To Plan Or Not To Plan?

Sometimes it pays to have a plan, others times it proves best to just go with the flow and see what catches your eye on the day, but there’s definitely no substitute for getting out there. It’s no good just sitting at home waiting for those “perfect” conditions, you’ve got to be out there waiting for that elusive piece of light and don’t be afraid of coming home empty handed.

Last Tuesday was just such a day, the forecast promised frost and mist, but clear skies, which was less than ideal, but I decided to get up early and go to Castle Howard anyway. I’ve had an image of mist at sunrise over the mausoleum for a couple years, but come home empty handed on many occasions, so this might just be the opportunity I was looking for.

Winter sunrises occur at remarkably social hours, so I could get myself organised in good time and even arrived well before my planned time of 7.15. As I parked up the conditions looked very promising, so I had a coffee and waited patiently for the light to strengthen, then about 7.20 I had the shot I was looking for!

800-1-14327-rFeeling pleased with my mornings work, I headed back to the Great Lake. The sight that greeted me there was amazing, with literally thousands of waterfowl roosting on the lake, then gradually flying off in large flocks. A wonderful sight and enough on its own to make it worthwhile being there that morning.

800-1-14358-rbBy now I was feeling in need of a warm up, so a bracing walk in Hovingham woods fitted the bill. Hovingham woods is a lovely place, but especially so on the bright, frosty, crisp morning like this. Once back to the car for another coffee, the only thing missing from a perfect morning out was a bacon butty!

800-1-14395-rBut is it better to plan, or go with the flow? Well I think you can do both, the important thing is to find the time and the motivation to get out there.

12 Images

2016 has proved to be a busy and relatively successful year for us, but looking back over the last 12 months we haven’t managed to produce much personal work that we are proud of. Ansel Adams once famously said “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” Last winter was very mild, so the amount of our trademark stark winter images we managed to produce was very few, then the stock commission we won tied us up for six months shooting blue sky images which are at odds with our favoured personal style, so I guess we’ve had a few excuses. But it’s become a concern that we are lacking new work to display in exhibitions and art fairs, so we both feel that the pressure is on to produce some good new work this winter.

We decided we’d attend the “On Landscape Conference” this year and were fortunate to rent a small flat on the banks of Ullswater for the week. We’ve rarely visited the Lake district over the last 20 years or so, for reasons which I won’t go into, but this finally gave us an opportunity to get out there and shoot some personal work.

There were some great guest speakers in the conference, but the conditions were looking great outside and I was dying to get out in the field, so we were pleased to see some mist over Ullswater when we set off early on Monday morning. The dawn session on the banks of Ullswater proved fairly productive, but all too soon the wind got up and the weather closed in and we faced a day and half of rain.

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Fortunately, Wednesday was due to be frosty, so we were back out on to the banks of Ullswater for dawn once again.

810-1-8588-j2Then a chance meeting with our good friend John Potter convinced us that the following morning’s venue would be the Castlerigg stone circle, but not before we spent the rest of a glorious sunny morning at Brothers water.

800-1-14252-r-editWork commitments meant we had to leave the Lakes on Thursday afternoon, so we set the alarm for “early” and headed towards Keswick on a very frosty morning. After shooting some reasonable if ordinary images of the stone circle, we headed off in search of a well-earned breakfast. My mind was mulling over how I could have done a better job at Castlerigg, whilst I was waiting for my breakfast to arrive, when the answer came to me sooner than my breakfast did! Still I’ll just have to go back and shoot it more imaginatively another day.

810-1-8718-jOnce home and working our way through the backlog of images, I’m happy to say we’ve shot some good commercial images and even manged a couple of mono images we’re happy with, so all in all a fairly productive trip after all, but we’re still well short of 12 stand out images for the year……….

 

 

Chasing The Seasons

As landscape photographers, we often talk about “chasing the light”, but we also find we spend our days chasing the seasons too. We love the cycle of the seasons and our days are governed by the subtle changes in the landscape. We’re particularly fond of the autumn with its subtle mists and profusion of oranges and yellow hues, but I guess the year starts for us with the coming of the snowdrops and all the challenges of capturing these delicate flowers on a woodland floor that is strewn with the dying remnants of the previous season. snowdropsAs the days lengthen, then spring is suddenly upon us with its acres of yellow daffodils on the river banks and they give way to the bluebells in the shady woodlands where the snowdrops previously grew. Summer is normally as quiet time for us as the trees get into full leaf, but we’ve still got the elusive poppies to chase as they never seem to grow in the same place two years running. But this year we’ve found a new crop that has captured our imagination, as we headed to the Outer Hebrides in search of the “machair” or wild flower margins on the coast.

machairThen it’s back home and onto the moors with their profusion of purple heather, but with summer finally receding and the vegetation dying back, it’s time to catch our breath and wait for the autumn leaves to turn and suddenly we’re busy again chasing woodland colours and waterfalls.autumn-colourSometimes the autumn leaves can last for weeks, but all too often the weather changes and the leaves are gone overnight and now we’re waiting for mists and frosts and first snows of the season. Whilst most “normal” people hate the winter, we’re in our element, we love the way the adverse conditions simplify the scene and it allows us to produce the atmospheric almost minimal images we so love so much.

d800-1-14177-rThen suddenly, Christmas is upon us and a new year beckons and the season cycle starts again. I guess we have a lot in common with farmers, only we are harvesting crops of images, season by season.

 

Tuna Sandwich Days

We all hear long established professional photographers bemoaning the fact that rates are down, stock doesn’t pay and commissions are non-existent. Well I’m happy to say that the commission is alive and well, if albeit a little thin on the ground.

We’re relatively new to the commercial world of photography and never knew the “good times” of stock photography. For us, it is a more of a by-product of our fine art photography, and certainly something that doesn’t normally dominate our work. Though we do pay a certain amount of heed to the stock potential of an area when we are out and about, but current returns mean that stock for us doesn’t amount to much more than a source of a few good meals out each year.

We contribute to several stock libraries and we also supply clients with local stock images from time to time, but we certainly don’t specialise in stock, so you can imagine our surprise when we got an email inviting us to quote for what amounted to a major stock commission. Working on the basis that we could instantly think of a dozen people likely to be in the running to win this contact, we didn’t even consider we would be in contention for the commission. However, we decided to submit a bid on the basis that as the client did occasionally buy images from us, we’d better keep on the “preferred supplier” list.

We occasionally get offered small commissions and we’ve generally turned them down as we’ve never considered them to be financially viable to either us or the client, but this one was different. The client had included a breakdown of the anticipated shoot schedule and also included a budget figure. In my previous life in “technical sales”, I spent my days doing time and material costings and quotes, so armed with the information in the brief, it was easy for me to work up a costing on a spreadsheet. Putting a day rate against the man-day estimate from the brief, adding in expenses such as event entry fees, mileage and other odds and ends miraculously gave me a figure bang on the budget figure, so the costing was immediately turned into a detailed line quote and duly sent to the client prior to the deadline.

At this point we still didn’t imagine we would have the slightest chance of winning the contract, so never gave a second thought to an email asking for clarifications. Always a good sign in my previous world of quotes for submarine parts. So, you can imagine our surprise when got home the following day to find several missed calls and an email to say we’d won the commission! It was a case of s**t, now what do we do!

The shoot list from the client was extensive and meant supplying a significant number of images, so it did mean we were going to be very busy on and off for 3 – 4 months. Shooting scenic stock is one thing, but this brief also included getting images of people enjoying such diverse things as Michelin starred restaurants and sporting events, so completing the brief was definitely going to test us and take us well out of our “comfort zone”. The brief also took us to a lot of events such as bike racing and country shows, though I never thought I’d see the day when I got enthralled by ferret judging!

The judge examining a ferret at Duncombe Park Country fair

The judge examining a ferret at Duncombe Park Country fair

The next problem we encountered was the weather. We wanted to hit the wish list hard from day one and the brief called for images of people enjoying the area, but April was very cold and everywhere we went was very quiet with very few people about and certainly none sat out in street cafes. June was pretty wet too, so what was due to be a 3-month project was starting to look like it might run into 5 months.

Cobles parked up on Filey sea front

Cobles parked up on Filey sea front

We also needed images from shopping areas, so I decided to approach the Brunswick Centre in Scarborough. In these days of security, you can image the trouble I had to go to get authorisation to shoot the internal images, but I must say they were very cooperative and I eventually had written authority to shoot the internal scenes.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see how cooperative up-market restaurants and hotels were too, giving me very good access and even the customers got into the action and most were more than happy to pose for me. All this from someone who normally shoots only static landscapes!

A seafood meal being served at the Estbek restaurant

A seafood meal being served at the Estbek restaurant

It’s also taken me into different areas of camera handling too. My default setting is usually f11 and don’t worry if the exposure time is measured in seconds or minutes, but this project has taken into the realms of 1/1000th second to shoot the bikes and unheard of settings such as f4 @ ISO 1600 in dark restaurants.

The Broke FMX motorcycle stunt team performing at Duncombe Park country fair

The Broke FMX motorcycle stunt team performing at Duncombe Park country fair

So, there we are, six months on and over 1200 images and the project is finally wrapped up, signed off and the invoice submitted, but why tuna sandwich days you might ask? Well every time I needed a packed lunch for a long day out all we seemed to have in the house was tins of tuna.

What Value Your Art?

We often do art fairs and exhibitions that are entered by everyone from hobbyist artists, through semi-professionals earning an income to full time professionals selling their work to make a living and right through to well established artists who have sufficient reputation to command a premium. But I often wonder what the buying public makes of being confronted by prices ranging from peanuts to thousands of pounds?

I well remember the first time someone asked me if they could buy one of my prints and I was lost for words. At that point I’d never considered selling my work and had no idea what it might be worth. However, coming from a commercial background, I was soon able to remedy that and doing a comparison with other people’s sales pages soon confirmed I was on the right lines, but I do think that realistic pricing is something that most people struggle with. I often hear people at fairs cheer when they make their pitch money back, but I think they are lacking ambition here. You have to not only consider the cost of your pitch, but also material costs, mileage and what about wages for being there all day? All these things have to be factored into the price and we’ve not yet considered overheads. Don’t forget that printer ink is more expensive by weight than platinum and that expensive printer will be out of date in a few years and need replacing.

So far we’ve only considered actual material cost, but what about the value of your art? We recently attended an exhibition where the guest speaker encouraged one of the exhibitors to stick a nought on all his prices, his art really was worth it. Even more recently we met an artist who was offering original paintings on canvas at a fair for £10 each. When you consider the material cost and the cost of him attending the fair, he was selling at a loss. But even worse, he wasn’t valuing his art and that’s something you must also consider. Your talent, vision and experience all have a value, so don’t under sell it. By doing that, you not only under value your own work, but you also de-value the work of others around you, so please be realistic and value your art.

Seeing The Wood For The Trees

Sunday afternoon saw me head over to the Wolds to join Paul Moon for a gentle walk around Millington woods. Millington is a lovely place, but a pretty dense piece of woodland, so separating any feature was always going to be a challenge. Though I was heartened when Paul mentioned that over the years he’s been coming to Millington, he’s only produced a handful of images he was happy with.

As we wandered up the valley I have to admit I struggled to see anything that really captured my imagination. Anyone one who knows me will know that I rarely shoot a scene that has more than three trees in it, so I was always going to be out of my comfort zone in this dense woodland. Whilst the weather was fine, the light levels in the woods were low, so even shooting details of leaves proved to be difficult hand held, so it was a case of having to use the tripod at all times.800-1-13973-rb

By the time we reached the head of the valley I was feeling pretty un-inspired, then I finally spotted a tree I liked the look of lit by the soft light of the late afternoon. As we headed towards the high path I spotted another tree I could separate from the tangle of trees, so my enthusiasm levels were definitely growing at last. Was I finally seeing the wood from the trees?

800-1-13978-rbAs we progressed back down towards the bottom of the valley Paul kept saying, “have a look in there Richard, there’s a nice beech tree”. So I was duly despatched into the thick undergrowth to explore. At first I was un-convinced, then I spotted a tree that was a nice contrasting colour to the trees around it, but I was left wondering how to capture it when I spotted a different angle to approach it from. Bingo a tree nicely separated by it’s colouration rather than physically and a great foreground too! Finally, I could come home happy that I had a nice image in the bag.

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Thanks to Paul for organising what proved to be an enjoyable and satisfying trip out to such a challenging location.