The Art of Being Quiet

I've been wanting to say for a while now, that I'm sure some of you may have noticed that my blogging activity isn't as frequent as it used to be. Through working a lot on my tours and workshops, things have gotten very busy for me. I find that I need  to get time away from my business, as well as time alone each year to find my own inspiration. There is only so much that you can give before you start feeling that you need to keep something back for yourself.

Space in a photograph conveys silence and silence can often be beautiful.

Space in a photograph conveys silence and silence can often be beautiful.

So I'd much rather write on this blog when I feel I have something of merit to say, and when I feel recharged enough to say it.

If I think about some of my most favourite pieces of music, they often contain moments of silence. Silence is a creative way of conveying calmness, or pause for thought. In photography, space in an image conveys a sense of calmness or silence and I find silence in photographs very moving. 

I'm aware that there is a trend to blog and facebook/tweet your every waking thought, but I find very little beauty in doing that. I don't wish to bombard you with noise, because sometimes that's all I may have to offer you.

Besides isn't there an ugliness in this kind of constant intrusion? And a beauty in silence?

Fujifilm XT-1

One of the perks of being a workshop leader, is that through meeting new participants each year, I get to see an array of assorted camera equipment, from the budget to the seriously expensive.

Image © Bruce Percy. Shot on a Fujifilm XT-1 camera with 10-24 lens. I think this camera has some of the most pleasing tones in any present digital system right now.

Image © Bruce Percy. Shot on a Fujifilm XT-1 camera with 10-24 lens. I think this camera has some of the most pleasing tones in any present digital system right now.

And once in a while, somebody turns up with a camera that I think has a very beautiful look to its images. During my Scottish workshops, I do a daily critique of participants images, so I get to see first hand the differences in colours and tones between different models. For a while, the digital camera that I thought had the most beautiful tones and colours was the Nikon D3X. 

I won't pretend to know much about the tech side of any digital camera. I rarely go to websites to look at equipment specs for digital systems as I'm pretty much focussed on my art with the medium I've been using for the past twenty odd years (I'm a film-shooter). But it is interesting to see how digital cameras are improving and advancing each year while running my workshops.

This year I've found that if the colours and clarity in a participant's work stands out, it's a fujifilm camera that's behind it. From what I'm seeing, I think the Fujifilm cameras have an 'almost' film-like quality to them - a more 'organic' look than what we've seen so far in digital imaging.

This week I'm up in the far north-west corner of Scotland with some friends, and one of them has let me play with his XT-1 camera. If I were in the market for a digital camera right now, I think this would be the one for me. The only downside about it, is that it doesn't offer some of the aspect-ratios I think are important if you are wishing to improve your composition skills. The Fuji line of cameras seem to offer 3:2, 1:1 and 6:19 only. It's an odd omission to leave out something like 4:3, 4:5 or 6:7 - any one of those would have given me a more pleasing proportioned rectangle to use rather than 3:2, which I feel is more towards a panoramic format than a rectangle, and often the culprit in making composition harder for newbies to master.

If you're in the market for a small system now, and are thinking of getting rid of the bulk and weight of a traditional SLR, I think the mirror-less cameras such as the Micro-Four-Thirds Olympus / Panasonic models as well as Fujifilm's X range of cameras would be worth investigating. Image quality is a moot point now. We've got far much more than most of us need now, and the quality that smaller systems have to offer is no poor contender to full-frame systems. 

If it were me right now, I'd be going for a Fujifilm XT-1 camera with 10-24 lens, despite it not having a 4:3 / 4:5 or 6:7 aspect ratio to play with. I love square and so I'd be happy to use it as a digital 'hasselblad' if you like. But I do hope that the omission of a decent rectangle aspect ratio will be addressed in a future firmware update at some point. 

In the middle of this nowhere

I arrived in Bodø (pronounced Boda) around 11pm one February. It was dark and very very cold outside the airport. It was also the first time I had chosen not to attempt to sleep in the airport (my connecting flight to the Lofoten Islands was always at 5am the next morning).

Getting to the Lofoten Islands is not easy. First you need to arrive in Oslo, and once there, you need to take an internal flight up to the very top of Norway to the town of Bodø. From there the Lofoten islands are a short 20 minute plane hop, or a four hour ferry journey. Only in winter, like here in Scotland, you’d be lucky if the ferry is running at all.

So I’d opted to stay at the local youth hostel in town. The taxi took me there in about 10 minutes from the airport and cost me around £20 one way. I checked in. The place seemed to be occupied by young guys coming and going at all hours, when there is nothing to go anywhere for, unless you like snow and darkness.

I ventured outside to see if I could get something to eat. At 11pm in northern Norway in February, very little is open. Norwegian towns are very quiet, law-abiding, deserted places and I felt particularly lonely on this first of many journeys to Bodø. I kept walking and found the only place open in town - a Pizza shop. 

They asked me about Scotland and I asked them about Norwegian life. They were about 20 years old, while I was at least double their age. But we had a lot in common, being the only people in town not ensconced at home at 11pm.

I wanted a coffee, or a tea, but they only had Coca Cola, so I bought the smallest bottle they had, a 2 litre plastic container of sugary water. I went back to my hostel and after eating my pizza, I looked out of the window of my room onto the train station below. I thought about how this wasn't exactly the warmest fun place to be, and at that moment I realised how much my life sucks at times. Running a business that involves travelling when I sometimes don't feel like it, can be hard at times.

As exotic as it seems to some (and I do have moments when it feels wonderfully exotic), there are often times when I have to stare at the harsh reality of what my life has become. The space between leaving home and arriving at my destination can feel like a displaced, friendless-ness space in which to be stuck in for anywhere up to a whole day and one empty evening.

It can feel like I'm in the middle of nowhere.

But it's always temporary, and good things always come out of my ventures.

In the morning I was on the local plane hop over to Lofoten. The plane was tiny with around 20 seats in it, and everyone clambered on board with their shopping and luggage in their hands. We rose abruptly into the sky, got tossed around in the winter storm, and just as quickly as we had ascended, we abruptly hit the ground on the other side. 

My air hostess had conducted the safety briefing in English - just for me. I was the only non-native on the local flight, a flight that is more akin to a bus service than anything else. She said before we departed ‘ if we can’t land due to strong winds, we’ll turn round and come back’. I liked her plan very much.

Since my first trip to Lofoten, I’ve become friends with a handful of the locals in the town of Reine, and many others that I know well enough to say hello to. I'm the outsider, the one with the Scottish accent that comes once a year for about two to three weeks every February.

Mostly my friends there are expats: I have friends who are Dutch, Swedish, Australian and one of them - Sandro - is half Norwegian and half Italian. Lofoten seems to attract outsiders to come and live there.

Beauty is one thing, and beautiful Lofoten is. But it’s not for everyone. With long winters, and a small community, some of us (and I think I’m one of them) would go a little crazy with all that space and silence. 

As my Dutch friend Lilian who lives there once said to me ‘if you have any personal issues, a place like this can amplify them. It’s not a place to run away to if you have emotional things you need to run away from’. Being in the middle of nowhere, whether it's a hostel in a northern town in Norway, or whether it's sitting on a plane,  often gives me a glimpse of what Lilian describes. My thoughts and feelings often get amplified whilst in the middle of nowhere.

My First Black & White Print

I've spent a bit of time over the past few months researching black & white printing. Until this year, I had deliberately stayed away from monochrome work as I feel that it is a very different space in which to work. It is also an extremely difficult medium to master because any tonal errors or tonal distractions are more evident in the work. With colour, tonal errors are less critical because we have the added distraction of colour.

Printed on Museo Silver Rag paper, using Colourburst's RIP Print driver and Pixelgenius capture and output sharpeners

Printed on Museo Silver Rag paper, using Colourburst's RIP Print driver and Pixelgenius capture and output sharpeners

So I'd looked into using the John Cone system of loading up a dedicated Epson printer with monochrome ink sets. I really liked the sample prints I got from John, but I went ahead and used my own standard colour printer inks to do the monochrome print you see above. My feeling is that if you have a really well calibrated / profiled system, I think monochrome inks via the colour ink cartridges is really nice. I'm certainly happy with it and I would suggest if you are thinking of doing monochrome work with a colour printer, to use really good profiles, or as in my case - a dedicated RIP print driver.

When I looked into printing a few years back, I was amazed to discover that it is almost a religion for some and many people have different ways of tackling it. My system is very simple - I use BasICColour's Display 5 software to calibrate my monitor, and by using a RIP driver with good paper profiles installed, and suitable sharpening algorithms for the final print (I use Pixelgenuis' Sharpener toolkit), you can't go wrong. Oh, and of course you need a really good day-light viewing booth with which to evaluate the final prints.

The print you see above is my first monochrome print, and it's for my client and friend Stacey Williams, who is from Trinidad. Stacey will be on my Torridon workshop next weekend so I'll be delighted to hand her the print in person.

Printing is a very personal thing. The paper choices, how the work is presented are all personal decisions. But what sets a print apart from a computer screen is the fact that it's tangible, physical thing.

And with all tangible physical things, t's an extremely rewarding feeling to be able to actually give the work to whoever it was intended for :-)

The Multi-Medium Photographer

It's probably not news to you that I am a film shooter. I am 100% film and although I have a digital camera, I tend to use it for illustrating compositions while running workshops, only.

What some of you may not know is that I am a Hybrid-Photographer. I shoot film but I scan my images and then edit them in the Digital-Darkroom. So you could say that I'm half analog and half digital. My reasons for this workflow are purely personal as I love the look and feel of film and what it produces, and I also enjoy the creative freedom that the Digital domain gives me to further edit my work.

The look and feel of my images is partly due to the film stock I like to work with (Fuji Velvia 50) and my aesthetic choices in the Digital Darkroom

The look and feel of my images is partly due to the film stock I like to work with (Fuji Velvia 50) and my aesthetic choices in the Digital Darkroom

A few days ago, I was sent an email about a new kickstarter project to bring a new kind of film to the market. Apart from being very pleased to hear that a new film may be coming out, it gave me a chance to reconsider the future of film and more broadly, the future of photography.

When I looked into what the current state of play with the film market is, I was surprised to discover that many film manufacturers have noted a rise in film sales each year for the past five years and although the market is very small compared to what it once was, film manufacturers believe the decline in film sales has stabilised.

Looking into this a little more, the answer to why this has happened is complex, but at the same time, encouraging.

Firstly, Digital capture is no longer new, it is an established and mature market now. We perhaps live in a 'post-digital-capture' age where Digital is just one of many mediums that we can play with. This is very exciting as I don't think we've ever had so many different mediums with which to do photography with.

Secondly, because the initial rush for Digital is now over, I think many photographers can't help but experiment; there's nothing better to invite inspiration than to give something different a go. I think that's why sites like Lomography and iPhoneography have risen in interest. 

From my own personal experiences of running workshops, I have certainly seen a very small rise in the interest in film and other mediums, and I've had some participants tell me they now have their own analog darkroom at home, or that they have been experimenting with collodion wet plate processes. All this alongside being digital-shooters.

So rather than this being a case of a resurgence in film only, I think there has been a mind-shift for many photographers. We're far too interested to be stuck with one way of creating imagery, and that is just such a fantastic thing to witness, because about a decade ago, it felt that the mind-set was very much about whether you were digital or film, and in some cases sometimes I was asked 'when' rather than 'if' I was going to move to digital photography.

CineStill 800T Tungsten film is a new Kickstarter project to bring a Tungsten balanced Cinematic style film stock to the Still's market. The film can be exposed between ISO 200 and 1250

CineStill 800T Tungsten film is a new Kickstarter project to bring a Tungsten balanced Cinematic style film stock to the Still's market. The film can be exposed between ISO 200 and 1250

Photography has always been the act of self-expression. So if a photographer wishes to use a Collodion wet plate process to convey their work, or print in an analog darkroom, or use digital-sensors, the choice of medium is often a personal one. For some it's all about how the process feels and for others it's about how the final images look and sometimes it's a matter of both.

We are now in the age of the Multi-Medium Photographer.

As part of my current thoughts about how we're all changing as photographers, I decided to look into the viability of film remaining with us in the future. It seems that my ideas about film becoming end-of-life were unwarranted. Despite a small resurgence in it, I had believed until now that film manufacture could not continue to be a profitable exercise as time goes on. It seems I am partly right and also partly wrong about this.

Many existing film manufacturing sites are optimised for large-scale production. Apparently retooling them to produce smaller production runs is not a viable option for some of the large film manufacturers, and from what I understand, because of the chemical processes involved, would also require a redesign in the films so they could be optimised for smaller scale production runs. I don't see how some of the big film manufacturers are going to be interested in investing the time and money in developing and retooling. It's just not a viable thing for them to do.

But there has been an increase in new films coming out from small companies. From reading into this, it appears that it's much easier to optimise a small-scale production facility from scratch rather than trying to down-scale, so in this respect, I think if film is to continue to be around for the future, it is going to be in the form of small scale production and that means new films released by new start up businesses rather than the films we know and love now.

This is perhaps no bad thing, because film technology still has a lot of potential for further development and it may mean we see more exciting films coming out. Companies such as CineStill have just announced a new film stock that can be exposed anywhere between ISO 200 and 1250. That alone gives an indication of how film technology is developing.

I think the world of photography has never been more exciting and interesting than it is now. Rather than throwing one medium out for another (switching), some of us have begun a process of incorporating multiple mediums and many formats into our photography. The general mindset or attitude towards film & digital has changed over the past few years and this is proving to be liberating.

The future is a multi-medium, multi-format one where photographers work in analog or digital and sometimes (as in my case), both.

Dettifoss, North East Iceland Photo Tour

I'm just finishing up here in Iceland. I came out to run a photo tour through the centre of Iceland towards the north east. We were very lucky with the weather (when it rained, it was mostly manageable and didn't get on our camera filters too much). The group were a nice bunch of folk to spend 9 days with too :-)

Image © Ian Thoms, North East Iceland Photo Tour Participant

Image © Ian Thoms, North East Iceland Photo Tour Participant

Ian Thoms, who participated on my North East Iceland tour,  kindly sent me this photo of Dettifoss - Europe's most powerful waterfall. The photo is a lovely example of compression using a telephoto lens. It might be tempting to think the waterfall has been made larger than it really is, but it must be said that Dettifoss is quite an impressive power-house of nature, and lives up to the impression this photo gives. 

In Ian's photo, we have (from left to right) Stephen Naor from Canada, myself with red jacket and red hat, and Melvyn Pereira from Australia. I think I was discussing the simple shape of the rocks at the edge of the canyon and how they could be used as great foreground emphasis.

Anyway, it was a great trip and I'm hoping to repeat it next September. 

This past week I've spent some private time in the central highlands. We visited the Fjallabak region and further north too - where we just saw the first snow of the season arrive last night - it was a chilly time in our tents.

The central highlands are quickly becoming my most favourite location in Iceland right now - such a vastness, an emptiness of black sand deserts, and strange moss formations and large water filled craters.

What a wonderful landscape to explore and I look forward to getting to know it much better in the years to come.

Are digital darkroom skills undervalued?

Until the digital photography revolution, the concept of editing one's work was confined mainly to the traditional darkroom and the black and white photographer.

There came a time when the idea of touching an image in any way after clicking the shutter was deemed untruthful, or a lie. I really despised this period of photography because manipulation had always been integral to the making of images right from the birth of photography.

My personal dislike has always been the photography websites that claimed 'no manipulation or enhancement has been made to this work' because it propagated the notion that photography is real, and that it is truthful. It has never been real and it has never been truthful. It has always been an interpretation and a point of view.

But thankfully, things have been changing over the past decade for the better. To draw a contrast, years ago when I would talk for photography clubs, I used to find it very hard to answer the dreaded question of 'do you manipulate your work?', because it always felt that underneath the question was 'do you lie?', rather than commending the photographer for his skills at editing the work to move someone. These days when I'm asked that question, I now proudly say 'yes, of course, it's part of being a photographer'.

Things have also changed for the better, because just about everyone who has a digital camera that is serious about photography also has a photo editing application such as Light Room, Photoshop or Aperture for instance. It has become the norm now for people to edit their work and I'm pleased at the change in attitudes around us as to what is ok or not ok to do.

But one thing still troubles me is how we perceive the skills required in editing our work. We all know it takes years (and is a life long journey) to improve our field work, but I don't think we approach the darkroom editing work with the same attitude.

Becoming a master printer / darkroom editor, takes years and requires just as much skill as it does becoming a good photographer. In fact, it is 50% of being a good photographer.

Editing work shouldn't just be a case of 'moving sliders around until it looks good', it should contain the same amount of consideration that working on composition does.

That's why I wrote my e-Book The Digital Darkroom. Because I felt there should be some kind of guidance on how to interpret work and be able to look at an unedited photograph and see relationships, patterns or a message that can be brought out in the editing stage.

Similar to the notion that buying a great camera does not make us a great photographer, buying a copy of Lightroom and learning the application does not make us a great photo editor. 

The art has always been in the act of 'seeing' while the skill has always been in the art of interpretation and I still feel we have a long way to go before we truly appreciate the skill and art involved in a really good edit.

The path to black & white

Today I was chatting to the editor of a major photography magazine and he was asking me why I had decided to start working in black and white. The correspondence was on e-mail, so I wrote down very quickly for him my thoughts on this, and when I read it back, I felt it would be a really good thing to post here on my blog. So below is my reply, which I hope may give you some food for thought about colour, monochrome and more importantly the relationships between all the objects present within the frame of your viewfinder.

"Over the past 5 years, I’ve spent a lot of time teaching people about landscape photography. Through the teaching, I’ve had to look at what I do and figure out just what’s going on for me when I choose a certain composition. 

These images all started out life as colour images. Through working in a monochrome landscape such as the black beaches of Iceland, I learned a great deal about tonal relationships. This has, over the years trained my eye and I think when I compose in colour, I'm very aware of tones and their relationships, which is why I think these converted straight into monochrome with little or no further editing.

These images all started out life as colour images. Through working in a monochrome landscape such as the black beaches of Iceland, I learned a great deal about tonal relationships. This has, over the years trained my eye and I think when I compose in colour, I'm very aware of tones and their relationships, which is why I think these converted straight into monochrome with little or no further editing.

"In the past few years, I’ve found I have started to talk more about tones and their relationships in the frame. As a way of helping others think more about composition and what they’re putting into the frame of their viewfinder, I’ve asked them to consider if certain tones merge when put side by side, and also if some tones compete for attention with other tones in the same frame.

"My feeling is that black and white is harder to do ‘well’ than colour is. Many may disagree, but I feel that with colour, you can have lots of tonal ‘errors’ in the frame and you still get away with it because you’re distracted by the colour elements. With black and white you’re only dealing with one thing and although that may seem much simpler, it actually means that any errors you get in tonal relationships really stands out.

"What I found was, that many of my existing colour images worked really well when converted straight into black and white with little or no editing involved. I think that’s because for a long while, I’ve been composing my images with tonal relationships in mind. My style of photography is of a more ‘simplified landscape’ and when you reduce your compositions down to more basic elements, you’re forced to look at tonal relationships more than if you were simply trying to cram a lot of subjects into the same frame.

Bolivia was where i felt I started to work with more simplified compositions, simply because the landscape has so much space to it, you can't escape it if you work with what's given to you.

Bolivia was where i felt I started to work with more simplified compositions, simply because the landscape has so much space to it, you can't escape it if you work with what's given to you.

"So for me, the path to black and white started when I began to shoot more simplified colour landscapes. I found that understanding the different tones and their relationships between the objects present in the frame has been a great primer or foundation for beginning to work in black and white.

I’m often surprised that when someone has an images that doesn’t work in colour, they feel that a simple way to fix it is to turn it into black and white. As you and I both know, good black and white work is extremely difficult to pull of well. The key word here is ‘well’. I think a lot of people are happy when they turn something black and white, but it takes a lot more to make it special, and a good understanding of form and tonal relationships is behind that".

When close isn't close enough

Dramatic photograph's are often dramatic because they have presence and one such way to achieve it is to 'get in close'. 

Image © Atri Ray (with a wee bit of help from myself)

Image © Atri Ray (with a wee bit of help from myself)

I think my dear client - Atri Ray - from Canada - has captured a dramatic photo photo (see above).

Shot on my Eigg workshop this April, the image has a dramatic feel to it not just because of the lighting and not just because there is a lot of symmetry going on in the frame, but mostly because of the dynamic movement of water in the foreground of the frame.

Getting in close has become a recurring theme in most of my workshops as I think it is perhaps the most common issue photographers have with their photography. A lot of work lacks presence because we don't give the most important elements of the frame enough prominence or 'focus'.

In the image below, sent to me by Fabian (thanks Fabian!), hopefully illustrates how close we were to the rocks and waves in the image above.

My client Atri Ray and myself (I'm in the red jacket) making the landscape image this post is about. Image © Fabian Herzog

My client Atri Ray and myself (I'm in the red jacket) making the landscape image this post is about. Image © Fabian Herzog

I've included this image for a few reasons, but mainly to illustrate how close we were.

Looking at the main image in this article, it would be easy to assume that the waves are enormous. This is the optical effect of using a wide angle lens. With wide angles, you tend to push the horizon and anything from about 3 metres from you - further away. In order for the lens to capture a wider field of view, objects have to get smaller in the frame so that there is room for more of them. The downside to this is that it's easy for a picture to lose presence because nothing has any prominence anymore. By moving in really close to the foreground, presence can be restored. But that's not all - redundant objects are often removed out of the frame at the same time, so the image tends to become more powerful because of its simplicity.

If I remember correctly, I'd noticed the waves coming over the striated rocks and suggested to Atri that we go and shoot there. I kind of knew it would be an exercise in getting in close. The tide was on the rise but it was still very safe to be where we were.

On a clothing note, I like to wear Gaiters a lot while out shooting. They are great at stopping the wind go up my trouser leg, but also, they are great at delaying water going over the top of my boots. So Atri and myself were very comfortable where we were standing.

Fabian has captured a particular moment when the waves were crashing over the small ridge in the rock formations. And importantly, Atri and myself were waiting, observing and taking note of the frequency of the waves to coincide with the exposures we were making.

So I include the image of myself and Atri making this shot not just to show how close we were, but also to show that we had noticed a frequency in the landscape. We were waiting and timing our exposures on Atri's camera to match each wave that crashed over the top of the rock. And we did that, because we'd noticed that there was a beautiful texture created each time the waves lapped over the edge of the rock. A form of visualisation, if you will.

Sometimes you need to get in much closer than you think you do. But it's important to do it when you know there is a strong motif or 'pattern' that you can utilise in your photos. Movement in the landscape whether it is a wave crashing over a rock, or the movement of clouds racing over the landscape can often give us strong elements for our compositions.

Lastly, I'd like to mention the quality of the light. It was a grey, often rainy day as far as I remember. Perhaps a day where most people would go inside rather than be out making photos. I love overcast days because there are no hard shadows in the landscape and because the tones are much softer and easier to work with in the digital darkroom.

But mostly, I love this kind of light because I've learned that although it might not feel like it at the time (being cold and wet can often hijack your impressions of how well a shoot is going) the truth is - this is really great light - it really is.

Many thanks to Atri Ray for allowing me to reproduce his fine image here and also to Fabian Herzog for allowing me to reproduce his image of Atri and myself at the point of capture of the main image in this post.

Just check it in

A while back I wrote an entry about flying with gear. There were many discussions at the time about the best approach etc and I for one was wary of checking any equipment into the hold of an aircraft.

Since I wrote that article, my view on the matter has changed through circumstances forced upon me over the past eighteen months of travel. 

If you don't know by now - I do a lot of travelling. Last year for instance, I travelled to Iceland four times, Norway twice, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Turkey and also Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and the USA. All in twelve months and in that time, I was forced by the airline around four times to put my camera gear in the hold because they decided to ask me how heavy my trolley bag was.

A sturdy trolley bag, such as the Think Tank Airport International bag gives me great confidence when carrying 'over my limit' gear as I know it can withstand some abuse in the hold. Another alternative would be a nice Pelican case. If you're not over the limit, then just take your normal bag and carry it on.

A sturdy trolley bag, such as the Think Tank Airport International bag gives me great confidence when carrying 'over my limit' gear as I know it can withstand some abuse in the hold. Another alternative would be a nice Pelican case. If you're not over the limit, then just take your normal bag and carry it on.

I must say that it's unusual for an airline to check the weight of my carry on luggage, but I've noticed that on few occasions they ask. This does not always go hand in hand with policy, and I've found the rules seem to vary on the day based on who you get at the check-in desk.

My trolley bag is the impressively-invincible Think Tank Airport International bag. It has been designed to fit into most overhead bins and conform to most airline dimension regulations. But the bag is heavy and I've found that on its own, it is 7kg in weight and with some of the airlines, the carry on weight limit is sometimes as low as this or around 10 to 12kg. My bag when it's loaded is around 15kg.

So last year I got stopped four times, even though the bag is pretty inconspicuous and because I think the bag is very study and well made, I checked in my gear because quite frankly, there was no other option.

Each time the bag arrived safely with all my gear intact and it's now gotten to the point for me that when I travel, I would much rather just check it in rather than have the stress of being stopped or them confiscating the bag from me just before I get on the plane (as did happen to me in Chile). If I pay for the additional luggage and just check it in, I arrive less worried about the bag at the airport and short of some catastrophe during transit, it's much less hassle for me.

I'm sure that many readers will think I'm mad and will think there is no way they will part with their gear at an airport. If that is the case, then cut it down to something you know doesn't have the risk of being stopped and forced into the hold. A small bag with just the essentials - the lenses and bodies, and get all the other accessories checked in - things like your filters, battery chargers, anything that you won't be too upset about if they get delayed or damaged or lost. Make sure it's well within the limits of what the airline accept and you will have trouble-free travel. 

This is a typical look at what's inside my Airport International trolley bag.

This is a typical look at what's inside my Airport International trolley bag.

If you're going to be like me, and need to carry spare bodies, and lenses, then be realistic - it's over the limit and if the airline stop you, you might have to put it into the hold. In which case, pack it in a bag that can withstand some abuse.

So these days I travel with two camera bags - I have the Think Tank Airport International trolley bag - it's made of non-rip material and feels as though it could withstand an explosion. I also pack in my main luggage bag a flattened down waste-level bag for when I am on location. The Airport International bag is really for me just getting across the water.

If I were a digital shooter (which I'm not), I would be avoiding DSLR systems these days. There is no reason for traveling with such large systems any more. We live in an age where smaller, more compact systems give great results for a lot less weight and bulk. Go that way if you're worried about checking your gear in. Otherwise check it in and do it with a bag that can handle the abuse.

Visualisation is a muscle

Yesterday I met up with a friend who has not had a lot of time lately to make photographs. He was telling me how he often finds he needs a 'warm-up period' each time he goes out with his camera. It's certainly not a unique problem as I've often heard clients on my workshops tell me it takes them a day or two to get into the mode of 'seeing'.

Here be a dragon. Except that I didn't 'see' it myself. I was on a photographic-tour of Iceland and one of my participants - Stephen Scott told me he liked the ice because it reminded him of a dragon. I'll admit - I was tired and I wasn't feeling it until he pointed out to me how special this piece of ice was. My visual-muscle was taking a break but Stephen's wasn't.

Here be a dragon. Except that I didn't 'see' it myself. I was on a photographic-tour of Iceland and one of my participants - Stephen Scott told me he liked the ice because it reminded him of a dragon. I'll admit - I was tired and I wasn't feeling it until he pointed out to me how special this piece of ice was. My visual-muscle was taking a break but Stephen's wasn't.


On some of my workshops we've discussed this to varying degrees. I've often said to my participants that I don't have that 'warm up period' unless I'm very tired or maybe suffering from overdoing things ( too much of a good thing can leave you lacking enthusiasm and once that goes, you don't see anything worth shooting). 

Now some of my participants have said that the reason why I don't have that 'warm up period' is because I'm doing photography all the time. I can see their point of view, but for me I think it's always been an innate thing. I've been drawing and painting from a very early age and being an arty kid, I think composition, light, colour, tone were instilled in me from an early age. Even when I worked in IT for 14 years, I only ever made photographs when I took my holiday time and went traveling, and holiday time at work dictated that I got a maximum of six weeks a year. I'll often leave my cameras in their bags for months on end with no desire to make photographs, but once I'm on my travels, I'm making photographs right away and I've never suffered from a period of feeling that it takes me a while to warm up.

So I've been thinking about this for a while and wondering why it is that some of us need a day or two to get into the photography mode of 'seeing', and why some of us don't and I've come up with some ideas about how we use our vision most of the time.

Let's consider a commute. Each day you do the same trip in your car to your office. Each day you see the same things because everything repeats and repeats and repeats. I think you'd go mad if you noticed the same things each day and I believe that what our brains do is 'filter out' what we don't need to know. Rather than process the same visual images time and time again, we 'skip over' the stuff we are familiar with. We do this also with our homes. Each time I walk into my sitting room and nothing has changed, I don't notice the objects, but if someone comes in and moves something around - it's the first thing I notice.

This suggests that I build up a visual map of surroundings that are familiar to me. Just as you know you've taken a turn into a street you didn't expect to arrive at, but know it is familiar to you, your brain is basically mapping it to a known visual imprint.

So consider that most of the time, we are going around 'filtering things out'. We are now effectively walking around ignoring things.

Do this for 20, 30, 40+ years and we're now going to find it very hard indeed to 'see' each time we pick up a camera after an extended break away from it. Since our normal mode of operation is to 'filter things out',  the act of photography is to do the opposite - to notice the smallest details, to take delight in the shade or texture of objects within the frame. I think this is why many of us are attracted to photography in the first place - because it gives us permission to spend time just 'looking'. It's not something we do on its own.

For those that have been involved in the visual arts for a long time, I think this is an innate activity. 

I remember reading once that one way to get yourself tuned up for 'seeing' is to imagine you have a camera with you all the time. Each time you see something interesting in your day to day activities, blink and imagine that the blink is you taking a photograph. I've sometimes done this and it's great because I've noticed I start to anticipate things coming together. 

Visualisation is like a muscle. For some of us if you don't use it, you lose it. Each time we put our camera away and go back to our normal daily lives, we give ourselves permission to stop 'seeing'. We are in the habit of compartmentalising our life: if i have a camera in my hand - I am now 'seeing' and if I don't, I am no longer seeing.

If we consider that there are photographs around us all the time - regardless of whether we have a camera with us, - it's still great to watch these visual-photographs unfold before us. It's also great practice for the times ahead when we do go out to make photographs.

Acratech GV2 Ball-Head Review

Every now and then, someone turns up on a workshop and shows me a great piece of camera equipment. I'm in the fortunate position to have access to a wide variety of camera lenses, bodies and also things like tripods and ball-heads.

Acratech GV2 with my replacement Mamiya 7 body clamped onto it via the (now very rare) Kirk L-plate

Acratech GV2 with my replacement Mamiya 7 body clamped onto it via the (now very rare) Kirk L-plate

The Acratech ball-head is one such piece of equipment that I was keen to try out. I was shown the original ball-head by my friend Raynor Czerwinski whom I got to know on one of my workshops here in Scotland in 2013. 

About a month ago I bought the most recent version of this ball-head - the GV2, which they claim acts as a Gimbal as well as a standard ball-head. 

You might be asking why I decided to buy yet another ball-head when I already own a few. My reasons were that this is the lightest ball-head I've come across - it weighs almost nothing ( 0.43kg to be specific).

But weight is only one aspect of a good Ball-head. The main criteria I always check when using one are:

1. Does it creep? When I lock down the ball-head, does the camera sag? 

Some ball-heads do that, and it's incredibly annoying. When you buy something to do a specific job, it should do it well. It shouldn't put the camera in a position where you didn't want it to be (otherwise known as fighting with your equipment). Equipment with a mind-of-its-own are items that I quickly get rid of because they begin to act as a barrier to what I'm doing. So making sure that a ball-head does not 'creep' or do anything unexpected is vital.

In this regard, the Acratech ball-head is fine. There is no 'creep' when you lock down the ball.

2. Does it support the arca-swiss style plate mechanism adopted by companies such as Kirk Enterprises and Really Right Stuff?

I only use ball-heads that accommodate 'arca-swiss' plates. In the above picture you can see that my camera has a black metal plate attached to it. The design I prefer is an 'L-bracket' as it allows me to quickly mount the camera on its side. I've never liked having to turn the camera sideways on a ball-head for a few reasons. One, the camera is now off-centre gravity, and two, you can't always get the camera level with the ground when it's tilted on its side, so I often find myself having to adjust the tripod leg length. In short - not using an L-plate makes things more complicated, time-consuming and just plain gets in the way of the images I'm wishing to make.

3. Are there any annoying things that will get in the way?

I think when using new products, they need time to get familiar with. I'm acutely aware that anything I buy to use in my photography may have a possible detrimental impact as well as a positive one. Sometimes I find that I need a prolonged period of use before I can determine whether anything I found frustrating or annoying with the product was simply a case of me getting familiar, or that it really is a bad design choice.

With that in mind, I took the Acratech ball-head to Iceland with me this July. I used it for about three weeks and during that time, found that sometimes when I thought I'd locked down the ball-head, it was still free enough. It seems I always need to give the friction knob a little extra tightening than I normally would with most of the other ball heads I used. This is a minor gripe because it was only a problem when I chose to sling the tripod and camera across my shoulder while walking around. I sometimes found the camera would flop to one side when I did this. Otherwise, with standard use, it was perfectly fine. So I guess this is a case of me getting familiar with this aspect of the ball-head.


Perhaps the biggest problem for me in using this ball-head is with the clamp design. Sure, it clamps to the base of the camera and keeps the camera there, but the knob for tightening the clamp has a very short travel and sometimes I found myself thinking 'I don't think the camera is clamped properly'. To my dismay, even though I was convinced the clamp wasn't holding my camera, I double-checked it, and let go, only to find my camera fall off the ball-head and into the nearest river.

This is something that I was bound to do at some stage with any ball-head and it's certainly something to be wary of when using a new clamp for the first week or so. It takes a lot of time to get that muscle-memory working so you 'just know' when something is seated correctly, or in my case - incorrectly.

If I could ask Acratech to do a design change, it would be to lengthen the travel of the clamp. It never feels right to me, and I'm curious to see if I will still feel that way in years time. For now, I will be double-checking the camera body out of paranoia as I ruined a Mamiya 7II body and 150mm lens through this design quirk.

And what did I like about the Acratech?

For the strength of the ball-head, it's one of the lightest designs (if not the lightest) out there. It's also very cost competitive with the alternatives from Really-Right Stuff). It doesn't 'creep', and I like the tactile knobs - when I reach for them in any kinds of weather (dry or wet hands), they grip to my skin and I'm able to take control of the ball head. 


In summary, I'm going to keep on using this ball-head for the foreseeable future. It's much lighter than anything I've used to date, is strong enough to hold any of the equipment I own, but I think it just needs a bit more time to get used to.

If only I'd followed my own advice on not taking new pieces of equipment on my trip, I might not have had issues with the clamp if I had been more familiar with the design. I can't say for sure if it was my unfamiliarity with the clamp that caused the demise of my camera, or whether it's a design flaw, but my hunch  would be to go for the former rather than the latter.

If you want a very cost-effective tripod ball-head, that is much lighter than most of the competitors out there, this is it. Just be wary of the short-travel in the clamp design.




You might have noticed a formatting change to my blog. Well my entire site is now mobile and tablet friendly. I had been thinking for a while now that desktop computers are on the wane, and tablets and mobile devices are taking of. So I felt it was time that my entire website had a bit of a make-over for the new way we all tend to enjoy the web.

One of the things that has come out of reviewing my old website and putting together this new one, is deciding which images I should perhaps leave out, and which should be included. During that phase a few months ago, I came across this image of mine:

My very first 'ooh, that' looks interesting' image, 1989.

My very first 'ooh, that' looks interesting' image, 1989.

It is the very first image that I ever made with a camera where I felt I had stumbled upon something.

I was around 22 years old, and I had owned my first camera (an EOS 650 with 50mm lens) for about a year or so. The image is of nowhere specific - just a corn field in the new-town of Livingston in West Lothian Scotland. 

One of my friends (the same one who had introduced me to photography) showed me a filter he'd bought for his camera. At the time (late 80's), the idea of using filters was still pretty new.

I bought one of the same filters and tried it out. One of the images in the slides I picked up from my local photo shop really stood out. The sky was completely overdone to the point that the blue was now black but the image was more interesting than I had anticipated.

For years, I had a few ciba-chromes of this made up for friends, and one of them always referred to it as 'a film-maker's dream'. Highly complimentary, but also I feel, alluded to where I might go with my photography in the decades to come.

I think we all have a photograph in our collection that has a special place in our hearts because it was perhaps a pivotal change in our early development. That's certainly how I see this photograph.

Back in the 80's, Photography had a way of making things look like 'another reality'. There was often a great disconnect between what we saw with our eyes and what was returned from the lab. It's something I loved about photography at the time (and to this day I still do as I continue to shoot film). The difference for me nowadays is that where I once pressed the shutter and hoped for the best, these days I have a slightly clearer view of how things might turn out.

Reviewing the new website has given me another chance to review my earlier work and through this process, I've discovered at least one thing: what I loved about photography back in the late 80's is still relevant to my photography today.

Iceland Stories and Killer Grannies

I'm just home from Iceland and the trip was amazing.

I've got around 50 rolls of film to get processed, one Mamiya 7II camera body + 150mm lens which I have to replace, as both fell off my new tripod-head and into the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river in the north east of the country. There is so much silt in the river that the camera is beyond repair.

Selfoss waterfall, on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum canyon

Selfoss waterfall, on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum canyon

That's just one of the biggest issues with using new equipment. The ball-head is excellent, but I find the clamp on the top plate has a very short travel in its adjustment, so when I put the camera onto the plate, I was sure it wasn't on properly, yet everything about the clamp was saying 'yes, it's on'. So I let go and all of a sudden the camera just fell right off the top of the ball-head and into the river.

On another note, myself and my friend almost got wiped out by a killer Granny. We were just on the outskirts of Husavik, when we saw a small car up ahead leave its lane and enter ours. I wasn't sure where to go and just hoped that the car wasn't going to do a head-on collision with us. At the very last moment it swerved back into its own lane and we both watched a granny pass us by with her eyes closed. Well, I wasn't sure if she was asleep, or if she had been busy trying to correct her knitting. It did occur to me later that perhaps she has been dead for a long time, and the car has (and still is) looping the ring-road of Iceland.

I don't know if I could have stood the embarrassment of being killed by a granny. Still, it would have put a smile on the face of everyone at the funeral if it had happened.

Back on the subject of photography, I have to say that each time I spend a bit more time in Iceland, the more I realise I've just scratched the surface. We spent about a week in the interior around the Fjallabak region. It's an amazing place with large craters, red waterfalls, and I'm already hatching plans to go back in September (if the roads are accessible) to make some more images there.

On a personal note, I managed to tick off a few things I have wanted to do in a long time. I trekked the Ásbyrgi to Dettifoss trek, which is approximately 30km over two days.

Landmannalaugar, 2004

Landmannalaugar, 2004

And this week I just completed the Landmannalaugar to þórsmörk trek - a very comfortable four day 55km hike over the highlands. The views at the top of Landmannalaugar were spectacular and my favourite spot was probably between Hrafntinnusker - Álftavatn. There is a small red waterfall in there that I hope to go back to photograph sometime either this year or next.

Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working

Pablo Picasso once said “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”.

I’ve always remembered this quote as I think there are many truths to be found in its meaning.

For me Picasso was saying that in order to create work, we have to put some effort in. The idea that we should sit around waiting for inspiration to come and find us is a sorry myth that should be thrown away, as It is through the act of trying new things and making mistakes that we encounter surprises and new avenues to explore.

If we don’t start somewhere, we never start at all.

I think the reason why I bring this up today, is that I’ve been reflecting upon my visit to japan earlier this year. Let me explain.

While I was in Kyoto, I only had five hours to make the Geisha images you see presented here. The time limit was one thing, but I also had to contend with being one of 3000 people attending the same event and many of the other visitors were photographers too.

Looking back, there were a few things that helped me get the portfolio you see here in such a short time.

The first was perseverance. I saw many photographers come and go and very few of them stayed for the entire time. By being on location and available for the entire time, I maximised my chances of getting the set of images I’d hoped for. I’m very focused in what I do and I guess you could say I’m driven. I dislike the word though as it implies a sense of forcing things. Creativity is never forced, it is explored with openness. But you only get out what you put in.

The second attribute that I think I had, was that I never try to anticipate how well something is going. I think too many people decide at some stage that the best is over and it’s time to go. There would be low points during the five hours that I felt that I wasn’t getting anything new, only to hang on for a bit longer and then be surprised because an opportunity I didn’t see coming presented itself. Over those five hours I was building up a mental picture in my mind of how the portfolio of images I was gathering would look ( I’m a film shooter so I have no preview screen to distract me. I’ve often found the best images stay with me in my mind until I get home ). Being open for anything to happen and being optimistic that it would is a must if you are to maximise your chances of improving your hit rate of good images.

The third was that during the five hours I was there, I built up a rapport with some of the Geisha. I’m very respectful of others and often only take a couple of shots and put the camera down. I like to thank them as it fosters good relations and by not holding onto the camera for too long, I minimise breaking the relationship that I’ve just built up with my subjects. I find this works very well for me as it relaxes my shooting style, it relaxes myself in knowing I can’t get everything I want, and it relaxes my subjects because they don’t find me overbearing or greedy in my pursuit of obtaining good images. I’ve also found over my time that the more relaxed I am, the less I seem to have to work at getting my subjects attention. I found over the five hours I was there that many of the Geisha would gravitate to where I was, because they didn’t feel suffocated by my presence.

The fourth is that I like to study people. I can’t help notice the way someone carries themselves, or a little habit they have. I also notice clothing and colours and where particular subjects like to hang out. Over those five hours I was there, I noticed where some of the Geisha would hang out in the court yard, or that they would prefer to stop somewhere for a few minutes before moving on. I’d position myself in these areas hoping it would improve my chances of making some good images.

Over the five hours I was there, I worked the location. I worked my subjects and I worked myself. I never gave up and I stayed to the very end. I found that some of my best images were created right at the very end of the event when almost everyone had gone home. By then I’d broken down a few barriers, and it was much easier to approach Geisha now and ask them for specific images.

I felt inspired, and looking back now, I’m so surprised I managed to create such a nice unit of images (portfolio) in such a short period of time. It was definitely worth the expense and time of going all the way to Japan for just one day.

But I’d always know that at the core of any successful project has to be focus and a willingness to participate. Picasso was right when he said “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”.

The Photographer's Ephemeris Desktop Web App

Stephen Trainor has just announced that a new version of the Photographer's Ephemeris (Desktop Edition only!) has been released (in Beta). This is a very different release from previous updates, as the desk-top application has now become a web application (please note that this is for desk-top editions only and does not affect iPad, iPhone or Android editions).

New Web-App for Desktops

New Web-App for Desktops

As Stephen says on his website:

"Some significant news for users of TPE for Desktop: two months from now, on 2 September 2014, TPE for Desktop will be no more.

On that date Google will turn off the Google Maps for Flash API, upon which TPE for Desktop depends. Once that happens, the app will no longer function.

Of course, we’ve known about this for a while, and have been working on a new version so that TPE will live on uninterrupted!

It seemed the perfect opportunity to give the old app an overhaul and to add a couple of nice features."

To read about the full update you can get the news here.

The other news is that Stephen and I are working on an updated copy of the Understanding Light e-Book we already sell for this application. The new version will hopefully be out at the end of August and will be free to all customers who own the current Understanding Light e-book. If you purchase the e-book between now and the new version being released, you will be automatically included for the revised edition.

Painting with Light

Tim’s Vermeer‘ is a documentary about a non-artist attempting to re-create one of the great artworks of Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. In it, we discover that Tim Jenison believes that Vermeer may have created his artworks with the aid of a camera obscura.

It’s a fascinating theory, simply because it suggests two things:

1) That photography is much older than I thought it was

2) If artists like Vermeer could have had access to a camera that could actually record scenes, they might not have taken up the brush.

The documentary is highly worth watching, if you can source it, simply because we find that Tim gets very close to creating something like a Vermeer by using a modified camera obscura to help him etch out a real scene.


The camera obscura has been around since 400 BC, and it’s known that Leonardo Da Vinci used it as an aid whilst sketching, so it’s perhaps no surprise that artists of all generations may have tried to employ it in the making of their art. Particularly so the kinds of works that were an attempt to record a verbatim image of real life.

But in Vermeer’s case, there is no evidence that he used such a camera obscura as his will lists no such object in his possession. What leads Tim and others to believe that Vermeer used one is the simple fact that most of his art uses the same room for the paintings setting. A camera obscura of the day would not be practical to move around so much, so you would be forced to work with it in the same location.

Vermeer’s genius is in no-doubt. And the documentary does not suggest otherwise, it is a quest to know how an artist of the day could be so much of a genius to paint such convincing images.

For me, the documentary was illuminating. I had never really considered that man has always had a fascination for being able to freeze a moment and hold onto it. Whether it is drawing in caves, or painting in the 17th century.

In that regard, I think if Vermeer did use a camera obscura to aid in painting these images, then they are some of the first photographs every produced.

When we look at a Vermeer, we are looking at a photograph from the 17th century. I find this quite a startling thought, more so than the realisation that artists like Da Vinci and Vermeer may have been some of the worlds first photographers.

New website - monochrome

For the past while I've been noticing that many of my more recent efforts have been leaning towards a muted colour palette or towards a monochromatic look.

I've often said on this blog, that it's possible to see where you're going by looking back at where you've been. There are often clues and signs in your previous work which suggest the direction you are headed.  For the past while I've noticed signs that monochrome might be an avenue for me to explore. I've encountered some locations that have dictated a more muted or monochromatic feel in my colour work. The black volcanic beaches of Iceland is one obvious example of this, as the following images may demonstrate.

The black volcanic sand beaches of Iceland is one area where I think I was given permission to accept that pink skies don't  always suit the subject matter. Rather than looking at a landscape and wishing for sunset tones, it's best to find beauty in what is actually there. Work with what there is and if the tones are muted, and the sky is overcast - then embrace it. It has its own kind of beauty.

This is something I find many workshop participants have to overcome. What appears to be boring light or disappointing as it does not match a pre-visualised ideal of a certain location can, and often is great light to work with, providing you can see that this kind of light and muted tones are actually quite beautiful.

I think I've been working in a monochromatic way even before I visited the black sand beaches of Iceland. If I look at this shot of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia taken in 2009, it's really monochrome-in-blue.

But black and white isn't easy. I think that's one of the reasons why I've steered clear of it for so long. The medium is unforgiving when it comes to noticing any errors in tonal relationships. I feel it's a medium that is actually harder to work in despite common sense telling me that it should be simpler. It's often the case that what looks simple is actually very difficult to pull off well.

I've always felt I needed to gain a good grounding in darkroom interpretation skills - knowing where to dodging and burn rather than how, has taught me a lot about how the tones in an image interact. So for me, working in colour, and reducing the components of the scene down to a much simpler set of tones and colours has been a good primer for working in monochrome.

With this in mind, I've decided that it would be great to start exploring the world of monochrome a little bit more, in addition to my colour work. I'm sure both will influence each other over the coming years. But at the moment it's just a hunch and I'm really keen to see where things may go.

I've set up a new website for my monochrome work here:

The site currently contains some re-interpretations of some of my better known colour images along side some new images.

Lastly, my reasons for setting up a dedicated website for my monochrome work was purely aesthetic. I feel mixing colour and monochrome work together under the same space is trying to do too many things in one go, and that kind of approach never works. One will dilute or weaken the message of the other. Plus, I feel that the viewer should be led into a body of work and whilst there, enjoy a sense of continuity rather than being flung from monochrome work to colour and back again. It's unsettling for the viewer and it breaks any spell they may be under (hopefully) from immersing themselves in the work.

For me, the importance of how ones work is presented, should never be underestimated.

Happy Anniversary (to me!)

Tonight I'm feeling quite reflective about my photographic-life. You see, this summer will be exactly ten years since I first visited Iceland. What was originally supposed to be a bike-touring trip around the ring road changed into a photography trip after I fell off my bike (I was wearing cleats on my cycle-shoes) and broke my wrist. When my plaster came off six weeks later, I had already re-booked a flight to take me out there late summer, which turned out to be ideal.

The trip was an epiphany for me in terms of my photographic development. I remember looking at the transparencies on my light table a few months after returning home and thinking 'wow - this is quite a bit of a step up from what I've done to date'.

Selfoss & morning mist

I was 36 years old, and I'd only really been photographing passionately for 3 or 4 years at that time and I still had a lot to look forward to. Through my workshops I've met people who have found photography at all ages. I'm surprised just how old I was when I really got into it, so I think there's always hope for everyone - it's never too late to start whatever it is you want to do.

I feel quite nostalgic about this first trip because it made such a big impression on me, not just in terms of noticing a shift in my own photographic abilities, but also in the experience as a whole.

I spent almost a month in a tent and got so used to the experience that I found it hard to sleep in a bed when I got home. I also missed the sound of the wind and outside atmospheric sounds when I returned from the trip - Iceland really got under my skin.

During my time away I found I had days camped in wild areas such as Dettifoss waterfall without any company. I really loved this. My thoughts during all this solitary time turned towards memories I'd forgotten I owned. Old school friends from my childhood and primary school surfaced, as did thoughts of my three sisters and my brother. It was a very cathartic time and one I still look back on with fondness because you can't replicate that kind of experience if you try: it just has to come to you.


Iceland at that time was still fairly unknown to most world-tourists and many of the places I visited were mine during the small hours of the day. I often made photographs from 11am to 6am with my Mamiya 7II medium format film camera.

Things have changed a lot in the last ten years. When I started out, film was king and everyone was asking 'will digital take over?'. Then there was a time when folks asked 'have you gone digital yet?' like there was just a matter of time and it would be inevitable. I'm still shooting film and loving it but I do feel like an old-timer in this regard now.

I've also seen the birth of what I term the 'photographic-tourist'. Photography has never been so popular and there are more and more people each year visiting far-off distance places. Which is just great, so long as we don't spoil it all in the process.

And perhaps the biggest change for me over this period is that I've seen myself go from an IT professional (although my work friends might claim that I was never professional), to being a full-time workshop and tour leader. I never intended it, didn't strive for it - it just came and found me. I'm truly grateful for being given something that I know is my true vocation in life.

jokularsgljufur stamp, 2007, image © Me

On a humorous note, I think I'm in denial about my age. I'm now 46, not far away from being 47 but I still feel like I'm 27, or maybe more truthfully 19.

I think I'm also very much in denial about what photography has become compared to what it was ten years ago. Being a photographer and traveling was still a very exotic thing way back then and although I'm sure it still is to many of us, I feel a shift in its uniqueness. These special and often remote places have been publicised so heavily on the web now. Either through social networking or dedicated photography sites like Flickr (or my own come to think of it) and traffic to them has increased dramatically. That's just an observation and not a complaint. Things just change.

And lastly, compared to 2004, I don't feel like the new-guy anymore. Perhaps more "established-old-school", but that could just be in my mind only. There's been so much development in technology and how people convey what they do that I sometimes feel like a bit of a dinosaur.

But I still firmly believe that content wins over presentation. Good images always speak for themselves, despite what mediums we use to broadcast them and now we decide to dress them up.

So here's to the next ten years, wherever it may bring us all in our own photographic journey. It's certainly been a journey for me so far.

I'm so grateful that I got acquainted with Iceland. As a photographer, I have grown through getting to know it. It has been pivotal in my own development and for that reason, it will always have a very special place in my heart.


#IPHONEONLY A book of landscape photographs made entirely on an iPhone.

It's interesting to note that the largest growth market in digital cameras is in the 35mm arena. This is interesting to me because we now live in an age where we have numerous formats to choose from and many of them are just as capable of making good pictures as the trusty old 35mm format. The reason for this current growth in DSLRs as I understand it, is that many mobile phone users who discover an interest in photography through their phone assume that the next logical progression is to buy a decent DSLR. I can appreciate that if you're new to photography, and don't know much about the new smaller formats, that this appears to be the way to go.

My own personal feeling on the matter is that the DSLR is tied to an historical format and as such, I think there are many smaller lighter systems available that would be just as valid, and much less bulky to use for many projects. In other words, DSLRs are not the only way to go if you want to get into digital photography seriously. In fact, I think the system of choice is often a personal one and the quality of the work is really in the skill of the photographer. Not the gear.

Julian Calverley is known mostly for his advertising work in which he uses an ALPA camera with a state of the art Phase-One digital back. It's heartening to know that Julian is just as creative behind an iPhone as he is behind his ALPA and his terrific book #IPHONEONLY illustrates. It gives credence to his abilities regardless of what format he chooses and also to the stark truth that any camera is good enough, even an iPhone. If you have dreams to create beautiful work, and can't afford a camera system, Julian's book will confirm to you that you can get started right now with your mobile phone and a few inexpensive processing apps.

So what of Julian's book?

Firstly, let's get the physical properties out of the way and then I'll talk about the quality of the work contained within. It's a small book A5 in size and it's printed on very high quality paper via a waterless lithographic printing process. The print quality is really nice and Julian's notes about his images are subtle, allowing the work to speak for itself.

About the work itself. The book mostly contains landscape images of Scotland. It's a place I obviously know well so I had great pleasure in seeing some very different and refreshing views of well known places. But I think for me what stands out is the overall feel of the work. Julian likes dark moody days. There are images where I can almost feel I'm sitting in a car staring out at the landscape as the rain lashes against the windscreen. Growing up in Scotland, I often found my holidays involved a lot of rain and abrupt changes in atmosphere. Because of this I felt a connection with the work immediately.

I also think that the work has a spontaneous feel to it, which says more about the freedom that using a mobile phone has brought to Julian's work than anything about quality - the images are superb. Many of them illustrate that he is comfortable photographing in any kind of weather which is something we could all learn from. If we only make photos when it's dry then we are restricting ourselves to what might be. Sometimes owning expensive equipment makes us scared to use it in inclement weather. It seems a mobile phone can, and is, an extremely liberating way to make photographs.

Julian uses colour in the same sense that I do. He uses his chosen colour palette, which reminds me of rainy autumn days to convey emotion and mood in his work.

I'm surprised that it's taken this long to have a book published that has been made solely with a mobile phone. If you're looking for some inspiration that can help you to shake up what you're doing, or maybe encourage you to stop going down the equipment buying route and focus more on your own development, then this book is a great example that it's the photographer not the gear that is responsible for making art. But the book Is also a thing of small beauty as well. A lovely object to add to your book collection.

It's just so encouraging to see someone embrace his mobile phone and create great images. It's proof to me that the equipment is always a means, a personal choice and the art we create with it solely lies within us.

The standard edition of #IPHONEONLY is available from the Lionhouse Bindery.

And Exclusively to BeyondWords books, a signed edition at £20.