lit trees and a sunset lit mountain vista are equally as worthy and valid as one another, they are just different and as a result different people will respond to them in different ways.  Ultimately if what you create meets the goals you have set yourself then you’ve succeeded…pat yourself on the back and crack on.

If you shoot landscapes because you like to represent the staggering view in front of you then good for you, if you choose to shoot the underside of suburban hedges with an obscure Peruvian film camera in an attempt to convey how a particular poem touched you when you read it then again, good for you, all power to your elbow. I’m not going to waste my own time and keyboard life by typing angrily from my own ivory tower telling you all that you’re wrong or that I don’t like the way you use a particular term, or software tool or ‘on trend’ technique…instead I’m going to look at what you do, listen to why you do it, and learn from that, and maybe even impact my own practises as a result.

As a result of that workshop, the feedback I gained from it, the insights others generously gave me, the journey travelled with the whole notebook keeping process, and thanks to a number of conversations with other photographers about direction and personal goals, I’m now more able to understand that I have my own set of influences, behaviours, preferences, goals, craft and creative processes that I combine together into my own photographic practise.  I also know that the various  elements of that practise will change and evolve over time. It gives me a framework from which I can understand my own work and learn from the practises of others.  If that sounds like ‘arty bollocks’ to you then I’m sorry, it’s really not intended to, it’s just something that feels right…for me…which means it’s right, and valid…for me.

I suggest having an open mind and a questioning attitude is not a bad place to start from, and we can all learn from all the other photographers in this bitchy, angst ridden community of ours…although you’re more than welcome to completely ignore all of this and keep carping….after all, that’s valid too, but forgive me if I choose not to play.

Hell I’ll even tolerate those of you who use the term ‘tog’…personally that’s a crime almost as heinous as using Comic Sans on your website…but that doesn’t make it wrong….except for the Comic Sans thing….that will always be wrong 😉

18 Jan

Where are all the mentors? An introverts quest for feedback

admin / Blog / / 8 Comments

Following an aborted personal review of 2015 where I was unable to find a consistent set of images I was happy with and generally left feeling disappointed at the quality of the images I’ve produced in the last 12 months, I spent some time looking out at the seemingly six millionth consecutive day of grey, dull wetness through the window, putting myself through the usual rollercoaster of introspection, self doubt & consideration of knitting as an alternative more practical, less stressful pastime, trying to find answers to questions I didn’t even know I was asking.  I know we all do this from time to time, and this definitely isn’t a phishing blog attempting to elicit several comments of “don’t doubt yourself” or “your stuff is OK”, but let’s be honest i’m not the only person to struggle through the last few months of unbearably crap and uninspiring weather we’ve endured.

Anyway, I was revisiting the Ffoton interview of Matt Botwood by Rob Hudson (if you haven’t listened to any of these podcasts sort your act out, seriously) and it led me to consider my own photographic process and purpose.  Two things resonated, firstly the lack of purpose in my image making, secondly the need for feedback.  The lack of purpose or intent is a whole other blog that I’ll tackle soon, but in the quest for a semblance of brevity and most importantly in an attempt to avoid boring those of you reading this introspective, self-indulgent waffle, the search for open and honest feedback is the subject of this particular blog…

Matt spoke in the interview about mentoring and the importance of honest feedback from a set of trusted peers, and this reminded me of something I read from David Duchemin a while back where he introduced the concept of the four voices we as photographers listen to.  They are the Critic, the Friend, the Mentor and the Sycophant.

To paraphrase David, the Critic is the one who wants to tell you how good they are whilst letting you know how flawed you are, the Sycophant is the well meaning person who shouts “love it” to anything they like the look of, both these sorts of people are generally uninvited to our world and unfortunately don’t bring much to it in our search for constructive feedback. The remaining two types are those we actively invite into our world. The first of these, the Friend, doesn’t necessarily understand the work, but knows us and likes what we do, they’re our cheerleaders and boy do we need them when we’re full of creative doubt and bereft of self-belief. The last one however is the most useful yet also the most elusive, they are the Mentor. The Mentor is the person you ask in to your world to give you the truth about your work, both the positive and the negative, and you invite their feedback because you trust them and their opinions.

So, here’s my problem…internet forums are full of critics, life is full of friends, social media is full of well meaning sycophants, the mentors are missing from my life.

Now if I was lucky enough to live in one of the many landscape hotbeds in the UK such as Yorkshire, Norfolk or even Nottingham I may have the opportunity to occasionally bump into some fellow photographers on a hillside, beach or maybe in a nice pub warming up with a pint by a log fire after a long afternoon in the field, and spend some time discussing one another’s work and swapping tips on the best spots to find that unicorn and rainbow combo we’ve been seeking that will ensure that next competition placing.

However the reality is that I’m a somewhat introverted chap living in Monmouthshire near the Welsh border, who treasures the limited amount of time he gets out in the landscape with the camera as a means of mentally and physically recharging from the mundanity of the day job.  Making images for me is a solitary pursuit, and without that solace I struggle to focus properly and create anything of any worth. The question of whether I ever do create anything of worth or not anyway is one of the reasons why I need a mentor 😉 #SelfDoubt #NotAPhishingBlog. Anyway, when you couple that with the fact that the likelihood of me bumping into anyone over a cosy log fire locally is, well zero, then it begs the question where do I find that feedback, where do I find someone who is willing to act as that sounding board?  And if I’m asking this question, who else is asking themselves the same thing out there?

We spend inordinate amounts of time chatting on social media, trying to compress meaningful conversations into 140 character snippits, and on occasions actually meet face to face at events like Meeting of Minds run by the OnLandscape team, Connected run by Rob Knight, or Masters of Vision organised by Pete Bridgwood, but whilst these are fantastic events and great opportunities to put faces to names (Twitter handles on foreheads should be compulsory at such events by the way), they are all too infrequent.

So the question I guess I’m posing, and more annoyingly for you the reader having come this far with me, not answering…sorry…is how does an introverted, time-limited, geographically challenged, landscape photographer find another time constrained, landscaping jedi master selflessly willing to spend some time being brutally honest in a constructive way? I’d like to think my work is ok, but it feels like it’s lacking direction and purpose…it’s purposeless…and its purposelessness is where I need to explore right now, and maybe having that feedback might make my images exhibit less purposelessnessless….sorry…I’ll stop the plagiarism of Rowan Atkinson and his Sir Marcus Browning M.P. sketch right now I promise.

At the end of the day we all need that honest feedback in order to progress and grow as a photographer, or do we?  Am I the only one looking for it? But assuming I’m not the only one, how do you get that feedback? And also, how as photographers can we make ourselves available to fill that role to help someone else around us who values our feedback? More beer and log-fireside discussions gets my vote as a starting point…

24 Jul

Disappointment, reflection and something more beautiful

Karl / Blog / / 16 Comments

Let’s cut to the chase, I didn’t make the shortlist for LPOTY this year, in fact I’ve never made the shortlist despite a few attempts over the last 5 years or so, and it smarts.  For those of you who aren’t fellow landscape photographers, LPOTY is the Landscape Photographer of the Year Competition, an annual celebration of superb landscape imagery from the UK, culminating, for those who are lucky enough, in a treasured piece of real estate in the annual book and a place in the exhibition in London. It truly is a great thing, conceived and orchestrated by the very man whose work inspired me to take this lark seriously in the first place Charlie Waite, and my god have I coveted my own little piece of real estate between those hallowed covers since its inception.

So getting home from a hard week at work yesterday evening, firing up the laptop and seeing fellow twitterati celebrating their receipt of the fabled email that indicates success at making the shortlist made me feel slightly sick, as I knew I hadn’t received such an email. I pressed the deliver button in my email client a few times in the vain hope that it would magically appear, but it didn’t, and I knew it wouldn’t.  Some congratulatory messages fired out and some consolatory ones received back, with some wise words in particular from Greg Whitton and Neil Mansfield, both of whose work I’d advise you to check out if you aren’t already familiar, before I retired from twitter for the evening and sat, with a whisky and my own thoughts as the Tour de France passed by in a blur on the tv.

Now this blog could very easily be a wallowing in self doubt, with much gnashing and wailing of teeth, but it isn’t going to be, is it going to be slightly cathartic? hell yes, that’s the whole point isn’t it?. So yes, I ran through the whole gamut of questioning last night, are my images actually a bit crap? Am I kidding myself with this whole landscape photography lark?  Should I take up painting, knitting or airfix model building instead? And the answer to all of those is a resounding no, except maybe for the taking up painting thing…I absolutely, definitely need to do that.  And there are some very good reasons for not moping but in fact to be hugely thankful to this photography game, for the last 18 months in particular.

So indulge me for a moment, hold my hand, cue the wibbly wobbly screen and whooshing sound effects as I take you back 18 months or so to the deck of a Calmac ferry crossing from Uig to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.

I was on my way to a photography workshop, my very first one, with feelings of huge trepidation.  Up until that point I had always been someone who walked in the landscape and just taken photos as I strolled around the fells of the Lake District, occasionally getting an image I liked, but with serendipity playing a huge part and an impatient family waiting half a mile up the footpath for me to catch them up somewhat tempering the photographic isolation we all cherish. Anyway, here I was, on my way to Harris to meet up with a bunch of fellow landscape photographers on an Aspect 2i workshop, run by Paul Gallagher and Michael Pilkington. I stood on the deck of the ferry, full of self doubt and riddled with imposter syndrome (a running theme), imagining a workshop full of landscape masters looking at me like I’d just rocked up with a disposable film camera to a  paparazzi scrum. In fact it was a fabulous week spent in the company of some great people all keen to learn from Paul and Michael, and experience all that the Hebrides has to offer.  That trip was the first affirmation that I was OK at this, and heralded the beginning of photography moving from an occasional hobby to a fully blown obsession. Thank you to Paul, Michael and those people I can now call friends who were on that workshop.

After that workshop I allowed myself a couple of grandiose aspirations, I wanted to get an image into my favourite magazine Outdoor Photography, I wanted an exhibition (cliche I know) and I wanted that little spot in the LPOTY book.  So how did I do? Well I submitted some images to OP and Steve graciously published them (I still have at least 3 copies of that edition it means that much), I haven’t got close to an exhibition and haven’t tried yet, and well, we all know about the LPOTY fail again.  But what exactly have I achieved in the last 18 months? I’ve been published in my favourite magazine, I made the shortlist for the inaugural SLPOTY competition, not the dead tree version but the ebook (close but no cigar), I have prints of my work hanging in other peoples living rooms for the first time and an article in the forthcoming September’s issue of Outdoor Photography.  I’ve been to Scotland twice, the Arctic Circle and the Lofoten Islands, I’ve seen the northern lights and ice on a beach.  I’ve stood waist deep in the waters of Lofoten, Harris, Wester Ross, Pembrokeshire, Glamorgan, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, and waist deep in the barley and wheat fields of the Cotswolds, not to mention time spent in my own patch of Monmouthshire and nearby Brecon Beacons. Hell I’ve been surrounded by more beautiful landscapes in 18 months than many people see in their lifetime, and all of the above alone is reason enough to stick with it keep making images.

But its more than that, it’s the people I’ve met and engaged with, from the landscape idols of Michael Kenna, David Ward & Joe Cornish to everyone at the OnLandscape conference last year.  I’ve made some great friends on Facebook and Twitter, both virtual and in person, and I’m hoping to convert even more of those virtual friendships to real ones at the Masters of Vision Exhibition this evening. Most importantly I wouldn’t have had the fortune to be talking to those of you who have taken a few minutes out of your day to read the ramblings of a slightly rotund welshman who is obsessed with capturing moments of beauty in the landscape, and to each and every one of you I say thank you.

Yes I will take stock, but that will lead to better work, more focus, more honesty and more integrity in the images I make, but I will keep making them, and I will keep making them for me because I need to.  I’ve never shot an image with a competition in mind and I don’t think I ever will as that’s not why I stand in cold water or howling winds, I do it because I love the landscape and love being in it.  So if you’re a fellow LPOTY failer, chin up and crack on, buy the book and admire the images but remember why you too make images and hold that lightly and value it above all else.

So thank you to the landscape photography fraternity, thank you to everyone I’ve met along the way and to those of you who listen to my occasional ramblings and take the time to look at my work.  I’m at the beginning of a journey that will last for the rest of my life, and I’ve already seen Hans Strand playing the Swedish national anthem on a beer flute, I can’t wait to see where this goes from here!

Thanks for sticking with me.

21 Sep

Problem solving

Karl / Blog / / 6 Comments

Here’s an image from Hartland Quay the other day, and I thought for this one I’d share my thought processes pre shutter press, as in this case the creation of the image required a number of technical compromises and decisions to be balanced to achieve the outcome I wanted.

Hartland Quay Vanishing Point B&W

Compositionally I was attracted to the barcode effect of the rocks in the centre of the frame, and wanted to run them across the frame to create a sense of movement.  That meant I could either shoot right to left, with the beach running off into the distance or instead left to right and use the larger fin of rock on the right to hold the eye and guide it back towards the vanishing point through the bands of rock.  I needed to frame carefully to include the tiny piece of rock in the top left of the frame in order to hold the eye at that point and stop it wandering out of the frame at the bright spot on the horizon.  I was already considering a 5×4 crop, as the 3×2 image in the viewfinder was simply too long for my liking.

So I finished positioning the key elements in the frame where I wanted them, getting the balance of sky and foreshore right, and aligning the entry and exit points for the fins of rock in their most pleasing position.

So having set the composition, it was time to deal with the technical considerations that now raised their head.

I chose to leave the polariser off allowing the highlights and reflections on the wet sand to act as a contrast to the dark bands of limestone running off into the sea.  The colours were very subdued and slightly washed out due to the angle of the sun, so the decision was made to create a black and white image from the outset, allowing me to exploit the wide tonal contrasts visible in the scene.

Filtration was tricky not only due to the extremes of the tonal range, but also because of the three dimensional nature of the rock formations within the frame, the large fin to the right punctuating the skyline necessitating an inevitable compromise when placing the filter.  Placing it simply across the horizon would have meant a lot of tricky post-processing to retrieve the dark shadows of the large rock fin.  So I chose to angle the grad, laying it in a line just at the tips of the rocks travelling up towards the right across the top of the large fin.  The bright highlights on the sea and in the sky above were also toned down a touch by doing so, and it minimised the darkening effect on the rocks to the right nicely.

A similar compromise was required when placing the focal plane into the image using the tilt and shift lens.  Again if I’d simply laid the focal plane down onto the rocks running into the sea, the top of the large rock on the right would have been soft.  So again the compromise was made choosing to lay the focal plane between the immediate foreground and around a third to a half of the way up the large rock to the right, then stopping the lens down to f16 and exploiting the cone shape of acceptable focus given.  A bit of fine tuning using live view to check sharpness and I was ready to press the shutter…

Not a killer image by any stretch of the imagination, but a compositional and technical challenge that I thought worthy of a bit of explanation to share my thought processes.

We should use the tools at our fingertips, to solve the challenges we face, when building the image we want to create, after all that is all they are, tools.  They should help us realise the vision, not define it.  For me, making that jump from taking an image to consciously creating an image was life-changing and took my photography to the next level.

15 Aug

Every cloud…

Karl / Blog / / 0 Comments

So, this is my first quick blog on my new website, allow me to briefly explain why…

Well, a few evenings ago I thought I’d update the wordpress theme I used to power this website to the latest version.   Whilst the website I originally built with that theme was OK and looked really good, it didn’t really fit the usual wordpress standards for galleries and stuff, making it a bit of a pain to maintain.  Thankfully the developer recently released a new version of the theme making a lot of these changes, and whilst I knew updating to the new version would effectively mean an extensive rebuild I pressed ahead, settling in on the sofa with a cup of tea to hand, ready to take on the task of upgrading.

However, just before I dived in, the realisation that I was facing a rebuild made me consider exploring a different theme, one which would allow me to integrate some commerce features that were missing from my original theme.  So after bit of exploring, I identified some suitable candidates, downloaded a couple and decided to see what they looked like.

Applying the first theme of choice caused chaos for some unknown reason, leaving me unable to access the WordPress dashboard and facing a reinstall.  “No problem, I’ll just restore a backup of the old site and go back to that tomorrow” I thought, so imagine what went through my mind…and exploded from my mouth…when I realised I hadn’t backed it up.

After calming down a bit and resigning myself to an unexpected TOTAL rebuild of my website, I concluded that this was in fact an opportunity, and one I could seize with both hands, to re-evaluate my original site, it’s content and structure and make the changes I knew I really needed to make.

So in short, a couple of days later and here we are, a new theme, some new content, some new features yet to come, and a lesson well learned.  BACK IT UP!!