Tag Archives: Bruce Percy

On visualisation

Bruce Percy has published another eBook that I have been privileged to proof-read, so I know it’s good!  Click here and you’ll see the first volume on visualisation.  Volume 2 is still to come.

Tree in Edinburgh

Tree in Edinburgh

Bruce discusses ways of thinking and seeing images in advance of squeezing the shutter, at the moment the shutter goes, and afterwards.  It’s tremendously helpful to someone like me when thinking about how I see what I think I want to photograph.  For example, whilst I like this image a lot, I might have tried to take it quite differently after reading the book: despite being heavily cropped, it’s still quite ‘busy’, and although I obviously can’t cut all the bushes and trees down round about it (I’m no Michael Fatali, in all senses of the phrase!), I might have tried harder to reframe it in some other way.  Fortunately, because it was taken on black and white print film (Ilford Delta 100, if you’re interested!), scanning it at a high resolution allows it to be cropped down to a smaller size whilst still being large enough to produce substantial prints.  Something useful can therefore still emerge from the original concept I had when visualising the tree.

Bruce’s book deals with all these issues and many more in his usual lucid and engaging way – highly recommended.


Engaging with composition

Bruce Percy has written a fantastic ebook about composition, which will be of interest to anyone working in photography, film-making, art…  He has a phenomenal understanding of what makes an image work, and communicates this very ably through lots of his own photographs, clear and detailed explanations gently written, and diagrams.  Here’s a sample page from his blog:

Bruce Percy, 'Simplifying Composition'

Bruce Percy, 'Simplifying Composition'

How do I know this book is so good?  Because I was privileged to be asked to read it in advance and make comments… 😉

Taj Mahal: a photographer’s approach

This is the title of an ebook by Bruce Percy, one of my favourite photographers.  I was lucky enough to be asked to read it in draft form, and it is brilliant.

Taj Mahal: a photographer's approach

Taj Mahal: a photographer's approach

Above all, although it’s written by a great photographer, it is a not just a book for photographers.  I’m sure anyone involved in any kind of art or creative processes will find it immensely helpful.

Two words: BUY IT!

Photography or image capture?

I’ve just been at a seminar led by David Rodowick of Harvard University on historicising virtual images in a cinematic context.  Whilst most of this is way beyond my own academic field and most definitely not something I’d want to pursue in any meaningful way, I had a brief conversation with him afterwards about photography.  He doesn’t talk about movies that are digital as ‘films’, arguing that there is something essentially chemical about film which is not present in digital imaging using a digital video camera, for example.

In a similar way, he said he doesn’t talk about ‘digital photography’, but about ‘image capture’, because ‘photography’ involves a chemical process, whereas digital cameras are recording data.  The data is manipulated and eventually turned into something analogue, otherwise we couldn’t see it (a screen is, after all, an analogue device).  Film, once treated in the appropriate chemicals, can be held up to the light and the image can be seen without this kind of manipulation (though of course, how the chemicals are applied, in what concentration, temperature and for how long has a profound impact on the resulting image).

Is it important to make this differentiation?  It is if we are thinking about how we visualise what we photograph and then compare it to how we see the end result.  In Torridon Bruce Percy described his workflow from taking the photograph on his film camera: he develops his film, and then scans it in on a high quality scanner, producing very large digital files which he can then manipulate in Photoshop.  These files essentially become his negatives, he said.  Thinking about Rodowick’s comments makes me wonder about the way they become his ‘negatives’ – after all, the tangible pieces of film are still the ‘real’ negatives (which I presume he keeps somewhere very safe!), and all there is on the computer is a collection of data – zeros and ones that can be re-converted into an analogue form in the right circumstances.

Half Dome, Blowing Snow - by Ansel Adams

Half Dome, Blowing Snow – © Ansel Adams

Ken Rockwell talks about ‘Real Raw’, meaning film, and if we think of the ways in which some of the great photographers have used film, we know that this is qualitatively different to digital image capture.  For example, we know that Ansel Adams used film, and so this famous image by him (‘Half Dome, Blowing Snow’ – click it to go to the Ansel Adams site where you can buy a print), is a digital scan of a piece of tangible film – the very same piece of film that was actually at the scene where this image was taken, in Adams’ camera. In a very real sense, the film ’saw’ this scene, which we couldn’t say about digital cameras!  The conversion of the analogue image to digital loses something… and many people feel this also happens with digital cameras, which is why so many people – myself included – still like film so much.

We can see this more obviously in the cinematic context: I recently bought a DVD of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ – originally shot on film, of course.  However, it has now been scanned into a computer in order to make a DVD – a digital method of reproducing a film (or perhaps I should say: a film-like experience!).  As digital technology improves, the archived film strip will be scanned again and again to obtain ever higher resolution and improved sound… but the ‘negative’, if you like, is still a tangible analogue substance – ‘Real Raw’.

Although for day-to-day photography thinking about all this is perhaps largely irrelevant, I think it is important to always remember that images coming from a digital camera (especially so-called ‘raw files’) are like a negative, but are not the same as a negative, which is a different kind of process and a different way of recording images.  So David Rodowick is right, I think, to talk about ‘image capture’ rather than ‘digital photography’ in contrast to film photography.  But for all practical purposes, it is perhaps simply something to be aware of when choosing the medium for capturing a particular scene (‘how will this work best?’), rather than necessarily employing this language in the everyday context of creating images.

P.S. None of this is to say that image capture on a digital camera isn’t a form of art – it’s just a different way of doing it than happens with a film camera.

P.P.S. I think I now realise more acutely why I dislike Adobe’s use of the word ‘negative’ in the name for their archival format for the raw files generated by digital cameras: DNG, for ‘digital negative’.  Of course, I still use DNG for my digital images…!


Yesterday I was raving to someone at work about the Torridon workshop, and in the course of the conversation I described my ‘art’ on RedBubble.  I paused, and felt quite self-conscious about describing what I do as ‘art’ – but it is!  Serendipitously, Bruce Percy posted some questions about art on his blog yesterday, which is eliciting some really interesting comments (ok, you might not think much of mine, but other people are writing very stimulating stuff!).

I assume Bruce’s questions connect to a beautiful film about Michael Kenna that appeared on his blog a few days ago.

Torridon – the art of adventure photography part 4

After my previous posts about the Torridon workshop, I wanted to leave a little bit of mental distance and reflect on the weekend.  I’m actually finding this quite difficult!  It’s a week later, and Torridon seems like a very long time ago at the moment.  In an email exchange with Bruce today, I noted this, and he responded by saying:

Like you – I was thinking today that the Torridon trip felt like it was a lifetime ago.
I think that’s the sign of a trip that has affected you or changed you in some way, or perhaps just had some kind of impact on you.
I often feel like that after a good workshop, and more so when I return home from a really life changing photographic trip!

Too right, Bruce!  But I’ve been very busy with work this week and have had very little time to get out and take any photographs.  However, at the beginning of the week, I did stop on the way to work and sought to capture an impression of Stirling Castle from Bridge of Allan that I consciously felt to be quite different to previous images.  I was using my Nikon FM2 with Velvia slide film, so I don’t yet know whether the image will work, but even just the process of thinking about the framing and composition felt different… more… considered, if you like.  One of Bruce’s lines is that ‘to explore the world through photography, is to explore oneself’.  That is something I’ve felt more acutely than ever before as a result of this weekend: in relation to one of the critique sessions, I said I found the need to open myself to relative strangers quite difficult, though it is good, very good to do so…  I’m not sure I can say much more than this at the moment, but perhaps the fact that I’ve been reviewing old images for possible inclusion in a sales gallery is also indicative of an effect from the weekend – I feel much more able to be constructively self-critical of my own work, which is also a process of self-exploration.  Of course, as an academic, I do this all the time with my writing, and although I can discern similar processes in my assessment of photographs, the criteria and methodology of assessment and critical appreciation are somewhat different.

Bruce Percy

Bruce Percy

I want to mention the mysterious brown A4 envelope Bruce gave each of us as we were leaving (see my third post).  This is amazing: it contains a series of printed guides written by Bruce, as well as a CD with these tutorials on it AND a sample image from Bruce’s own work, showing pre- and post-processing.  Not only are these beautifully and clearly laid out, but they are also incredibly informative, with precise details and helpful guides and tips.  Not having known about these guides, I went and made notes on some of what Bruce showed us during the critical review sessions – but everything I noted down is contained here, and much more coherently written!  I’m sure Bruce could sell printed versions of these guides and people would love them.  Perhaps, one day, we can look forward to a book of Bruce’s images, along with inlays such as these (I love photo books and feel I learn a lot from studying other images, but would also like to see hints of some of the processes involved).  To give an impression of what is covered, here is a list of the contents (note that in complying with Bruce’s request not to distribute these documents, the image here is just a low-resolution screen capture of one of the covers of Bruce’s documents; clicking it takes you to Bruce’s site, not the document):

  • a document entitled ‘Bruce’s Approach’ (‘My aim is to try to realise the full potential of a location in such a short space of time’ – I couldn’t sum it up any better!)
  • an explanation of how to use Adobe Camera Raw etc. in the ‘Raw Conversion Process’
  • ‘Digital Darkroom Printing Techniques’ (for Adobe’s Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop Elements)
  • and 3 documents on understanding bit depth, exposure and monitor calibration.

A fantastic gift, on top of all that Bruce gave us of himself over the course of the weekend!

Overall, if I were to be asked to say one thing about the workshop, it would be: go on one yourself! Whether you’re just starting out or have been photographing for years, whether you have a basic camera (mine is the cheapest in Nikon’s DSLR range) or a top of the range full-frame colossus/medium format camera, spending time with Bruce will almost certainly improve your images.  He is a tremendously accomplished photographer, but far more importantly, he has a warmth and generosity of spirit coupled with a deep sensitivity and connection to his creative abilities – and he knows how to communicate all of this.  A great pedagogue, you will quickly realise you are also in the presence of a great artist who is willing to give of himself in sharing aspects of his photographic craft with you. And that is what really makes going on one of Bruce’s workshops worthwhile… I’m going to be saving up for a week-long course at some point (I just need to persuade the family they want to do this too!).

Torridon – the art of adventure photography part 3.1

In my last post I mentioned Bruce’s exclamation about my tree photograph: he obviously really does like it, because you’ll now also see it on his page advertising the Torridon courses (I was emailing him today to thank him for the weekend, and said he could use anything in my emails or blog entries to promote his workshops if he wanted to do so).  I’m very flattered…

He has also included that image, part of an email I wrote to him and a link to this blog on this page; at these locations you’ll also find two fabulous images, along with comments, from Mabel Forsyth, my incredibly talented neighbour who went on the weekend trip with me.