Being a curator of one's own work

"Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop."
- Ansel Adams

Nothing is more convincing about the quality of a piece of work, than the test of time.

It's something I always think about when I finish working on a set of new images. 'Wouldn't it be great if I'm still happy with these images in many years to come', is something I always wonder. And each year as I move forward through life I find that I change, and my impressions of what I have created also change.

Isle of Harris. Image was shot in 2014. I'm still very pleased with this image, yet it is now three years old. I wonder, will I still feel this image is relevant for me in a decade's time? Does it have staying power for me?

Isle of Harris.
Image was shot in 2014. I'm still very pleased with this image, yet it is now three years old. I wonder, will I still feel this image is relevant for me in a decade's time? Does it have staying power for me?

Ansel Adams is quoted as saying "Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.". But even with those 12 images, there may have one or two that would become part of your canon: work that you would still be proud of in years to come.

It should be something we all aspire to.

Going out there to make images is only really one tiny part of being a photographer. We also have to curate our work. Curation is all about raising you family of images to be the best they can be. It is an on-going process of returning to your older work to review and select, to help those older images live with your newer work. Our older work isn't static, unchanging. We change towards it and as we do, we must also reflect and review and understand its place in our present. I've found that it is hard to gauge my work until a few years has passed, because it is only then that I see one or two images that seem to stand the test of time, and stand out over everything else I have shot.

I think as time goes on for me, as I am getting older, I am now starting to think of what I do as a record of who I was at a certain time. I now understand that some of them have more staying power than others and some have become really important to me as time has passed.

We should all be curators of our own work. We are responsible for collating, documenting, and organising our past so that it can sit alongside our most recent work. We have to tend our garden well and look after not just the new buds, but also the established ones as well.

Mediocrity awaits on Social Media

I read this interesting article about Spotify this week. It was not news for me: if I were to sum up the article it more or less says that creativity is being stifled by the need to create playlists that garner the most listens. It seems that Spotify are looking for playlists that are easy to consume, and will attract the most listens.

If you are a musician that has something unique to offer, you're more than likely going to get burried because only the popular, the music that appeals to the wider demographic will survive.

Fjallabak-(8)-b.jpg

It reminded me why I left Facebook and have not signed up for Instagram. The basic fault of these social media sites as I see it, is that diversity does not survive on them well. The conventional, expected kind of work that a majority will appreciate (and therefore probably isn't pushing any boundaries) is what does well on these sites. That is not to say it's awful work. My point is that diversity does not survive on these platforms when everything is judged by the same mechanism: popularity of like counts.

I left Facebook because I didn't want my art to be measured. Art shouldn't be measured. Like-counts just boil things down to value. Art is subjective, it is there to be interpreted by anyone and enjoyed in whichever way the viewer chooses to do so. To be told that one image got more likes than another is meaningless.

As far as I can see it, many social media platforms encourage conformity. Because in order to get the highest like count or highest viewings, you need to appeal to the middle-road. Do anything that's a little unconventional and you'll be buried.

So over two years ago I chose to leave Facebook. Twitter is another matter right now, as I feel that Twitter is there to encourage the dissemination of information. Short tweets encourage you to look at linked articles out in the web, whereas Facebook does not. It encourages you to stay in the realm of the Facebook bosom, and to consume what they want you to see.

So I left for these reasons: I'd much rather be an independent source. I like having all my eggs in my own basket, rather than give them to some faceless platform that doesn't care about what I'm doing, and will spit me out sooner than I can say 'boo'. I'd much rather foster my own content, build upon it, and own it. Which is what I do on my own website and blog. I wish to cultivate a place where people who 'get me' come to visit, where I don't feel I need to have to try to shout louder than others by offering what I think I they wan't in order to get others to listen. 

I don't see most social-media sites offering a way to be authentic in what you do. The ultimate result is always going to be to compete against others for views and traffic, and if you start thinking about what you can do to get others to like you : then you are lost.

It's such a soul-destroying experience to be on a platform where you are at the mercy of who they choose to let see your work. If you don't already know this, Facebook does not let your audience see what you do unless you pay them. It's social-media-discrimination. It's not social. It's the complete opposite. Yep, I had 4,000 people following me and each time I posted something I was lucky if 30% of them saw it. It's because I had to pay to reach the people who had asked to be notified about what I do. And when I did try an experiment to see what happened when I did pay, I started to reach people who's profiles showed little or zero interest in photography. In other words Facebook's algorithms are screwed. So badly screwed that almost nothing is true. In order to make me feel that I had to keep paying for reach, they offered me what I am convinced were fake likes. I doubt I was really reaching any of my original audience because they always wanted to keep them just out of reach.... just so that I would feel I need to keep paying. I never did it. I left instead.

Since I left over two years ago, I have not seen any decline in my business. I never saw any drop in web-traffic (because any posts I did put up on Facebook with a link back to my website or the original article were penalised and therefore not seen by my audience). Instead, I trusted in those who are genuinely interested in what I do. The really interested come directly to this blog or to my newsletter.

Facebook is not social media - in my view, it's blackmail. They are exploiting your hopes of reaching others and instead have set up a medium where you will have to continue to pay in the hope that you might reach those that expressed interest in what you do. It is also a place where the things that will reach bigger audiences are things that most people will already like or accept. Being different or having some kind of unique quality about what you do won't get picked up by large traffics of people. It encourages mediocrity because the easy to digest is what will survive the best on there. That's why I left Facebook. And I won't be back.

Photoshop's Curve tool Primer

Input-output-graph.jpg

Photoshop's Curve tool is no mystery to me, and if you are a frequent user of Photoshop then it shouldn't be to you either. That being said, I have found over the time I have been running my Digital-Darkroom workshop that many participants have a very basic understanding of the tool. Indeed, due to the non-intuitive nature of Photoshop I find that most think that the Curve tool is a mysterious thing.

The Curve tool is really a tone re-plotting tool. You can transpose a range of tones to being another range of tones by way of an input/output graph. The X axis (highlighted in green) conveys what the tone is before the transposition while the Y axis (highlighted in red) conveys what the tone will become.

In the curve example here, you can see that the anchor point in the middle of the graph is transposing mid-tones to upper-mid tones. In fact, any tone that is of value 128 (black = 0, white = 256) will be transposed to an upper tone of 192.

The curve (as the name suggests) is non-linear: meaning that although I have transposed tones in the middle region, I have altered tones elsewhere but to a lesser degree. More specifically, tones near the anchor point in the middle of the graph are transposed the most, while tones towards the black and white points (far left, far right) are transposed the least. This is illustrated by the blue area underneath the curve: the diagonal line in the graph is the 'no-change' waterline and the further away the curve moves from it, the larger the tonal-transposition. Where the wedge is thickest we get the most alteration in tone, and where the wedge is the thinnest we get the least change in tone. But ultimately tones throughout the entire image are being altered.

The Curve tool is really quite simple. It's just that we expect it to be quite difficult because it looks complicated.

Music for Image Editing

I can't edit in silence. The silence is too deafening and distracting.

It is simply too quiet for me to work as there is some part of my brain that needs to be kept occupied while the image-editing part works.

Steve Reich's 'Music for Mallets, Instruments, Voices and Organ' is a cyclical piece that I often use when editing my work.

I have found over time that certain kinds of music, but not all, can be used to occupy the part of my mind that needs to be kept busy while the rest of me works on my images.

In general, for me I've found that the best editing music is either cynical - full of repeating patterns, or has a wash like structure to it of long notes held over long periods. I believe it is the structure of the music that is the most important element for it to work as a background. Somehow the structure of repeating patterns and long washes of notes lend a hypnotic effect which allows my mind to zone out of the present moment and into the world that my images reside in.

It's also vital that the music does not demand too much of my attention - so highly dynamic music (going from quiet to loud) doesn't work. Any music I use has to have some form of trance ability to it, or for it to act as a form of 'audio-wallpaper'.

Steve Reich's 'Music for Mallets, Instruments, Voices and Organ', lends a certain quality of 'wallpaper' about it. It is a cyclical piece that is consistent in dynamics, with enough gradual variations over time to keep my background mind occupied. It provides enough of a 'trance' like effect to help bring my mind under a spell as I am brought out of my current existence and transported into a place where I can allow my mind to focus on the process of editing my work.

Environment, I think, is greatly overlooked when it comes to image editing, or being creative in general, not only do I have to have the right kinds of sounds around me, but I also need to be surrounded by the right levels of lighting. Perhaps I am more tuned-in, or too sensitive to what is around me? I don't think so: I think we all need a space that is conducive to creativity, and it is something that is personal for each of us.

Long washes of sound, such as this piece of music by Stars of the Lid provide the right setting for me to work on my images.

Are you the same? Do you find that you need to create the right setting in which to work? And do you sometimes feel that you can't find the right space in which to edit? Perhaps you can't find the piece of music you need, or perhaps it's more to do with the ambient light around you or the simple fact that you need some time to yourself to work on your images?

Our environment plays a big role in how we feel while we are editing our work and music can be a big part of that space. By choosing music that is non-distracting, or has some hypnotic aspect to it, we can create a suitable space that is conducive to good editing. 

Happy music choosing.

Digital Projection

Canon XEED WUX500
Canon XEED WUX6010

I think I'm a pretty passionate guy when it comes to wanting to display my work as best as I can.  Any good photographer should care very much about obtaining the best environment and materials to show their work. It is why some of us have personal preferences for the papers we print on.

For a long while I had been looking for a digital projector that would give me the equivalent image quality as what I see on a well calibrated computer monitor. I also needed a good digital projector for my workshops as we tend to sit in a room during the afternoons for around three hours doing image reviews / critiques and also some editing approach work. I needed a good digital projector for this also.

Canon WUX500 digital projector.

Canon WUX500 digital projector.

Way back in 2007 when I started to look into digital projection I found that the Canon LCOS series of projectors were the closest one could get to the quality I was seeking. Indeed I owned a Canon Xeed XS-50 and then a Canon Xeed SX-800 in my pursuit for the best image quality I could obtain. They were pretty good but they suffered in lack of dynamic range and in particular, they couldn't really display the detail in the shadows that an LCD screen conveys.

Canon WUX6010 digital projector.

Canon WUX6010 digital projector.

Over the past month I have bought two new projectors. The Canon Xeed WUX500 and Canon Xeed WUX6010. Both have an improved contrast ratio of 2000:1 as apposed to my previous projectors which had a ratio of just 900:1. They are also much brighter sitting at 5000 and 6000 lumens respectively. They are also full HD projectors with resolutions at 1920 x 1200. The resolution is so good that I can't see the pixels at comfortable viewing distances, and indeed, I am now able to see the film grain on my images now :-) 

The WUX500 is much quieter than the 6010 and also smaller. It is my preferred choice of projector for classroom work, while the 6010 is ideal for a larger venue as it allows for custom lenses to be fitted. Whereas the WUX500 has a fixed zoom lens (ideal for small rooms to medium / large scale rooms), the 6010's standard lens is designed for longer throw distances and therefore larger spaces. The 6010 has many lenses that can be fitted from wide angle (short throw) to telephoto (very long throw and therefore very large room).

The colour reproduction of both projectors out of the box is accurate. I do not need to calibrate them. They are also capable of showing image detail in the shadows - the biggest complaint I had about Canon's older projectors. Also, I notice that highlight detail is spot on also. Years ago I would find I had to play with the gamma setting on my old projectors to try to squeeze out the subtle highlight information present in some images. Not now - the WUX500 and WUX6010 both are capable of showing every detail that I see on a good quality LCD monitor straight out of the box.

If you are on the look out for a projector that is going to give you the closest reproduction to a high quality LCD screen, with full HD capability, then I can't recommend the Canon WUX500 enough. I think this is the projector to get out of the two I've mentioned: it is quieter, smaller, and just as bright as the larger 6010. Use it on 'Photo/RGB' mode, and turn the lamp to 'Power saving'. The lamp at full-power is too bright for most classroom work, and moving it to 'Power Saving' makes it more comfortable for the eye, and has the added bonus of making the projector so quiet you don't notice it.

I love digital projection. To me, it is similar to the beauty of looking at a transparency on a light-table. There is something wonderful about using light to illuminate photographs. It makes them more alive.

I would imagine this post today will be of interest to photographic clubs or professionals that are looking for the best reproduction they can get for their images. The price point of both projectors does not allow for these to be bought for amateur use (unless you are just as nutty as I am about projected light). I hope this review will be of good use to those that are looking. 

In a nutshell: digital projection has come of age. For a long while it was always the case that a projected image never looked as good as one displayed on a good quality LCD screen. This is now not the case any more. Digital projection can offer the same quality. You just have to choose the right projector and pay more for it than you would for an LCD screen.

The Canon XEED LCOS projectors - specifically the WUXGA models (1920 x 1200 pixels) are in my opinion strongly recommended.

Snow shoes for tripods

You may have noticed that I have a predilection for snow landscapes. They bring a certain minimalism to my compositions. As someone who has photographed in snow for many years now, I've always found it hard to keep my tripod from sinking so deep into the snow that sometimes it's much lower than I intended.

Gitzo GT5342LS included accessories, no longer offered. Note the big ski-pole like snow shoes. They were 'ok', but not really perfect. And now we have nothing.

Gitzo GT5342LS included accessories, no longer offered. Note the big ski-pole like snow shoes. They were 'ok', but not really perfect. And now we have nothing.

When I extend the legs (one of the many reasons why I choose to use a very very tall tripod) I can sometimes get round this issue and have the tripod at the height I want, despite the legs having sunk so far into the deep snow that it is often difficult to position the tripod exactly where I want.

On all my Gitzo tripod purchases, they have always come with an accessory bag that contains the items you see above: alen key's for tripod maintenance, grease for re-greasing the tripod after a major shoot (you should disassemble and strip down your tripod after it being in salt water at the very least and strip it down regularly to keep it working like new).

The bag also comes with some snow shoes. They look a little like the shoes that are at the bottom of most ski poles. I've found them in general to be an improvement on not using them at all, but they are still not ideal. They do not allow me to really get some kind of floating for the tripod.

I've been looking around the web to see if someone makes some decent show shoes for tripods. It appears that this is either a major oversight by tripod makers, or that perhaps the market is so small that they haven't bothered. 

I guess I may have to go and design my own.

Ben Hope, Sutherland, Scotland, 2017

I'm in the far north of Scotland this week. I've rented a cottage and I'm here relaxing and spending some time with two very good friends. There has been some snowfall the past day or so (this is officially a La Niña year - so cold fronts seem to be on the horizon and best you be ready for a cold winter!).

Ben Hope, Fuji GFX 50s, 32-64mm lens Image © Bruce Percy 2017

Ben Hope, Fuji GFX 50s, 32-64mm lens
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

I made this shot today of Ben Hope - the most northerly Munro in Scotland. (a Munro is a Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet high. Scottish mountains aren't that big in the scheme of world sizes, but they are beautiful and we like to walk them. So we have given any mountain over 3,000 feet the status of being a Munro).

I can't say that I particularly like digital capture. I am a dyed in the wool Film shooter, much preferring the process of living with the captured image in my mind's-eye, and having to trust my intuition that I've got it on film. Still, I was lent a GFX 50 megapixel medium format camera by Fujifilm for this week. It has, in my opinion, one of the nicest interfaces in a modern camera for composition. Namely: they have considered aspect-ratios as part of the integral design of the camera. All the usable aspect ratios that you could want are here: 3:2, 4:5, 4:3, 6:7, 6:19, 2:1. They can be dialled up at a moments notice by one of the many configurable buttons on the camera body and get this - the aspect ratio is identical in both the eye-piece and live-view preview screen. Aspect ratios are no after-thought on this camera. I wish other camera manufacturers would implement aspect ratios as a major part of their camera designs. At best I often find that they have been implemented in non-standard ways across the entire range of models they offer. Some crop destructively the final image while others allow you to undo the crop to retain the entire sensor area. Others don't even record the aspect ratio you shot in, and many of them have clunky interfaces with which to move between aspect ratios or at best, only offer a handful of useful ones which are only viewable on the preview screen and not in the eye piece.

One of the most important features for anyone when they buy a camera should be whether the camera has at the very least an aspect ratio that suits their eye, and at the very most, a nice interface to allow them to switch between many of the more popular ratios available. 5:4, 6:7, 4:3, Square, 1:2, etc. I would personally never buy a digital camera that came with just 3:2 on it, and I would have to have at the very least 1:1 and also 4:5. I would also reject a camera if I found it requires more than one button press to get to the aspect ratios to change them.

When choosing a camera, aspect ratios should be high up on my list, well before resolution or any other feature as it is the aspect ratio of the camera that either aids you in composition, or hinders you.

I think the journey from the car to the final composition is decided by the use of the chosen aspect ratio. It is in my opinion folly to assume we can work in 3:2 with the aim of cropping to 5:4 or 1:1 once we get home. The final compositions are just never as tight. No, instead, by going out in the field with a camera that works in your chosen aspect ratio can you excel at your compositions. And that is one thing that the GFX does very well.

Before you think that I am giving up film for digital, I would like to reassure you that I am not. I have been a strong believer that if something works : don't mess with it. I love what I do with film and as much as it has its own limitations (it really does, trust me), so too does everything. But I know it well, I know how my film responds to what I'm shooting and I love the process. I just don't get the same vibe or excitement when I have a preview screen that gives everything away. I much prefer to live with the image imprinted on my mind, and with a hopeful expectation of a nicely processed image in a few weeks from the time I've captured the work, but that's just me. Your mileage will vary for sure.

The beauty of the unknowable

I'm a bit run down. I have tinnitus which has been with me for more than two weeks now, and shows no signs of going away. I know it's all to do with stress and working too much.

I did not see this image coming. Pre-visualisation was never part of the equation. There is so much beauty in the unknowable.

I did not see this image coming. Pre-visualisation was never part of the equation. There is so much beauty in the unknowable.

So if you don't mind, I am going to curtail my blogging for a while now. Besides, it's really hard to keep coming up with things to write about which have any substance or value. So I'd much rather say nothing at all, than say something that has nothing at the core of it.

I'll be back in a while (not sure when). But I think this is my cue to go out and find something else to inspire and recharge my batteries with.

I do feel I've done a lot this year, accomplished more than I had imagined, and met a lot of wonderful people along the way. It's been a real pleasure to meet so many nice people at my exhibition this summer, and to release a new book,

Plus I feel my photographic style is still very much on the move. Where it is going,... I do not know. But that is why we do what we do: to enjoy the pleasure and the subtle beauty of the unknowable.

Moved by the forest

If I were to sum up why I came to photography and why I still do it, it would be because I am in love with the elements of wind and rain, of feeling alive when I am in certain kinds of landscape.

great-wood.jpg

I've never been one to get distracted by the technical. I really don't care very much for f-stops or shutter speeds, nor for any fixation on resolution or any other technical aspect that leads me away from my belief that photography is about an emotional response; I love it because of what it allows me to feel.

It is inspiration for me, to find a book that connects with the great outdoors on an emotional and also poetic level. In Jim Crumbley's book 'the great wood', he writes so movingly about what was once the great forest that covered my native Scotland. It is a beautiful book.

It is also book that does not use photographs.

Instead it uses beautifully crafted sentences to conjure up a picture of what he feels about the landscape, and it is of great relief to me to be able to jump into my imagination by reading rather than looking.

I need a break from looking at the world in pictures.

We all need time away and we all need balance in our lives. Too much of one thing can cause burn out or for things to become stale. I appreciate that you may get your photography inspiration from looking at many photography websites (such as this one). But I do not.

Instead, I manage to re-charge by retiring from the visual world. It is the contrast of looking at it from a literary side that seems to act as a form of respite. Too much looking at pictures, pictures, pictures leads to everything looking and feeling the same. By reading words instead, I am able to conjure up mental images that seem to be more effective than any photograph could be.

As landscape photographers, I believe that each one of us is really a naturalist at heart, though some of us maybe don't know it yet. We may have come to landscape photography through a love of technical things like cameras and f-stops, or we may have come to landscape photography through an appreciation for the outdoors. Whatever the catalyst,  sooner or later, we all become spellbound by the beauty of what is there.

Put the iPad away, disconnect for a day. Go for a walk in the open air and see what's there.

There's simply too much noise on the web now, and too many distractions with which to fill our time with, and most of it so transient that it will make no difference, except to rob us of valuable time spent where it's needed the most; outside.

Go find your forest, a place where you can tap into your love for photography; It is out there somewhere. Just waiting for you.

Is it a good thing if RAW isn't Really RAW?

It has become increasingly apparent to me, that RAW files are more saturated and punchy than they used to be. When I look back at the RAW files that came out of camera's a decade ago, they were very neutral in colour. That is not the case now.

Shot on Fuji Velvia, which comes with pre-programmed colour, punched in for me by Fuji. I know this film is highly-unrealistic. It's why I use it. But if I were to shoot RAW, I would expect to have the colours as neutral as possible so I can choose my own colour programming.

Shot on Fuji Velvia, which comes with pre-programmed colour, punched in for me by Fuji.
I know this film is highly-unrealistic. It's why I use it. But if I were to shoot RAW, I would expect to have the colours as neutral as possible so I can choose my own colour programming.

I was reading the online photographer only a few days ago while I tried to get my head around the reasons for why this is so. Specifically this article. It seems that RAW was never truly RAW and there has always been a degree of processing involved as camera manufacturers try to get the best out of their sensors. For example, many camera manufacturers apply tonal curves to try to get more DR out of their sensors, and they also apply their own calibration for ISO.

I used to think that ISO was a global standard. One where if you set the ISO of all cameras the same, and give them the same amount of light, the exposure would be the same for all cameras. This appears to not be the case as this article also explains. To utilise the best response of a digital sensor, camera manufacturers set their own sensitivities for their sensors to give the most pleasing result.

So there has always been a degree of pre-processing done at the capture stage. RAW is not RAW in this regard. But it goes further than that. I have noticed that many RAW files these days have saturated colours that don't correspond to the real world.

I have been advising participants to shoot their cameras on 'Daylight white balance' for years, because that is what all colour film is balanced for. In the days of film only, we would always shoot a daylight balanced film for landscape photography. Daylight balance means we retain the colour casts apparent at sunrise and sunset.  

Auto-White-Balance, on the other hand, tunes them out.

Well, It used to be the case that Auto-White-Balance would attempt to tune out colour casts to make everything look like it was shot in the middle of the day. Sunrise and Sunsets would lose their colour as the AWB attempted to tune out their lovely colour casts to make everything look like daylight, and additionally, twilight shots would lose their blue hue as they were transported to become middle of the day shots. This is not what we want as landscape photographers. We wish to have these colour casts as they are one of the reasons why we get up early in the morning to shoot. 

However, this logic doesn't seem to be working with some of the more recent sensors. I am seeing cameras like the Fuji XT2 oversaturate their files. Setting the white balance to daylight does not improve the situation as the saturation is now applied to a different colour temperature and the file looks funky. In fact the XT2 seems to look better if one leaves it on Auto White Balance, because it's the only thing that tames down the over-saturation of the files.

If I choose to set it to Daylight Balance, so I can re-introduce those lovely colour casts that sunrise and sunset offer,  I find I need to desaturate the colour by about -40 in ACR to make them look more natural, less Dysney. That never used to be the case with RAW files.

I'm sure that Fuji are not alone with this approach and I would hazard a guess that most camera manufacturers are souping up their RAW files to give more instantaneous pleasing results.

I guess it depends what we want, and what we all think RAW should provide? 

For me, I had assumed that RAW would mean that the camera would try to record a neutral rendition of what is there. I realise there has to be a degree of interpretation to do this, and also, that manufacturers have to take some decisions in order to get the best out of their sensors. 

I think it's gone beyond this. We are now seeing camera manufacturers give us their own 'look' to the RAW files. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen. Personally, I've always felt that RAW files were too flat, too neutral and that colour manipulation is not something most of us are good at, so leaving it up to us to do that work would result in some very ugly over-processed images (the web is full of very overly processed files). So I think it might be a good thing. Buying a digital camera for its 'look' is just the same as buying film for its 'look'. If Fuji are going to soup up their RAW files to give a more pleasing result, then perhaps that is something to take into account when you buy their cameras: perhaps you buy them because you like the look of their RAW files? Rather than buying it because you assumed RAW was an honest, neutral rendition of what is there.

So I guess I'm wondering: if RAW isn't really RAW, then what is it meant to be? If camera manufacturers are taking control of colour into their own hands and giving us souped up RAW files, is this a good thing, or should we be more in control of that?

RAW isn't RAW, but maybe that's ok?

Tinnitus

I've been recently diagnosed with hearing loss. I have a problem specifically with my right ear where I have frequency fall-off above 4khz. In addition to this, I was told by the specialist that I have tinnitus. Well, my immediate response was to say 'I don't have Tinnitus'.

Mountain cabin, Central Highlands of Iceland, March 2017

Mountain cabin, Central Highlands of Iceland, March 2017

But this week, I've become particularly aware of ringing in my ears where I was not aware of it before. Funny how the brain can block out something for so long, and the moment that someone tells me about something I was blocking out - I begin to hear it.

I think the damage happened many years ago when I was a budding musician. Most people who work on music are subjected to sounds louder than is safe for their hearing, and if I could turn the clock back I would ask for ear mufflers whilst being in studio control rooms with loud volumes.

The good news is that I believe that I will become immune to the ringing in my ears as time goes on. In fact I believe I have managed to ignore it,for many years, and it's only the recent diagnosis that has brought the problem out into full view. Given time, I hope it will re-disappear.

Perception is everything. We may not think we have a problem until someone else tells us we do.

For many years I have had floaters in my eyes. I see black spots in my vision when I stare at empty spaces such as blue skies or white snow. The funny thing is that I don't notice the floaters any more. I adapted to them many years ago (floaters are retina debris that cast shadows on the back wall of your retina, and therefore you see black spots).

It's taught me that the human mind has an ability to adapt. I don't see the floaters so much any more except for when I think about them and I can only assume that it's the same for the ringing in my ears. I now believe that the ringing has been there for a very long time, but it's only because someone else pointed it out to me, that I've become aware of it again (bummer).

But you know, I think this is a lesson in perception.

I have been a firm believer that what I see, may not be what is really there. For instance, I know that the brain adapts very quickly to colour casts. When I am indoors in the evening, my surroundings are bathed in a warm tungsten light. Yet I do not perceive it as such. I know I am being fooled by my own brain as it re-adapts to the surroundings I am in.

So if I can't trust my vision to really tell me what is in front of me, then I am more than ready to accept that art is totally subjective. What may be beautiful to me, may be ugly to someone else. So if I am to create anything at all, I should do it for me, and me alone. Anyone else who like's it is a bonus :-)

Beautiful Song

Oh dear, I don't think my Iceland romance will really ever go away. It's just such an amazing place, and the music that comes from such a small population of just 330,000 people (country, 220,000 in Reykjavik) is just mind boggling. Why so much talent?

Here's Ólöf, she has a unique voice. Perhaps not to everyone's taste but I love it, and her individuality. Surely that's what we are all aiming for as artists? Beautiful song too.

The importance of wallpaper

Space in photographs

With music, the space between notes is just as important as the notes themselves. Similarly, with photographs the space between the subjects is important.

But I think 'space' in music is easier to define to a point. With music we often use the word 'space' rather than 'Silence'. Except with Music, space in the music isn't simply conveyed by having silence between notes. Space can be conveyed though tempo and intensity and density (or lack off) of the sound.

Similarly, with photographs space isn't necessarily 'empty areas' of the frame. Although this is can be true at times it is not the whole story. Space can also be conveyed through the use of a pause, something that makes you wait before moving on to another area of the frame. How many times have you felt yourself wait at one area of a picture before moving on?

In addition, 'space' can also be conveyed by areas of the picture that are texturally dense but have nothing of particular for the eye to settle upon. I call these spaces 'wallpaper'. Wallpaper can be texturally rich, may even contain patterns, but ultimately, the eye tends to float over it because there is no one singular point of focus.

Fjallabak-Sept-2017-(18).jpg

If I am to interpret the image above, I would say that the bottom two thirds of the picture is wallpaper. It is texturally rich but I don't think there is one particular area of the frame that I focus upon or more specifically, feel is a compositional anchor point.

I would also say that the sky and water are wallpaper. They are silent areas where there is nothing going on. They are just used to create a pause between the foreground and the background hills. 

Even with the background hills, the black tones and the curving shape of the hills take the eye for a few seconds before we are pulled towards the groove marks in the green moss. So even the hillside is a kind of space in the picture.

It seems a picture can contain many things and yet still have a lot of space. For me, the main object of focus in the picture is the vertical grooves in the green moss on the hill. Everything else is there to just give context and space and although some of this space is texturally rich, it is ultimately wallpaper. Our eye spends just a moment in it, and is still free to move towards the main point of focus of the picture.

Reciprocity Chart for Fuji Velvia 50 RVP

It's been a while since I wrote about this, and I've had a few people contact me about it. It seems that my original posting had lost some of the charts for reciprocity with Fuji Velvia, so I'm re-posting it here.

One of my most favourite things to do with landscapes is to collapse many moments in time into one frame. In other words, do long exposures. It can be extremely useful at removing textural detail that I don't need in the photo, as in the example below:

Removing textural detail by use of Long exposure Fjallabak, Iceland Image © Bruce Percy 2017

Removing textural detail by use of Long exposure
Fjallabak, Iceland
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

By removing any small currents in the water, I've removed any possibility of the eye being distracted and therefore drawn to it. Similarly the long exposure has reduced the chance of the sky having anything of distraction in it either. So my eye is allowed to go straight to the headland. 

Using long exposures in this way can remove distractions and allow (in this case) areas of the picture to become 'wallpaper' - regions where your eye just floats over the surface. 'Wallpaper' is an integral component of most photographs: there are always going to be areas of the picture where you wish for the viewers eye to float freely without getting trapped or stuck.

By smoothening any textural details out of these regions of the frame, I can also allow the viewer to see the gradual tonal shifts that underpin the area. For instance, if you look at the water, the tones get darker as we move towards the bottom of the frame and the eye enjoys seeing smooth gradual shifts.

Similarly with the sky I've adopted the same approach, which is perhaps a point on its own: if you have clouds, do you need them? Often I'm wishing for skies with either complete cloud cover (for softer light all-round), or to reduce textural detail in the frame. I will deliberately go to certain places at certain times of the year because the skies are clear of clouds (Bolivia for instance) otherwise there is perhaps too much information or 'things' for the viewers eye to get stuck at. We're back to talking about tones and form. Too much form and we have too much distraction. So I'll often use a long shutter speed to smoothen out the clouds in the sky.

If you're a film shooter - which there is a good chance you might be in 2017, since I've begun to notice over the past few years that around 2 people in every group of 6 is a hybrid shooter (film and digital), then doing long exposures require the need to calculate reciprocity.

Just in case you don't know what reciprocity is, I'll explain. When shooting film, most folk think that the relationship between the shutter and aperture remain constant. They don't. As you get down to longer exposures, film loses it's sensitivity; and the relationship between the shutter speed and aperture begin to drift apart. Typically once you get past 4 seconds with Velvia. Which means that if you rely on your meter, you're going to underexpose your images. So you need to compensate.

I didn't use a long shutter speed here. It was a very calm evening and the only possible textural distraction would have been in the reflections of the mountains. I felt using a long shutter speed was a case of diminishing returns: not required. So rather than use long shutter speeds all the time to smoothen things down, get used to 'reading' your landscapes - watch them to see how dynamic they are.

I didn't use a long shutter speed here. It was a very calm evening and the only possible textural distraction would have been in the reflections of the mountains. I felt using a long shutter speed was a case of diminishing returns: not required. So rather than use long shutter speeds all the time to smoothen things down, get used to 'reading' your landscapes - watch them to see how dynamic they are.

It's very easy to get into the realm of long shutter speeds if you are shooting in low light or with some ND filters applied. With Velvia, if your meter tells you the exposure should be 4 seconds and beyond, then reciprocity needs to be applied.

Here is a table of corrected values:

4s becomes 5s
8s becomes 12s
16s becomes 28s
30s becomes 1 minutes 6s
1 minute becomes 2 minutes 30 seconds
2 minutes becomes 4 minutes, 50 seconds

And you shouldn't need to go beyond that, as the contrast will get too high and the colours too funky.

Either write them down, or better - remember them. I used to have them on a little laminated card for the first few years of shooting, but the corrections have now been memorised. That's one of the beauties of staying with a single film type for most of my photography career. The less variables I have to my 'process' the more second-nature things become.

Photographing in inclement weather

Cameras can take rain, so long as they're not left in a damp bag for days afterwards, that way they will die for sure. Cameras don't need to be weather sealed to be used in the rain, they just need a bit of sensible looking after, and taken in and dried once you're done. I've yet to have a camera die from rain water. They die because they're left in damp bags for too long.

Fjallabak-Sept-2017-(8).jpg

If you only photograph when it's dry, then you'll be extremely limited to the kinds of photographs you can make. Your photography will only show a narrow view of what the world has to offer and you'll be selling yourself short.

If you are worried about taking that $3,000 USD camera body out in the rain, then you've bought the wrong camera. Buy something you can take everywhere and not worry about. Better still, buy a used cheap body and abuse it.

Cameras are tools to be used. They should never stop you from making images and if they do, I'd suggest you get rid of them and buy something else that doesn't get in the way. That goes for cameras that are too complicated to use, or are too delicate for a bit of rain.

I'm lucky that I use old Hasselblad film cameras. They are 100% mechanical. They are inexpensive to replace if I break them. I've broken a few in my time because of the elements I work in. Sometimes they begin to rust inside due to all the salt air, or the fine sand of the Bolivian deserts cause wear and tear. The volcanic dust in Iceland can be particularly harsh also. But I'm never worried about them because at the end of the day - it's the photos that matter. I don't want to be held back by worrying about looking after the camera equipment.

Fjallabak-Sept-2017-(13).jpg

But before you think I don't care about my equipment, I'd like to tell you that I'm a gear head. I love photography equipment, and I do like to look after it. I just think photos matter more and so I do push them and use them in sandy, dusty, rainy places.

To clean them, I use a paint brush - 1 inch wide DIY store paint brush to get all the muck and dirt off the body. Blower brushes are pretty useless and when you have wet sand on a body, I'll leave it to try and then use the paint brush to wipe the sand off. It works beautifully.

So I do try to look after my equipment, but I also am not afraid to use it either.

Electronic cameras can take more rain water than you might imagine, but if you're not sure, then I suggest buying a cheap body to go out with. If you get those moody shots you want, then I think you won't look back, even if the resolution of the cheap digital body isn't anything close to your new camera.

The shots made in this post today were made in very foggy weather or in the middle of heavy downpour. The rain was so heavy that everyone else had retreated to the car. There was fine volcanic dust being blown around by the wind and it got into my camera bag, and into the body of my Hasselblad. I got soaked and the black sand of the desert began to stick to everything - my hands, my clothing and the outside of my camera equipment.  I was in my element though, as I knew I could not get these pictures of the desert any other way.

Use your equipment, and take it everywhere. Buy equipment that you're not afraid to damage, because it will also buy you  the freedom to experiment and work in all climatic conditions.

Tea & Company

I was looking for a nice group photo for this very website, and I found this one in my email. I'd completely forgotten about this (how could I?). Karsten who orchestrated this image asked us all to move, but for me to keep still and to keep a straight face.

It was very hard to keep the tea cup balanced on our heads too ;-)

Image © Karsten Joppe, Assynt Workshop Participant, October 2016

Image © Karsten Joppe,
Assynt Workshop Participant, October 2016

I've met so many great friends along the way this past decade of running workshops and tours. Doing something that you love means you attract others who love the same thing, and there is great unity in that. It's not often in the towns or cities that we live in, that we can find others who share the same interests and outlooks. With running a focussed effort around one thing (in my case - landscape photography) I attract others who are also interested in it. It's been fun and a lesson that if you do what you love, you tend to attract those who have similar outlooks in life.

Style is derived from Relating to the landscape

Building relationships is key to everything we do in life. In the case of friendships and family, we have to spend time with them to let the relationship blossom and deepen. The same is true of landscapes. As we spend more time in certain places, the relationship deepens. We begin to understand them in ways that the casual observer does not. Similar to meeting people for brief moments although we get a rush of new impressions, the relationship is still too young to really know them. So too, with landscapes.

hrafntinnusker, Iceland Image © Bruce Percy 2017

hrafntinnusker, Iceland
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

I'm lucky that over the past decade that I've been living my photographic-life, I've had the luxury of repeatedly visiting certain landscapes. They have become intimate, personal friends. Some I now know so well they are like old friends: I don't need to see them too often, but when I do encounter them, I know exactly where I am with them. Others are recent friends, I've known them for maybe a couple of years and I'm still learning about them.

We also define ourselves by whom we know. I think I define my photography by the relationships I have with certain landscapes. Iceland has been part of my photographic world for thirteen years, while Patagonia fourteen years. The Fjallabak landscape in the central highlands of Iceland is relatively recent as I have been spending time with it for around five years now. And then there is Hokkaido, a recent acquaintance of just over two years that I am still getting to know.

They have helped shape and define my photography, and my photography has contributed to who I am. So in a sense, these landscapes are part of me.

We should be choosy about whom we let into our lives. Invite those that are supportive and that you can support back, is my advice. Being around healthy attitudes and positive people is an ingredient for a happy life with room for you to grow. Similarly, choosing your landscapes wisely, by going for those that resonate with you and perhaps those that keep calling you back is vital, if you are to develop your own internal landscape.

hrafntinnusker, Iceland Image © Bruce Percy 2017

hrafntinnusker, Iceland
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

The landscapes I work with have defined part of who I am. They have defined my signature. They illustrate not only what I resonate with, but also what appeals to my aesthetic. There is often a theme running through all of them. I do not just go anywhere. I am only interested in spending time with those landscapes where I know that I grow with each visit.

Choose your landscapes wisely and they will support you as a photographer. Work with those that resonate with you, because that is where any development in your photographic style will eventually occur.

Post exhibition thoughts and impressions

I thought I would write today about my experiences and impressions from the little exhibition that I held this summer.

I hadn't really any goals for this exhibition except to have a space to show my work in printed form. So often we gauge others work by looking at it on websites and I think this is a real shame, as there is nothing quite like looking at a well printed image. Indeed, isn't this what all photographer should be doing - creating photographs? And by that, I mean the printed variety. Not some electronic, summarised, quantised 72 dots per inch low resolution representation.

Photographs deserve to be printed and they deserve to be exhibited. It is the final stage in one's own work.

Now that the exhibition is over, it seems that it was on for too short a time. I would have loved to have had a month to exhibit or maybe two months, but there simply isn't any way to do this without incurring major costs.

But what of the experience of exhibiting, and manning the gallery each day? Well, I had a great time. I can't deny it. I met so many lovely people during the two week period and heard so many encouraging and positive views about what I do. It is something I seldom hear about my own work during workshops because everyone is keen to learn, so the focus isn't on myself, but more on the teaching. So what I really got from this little exhibition was how much some people love what I do.

It also gave me a much more personal exchange. Rather than posting images on Flickr, or Facebook, or on my own blog, and seeing e-correspondence, instead I was able to get a better feel for my work by seeing how the viewers in the gallery responded.

It was also deeply satisfying to be able to present the work. I have made so many images over the past few years and I've never been able to print all of them. There is something special about seeing ones own work come to life, to become a real printed object,. Then there is something about matting it. It just makes the work look better, and if that wasn't enough, framing it really sets the images up another level. But I think the icing on the cake is to have them hung on the wall in a space. I got a lot of pleasure out of seeing all my images on display in one space.

I had so much support from friends and family. Many people stopped by each day to see how I was doing, and many also bought prints or copies of my book. Sometimes I knew it was because they liked the work but other times I also understood that they were doing it to support me. It was a very kind gesture by friends and it really said something to me that friends would want to try to help and support me in what I do.

Lastly, having an exhibition really puts purpose to my image making. Going out there is a lot of fun and creating the work is very satisfying, but there's something a little sad about it not being displayed anywhere. Photographs should be printed, and they should be shown. No matter who you are, or what stage you are with your photography, every keen photographer should exhibit. It's good for the soul, and not only does it give you focus to what you do, it is highly rewarding artistically, and also from an emotional support point of view. I had so much kind support from friends and people I've met along the way, that I think this was the biggest / nicest surprise of it all.

I am now making plans to exhibit again towards the end of 2018, for a longer duration. There will be another book to support the exhibition also. I will be keeping you posted in the coming months.

Is there a need for Narrative?

During the summer, I was interviewed and  asked if I could explain the narrative behind my photography. On impulse, I responded 'I've never considered that my photography has any kind of story. My images are just aesthetic responses, ones that please me'.

Hokkaido-(20).jpg

I couldn't help feel that looking for, or requiring a narrative in one's photography could be a little bit pretentious. I appreciated that my interviewer's question was asked with genuine sincerity, but I just felt that my imagery is just an emotional response - I do what I do, and the images are what they are, and it's up to the viewer to see in them what they see.

Having given it some thought, I've come to realise that narrative doesn't specifically have to be a clearly defined story, and if there is any kind of narrative to what I do, then it is about leaving enough room, so that others can form their own story.

Like a song we have fallen in love with, each of us forms our own internal emotional response and our own personal vision of what a song truly means. Most song lyrics are often abstract, vague formations of words that give the listener room to form their own interpretation. For me, that is something I find very appealing - that we are allowed to create our own internal dream world.

Having a narrative may be important to some of us. But for me, if I do have any narrative, it is in leaving things deliberately open and inconclusive. I prefer to let the viewer make up their own mind.

World Citizen

I've never strayed into talking about politics on this blog, and I hope that it stays this way. However, with an aim to being apolitical, I've come to find that my life these days is one as a 'world citizen'. I do so much travelling and have met so many wonderful friends from far and wide, that I have come to one conclusion: we are all the same. 

In the next eight months, I will be in the following countries:

Argentina
Bavaria - Germany
Brazil
China
France
Greenland
Ireland
Iceland
Japan
Romania
Russia
Scotland
Switzerland

All photography related of course :-) And before you judge me: I know how privileged I am to do so much travel these days. I am aware that my life has changed so much that my eldest sister tells me 'you come home for a holiday Bruce', to which I think she may be right.

Anyway, as much as I think a sense of nationalism is important - it's good to be proud of the country or region we come from. We should remind ourselves that the world is rapidly becoming a smaller, more local place. We are all world citizens, if not by travel, then at least in spirit.

All landscape photographers share a love for the landscape, and we do not discriminate with where beauty is situated. I see similarities in the landscapes of many countries to each other and the more I continue to travel, this just seems to become more commonplace. The same is true with the friends I have met over the duration of my travels. I have friends from Trinidad / Tobago to Egypt and Russia. All started out as participants on my workshops and tours. All lovely people and we all share the same passion: landscape photography.

Landscape photography has no borders. It is for those who have a world-view. In fact, I believe we are world-citizens in our outlook, simply because of what we do, even if we may never get out of our own country (or region) to make pictures elsewhere. It is our wonder for the landscape that unifies us.