Category Archives: experience

The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness

I feel I owe those of you who follow me on Twitter for my photography an apology for the paucity of images in recent months – this is entirely due to the stress of recent months at work, as I mentioned in my last posting (Preview: The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness).  It seems almost perverse that such experiences could be the inspiration for a series of images that really speak to me.

I have now posted the complete set – 22 images – of The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness online, my first substantial complete set of images since 1. February this year.  It is a dark and lonely set of images that reflect an abstract interior landscape of the self, but I hope they will be of interest to some of you, and not just to me!  Click on the image to be taken to the page:

The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness 14

The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness 14

All were made on a Nikon FM2 with a 28mm lens, on a film emulsion that is new to me, but very beautiful: Neopan Acros 100.  I might still tend towards Ilford’s FP4+ or Delta 100, but the Acros is definitely a film I will use again.

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My own little adventures (ahem!)

Duncan Fawkes has written a blog posting that I wish I had written!  So this title is shamelessly plagiarised from him.

Something like this posting has been forming in my mind after my summer holidays in the north of Scotland and the Isle of Lewis.  However, Duncan has written what I wanted to write so eloquently, I think it’s better just to send you to his blog!  You may realise this is rather unusual for me – I wouldn’t normally just not write something, but on this occasion I think: why should I repeat what Duncan has said when his posting pretty much says what I want to say?  I even commented on his blog posting before realising I wanted to share his thoughts more widely.  Go have a read…

And whilst you’re on his site, have a look at his galleries – some lovely images there.

Why workshop?

A while ago I mentioned on Twitter that I had booked myself a place on a photography workshop. Someone commented on this in what felt like a throw-away remark, saying they had never seen the point of going on workshops. So I – in 140 characters! – sought to explain why this was important to me. Now that I’m just back from the workshop I booked on at the time, I thought I’d try and say more about it, and include some images from the time away (these are just the digital ones – I have yet to take the film rolls to be developed).

Achnahaird Bay

Achnahaird Bay

Firstly, it’s worth noting that I have no formal artistic training (unlike my correspondent, who has, I think, a degree in art/photography), and so for me, I hope that a workshop can serve partly to teach me something. Secondly, having a pretty intense full-time job means that if I get the time to go and photograph for a few days and do nothing but think about photography, that is really fantastic!  The week was a proper holiday, and I didn’t read a single academic text whilst away (even though I did have a book with me… I rarely travel without one!).

Thirdly, and most importantly for me, engaging with a photographer leading a workshop is about having someone critique what I do and help me move forward in my thinking and my photography.

Loch Bad a' Ghaill

Loch Bad a' Ghaill

My week away was with Bruce Percy, who has been running workshops for several years now.  Exactly two years before going on this Assynt workshop, I went (with my neighbour, Mabel Forsyth) to Torridon on one of his weekend workshops.  That was a great experience, as I wrote about here at the time.  So I was confident the week in Assynt would be a good week.

There are some people who seem to be workshop-regulars, going from one to the next all the time. I am not like that: I have attended a couple of other day-workshops in recent years, but have not been on residential workshops other than the one in Torridon and this one in Assynt.  So if you’re wanting me to offer comparisons, I can’t do so (though I have now heard quite a few horror stories of other workshops, some by really famous photographers… and no, I won’t say more on this).  My main purpose in going to Assynt with Bruce was that I wanted to rediscover something about my own reasoning and motivation for making photographs – especially landscapes – that I had found increasingly difficult to identify in recent times.  I felt I knew enough theory in terms of operating my cameras (though of course, Bruce was able to help me improve in certain areas, such as my exposures and hyperfocal focusing). But I felt I needed input on more important things, especially aspects of composition and how and why I frame the way I do or give more attention to certain things in a scene, and what all that says about my own ‘visioning process’ (sorry, I think that is a rather horrible phrase, but I can’t think of a more suitable one; pre-visualisation covers some of it, but is not the same thing).

Glencanisp Lodge, with view to Suilven

Glencanisp Lodge, with view to Suilven

Of course, this is not something that I discussed in any detail with Bruce before or during the workshop, because I knew from previous experience that this might come anyway – and it did.  One of the two key things for me in thinking about a workshop is that I have to like the photographs that the workshop leader makes, and I really love Bruce’s work – it offers depth and challenge, simplicity and elegance, in both his landscapes and portraits. Of course, I have no desire to create images that are like Bruce’s, even if I could do so, since they represent his vision and not mine; however, I feel I can relate to his vision. I have come to realise that the other key thing for me is that I have to feel I can connect to the leader, and that he or she can connect to me.  Of course, I’m privileged in that I was able to go on the Torridon workshop with Bruce and I therefore knew him a little already; and we’ve also become friends over the last couple of years – that is not something that is necessarily open to people who don’t live in the next neighbourhood to a workshop leader!  But it is possible to at least gain some impression of the person from their images and their writings (such as their blog) and this offers good clues.  And, of course, you can trust my recommendation that Bruce is a great workshop leader! 🙂

So, is it possible to sum up what it was that I gained from Bruce’s input? There are a number of things that come to mind, but the main one for me can be outlined in the following terms.  At the beginning of the week, he noted that he sometimes found it difficult to understand exactly what I was seeing and why I had gone for a certain composition (I did say this was perhaps because the images were no good, but Bruce disagreed!).  A day or two later he began to suggest that my visualising of scenes was perhaps too selective – I tended to visualise one or two really significant elements in a potential image, but I did not always frame these in a way that meant they were as apparent as I wanted them to be, whether this be unusual shapes, repeated lines, patterns on hills, the interplay between different elements in a scene, and so on. This is not simply about excluding extraneous elements – even if I intended to crop the image from whatever I saw in the viewfinder – although this is also a factor (see the tree image I discussed here recently and the grass in the bottom right of the image: 1, 2). Rather, for me, it is about expanding the view of the scene as a whole, about being able to encompass the elements that form the shapes, colours and tones in a way that enables a more holistic image to emerge.  That is what I want to achieve, and I know that I do that, but not always as consistently as I would like.

At Achnahaird Bay, looking south

At Achnahaird Bay, looking south

Of course, this is just me.  Other participants will hopefully have found something in Bruce’s critiques (there were 2-3 hours of image critiques on every day but one; other participants also commented on images) that helped them with whatever they thought they needed – or perhaps that they didn’t know they needed.

A month or two ago I removed all the landscape galleries from this site.  There really was a lot of rubbish there, in amidst some images that I liked.  Before going to Assynt I had begun the process of recreating the galleries and they are gradually going to reappear, but this time with far fewer, more carefully selected images.  In general, I make photographs for myself and not for others: being clearer about what I’m doing is therefore essential, and I feel the week away with Bruce has enabled me to see much more clearly exactly what kind of images I want to create, and given me more tools to enable me to go about doing that.  Those are the images I want to show here.

In essence, I feel I am approaching my photography with new confidence, a clearer sense of why I’m doing it, and how to go about achieving what I want. So in answer to my correspondent: that’s why I wanted to go on this workshop! 🙂

Models wanted!

A modern-day Mary Poppins?!

A modern-day Mary Poppins?!

I’ve just added a new page to this site asking for people interested in modelling for me to get in touch – no previous experience required, and all kinds of ‘looks’ and ages welcome!

I’m keen to build up experience in this area, and would be very grateful for any contacts.  So please help me and spread the word – thank you!

Marc Silber interviews Bob Holmes

I love the Marc Silber interviews, which last about 10 minutes and pick up on famous photographers working in a variety of areas.

Today I was watching him interview Bob Holmes, who said the most important thing in photography is seeing (“most people look and don’t see”).  Like so many other good photographers, he can’t be doing with people who focus just on camera equipment: he says people should be looking at other photographers’ work in order to be inspired by them.  And how to improve? “Keep shooting.  Shoot as much as you can.  Photography is deceptively simple: you can’t expect to pick up a violin and play it within a week, but people expect to pick up a camera and take great photographs within a week – and it just doesn’t happen… practice, practice, practice.”

Read the manual! And…

After much deliberation and a recommendation from Bruce Percy, I recently bought a Sekonic L-758D lightmeter.  It is fiendishly complicated to try and understand all the features, but I do now understand the basics, and it is a fantastic device (and I will probably never need to use all the features anyway).  I’ve read the manual through, and remembered thinking how cleverly designed everything about it was.  Even the pouch it came in had a little pocket for a spare battery.  The manual encouraged carrying a spare, just in case the battery in the meter ran out – and explicitly said the battery that was supplied may have been in the device for a while and that a spare should be bought promptly.  Very clever.

I find the meter most useful in determining the differences in dynamic range, and then using graduated filters to reduce the range, thereby creating a usable image.  This evening, I was wanting to capture a lovely ruin in the evening light, and just knew the shadows would be too dark or the highlights blown out without use of a grad filter.  So I dug the light meter out of my bag, turned it on – and the battery was flat.

Of course, I had thought when reading the manual that the idea of buying a spare battery was very sensible, but I hadn’t acted on it.

Kaiserswerth 1

Kaiserswerth - with dark shadows

So I thought I’d try the shot anyway.  It was rubbish, as you can see here – the shadows are almost completely black, and whilst the sky and bricks are fairly rich in tone, the overall image is lousy.  So I tried using the camera’s spot meter and working out the difference between the shadow area and the lighter wall.  Rather improbably, my mental arithmetic from thinking through the variant shutter speeds at my chosen aperture came up with 8 stops – quite high, I thought.  But I went with my calculations, and used a 9-stop grad.  And this second image is the result – flat and boring.

Kaiserswerth 2

Kaiserswerth - flat and boring

Yes, I could have tried a 6- or a 3-stop grad (I later worked out it was a 4 or 5 stop difference), but I was so put off and annoyed by the whole experience that I just didn’t bother.  I walked back to the town centre to an electrical store to buy the special battery needed (it takes a CR123A, not just a normal AA battery!), and then went back to the ruin.  Of course the light was gone.  Pah.

Lesson for today: Read the manual.  And when the clever people who designed such a clever device make a recommendation in their manual, I should act on it.  I’ll try and do so from now on, promise.

PS I did only buy one battery, in case you’re wondering.  I’d recommend that when buying one as a spare, especially of a more exotic kind, you buy it from another shop so you are more likely to not end up with two batteries that go flat at the same time.  So tomorrow or the next day I’m going to find another battery retailer…

PPS I’m aware I could have tried to create an HDR image – but 99% of the time, the resultant images repulse me, so I wasn’t going to start going down that route.  I’d rather learn the lesson and lose the image than end up spending a lot of time on an image I’d hate in the end anyway, given that I’ve never tried my hand at HDR manipulation…

There’s always another day, another photograph…

What makes a good photographer?

Matthew Jordan Smith has some simple advice for becoming a better photographer:

To become a better photographer first you’ve got to be secure in who you are, you’ve got to know who you are, and be secure in putting that out there, ’cause the secret of being a great photographer is being you, putting your stamp on all your images, and that takes a little soul-searching.

The interview this quote is taken from is on the Silber Show – a really interesting resource, with lots of short interviews with great photographers.