Tag Archives: cityscape

Visiting Bergen, one of the most beautiful cities in the world

I am currently in Bergen, Norway, for a work conference that is due to start in a little while. Bergen is without a doubt one of my favourite cities in the world, and I love returning here – even the 30 minutes on the airport bus to the city centre is a delight!

I haven’t been able to bring my medium format camera as I had initially planned (I would have had to leave some essentials for the conference behind, and I didn’t feel I could justify that!), but I did bring my Nikon D90 and a couple of the small prime lenses. I’m staying on for meetings for a couple of days after the conference, and plan to get out early in the morning and late at night with the camera on those days.

In the meantime, here’s an impression of the harbour last night, with the 50mm/f1.4 lens at 20 seconds/f8. The camera is resting on a post.

Bergen harbour at night

Bergen harbour at night

[NB This posting was imported from another blog I once used, and the comments do not therefore follow the exact pattern of normal posts.]

Photographic narration – narrating photographs

Stephanie, icon of the silver screen

I have begun to rework some of my image galleries, which I thought were becoming somewhat stale and not very helpfully organised.  In addition, I began to feel that just ‘dumping’ a series of images in a gallery was no longer what I wanted to do.  Photographs should both tell a story, but there is also a story behind most photographs.  So my galleries are now organised by type: land (land- and cityscapes), models, events.  Within these broad categories the galleries will hopefully offer more of a sense of the story behind the photographs, as well as – in part – perhaps suggesting ways in which the photographs might be interpreted.  Of course, this latter approach is broadly about how I understand my own work, and that isn’t necessarily how others see it! 🙂

In the first instance, I’ve done some work on the models galleries.  There are several reasons for this:

  1. there are a limited number of galleries making this a task that was more easily manageable!
  2. for a while now I have felt I wanted to pay homage to Stephanie, who has been a profound influence on my portraiture.  In the introductory narrative to the models section, I describe her role to me as a photographic muse (and I’m already thinking of the beginning of a new series of photographs that I’d like to start with her when she is next in Scotland, whenever that’s going to be).  I have therefore written what are almost little photographic essays about our first two portrait sessions that might be of interest (do start with the Edinburgh narrative and then move on to the London collection!).
  3. although I was very aware that I would have to put a lot of work into these particular narratives, I don’t expect many of the other galleries to involve quite so much work.  This means I am better able to gauge the task, but also see how a detailed textual accompaniment would work.

My next task will be a little tidying up and adding to for the events section, and then I’ll begin to work on the landscapes – this looks as if it will be the most work because there are more galleries and images, but as noted above, I don’t see myself writing quite as much as I did for the two long Stephanie essays.  I’ll be splitting the land galleries up into countries or regions, and will also include some of my photographs from the Middle East.

Of course, this is a bit of an ongoing project for the moment, and so I would be very interested in any comments – good, bad, indifferent – about what I am trying to do here.  Please either use the comments sections below, or write to me directly using the contact page – thank you!

My most beautiful model - see the Galleries, Models page for more information

My most beautiful model – see the Galleries, Models page for more information

On broken bones and flying skills

Last Friday I ran to catch a bus to work, slipped on the wet pavement outside my neighbours’ house, crashed to the ground and spent the rest of the weekend in hospital.  I won’t go into all the gory details, not least since I can only type with my left hand, having severely broken my right arm.  I’m signed off work for now, and can’t even think about picking up a camera!  Grrrrr…

As I was in my hospital bed, I found myself thinking of how stupid I had been to run (more than one person pointed out that if you miss a bus, another will be along in a wee while…), and thought of the amazing stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill – I’m sure he never broke his arm on something so mundane – but as I was describing him to someone in hospital I just couldn’t remember his name!  Tonight I turned my computer on to find that Bruce Percy had written about just the film I was thinking of… so I thought I’d post it too as I love it so much: watch it full-screen if you can, and enjoy MacAskill’s amazing skill on a bike, the beautiful photography of Scotland, the great music… and think of me with my sair arm (actually, sair leg and sair head too):

(And I’ll be offline here for a little while, given that it’s taken me over an hour to write this, and I have some work things I really must do.)

Cityscapes and landscapes

As a historian by day and a photographer by night (as it were), I find I am fortunate enough to have two very different creative outlets: archival and writing work, and the making of images. And later today I am off to Germany for a week and will be able to indulge in both: I’m going to a private archive in Düsseldorf for a few short days, and then – via a circuitous train journey through half of Germany in order to include a meeting with a colleague – going on to visit family in the north. The archive is very close to the Rhine and so I’m hoping for some evening or night opportunities there, and my family live in a small town called Ratzeburg, which is on an island surrounded by three lakes; I’m hoping to catch the sunrise at least once across one of the lakes.

It all sounds like a near-perfect week, combining enjoyable work and pleasurable past-time… especially after the long and exhausting semester I’ve had…

The freedom to photograph

You may have noticed, lower down this page, a small banner with the slogan “photography is not a crime”.  This is about a campaign against the use of (so-called) anti-terrorism laws to stop photographers from taking photographs in public places. I put this there after my own (minor) brush with authority on this issue earlier this year, whilst trying to take some photographs of an interesting roof.

Today’s Independent has a really interesting article about this.  It appears police in England and Wales are being told to use common sense in this regard, and not to stop people taking photographs who are completely harmless!

Maybe things are improving – but we’ll see if the ‘police on the street’ pay any attention to this.

The magic of the right light

Most photographers know that the best light for photographing landscapes is usually found at sunrise and sunset. Taking photographs in the middle of the day is rarely a good idea, unless there’s a way of mitigating the glare of the midday sun, or it’s intended to be an integral part of the photograph. It’s easy, of course, to find out sunrise and sunset times online (all decent weather sites offer that information for most common locations). But I’ve also just found a great little application for identifying these times that is available (free!) for the iPod touch/iPhone. I don’t know how to post a link to it, but a search for “Daylight” in the “Apps” section of iTunes should work. Not only does it show sunrise and sunset times, but also dawn and dusk. This makes it even easier to plan ahead and catch the magical light that can transform the landscape at those times.

If you live near the sea, you might also want to know about tides.  I can recommend a free App called “Marine Day Tides”.


December: I’ve also added ‘MoonPhase’… which does exactly what it says: tells you when the moon is doing what!

Taking the time…

This can be read as a parallel reflection on the text I wrote about portraits a few days ago.  It might be terribly tedious because it might be very obvious to you – but it’s about my own exploration of a key issue in my landscape photography.

I have taken thousands of landscape photographs on and off for about 20 years.  When I bought my first SLR – I think it was a Pentax P30n with a 28-70 or so lens, a graduation present; later augmented by a Sigma telephoto zoom (ca. 80-200mm) – I was living on the island of Iona, working for the Iona Community.  Most of my days off were spent wandering about this small island in all seasons and weathers, taking photographs.  I bought the cheapest print film I could, and had to post it to a camera shop in Oban on the mainland for D&P – it took about a 10-14 days to get it back.  When I took my photos I didn’t always think to write anything down such as exposure or speed settings, and so in part just learnt incidentally from mistakes I could identify, and from other people (thanks, David, for advising me to underexpose a little to get richer colours – that was my first lesson!).  I had virtually no money (salaries were very low, and I needed to buy other essentials, like whisky!) so I could barely afford to buy sufficient film.  But in slightly less than 2 years I took hundreds and hundreds of photos, and developed my technique considerably.  One of my all-time favourite photographs of Iona Abbey comes from this period – one day I’ll get around to finding it, scanning it in and putting it on my website.

I moved from a remote Scottish island to Jerusalem and worked there for almost a year.  I used mostly black and white and some colour print film.  Some of it I developed (with help) in a lab in a local Palestinian newspaper, which used one or two of my images – this was street photography, more than anything else, often with a lot of energy behind it.  It was a fantastically creative time, and because I spent quite a lot of my time travelling in the illegally occupied territories, my photographs tended to be about Israeli abuse of Palestinians and the like; journalistic-style imagery.

On my return to Scotland, my life changed dramatically – I ‘got together’ with my wife!  Wonderful person she may be, but she doesn’t always appreciate the nuance of waiting for a photograph.  Now, in retrospect, I notice that this is when my photography began to change considerably.  When out walking, for example, I would still take my camera, but often felt myself to be under time pressure, even if it was more imaginary than real: I find it’s hard to walk backwards and forwards, take a few steps to one side or the other, stoop down, climb onto a bench – whatever! – in order to compose an image when I know someone else is standing there waiting for me to start walking on again.  Mark Twain famously once said that golf is a good walk spoilt – I’m sure there are many photographers’ partners who think of a camera in much the same way as Twain thought of golf clubs!

I found that I was often quite dissatisfied with my photographs, and felt I was ‘getting’ fewer good images than in those early days on Iona and in Jerusalem.  And, being a bit slow on the uptake, I’ve only recently realised why this is!  Interestingly, it connects directly with my first modelling session with Stephanie.  Afterwards, I wrote her a letter and thanked her for modelling for me.  In this letter I wrote about the experience of being able to (however tentatively!) tell her, my subject, what to do, and said that I was more used to the ‘impermeability of a landscape or cityscape, which only gives me meaning if I can take the time to wrestle and struggle with it.’

This, of course, is why I was so unhappy with my photographs.  I don’t think it’s possible to make my subject get into my frame – the whole photographic experience needs to be much more relaxed.  Even in this letter, I was making a fundamental mistake, I think.  Landscapes are rarely really impermeable, and using language like ‘wrestling and struggling’ is far too violent for what I mean.  Getting back to how I first learnt to take photographs on Iona has been key to rediscovering my landscape photography.

This is because regardless of the camera used, my photographing of landscapes needs one thing more than anything else – time.  I need to have the time to wander along a path, climb a hill, fall into a bog, sit on a beach, examine city waste-lands – and then something might catch my eye, might form a shape, a shadow, an outline I wasn’t expecting.  The ‘wrestling and struggling’ is not really about subjugation (which is what I think the letter to Stephanie implied), but about finding the photograph – looking for it, exploring angles, perspectives, vantage points and so on, until the image appears in my viewfinder as I see it in my head.  Sometimes I can’t find it, but like everything that one is searching for, it won’t be found if the time to look for it is not available.

If I’m trying to keep up with someone on a normal walk, all I will get are fleeting glimpses and snapshots – and occasionally a striking photograph.  So instead, I am now trying to differentiate between time spent with my family and time spent with my camera.  I’ll happily go with the snapshots – and then perhaps go back to the same location another time to walk more slowly and try to visualise the image I want to capture.

Holyrood Park, Edinburgh

Holyrood Park, Edinburgh

Making time to go out and spend time alone photographing is a luxury.  But it is one that has its own reward.  Even taking a couple of hours in the evening to go elsewhere in the city and photograph the evening sky can be worth it.  My wife is less intolerant of my photography than she could be (my teenage son has fewer inhibitions, and is often just downright rude!!), but since I want to spend quality time with her and focus on her, trying desperately to get images I glimpse in passing is not a good start.  And I know that she would rather I just went out for a few hours or days and took my photographs, and then was really there for her the rest of the time.

So I’m determined, having rediscovered this fairly basic point, to keep on making time – for family and photographs.

(Incidentally, the afore-mentioned Iona Community, of which I am a Member, includes accounting for use of time in its Rule, and a key element to this is maintaining a healthy balance between the different parts of one’s life.  In rediscovering this part of my photography, I’m even keeping the Rule more appropriately!)