My photographs from the recent Patagonia workshop are now online here. I love Patagonia, it’s barren, unforgiving, dramatic, contemplative and hard.
You can work hard and come home with nothing, and then sometimes, just to show you that it has its own mind, Patagonia will give you a gem or two.
Once in a while.
But every photographer I speak to who has been there, says they want to go back. I guess it’s because each time you visit, you see a different face to the landscape and when you do get a good shot, you can’t help feeling you’ve been rewarded.
I love small independent companies that spring up to fill the gap where the large corporations just seem to mis the obvious. One such company that I really like is Really Right Stuff. They make excellent tripod heads as well as custom plates to fit your camera.
I use an Arca Swiss style tripod head/clamp. It’s the most effective way to secure the camera to a tripod. It’s quick, and it’s robust. I have no time to spend screwing plates onto the bottom of cameras and I am unwilling to have a plate fixed to the bottom of the camera if it has the potential to swivel off. The basic plates you get from Arca Swiss are enormous, clunky and they swivel off the bottom of the camera. Really Right Stuff’s plates are specially molded to fit the particular make of camera that you are using. So they become a slightly added feature of your camera, whilst at the same time, don’t get in the way. Oh, and they’re light too. But most importantly, they don’t swivel of the camera. So they’re very, very secure.
I have the L type plates attached to my cameras. So it means I can quickly rotate the camera from Landscape to Portrait mode in a matter of seconds.
One thing that I have found issue with though is the quick release clamps that Really Right Stuff are making. The levers on them are simply too long, and they get in the way if you have a filter holder attached to the front of the lens. It becomes a real hassle to take the camera off the plate, because the lever is obstructed by any ND filters I’ve got on the camera. So I’ve had the lever on each clamp I own machined down to a smaller size. It now means I can mount and dismount the camera from the tripod head in a matter of seconds, whilst not having to take the filter holder off the end of the lens.
Gear should just ‘work’. It should be transparent to use. If you’re having to mess around with it too much, then it’s getting in between you and the photograph. Get familiar as much as you can with your gear and try to remove any obstacles that you can. Photography is an emotional response to your surroundings, and there’s nothing like having to fidget with some gear that isn’t simple to really kill any inspiration that you are feeling.
I’ve just uploaded a new portfolio of Los Glaciares national park, Argentinian Patagonia.
Sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, you come home empty handed. I’ve been to Los Glaciares three times now, each time hoping to get good shots of the mountains Cerro Torre and Fitzroy, only to return home empty handed.
I’ve had many e-mails from other photographers saying that all they saw when they got there was low cloud and the edge of a lagoon. This, is no surprise to me as I’m fully aware of how the odds are stacked against you if you want to get great photos in this region of the world. But that’s part of its charm too.
I’m much happier about these shots compared to my first few attempts. I think its really helped to have a good selection of lenses this time – from extreme wide angle to 400mm. But its also helped greatly, being familiar with the terrain and how unpredictable the weather is. I came home exhausted. Trekking isn’t easy with a pile of camera gear, bad weather and a short timescale. But I also came home satisfied that I’d got my shot of Cerro Torre.
Whilst browsing youtube.com for some articles on Steve McCurry, I came across a lovely documentary by a broadcaster/writer called Jake Warga. His article is called ‘The Perfect Photo’, and in it, he beautifully captures what I feel is the essence of travel photography.
At one point, he says that the perfect photo is something you cannot chase, but instead, is something that finds you.
He uses the churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia as the basis of his story, and in particular, an article he found in National Geographic which spurred him on to try to take the same photo. I’m sure that the main point isn’t about trying to take the exact same photo, but is merely a clever device for building a good story.
Anyway, its made me realise that I’d dealy love to do some podcasts and record my exchanges with people when I’m photographing in future.
Photography is not just about taking pictures, it’s about the exchanges that happen between you and what you are shooting, be it a landscape, people, anything. Through the process of photography, our awareness of the world is heightened.
I hope you enjoy viewing Jakes documentary. I thought some of the images in it were beautiful and he managed to pique my interest in Ethiopia too.
What does this image say to you? Aren’t the bergs almost like figures? I think so.
Photographed in Patagonia this March, I’ve shot glacier Grey in Torres del Paine several times, and each time, it brings something new.
I think that what is beautiful about glaciers in photographic terms are the endless possibilities of shape. Not only is each berg different, but also bringing them together can create some interesting compositions. In the above shot, notice how there are a lot of diagonal lines leading through the entire shot. Then there is also symmetry – each side of the shot is weighted by a similar sized berg and right in the middle, there is a little one, just to fill in the foreground a little. That’s already just fine as it is, but adding a hint of mountain top into the background just helps make the whole composition sit well with the eye.
The boat was moving, but as it did so, I kept shooting this same scene until I felt everything had just ‘clicked’ into place. Photography is not just about light, but about composition and balance.
Just last weekend I spent some time in the beautiful Sandwood Bay in the highlands of Scotland. For those of you who don’t know, I live in Scotland.
A four mile walk into a lovely remote bay with ample sand dunes, expansive beaches and even the story of a ghost, it was a must see on my list for some time.
Doing a lot of traveling, it’s often easy to neglect your own country but I have to say that over the past eight years, I’ve become more and more appreciative of my home land. Nothing else seems to beat it (but I’m sure that’s just my own patriotism coming into the equation).
Anyway, these were all taken with the 5D, some ND grads and a good tripod. The evening light on Saturday was really beautiful and we’d just got there, so it was hard to find a vantage point while the light was fading, so I ended up running around the bay like a madman for a couple of hours. I like to work quickly – that’s where the excitement comes in.
But what are you trying to do with your photography? When you take an image, do you have a reason for doing so? i.e, what drives you forward?
For me, I think we go about our daily lives – living within a set of parameters that don’t give us time to think beyond that. I love going out side those parameters – just being on a remote beach late at night gives a different sense of perspective to my life. Listening to the waves crash, feeling isolated on that beach, I find that I’m aware of being in a different existence. I’m no hippy, but there is something rather compelling about spending time on your own in a beautiful, remote place. I also like to produce images that are a departure from the everyday, and shooting late at night or during nocturnal hours can provide that. Look at the last image in particular, the moon is in the sky, the light is low and the tide is moving in fast. I don’t often get to experience moments like this throughout my daily life, and that is why photography is so great. It gets you out there, not only to make pictures, but to experience an existence outside of the parameters of your normal daily life.
This is one of my favourite shots from the films I got back from Morocco. Situated in the north part of Marrakech, he was actually sleeping in a big metal wheel barrow when I came across him. The streets are filled with smells, sounds, activity – sensory overload. So I think I was drawn to him because he was stationary. Anyway, he was one of the most willing participants I had. Sometimes a photo just falls into place, other times it takes a while to get it right. This one just fell into my lap.
I’ve finished editing the Portra Morocco shots. I just need some time now to put them up on my site. They are similar to my Cuba and Cambodia shots. I just feel so much more happy about them compared to my previous Morocco shots. The colours are right this time, I’ve got a lot more portraits too. First time I went to Morocco I came home with a few sparse portraits because I hadn’t learned what it took to get them. The culture is difficult, people don’t respond to tourists like they do in Cambodia (warm, welcoming) or Cuba (discreet, proud). The Moroccan is a distant person, privacy is valued much more, highly religious, general culture make for very difficult photo taking and I’m not going to do candid shots because it’s so easy to offend someone.
Anyway, regarding film, my first shock was how grainy it is. After using digital for a few years now, it took a bit of adjustment to going back to looking at grainy film. But conversely, I had to do very little to the images – the colours were there, and that ‘texture’ or ’3D’ look or ‘glow’. Conversely, digital is flat, you have to work at bringing the colours out, and when doing that, it really screws with skin tones.
It’s hard to describe, and I guess I shouldn’t need to. If you need me to describe the different look and feel that each medium has – then you can’t see it.
It was tough. Making photographs in Morocco wasn’t easy. The more I go through the films from Morocco, It is all coming back to me.
Here’s a shot from the Souks of Marrakech. These guys are dying wool that is used to make a lot of the Moroccan textiles. I remember walking past them and thinking how great it would be to get a candid shot of them doing their work.
I could see two possibilities. One was that they would agree, but the image would lose any spontaneity that I found attractive in the first place. The second option was that I would get my candid shot. I had no idea until this evening if I’d got something, and as usual, it isn’t what I expected, but in many ways, it’s much better than I’d hoped for.
What I like about this shot is that the main guy on the left has a very serious natural look on his face while in the immediate background his work mate is unaware of the camera. Notice the steam coming off the dyed wool. Compositionally, both subjects balance each other out and give the image symetry.
On a technical note, this was shot using the 50mm Mamiya 7 lens – that’s roughly equivalent to a 24mm in 35mm land. So it’s a wide angle. I normally shoot people shots with the 80 and it’s a real pain to have to anticipate which lens to have on the camera body most of the time. I don’t fancy the idea of having two Mamiya 7 bodies, because I’m really going to stand out. Which isn’t the point of street photography.