Category Archives: Monochrome

Follow Your Own Path

Follow Your Own Path

Janet kindly bought me a copy of the “Masters of Landscape Photography” book for Christmas and it proved a really interesting read. Marc Adamus did lots of processing on his images while others did very little. Some carried out lots of preparation, prior to a shoot, while others preferred to “freewheel”. Johnathan Critchley shot in black and white, while Tom Mackie preferred highly saturated colours.

It all served to confirm my own opinion that there is no “right way” only “your way”, so always follow your own path, be it in life, or photography. Sometimes I’m happy to just get out there and see what the conditions have to offer, other times I have a specific image in mind and it becomes like an itch, I can’t settle until I’ve scratched it.

So, it was with my latest mono image. I really liked the images we produced at Strensall Common, exactly one year ago. I loved the delicate branches on the birch trees and the fine detail in the frosted grasses, but as a simple soul who loves simple images, I wanted to reduce the image even further. Ideally, I needed a thick layer of snow to smooth the foreground even more, with just a few stalks of grass sticking through, but I was going to have to be patient and wait for some snow to come.

As soon as the snow fell a few weeks ago, we headed straight for Strensall, only to have the snow peter out before we got there! So more patience required. When the snow finally returned last Thursday it was game on, but where to go? When it snows heavily, travelling becomes difficult and parking even harder! Being constrained to stay local by heavy falling snow, we headed for one of our favourite locations and there infront of me was my perfect tree with some vegetation sticking out of the snow! However, driving snow in my face made it impossible to keep the lens dry, so this image would have to wait for another day. 

The following day dawned dull, grey and un-inspiring, but with a thaw forecast overnight, we had to give it one last try, even if it was to only be a recce of the location. As it turned out, the conditions were favourable and I even found a simpler clump of vegetation to add my foreground interest, so job done, I could go home happy and not worry too much about the impending thaw.

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.

A Baa-rilliant Day On The Moors

Tuesday was due to be snowy, so I set the alarm for early and headed down the lane near home to a location I’d had in mind for a while. As the light came up it all looked promising, but just before sunrise, a snow squall blew in and obscured the colour in the sky, so I headed home for a coffee and a warm up, then loaded the car for a day out on the moors.



Despite all the dire warnings on the news, the Whitby moor road proved to be clear apart from a little slush, so we pressed on towards Goathland in the hope of getting onto Egton moor. As it turned out the council had done a great job ploughing the back roads and we made it up to the crossroads above Grosmont without any problems. Understandably the Egton moor road hadn’t been ploughed, so I was faced with walking the last half mile to the famous lone tree. It was fascinating to see such a large area of pristine snow untouched by human, but absolutely covered in bird and animal tracks. As I reached the tree, the snow wasn’t quite deep enough to fully cover the heather, so I wasn’t able to produce the pure white image I had in mind. Two disappointments before 9 o’clock, this was proving to be a difficult day!


After Egton moor, we backtracked towards Goathland and suddenly spotted some sheep on a bank near Two Howes moor. Janet had the camera on her lap ready to go and as we jumped out of the car the heavens opened and a blizzard started to fall horizontally. At first only a few sheep came to see us, then more, then loads more, until we must have had nearly a hundred. I crouched in the lee of the car to shelter as the sheep lined up on the bank, whilst Janet headed into the group like the pied piper of Goathland. As she walked away they all followed, then she turned back towards the car and they all followed her back again, what an amazing sight! They were obviously hoping she would feed them. We left this scene smiling and hopeful we’d some good shots in the bag, but with all the milling about by the sheep, who knows what we might have got. As it turned out, we’ve come away with a set of good images.

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After Goathland, we headed for Egton Bridge in the hope of getting to Danby, but met some ice on a sheltered hill so failed to get up the slope towards Limber Hill. A quick detour back to Egton Bridge and we stopped for a nice lunch at the Blacksmith’s Arms in Egton Bridge, where a cheery landlord served us a huge beef sandwich, lovely!

Suitably refreshed we headed for Lealholm on dry roads and little snow! A quick look up Fryupdale, soon showed we wouldn’t be going up on to Danby Rigg as that hill hadn’t been ploughed, so we backtracked again and ended up at Fat Betty to marvel at the wind sculpted snow drifts.


Then on down to Bell End where the light on Hill Plantation was great so we stopped for another shoot only for the sky to cloud over with another squall just on sunset.


A grand day out with mixed results, but now we’ve had a chance to review our images it certainly looks like having been a productive one with a whole flock of sheep images that we are really pleased with and quite a bit stock as well.

A passion revisited ……

I first became interested in infra-red photography in 2003 when I met a lovely lady called Kathy Harcom and spent a day with her in the New Forest along with Roger Maile the then editor of a fabulous magazine called Digital Photo Art. Sadly DPA is no more as well as Creative Monochrome which was a great loss to all its followers.

I didn’t know much about Infra-red photography before then even though I grew up with black and white film but what I did know was it was very tricky to handle and process. I had come across a few IR photos mainly from a friend David who had briefly dabbled in the medium.

Meeting Kathy was one of those ‘Eureka’ moments, especially when we went back to her house and she brought out her prints. Masterpiece followed masterpiece and I was totally in awe of the work she produced. There is something of the otherworldly about IR photography that appealed to me then and continues to this day.

So back home and full of enthusiasm I decided to give it a go after doing a bit of research and talking to friends (“don’t go there” and “you can do it on the computer” being recurring comments). As usual I decided to go my own way and bought some IR film.

The film had to be loaded into the camera in complete darkness so I had to get one of those black bags that you put your camera, film and arms in, zip it up and then try and load the film into the camera by touch! That was the easy part!

Film loaded, now where to go and take my masterpieces? I needed a place with lots of overgrown foliage and something interesting among the foliage. I know, York Cemetery.

I was using an Olympus OM2 and the great thing about the Zuiko lenses was that they had the infra-red focusing line on them so focusing was made easy with that. (IR light is a different wavelength to normal light so a slight adjustment in the focus is required.) Added to that I had to bracket the shots so I took +2 stops, +1 stop, normal, -1 stop and -2 stops! So out of a 36 roll of film I could take 5 different scenes. Invariably I realised after a while that the ‘normal’ one was the best exposure of the lot so I was able to cut down the amount of bracketing a lot and get more out of the film.

York Cemetery is a fabulous place for photography, if you like wild places and don’t mind the odd scratch from the brambles. It’s a haven for wildlife and plant life in the middle of York.

Back to the black bag to unload the film and load it onto a spindle to go in the developing tank. Easier said than done, getting the film out of the camera was the easy part, threading it on to the spindle by feel took ages, aided by a lot of unladylike swear words (not sure they helped!) and it’s at moments like this when you can’t do a thing about it that you need to sneeze! Of course you can’t take your arms out of the bag because that runs the risk of letting in light which would be disastrous for the film.

I very carefully processed the film, it’s amazing how long you can hold your breath at this stage, anticipating and fretting at the same time! At last the film was processed and ready to come out, dare I? Phew, there is something there and it may be in focus and OK.

Once dry the negs were scanned and ready for printing.

1SCAN-YORK4-JYork Cemetery

1SCAN-YORK5-JYork Cemetery

I was really pleased with my first attempt so buoyed with this success I bought a further 5 rolls of film at £10 each and we took them on holiday with us to Mull.

There was lots of subject matter and one that really appealed was a boat slowly sinking into the pond at Calgary Art in Nature.

SCAN-DOVECOTE POND-JPond at Calgary Art in Nature, Isle of Mull

Secret ShedI went back a couple of years later with the DSLR,the boat had gone, I think it had been used to roof this shed!

Disaster struck though and out of the 5 rolls this was the only decent shot. Somewhere along the line light had leaked onto the film and ruined it all. Feeling very depressed the camera was put away in disgrace.

Soon after that we bought our first DSLR, a Nikon D70 with one of the tiniest screens I’ve seen, thank goodness they have improved considerably since then. It was soon after getting this camera that we learned that we could take IR images on it by using an IR filter on the front of the lens. The early DSLR’s didn’t have the IR blocking filter that the later ones have.

So, buy the filter and go out into the garden to try it out, it seems to work, hooray! A bit fiddly but a lot easier than the film technique, AND you can see immediately whether the exposure and composition are correct.

The D70 was a great little camera and I took some of my best IR images with it, until I dropped into the lake at Castle Howard Arboretum! It was full of smelly, green slime, ugh!

How GillOne of my favourite IR images, on the Osmotherley road.

70-1-5029-REven Richard got the bug, this one from Kingthorpe on the Pickering to Whitby road.


So my IR journey had another hiccup.

By 2014 I was getting serious withdrawal symptoms so I decided to investigate the possibility of getting an IR converted camera, this is one that has had the IR blocking filter taken out and been replaced with a filter that lets the IR light in. I had to do quite a lot of research to make sure I got the right camera as some conversions still require the infra-red filter on the front of the lens. This is something to bear in mind when looking at IR conversions on the likes of Ebay, always read the small print and find out before you bid. Basically if you want a camera that will take both colour and IR images you want the camera conversion the still requires an IR filter on the lens. If you want a camera that takes IR images only and nothing else you need the conversion that replaces the filter inside the camera.

Since getting the converted camera it’s had quite a few outings and I’m gradually re-honing my IR photography and enjoying every minute. It’s given the much needed new perspective and interest I was craving for so long may it last.

90-0271-JWalking in the woods at Cawthorne

90-0281-JWalking in the woods at Cawthorne

90-0348-RTrees at Calgary Art in Nature, Isle of Mull

90-0085-JTemple of the Four Winds, Castle Howard

90-0497-JThe Nelson Gate, Duncombe Park

The Reading Room, Appleton-Le-Moors

Islands in the Mist / Sun

With the surge in interest in landscape photography in recent years, all us landscape photographers are in danger of following each other around the same iconic locations in the world, so the opportunity to find a location that is truly original is getting ever harder. With this in mind I spend most of my time doing my own thing photographing within 20 miles of my home, but a couple of recent trips to Norway have wetted my appetite for ever more wild and remote places.

Almost everyone has tried places like Glencoe and the Isle of Skye and locations such as Iceland and Norway are seeing a huge increase in popularity, so finding a place that is not familiar is getting ever harder. I’d been on a day trip to the island of St. Kilda (40 miles due west of the Outer Hebrides) in 2010 and was blown away with the feel of the place, but it was a recent television program with Steve Backshall marooned for a night on the island of Boreray with a gorgeous sunset in the background that got my mind racing! This was just the place I was looking for, highly atmospheric and little visited. I did some research about the island and the way of life and became hooked. My research also revealed that it was possible for limited numbers of people to camp on the island, so I started making plans.


We duly booked a cottage on Harris as a base and I treated myself to a new tent and sleeping bag amongst many other bits and pieces. I’m used to camping within walking distance of civilisation, so I was very aware that anything I didn’t take, I would have to manage without. The other problem with St. Kilda is that you need to take a lot of spare food in case you get stranded by bad weather! The weather forecast for North West Scotland the week before we left looked poor and a phone call from Seamus the boatman on the Sunday night confirmed that the trip to St. Kilda was definitely off until Thursday as we had gales and intermittent rain. Fortunately Seamus rang on Wednesday night to say that we were on for Thursday, albeit only for a day trip. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to stay overnight, but it was an awful lot better than nothing.

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For the trip out to the islands, imagine a 700hp mini bus travelling at speed over continuous hump back bridges for 2 ¾ hours and you get the picture! Once on the island I was blown away by the feeling of the place and keen to try and capture the look and soul of the place, but the clear blue skies and harsh sunlight were hardly what I had expected! I spent some time capturing the deserted village and the almost unique Soay sheep that have inhabited the islands for 1000’s of years and then decided to try and capture something of the landscape. The light was looking promising over the island of Dun, so I took the long steep hike in that direction. The relatively  harsh light dictated the use of a polariser and a 3 stop ND grad to kill the glare and made me yearn to able to stay for when the light cooled in the evening.

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My next stop was the “Mistress Stone” where the young men used to prove their manhood by standing on one leg on top of the rock, but this practice was eventually phased out when they started to run out of young men…….It was a very precarious place to be and I was very careful with both myself and my camera gear as neither of us wanted to end up in the sea hundreds of feet below!

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Once back at the boat at 4pm we were treated to a trip around the sea stacks where we marvelled at the 10’s of thousands of seabirds; a great challenge for any wildlife photographer!


All in all a great trip, but now the challenge for me is to figure out how to achieve my goal to get myself out there to stay for a few nights on what is proving a logistically very difficult place to get to.

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Whitby Sunset

A couple of weeks ago we joined some friends on a group outing to Whitby on what proved to be a bright, sunny afternoon. I didn’t feel very inspired in the afternoon, but once we’d adjourned to the Fisherman’s Wife cafe for some fish and chips, the cooler evening light started to look much more promising.

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While we were waiting for the sun to go down, we watched the amazing spectacle of dozens and dozens of fishermen turning up to fish on the turning tide. An hour later they all trouped off again with bags crammed full of mackerel, leaving the pier clear for us photographers!


Once again it proved worth waiting for the light as we were treated to a spectacular sunset. There’s nothing worse than heading home empty handed and seeing a great sunset in your rear view mirror.