Working your aspect ratio muscle

I’ve been saying for many years now, that certain aspect ratios are easier to work in than others. Choosing the right aspect ratio for your own aesthetic temperament will aid you in finding compositions, whereas working with a difficult aspect ratio will hamper you. The thing is, you need to find out which aspect ratios work for you.

I’m still surprised that so many buy a digital camera and don’t consider the aspect ratio it shoots in. I have always thought that 3:2 is a particularly difficult aspect ratio to work in and choosing a less panoramic format such as 4:3, 4:5 or 6:7 would be easier to help you compose in.

Anyway, the reason why I am writing this post today is to say that by choosing different aspect ratios to work in, you force your eye to move into regions of the frame that you don’t normally visit with your eye.

If we consider the 3:2 format below, I’ve marked the region where most of us tend to spend time with our eye in black. The white areas of the frame are where we spend less or no time looking in.

area-of-most-use.3-2.portrait.jpg

I like to think of the black areas of the frame as ‘concentrated areas of experience’ with the white areas being ‘areas of little or no experience’.

If you choose to shoot in another format for a while, the different shape of the chosen aspect ratio will force your eye into areas of the frame that you wouldn’t ordinarily visit.

I found with square, my eye was visiting more of the frame, as is illustrated below

area-of-most-use.jpg
P1010941.jpg

Interestingly, I found my eye had less to travel to reach the far corners of the frame than in a 3:2 format. My ‘area of experience’ isn’t too far away from the corners of the frame.

As a result, I started to put objects at the far corners of the frame.

This isn’t something I was ever comfortable doing with 3:2 or 4:5.

After shooting square for a few years, I found that when I did return to 4:5 or 4:3, I found that all those exercises of putting things in the far corners of my square aspect ratio helped me use those corner and edge areas of the rectangle aspect ratio. As in this picture below:

4x5.jpg

Working with different aspect ratios is a good exercise to do. Move around between them too much and perhaps you won’t learn anything as I do believe you need to settled into one or two ratios for a few months if not years. But certainly it is true for me, that by moving to a different aspect ratio for a while, has changed my photography and how I compose when I have returned to an aspect ratio I used many years ago.

Your visualisation skill is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it. If you never force your eye into the corners of your frame then I think you lose the skill to visualise compositions that can produce very dynamic work.

Square Variations

Today I feel like posting an old post. The post below was written in 2012. I feel it’s just as valid now as it was back then. Today I’ve been talking to a few people about aspect ratios. Since I wrote this piece, I’ve seen a few camera manufacturers offer more aspect ratios in their cameras, but it’s still not enough. Aspect ratios should be programmable on all contemporary cameras. It should also be implemented in a way that works without it being a bit of an afterthought (Canon, Nikon). Through the more recent introduction of mirrorless cameras, some have embraced aspect ratios (my favourite is the Fuji GFX50s which has just about every conceivable aspect ratio available, and it can be programmed as a dedicated button on the body).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this article about me shooting images in Scotland.

Enjoy, Bruce.

April 2012

This past weekend, I was in Torridon conducting a weekend workshop. We had some very rainy weather, and one of the group - Steve - mentioned to me that he was glad the weather had been bad, as it gave him a chance to see he could actually make some good images despite the weather.

Top right

Top right

I often feel, that the reason why Scotland is so photogenic, is because of the changes in the weather. One minute it's misty, the next it's clear. And fog or low cloud levels can be a great way of making simpler images. Take the shot above for instance. This is Loch Maree. Normally, this group of trees have the massive Slioch mountain dominating the background. But with a bit of rain and poor visibility, Slioch was invisible. We were left with no horizon - nothing to give the shot context.

I loved the group of three or four trees clumped together. They were actually a subset of a larger group of trees, but I felt that we could easily 'remove' the rest and keep the entire shot very simple if we just had this small gathering of trees.

Variations

Variations

I made this shot on my little Lumix GF1. It's a great camera because it has interchangeable aspect ratios. I felt that square worked really well for this shot, as I could easily place the trees in three quadrants of the frame - top right, bottom right and middle right, as you can see in the above triptych. Question is, is one better than the other? And I like to consider that there is always more options than just one. So I guess the answer is 'it depends'. My personal favourite composition out of the three images is the first one. I feel the picture has a more 'uplifting' feeling than the rest, and it has more presence, because I'm really exaggerating the empty space in the frame more than the others. I also love the reflection of the trees.... I feel they have space below them to 'breathe'.

The middle composition, where the trees are placed in the bottom right, is perhaps less engaging for me, because the trees aren't so tight against the bottom of the frame. The picture feels less focussed for me, in terms of composition. I'd liked to have moved the trees even further down the frame, but I felt the reflections would not have enough space. I felt I had to keep moving the trees further up the frame. But it's a more relaxed composition than the first one - which I feel is more 'graphic' than being a photograph.

The far right composition is perhaps my less favourite. It is more of a 'standard' composition. I feel the horizon has been carelessly composed - for my taste. It's just a little below centre, and I think it might have benefited from being slightly above centre - giving that 'uplifting' feeling I was talking about in the first image, while at the same time, being more in-line with a 'standard' landscape image.

As much as I love square, maybe it might have suited more a 4x5 aspect ration as seen above?

4x5 crop

4x5 crop

Ultimately, when you have a simple subject such as this - trees and reflection, and nothing else, it's much easier to get down to the basic tasks of composition and placement in a frame. The less objects you have in the frame - the better, I feel.

I was immediately attracted to this scene when we were driving past, because there's little in there to distract. When was the last time you went out with your camera to shoot when the atmospheric pressure is so low, that almost nothing is visible?

Article in outdoor photography magazine

Outdoor-Feb-2019.jpg

I have a featured article in this month’s edition of the UK magazine ‘Outdoor Photography’, including a nice cover image of one of my images.

The article is all about working with winter scapes and understanding dynamic-range and how the human eye is unable to see absolute luminance.

Nuggets

We’re only here for a short while. And we all want to spend our time wisely. So the question we should all ask ourselves is this:

Q. do we cover as many places as we can, or do we focus our efforts on a few places and try to get to know them as best as we can?

This essentially boils down to these two options:

  1. Spread ourselves thinly and visit as many different locations as we can, and hope that the work we create during our brief time there will have depth to it.

  2. Concentrate ourselves to a few locations and focus on trying to build up a portfolio of work over a number of years of these places. The sacrifice is that you see a lot less of the world than you would if you chose option 1.

If there is an answer to this, then it’s maybe a bit of both options above. And something else: your drive. Although we may try to be logical and objective about what we should do, the truth is, we should respond to where we want to go from an emotional level. If you feel a pull to go back to a certain place again and again, then you should entertain it. Don’t thrown out a location simply because you’ve been only once. Repeat visits will give depth to your work and help you gain an understanding of a place that isn’t possible in one visit.

It really depends what kind of photographer you are. If self-development isn’t that important to you and you just enjoy being there and visiting / touring the world, then I think repeat visits aren’t of much interest for you. But if you are, like me, someone who wants to try to create work that is beyond the obvious, that is less derivative, then you have to find a few places that you can concentrate on and use as ongoing-projects.

I have learned so much from repeating places. I have also seen these places define my style. That’s something that I think is often overlooked: the kinds of landscapes you choose to photograph contribute to your style. Similarly, if you are going to certain kinds of landscapes, you should, after a while, see relationships between them. Common themes or aspects to them that will help you find out who you are as a photographer.

I’m not so interested in capturing ‘nuggets’ of work. Having 2 nice photos from one place, and 30 average shots doesn’t work for me. I’ve learned that it’s very hard to create outstanding work of a landscape in one shoot, one visit. A ten day trip to a location out of an entire lifetime is but a fleeting view of a place. Not a problem if you just enjoyed your time there and didn’t have any aspirations to create great work, but if you do, then you have to make that location a feature of your photographic-life and keep returning. It’s the only way to delve deeper, and to build up a strong set of images. That’s what I do.

On being grounded

I can’t stress how important it is, to find a place to call home, and to be grounded there every once in a while.

For the past ten years I have been living a nomadic life of sorts. I’m actually only really away for about 1/3rd of the year from my home, but it doesn’t feel like it, because there is always an adaption period - a settling-in time of around two weeks once I return from some extended travelling before I fully feel at home.

I know that for many of you, the idea of travelling around the world all the time must seem like a dream come true. It sure beats doing the usual 9-5 and the routine of living in the same place month in month out, year in, year out. I once too, like you, romanticised about being free from the 9-5 job so I could go travelling.

But what I had not envisaged at the time of those dreams was the dislocation that comes with it.

I feel as though I have two lives: one on the road, and one at home. Like a split personality, each one of these lives takes a week or so to settle into, and when the trips are very elongated the adjustment gets so entrenched that it makes returning home a very hard adjustment. This is why I now prefer to travel for short durations - a week to maybe 9 days at the most is all I can really handle, as it prevents me from going full-adjustment. It’s short enough that I can still hold on to who I am when I’m at home. I will add, that this means I am usually travelling with half of my head and heart still grounded in my home-life. It’s important for me not to lose sight of it.

I can’t stress how important it is to feel grounded. We all have to have a place that we can call home. It’s a tug of war, because all photographers are wanderlust, nomads at heart. We desire to be away when we are at home, and desire to be at home when we are away. It’s a constant sea of adaption and one which I am always trying to find balance in.

The thing is: I LOVE photography. It is something that burns deep inside of me. I can’t let it go and I know that the images I create mean a lot to me in a way that I simply cannot convey to others. That is what drives me forward all the time, despite my reservations about all the travel I do. But I am always seeking an inner balance. A place where I can feel settled within myself, and at the same time, still go adventuring. I think that the truth is: some people like me, just never really get there. It’s part of the parcel of what makes me do what I do.

With that all in mind, I wish you good balance in your creative and working lives. As my great grandmother used to say ‘everything in moderation’. And as a friend of mine added ‘including moderation’ :-) Live your dreams but remember to touch down once in a while. It’s good for you :-)

Metaphor

Metaphor - ‘to transfer’

Isn’t photography all about metaphor? The simple fact is that an image, a collection of abstract shapes and tones are used to represent something else.

Photography is not literal, we do not photograph what is there, but instead photograph what it means to us. Photography is interpretive, from the moment we feel or see something to how it is viewed, everything about it is metaphorical.

Askja, Central highlands of Iceland, Sept 2018

I don’t shoot the black deserts of the central highlands of Iceland to document them. I’m not bothered about the historical or ecological aspects of my subjects. In fact my subjects are never really the point of my photos. It’s the interpretation that is the point, because the interpretation is all about a point of view. That’s what photography is all about.

All of us, each and every one of us who are keen photographers take images not because of what the subjects look like, but because of what they mean to us. What we saw in them, and why we saw what we saw. Making images is about conveying to everyone else ‘this is how I see the world’, and has little to do with the actual subject at hand.

Thinking about my interpretations, you may then wonder ‘why does Bruce shoot black deserts?‘ Ah, well therein lies the real question. I can only answer it by saying that I love mystery. I find vast, black empty spaces deeply enigmatic. For some reason, I’m only interested in photographing a place if there is some kind of atmosphere or mystery about it. Something that is undefined, hard to grasp. You could argue that I’m a romantic at heart, and that is why I go to these minimalist, abstract landscapes.

In previous blog entries I’ve coverer the idea that minimal landscapes aren’t really minimal. The human mind can’t accept ‘empty’ images. Our visual system goes into over-drive to convince us that there must be something there, even though there isn’t. I like this. I love that my brain can’t accept an empty canvas and wishes to see more than what is presented. It allows you to conjure up in your own mind what you ‘think’ is there.

I think all landscapes have multiple layers and a good, maybe great photographer, is one who is able to dig below the obvious, below the surface of the literal, and show us metaphor.

Golden years

Some of the most defining, important periods of our lives are seldom recognised as such at the time they are happening to us.

The same can be said about our photography.

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I have found some of my images to take on a life of their own, that I had not envisaged once I’d completed work on them. They have become placeholders for personal memories of special times in my life.

Perhaps it’s because 2018 is now closing, and a new year is rapidly coming towards me, that I am so reflective.

Our photographs may be enjoyed by others, but they never have the same personal meaning to others as they do to us. They are highly personal documents and rightly so.

I’ve been thinking that as I continue to go on with my photography, that I may look back at my body of work in a few decades from now, and think ´those were the golden years´. After all, each artist has many different periods of creativity throughout their lives.

Regardless of the quality of the work, perhaps each year is a golden year anyway? After all, we make special memories all the time. Experiences are, after all the only thing we’ve really got.

We are our experiences.

With that in mind, I wish you great image / memory making in 2019. Treasure it while it is happening, because all of our experiences are rare: they only happen once, and seldom do they happen again.

All the very best for 2019.

Themes and variations upon themes

I believe that photographic work becomes stronger if there is a concept behind it. Concepts can be whatever you want them to be. There are no rules. There shouldn’t be.

I have a dear friend from Massachusetts who tells me ‘You know Bruce, you seem to be able to go anywhere in the world and take the same photograph’. He is of-course right. But I do hope it was intended as a compliment as I think it is. I think what Steve was telling me was ‘you have a style’.

But there is more to this than meets the eye. I do like to focus on certain concepts or themes, and it is not unusual for me to shoot the same scene in numerous variations. I even publish these variations in the same collection. Which leads me to another interesting comment I sometimes hear from viewers : ‘what is different between these two shots?’. The answer should be plainly obvious to us photographers: they are compositional variations. Rather than just picking one to publish, I sometimes can’t decide, as I feel each variation has something to say its partners do not.

Repeating themes in the work also makes the work thematically stronger. The work becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

But the trick I feel, or the talent in working with themes, is in finding them to begin with. It takes a rare eye to be able to see a theme in something that others may pass over as mundane, or in the case of some of my more recent Iceland images, landscapes that look quite close to being man-made quarries.

Themes can also go beyond a body of work, and leak into adjacent projects. You may find over time, that you have a propensity to steer towards certain subjects, or tonal responses. Again the trick, or ‘talent’, is in recognising this in yourself and your own work.

I feel that all too often photographers don’t ask themselves ‘why’, or ‘how did I create this?’, or ‘why did I create it?’. Too many of us are just busy making pictures without joining the dots, without recognising themes or variations in what we do.

We are missing clues that can help drive us forward in what we do.

Building upon a foundation of previous work

We have to keep returning to the landscapes we love, so we can get better at shooting them.

Returning time and time again allows us to dig deeper below the surface and to familiarise ourselves with how the landscape works.

On my first visit to Hokkaido, I was lost. The landscape was nothing like I had imagined. Lost in pre-visualised ideals of what I thought I would see, I learned that turning up to a landscape with any preconceived notions does not help.

Hokkaido is not this simplified fairytale minimalist place I had imagined, but is instead a densely industrialised island that requires a lot of time and effort to find great compositions.

I came home from this trip thinking that I may not return as I doubted I got any decent shots from the trip. The ones you see above were, I felt, handed to me rather sparingly. Or more precisely, happened because these were the few moments when I let go, and worked with what Hokkaido was presenting me with, rather than it conforming to what I wished of it.

As I’ve continued to return, I’ve learned that the landscape is never the same. More specifically, if there is something I feel I missed on a previous trip, it’s rare that I will be able to capture it on a further visit. I never see the same conditions present themselves more than once. Instead I find I just create a set of images that add on to the ones I shot previously. Landscapes offer up something new on each return visit.

I’ve never understood it when someone says ‘Iceland’s been done’. A landscape is never done. Perhaps the conventional view has been made several times, but it is never done. A statement like this says more about the photographer’s limited knowledge than it does anything about the landscape. Nothing is ever the same. We may go back hoping to capture that elusive shot we missed the previous time, only to find that we are being offered up something new instead, and it is our skill in working with what we are presented with, that is key.

There is also the aspect of learning from a landscape, which can go a long way to helping us improve our own photography. Spending time with the same place will show us more about who we are, and how we approach our craft.

We should banish the thought that returning allows us to get more pictures. Sure, of course this may be true, but to think photography is about quantity rather than quality is to forget oneself.

I think we often think of the landscape as an inanimate object, something that we view, and if it doesn’t offer us anything, it is the landscape’s fault, not ours. This is really an upside down view of what landscape is and what it does for us.

Landscapes tell us more about who we are rather than what it is. If we can’t ‘get’ a landscape then the problem most probably lies more with us than it. The landscape is what it is. It has no knowledge of what you want it to be, and in doing so, it teaches us to be more willing to work with what it offers. Any preconceived ideals we hold, constrain us more than it constrains the landscape.

Returning time and time again, offers us a chance to learn. It offers us a chance to understand that the landscape has many sides to it, and the skill is in us working laterally, going with what it presents us with, rather than forcing it to work to our own ideals.

Returning time and time again, also allows us to dig deeper, to hopefully assimilate and build upon what work we have created in the past. Good photography is all about putting the effort in and returning time and time again. It is like mining for gold. We never know when the next great image may come, and they will only ever come if we are out there. As the adage goes ‘if you don’t go, you don’t get’, and of course ‘f8 and be there’ also springs to mind.

The quietness of colour

We’re always changing. Developing or regressing, fluctuating even. But all of these changes accumulate to ultimately say ‘you are different now’.

Perhaps the start of my ‘colour reduction’ phase in my own photography.

Perhaps the start of my ‘colour reduction’ phase in my own photography.

When I look back at my earlier work, I see that it had a lot more colour in it. I’ve been discussing my ‘progress’ with a friend of mine today and I was explaining that for me, composition comes in three layers that are all inter-related.

  1. Structure

  2. Luminance (tone)

  3. Colour

When we all start out, we all work and focus on structure. The placement of objects in the frame. Indeed, I think that most of us think that composition is ultimately about where we place subjects in the frame.

2018-2017

2017-2015

2015-2011

For me, it took about maybe six years or so, before I started to realise that the luminance, or tonal properties of my subjects also affected the composition. Indeed, I think that tone and structure are interrelated. You can’t just place objects in the frame by thinking about structure only. I’m sure you will find that the reason why some arrangements of subjects in the frame work better than others is due to their luminance / tonal qualities. So these two layers of composition are connected.

The last stage, is colour. Yep, that’s right - although colour is where most of us start, and we are often delighted with our red-sky photos, a picture washed in garish colour soon becomes tiring for those that are developing a sensibility towards colour as a contributing factor to compositional success.

I think that all good colour photographs still work, when you strip the colour out. Open any colour photo and turn it to black and white. Does it still work? Are the tones there able to support the image without the colour? Good photographs will still work without their colour component.

For me, I feel I’ve been on a quest the past four or so years to quieten the colour in my images. I worked on structure in my compositions for a long time, then I was thinking about luminance and how it related to structure. These days, I think I’ve been reducing down the colour and in sense, have been playing with ‘how far can I reduce it?’.

One needs to find the boundaries, to understand the terrain that they are working in, so they can then let loose where they need to go.

Colour is a vital part of composition. Too much of it, or too many colours can cause the viewer’s attention to be thrown in many directions at the same time. But to a beginner, lots of colour seems exciting, attractive. It just becomes a little tiring after many years when you realise that by reducing colour or de-saturating certain objects in the frame allow others to shine.

Want to get better at colour composition? Take an art-class. Photography and composition are no different in a camera than they are on a canvas or piece of paper. It’s not a problem if you can’t draw, forget whether you need to learn to do that. An art class will give you the understanding of how composition works, structurally, tonally and with colour.

The economics of tripod sizes

When you travel, do you cut back on the size of tripod you can take with you? Do you leave behind your most flexible, sturdy tripod, in exchange for one that is more flimsy, lighter, and less flexible?

I can appreciate there are times when a lighter tripod is the only way forward. You are going trekking, or there is some physical limitation to the tour you are on which means a bigger sturdier tripod is impractical. But flight baggage restrictions shouldn’t be one of the reasons why you leave your most sturdy, and perhaps tallest tripod behind, and turn up with a more limited option.

My tripod is the one on the far right. It may seem overkill, and I may not use it’s full height all the time, but when I do need it, I’m really glad I have it. Especially when I’ve spent $$$ to go somewhere. Getting the photos I want is important and limiting myself by using a more limited tripod makes no sense, unless weight is an absolute critical issue for you.

My tripod is the one on the far right. It may seem overkill, and I may not use it’s full height all the time, but when I do need it, I’m really glad I have it. Especially when I’ve spent $$$ to go somewhere. Getting the photos I want is important and limiting myself by using a more limited tripod makes no sense, unless weight is an absolute critical issue for you.

For me, having a really tall tripod is critical. Cut back on the height and you cut back on your options.

Let’s think about this. When we travel, we travel to make photographs. So our no.1 concern should be to have the best tools with us. Cutting back on you tripod due to weight restrictions means you are cutting back on your photographic options. I’d argue that you can get that tall tripod in your luggage, and that you can carry it along with your other luggage, if you’re just more selective about bringing what you really need, rather than all the other things that you hardly use at all.

You are traveling to make pictures, and a tripod is essential in allowing you to get the best pictures you can. One of the best choices of tripod for me has been to bring one that allows me to extend it higher than my own physical height.

If you’re wondering why I need a tripod that goes up to 9 feet in height, then read this old post about tripod choice. I explain why having a tripod higher than you are is a very flexible, and important decision to consider when buying a tripod.

I’m in south Korea right now, and I’ve brought along the tallest tripod from Gitzo. It has a maximum height of 9 feet, and so far, I’ve used it at full height due to some walls and barriers that I’ve had to work around. This would not have been possible if I’d opted to bring along a lighter, more economical tripod.

I just think it makes no sense to cut back on your tripod and choose something lighter, when the main reason why you are travelling is to photograph. Your tripod should be the first priority when thinking of packing your bag. If the bag isn’t big enough for a solid tripod, then get a bigger bag. If the weight of your luggage exceeds the restrictions, then keep the tripod in, but lose some other things that are non-essential.

The last thing you need, is to find that you’ve spent thousands of dollars going on a trip of a life time, only to find that you can’t quite get the shots you want, because your tripod just needed to be a few feet higher, or more sturdy in some windy places.

The tripod I am travelling with right now is the Gitzo Systematic Tripod Series 5 6S G. I’m loving it and I don’t intend to go back to a smaller, lighter one, unless it is for practical reasons such as trekking long distances etc.

Scars on land

What is a landscape, other than scarified lines and mutable elements?

What if the sea is nothing but texture, like rough concrete? A place that your eye feels a dryness as it moves across the page.

What if the land is nothing but scarifications, fractures and abrasions? The land itself has become un-land, and is nothing but difficult textures and rough edges?

Abrasive places have beauty as much as any traditional landscape. What one may define as ‘quarry’ in an attempt to convey a sense of ugliness and deem a place as un-beautiful, lacks the comprehension that landscapes, even difficult ones, are beautiful.

Fjallaback-Sept-2018-(27).jpg

It ended far too soon......

I love it when song’s don’t overstay their welcome, and actually end before they are over.

I think JDFR is a bit of a waking talent. She’s around 24 right now. Another reason why I think Iceland is such a cool place. It seems to be a hotbed of talent. Perhaps it’s to do with 1 degree of separation, rather than the usual 6º degrees. There are only 330,000 people on the island. But that would be to detract from JFDR’s talent. She’s talented for sure.

Bhutan portraits 2016

I’ve just gone through the rolls of film from my shoot in Bhutan in 2016. They’ve been sitting in a ‘to do’ list for over two years. I think, sometimes I really need distance from a shoot, plus I have a lot of other things on. This is no longer unusual for me to sit on images for so long. I have other images from other shoots that are sitting patiently for when I feel I’m ready to work with them.

One of the delights about this trip, was being able to get behind the scenes access. I can only thank Ewen Bell for assisting in this. I joined Ewen’s tour in Bhutan, which I thought was amazingly well organised. So much research and time he must have spent, and he has great relationships with the people he works with in Bhutan, so I think this was all a matter of trust that was bestowed upon us.

I can’t say I’m a brilliant portrait shooter. In fact, I was overcome with a lack of confidence at the start of the trip and it took me a week or so to get comfortable. Somehow, I just didn’t have the courage to approach people. This does happen to me from time to time.

I’m always left wondering why landscape shooters don’t enjoy portraiture. To me, people are much more dynamic but ultimately, a good portrait shot is like a good landscape shot : they both contain a good composition, good colour and tonal relationships and of course, soul.

Portraiture is harder work for me. I know my real forte is landscape work, but that doesn’t or shouldn’t mean that it’s all I should do. I get immense pleasure out of meeting people, the interaction making pictures of them, and it adds another dimension to my photographic life.

The biggest technical challenge for me was shooting in such low light. I’m a film photographer and the highest film speed I can travel with is 800 ISO. It’s simply not fast enough for many of the interior locations I was in. I pre-empted this with taking along a monopod, but still, shooting wide open at f2, and finding the camera telling me I have a shutter speed of 1/4 second isn’t ideal….. I was frustrated.

I also got some x-ray damage on some of the rolls of film, despite having a lead bag to travel home with the films. I don’t believe in the myth that X-ray operators turn up the x-ray if they can’t see inside the bag - it makes more sense to me that they will just stop the bag and have it searched, and that the x-ray machine would be set to a fix dosage. So I think that all that’s happened is that some of my films weren’t in the lead bag - maybe still in the film magazine of my Contax 645 camera. Anyway, it’s only about 2% of the films that were damaged, and even then, it was a slight oscillation throughout the film and hardly detectable at times.

But I do wonder about shooting digital for these kinds of interior shots. High ISO digital capture is so good now. However, I just don’t like the ‘look’ of digital. There’s a depth and intensity to the colours of film that I don’t see in digital work, but perhaps that’s all in my mind. Who knows?

If you’ve never given portraiture a chance, then you should. The hardest part is asking, and the second hardest part is staying with your subject and directing them if need be.

Bhutan-2016-(13).jpg

Bhutan

I haven’t made portraits in a while ( about two years ). I’m just going through some images I made in Bhutan back then, and although I’m pleased with the images I’ve uncovered so far, nne of them come up to this little gem that I’ve just uncovered night.

Bhutan=2016-(7).jpg

The thing is, I have absolutely no memory of taking this shot. Which goes very much against what I often tell people - that the good images often burn themselves into my mind. I simply cannot remember it, and so I think it must have been so quickly made. Perhaps a second or two encounter. Gone in an instant.

I really like this shot - the background colour compliments the red robe of the young monk, and of course, the way he is wearing part of his robe on his head and looking at me just works so well.

I haven’t gone through all the films I shot so far, but I can’t help but feel this might be the best shot I’ve made out of my Bhutan collection.

Old meets new

I was in Bhutan two years ago. I’ve only just gotten round to looking at the films from this trip.

As part of the trip, I was able to get access ‘behind the scenes’ to some of the quarters where the dancers were getting dressed.

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, and I’m so surprised to note that one of the Bhutanese dancers is busy checking his mobile phone while he is preparing to dress for the festival. I simply didn’t spot it at the time I was making the photos. Part of getting on with the chaos that was around me at the time of the shoot.

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Portraits

It’s been a while since I photographed people.

I love making portraits! They are ‘landscapes of the human soul’.

For me, Portraiture is a real break from shooting landscapes.

Perhaps it’s time for a change :-)

Anonymous, Vague, Undefined

If a photograph spells everything out for you, then as a viewer, there is no room for your own interpretation.

As photographers, we all want to convey a point of view. If we have several photographers at the same location, it is fair to assume that each one wishes to convey their own story. Their own point of view of the same landscape.

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Which leads on to my argument today.

If each photographer wishes to convey his own interpretation of the landscape, then surely it’s fair to assume that any viewers of your work may wish to have ‘room’ or ‘scope’ to create their own interpretation of what you shot?

The answer is clearly yes, because even if you wish to convey a particular point of view, you can’t control how other people think. You can just invite them to think along the lines you were hoping for, but even then, you will find that everyone will see different things in your photographs. I know this for sure, because I’ve had 9 years of people telling me all sorts of things about my photographs.

To create work in the hope that others will see exactly what you saw, is impossible. So you better get used to the fact that others see what they want to see.

And if this is true, then why should we be so specific with our work? What I mean is - if everyone is going to interpret your work in a multitude of ways, why bother trying to be specific? Why not instead, deliberately make photographs that are so vague, that you are deliberately inviting others to interpret them?

Let’s look at an analogy of this.

In the movie industry we can boil images down to two types of film:

  1. One where there is no room for interpretation. They explain the plot to you and force you to see it their way.

  2. One where there is no explanation. No actor at the end of the film explaining to you what happened, and why it happened. You are left completely, deliberately in the dark.

Point 2 : these are my favourite films. I am left to wonder, to try to piece together what happened and to reach my own conclusions.

I think these kinds of films are much much more engaging, and thought provoking.

So if that is true with movies, surely it is the same for photographs? I think so.

Often I find participants on workshops trying to emphasise something - they want to make a particular aspect of the landscape stronger. This is fine. I accept this. But sometimes the elements in the landscape we want to emphasise are already clearly visible. It’s just that we lack the confidence to realise any viewer of our work can ‘get it’. So we tent to try to spell these aspects out to them.

I think photographs where you’re not quite sure where the dividing lines are, where earth meets sky, where night ends and day begins are compelling. They invite me to form my own opinion because the photographer has clearly hidden any intention. You have nothing but your own thoughts to decide what the photograph is all about.

That is why, I think I love to work with snow and black deserts. They often hide aspects of the landscape that explain where we are, what it is we are looking at. With snow, it is easy to dissolve the line between sky and ground. To force the viewer to see their own horizon, or to assume there is none.

Foggy days are perfect for this. Anything that invites confusion, or for the viewer to work harder at figuring out what is going on, is, in my book, a great thing.

Eldfjall

There shouldn’t be any boundaries in photography.

Regardless of my own ‘religion’ of what I think ‘is’ and perhaps more specifically ‘what isn’t’ photography, my own views are just that - my own views.

Eldfjall, black lines and forms

Eldfjall, black lines and forms

I’m well beyond the point of feeling I need to convince others that my view is the only view to have. I think photography is still very much an emerging art. It’s still relatively speaking a very young art form. If you consider it an art-form that is.

You need to find out for yourself what photography means to you, and where the boundaries lie. Perhaps you love HDR, perhaps you hate it. Perhaps you think photographs shouldn’t be altered once the shutter has clicked, perhaps you think it’s only the beginning….. whatever you choose - it’s your prerogative.

For me, the boundaries have become blurred. Graphic art overlaps into photography and photography overlaps into graphic art.

nostalgia

A feeling of nostalgia is hitting me tonight.

As I sit here, after spending the whole week preparing copies of my Altiplano book to be shipped out, I can’t help reflect upon the journeys I’ve made over the past decade or so.

I’ve said many times, that the time we spend outside making images, is a way of us marking our time. Photography gives us a great chance to stop and think about where we are ‘right now’, and then as time goes on, we can look back at images we created and they bring us right back to that moment.

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Who we were, what was going on in our lives. Photography gives us a chance to not only relive the past, but also to draw contrasts with where we are now, who we are now, and how we’ve changed.

I can’t think of a better way of marking my time. Photography has given me a way of remembering the past, and of noting just how much I’ve done with my life.

And for that: I can’t help but feel rather nostalgic tonight.

I’m not entirely at ease with the emotion. I think nostalgia is sort of interlaced with a sense of loss. I think that’s ok though. Isn’t it? We must all accept that what water has passed under the bridge won’t return. What we experienced, what we felt and saw, happens only once.

For me, I think the feeling of nostalgia tells me one thing: to cherish every. single. moment. Who we are, are our memories. We are the culmination of everything that went before us. To revel in what we did, where we were, who we were, what we were doing, is such a precious gift.

Great times are often happening right now, except we lack the foresight to know it. You may be forming some of your most precious memories this year, except you won’t know it until much later on in life.

Well, I digress….. but it does have a point. I can’t help thinking about the amateur photographer I was, with a few friends around me who said ‘you should go pro’ (Don’t all friends tell you that?). Except I was daft (stupid) enough to believe. it. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s also been the best thing I ever did.

My Altplano book wouldn’t have happened without the past. I needed to go create some memories, and I needed to go and live. I went to the Altiplano of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile several times, so much so that I can mark my life by it. I know where I was in 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

My Altiplano book couldn’t have happened without the culmination of experiences. As I said a few days ago, you don’t create work by watching YouTube tutorials, or by reading loads of blogs. You create work by finding out who you are. And to do that, you need to go explore.

That’s exactly what I did. I went exploring.

My Altiplano book couldn’t have happened any other way. And looking back, I realise it’s given me more than just a nice book, and some nice images: It gave me some special memories and markers for my life.

Nostalgia. Well, sometimes it serves us well :-)