Dark tones are coming

It's that time of year again, where the first hints of autumn are appearing. For me, living in the Scottish city of Edinburgh, that means a sudden fall in daylight hours. Where only a few weeks ago the sun would shine until 11pm, darkness now pervades my evenings by 9pm.

I find the shorter days to be a signal that the tones in the landscape are shifting towards darker registers. To a more mysterious realm of the visible spectrum.

With this shift in daylight hours comes a mood, a feeling that I'm sure we all recognise. Perhaps you know what I am talking about? I'm sure that most of us understand that the changes in the seasons affect us on an emotional level.

I think there is great mystery in the more earthy tones of autumn and winter. The reduced colour palette and darker tones are further enhanced by the lower levels of light brought on by a sun that is often glimpsed fleetingly through cloudy overcast skies.

This is why I love Iceland, and why I love Patagonia, as well as many of the other places I visit each year on my workshop schedule. They all share a common tonal response to my homeland of Scotland. It's taken me many trips abroad to realise that wherever I go in the world to photograph,  I'm often responding to a familiar tonal signature and I'm really just looking for somewhere that I already know.

Long Chin San's Photographic Painting

"Photography should take us on a journey within. Good images should allow us to tap into our imagination and see beyond the subject to a meaning that is ours alone, a personal impression or feeling"

I have a large collection of photographic books at home. So many in fact, that until recently, they had extended beyond the book shelves and were taking up space on my studio floor. I've tidied them up and done a bit of autumn (it's coming!) cleaning, to give my book collection the space it deserves.

One book that I've revisited this month is a small publication from China about the photographer Long Chin San. I thought I would share with you some of the images from this book. These were made in the 1950's, and I just love them. 

Long chin San took objects such as flattened flowers, leaves and twigs and placed them onto photographic paper, exposing them to light to create these innovative photographs. He called these works 'photographic paintings'.

I'm not a verbatim photographer. I don't see photography as a means to capture what was there, but instead, as a means to give an interpretation. I think we are still very much at the emerging stage of photography: it is going to evolve and change so much over the coming century that to think of it only as a means for recording real pictures is to limit its application and potential.

5-(8).jpg

I believe the past often gives us clues and hints as to where we are going in the future. With this in mind, photography has always been an experimental medium and photographers have always manipulated their work since the first images were recorded. We all know that Ansel Adams greatly manipulated his prints and that they were often a radical departure from the initial negative. Manipulation and specifically interpretation of a scene are nothing new and this knowledge, and acceptance of photography as a creative medium, not just as a way of recording the real world is vital in letting the medium evolve.

Thus, looking at these beautiful 'photographic paintings', I see not only beauty, but great potential for the future. There is always room for exploration.

I know that influences come from many sources and I'm touched to think that perhaps my most recent Icelandic 'minimalist' images are derived from looking at these photographic paintings of Long Chin San's. I've never been much interested in the verbatim aspects of photography. I'm much more interested in creating a new reality, or a vision of one. I'm more  'art' than 'verbatim', and that's why I find these images of Long Chin San so appealing.

Photography should take us on a journey within. Good images should allow us to tap into our imagination and see beyond the subject to a meaning that is ours alone, a personal impression or feeling.

In these photographic paintings of Long Chin San's, I can't help feel he has conjured up beautiful compositions that would be most difficult to find in real life: because real life is never this perfect. And yet, when we look at landscapes, I think this is what we do: we try to distill them into some kind of order, some kind of sense of arrangement that pleases us, and makes us feel good. That is why the paintings of Hokusai for instance resonate with me: the great wave off  Kanagawa is perfect: everything is in place, as it should be. One would hope in our photography that we can reach such idealistic compositions.

I love these 'photographic paintings'. I'm convinced they have been instrumental in my own photographic development. I find them very beautifully composed and very pleasing and I think I often aim to simulate this level of beauty in my own work.

The book by the way, is called:

'Landscape on Negatives,
A special exhibition of Long Chin-San's Photographs Works',

Published by Cultural Relics Press, 2012.

Is there a Fire in the forest?

Whilst editing my recent set of Icelandic images, it was the first time in a long while where I felt uncertain about what I was doing. I trust my feelings on my creativity very much and I've come to learn that when the work is strong, a sense of decisiveness pervades, and when the work is weak I can find myself lacking conviction in what I do.

But uncertainty is something else all together.

Did I take it too far? Did I lose my senses?

Did I take it too far? Did I lose my senses?

I felt as though I was in trouble. Had I gone too far? Were the edits too abstract? Maybe I should back out, return the images to a more conventional look?

The more I worked on the images, the more I felt less easy to back out of the direction I was taking. Like a forest fire that is out of hand, where there is no going back, I had started on a path that wasn't easy to retreat from.

Each step you take adds fuel to the fire, and each experience you have ultimately changes you. We are, after all, made up from our experiences and memories.

Uncertainty isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can sometimes just mean you are somewhere you've never been before, and being somewhere new may suggest that you have crossed some perceived boundary in your work.

So I'm left wondering now: did I start a fire in the forest? and If so, where is it going to take me?

Exhibition last day (Wednesday 2nd)

My exhibition in Edinburgh has been fun. I've met loads of nice folks. Wednesday 2nd is my last day so please do come along. It would be nice to see you. I'm there from 12 to 4:30. I have copies of my books and will happily sign them  (or not - if that is your wish)  :-)

I've sold 13 prints so far - which is 13 more than I anticipated selling. Purely because I had no idea, no previous experiences to gauge from. I will be packing up the prints and putting them in boxes in the evening. Hopefully I may find another place to exhibit but if not, well, it's been a lot of fun.

Now that my little exhibition is coming to a close, I find myself looking towards the future. I was never really sure why I chose to do an exhibition, but this week I've realised I wanted to mark my 50th (I'm 50 in September).

It's important to put a marker in the ground sometimes. To take a moment to be in the present and to reflect on where you've come from and where you may be going. It has been officially 10 years since I began running workshops and tours - my first tour being in April 2007 in Torres del Paine national park in Chile. 

I'm wondering what's up ahead. I can't imagine it will be as surprising as the past 10 years have been but then I never imagined how good the past decade would be either. 

Photography is a journey. It's an open road with many twists and turns and just like life, you never know what wondrous surprises are in store.

My new 'art table', which will be installed in my home studio once I pack up the exhibition. Flowers were a kind gift to me from a dear client of mine from South Korea. Thanks very much Kidoo !

My new 'art table', which will be installed in my home studio once I pack up the exhibition. Flowers were a kind gift to me from a dear client of mine from South Korea. Thanks very much Kidoo !

I think I lost something along the way

I'm sure there must be a proverb out there that says: "in gaining wisdom, we lose innocence".

This week I've been running an exhibition in my hometown of Edinburgh. On the walls of the gallery I have these two images. As far as the exhibition goes, they are (respectively) my oldest and newest images that I have on display.

The first image was created in 2009 in the north west of Scotland. Despite many people thinking it is the distinctive Stac Pollaidh mountain of Assynt, it is in fact Ben Eoin. If I were to dissect it, I would say that this image shows that I was beginning to get more interested in shapes and patterns in my photography: the way the shape of the tree fits neatly into the space below the reflection of the mountain was a deliberate compositional choice at the time of exposure.

Early beginnings? Loch Lurgainn & Ben Eoin, Assynt, Scotland. © 2009

Early beginnings?
Loch Lurgainn & Ben Eoin, Assynt, Scotland. © 2009

I think you can often look back at where you've come from and see the path to where you are now. Somehow, it's pretty easy to see the direction of the journey you've been on. Yet, perhaps not so clear an indication of where you are going to go in the future. But you can get a hint of it as I feel that the past often indicates some elements of the future because looking back you can see traces of where you are now in your older work.

That aside, I've been thinking about how my style of photography has been changing (it has been a purely intuitive one for me: I have not consciously chosen to go the direction I have gone in. Instead, it has been an intuitive process, one which  I have seldom over-thought it). Suffice to say that I realise there has been change and that there has been a distillation of what I do over the eight years between the two images you see on todays post.

Present position. Grasleysfjoll, Iceland. © 2017

Present position.
Grasleysfjoll, Iceland. © 2017

But I also recognise something else.

As we gain experience in what we do, we tend to iron out the rough edges. Aspects of who we were are removed and although we may be wishing to improve our technique and vision, I do think something is always lost along the way of progress. Perhaps it's a sense of innocence in that I'm referring to.

I like to think that experience is a double-edged sword. On the one had it allows us to have a better understanding of what can and cannot be achieved, but it can also be a prison sentence. When you know what should be done you tend to discard possibilities for exploration and are less likely to be open to new discoveries: if you don't know there are any rules, you're more likely to break them.

Developing style and perfecting what you do, as much as they are things to aspire to, can become a set of hand-cuffs. As we develop our style and vision, I think we can become less able to experiment. Rather than letting our creativity go in places we have never been before, we may find ourselves going down the same tired old routes because we know they work and there is safety in these familiar patterns.

I think good artists are willing to not only explore, but perhaps more importantly, they are willing to let go of things they know have worked well for them in the past.

It's ok to change. It's ok to say goodbye to aspects of what you did that you loved, or still love. The last thing you need is to find yourself in a rut because you are too afraid to let go of things you know still work well.

To me this is similar to someone who is in a good job, a lovely home, but they wish to go do something else. It's safe to stay where you are because it's comfortable, but there's also something extremely boring and damaging about doing so. All you know is, changing and moving forward although risky, makes you feel more alive.

Looking back at my older work, I see things in it I wish I still had. I'm aware that I've lost things along the way. I do admit to feeling a sense of loss for the qualities I feel I no longer possess, but only in the way that I realise they can't exist alongside where I am now. To change means you have to let go, and when you change anything, you always lose something in the process. It is impossible to have both.

One last thing today before I go. I do think there is something often quite beautiful about early beginnings. This innocence I speak of: this quality of trying out things that somehow become lost along the way: it's an elusive quality. I often see it in many artists work, not just photographers. Musicians and painters, writers and actors. You don't often know you have it when you do, and you don't have it any longer once you know you had it.

It's impossible to recapture the past. All you can do, is keep moving forward and respect where you've come from. Realise it had its time, and that you are different now.

Exhibition

Below is a photo of thirteen of thirty eight prints on display at my exhibition in Edinburgh this week. It's been really rewarding to see my work up on the wall, but most important to me is that I have been able to share this special time with so many wonderful friends that I've met through my photography. So many nice friends at my private opening night last night: thanks for coming :-)

Campo de Piedra Pomez (the pumice stone field)

Imagine a field with white pumice rock, in strange shapes and patterns, that goes on for tens of kilometres. This is where I camped for two nights so I could be there for sunrise and sunset.

The elevation is around 3,500 metres. The drive in from the nearest town of El Piñon is long, perhaps two hours, and not that easy to find again if you are trying to leave the Pumice field after the sun has gone down. A GPS system is very much needed.

But I chose to camp here for two very long days.

In the daytime the tents that my guide brought in would bake. They were like greenhouses with the sun beating on them, but to be outside was even worse. And there was no shade from the overhead sun. So I just had to open the doors of the tent and pray for a breeze. The final hour towards sunset would start of slow, but as the light started to change, things would happen fast. Too fast, and even though I had spent the afternoon scouting out potential locations that I thought had great composition potential, I still found the light didn't react the way I had anticipated. I had to change plan and react fast.

After sunset had finished, and after a few moments of wrestling with my camera because the film back would occasionally jam, the temperature would plummet. I'd return back to the camp site to find my guide Pancho had made a dinner for me, and we'd stare at the milky way (what a sight to see when there is no light pollution for many many miles all around!), before deciding it was now getting too cold to stay outside.

The mornings would be worse. Really, really freezing cold. Can you imagine having to get out of a nice warm sleeping bag to try and put on some freezing clothes? And then stumble around with a head torch looking for good compositions? My hands would be biting cold and sometimes I would swear to myself. It was painful.

Once the sun was up, I'd feel a sense of relief. The feeling had returned to my frozen hands, and I was now glad that the long wait was over: we could leave this place. As beautiful as it is, and as fascinating as it was to walk around this massive field of strange structures the size of houses, I was glad to be leaving for civilisation.

You have to put the effort in, to get something back. I had planned to come back here for two years and although the two days of hanging around here had been long, boring and uncomfortable, I had felt I'd managed to tap into the potential of this place. Often it's the places that are hardest to get to, that intrigue me the most.

The Labyrinth, Tolar Grande, Argentina

I went back to the Puna de Atacama this past April to do some further photography, because the first time I was there (2015), I saw so much potential but failed to capture what I saw.

This trip was more successful. And this is one of my favourite places - the labyrinth just outside the dust bowl town of Tolar Grande. It is remote, takes about 2 hours to get here from its neighbouring town and we drove out here two mornings and two evenings so I could get this shot. You see, it takes a while to figure out where the sun is going to hit the tips of the mountains of red clay, and then I only had 20 minutes (if that) to make some exposures. So it was all a bit of a rush, with long driving distances in between.

I'm just editing the latest collection of Puna images as of today and it's been very enjoyable to go back and relive the trip. The Puna is the Argentine section of the Atacama which comprises the Chilean section, the Bolivian Altiplano. But all three are different in some ways and the Puna has a few surprising locations that are not present in Chile or Bolivia.

More to follow soon.

Book is now Sold Out (and out of print).

We sold the last copy of my 3rd book today. It is a strictly limited edition run of 300 copies and as such, we won't be re-printing it. Many thanks to those of you who bought a copy. We will be shipping them out 2nd of August.

Colourchrome Monograph
from 35.00

Photographic Images 2009 - 2017

Exhibition Book

Please note: This book is now out of print.

To mark the first exhibition of Bruce's photography, this book covers his work from 2009 to the present. 

The book is laid out in order of tonal range starting with Bruce's serenely minimal Hokkaido images before moving on to the lower registers of tonality by visiting the black deserts of central Iceland. The book concludes with his full spectrum work from the Bolivian Altiplano.

Book dimensions:

  • 10 inches x 10 inches x 0.25 inches

Standard Edition:

The standard edition is limited to 200 copies.

    • 40 photographic plates, 170mm x 170cmm
    • Three chapter Introductions regarding tone and composition

    Special Edition:

    The special edition is limited to 100 copies. Each copy has one of three prints available:

    • 33 editions with signed / numbered Hokkaido Print 
    • 33 editions with signed / numbered Iceland Print
    • 34 editions with signed / numbered Bolivia Print

    Tapping into an energy

    When I begin to work on a new set of images, I feel as though I've tapped into an energy far beyond my own comprehension. It's as if I'm not driving the work and that it is coming from elsewhere. That might sound a bit hokey, but I really can't put my finger on what the creative process is. It has its own energy. All I know is, that when I'm creating new work,  I'm on a creative high, as I sense something new is coming into being.

    Images shot in the central highlands of Iceland March 2017. Images © Bruce Percy 2017

    Images shot in the central highlands of Iceland March 2017.
    Images © Bruce Percy 2017

    Standard edition now sold out

    The standard edition of my book is now sold out. We currently only have 6 copies left of the deluxe limited edition book as seen below, which comes in a dark blue cover.

    This is a one-time printing only. We won't be making a 2nd printing of the book.

    I'm delighted with the response to the book, and now that I've seen it myself, I'm very very happy with the print reproductions inside. 

    If you'd like a copy, we only have a few Bolivia print editions and Hokkaido Print editions left.

    Many thanks to those of you who bought a copy of the book.

    Bruce.

    Colourchrome Monograph
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    Bolivia Print Deluxe Edition.

    Paper & Pencil - Grasleysufjöll

    I know I had to go elsewhere before I came here.

    If I had reached this landscape years ago, I doubt I would have known how to approach it and I would have struggled with it. Everything I have done with my photography has been a stepping stone onto other other things. For me, when I look at my recent work, I always see hints of the past and of other experiences and places that have contributed to take me to where I am now.

    Grasleysufjöll, central highlands of Iceland Image © Bruce Percy, March 2017.

    Grasleysufjöll, central highlands of Iceland
    Image © Bruce Percy, March 2017.

    Things happen through connections, be it emotional ones or physical. I've been following my 'art' with my feelings for many years simply going with what feels right. Every once in a while an exterior influence comes in and leads me somewhere new. Had I not been looking for a professional guide to help me get access to some of the less accessible, more remote areas of Iceland, I doubt I would have come to the central highlands in winter time. It was after all his suggestion. I had no idea just how photogenic this place could be. The conversation went something like this:

    'Bruce, there is a landscape here that I think you would like,
    but it is costly and difficult to get to.
    It is a white canvas of black brush strokes, very minimal, I think you would like it
    '.

    And he was right. But I couldn't have done it without him and to this day I would still have no knowledge of this place if he hadn't mentioned it.

    The central highlands of Iceland in the depths of winter time, is somewhere few go. Those that do are in convoy and are most probably only locals heading into the mountain cabins for some winter get togethers. There are no roads as everything is under several feet (or metres) of snow. Driving here requires skill, even as an experienced 4W driver, the skill required is above most 4WD skills.

    I have some lasting memories of this trip into the central highlands and perhaps the most impressionable one is of how I took the photo you see at the top of this post today. I was literally standing on the top ridge of a mountain that my guide drove up on to. One minute we were in the valley below and I said that I liked the outline of the faint mountains and a few minutes later his car was driving up the slope to get me there.

    When we arrived, the entire landscape was a white-out, with only a few impressions of black volcanic rock poking through the snow where they had been weathered by some recent rain and wind. Indeed, when I made this shot, the snow was blowing over the dark ridge you see in the foreground and the background mountains were coming and going with varying degrees of visibility.

    The scene was etched into my mind not just because of how graphically strong it was, but mostly because my guide had taken a perverse pleasure in being able to take me anywhere. You see, for most of the year you are not allowed to go off-road. If you depart the main roads, even in the highlands, there are heavy fines involved because you will be eroding the land. But if you come here in winter and there is deep snow everywhere - then you can go anywhere that you car can take you (and can't take you, as you may find out!).

    I don't think I've ever stopped a car and gotten out on a mountain ridge before. Nor have I encountered a scene like the one you see above anywhere else on my travels. Sure, I've been to many winter places with lots of snow, but I have never seen such an abstract and minimal landscape such as this - ever.

    Our vehicles on a mountain ridge, suspended in space. Image © Bruce Percy, March 2017

    Our vehicles on a mountain ridge, suspended in space.
    Image © Bruce Percy, March 2017

    Different Perceptions, a Different loudness

    I've often thought of photography as the act of 'paying more attention than usual' to my visual world. Rather than just glancing everywhere, I spend more time studying and watching how light affects and modifies objects around me. I look more.

    But I've come to realise that photography isn't just about increasing visual awareness. We may believe that we are just honing and developing our visual awareness, but other aspects of our consciousness are also being heightened. In particular, I seem to be more sensitive to intrusive sounds in my environment than I used to. I'm sure I noticed them on a subconscious level in the past, but these days I seem to be more conscious of them. What was once quiet, is sometimes now too loud, aurally as well as visually.

    But it's not just in my auditory and visual awareness that I seem to be more conscious these days. I also seem to be more aware of the levels of noise within my thoughts.

    Take today as an example: I have a body of new work to edit, yet somehow I cannot find the peace within my mind to begin editing. I just 'know' that today, and indeed this week isn't the time to work on them. All I know is that I need a certain space in which to edit this work, but simply marking off some free time in my calendar isn't enough. I have to be feeling it as well.

    If I'm not feeling it, I'd much rather go and do something else and leave the work alone for another day when I will have the proper emotional tools to work on it properly. But this too, depends on my level of awareness to figure out when there's no point in working on something because i'm either too tired, or just not in the right frame of mind to work on it.

    We are all bobbing along on a sea of varying levels of perception and awareness. Some days I find I'm less sensitive to what is going on around me while other days everything can be too much. Visually, aurally and emotionally. I'm either in the right space to work on something or I'm not.

    I've been saying for a while now, that improving one's own photography is sometimes about developing visual awareness, but that's only a tiny part of the story. Improving our photography is really about developing our awareness of everything around us and as well as what is going on within us. Photography isn't just about what we saw, it's also about what it meant to us and what it means to us now, and to do our intentions justice, we need to know when we've found the right levels of quietness within ourselves to bring the work to completion.

    The Photographer's Ephemeris 3D

    If you don't use the Photographer's Ephemeris application, then I would strongly urge you to look into it. I use it all the time to figure out the sunrise and sunset times wherever I am, twilight times and also for figuring out where the angle of the sun will be during certain times of the day.

    Stephen Trainor, the app designer will be releasing a 3D version of it soon, which incorporates a 'Google Earth' like view of the terrain so you can see how the light will fall on certain areas.

    You can find out more about the current 2D version of TPE from the link below. It runs on most portable devices:

    Where do we go from here?

    Recently, I've been giving a lot of thought to how much my photography has changed over the years. I feel that it is only in the last two or three years that there has been a distillation, a fine-tuning of ideas and style into where I am now. It's as if everything came into sharp focus for me around three years ago and everything before then was a slow gradual journey, one where I felt things were changing but I didn't know where they were going.

    It's only now that I feel I've reached a point where things have become easier for me. I now have better confidence in myself and trust myself more in how I am developing as an artist.

    Trees in a snow storm, Hokkaido, January 2017 Image © Bruce Percy 2017

    Trees in a snow storm, Hokkaido, January 2017
    Image © Bruce Percy 2017

    A creative life has these moments, or plateaus perhaps, of feeling that you've arrived at some level playing field where you can bask in some form of creative comfort for a while before the next (sometimes difficult, other times just natural) adaption occurs. Because growing requires change, and although I know and believe that change is good, it can also be a time of great uncertainty.

    If I look back at Ansel Adam's work over his lifetime, it is clear that he, like many other artists, he had a very creative period and then things started to tail off. By the end of his life, he was perhaps more a curator of his legacy. His skills had developed so much that he was able to go back to his iconic work and produce bolder, deeper prints than when he first started out.

    Colourchrome Monograph
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    My 3rd book is about to be published soon, and it has given me pause for thought. Is this the final mark of a period of great growth and creativity for me? Will I look back on this book in years to come and say 'that was my most creative time?' 

    I am aware that I have done so much and witnessed so many wonderful things over the past eight or nine years since I went full time, that I feel it may be unlikely I can perhaps top that for a further similar duration. I am older, I feel different (i.e not the same way as I felt when I started out eight years ago), so things have changed, and indeed, are always changing.

    I believe that each artist or creative person reaches a point in their own development where they are at the summit of what they can do. It's an inevitable point to reach in one's own creativity but we must continue to move forward with an open mind to see if there is still mileage in the road ahead.

    Indeed, there have been many moments where I felt I could go no further, only to find that the period of contemplation was either brief or lasted for many months or years. I've had periods in my creativity where I have felt I had nowhere else to go, yet looking back I see now that I had only just started.

    Contemplative moments are good for us. Thinking about where you've been and where you think you may be going are healthy thoughts to have. You just need to believe in yourself that things are going to change and understand that progress is not linear. There will be times and even long spells of inactivity, times when you feel you have nothing left to say, only to find that you are now entering a period of great productivity. Being open to whatever may come, and accepting that you are on a journey that has no fixed course is the only way to be.

    Learn to live in the present and understand that everything you are doing or experiencing is transient: it will not last. That goes for periods of little or no productivity, and for times when we reach new summits in what we do. Regardless, thinking about where you are and understanding yourself at this present moment is good for a healthy creative life.

    So today  I'm left wondering 'where do I go from here?' And I can't wait to see what's up the road ahead.

    Colourchrome book update

    The printing of my 3rd book is now underway.

    We've taken advanced orders for 240 copies of the 300 edition run, and I think the book may sell out before I even get to my exhibition date. So if you were planning on coming along to the exhibition and picking up a copy then, perhaps best to buy a copy online. It will be shipped out on the 2nd of August.

    There's something deeply satisfying and very powerful about seeing a project come together that started out as an idea. What was once just a single thought becomes a real thing. That's very empowering.

    Pareidolia

    I didn't see the bear for a long time, and then once someone showed me it, it was a few years before I saw the seal. Can you see them?

    Pareidolia - a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists. Common examples are perceived images of animals or human faces - Wikipedia.

    Outdoor Photography Magazine

    Op-article.jpg

    Many thanks to @OPOTY magazine for beautifully presenting my article in this month's edition of their magazine.

    It was a rare chance to discuss my interest in painting and how historical paintings from some of the locations I have gotten to know so well, have influenced or informed what I do.

    When I was a small boy, my parent's really supported me in my interest in drawing and painting. My aunt Helen, who was married to the late John Bellany (Scottish painter) would send me oil paints and other art materials.

    It has taken me a while to acknowledge and understand the relationship between my art-beginnings and my photography. Indeed, I would be inclined to say that my landscape photography is really a continuation of the compositions I made as a small boy with oil paints and charcoal sticks.

    Thoughts on approaching a location

    Sometimes you find a location that is so sweet, you know as you approach it, that it's going to work.

    The above image was just exactly like that for me.

    Below is a 'contextual' image showing me approaching these trees. I'd seen this location from a far distance, and felt that a telephoto would not be sufficient to work around parallax issues with the trees.

    Before I'd even set foot outside of the car, I could already see the potential in my mind's-eye - I had already begun to visualise and dream how the final images might turn out!  

    But sometimes as I approach a landscape, it turns into something entirely different. I am pleased to say in this circumstance it held up to what I was visualising in my mind.

    Context shot, showing me on location in Hokkaido.  Image shot by my Hokkaido guide, January 2017

    Context shot, showing me on location in Hokkaido. 
    Image shot by my Hokkaido guide, January 2017

    Although I love to edit my work and will often depart radically from what was there by using dodging and burning techniques, the final images you see here are pretty much verbatim. The only difference between the photograph of me on location, and my final images is that the sky clouded over once I got into the location, so there was more of a marriage between land and sky. 

    My only on-site decisions were more about placement - of where I should be standing to get different vantage points of the trees, and to be observant to any patterns that the trees made (see central image of the three trees at perfect placement to one another). Further, it was also paramount that I remove the background hedge from the shot at all costs, so I spent a bit of time looking for vantage points where the hedge would disappear from view.

    I'd like to finish today's post by stating that often as a photographer i'm tempted to go closer towards the subjects I wish to photograph. Whether it's the edge of a lake or the edge of a cliff. This can sometimes be a real failing because of two points:

    1) If you like your subject from where you are standing, then chances are it's not going to look the same once you get closer. So shoot it from where you've noticed it, before moving in. Practice using different focal lengths such as telephoto view to accomplish this.

    2) As you approach a location you like, the elements start to move around and sometimes things get lost or hidden from view. See point 1.

    Your journey can sometimes become an exercise in 'chasing rainbows'. You think that by getting in close, the composition will get stronger, but as you do approach, the scene falls apart and the subjects do not hold together in the way you first saw them. Often times, it's because the best vantage point was from where you started.

    I'm glad to report that although I was worried that the big hike into this location,  on snowshoes might have resulted in the trees becoming obstructed by hills, or by my being too low to photograph the trees straight on, the location worked beautifully.

    I knew it at the time things were going well. As I slowly made my way forward, the trees and the compositions I had in my mind's eye remained in place. But I did keep an eye on how the compositions were changing as I approached.

    I'm a great believer that when something is working well, whether it be in my photography or in my life, it tends to flow and come together easily. That's exactly how these images happened. It was as if they fell into my lap.

    Photographer's code of conduct

    I’ve been thinking for a while now, that things are going to change with regards to the level of freedom that we photographers have in the landscape. 

    El Arbol de Piedra, Siloli Desert, Bolivia 2016 Image © Bruce Percy 2016

    El Arbol de Piedra, Siloli Desert, Bolivia 2016
    Image © Bruce Percy 2016

    Since I started running tours and workshops in 2007, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of general tourists visiting places of interest, which has also meant that there has been a corresponding increase in the number of photographers visiting places. Indeed, my income and business is in a growth sector of the tourism industry: photography workshops and tours are on the increase each year and there is currently no letup in terms of the demand for tours centred around photography. Whether you and I like the badge or not, we are tourists with cameras and although we might feel our aims are different from general tourist, we are still tourists.

    In certain countries I have begun to witness levels of strict policing where it comes to what one can do in or around national parks. Chile for instance is becoming increasingly restrictive upon what one can do and they are not alone. Nor do I feel that their approach is wrong: they are simply trying to protect their areas of interest as best they can, because of the increased levels of foot fall.

    This protection comes at a cost to the amount of freedom that one has as a photographer.

    I can fully appreciate the concerns of the national park services and of other places where no clear demarcation line currently exists. Iceland for example has many wonderful landscapes that do not fall under the jurisdiction of national park protection and are currently wide open to the threats of increased traffic through tourism. Indeed Iceland is having a battle with general tourists who are not ‘outdoor-savvy’. Each year there are deaths at the black beach at Vík because general tourists who have little experience with the raw power of nature are found to be in a place where extreme spring tides are a real threat and have claimed lives. Iceland is in the infant stages of trying to manage the landscape to a degree where it is reasonably safe for tourists to visit, yet allow people the appropriate level of access so that their enjoyment of such a place is not severely impacted.

    As it already stands, I am often left feeling that access to many wonderful areas of a landscape have already gone through severe restrictions to the detriment of what I wish to do with my photography. Indeed, even before such restrictions were put in place, I've often been left feeling that most national parks seldom catered for photographer's needs. Most lookout points are 'vista' shots that might satisfy the general tourist but leave a lot to be desired for most photographers. Indeed, I've found that these restrictions can often lead some to breach the limits of what many national parks deem as appropriate behaviour.

    This brings me to an issue with the limited design of most access areas for photographers: we tend to over-step these demarcation points in an attempt to gain the photographs we seek. In doing so, we place ourselves and our fellow enthusiasts under the scrutiny of park authorities and tempt the introduction of further restrictions. Can landscape photographers be trusted to abide by the park rules when it is clear that they will leave certain trail areas in the pursuit of an image? This is my contention: many areas of national parks do not give us the freedom to explore, and at the same time, by exploring, we are in breach of park rules. What is to be done?

    In the initial days of hiking trails and networks, nature lovers have had to walk a thin line between access and conservation. This should be no different for us photographers. We have a responsibility towards these special landscapes, and if we abuse this responsibility in the pursuit of an image, we risk ourselves and our community in getting a bad name, with further restrictions being put in place. In short: any unlawful behaviour by us hurts us.

    Borax field, Laguna Colorada, Bolivia Image © Bruce Percy 2016

    Borax field, Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
    Image © Bruce Percy 2016

    I foresee a time where photographer’s footprints will have increased so much, that we will be under scrutiny for our behaviour and it is only a matter of time. So I feel that the only way to manage this escalation of park rules, is to start to develop some of our own: if hill walkers have codes of conduct such as ‘leave only footprints’, and ‘take out the rubbish you carried in’, then so too must we adopt respectful laws.

    Photography has reached an all-time high level of interest. There has never been more people making photographs in nature than ever before. Many of us have come to photography from a passion for the outdoors but some of us have arrived at landscape photography with little in the way of practical outdoor skills or awareness. To these new disciples, they have still to go through a learning curve of beginning to understand that landscapes need to be cared for and that nature is unruly and stops for no one. Respect is the key word here. The pursuit of an image although the intentions may be honest can sometimes lead to the landscape being abused through a lack of outdoor experience and as such it is perhaps time that we assemble a ‘photographer’s code of conduct’, a guide that sets out how one must conduct themselves in the landscape.

    I am really writing this an an open-letter. I feel that at some point, in order to maintain our right to access these wonderful places, we need to begin right now to conduct ourselves as ambassadors for our community.

    But perhaps it goes much further than this. Rather than waiting for someone to dictate rules and regulations as to what we photographers can and cannot do, perhaps we should be working out these terms before someone else - someone who has little understanding of our passion, does.

    Times are changing. Tourism is increasing, special places of interest are seeing increasing levels of traffic, and it is only a matter of time before authorities start to place further restrictions on what we photographers can and cannot do. Our current and future behaviour will have an effect on those rules, and whether we have a good name as a community. 

    Go wisely and with great respect around the landscapes you love. Until such time as photography has an accepted code of conduct; a bible of how one should treat the landscape and the others we encounter within it, we have everything to lose.