Category Archives: Musings

No Such Thing As Bad Light?

There is a saying in photography that there is “No such thing as bad light”. Whilst you may not come away with the image you were hoping for, there’s one thing for certain, if you don’t go, you won’t get anything. With this in mind, I set the alarm for early last Tuesday morning hoping to catch a window in some grey, wet weather. I headed over the moors to the coast and arrived at Runswick Bay on what proved to be a dull morning with heavy rain clouds on the horizon. A biting wind off the North Sea battered me as I set up my camera and tripod and I fired off a couple of un-inspiring frames.

At times like this it’s tempting to pack up and head for the nearest café, but I decided to stick with it and try a little harder. I had a wander around and soon found a composition I was happy with. The sky was pale and lacking any texture, so I decided a long exposure would give me a light-coloured foreground to match the light sky. I spent some time honing the image, before heading off for that coffee knowing that I had a shot in the bag on what was essentially a most un-promising day.

In The Zone

As someone who shoots both monochrome and colour, I’ve long found it fascinating how I can’t bring myself to shoot both on the same day. OK I know you’re looking for something entirely different with mono, you’re looking for contrast in tone and texture, whereas with colour you’re predominantly looking for contrast in colour. But I really had this brought home to me in a big way on our Strensall shoot. I set off with the mindset that I would be shooting a subtle pink sunrise through the mist, but when I got to Strensall Common it was just crying out to be recorded as minimal monochrome.

Janet and I were like kids in a sweet shop, there were compositions all around us and we both really got into the swing of it. So much so that as the sun finally burnt through the mist to light the frosted grasses we were both packing up to go. Now I like these well-lit frosted colour scenes as much as anyone, but we were so much in the mono zone, our creative heads just didn’t want to change tack to colour, so colour would have to wait for another day.

Slowing Down

A few months ago, we attended a lecture by Dave Mead, who talked about his experiences in the Antarctic with Joe Cornish. Dave mentioned that he spent so much time out in the field trying to capture everything that he got so tired he was hallucinating! He later mentioned that his best images from the whole trip were captured during a session at an old whaling station. As he pointed out, he concentrated on getting a small number of images dead right, rather than rushing around like a headless chicken, trying to capture everything, but doing none of it well.

Reflecting on our recent trip to Strensall Common, it struck me that we were in a similar situation. We were surrounded by compositional protentional, so I found it hard to concentrate on a single image and work the scene to it’s full potential. My Three Trees image is a good example. I spotted the potential and was able to get a reasonable composition, but a fallen branch to my left spoilt the image. This meant moving forward, which compromised the composition a bit, but at least I was working the scene rather than rushing off to capture the next set piece.





                            Seven Trees


Three Trees

Far better to slow down and concentrate on getting a couple of outstanding images, rather than come home with a memory card stuffed full of mediocre images and missed opportunities.

The Art of the Sublime

A few weeks ago, we attended the “On Landscape” conference in Penrith where we were treated to fascinating talks by some of the world’s leading landscape photographers, but the talk that most caught my imagination was Simon Norfolk’s talk on the “Sublime”.

In the modern world, sublime has come to mean little more than superb, or wonderful, but in older times its connotation was much more far reaching, meaning something truly astonishing, bordering on terrifying. In the 17th century, English gentlemen used to send their sons on the “grand tour” to complete their education into the finer things in life. They would travel to places like Rome and Venice, then often venture into the Alps in search of the “sublime”. Being noble born they didn’t walk, they employed locals to carry them into the mountains on sedan chairs, then viewed these wondrous scenes via a Claude glass (A slightly convex tinted mirror) to reduce the terror induced by these sublime, or terrifying scenes.

This may seem strange to us, but I think it has some amazing parallels with the modern world. We might think it crazy to turn our backs on a scene, then view it via a slightly tinted mirror, but think of the equivalents in today’s world. People “bag” iconic places by going on their own mass market “grand tour” in a coach, rather than a sedan chair and turn up at an iconic scene, bag a few selfies and move on to the next viewpoint on the list. It’s exactly the same way of viewing the world. But hang on a minute before all of us photographers start to laugh at the selfie takers, how often do we turn up at a sublime scene and immediately view it through our cameras. Shouldn’t we also put down our cameras for a moment and sit quietly and just view the scene for the simple pleasure that landscape gives us?



Attention to Detail

Way back in the dark room ages in the early 90’s, a gentleman by the name of Bill Ruark was briefly our mentor and Bill taught us a valuable lesson in photography, “attention to detail”. When Bill lifted a viewfinder to his eye it was generally several minutes before he pressed the shutter, as he scanned the viewfinder looking to illiminate any items that didn’t add to the scene.

I often wonder if it’s the smart phone effect, or a product of our busy lives, but people always seem to “snap” and run, never taking the time to “compose” an image. There is a saying that “an artist starts with a blank canvas and only puts in the elements he wants, whilst a photographer starts with a cluttered scene and must exclude any elements that don’t add to the scene”. It’s that attention to detail that can turn a so-so image into a good one, just by leaving out distracting elements, or by separating elements so they don’t collide with each other and distract the eye.

With the Ullswater image, I was drawn to the early morning light on the tree, so I climbed a hillock to capture the brightly coloured tree against the contrasting darker water of the lake, but I was struggling to get separation of the tree from the reflection of the hills on the right. I couldn’t move to my right without falling in the water and I couldn’t move higher without ending up in the tree canopy above me, so I had to precariously position my tripod right on the edge of my vantage point, then extend the centre stalk to just get that separation I was looking for.

A frosty winter morning at Costa Beck

The Costa Beck image was captured during a walk down my local beck, just a few minutes’ walk from home.  This is an area I’m very familiar with, but such is the joy of photography, changing light and conditions means the scene is always different each time I visit. On this occasion, I was drawn by the reflection of the tree, but capturing a satisfactory composition was always going to be difficult, so I spent some time moving about until I got a composition I was happy with. I moved as far to the right as could without falling in the water to separate the reflection from the left-hand bank, then had to turn the camera to get the track to act as a lead coming out of the corner of the image, but I also had to move to ensure the I didn’t cut the trees on the right in half.

So, as you can see, it always pays to put in the effort and work your compositions, rather than snap and move on and regret it later.

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.