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.


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.



  1. Rudolf Hummel  —  May 31, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    Hi Karl,
    I enjoy your writing and your images. (In this case I prefer the ‘green’ version).
    Keep it up. You make me smile and also get me thinking (worrying?) about my ‘sleeping’ projects.
    The other night I looked at my books but I cannot tell in which order I bought them. Apart from the ‘how to’ ones, which go back quite a long while. Do you write the date inside the cover when you buy them? I could order them according to the interest they carry for me today and see how that changes over the years. But really there is no order. Maybe one long night, I will stand in front of the shelves and try to discover if there is a hidden message in the disorder. Again, my wife will not be happy with me…
    Cheers, Rudolf

    I hope you get better soon.
    Greetings from Italy

    • admin  —  May 31, 2016 at 8:49 pm

      Hi Rudolf
      Glad you enjoyed the blog and the images, hopefully your own book project is taking shape?
      I don’t write the date in the books, I just seem to be able to recall the order and times they were purchased. Standing in front of your bookcase is not a bad thing, there are far worse places to spend some time looking for answers.
      Cheers from sunny Wales

  2. Nigel Cooke  —  June 1, 2016 at 7:01 am

    Great blog, and something I’m sure we should all think about and try. Thanks for sharing.

    • admin  —  June 1, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      Cheers Nigel, thanks for taking the time out again to read it, your support is always appreciated mate

  3. Gail  —  June 1, 2016 at 7:24 am

    What a really great stumble into a really great read! Loving the ferns! I have had a similar situation (torn knee ligament) and I did head out into the garden, as I do believe that even if you can’t get out you can still get creative, but I’ve lost interest a little bit. I’m hoping it will come back but at the moment everything is just too “much”, it’s like a bombardment of click and repeat from everywhere I look. Wishing you a super speedy recovery from the North East! G

    • admin  —  June 1, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      Kind of you to say so Gail, don’t try to force your phojo, it’ll come back when it’s good and ready don’t worry!

  4. Lisa  —  June 1, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    Pottering in the garden with a camera for the pure pleasure of it …. wow….. I remember when…. May be when all else fails, you should go back to the simple things. Great results! Love No 1 in colour and BW, that’s my fav!

    • admin  —  June 1, 2016 at 8:16 pm

      Thanks Lisa, a rare opportunity to potter…I wasn’t going to let it pass me by in a hurry.


Leave a Reply to Rudolf Hummel Cancel reply