New Atacama images

I have a backlog of so many images from my travels over the past few years and I've become aware that there really has to be the right time to work on them.

Rather than fret and put pressure on myself to work through that backlog,  I should just work on what I feel inspired by and leave those other images for another time. But the backlog 'does' need to be cleared, otherwise a 'creative blockage' - builds up in one's mind, which isn't a good thing.

One of the difficulties for me, is that I need space and time away from what I do, so I can approach the work with a sense of enthusiasm and objectivity. If you travel a lot like I do, and there isn't a lot of space in your schedule, then it can be hard to find your mojo.

Balance is key to everything we do in life. Too much of one thing and it starts to suffer. These days my photography is no longer my hobby. I have had to choose other activities so I have time away from what I do. So this summer I've spent a bit of time cycle touring and long-distance racing around the north of Scotland.

I mention all of this, because I simply cannot come home and delve right into editing work straight away. Apart from requiring some distance to maintain a sense of objectivity from the shoot, by the time I've spent over a month somewhere, I'm a bit saturated. The enthusiasm is starting to wane simply because I need some balance in my life.

Regarding the editing of this new Atacama work, I had a few false starts trying to begin work on them. When I've not given myself enough time to recharge - I can view things rather negatively. If i'm not in the right frame of mind, it's easy for me assume the images I've shot are no good.

It's hard to gain inspiration in something if you're needing some time away from it.

So this is one of the reasons why I have a backlog of images from the past few years. I just haven't found the right time and place to edit them. To ease the burden of feeling there is so much of a backlog, I've given myself complete permission to have that backlog. I've also made it clear to myself that it's ok not to work on stuff when I don't want to.

This self-acknowledgement has helped tremendously in dealing with the work. I've found as a result, that the work doesn't get left behind. The fear of neglect has gone, and a new way of working has surfaced. It is not unusual for me to delay working on images for up to a year or more now. I like to think the gestation period gives me time to consider and approach the work the right way.

This collection of Altiplano images had a few false starts. I was letting self pressure get in the way. So I backed off from it all and chose to do other things.

Then one morning, with no intention to begin work on them, I found that things just started to click. There was positive flow. As a result I never made it out of the house for the next 24 hours. I immersed myself in the flow of creativity I found myself in and above all enjoyed the process.

Patagonia 2016

This week I published some new images from Patagonia on this very website. 

My previous visits to Patagonia yielded monochromatic, often dark toned, images. I felt at the time, this really summed up my view of this landscape. Seems I may have been too quick to judge as this year I found myself confronted with a softer, lighter view of the place.

Serrano Forest, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Serrano Forest,
Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

I think the appreciation of what I saw and how I interpreted Torres del Paine this year was influenced heavily by my visit to Hokkaido last December.

Since that visit, I feel my images have been moving towards the higher registers of tonality. Rather than focussing on the dark tones and 'drama', I now feel I've found a few more octaves of light to play with.

Like a singer who stays in the middle range of their voice for safety, I'm curious if this is what most of us photographers do with the tonal subjects we shoot. Most of what we do resides in the safer tones. Yet, by pushing the exposures to the extreme outer edges of our comfort tones, we may find some new things to say in our work.

Ice & salt in Laguna Armaga, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Ice & salt in Laguna Armaga,
Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

In this new work, there is a mixture of dark images and as well as lighter ones. The skill I feel, is to marry them so they feel part of the same set. 

Tones and tonality has become something I'm very obsessed with over the past few years. I think it's easy enough to make nice images these days, but to really make your images stand out, or to go that extra mile, I feel an understanding or tones and relationships between them is vital.

Returning to the same places time and again is a tortuous thing for me to go through. Not only am I so fortunate to return to Patagonia on a yearly basis, but each year it feels as if the place sets me new challenges, new homework.  The benefits are enormous. Through this process, I get to grown as a photographer in some way.

Rio Serrano Forest, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Rio Serrano Forest, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

What I like most about this years work, is that I made photographs of lesser, iconic views. I've never shot Lago Pehoe before without the Cuernos mountain range in the background. The mountain range always seems to dominate my view of the place. It's therefore unusual for me to make more abstract or intimate compositions.

Lago Pehoe, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Lago Pehoe, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

At Lago Sarmiento we had no view of the Paine massif, and this was very freeing. I felt I could concentrate more on the shore and the rock formations there. Sometimes the Paine massive is just too magnetic. It can over dominate the scene.

Rio Serrano Forest, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Rio Serrano Forest, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Colour Proofing.......

Today I'm colour proofing...... But I have to calibrate my monitor first, to ensure that what I see on it, is a close representation of what's actually in the files.....

Most people choose 'native white point', but that may result in the monitor being too cool in tone. The only way to confirm your monitor is calibrated, is to compare it against an icc profile verification print - essentially a  file that has been accurately measured and is guaranteed to be close to the file it was created from. I put this file under a daylight viewing booth (as shown below) and compare it with the source file it was printed from, with proofing switched on in Photoshop. If the 'perception' is that they are similar, then I've got the monitor calibrated & profiled well.

For essential colour accuracy, one must use a daylight viewing booth to confirm the profiling of your monitor. If the print target does not match the monitor - then the calibration / profiling is off. You also need to have a torch and an Icelandic Puffin in your studio too :-)

For essential colour accuracy, one must use a daylight viewing booth to confirm the profiling of your monitor. If the print target does not match the monitor - then the calibration / profiling is off. You also need to have a torch and an Icelandic Puffin in your studio too :-)

On a side note - daylight viewing booths such as the one I use from GTI have a colour temperature of 5000k. But there's more to it than just assuming that if the viewing booth is 5000K, then my monitor should be set to the same colour temperature. This won't work. GIT have an article that explains what 5000K actually means if you really need to know this stuff, but for most purposes, you'll find a 5000K viewing booth will be comparable to a monitor running at a temperature much higher than 5000k. (If you put your monitor down to 5000K - it will go seriously yellow and it definitely won't match your viewing booth at all).

For me, the most critical aspect is the neutrality of the black and white tones. In the  icc profile verification print you see above, there is a monochrome section in the top left of the file. If I have the monitor white point set too high, the monochrome picture may appear too cold (it should theoretically go blue but some monitors don't - see below for more on this). Conversely,  If you have the white point set too low, then the monochrome area will look too warm on the monitor. By fine tuning the white point of my monitor (through the calibration software I use) I can get my monitor closer to what I see on the print. This is an iterative step that I do until I find the right white point.

Lastly, as mentioned above, it's easy to assume that computer monitors should become bluer (cooler) as their white point is increased. This isn't always the case. Some monitors may go either green or magenta when their colour temperature is turned up too high, I find that my Eizo goes a little green.  Apparently setting the white point only alters the blue to yellow colour axis and not the green to magenta tint.

So If you do find your monitor is going a little green or magenta, then you may have to compromise and stick to the native white point. I would suggest however that you experiment.  For me, I found moving my monitor down to just below 6000K seemed to work nicely but your findings may differ.

My musical past

I've had two creative lives. The first one was a musical one which started when I was twelve years old. I lived and breathed music - writing it, playing it, recording and producing it until I got to around 29 years old.

Back in the mid-90's, I was in a Scottish band called 'The Indian Givers' with my friend Nigel Sleaford (whom you can hear singing on the song that I've embedded into this post). Nigel had just been dropped by Virgin Records whom he had been signed to for a few years. He had released one album as The Indian Givers and had thought he was set up for doing a second album when Virgin were bought by EMI and they dropped most of the non-major artists on their rosta. 

For those of you who know a bit about some of the lesser known Scottish bands at the time, I was a friend of Gordon Kerr's - he was in a band called Botany 5 whom had some success in the early 90's. Gordon put me in touch with Nigel when I was looking to work with a singer. Nigel at this point, had been dropped by Virgin. Up until we worked on this track, I had just been putting together instrumentals and was keen to find a vocalist to work with.

The song you can listen to above, is from an album of twelve tracks we recorded over 4 years in my living room. It's very 90's now :-) 

All the sound production and mixing  was done by myself on a really horrible cheap / nasty mixer. So it's really a 'demo' and I'd hoped that if we got to record it properly sometime, we might have used a real string section for it, rather than samples. Everything on the track was either sampler or synth.

For the music nerds reading this post: I did have some very nice Synth's at my disposal (Prophet 5, Studio Electronics ATC-1, Wavestation, TX816, Roland S-750 Sampler, Waldorf Microwave, Waldorf Wave, SCI Pro-One) and a Mac computer with an Audiomedia card running on it (for the vocals). Plus a lot of outboard effects units. I was still learning about audio production at the time.

I find that looking back at this period in my life a bitter sweet one. We had been offered a publishing deal at the time but it never really got off the ground. I almost got offered a job working for a film studio doing sound design, but that never really happened either. After working on music for so long and feeling that nothing was coming of it, I hit burn out. 

I had a hiatus of around 4 years where I couldn't face writing music any longer and where I had no other creative outlet. I think I needed the break, but looking back - it was an empty time for me. I really need to be creative.

My second creative life - that of Photography - really started around the year 2000 when I was around 33 years old. I've never had any real direction in what I've been doing with the photography side - it just seems to have blossomed over the years into something that I could actually do full time. I'm extremely grateful for this, because I always felt I should be a 'creative person' in some form or other.

But one thing I've learned over the years is this: you need to look after your creativity. Nurture it. Don't abuse it, don't be overly critical of yourself, and above all else: remember to enjoy it. I beat myself up so much about my music that I stopped enjoying it. I also took it far too seriously. I wish I hadn't.  

At the moment, I'm just grateful to have found a second creative outlet and that this one has been much kinder to me.  I hope I can continue to be creative for many years to come :-)

I feel very philosophical about my musical past: it's mine, I own it. I also feel that everything we do is a stepping stone. I know for sure, that I needed to go through the process of working on music for so long, in order for me to be doing what I do now. We are after all, products of our accumulated experiences. 


Shedding Old-Skin

"We need space in our creative endeavours,
just as much as we need space in our photographs"

Often, I feel too much emphasis is placed upon the creation of work. But I think as artists, our non-creative time is just as important. We need to understand and most importantly, respect that periods of inactivity are just as healthy as periods of activity are. They give us a much needed pause in our creative lives to reflect and grow.

Moonfall, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Image © Bruce Percy

Moonfall, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Image © Bruce Percy

Creative drought is often viewed upon negatively. There is a fear that since we cannot find any inspiration to create, or cannot create at will, that perhaps the creative well is dry for good. Our thoughts go along the lines os 'I shall never be able to create anything ever again!'

I think we should look more positively at these periods of inactivity and recognise that as with any creative endeavour, there is always going to be an ebb and flow to what we do. A yin and yang. To create, we must have periods where we do not.

I see these moments of inactivity as a rest, a pause in the music of our creativity. But there is more than just this, I've often found these periods to be the precursor to some new growth in my artistry.  What I had thought may be the dwindling of my creative force, turned out to be the beginning of a new direction, or the reinforcement of a style in my work. The shedding of old skin.

If you are currently experiencing some creative drought - a bare patch in your creativity, I would suggest you accept it and let it ride itself out. Take your foot of the gas and wait.

Just as when we have a pressing issue that we do not have the answer to, I've often found that given some time away from it, the answer will come. As my dad has often said to me when I was trying too hard to get something to work: "best give it a rest for a while and when you do come back to it, you'll see it in a new light".

Human eye response

I find it very interesting that it's completely impossible for us as a species, to see true dynamic range. We don't actually see the world the way it really is - our eyes compress luminosity so that everything in the upper regions all looks the same:

The human eye compresses luminosity. In other words, we are unable to see true dynamic range. It is a physical impossibility. Digital cameras can however see the true dynamic range. Even so, just because they can, does not mean they render images the way we see them. We need to use grads to do that.

The human eye compresses luminosity. In other words, we are unable to see true dynamic range. It is a physical impossibility. Digital cameras can however see the true dynamic range. Even so, just because they can, does not mean they render images the way we see them. We need to use grads to do that.

We are in fact, all blind to true luminosity in the real world. Whereas digital cameras aren't: they are able to see that the sky is 4 stops brighter than the ground. But just because they can see it - it doesn’t mean digital cameras are giving us what we want. It just means that digital cameras don’t see the way we see. And that’s the important bit.

We tend to view everything we look at, as a mid-exposure. When I look at the sky, in my mind I see a mid-exposure of it. And when I look at the ground, I see a mid-exposure of it also. As my eye scans around, I build up an internal representation of the world - a collage or collection of mid-exposures.

This is why I don't agree with the concept that 'if a scene can fit inside the entire histogram, then we don't need grads'. This belief, lacks understanding of what it is we are trying to do with grads in the first place and also what a histogram represents.

Image shot without a grad. Sky is overexposed while ground is underexposed. Although it is contained within the histogram, and is a true representation of what is there, it does not match how the eye perceives the scene (the human eye compresses dynamic range whereas digital cameras do not),

Image shot without a grad. Sky is overexposed while ground is underexposed. Although it is contained within the histogram, and is a true representation of what is there, it does not match how the eye perceives the scene (the human eye compresses dynamic range whereas digital cameras do not),

With a grad in place, the dynamic range of the scene is reduced - but not only that - the ground values move towards the mid-tone area (right) of the histogram, while the sky tones move towards the left (mid-tone) area of the histogram. Giving an image that is closer to how our eye sees.

With a grad in place, the dynamic range of the scene is reduced - but not only that - the ground values move towards the mid-tone area (right) of the histogram, while the sky tones move towards the left (mid-tone) area of the histogram. Giving an image that is closer to how our eye sees.

In the images above, the left-hand one is an example of what happens when I don't use grads. The image may well 'fit into the histogram', but the ground is underexposed and the sky is overexposed:

The left-hand side of the histogram represents dark tones while the right-hand side represents bright tones. I now have a muddy underexposed ground (left-hand side of the histogram) and overexposed sky (right-hand side of the histogram).

So everything fits, but the image sucks.

And the thing about histograms is: Just because you have the space - it doesn't mean you have to fill it. 

The problem is, my eye doesn't see the ground as a dark area, nor the sky as a bright area. My eye tends to perceive them both as similar to each other and as a mid-tone. So if I wanted my histogram to represent what I saw, I would expect to see a 'single humper' histogram like this one:

One where the ground is a mid-tone and the sky is a mid-tone too. In effect, the ground and sky would share the same area of the histogram. 

And that's where grads come in, because they do this for us. They not only push the sky from the right side of the histogram to the middle tone, they also move the ground from the left side of the histogram towards the middle tone. Yep, grads not only darken the sky - they also brighten the ground because they reduce the dynamic range or width of the histogram. Since your camera is always aiming for an 18% mid-tone, everything moves towards the middle: sky goes left and ground goes right.

Again: just because you have the space - it doesn't mean you have to fill it :-)

If you do choose to use grads, there are a couple of benefits to using them:

1) You will have more space in the left-hand side for more shadow tonal information. When you don't use grads and squeeze everything into the histogram you push the ground to the left - and underexpose it. And when underexposing - you tend to compress (or quantise) different lower tones into fewer tones. Twenty discreet tones are summed into one or two tones. However, If you use grads, you open up the shadows by moving the ground towards the middle area of the histogram and this compression becomes less of an issue.

2) Conversely, the same is true for the sky. You have more space on the right for more tonal gradations and you record more tonal graduations. If you didn't use grads - many of the brighter tones are squeezed together or quantised - several tones become one in an attempt to fit it all into the dynamic range of the camera.

3) If you use grads the RAW image doesn't suck so much to look at.

Point 3 is perhaps the most important one for me. If we put all the science to one side, I'd much rather come home with something that already looks inspiring to work with.  A more balanced exposure through the use of grads will do that for me.  I wish to be engaged when I review the RAW files,   I don't wish to have to think about jumping through some additional hoops before I can figure out if there is anything of value there. If I don't use grads, I may let a few images fall between the cracks if I have to do additional processing before I can visualise if the image holds promise.

So for me, coming home with a more pleasing balanced image that requires less work to see if there is potential, is the most important aspect for using grads.

But that's just me. Which of the two images above would you choose to come home with?

The restless come down

"When I'm at home, I long to be away on my travels with my camera
and when I'm away, I sometimes long to be at home"

I'm just home from a month traveling in South America. It is something I do annually and I dearly love returning to Patagonia and Bolivia. Like most of the landscapes I have become acquainted with over the years, they have become a home from home for me. I dearly love them and would be very sad indeed if I could not return as frequently as I do. I fully appreciate that as part of my job, it is a real luxury to go to Patagonia and Bolivia each year, when these destinations are perhaps at most a once in a life-time experience for many.

Cono de Arita, Argentina Altiplano, Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Cono de Arita, Argentina Altiplano, Image © Bruce Percy 2015

I've been back home for a week, and I've found it very hard re-adjusting. Years ago, the adjustment was just as hard, but in a different way. Traveling abroad would be a real luxury for me - a once a year endeavour and escape from my (at the time) IT job. I fully see and understand the parallels for my dear clients - many of whom have become good friends. I understand their excitement on coming with me to Patagonia or Bolivia.

But for me now, the re-adjustment is different. I do so much traveling, and spend so much time with groups of enthusiastic photographers, where the chat and banter are so much fun, that it's often very hard to come back to my home town and settle back in to a routine. I noticed last year for instance, that after being home for two weeks, I was hatching plans to buy a plane ticket and head off..... I'm glad to say that I resisted the temptation and went 'cold-turkey' for a month.

It was only then that I really started to enjoy being home. The same bed each nice (bliss!), the same kettle, I didn't have to pay a fortune each time I wanted a cup of tea or coffee. I had full privacy, and the surprising thing of all - I delighted in the familiar.

It took me a while to realise, that due to the amount of traveling I was doing, I was becoming 'institutionalised'. The travel, the landscapes, the places I love to go to, were becoming more of a home for me, than my real home was.

So this year, I opted to go 'cold-turkey' for three months. To stay at home and just enjoy the familiarity of my surroundings. Well, I'm one week in so far, and I'm already feeling that sense of restlessness that seems to pervade my thoughts. But I know I'll get through it, and before I know it, I will be psychologically ramping up for going away on my travels during the autumn and winter.

It's a schizophrenic life I lead, and I think it's not dissimilar to many others who have a love of landscape photography.

The thing is, I recognise that I'm not alone. Most of us who have a passion for the landscape, have a desire to break free from the 9-5 job, or to be more connected with the world in some way.

Watching the clouds roll over a landscape, or watching the tide wash against a coastline is as primeval an instinct as staring at a fire is. It seems to be something deep within some of us, that we simply just want to be as connected with the world and our environment as we can be.

It's a restlessness of some kind, and I think it's just the way it is: we can't control the urge or the impulse, and because we can't, we never really know exactly where we want to be.

Perhaps it's just a yearning for a sense of balance that we're really searching for? 

We are inquisitive by nature: I would put it to you that all landscape photographers are seeking to know more, to feel more connected, to feel more alive, and one way to do that, is to go searching, traveling, seeking.

With that inquisitiveness has to come a sense of restlessness. And with that restlessness comes a need for some kind of balance between routine and adventure.

Grad Filters - soft graduations or hard graduations?

Lee filters introduce two new graduations of ND filter

In April,  Lee-Filters announced two new graduation sets to their ND product range. Up until now, you had the choice of either soft-graduation or hard-graduation ND filters. Now you have two further choices - very-hard-graduation and also medium-graduation filters.

Lee filters have just introduced a new 'very-hard' and also a new 'medium' graduation filter set to their existing line of soft and hard ND-grad sets.

Lee filters have just introduced a new 'very-hard' and also a new 'medium' graduation filter set to their existing line of soft and hard ND-grad sets.

I currently own the 1, 2 & 3 stop versions of both soft and hard-grad filters. They are useful in many different ways. But with the news of the newer graduation types, I think my filter set is going to change.

Soft or Hard, which should you choose?

Each year when I send out my trip notes for the workshops I'm running, I ask everyone to buy the hard-graduation filters. Despite some participants reluctance to get the hard-grads because they think the graduation may be too obvious (it's not) in the picture, I find the existing Lee hard-grads just about right for most applications.

The reason is that Hard grads are actually quite diffused once they are put up so close to the front of the lens. They give enough bite to change the picture, and do so without being too obvious where their placement is. They are perfect for when you just want to grad the sky only.

Soft grads on the other hand are too soft for just grading the sky - their bite doesn't cut in as much as I'd like. But I do find that Soft-grads have other uses: they are ideal for instances when there is a gradual change from the bottom of the frame to the top. Instances like lakes where the water is extremely dark at the bottom of the frame and it gets brighter towards the horizon. Using soft grads across the middle of the water help control that.

So in general: hard grads are for controlling the sky when there is a sudden shift between ground and sky. Soft grads are useful for scenes where the entire scene changes gradually as you move up the frame.

Grad Placement may not be so critical, and here's why

It really depends on the focal length. Smaller focal-lengths provide a sharper rendering of the graduation whereas larger focal-lengths diffuse the graduation, making hard-grads softer.

If you zoom out - the graduation becomes more defined. And as you zoom in, the graduation becomes more diffused. With a hard-grad it means it's a hard-grad at 24mm but it starts to act more like a soft-grad when used at 75mm. Soft grads are soft at 24m but they become far too soft once you get up to and beyond 75mm.

I illustrate this below. Using the same hard-grad, I zoom in from 24mm to 150mm. As I do so, the graduation becomes softer. I am essentially zooming into the graduation:

Using the same hard-grad, as I go up the focal lengths from 24mm to 150mm, the graduation becomes more diffused. My hard-grad essentially becomes a soft-grad at 150mm.

Using the same hard-grad, as I go up the focal lengths from 24mm to 150mm, the graduation becomes more diffused. My hard-grad essentially becomes a soft-grad at 150mm.

I have a medium-format rangefinder system. I can't see through the lens, but I've never had a problem with placing the hard-grads, and it's all because of a combination of them being so diffused so close to the lens, and the higher focal lengths. My wide angle is a 50mm for example.

Which Graduations should I choose, and why?

Your choice of camera format will also determine how your grads will behave.  Smaller-formats user smaller focal lengths, while larger formats use larger focal lengths for the same angle of view. For example, a 24mm lens in 35mm format has the same angle of view as a 50mm does in medium-format. But the same grad used on a 24mm will be more defined than if it were used on a 50mm, even though both lenses give the same angle of view.

In the graph below, I show the equivalent focal lengths for the 'same angle of view' as you go up the formats from MFT (Micro-Four-Thirds) to Large format. You can see that the focal lengths get longer and longer. This means that your soft-grad filter will become softer and softer as you move up the formats.

As you go up the formats, the focal lengths get longer for the same angle of view. This also means that any hard-grads you buy become softer as you move up for camera formats. Or harder as you go down the formats.

As you go up the formats, the focal lengths get longer for the same angle of view. This also means that any hard-grads you buy become softer as you move up for camera formats. Or harder as you go down the formats.

So it's not just a simple case of choosing soft grads over hard ones, because you think they will be less noticeable in the final image. You also have to take into account the focal lengths you're using.

In my own case, I use Medium Format cameras, and I mostly use hard-grads because they give me the right amount of graduation across the frame for the focal lengths I mostly use (50 and 80). When I use the hard-grads with the 50mm, the placement isn't so critical as there's a degree of diffusion there already, but the filter still bites into the image enough to make hard-grads a viable choice. When I use soft-grads though, they tend to be too diffused for the focal lengths I use. 

Which of the new range will I be tempted to get?

Since I'm a medium format shooter, I'm tempted to replace most of my soft-grads with the new medium grads. The medium-grads will give me what I am looking for (but not getting) from my soft-grads.

I will remain using the standard hard-grads, as they are perfect for my wide and standard lenses, but I am interested in buying some very-hard-grads for use with my telephoto lenses. As explained, when you get up to such high focal-lengths, hard-grads become less and less effective.

Using different types of graduation is a key component to good exposures. I've found for many years that I could do with some graduation filters that are somewhere between the old hard-grad and soft-grad sets, and there is also cause to have very-hard grads for use when using higher focal lengths. So for me, I will be buying some of the medium-grads and very-hard grads to compliment my ever-growing set of ND filters.

Easter Island 2016

This week I'm on Easter Island. It is my third visit to this island since I first visited back in 2003. A lot has changed in the thirteen years since I first came here.

Image courtesy Richard Cavalleri, tour participant 2016 

Image courtesy Richard Cavalleri, tour participant 2016 

I think returning to a place can be very rewarding, for a few reasons.

The first and most obvious one, is that by returning, you get a another chance to capture what you failed to capture during your first visit. To fill in the missing gaps on what you thought was possible. And of course, you get to dig a little deeper. Each time I've returned to a place, I've found my knowledge and understanding of it just gets a little richer and my photographs seemed to touch areas of the place that I didn't encounter the first time.

But it's not just this aspect of revisiting a place that is rewarding. I've often found that each time I return to a place I have photographed before, that I find myself reflecting on who I was, what I was trying to achieve and also, just how much I've changed as a photographer since that previous visit.

My first visit to Easter Island in 2003 was at a time when I had only just been making photographs seriously for about three years. I still hadn't grasped what grad filters could do for my exposures, or indeed, how full ND filters could help smoothen down some of the textures in my photos. I was also very unclear at the time as to how far I could push the boundaries of my chosen film stock with regards to the quality of light I could photograph. There are numerous technical aspects that I did not know at the time, that I do know now.

Image © Richard Cavalleri. This is a cropped version of the first image in this post. Richard and I spent some time discussing aspect ratios and image-interpretation / editing techniques during our time together.

Image © Richard Cavalleri. This is a cropped version of the first image in this post. Richard and I spent some time discussing aspect ratios and image-interpretation / editing techniques during our time together.

But it is more than this. Since that first visit in 2003, I've found that I've gained so much experience from photographing other terrains around the world, that I can draw upon this experience to help me photograph Easter Island in ways that I struggled to interpret. Back in 2003, I had found the terrain here extremely complex. I did not have the compositional skills to translate what I saw here. Nor had I the understanding about light to work with the landscape at other times of the day other than sunrise and sunset.

So I find myself looking back very much at who I was in 2003, not just in terms of what I knew as a photographer, but also in what I was looking for in the images I chose to create. This time round, I'm much more interested in the landscape and the more anonymous locations, rather than the statues.

I can't help but feel very grateful to have had the chance to revisit this amazing little island at spells throughout my photographic development. Each visit is like an 'intermission', a placeholder to notice the changes in my art.

I do think that revisiting places is good for the photographic soul. Some places just get under your skin, and don't let go. Some have unfinished business because you realise that you didn't have the skills to work with them the first time round, which is something I feel very much about Easter Island.

Many thanks to Richard Cavalleri for letting me use his image of the fifteen moai statues at Tongariki on Easter Island during my first (and last) photo tour here. 

Patagonia, May 2016

I'm on Easter Island right now, but as of ten days ago, I had just finished up running my Patagonia tour this year. I'm a film shooter, so of course I have no final images to show you as yet, but I did make one 'test' shot on my iPhone which you can see below.

Lago Grey, taken with my iPhone © Bruce Percy May 2016

Lago Grey, taken with my iPhone © Bruce Percy May 2016

I'm always on the lookout for patterns in nature and I'm always on the lookout for something new in a landscape I have visited many times. So this image fitted both criteria for me.

There is an embankment of sand that one has to cross to get to the waters edge, and on one side of it, I saw these frost patterns. I had never seen the black sand beach of Lago Grey with frost before. They are simply the indentations of people's footprints in the slope but what beautiful patterns they make! And also, I felt that the white frost with black sand was the perfect tonal separation that I'm always seeking in my images.

One last thing, it would have been so easy to exclude the horizontal line of the lake in the frame, as you can see from the image below - it was vital that I raise my Hasselblad (and iPhone!) to capture this line - it is a graphic shape that compliments the composition and yet, could have easily been left out.

Image showing my Hasselblad camera set up on location for the Lago Grey shot.

Image showing my Hasselblad camera set up on location for the Lago Grey shot.

Patagonian Brocken Spectre

I'm in South America right now. About 10 days ago I was in Patagonia - in Torres del Paine national park where we experienced a brocken spectre one morning (see below):

The Paine massif - a mountain range that is around 9,000 feet high, rising out of the patagonian steppe, was shrouded in cloud one morning. We saw the outline of the mountain projected onto the foreground cloud from the sun behind the mountain range. What you are seeing here - is a 9,000 feet shadow cast onto a band of cloud between us and the sun. It was quite spectacular and I've never seen anything like it before. 

Many thanks to Clive Maidment for sending me the iPhone picture.

Patagonia's Calling........

In just a few days time, I will be heading back to one of my most favourite places in the world. I dearly, dearly love Patagonia and in particular Torres del Paine national park.

The Cuernos (horns) of Paine, from Lago Pehoe, Torres del Paine national park. Chilean Patagonia. One of my most favourite places in the world!. Image © Bruce Percy

The Cuernos (horns) of Paine, from Lago Pehoe, Torres del Paine national park. Chilean Patagonia. One of my most favourite places in the world!. Image © Bruce Percy

I feel I have a deep connection with this place. I can't quite believe that I have been coming here since 2003.... more than a decade.

There is a spirit, a vibe to Patagonia that is hard to convey in the written word. It is something you have to feel for yourself. I find that some places that I visit, have a 'feeling', a 'smell' to them. There's something very timeless about Patagonia. It is a place where you can choose to disappear. With such wide open spaces, and such small rural communities dotted at such large distances from each other, I find I can let my mind roam.

I think we all want to be free. To escape, and to find somewhere that time seems to stand still. I think that is Patagonia to me. It is like an old friend, one that hasn't changed much over the intervening years. Patagonia is still very much the same place it was when I first visited it back in 2003. I find there's a comfort in knowing this :-).

So forgive me for feeling a sense of joy tonight for visiting this landscape. It is indeed an old friend. It is also a home from home - a special place for me, to just be :-)

This last image was shot on the very last day of my tour there last year. I know Torres del Paine so well and one of my favourite locations is towards the southern side of the park.

I stay with my group at the Rio Serrano village. In this shot - you can see the Paine massif ( a 2,884m mountain range jutting out from the landscape at almost sea level) with lifting early morning fog from the Rio Serrano pass. 

Sometimes when I'm in Torres del Paine, I see temperature inversions. It's hard to describe to people who haven't been there how otherworldly the place is. To have a mountain range like that jut high into the sky from sea level to 2,884m and literally have a different weather system at the western side compared to it's eastern side - is normal here.

I've seen snow and rain happen on the left-hand side of the frame while it's been sunny and dry on the right hand-side. I'm sure you get my drift.....

A photo can only do so much and the rest is really about being there to actually witness it :-)

And with that last thought, I wish you many happy photographic endeavours :-)

To label ourselves, may be limiting

This week I received an e-mail from a good friend of mine who at the age of 46 has discovered that she's got a talent for drawing and painting. She said that she had always assumed she was a musician and it's been a bit of a surprise to her to find out that she has this other talent for drawing and painting as well.

Blue Pond Shirogane, Hokkaido, Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Blue Pond Shirogane, Hokkaido, Image © Bruce Percy 2015

The same thing is true of myself. For most of my early adult life, Music was everything to me. I played in bands, wrote music and worked with others at creating songs. I was so serious about what I did that I'd even been offered a publishing deal at one stage. I built a home studio to record all my music and if anyone had asked me up until the age of 33 how I would define myself, I would have said that I was a musician.

Until I reached burn out.

The interesting thing is that everyone else around me was always commenting on my photographs. "Bruce writes music, but you should really see his photographs". I took photography as a very incidental interest - I had owned a camera since the age of 22 and would make the occasional decent photo without really understanding how.

This was more a mind-set than anything to do with my true leanings. I had chosen to see myself as a musician and every other creative outlet was simply just for fun, and into that fun-category, I'd placed my photography.

Things keep changing, and I keep finding out new things about myself through my art.

Things keep changing, and I keep finding out new things about myself through my art.

Even though my friends could see that I had an aptitude for photography, I could not. I was blind to my own possibilities.

I genuinely believe that if something is right for you - it has a tendency to grow and take on a life of its own. I call it 'positive flow'. When I'm creating work, the best images tend to just come easily. Similarly, with anything in life, if it's right - it tends to have a natural flow to it. When it's not right because maybe the timing is wrong, or 'something' is wrong, it tends to jam, to get stuck. Good artists, I feel, know this. They have a natural intuition that tells them where to go with their work and how best to keep moving forward. It took me a long while to listen to that intuition.

Sometimes who we think we are, or how we see ourselves, may be outdated, Applying labels to ourselves can be limiting, while compartmentalising what we do as creative individuals is perhaps the most restrictive thing we can do.

These days, I try to keep things open. I prefer to see myself as a 'creative person' rather than as a photographer, because It allows my creativity to go wherever it feels it wants to.

With this in mind, I feel I am ready to embrace any new direction that I may go, because I understand that not to, would be a great disservice to my true self.

A Present

I got a present today from a friend of mine (thanks Ming!). 

A hot water bottle cover, and a roll of Velvia...... bliss! What else could a landscape photographer want in the (cold) high plateau of the Bolivian Altiplano?  :-)

A hot water bottle cover, and a roll of Velvia. What else could one want in the high plains of the Bolivian Altiplano?

A hot water bottle cover, and a roll of Velvia. What else could one want in the high plains of the Bolivian Altiplano?

Inspiration from Printing one's own work

I've just finished printing and mounting one of my prints for an order I received a few weeks ago. Here is the very picture - an 8" x 8" print of Cono de Arita in the Puna de Atacama of Argentina.

Cono de Arita, Puna de Atacama, print, framed.

Cono de Arita, Puna de Atacama, print, framed.

When preparing images for framing, you should always use acid free materials. To not do so, would render the print prone to future damage. As time goes on,  the acids in the gum or tape leak onto the back of the print and can cause discolouration.

Here in the UK, I get all my supplies from

Once you have a mount with an aperture cut into it, you should also have an accompanying backing board. Both should be made of museum grade acid free materials.

The next stage is to create a hinge so that the front board hinges to the back board at the very top. I use Lineco gummed linen hinging tape, which is acid free and extremely strong. You can get it here.

Once I have both front aperture board and backing board hinged, I then need to attach the print to the backing board. First I position the print on the backing board and move it around until it's centred in the front aperture window of the front mount board. Once I have that. Then, I attach two strips of acid free paper tape to the print in vertical orientation with the gum side up and attached to the back of the print. The vertical strips are going to form the vertical part of a 'T' shape with two horizontal strips attached to the top of each vertical strip. The reason for creating a 'T' shape is to allow the print to expand and contract with temperature changes and still be completely flat on the backing board. If you just attach the print to the backing board with one horizontal strip, you will find that the print will contract and expand at a different rate to the backing board as temperatures change in the room and the print will never be entirely flat as a result.

Image ©

Image ©

For the inscription on the front of the print, it's best to use a pigment ink liner pen, or pencil. Either of these will not fade, whereas a standard ink pen will easily begin to fade after just a few years being subjected to daylight.

And that's it.

It's been a while since I prepared a print for a customer. Truth is: very few people actually buy prints and I think that even fewer photographers buy anyone else's work at all  (but perhaps that's a subject for another post sometime in the future).  

I've always thought that the ultimate journey with my photography has been to have the images in print form. Making this print has been enormously satisfying for me. It has allowed me to reconsider setting up an exhibition.  I'm currently working on a 3rd hard-back book to be released sometime either next year or in 2018..... some projects are never finished and I'm finding that the Atacama regions of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina seem to be an exhaustive area for me to make photographs in.

Maybe when I get round to releasing the 3rd book, I can coincide it with an exhibition of my work over the past few years. Who knows, but one thing is for sure - printing my own images is a hugely rewarding exercise and it has given me inspiration to think about a possible exhibition sometime in the future.

For more information about mounting, this is a good page to visit:

Small adjustments go a long way

For me, improving my photography is really all about improving my visual awareness. 

The original image unaltered.

The original image unaltered.

So in today's post, I thought it would be good to try and discuss how the tiny details can often make a huge improvement to the overall composition. The way I'm going to do this, is by cloning a tiny part of the above image out. Now before I continue, I wish to make it very clear that this post is not about 'here's how to clean up your images using cloning'. Instead, the point I wish to make is that by 'noticing small distractions at the time of capture you can strengthen your compositions'. The most effective way to illustrate how the above image may have been improved is by using cloning. But it's not a tool I would encourage you to use, except for maybe seeing where things could have been more tidy.

A side note: I would suggest that if you are using cloning to clean up your images a lot, then it might be an idea to ask yourself why you aren't seeing the problems in the first place. Failures are really an opportunity to see areas of our photography that require further improvement. If your visual awareness isn't good, then it will show in the tiny distractions you will see in your final images and if you spend time fixing the issue at source, you'll find you won't have to continually cover up the cracks later on. This is feel is at the core of our photography skill - being able to notice distractions (even small ones) at the point of capture, because they can help us strengthen our compositions by a large margin.

With this in mind, I'm going to show how much stronger the image would have been if certain distractions had not been present. I'm going to do this by cloning an area of the scene out. I use this technique in my workshops as a way to help improve participants visualisation technique - so they can understand that if these small distractions in the frame hadn't been present - the image may have been much stronger. Again, I'm not saying 'here's how to clean up your images using cloning'. Instead, I'm really saying 'let's look at how the image may have been stronger if we'd taken care of some of the distractions'.

Below is the altered image. I've chosen not to tell you what I've changed, because I think it would be really useful for you to look and try to find it. Suffice to say that if you do notice it, ask yourself why I maybe chose to remove that particular area and also ask yourself 'which photo feels the calmest?'. My belief is that when something is wrong or jarring in a photograph, we tend to feel it. And feeling things in your photography is key. Your gut should lead you in the right direction not only with how you choose to balance a composition whilst out in the field, but also in your choice of edits. Photography is an emotional art.

In this version, I've removed something from the image to 'simplify' the composition and hopefully make it stronger.

In this version, I've removed something from the image to 'simplify' the composition and hopefully make it stronger.

Personally I feel this edit is simpler, more elegant and I think the message is clearer. But you may be asking 'that's all fine Bruce, but how could I have removed the part of the scene while I was there, rather than use a cloning tool later on?'. My answer would be that you have to weigh up the errors you see at the time of capture and whether you can do anything to remove them whilst there. Perhaps if I'd repositioned the camera, the distraction may have been hidden by other branches? I do remember thinking there was no way around it - whatever I did - the distraction was still there. So I feel a sense of pragmatism was employed: I asked myself - can I live with it? Or does it kill the image?. In the case of this photograph, I felt I could still live with the distraction and you'll even see that if you go into the respective image gallery on this very website, the unaltered version is there. Because I felt that there was more working in this image than not.

So in general, here is my thought processes about distractions:

1) Can I reposition to remove it? And will it upset the balance of the composition if I do?

2) If I can't reposition without upsetting the balance of the composition, can I leave it in without it killing the image?

3) If the distraction is going to kill the image, then I would prefer to walk away and find something else to work with. Otherwise, I'm happy to leave it in.

4) Don't over-edit your work. It's fine to leave tiny errors in the picture if you feel the entire image still works. You can over-do cleaning things up so it's always a balancing game. Too much editing will leave the image looking very contrived. Too little and the image isn't fully realised.

So how does anyone go about improving their visual awareness? 

One way I would suggest, is to look at your work on your computer and ask what might have been improved if it wasn't present in the photograph. You can even go as far as cloning distractions out to see if the image would have been improved - but just to see if any improvement would have been made only - I'm not advocating you start to clone things out all over the place - that's not the point of the exercise - you're just doing it to exercise your visual muscle.

The simple act of imagining how an image may have been with something removed is a great visual technique to exercise regularly. If you do this while editing your work, it will become second nature while out in the field.

Visual awareness is all about asking yourself questions - by having a sense of inquisitiveness - at all times about what you're doing.  Rather than accepting a photograph doesn't work and discarding it, you can learn a lot about what went wrong by looking at the errors and asking yourself 'why doesn't this work?, what would have happened if I'd managed to get rid of the error?'.

I think that good imagery comes from going that extra 5%. if you can improve a good image by that 5%, it can be transformed into a very fine image indeed. It's up to you to notice and work with distractions whilst you are out in the field and that will only happen once you start to ask yourself questions all the time.


Making Things more difficult than need be?

I remember Daniel Lanois, the Canadian record producer and artist was once asked 'how do you record a good guitar sound'? to which he replied, 'first find a guitar that sounds good'.

As I've progressed with my own compositions, I've noticed that I tend to be very selective about the places I shoot. I don't choose them because of how famous they are, but instead, I choose them because of how simple they are, and how little work they require make an effective composition.

So in today's post, I thought I would show you an example of that.

Myself in the landscape, Hokkaido, December 2015

Myself in the landscape, Hokkaido, December 2015

Last December I spent a week on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The above image is included in this post to illustrate that the location I shot, was pretty simple to start with. This is my 'selectivity' at play - I choose certain locations because I know there will be little resistance or errors in the landscape that I will have to wrestle with later on. Like Daniel Lanois' statement about finding a good guitar sound to record, I too believe that finding a location where there is little in the way to correct is much better, than trying to make a difficult location work better once I'm behind my computer editing.

Below is the final image I made of this location:

Despite the simplicity of the location, I still felt there were many many options available to me at the time of capture.

Where one might feel that all I had to work with was a group of trees and a snowy hill, I felt I had to be very careful with the placement of all the objects in the frame. Despite this location being quite easy to make a decent image of, I think the real skill in photography is to try to improve upon 'decent' and look for that extra special something that will hopefully transform my images from 'decent' to 'great'.

For instance, I was aware of the background hedges that I had to try and reduce in the composition. I felt that including the hedgerow at the back of the image (that is clearly seen in the first image in this post) would have been too distracting to the main subject (the trees in the foreground). 

I also had to make sure that the foreground tree's branches didn't collide with the hillside (as subtle as the hillside is - If the branches had touched it - I think the image would have been reduced back down to 'decen't rather than something hopefully better than that). You can see in the first image to this post that my tripod is lying completely flat on the ground - that's because I realised I had to get the camera down low to avoid the branches touching the edge of the hillside.

My definition of a great location, is somewhere that I don't have to wrestle with the subject matter too much to make things work. I've been to many beautiful places that don't work as a photograph and I've learned that 'great scenery does not equal great photography'. In many beautiful places I may find distractions that I can't avoid. For example, If I had found that no matter where I placed my tripod, the branches always touched the edge of the hill side, I would have made a decision at the point of capture as to whether this would kill the image or not.

So ultimately, what I'm really saying is that with a location where everything is simple, you shouldn't have to work so hard to make it 'click'.

Keeping things simple is the best advice I've ever had. It applies to how I make all my decisions in life, and it should also be applied to your choice of location that you are hoping to photograph.

Of course, the real skill is to see distractions in the landscape and to know whether they can be lived with or have to be removed. That only comes with time and us working on our own awareness skills.

Landscape photography I feel, is often the art of subtraction. Of being able to isolate one tiny part of the landscape and make a strong photograph from it. But this can be achieved much more easily, if we work with very simple locations to begin with, and not the other way round, as is often the case for many of us.

Scots for wet weather

I'm in Reyjkavik tonight, ready to do some scouting tomorrow for the next few days. It's very wet here, and so I thought I'd teach you all a bit of Scottish.

In Scotland, when the weather is very wet, we often say it's driech (phonetic: dreech), or sometimes we may say it's drookit. I looked them up and they are actually in the English Dictionary. It turns out that both derive from old Norse. So I'm going to ask my Icelandic guide tomorrow if he knows how Driech it is, or how Drookit it's been, because Icelandic is pretty much old Norse. I'll get back to you on that.

Dreich |driːx|
(especially of weather) dreary; bleak: a cold, dreich early April day.
ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense ‘patient, long-suffering’): of Germanic origin, corresponding to Old Norse drjúgr ‘enduring, lasting’.

Drookit |ˈdrʊkɪt| (also droukit)
extremely wet; drenched.
ORIGIN early 16th cent.: origin uncertain; cf. Old Norse drukna ‘to be drowned’.

Watching and waiting and watching some more

When you're making photos out in the landscape, do you stop for a moment, and watch? In particular, do you pay particular attention to the speed of moving clouds? I do.

Sometimes participants on workshops ask me 'how long should I make the exposure for?' when they want to get blur in their photos. I think the answer can be found without asking me. You just need to look at the clouds and watch them as they drift across the sky, and while you're doing that, count the seconds it takes for them to move. It's really as simple as that. Only a lot of us aren't looking. We're not watching. We just fire the camera and wait to see what pops up on the screen.

But I love to anticipate. To study. To get to know the movement of clouds, waves, even the vibration of the trees due to a light wind. I'm a studier of movement in the landscape.

Particularly where long exposures are concerned. If it's a windy day, then I'm all excited as I know 20 or 30 seconds is an eternity and I'll get long streaks like the ones you see in my Harris photo above. If it's a calm day, then I know there's almost little to no movement and most probably - no point in using a long exposure.

But I still stand and watch, and wait, and watch some more. Just to make sure.

Finding your own path, and following it

We all have our own path. But I think it takes us a long time to find it. If we are ever lucky enough to do so. 

I don't tend to look at a photography sites as my sole source of inspiration. Instead, I get my inspiration from all around me - music, books, art, life experiences, things that happen to me, life.

I think that we are basically sponges. We soak up our experiences and they all combine to make us who we are.

Tonight I’m listening to someone I’ve been a huge fan of for the past twenty years. Laurie Anderson may not be to everyone’s taste, and that in itself I think, says something. Her music has often allowed me to think outside the box. To embrace the idea that there should be no boundaries, and that being an individual is a good thing. No, it’s a great thing.

My musical tastes are quite broad, and I think that all of the artists I love, give me something and have also taught me a thing or two about being creative. Each artist I love is good at what they do, because they have found their own voice. They are leaders, not followers.

To be you, you have to find yourself in all the noise out there. That can be hard because I think we're never too sure where we end and where external trends or forces begin. To be true to who you are requires you to ignore what everyone else is doing. We're not into creating work for the sake of following what everyone else is doing, but in order to follow who we are.

Being creative is about being yourself.

And this requires us to be comfortable to fail. Failure is good, because in order to experiment and find your own voice, we have to try things out that we don't know if they will work or not. If we went with what we did know works, then we're just following what the majority are doing. Having no fear to experiment is a vital attribute to have, if you are to progress at what you do.

When I listen to unique or distinctive musical artists out there, I don’t hear a need to conform or go with what is 'in'. They are following themselves. That’s why I love artists like Laurie Anderson. She has been labeled 'alternative', but this  just means that she’s following her own path. And that’s what we should all be doing.