Red Cross Donations for the Nepal Earthquake

I've chosen to donate to the British Red Cross. 

Nepal Red Cross volunteers are searching for survivors, providing first aid to the wounded and running blood banks. 

Please donate now to save lives.

click on the image to be taken to the British Red Cross web site.

click on the image to be taken to the British Red Cross web site.

If you would like to help the people of Nepal, then you can donate below. This is the official website of the Red Cross.

My thoughts are with the Nepali people

I'm very sad to read the news today of an earthquake that has hit Nepal. I just returned from Kathmandu a week ago, so it's very strange for me to learn of all the injuries and many dead.

The Nepali people are a very nice people, and my thoughts go out to them at this moment. 

Bodhua Stupa, which has unfortunately been damaged in the earthquake.

Bodhua Stupa, which has unfortunately been damaged in the earthquake.

The Philosophy of Returning

I'm in Nepal just now, just passing through Kathmandu on my way to Bhutan. It's a 'family' trip this time - with my dad and brother, but I've brought my cameras along, hopefully to make some new images of the people of Bhutan while I am here.

A very rare and special encounter in the UNESCO town of Baktapur in the Kathmandu valley yielded this image for me in 2009.

A very rare and special encounter in the UNESCO town of Baktapur in the Kathmandu valley yielded this image for me in 2009.

I spent today going back to some old haunts. One in particular - the Boudha Stupa in the Tibetan area of Kathmandu was a special place for me back in 2009. So much has changed in the past six years for me since that trip that I couldn't help being a little reflective today about it. I found myself remembering who I was at that time, and what I was looking for as a photographer.

I've always felt there is a great deal of value to be found in returning to a location more than once. In fact, many of the landscapes I have photographed, I have gotten to know over many years and by returning many times. Some offer up their secrets upon the first visit. I may find that the first encounter is so special that an impression remains indelibly marked on my psyche for many years to come and seems to be the benchmark for all further visits. Most of the time though, I feel that each visit allows me to learn a bit more about a place, and understand it better. I also find that each new encounter yields different images.

The adage that you can't repeat what you did is often true, and going back somewhere to try to reproduce a certain look, mood or feeling just doesn't happen. You change. The location changes. And new things are brought forward as a result.

A woman I encountered many times at Boudha Stupa in Kathmandu in 2009, but it took me about six days to work up the courage to get in close and make this photo of her.

A woman I encountered many times at Boudha Stupa in Kathmandu in 2009, but it took me about six days to work up the courage to get in close and make this photo of her.

Being here today, I noticed that the Boudha Stupa has not changed, and it is still a remarkable site to encounter, particularly in the morning when it is covered in birds and all the local Tibetan's come to do their early morning prayers. But what has changed is that there are fewer Buddhists / Tibetans and Hindu's in traditional dress. In fact, the majority of the people I saw this time round were dressed in western style clothing. I am reminded today that the old pass away and the young replace them. The only thing constant in life it seems,  is change.

I didn't feel like making pictures today though, despite the Stupa being very beautiful, I felt I had more or less 'said it' back in 2009 and today has reminded me that what I managed to capture back then, was the product of about 12 mornings of repeated visits, hoping to find a new nugget that I had not been presented with on previous days. In short, what I got, was the product of hard work.

I feel today that I've been given the rare gift of being allowed to appreciate my work in a new way. At the time of making these photographs I felt I could have done better. But returning today, I now see that the place is hard to photograph. The people who come here to pray do not wish to deal with a photographer asking them for images.

The Boudha stupa at dawn. Many birds frequent the place in the morning during prayers. A more traditional dress sense was evident back in 2009, and seems to be more 'rare' now in 2015.

The Boudha stupa at dawn. Many birds frequent the place in the morning during prayers. A more traditional dress sense was evident back in 2009, and seems to be more 'rare' now in 2015.

But I also feel that I have no desire to photograph this place any more. I just feel I am content with what I got back in 2009 and there's no need to try and add to it.

So if I have any specific point to make today, it is perhaps that returning to a location can sometimes make you reflect, and give you the opportunity to notice how you've changed as a photographer. I feel I am looking back at who I was in 2009 and noticing where I am now.

Maybe some places need to be returned to only a few times. Like a special event in life, that one cannot repeat again, it's perhaps best to just remember it and cherish it for what it gave you at that moment in your photographic development.

My original images of the Kathmandu valley mean more to me now, since I have returned. My shoot in 2009 was a special moment in my own photography-life and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to reconnect with it and reflect on how hard I had worked to create it.

And that's just great :-)

Aesthetic Consistency

As my own photography continues to develop, I'm noticing that the portfolio as a whole is becoming more important than the sum of its parts.

I find these days, that my edits are not done on an image by image basis, but instead with more thought about how an image may sit alongside its partners in the collection. I find that although I edit each image on an individual basis and apply what I feel is relevant for its own benefit, I also do a second stage edit whereby I try to find the image's place within the portfolio. This may for instance require me to tune the colour palette of an image to fit more in-line with its brothers, or it may require me to weed out images that don't fit because they don't share an 'aesthetic consistency'. 

Aesthetic consistency is perhaps another way of saying 'style'. I'm never too sure what style actually is: is it just a way of saying that images conform to a set of rules, or is it a way of saying that images fit what we know or have come to expect from a photographer? I really don't know. But I do know what I like and I tend to gravitate to those images that I find aesthetically pleasing.

In the collection you see above, I think there is a theme at play. Not just in subject matter, but also in form and tone. On the one hand you may say the images are related by the black sand beaches, or the white ice (which is deliberately on the blue/cool side). You may however say the images are related by the use of strong diagonals throughout most of the pictures, or you may say they are related due to the same aspect ratio (shot in portrait mode). One may say they are related because they are from the same photographer, and as such, show his own style.

Either way, images have to be strong on their own, but it's also of great benefit if they can strengthen the portfolio as a whole. Your work has to represent you as a photographer, so only showing your best work, and presenting it in the strongest way is of vital importance.

I never underestimate the importance of this. Quality control is vitally important in conveying who and what you are. By showing your best work and presenting it well (in the form of a strong portfolio) should never be underestimated. That's why I'm always striving for a sense of 'aesthetic consistency' in what I do.

Something in-between Sunlight & Shadow

For a long while now, I've been fascinated by the power of suggestion over a more literal interpretation. I was initially attracted to this aspect of photography through the work of Michael Kenna in the late 80's. His use of shadows and night often convey a sense of mystery or at the very least mood to his imagery.

Just recently, I found out about Ray Metzker, who passed away last year. His work conveys similar concepts to Kenna's. He was interested in suggestion rather than a literal translation. His use of sunlight and shadow to conceal his subjects often lent his work a sense of mystery.

 Solitary pedestrians and urban spaces transformed by sunlight and shadow. Image © Ray Metzker

 Solitary pedestrians and urban spaces transformed by sunlight and shadow. Image © Ray Metzker

Suggestion is a powerful tool to possess as a photographer - because being able to get your audience to stop and listen to what you are doing often happens through the art of suggestion.

 In Ray Metzker's images, he shows tremendous skill in using sunlight and shadow to convey mystery. What may have otherwise been an ordinary scene becomes more interesting and thought provoking when shade is used to conceal or reveal.

Ray would produce portfolios based on these tonal suggestions rather than by subject matter. This resonates with me because I feel I have been doing something similar; for a while now, I have been choosing images where they are related either by tonal response or by colour palette.

Ray Metzker's use of sunlight and shadow was masterful. Image © Ray Metzker

Ray Metzker's use of sunlight and shadow was masterful. Image © Ray Metzker

To explain further, I find Iceland to be a monochromatic place: black sand and white ice. Bolivia is about blues and reds: the lagoons of red sediments and the salt flats at twilight intertwine to offer up a particular colour palette. So I tend to go looking for subjects that fit together tonally or by colour - as a collection. These two places are responsible alone for me branching out into monochrome work. They have taught me that the portfolio - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I see a similarity in Ray Meskier's work where he chooses subjects that are collected together by tonal similarities. People in the city often photographed as silhouettes, or with their identities concealed by use of shadow strengthen his portfolio as well as lend a very decisive look.

Images don't always have to utilise the full tonal range. Here Ray Metzker uses mostly shadow to mid-tones only. I find the deliberate concealment of the people's faces adds further mystery to the image. Image © Ray Metzker

Images don't always have to utilise the full tonal range. Here Ray Metzker uses mostly shadow to mid-tones only. I find the deliberate concealment of the people's faces adds further mystery to the image. Image © Ray Metzker

His work has a style - something that we are all trying to develop or bring forward in our own work. And this is perhaps the most important lesson from looking at this work: it's clear that Mezkier has thought about the aesthetic qualities of his final selection of images and also the subject matter in such a way that we are clear each photograph is by the same author.

I learn a lot by looking at work that I find inspiring. It doesn't have to be landscape related for me to 'get it'. I just have to find a connection in the work - to see something that I find intriguing, or that makes sense to me in some way that I hadn't thought of. With Ray Metzker's work, I do exactly that. I learn about image selection based on using tonal responses but I also learn that his choice to make people very anonymous or to conceal their identities through his use of shadow and sunlight can lend the work a thematic quality which goes a long way in conveying a photographic style.

And sometimes it's the sudden split between shadow and sunlight that throws a contrast; like two images spliced together, providing a sense of tension between the two subjects in the frame. Image © Ray Metzker

And sometimes it's the sudden split between shadow and sunlight that throws a contrast; like two images spliced together, providing a sense of tension between the two subjects in the frame. Image © Ray Metzker

And then there are his choices in composition. I've always thought that street photography has less to do with aesthetics and more to do with narrative. But in Ray's work the story is missing. He has deliberately chosen to conceal most of his subjects so we know very little about them. Instead we are presented with compositions constructed through form and tone only. They are like landscape studies about the people in a city.

A study of graphic qualities. Image © Ray Metzker

A study of graphic qualities. Image © Ray Metzker

On the subject of Blogging

If you feel I'm not on here much, or not writing as frequently, it's simply because of two things:

1) work commitments
2) only wanting to write when I have something to say

In the age of 'social networking', I'm aware that many people expect a constant, frequent update on what I'm doing.

I'd just like to point out that when I'm running workshops / tours, I usually have very little free time to myself. I love my workshops and tours, enjoy the participants company, but it's a very intense period of time - often getting up at 5am and not finishing until 9pm. So I have very little free time to blog.

Also, I don't wish to pollute my site, or your free time with noise.

So just to let you know - I do intend to keep on Blogging and I do intend to keep filling this blog with my thoughts on photography. I just want to make sure that what I post, is of value.

So please do keep checking in from time to time :-)

Michael Kenna comes to visit :-)

Just wanted to share with those of you who don't read my newsletter. I had a nice time with Michael Kenna in the landscape for 4 days this March. He's a lot of fun and hope to see him again some time when / if he can fit it into his schedule.

Michael Kenna & Me, March 2015. It was a lot of fun MK - thanks for the visit !

Michael Kenna & Me, March 2015. It was a lot of fun MK - thanks for the visit !

He has been a terrific influence on my own work, so it was a real pleasure and honour to spend time with him. Best of all, he such an unassuming, fun person to be around :-)

The Journey

Tonight I'm busy editing a lot of new images from Iceland and also Lofoten and I can't help be reflective about what I've captured this year so far.

There was so much snow in Lofoten that I didn't know where to take my group, until one of them said 'are there any beautiful tree's we can photograph?'

There was so much snow in Lofoten that I didn't know where to take my group, until one of them said 'are there any beautiful tree's we can photograph?'

As much as I might want to plan a shoot, decide on what I want to capture, things never turn out the way I expect them to, and that is alright with me. In fact, that is very good indeed.

In last month's newsletter, I discussed the need to not pre-visualise before turning up to a location. We all do it - we've seen countless photos of places, so much so, that it's practically hard to see them any other way. And yet the art of a good photographer is to work with what he's given, and not lament what we didn't get. This means turning off any pre-visualised ideas of what you want your trip to be, because photography is a journey. 

I never know where I will be taken. I never know what I might see, and even though I go back to many locations each year in similar seasons, I still find new things.

There was so much snow in Lofoten that I didn't know where to take my group, until one of them said 'are there any beautiful tree's we can photograph?' I knew of a place, but it has never been too successful for me in the past, because the background behind the trees is always too visible. This time it worked because there was no background. It also worked because there was so much snow in the sky and it was so similar in tone to the earth. 

Perhaps I'll see this scene again next year when I'm back in Lofoten, but I'm not counting on it. In fact, it's better to just go along for the ride and see what happens and where the light and the atmospheric conditions take me.

 

Trusting one's own judgement

I'm just home from Iceland, and I just got word today that an interview that was conducted with me many months ago has finally appeared in the UK magazine 'Black+White Photography'. 

Front cover of Black+White Photography magazine.

Front cover of Black+White Photography magazine.

Interviews are funny things and in particular, the written word can be so 'final' at times - what I may say in passing, becomes a more fixed and immutable statement in print. Whereas, I find real conversations have more fluidity to them - they are always unfinished and there's more give and take as a result.

Mark Bentley, who conducted the interview, has decided to focus on my thoughts and feelings on doing photography for oneself. I would just like to cover with you why I feel it's important that we create our work for ourselves.

I believe there comes a point in our development that we go beyond seeking others approval of what we do. We reach a place where we realise that no amount of praise or criticism from others will make any difference to how we feel about our own work. I'm not entirely sure if it's a confidence thing, or just that over time we develop a sense of trust in our own abilities. Regardless, after a while of hearing other people's opinions, you realise that the only opinion that really matters is your own. The whole exercise becomes a form of meditation. There is no drive to impress, no hunger for affirmation from others. Just your own need to meditate and do the work as a form of therapy.

I might have touched upon this in previous posts with the aim of describing one's own style. But I think that in order to get to a place where you feel you have found your voice, you need to be able to let go of others opinions and just trust yourself to feel what you feel and do what you do. I can't say it any simpler than that.

My Philosophy on Equipment Failure

I’m in Iceland right now. Everyone is saying the weather has been very challenging since December. With one storm front after another sweeping the country every four days or so, it’s been quite an adventure to be here.

And today they say we have the worst storm this winter (see weather chart below). The cabin I am in is shaking with the wind :-)

Big storm today (Saturday 14th March) means we're staying indoors :-)

Big storm today (Saturday 14th March) means we're staying indoors :-)

I’ve had a few equipment failures in the past two weeks during my travels. One of my Mamiya 7 cameras was pushed over by the extreme winds and the outer casing of the body literally shattered in two. It’s now being held together by some duct tape which I always bring with me. I’m convinced it still works, but it’s been put away in my bag while I use a spare body that I always carry with me now.

Years ago, when I was a hobbyist, I had one of everything: one camera, one tripod, one light meter. I could keep these items for many years and see little wear and tear on them. But over the past few years of being out on location more often than not, I’ve been finding that I seem to be going through tripods every few years, Lee filters every six months and sometimes Sekonic light meters every year or so too - my second failure in equipment this week has been a Sekonic 758DR light meter which had been working perfectly fine all the duration of the trip but didn’t come on one morning after being stowed away in a cold camera bag for a few days.

I’ve been thinking about how my backup strategy is just getting more involved. I now travel with two of everything and I think I will be changing my plan to travel with three copies of the vital things in future (camera bodies and light meters and ball-heads).

I have two sets of clothing: two sets of gloves, two sets of waterproof shells, several hats (I  keep losing them), and now I will be travelling with at least two camera bodies, and at least two light meters.

I love to look after my equipment and I like to have nice copies of everything I own. Mostly it’s because I treasure my equipment, but there is also a more practical side to this: if I have equipment that is well looked after, it will be less likely to fail. So although I use my equipment a lot, and it is used in sometimes very challenging weather conditions, I don’t abuse it either. 

I’m not sore or sorry for the failures in the equipment I’ve brought with me. I’m quite philosophical about it, as the way I see it, the equipment you buy is meant to be used. It's not meant to be coveted or kept out of the rain or snow. It's there to be used to photograph the things you see and experience. If you use your equipment a lot in challenging situations, failures from time to time are going to happen and they should be expected also.

Photography is about getting out there. If we restrict ourselves to being fair-weather shooters only, then our photography will be restricted to a very small avenue of possibilities also.

Equipment is there to be used. It it gets used a lot, it will get damaged and fail from time to time.  I have accepted that this is part of the price for getting out there and making images.

And image making is after all, what we are here for :-)

Bolivia spaces available 2015

I've just had notice of cancellation for my Bolivia photo tour this June 1st to 10th.

Containing the world's largest salt-flat, and a landscape that resembles a Dali painting, there is much scope for abstract and graphic photographic compositions. It is my favourite place to photograph right now. 

If you're interested in coming, you can find out more, and also book here.


Bracing Myself

In just a few days time, I will be thrown back into Winter. Each February I spend two weeks above the arctic circle in Norway's Lofoten islands, and each year it's just like a winter reset.

Made after several days of looking at this scene. Sometimes I like to let a view sit in my mind's eye for a while before I know how I think I want to capture it.

Made after several days of looking at this scene. Sometimes I like to let a view sit in my mind's eye for a while before I know how I think I want to capture it.

It can be a bit of a jolt to the system, to have to go to Norway at the end of January. While winter is starting to show signs of loosening it's grip here in Scotland ( the days are gradually getting longer), it's not the case in the Lofoten islands up above the arctic circle.

One of the ways I cope with this, is to review my images from Lofoten. It helps me get my 'head into gear' for the trip ahead. My mind is filled with mountains and that beautiful northern light for days before I arrive.

I think there always has to be a 'settling in' period when we venture out with the camera. Go somewhere so different from where we've come from, and it can me physiologically challenging.

But today I've been thinking about the image at the top of this post. It is the view from my friend Camilla's spare bedroom. Camilla lives in the beautiful town of Reine, and her home is situated on the very edge of Reinefjorden. It's one of the most amazing views in the world as far as I am concerned, and it's a place where you can constantly study the shifts in light and season.

Making the photo you see here was hard. Simply because each time I looked out my bedroom window, the view seemed to suggest that although there was something beautiful happening every second, trying to capture the essence of it, would be a challenge.

I think some locations can be quite intimidating on that front. They're just so enigmatic, that the act of trying to start, to begin to make photographs of it, can be quite daunting. Start on the wrong foot and you might just screw up. Take the wrong approach and you might find you feel dissatisfied with what you create: often I feel there has to be a right time and it's best to just leave things until it feels right. So I left my camera in the bag for a few days.

The pressure was gone.

I just enjoyed what I was seeing and this in turn allowed my mind to become immersed in Lofoten. I found my mind and my dreams of what I was seeing began to sink into my emotions over the coming days until it eventually became second-nature. 

I started to understand, to anticipate what the winter storms were going to do to the view I had in front of me. I knew by now where the snow showers were going to go and what parts of the mountain scenery would be obscured and it was at that moment that I took up my camera and started to make photographs.

New e-Book - Simplifying Composition 2nd Edition Available

I'm pleased to let you know, that as of today, I've released a second edition of my popular 'Simplifying Composition' e-Book.

completely re-written and expanded (now 68 pages long).

completely re-written and expanded (now 68 pages long).

I felt that since writing the first one in 2010, my abilities as a workshop teacher had moved on quite a lot. Over the years I've been teaching my workshops, I've added to my thoughts on composition, so much so, that I felt I needed to update the book to reflect this.

But rather than updating the e-Book, I've chosen to totally re-write it from scratch. So it's definitely worth getting if you liked the first one, and want to learn some new things :-)

Flow..... and relationships between similar shapes and patterns.

Flow..... and relationships between similar shapes and patterns.


More about the new edition


The new edition is double in size - 68 pages long to be exact, and is packed with lots of new advice and tips on improving your compositional awareness while out in the field and when reviewing the work later on.

In writing this edition, my aim was to utilise the experiences gained over the past six years teaching workshops, to give you an updated view on how to simplify your compositional skills.

The book is split into three sections:

  1. Flow. Learning how to guide the eye through the frame in a comfortable and pleasing manner    
  2. Compositional Devices. By using certain features within the landscape,  we can strengthen and simplify our compositions    
  3. Fieldwork. Best practices, techniques and approach while out in the field

And here is the table of contents to the new version:

S-curves and also background emphasis with focal-lengths.

S-curves and also background emphasis with focal-lengths.


Table of Contents


3    Introduction Part 1. Flow
6    The flow of your eye
7     Interpreting the flow within an image
10    An example


Part 2. Compositional Devices

13    Introducing the diagonal line
16    Looking for diagonals in the ground
20    Looking for diagonals in the sky
23    Introducing the curve
25    Curves & mirroring
28    Introducing the s-curve
31    Asymmetrical s-curves
33    Patterns, mirroring & tonal separation
35    Cohesion in the landscape


Part 3. Fieldwork

39    Foreground emphasis
41    Background emphasis
44    Vertical spacing between subjects
47    Avoiding the fish tank effect
52    Visualising in 2D
56    Working with parallax
59    Strengthening composition
62    strengthening cohesion
65    Improving your workflow
68    epilogue

Mirroring in the landscape, asymmetrical shapes in the landscape and parallax issues.

Mirroring in the landscape, asymmetrical shapes in the landscape and parallax issues.

I feel particularly pleased with this updated edition. I felt I got the sequencing of the chapters right because one aspect of composition seemed to lead onto another in a way that has made the book very easy to get into.

I do hope you enjoy reading this one. I fully intend it to be a reference that you can return to time and time again.

Rusty

A few days ago I posted that I was currently in Lalibela, Ethiopia for a special orthodox christian celebration. It’s been wonderful to come back and experience the place for a second time and I feel I’ve done much better this time in portraying the soul of some of the inhabitants of this town. There are a few images etched into my mind that really stand out: I have a few of local priests and of some of the beautiful children here, but maybe the ones that really stand out in my mind are those of the Ethiopian woman wearing traditional head dress.

Ethiopia-21.jpg

I’ve been thinking today about why it might be the case that I’ve done better this time. Especially since I feel my efforts haven’t justified the images that are imprinted on my mind so far. Four years ago when I came here, I really worked the place as much as I could and felt I didn’t really ‘get’ the place. This time round it’s the opposite way - I feel I’ve put very little effort in and yet I think I’ve captured quite a few memorable portraits in the space of two days.

How can this be? I’m really not sure, and currently it’s just a hunch as I haven’t seen the final processed films yet. But if I have learned one thing over the years of shooting film, it is that when I manage to make a memorable photograph: I tend to know it at the time of capture. The good ones just seem to be like that - they leave an indelible impression on your mind and emotions and I’ve found that they stay there, powerfully, right up until I get the processed films back from the lab and the confirmation that what I felt and saw at the time really did work.

Of course, it would be very easy to say that the reason why everything has gone so well this time is due to my improvement as a photographer. But I don’t think so. In fact I’m feeling rather rusty when it comes to photographing people, particularly in developing world countries. 

First there is the issue of feeling that I’m exploiting my subjects, even though I know I’m not like that and would never take advantage. But being surrounded by poverty tends to make you stare at yourself a bit more than usual and ask yourself some awkward questions.

As I stated a few days ago, I seem to have become really shy in front of people I really want to photograph. My guide helped a lot, but he couldn’t read my mind and he didn’t know when I was secretly longing to photograph someone. Inside, I’m crumbing to pieces at the thought of approaching them. God, I really am rusty as a people photographer.

But perhaps there’s something in this unfocussed approach to my trip that’s working for me, rather than against me. My feeling of helplessness is in some ways, making me go more with the flow. I’ve more or less decided that it’s just great to be here, and any good photos are an added bonus. I can’t help but wonder if serendipity is paying me a visit and offering me more than if I’d tried to orchestrate it myslef. I really don’t know.

As well as myself changing in the past four years, so too has Lalibela. Coming back has allowed me to compare, but it’s also forced me to notice the differences between what I was looking for back then, and what I’m looking for now. Years ago I would be very happy if I managed to get someone’s attention to work with me on a photograph, whereas now I feel I’m looking for more of a connection in the way they smile at me or how they talk to my camera.

And Lalibela is a bit more confident these days. Everyone seems to have mobile phones - Chinese fake Samsung Galaxy phones, and the town is a little more touristy than it was back in 2010. Tuk Tuk’s are everywhere - those strange little car inventions from India arrived only six months ago and I can already see the streets of people and mules being replaced by two stroke engines in four years time if I do ever return. But mostly I feel the inhabitants are getting used to cameras being around and I guess that’s maybe why I’m finding things just a bit easier this time. Ethiopian’s are very generous people at heart, sincere and open and they like to share. It seems that asking to make photos of people here is considered a compliment rather than an intrusion.

One last thought before I go. Coming back to Ethiopia has made me re-connect with why I got into what I do in the first place. The wonder of exploring a place that is completely different from my western existence has always made me feel more alive. It also offers me the chance not only to see new things, but to see things about my own life and myself that I had never had the luxury to consider before.

Next stop Japan, then Bhutan in April. I can’t wait to see what unfolds as I feel I’ve found my passion again for photographing people, even if I am a little rusty.

Lalibela, Ethiopia

As I type this, I'm sitting in the Seven Olives hotel in the heart of Lalibela, Ethiopia. I've come here to photograph the special christian celebration Timkat.

It's been four years since I came here to photograph Meskel - a special orthodox christian celebration held each year in September. 

I remember my first visit well. I was a little overwhelmed by the people, who appear to dress the same as back in biblical times. Lalibela is after all one of the birth places of christianity.

Photographically speaking, I was also a little overwhelmed back then and today I'm finding nothing has changed for me. I seem to be going through a period of adjustment. Landscape photography may come easily to me, but I feel it takes me a day or two to settle into making pictures of people. Most of my adjustment period is due to an inner shyness that I have. I'm not really sure where the core of my shyness sits: I was very shy as a kid, less so as a teenager and I'm very open as an adult, but I think we all have that inner-core - that old-self still lurking within us. So I think my young-shy self is still there, but he only really comes out when I'm faced with something I really love. When it matters, as is the case when I see a potential beautiful photograph of someone, I can become quite unable to direct my subjects to get what I am envisaging.

I saw so many great compositions this morning on my first outing with my guide - Muchaw - who is one of the Deacons here. But I really didn't have much confidence to take my camera up to my eye at first. I guess I just have too much respect for others as I simply do not wish to offend and would be hurt if I knew I'd upset anyone. 

But my guide is a great help in this respect. He is able to break the ice where I could not and I think this is one thing that I have reminded myself of - it's always worth employing a guide when I travel, as they can help smooth the relations between the subjects I wish to photograph and me. Plus I also think that hiring a guide is good, because it's a positive way of giving some money back to the local economy.

It's only the first morning, but tomorrow and Tuesday are two full days of celebrations. I think there should be many photographic opportunities since my guide has got me access to the heart of the celebrations.

Looking back at my first visit in 2010, I remember being right in the heart of some dance celebration making photos and found myself staring out towards the surrounding crowd.  In that crowd, were all the tourists I'd gotten to know at my hotel, each of them with a bemused look on their face as if asking 'how on earth did Bruce get in there?'.

It was so tempting to take a digital SLR for this shoot. Many of the locations are in dimly lit churches, and it's something that I might have to reconsider for another time. It is High ISO territory for sure if you want to be able to shoot everything here. But I prefer to work with what I know well and love, and so I've brought two Contax 645 bodies and a few lenses with me. I have the 55, 80 and 140 which translate approximately to 35, 40 and 70mm. Film stock is Kodak Portra 160.

I feel this year is about making people pictures. It's about having a welcome change. It's also something I love very much as it gives me inspiration in ways that landscape photography does not. Even though I feel that portraiture is not something that comes as naturally to me I get a lot of pleasure out of the exchange with my subjects and often the photography is of secondary importance.

Iceland March 2015 - Last minute cancellation - space available

Dear all,

Just a quick head's up today that a space has become available for my Iceland trip this March 2nd to 10th. If you'd like to know more about it - just click on the image below :-)

Iceland South Coast

£2,995 full price

Black sand beaches and dramatic glacial ice

The south coast of Iceland has dramatic black sand beaches, bassalt sea stacks, and a glacial lagoon with beautiful ice sculptures scattered across the coast line.

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You'll be in good hands - there are another six on the group (I like to run with small group sizes - not the usual twelve or sixteen that many other tours run with) plus I have my good friend Raynor assisting me for the nine days we are there.

As it stands, I believe this might be my last south-coast trip for a while, as I'm planning some new tours for 2016.

A free Icelandic Location e-Book

My good friend Hawk, who assists me as my tour-guide for many of my Icelandic photographic  tours, has just published a free e-book about locations in Iceland.

Hawk is an experienced Icelandic tour operator who knows his locations well. Alongside his father Finnur, both of whom I got to know while spending time in Reykjavik,  they run a tour company that offers private bespoke tours around Iceland throughout the year.

In Hawk & Finnur's e-book, they have covered a variety of locations from the accessible to the more remote, often letting you into a secret or two about each place.  They have also ensured that the safety aspects of visiting certain locations around the country has been covered and just like all Icelanders I know, have written the e-book assuming that you take responsibility for your actions.

Iceland is not a country of railings and warning signs. It's really up to you to be careful and respectful when visiting this delicate landscape. The vegetation for instance, only grows for a few months each year, and driving into deserts where tracks erode the landscape is subject to heavy fines.

If you'd like a copy of Hawk's book, you can find it at http://www.hawk.is/books-on-iceland/photo-guide-to-iceland/ and if you would like to know more about his own tour company, you can find out more information here: NatureExplorer.is

The Father of Asian Photography

Photography continues to give me so much joy. Often I never see where that joy may come from until it arrives and last week has been a perfect example of that.

While running a workshop in the north of Scotland, one of my clients - Anmeng - told me that my photography reminded her of a photographer from her homeland of China. She explained that Lang Jingshan's photographs almost feel like paintings, and she saw the same aesthetic in my own imagery. I was intrigued, because I know my influences well: Michael Kenna's work from China and Japan have made quite an impression on me and I think I've learned a great deal about composition from immersing myself in his beautiful work. So I had a hunch that what Anmeng was seeing in my own work, was perhaps Kenna's influence on me. 

Drawing Water from the River at Dawn, 1934, photograph by Lang Jingshan

Drawing Water from the River at Dawn, 1934, photograph by Lang Jingshan

After the workshop, Anmeng came round to show me some of the work she had been mentioning and also to tell me about some places in China that she thought I would really enjoy visiting. The conversation was very good and I felt I learned a bit more about China, but also, that I got to hear about a great photographer that I'd never heard of before.

The images you see in this post today were made by Lang Jingshan, who died in 1995 at the age of 103. He is considered to be the father of Asian photography by many.

Some of the work you see here dates from around the 1930's or earlier. I read up a bit about him today and discovered that he 'defined a style', which I feel is almost a photographic version of Chinese historical painting. It's very beautiful and I believe many of the images are the result of merging several negatives together in the darkroom. This is nothing new of course as photographers have been combining negatives and other such manipulations in their work since the dawn of photography. But I think there is a very eastern 'elegance' to the work shown here.

Photograph by Lang Jingshan

Photograph by Lang Jingshan

There's obviously a sense of romance, but also of space and delicate use of light and space in the work. I think I am a fan.

I had a look around to see if it's possible to buy some books of Lang Jingshan's work, but they are either out of print or simply impossible to get. Which is a real shame.

I'd like to know more, and continue to be inspired by what I see in his work. He makes me want to go to China now, and although I have no intention of copying the style, I can't help wonder what might come of spending time in some of the beautiful landscapes of China.

Mooring in the Misty River at Night, 1937, photograph by Lang Jingshan

Mooring in the Misty River at Night, 1937, photograph by Lang Jingshan

As one thing leads to another, so to does inspiration move from one photographer to another. I believe that what my Chinese friend saw in my work, was Kenna's influence, and Kenna in turn, has been influenced by his study of Chinese art and other photographers. I know so because Michael told me of his love for another Chinese photographer who's work he has collected in the past.

Photograph by Lang Jingshan

Photograph by Lang Jingshan

Maybe these images look historical or old to you. Maybe you see the beauty in them that I see also. There's so much to be gained by learning about photographers, old as well as new. Sometimes work that was created long ago, is only interesting from a historical perspective, but it's also wonderful when something like Lang Jingshan's work leaps out at me and fills me with wonder. I think that's just such an amazing thing to happen: that we can be inspired by work that was created so long ago, and is, to most, long forgotten.

Many thanks to Anmeng Li for coming to Skye with me, and for sharing Lang Jingshan's work with me :-)

A new year, a continuation of a book project

Dear reader, Happy new year!

Well it's a new year and I'm keen to get on with some new projects and some not so new :-)

One not so new project is that of a third printed book. This one, hopefully will be about the Altiplano region of South America, slated for release sometime in late 2016 if things go according to plan.

This is just a 'working'  cover and may not resemble the final cover in any way. It's just something I like to create during the early stages, as it helps me visualise, get direction and maintain focus.

This is just a 'working'  cover and may not resemble the final cover in any way. It's just something I like to create during the early stages, as it helps me visualise, get direction and maintain focus.

Altiplano means 'high-altitude plain'. So it's a bit of a catch-all for some of the high elevation landscapes of South America.

A monograph on the altiplano has been something I've been working towards since 2012. The set of images I created on that visit got me thinking about a book project. I seemed to get a handle on the more abstract, minimalist landscapes of this region as I think they allow for a study of form, tone and colour. 

I returned in 2013 thinking that I just needed one more trip to have enough images for a book. But things didn't work out that way. I went back with a fixed set of visuals in my mind of what I needed to 'complete the picture' of what I saw in 2012, only to find that I was presented with yet another story, a further subtext to the original story I had visualised. I now feel I've found a landscape that has much potential for showing me the way forward in terms of personal growth and development of my own style. Each subsequent visit so far, has just opened up more doors for me.

Images from my 2013 shoot.

Images from my 2013 shoot.

This year I will be visiting the altiplano regions of Chile, Bolivia and also a new area of Argentina that I only just recently found out about. I will be there for just under two months and I can't wait to see what new stories unfold for me whilst there.

I have a Bolivian friend - Marisol, from the town of Uyuni. She is a professional guide and will be accompanying me on my trips across the high plains of southern Bolivia. Marisol lived in Edinburgh for over a year as a sponsored student and it is here that I got to know her. She has since acted as my guide on several of my private trips around the Bolivian sector of the altiplano.

There always seems to be a sense of serendipity to what I do and I'm grateful for the introduction to Marisol by my friend Kathy, who is also responsible for setting up my South American tours via her tour company Andean Trails.

The region of Argentina I am visiting is called the Puna. From what I know of it so far, it will compliment what I've already photographed, but at the same time add an additional dimension to the collection of images, should the trip go well. 

As with everything, you have to speculate to accumulate and I always see first visits to new landscapes as introductory ones. Often I find I need to go at least twice to a new location; once to find out what I want to photograph and get a handle on the logistics involved, and second time, to actually focus on the areas of interest. Besides, I prefer to visit a place many times, as that way I get to know its personality as well as get to understand the more subtle aspects of it.

Velvia transparencies on my light table. If you've never seen a transparency on a light table before, then you're missing something. It makes the review process much more engaging. I never felt as inspired whilst looking at RAW files on a computer screen. Illuminated transparencies are alive; they glow. It's like you've captured a pocket of light from a location and transported it back home.

Velvia transparencies on my light table. If you've never seen a transparency on a light table before, then you're missing something. It makes the review process much more engaging. I never felt as inspired whilst looking at RAW files on a computer screen. Illuminated transparencies are alive; they glow. It's like you've captured a pocket of light from a location and transported it back home.

I need projects, otherwise photography for me is just 'aimless pottering about'. I also need to complete them, otherwise I never get clearance to move onto new ones.

And they have given me so much.  What I love about them the most, apart from the experiences involved in creating the work,  is that the final results are often more surprising than I had originally envisaged. They are a constant reminder that I can steer my own direction, realise my dreams and handle much more than I often think I'm capable of.

Simplifying Composition, 2nd Edition, almost done!

Since becoming a full-time workshop leader in 2008, I feel I've experienced and gained so much more than I ever imaged I would. One aspect of this, has been my own development as a teacher. It's been a great experience for me to teach others - sometimes intense, often a lot of fun, very sociable and highly rewarding. 

2nd edition - a complete rewrite

2nd edition - a complete rewrite

One of the biggest privileges of being a teacher is that it's not just your students that learn. You learn too.

I feel very privileged to  regularly have the opportunity to get a better understanding of many of the core competencies of photography, simply by having to teach them. I now look at each workshop I do, not just as a place to teach others, but also as a space in which to strengthen my own understanding of what I do and why I do it.

It's been quite some journey and every now and then I like to look back and review things. See where I've been, how far I've come.

Way back in 2010, I published an e-book titled Simplifying Composition . It has been one of my most popular titles and I've used it as the basis of my workshops here in Scotland for many years.  

This year I've been feeling that it's about time the e-Book was updated to reflect where I am now as a teacher. Because of this, I've gone back to scratch and rewritten it.

I'm pleased to tell you that the first draft of the new edition is now complete. Other work commitments aside, I hope to have the new edition released early in the new year.