A forest wedding

Sometimes an image contains some kind of symbolism. Well, perhaps they always contain some kind of symbolism. Whether it's a privately held feeling or view, or perhaps something a bit more literal that an audience can interpret.

 A forest wedding, Hokkaido. Image © Bruce Percy 2017

A forest wedding, Hokkaido.
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

Someone on my Twitter account wrote to me that this photograph is 'a forest wedding'. I like that idea very much.

I shouldn't have to explain it, and I feel that if I did, some kind of magic would be lost in the marriage between the literary title and visual interpretation.

Finding out who you really are by acknowledging and thanking your influences

"Let influences be your guide. But don't let them define you"


We all have to start somewhere. That place is usually in the footsteps (or tripod holes) of those that we admire. It has often been said that the biggest form of flattery is imitation.

 The Cuernos & Lago Pehoe. Image © Galen Rowell

The Cuernos & Lago Pehoe.
Image © Galen Rowell

I would certainly agree with this. I know myself that I learned a lot during my initial years of photography by following in the footsteps of those that I admire. For example, I remember my whole reason for going to Patagonia back in 2003 was because I had been so inspired by the work of the late Galen Rowell. He had made one particular image of Lago Pehoe that just made me want to go there so badly and when I did, I sourced out the location where Galen made the image you see on the right.

I know my influences: Galen Rowell first gave me the motivation to use strong colour when I first started out. Through his writing and emotive images he taught me to embrace the adventure. Even today, his book 'Mountain Light' is perhaps my most favourite book on travel photography which I often return to when I feel I need to re-connect to my roots as to why I got into this whole thing in the first place.

Michael Kenna was and still is a great influence on me: I've learned so much from Michael's work over the decades that I have followed him (I've been a fan since the late 80's). He himself has said in many interviews that it is quite normal to follow in the footsteps of your heroes. By working in the places that they worked, you learn a lot about how they made the images they made.

 The Cuernos & Lago Pehoe Image © Bruce Percy

The Cuernos & Lago Pehoe
Image © Bruce Percy

But there must come a time when your work should diverge from your heroes - it is usually a signal that you are beginning to find your own voice. Some of us have a long journey ahead of us to get there, and indeed, some of us never do. It is my hope though that we should all, at some stage, get a glimmer of who we really are underneath all the hero worshiping that is, I believe, a normal stage of development.

In this age of high proliferation: it is hard to be an individual. Indeed, I often feel that many people go to the same locations because they wish to capture similar shots that someone else has captured. We are bombarded with many shots of the same view, endlessly repeated on image sites that I think it is hard to step away and find our own voice.

To find one's own voice inevitably requires us to understand ourselves: to know who we are.

As part of finding out who we are,  we need to acknowledge and thank our influences. I remember noticing that Kenna had gone to some of Bill Brandt's locations and he had name checked his influence with the title  'Bill Brandt's Snicket', as you can see below:

 Image Left: © Bill Brandt Image Right © Michael Kenna (titled 'Bill Brandt's Snicket, Halifax, Yorkshire)

Image Left: © Bill Brandt
Image Right © Michael Kenna (titled 'Bill Brandt's Snicket, Halifax, Yorkshire)

I myself have openly thanked Kenna in turn for kindly providing me with his guide's details for Hokkaido and the work I created there - I made sure to namecheck him as I felt a need to be in-tune with which parts of my creativity are truly my own, and which parts I've borrowed from my heroes. It's vital that I know who I really am and to do that, I have to recognise and understand my influences, and to thank them for what they have given me.

 Image Left: © Michael Kenna 2007 Image Right: © Bruce Percy 2017  Following in the footsteps of one of my heroes, even now.

Image Left: © Michael Kenna 2007
Image Right: © Bruce Percy 2017

Following in the footsteps of one of my heroes, even now.

Photography is a personal journey into finding out who we really are. That is what makes it so special; it is our own private universe, a place where we get the chance to express our individuality. If we wish to get a clearer insight to who we really are as artists, and to know where we are going with our creativity,  we first need to understand our influences. But before we can continue, we also need to acknowledge and thank them for showing us the way forward.


I received a few replies about this post where the reader assumed I was telling them to go and literally thank their influences:

"If the person who influenced you didn’t mention that they had already been “influenced” by another photographer. Or who do you mention when shooting something like St Paul’s? Could be 1000’s thinking they deserve a mention. Do you mention the influencer every time you post it?"

That's the problem with the written word: readers can often read into what you've said and come up with a different meaning than the one I intended.

If anyone is still in doubt about what I was suggesting, I am merely saying it's good to be aware of your influences. You can thank them any way you can, but the easiest way is to just be mindful and to recognise that they are part of the reason you do what you do.

Forest Shadow

Great photos aren't about pixels. Neither are they about resolution. They aren't about technology and they aren't about plug-in's or software. Great photos aren't about the camera we used to make them.

Great photos are about engagement. They are about having a great idea, a strong composition to start with.


Much like a good story, good photographs don't need to be supported by gimmicks. Just as good songs don't require expensive production techniques to make them good, great songs can be played on simple instrument because the strength of the idea behind them carry them along. 

Good images just need a good idea. They shouldn't need much more to make them work.

Yet we live in an age where we can become lost in the technology. Where we are convinced we need another software-app, HDR, Focus-stacking or to blend images to produce good work.  This is not true. We just need our images to be strong ideas to begin with. An ill-conceived image will always be an ill-conceived image, no matter how much gloss we apply to it.

Jon Hopkins shows us that some very simple chords on a piano can bewitch us. Strip it back and it still works. It's a reminder that great ideas have a knack of carrying themselves.

When I'm out making images and selecting which ones to use later on, I always respond to how I feel about them. If they are strong, I usually know because strong work tends to let you know what it wants. Like strong song ideas that tend to write themselves, good images tend to come from nowhere and dictate to you what needs to be done.

Weak work on the other hand doesn't. Weak ideas often lack conviction and send confused muddled messages about what they are and where they want to go.

If you want to improve your photography, then I would suggest you dump your technology. Put to one side the HDR, focus-stacking, blending, software-apps for a moment, and instead, go out and listen to your intuition as it's the best photography tool you possess.

International to British Translation

When I first started out running workshops and tours, I found it difficult to coordinate the group. If I said that it was time to go, some of the group would stay and I wasn't sure what I was doing wrong. Well, being British means that we often tend to skirt around the issue. We're don't say what we mean.

I learned that rather than saying 'I think it's about time to go', which is a British way of saying 'we are going now', I had to be more direct. Some of my mainland european friends wouldn't understand and they would assume it was just an observation and would stay, or would say 'oh? It's so lovely, let's stay a bit longer'. I've now learned to say 'it is time to go' now, or 'we are going now' as that is a much clearer way of telling others, especially if they are non-native English speakers.

So, if you are planning a trip to Britain sometime soon, or perhaps you are coming on a tour / workshop with me, then this is a little card below to help you translate the Brits and of course myself.


The quiet background

The same location can be much more simple to photograph when the background disappears. Using fog, snow showers or rain to obliterate the background can reduce the complexity of the image and it's something to consider when you visit a location. In fact, I love to repeatedly go back to a location under different weather conditions because the whole scene will be transformed if parts or the whole of the background disappears or comes back in to view.

Below I show you three images: the first two are variations on the same subject but both have varying degrees of success in removing the background for the scene. In the third and final image the background is evident and the picture is a little more complex as a result.

Before you look at the images below, I would like to stress that I am not saying one image is better than another. Each and every one of us will have our own preferences. So let's get beyond comparing them from the point of view of which you like most and instead, it would be ideal if you can just consider whether the image is more complex or less complex when the background disappears.

 Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido Japan, January 2018 Image © Bruce Percy 2018.

Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido Japan, January 2018
Image © Bruce Percy 2018.

 Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido Japan, January 2018 Image © Bruce Percy 2018.

Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido Japan, January 2018
Image © Bruce Percy 2018.


Again, I wish to reiterate: I am not saying that one image is better than another. I am saying that when you remove more elements in the frame the image may become less complex or quieter. It's up to you which you prefer.

Going back to the same location and trying it again under different conditions can yield surprising results and it just goes to prove that the tired mantra of 'it's been done to death' is never true.

New Hokkaido Images

I've just finished the 'first round' of editing my new Hokkaido Images. They are now up on the gallery.

I find I have to go through the films a few times. There's always something I miss, so I know there will be more images added. I'm just a bit saturated with Hokkaido right now, so a few days away from the editing will do me good.

 Copse, Tree & Fern, Hokkaido, 2018. Image © Bruce Percy.

Copse, Tree & Fern, Hokkaido, 2018.
Image © Bruce Percy.

The value of anonymous places

Photographs are much more intriguing if we aren't told anything about them.

No words, and no titles.

Intriguing images have the capability to cast a spell upon us, and the beauty of that spell is that it's a highly personal one. Through a lack of explanation, each and every one of us attaches our own personal thoughts and feelings about what we are looking at.

 Myself in the landscape. Image © Dorin Bofan. Image used by kind permission.

Myself in the landscape. Image © Dorin Bofan. Image used by kind permission.

Conversely, being told exactly what the picture is, or what we should get out of it robs us of being able to attach our own emotions and thoughts.

I remember looking at some of Paul Wakefield's wonderful landscape images on his website. There were no titles, nothing to give away where the images had been made. I thought I recognised one of them as a place I frequently visit but there was something new about it, a different perspective that made me think again. So I emailed him to ask if it was where I thought it was, only to get the reply "don't you think an image is more compelling when you aren't sure where it is?".

I agree.

Not only are they more compelling, they are also free to be whatever you wish them to be.

When Paul finally published a book of his images several years later, there was a page at the back of the book that told me where the locations of each image were. By this time I had become so familiar with Paul's beautiful images that I had attached my own impressions to his images, so much so, that finding out that they weren't where I thought they were - meant that my attachment fell into question and I found myself having to revise my thoughts about them.

It was more beautiful when I hadn't known, when I was free to create my own ideas and impressions of where his images were from.

We attach so much to an image upon first viewing, and as we go back to our favourite images we keep reinforcing our own emotions into them. We make up dreams and ideas about images that we love, the same way we make up dreams and ideas about songs we love. This is why I have never enjoyed watching music videos because they often force me to discard my own personal interpretation of a song and instead force me to take up the view of the video. 

Describing, or giving emotive titles to images gives less freedom to the viewer to take up their own view. But what about images of anonymous places? Do they hold similar appeal?

I think they do.

Rather than shooting the iconic well known place that everyone knows of, we are left to wonder - 'I don't really know for sure but there are aspects about the picture which make me think it could be Scotland, but then again, there are other aspects that make me think it could be Norway'...... Anonymous places have so much power to bewitch us.

Don't you think this makes the images more compelling?

Special thanks to Dorin Bofan (a fantastic photographer in his own right) for the kind use of the image of me in the landscape photographing a rather snowy, frozen tree, and to Florin Patras for putting together the trip where this photo was made.

More later, once I get my films back from the lab!

Moving beyond the accessible

I think all great artists at some point lose their audience. Through pursuing what they feel is all about the art, they move beyond what their audience find accessible.

Because accessible often translates to 'conservative' or perhaps 'already understood and accepted'. Accessible means that the audience know where they are, because they've been there before. There is you see, great comfort in knowing what you're dealing with.


When something comes along that we have never experienced before, some are able to see it as the great wonder that it may be while others find it hard to take the new step on board.

Now let's mirror this in what we do as creative people. If you are always creating work that you can accept, then I would like to suggest to you that you are only treading water. You know where you are because you've either been here before many times, or someone else has.

Conversely, if you venture into an area that is new to you, or something you've never encountered before elsewhere, I would suggest that you are growing.

it can feel like you might have gone too far. You may be scared, or uncertain because you are now in unfamiliar terrain. If you feel this way, then that's great, because when you're riding the crest of a wave, you should feel scared (and dare I suggest - alive). Being somewhere you've never been before is good for you.

When you get there, you may feel that what you have created is too weird, or strange. Maybe you don't feel you get it yourself. This is normal. Like trying out a new style of clothing, something that you had never thought would suit you, you may find after a while that it was a natural progression. 

If you manage to get to this point, you should congratulate yourself, because I don't think this happens very often. In general, most of us stay within our comfort zones and create the derivative - we see what else is around us and we replicate it. Without thinking about what we're doing, we may be fitting in, but we're not standing out. We've lost our individuality. We conform.

Great work comes from going it alone. To make a mark, you have to be different, and to do that, you cannot follow others. You have to find your own path. One way to do that is to not give a damn about what others are doing and to give your creativity the freedom it deserves. This can only come from some kind of confidence or self-belief, and that only comes if you give yourself the permission to experiment. You need to give your creativity the freedom to be what it needs to be. You know this is the right approach. Control it too much and you'll be right back to producing something bland and derivative. Sure, everyone will get it, but they only get it, because everyone else is doing it too.

If we only keep within the realms of what others think is cool, then we are in danger of becoming lost. We won't be pushing the boundaries of the medium, and most importantly, we won't be finding out who we are, or what we are capable of.

Instead,  we will simply be losing ourselves to someone else's story, to someone else's idea that has already  been tried and tested so many times before by so many others, that it can't possibly be yours.

So what is it to be? Do you want to reach the levels of the work created by others you admire, or would you much rather find out who you are?

The choice is yours.

Printing is a vital part of image Editing

I've just completed the image selection and sequencing for my Altiplano book, which is due out later this year. 

As part of checking the images are ready for publication, I've printed them all out. There are a number of reasons why I've printed the images but it's mostly because no matter how calibrated my computer monitor is: no one should trust what they see on their computer screen. The only way to validate and prove that your images are as good as you think they are, is to print them out. 

You should invest in a daylight viewing booth to verify your monitor is calibrated (by comparing a print target). And also to evaluate your prints.

There are a number of reasons why you should print out your images:

1. The human eye is highly adaptive. Stare at a computer screen for too long, and your eye adjusts to discrepancies in the white balance and also in the tonal range. 

2. I've often noticed things in the print that I never noticed on the monitor. Yet, when I go back to check if the problem exists on-screen, I now see it. See point 1.

3. Loss of highlights or blocked shadows become more obvious once printed. It takes a lot of time and skill to be able to 'read' a computer monitor and know what it's telling you. See point 1.

Mostly it's all about point 1.

I'm a big fan of Charlie Cramer, the American landscape photographer and once protege of Ansel Adams. I was fortunate to meet Charlie a year or so ago and listen to him talking about the value of printing and in particular how the human visual system works (and deceives us!).

The most memorable point that Charlie made is this (which I am paraphrasing):

"An image can look good on screen, but not good in print. But if you get it to look good in print, it will also look good on-screen"

I agree entirely. Printing *should* be part of your editing process. When you are dodging and burning areas of your picture in Lightroom or Photoshop, you should be printing it out to verify your edits. Editing and printing are therefore highly iterative. You should be circling around between them as you continue to edit your work.

Here is Charlie's talk from the On-Landscape conference I attended. There is a lot of wisdom in what he has to say so I would stay with the video to the very end:

If you want to create great images, then you need to optimise them. The only way to do that is to print them out and evaluate them with a daylight viewing booth. If you're not printing your images, you're not really finishing your work, and it most probably still has a long way to go to being complete.

The art of overlooking something

Sometimes I overlook images. I don't see them, don't recognise them for their beauty. It's a talent I have, one that I think most of us have to not truly see what is before us :-)


As part of reviewing work for my upcoming Altiplano book this year, I've been finding work that I can't quite understand why I passed it by. The images are very beautiful and yet I failed to embrace them at the time I was editing.

We all do it. Sometimes we don't see our work for what it truly is (this goes both ways - sometimes I think it's better than it actually is, other times I don't appreciate the beauty because I am so hung up on how I wanted the image to turn out, and don't accept it for what it offers.

There's a remedy to this: every once in a while, I go back to my older images and review them ( in my case - I look at the unscanned Velvia transparencies). I then focus on the work I didn't use and try to see if there's something there that I missed first time round.

I can guarantee I will find something for sure. Either because I was too focussed on other things to notice it, or I was simply too close.

One of photography's much needed skills, is the ability to review oneself. To do that, you have to be open to what you've done, accept the failures as much as the successes, and to be as objective as you can be.


Sometimes you just want to go back and rewrite history. Your older work feels immature and lacking.

If you feel like that, it's a good sign that there's been progress in what you do, because you are probably seeing issues in the work that you didn't see at the time you made them.


I've just had the uncomfortable task of going back over my older Bolivia work choosing images for inclusion in my forthcoming book 'Altiplano'. I think it's encouraging to note that I am uncomfortable with the older work, as I do believe there has been an improvement in my visual awareness, and hopefully editing skills.

There are maybe a hand-full of the 63 images that I intend to include in the book, that really need to be tuned a lot for one basic reason: way back when I started out, I didn't really know how to utilise the complete dynamic range of the print.

I think that review is healthy. But going over your older work endlessly trying to make it perfect isn't. Still, there are times when dusting off older work does give you the chance to reconsider.... but I often feel if the image is well known and much loved, it's best to leave it alone.

Let's see where my book preparation takes me......

Hit Rate doesn't matter

A good friend of mine recently asked me how many good images I shoot on a roll of film.

I can fully appreciate that it's just very interesting to know how often a photographer reaches success with his images - it might give an indication to the skill of the photographer, but it might not.

In my own case, I shoot a lot. And I'm very selective about what gets published. 

 Borax field, Bolivian Altiplano, © Bruce Percy 2017

Borax field, Bolivian Altiplano, © Bruce Percy 2017

I don't think we should focus too much on how successful we are. Simply because I believe that experimentation is an important ingredient in the creative process and by definition, experimentation means being open to trying different things without fear of failure.

Let's consider that experimentation actually means. If you are experimenting, it means you don't quite know what the outcome will be like. This means that it could be somewhere between two extreme possibilities: a success or a failure. There's too much emphasis on failure being a bad thing. I think failure is a positive thing because you have to find out what you don't want to figure out where you need to go.

Indeed, I find that when I look back at my rolls of films, each roll is a chronological record of me working a scene. Take the transparencies shown below. There are four strips from one roll all laid out from start to finish from left to right. You can see that as the shoot proceeded I went from sunset to twilight.

If we analyse what I was doing, I think the roll of film breaks down to two major compositions. The first composition is using the peak of a volcano as a black triangle on the ridge of a borax field (it's not snow - this was shot in Bolivia). You can see I try the volcano peak on the right side of the frame at different focal lengths (it's bigger in the first shot and smaller in the next two). I then settle for the volcano peak on the left side of the frame. 

The 2nd composition is really about the black hillside in the distance. Again you can see I place the black hill in the background on different sides of the frame.

There is a theme going on with both compositions: I'm using a stark black object to frame against the white borax - these images are exploiting the tonal difference between black volcanos and hills against white borax.

 A roll of processed 120 Velvia film, showing you the chronological sequence that the images were shot in.

A roll of processed 120 Velvia film, showing you the chronological sequence that the images were shot in.

The other thing to notice is that I am doing small shifts in the image sequence - changing the foreground slightly or using a different focal length to make the small volcano bigger in the frame.

I like to explore a scene, and take different compositions with different focal lengths. On the surface it may seem as if I'm making the same photo again and again, but I'm really looking for a perfect scene and this is the most important point: I have given myself permission to experiment.

When it comes down to the final edit, I think there are perhaps two images in this roll of film that I will compete and be happy with. I don't view the others as wastage of film, or failures: everything I've shot contributes to the final result. Consider them prototypes, or whatever, they all contribute to where I finally end up.

So with that in mind, I think 'hit-rate' is rather unimportant.

Shoot when you feel you need to shoot, consider if you are changing anything in the composition each time you click the shutter rather than just endlessly repeating the same shot, think about what might make the image stronger or weaker if you change something.

 Borax field, Bolivian Altiplano, © Bruce Percy 2017

Borax field, Bolivian Altiplano, © Bruce Percy 2017

I think I am always shooting variations on a theme. Once I find my main composition, I will take around four or even an entire roll of film working the scene, experimenting, because I can't be a good judge of what I've shot until I get home, I'd therefore like to try out as many possibilities as I can. And that means discarding the thought of how many successful images I've made. It's really quite irrelevant.

Keep on experimenting and being open to trying new things. By it's very definition, experimentation means you don't really know the outcome of what you're doing. To truly experiment you have to be open to failure, because if you aren't open to failure, then you aren't experimenting. If you aren't experimenting, then you aren't growing.

Gitzo Tripod Break

I have discovered that using a tripod in deep snow should be done with care. I broke my tripod in Hokkaido as a result.

I've learned that rather than spreading the legs as wide as they can go before lowering the tripod into the snow, I should leave some room for the legs to spread further apart once the tripod begins to sink downwards. This is because the legs slide down at an angle - and therefore move further apart as they go deeper into the snow. So they need some room to spread out.

If the legs are already spread as wide as they can go before lowering the tripod into the snow,  the snow will try to spread them even further apart and this will put a lot of stress on the joint at the top of the leg (in my case - it fractured as you can see in the photo below):


My guide had some duct tape, which I forgot to bring this time with me (I normally travel with it - worth bringing - you can use it for many things) and it did the job well for the remainder of my time in Hokkaido.


I wouldn't blame Gitzo for this: there's only so much stress a tripod can take, and I abused it by forcing the legs to try to spread out further than they could go.

My tripod is now back to 100% functionality. Thanks to the modularity of the Gitzo system, I was able to buy a replacement column from  www.gitzospares.com  (around £100), and replaced it in a matter of minutes. Much better than having to go out there and buy a new tripod at over £650. So I'm very pleased. 

I might invest in a complete leg as a spare, for the checked-in luggage ;-) I seem to need spares of everything. Perhaps the next replacement part I'll be needing is a replacement-me !  :-)

Forthcoming Book

This year will see the publication of the second instalment of my Colourchrome book that was published last year. The new book will be of similar format: same dimension, but this time it will be a detailed monograph of my Altiplano images, interlaced with stories from my time at high elevation. The book will also contain some context towards the geographical and cultural region: Bolivia is a high altitude landscape and the land here is the way it is due to the environmental conditions and local farming.

 Forthcoming book cover (prototype).

Forthcoming book cover (prototype).

I've been photographing the Altiplano regions of Argentina, Bolivia & Chile for the past nine years.

I had hoped to publish a book on the Atacama regions of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina  several years ago, but the project just kept extending as I found each year that I went back to complete the work I would find more locations worthy of exploring.

 A handful of images

A handful of images

The whole region would take a lifetime to photograph, so I came to the conclusion recently that it is a task that has no end in sight, and I should really draw a line where I feel there is some kind of personal natural conclusion.

Expect an announcement later in the year.

 Cono de Arita, Puna de Atacama, Argentina.  Image © Bruce Percy 2017.

Cono de Arita, Puna de Atacama, Argentina. 
Image © Bruce Percy 2017.

No sitting on the fence

I've made some headway with my new e-book and I hope to have it published in a month or two from now.

This is really part 2 of of my tonal adjustment series.

Part one ' Tonal Relationships' was 'software agnostic'; I deliberately left out any 'how to' in the text and focussed more on the 'why' because image editing is an interpretive process where understanding tones and relationships is more important than figuring out which slider to adjust. Indeed the technical is something anyone can master, but the artistic interpretive side is a life-long artistic endeavour tied in with improving one's own visual awareness. Being able to 'see' what is in the image is paramount in achieving the most from your edits.

But there does need to be some kind of technical instruction if one wants to push things as far as they can. In my forthcoming new e-Book 'Photoshop Curves', I now take a look at the technical: in particular, I take you through the most powerful tonal editing tool available: Photoshop Curves.

 Forthcoming e-book about Photoshop's Curves tool. The Curves tool is, in my view, the most powerful tool for tonal adjustment available.

Forthcoming e-book about Photoshop's Curves tool. The Curves tool is, in my view, the most powerful tool for tonal adjustment available.

I know this will be highly contentious to many: but it is my view that Lightroom does not offer the fine degree of tonal adjustment / control required (at the time of writing) that Photoshop's Curve tool offers.

Lightroom is a good editing tool. It is intuitive and offers most of what we need. At present though, the tonal adjustment side of it isn't as powerful as it could be. I know many love Lightroom and feel it is all they need for photo editing, but to me, it's a bit like saying 'I'm happy with what I know, even though there may something out there that can offer a whole lot more'. If you're serious about improving your photographic editing, and thus upping your photographic style, you need to get to grips with Photoshop and in particular its curves tool. That is where all your future growth as an editor lies. Believe me.

But I realise that Photoshop isn't an easy program to learn. It isn't intuitive and this may be a reason why you will choose not to learn Photoshop. However, this point shouldn't stop you if you are faced with the knowledge of what it can provide you with in terms of tonal adjustment. There is nothing better out there.

Over the past few years that I've been running my Digital Darkroom workshop, many participants who start the course as Lightroom users often end the course wishing to defect from Lightroom to Photoshop once they have seen what I can do with the curves tool. Even with seasoned Photoshop users I still find room for improvement in their knowledge of curves and how to utilise it to really tune individual tones.

So with this in mind, I have decided to write specifically about curves. It really is the most powerful tool available to image editors.

I appreciate and anticipate that my point of view will be highly contentious to many, but since my blog is all about my point of view, that's what I'm giving you, after all, you didn't come here to hear me sit on the fence, now did you?   ;-)

Progress Isn't linear

I have to confess I've been having difficulty writing something on this blog for the past few months. After almost a decade of writing a frequent blog, things become harder to cover as the risk of repeating oneself becomes higher. I don't like to write on my blog unless I really have something to say. 

 Each year I have been very lucky to surprise myself. I never envisaged this shot before the trip to the central highlands: it just landed in my lap.

Each year I have been very lucky to surprise myself. I never envisaged this shot before the trip to the central highlands: it just landed in my lap.

Right now, I feel I am at a cross roads with my photography. There has been so much progress and development for me over the past decade. I've been fortunate to find certain landscapes that resonated for me and have been instrumental in helping me grow (or perhaps grow up) as a photographer: the Bolivian altiplano was the beginning of my style development, and has over the years taught me so much about simplification. I know know that when I thought there was nothing there but just negative space, gradual shifts in tone were still present. I learned to look again and to work with the less obvious, subtle shifts in light.

Over the years that I've been continuing to develop as a photographer, my choice of colour palette has become more muted (when appropriate). This too, was an instructive lesson, given to me by the stark landscapes of Iceland and Patagonia. I've learned that not everything works in soft warm colours and that I can also celebrate the more stark aspects of the landscape.

In essence:  the landscapes that  I have been drawn to have had another purpose beyond just being an aesthetic choice: they have been my teachers and I am now a very different person from the one who started this blog almost 10 years ago.

But progress isn't linear.

I have had to learn to work-through lean times. I've had periods of stagnation, where I felt I had perhaps reached the end of the tracks in how far I could go with my own development, only to find a few years later that my photography was taking a turn for the better. Either it was progress - a strengthening of already learned ideas and techniques, or it was a shift - a change in direction, or a change in tastes. Perhaps I found I had grown tired of the old ways and was now interested in a new way of seeing.

I have learned that I can't force progress. Forcing anything never works for anyone. All I know is that I just have to be open and wait for the cues for taking that further step forward.

We are the products of our experiences and memories. We are all defined by what we've learned and what we've seen and our experiences become part of us.

This is no different from our photography: our photographs are the culmination of our experiences that we amass over time, so in that way, our own progress is bound to slow: we start to haul around a lot of history with us.

 My journey has taken me to this point. Last year I created perhaps one of my most minimalist images to date.

My journey has taken me to this point. Last year I created perhaps one of my most minimalist images to date.

A photographic life should be full of wonder. We need to keep surprising ourselves, of shedding old skin and evolving. I know so far that I've been lucky for this to happen for me at different times over the years.

I'm aware also, that in recent years my photographs have become less focussed on the iconic landscape, less saturated, and to me at least, there is more of a thematic side to them brought about by tonal responses. I know I still have a long way to go, but just sometimes I'm not sure what the path up ahead is taking me, and I need to be patient and let it come when it's ready.

Have soul & be authentic

It's a new year, and I feel it's a new beginning. We are always beginning though, aren't we?

If I were to give advice to those who are just beginning in photography, or perhaps those who have been doing it for a while but feel they need some guidance, I would say the following:

Kitami, Tanno 2.jpg

"If you want to be a good photographer, then just focus on being as authentic as you can be. Connect with who you are, and let things flow naturally.

You can read all the photo-magazines in the world, read all the websites about technique, download all the photo-plug-in's and buy the latest gear. But all of it will be meaningless if you don't have soul for what you do.

Focus on yourself, not the gear. Focus on your aspirations and what you feel inside when you make photos that matter to you. Everything else is irrelevant.

Don't give a damn what others think, and don't seek compliments from others. Trust yourself and your gut, you know when something is right or wrong. Listen to how you feel inside and trust your intuition.

Above all else, have soul, and be authentic. Authenticity is your calling card to the rest of the world. It is your way of telling others who you are and what you stand for. If you can be authentic, then you can't go wrong".

Happy new year!

Inspiration through animation

One of the things I really enjoy, and get a lot of inspiration from is beautiful cinematography. I think I have become a bit of a film-fanatic of recent years.

I like to seek out films that are beautiful to look at (and have a good story of course) and The Red Turtle by Studio GHIBLI is one such movie.

As a photographer, I'm attracted to the tones in the scenery I shoot, and the movements of the sky and sea. This movie has a very beautiful look to the skies in particular: they seem to have lots of moving grain, as if it was captured on film, or perhaps the look is to simulate the use of pencil?Whatever the reason for the aesthetic, I found it such an engagingly beautiful looking movie.  The story was also excellent.

I've been thinking lately, that I very seldom get inspired by looking on the web at photographs now. We are living in an age of photography-overload. I don't like to treat photography as something to be consumed, or flicked through, instead I wish to be immersed, engaged. This is so hard to do when there is so much work out there.

But watching a beautifully animated movie for a few hours forces me to slow down, to get immersed. It is a medium that can't be consumed lightly.

The Red Turtle reminds me why I take pictures. I wish to be captivated, drawn into another world and engaged. I've often thought that if I can feel that way about my own work, then hopefully I can make others feel that way about what I do also.

Norilsk - deadly beautiful

The most northerly town within the arctic circle, Norilsk is home to the world's largest heavy metal smelting complex, where more than 4 million tons of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, arsenic, selenium and zinc are released into the air every year.

The British newspaper The Guardian ran a piece about this town where a river was found to run red due to a leak from the Nickel plant.

I just watched this short movie about this city and I had two conflicting feelings about it. On the one hand I thought the city to be quite atmospheric and so I would be interested in going there to make photos, but on the other hand the level of pollution there made me think better of it.

It's an insightful documentary about the life of the people there. What I like about this documentary is it feels as if there is no agenda to the story telling. They are not trying to tell you how bad it is here, or what we can do about it: instead it gives us an insight into the lives of some of the people here. You are left to form your own opinion and I didn't feel as if the director was trying to sway me either way.

Still, from a photographer's point of view, there is beauty or at least a photogenic aspect to a polluted place and Norilsk has a visual story to share with us.