The best person to teach you about you: is you

For those of you who have been following me for some time, you may have noticed that I don’t blog that frequently. Perhaps once or twice a week or maybe just a few posts a month now.

I feel an explanation is in order, when no explanation should need to be given.

Writing ‘new’ content consistently, and offering something fresh each time I post is very hard work. It is almost impossible to deliver something new after a while. I’m on my own photographic journey and with any creative endeavour, there is always fluctuation; ebb and flow. Sometimes I will have a lot to say while other times very little.

And so, rather than subject you to a constant daily content that has very little value in it, I’d prefer to write when I feel I have something to say.

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I’d also like to suggest, that the best way you are going to learn, is by getting out there and doing it yourself.

A lot.

There’s far too much effort being spent keeping up with numerous blogs, YouTube channels, and far less time spent actually practicing photography. Sure, I get it: it’s immediately available and your often confined to a schedule, so it’s hard to get out to make photos. But reading endless blogs and watching endless video’s leads you in numerous directions all at the same time. Messages become confused and distorted. And it’s hard to find oneself in the barrage of information overload. I’d much rather find a few sources that I really believe in, and stick to them. The rest of what you do should be about practicing your photography. And to practice your photography, you need to find out more about you.

I’d like to suggest that if you can’t get out to make images, then perhaps re-edit some of your earlier images. There is a mine of information sitting there. Just waiting to be used. It’s the most valuable information you own. It’s all about you, and it’s just for you alone. You won’t be sharing this information with countless others.

Your older images will tell you a lot about where you once were, and where you are now. You will see new ways of looking at them that you hadn’t before and through this new way of seeing, you’ll realise what you’re all about.

Rather than reading the latest entry by some photographer: write your own thoughts down on what you think photography is for you. By doing so, you’ll gain a better perspective on who you are, what you’re doing with your photography, and where you want to take it. Listening to someone else’s point of view all the time just gives you that : someone else’s point of view. Care and foster your own identity. To do that, you need to break away from following too many other people.

It’s hard work to sort out the valuable information from all the noise, but to do that, we need to sort out what we are looking for, and what we want. No one else out there can tell us that. Not any big-name-blogger, or artist that we admire. Listening to someone else’s ideas about what we should do can only take us some distance.

You have to put the work in. If you only get out to shoot once in a while, no amount of tutorials or blogs are going to help you. You need to shoot. You need to edit. You need to spend more time on you.

The best person to teach you about you: is you.

Landscapes are never 'done'

With the proliferation of the ‘same view’ on many social media sites, it would be so easy to say that certain places in the world have been ‘done’. But I find that such an off-hand, reactionary view and quite absurd.

No place is ever ‘done’. Instead, what is often ‘done’ is the derivative view.

 Image made in 2017, on my second visit. The sky was less blue, and the contrasts of the cone and black desert stood out more. I also choose to tighten the crop a bit to focus more on the conical shape of the volcano.

Image made in 2017, on my second visit. The sky was less blue, and the contrasts of the cone and black desert stood out more. I also choose to tighten the crop a bit to focus more on the conical shape of the volcano.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with photographers going to iconic places to reproduce a shot they have seen before: we are all into photography for many different reasons and motivations. For many of us, simply being able to go to the location of a shot we love and make our own version of it is very enjoyable, and dare I say it - educational. I know that when I have encountered locations that have inspired me, I often learn a lot by walking in the footsteps of the photographers that have influenced and inspired me.

I think that when we hear the statement ‘it’s been done’, it’s a way of saying ‘most of us can’t think of an original way of looking at the same landscape’. And so, I am always enthusiastic when I see a really interesting / different / original view of a well known place. More so if the picture is beautiful.

Similarly, being able to say we’ve ‘done’ a place, is just as folly. I’ve been going to the same landscapes for more than a decade and I still find something new on each visit. We have to go back, because a first encounter only gives us a hint of what is there. To really get under the skin of the place, we need to return and spend time becoming acquainted with it, and allowing the relationship to deepen.

For example, I’ve visited the Cono de Arita in Argentina three times now. On each occasion, it has offered up a new view of itself. One that I never saw, let alone failed to capture the previous time. Plus, I think that each time I return to a location, I am often looking for something different. Perhaps I have grown / changed, or perhaps it is that I just see something new in the same landscape. I am aware that any feelings of a place ‘being done’ say more about my approach to it, than anything about the landscape itself.

Landscapes are fluid changing places. If we are seeing many shots of the same scene, then that has noting to do with the landscape, but more to do with us. Being original has never been easy, because if we could all do it, then it wouldn’t be worth doing :-)

Originality is hard, and good photography is hard work. To be exceptional at what you do requires something that is intangible to qualify, something more than just making nice photos.

Original shots of landscapes may require a lot of effort and a new way of looking at them, but they are possible. No landscape is ever ‘done’.

 My original shot of the Cono de Arita, shot in 2015. In this view, I’m more interested in trying to give it context. I felt it vital that I show the far off distant volcanoes on the horizon and give the Cono de Arita more salt-flat space.

My original shot of the Cono de Arita, shot in 2015. In this view, I’m more interested in trying to give it context. I felt it vital that I show the far off distant volcanoes on the horizon and give the Cono de Arita more salt-flat space.

Being embarrassed by your previous efforts is healthy

If you’re at a cross-roads with your photography, or perhaps just feeling unsatisfied with what you are doing, then don’t worry. It’s not only natural, it’s also very healthy.

Being unsatisfied with what you do, is often a sign of growth. Congratulations are in order. You have moved on and the things you once thought were good, are no longer good enough.

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The Dunning-Kruger effect explains how we assess our abilities as we become more experienced. In a nutshell: it shows that when we have no experience, we tend to over-estimate our abilities, and as we gain experience, our confidence dips before it starts to climb.

There is a point in the graph where our confidence in our abilities is at its lowest: once we have gained some experience. This is the time when most of our efforts tend to suck. We find we are seldom happy with what we are doing, and all because we’re more aware. Where we once thought we knew a lot, we now realise we still have a lot to learn.

The old saying ‘if only I knew then, what I know now’ describes this period best.

We all have to go through a period of knowing little (in the illustration below it’s called the peak of ‘mt stupid’). And we all have to go through the period of despair - a time when we realise that we’re not as good as we thought we were. And we all go through periods of enlightenment : we see a way forward.

Progress is hard. Having moments when we think we suck is natural. You have to have the lows to have the highs. If you have the lows, it means you are improving, because it means that what you once thought was good, is no longer good enough. Bad times pass, and are often the precursor to new growth in your photography.

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Colour palettes - colour grading

In black and white photography, tinting prints - tritone, duotone, quad tone, is a staple of the process. Black and white often uses hints of colour in the shadows and highlights to give the work a particular feel or look.

But in colour landscape most photographers don’t apply the same principles to their work. When it comes to editing, few consider using colour thematically. By that I mean, few consider using colour to give their work a particular kind of look or feel. Yes, they may saturate the colours or mute them, but that is often as far as it goes.

Adjusting the colour palette, or ‘look’ of a scene has been a staple of the motion picture industry for a very long time. Movies are there to tell stories and to take us into another world. One way that movie producers take us into another world is by the use of colour. They will often adjust the colour palette of a movie to give a certain feel to it. This is called ‘colour grading’.

In colour photography, many of us choose to adjust contrast and overall saturation of colours, but few of us use colour to convey a certain mood of feeling to the work.

Perhaps you feel that adjusting colour in this way is not what photography is about? Perhaps you feel that photography is about recording what was there?

I hope the opposite is true for you. That you like photographs to convey a mood or a feeling, and that you think of photography as a creative medium where you can cast a spell over the viewer. Photographs aren’t real. They never were. Everything about the process introduces a point of view: where you stood to make the shot, what lens you chose, what exposure you opted to give the shot. All these decisions mean that you are telling a particular story. A point of view. An illusion.

One of the most under-utilised tools in our editing process is the choice of colour palette. It’s something I’ve been working with now for about the past five years: I look for photographs that have similar colour palettes to work as a portfolio. Colour and how it is applied, is just as important as where to stand was, or what lens to use. Colour is part of how we tell our stories, and using it in a delicate, considered way to ‘colour grade’ our photographs is a skill that most never consider.

I colour grade my work all the time. I consider the use of colour just as important as all the other more mainstream actions we take. I’m not interested in whether the colour is accurate to what I saw, but more about whether the tonal and colour palettes give me the look and feel I want.

if not now, then when?

I just published some new images this week from a trip to Romania this February.

If you’ve been reading my blog for many years, you probably know that I don’t like to edit work straight after shooting it.

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There are many reasons why I choose not to:

  1. I’m far too close to it to be objective about what I shot.

  2. I may be too attached to certain images and may be forcing them to be something that they’re not. I may, for instance think an image is much better than it actually is ;-)

  3. f I’m disappointed that they didn’t come out the way I saw them, then I’m less likely to get past that, and see the image in another light.

  4. And conversely, a photograph may actually be much better than I had thought at the time of capturing it. If I’d worked on my images straight away, I would have discarded it too soon.

I also believe that having some time away from the shots allows for my subconscious to continue to work on them. I’m sure that there are processes at work, that I am unaware of, which are going to influence the outcome of the work when I do get round to editing.

Diminishing returns, the longer you leave it?

But I also believe there may be a time-limit before the work becomes too distant, too remote, perhaps irrelevant to where you are now, if you leave it for far too long.

I used to believe that if I didn’t get round to editing the work within a month or so, that the work would become too disconnected from myself and I would find the window to edit it had passed. This is no longer the case for me. I sometimes shelve work for many months and in some cases years.

I fail to see the need to edit ‘right now’.

For example, I have a very nice unedited collection of images from Senja in Norway that are now 3 years old. I didn’t work on them at the time I made them because I felt too close to the work, and then as the months ensued, I just found more pressing subjects to work on - usually I like to prepare new images to coincide with the announcement of a new tour or workshop. So some images do take precedence.

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My last set of Harris images from Scotland sat in my filing cabinet for more than a year before I got round to editing them. This was the first time I’d left work for that long.

I just didn’t feel inspired / in the mood, to work on them and I think this is a very valuable lesson: never work on the images, even if you feel you have to, unless you are inspired to do so.

I had originally thought there was nothing on the films of merit so I just parked the work. A year later I took a look at the work and found that there was a lot of really nice images…..

So sometimes you are simply too close to it, or perhaps there is something internally going on with you that means you’re not feeling the work ‘at the moment’.

Just because you’re not in the mood:
doesn’t mean the work is bad

Similarly with this new set of Romanian images. I did try to work on them, and had a couple of false starts with it where I gave up because I just wasn’t feeling it. There was no inspiration to work on them. Again, I’ve learnt that rather than this being a symptom of poor work, it’s more a symptom of where I’m at. Either through over-work, or just where I am creatively speaking, I just don’t feel in the mood. And not being in the mood is OK. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just that there is an ebb as well as flow to our creativity.

In other words - just because you’re not in the mood, doesn’t mean the work is bad. It just means you’re not in the mood. Best park the work somewhere to come back to it another time.

And now, eight months later, I got round to working on the Romania images. I’m not sure what shifted for me. After many months of feeling that I had nothing to say about the work, I found myself enthused and excited to work on it this week. What changed? I do not know, and perhaps there is no need to know.

What I have learned is : work on the work when you feel it. If you’re not feeling it, put it to one side until you do feel excited to work on it. Never work on images simply because it’s the new work you have, and never force yourself to do something you’re not feeling. Often there is a right time, right place to be creative and one of the best skills you can possess, is knowing when to not work on images, as well as when to.

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Inkjet paper de-roller

Worth every single penny

Some things don't seem worth money on paper, but prove to be worth every single penny when you finally take the plunge and buy them. One item that falls into that category is the £200 Lion paper de-roller you see below.

I’ve struggled for years to try to flatten inkjet paper that comes on a roll. I’ve tried leaving the paper under books for weeks in the vain hope that the curl in the rolled paper will be removed, but to no avail.

Then, I saw a YouTube video of someone using a roller blind to remove the curl in the paper. He claimed that his $10 dollar roller blind did the same job as the £200 de-roller, except when I tried it, I got a crease right through the middle of my prints because the roller blind fabric is too thin, so the edge of the paper tends to push through the fabric and imprint itself on itself as you roll the paper round. So as much as his claim that using a roller blind did the same job as the £200 de-roller at a greatly reduced price, he was incorrect. It did the job, but it did it badly as it damaged the paper.

Well, there are so many opinions out there, and the best way to find out if something is good or not is to try it for yourself. My good friend Kyriakos who lives nearby owns a de-roller so I went to try it out and found that it works perfectly. No creases in the paper because it has a thick laminate surface and the surface as it’s being wound round the pole is kept apart from touching the paper by a sandwich layer at the outer edges that keep the laminate away by around 4mm.

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Why does such a simple tool cost so much? Is it worth it? I know you might be feeling that £200 to re-roll paper is a crazy amount, but it’s no different from the argument about expensive tripods.

When we all first start out, we think a $200 tripod is all we need. We find the idea of spending $1000 on a tripod crazy. It only keeps the camera steady right? But after a few years with a poor flimsy tripod that doesn’t stay where you want it to be, or the ball head creeps once you let go, you soon start to realise the value of that $1000 tripod. I know myself that the money at first doesn’t feel like it’s worth it, but I feel very different these days. I certainly wouldn’t go cheap on a tripod in future and as for ball-heads - well, they are useless if they creep at all once I’ve tried to set them.

Same goes for a paper de-roller. I will gladly upgrade from a $10 roller blind that creases and damages my inkjet prints to a £200 de-roller if it does the job and does it well.

You don’t value products by how much they cost. You value them by how good a job they do and the de-roller does its job fantastically well as you can see from the two pictures above showing the curled paper (left) and it flattened once I used the de-roller on it.

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Above is another photo, showing a set of curled prints (I’m preparing for my special edition Altiplano books), and further up the desk is a set of prints after they have had their curl removed.

Alternatively, buy cut-flat paper rather than roll paper?

Well you could do that, but it’s a lot more expensive. Rolled paper works out to be a lot more cost effective than the cut sheets you buy. Plus, you can print endlessly on a roll whereas with the cut paper you have to load each sheet individually (if it’s thick rag paper) into the back of the printer one sheet at a time. So I ended up abandoning cut sheets to go for rolled paper. And now that I have the de-roller, I’m no longer stressed about my prints having a curl in them.

 When handling prints, it’s a good idea to use cotton gloves, so that any natural oils in your skin don’t blemish the paper. Above is a stack of prints that had a natural curl in the paper. The curl has been removed by the de-roller.

When handling prints, it’s a good idea to use cotton gloves, so that any natural oils in your skin don’t blemish the paper. Above is a stack of prints that had a natural curl in the paper. The curl has been removed by the de-roller.

We shouldn’t rate products by how much they cost us. But we do. We should rate them by how well they do their job. Tools that do an excellent job, are in my book, priceless.

The de-roller does it’s job very well. It removes the curl in rolled paper of most thicknesses, and it’s built very well to ensure that the paper isn’t damaged in the process.

As with most things - you get what you pay for.

It comes very highly recommended.

Lion paper de-roller :

https://www.lionpic.co.uk/product/Expression-De-Roller--610mm-x-38mm---24---x-1.5--Roller-,34057,0.aspx

Presentation in everything is key

During my portfolio skills workshop this September, we spoke about the need to work on the presentation of our work. Portfolios may seem to be just about arranging the work, or selecting the work, but how the work is presented, is just as important.

 For my Altiplano book announcement

For my Altiplano book announcement

Photography is a visual medium, so I think it should make sense that anything you do visually, should be as aesthetically pleasing as you can make it, at the very least. It should hopefully have some kind of unity or ‘brand’ that represents you and your work.

 Lençois Maranhenses portfolio

Lençois Maranhenses portfolio

As some examples of this, I showed some of the previous banners from this website to my workshop group. My aim was to point out that creating the photographs was one thing, but I deliberately spend a lot of time thinking about the presentation : how to lay them out.

Now, I’m not saying you have to have a banner on your website. You may be thinking this is what Im telling you. I’m not. I’m saying that how you choose to present your work, in whatever medium you choose to do it in : matters.

I chose to put a banner together on my site because I find it a great way to give visitors to my site an initial ‘hit’ of what’s in store.

Back to the design of them: my banners often require a lot of thought and experimentation by me to get the look I want. I don’t just grab a selection of images and put them together for the banner - the order, the tonal responses between them all interact with each other and I move things around until it feels right.

 Extreme Iceland winter trip

Extreme Iceland winter trip

Everything you do needs to be presented well. Whether it’s your website, book, business cards, flickr account or facebook. Your work doesn’t end with creating and editing the photographs. It goes on and never ends. You are a visual-artist, so anything visually related to you has to have the same care and attention paid to it that you pay to your photography.

 Fjallabak, central highlands of Iceland, 2018

Fjallabak, central highlands of Iceland, 2018

With some of these banners, I have either used shapes - diagonals or curves to lead the eye into the banner (from left to right) and out of the banner (on the right). In others, I have maybe mixed light and dark images in a way that they alternate from dark to light and back to dark again. Some other banners it’s more about the space in the images: I will choose a collection of images that are all similarly ‘empty’ or similarly ‘busy’, so there is no imbalance.

 Puna de Atacama, Argentina 2017

Puna de Atacama, Argentina 2017

I’ve chosen to list most of the banners from this site back to 2014. I hope you enjoy them, but take a moment to study how I’ve chosen to sequence the images in each banner, and maybe also consider how my style has evolved / changed over the period also.

 Easter Island

Easter Island

I find banner creation immensely satisfying. But again it doesn’t stop there, and I have to even think about the sequencing of the portfolios on the main web page also. Everything has been done with a great deal of thought behind it. I’m convinced that just this little bit of attention to detail makes all the difference. That extra 5% always seems to give the perception of being a whole lot more.

 Bolivia

Bolivia

 Senja, Norway

Senja, Norway

 Hokkaido

Hokkaido

 Puna de Atacama, 2015

Puna de Atacama, 2015

 Patagonia, 2015

Patagonia, 2015

 Isle of Harris, 2014

Isle of Harris, 2014

Should photography be a private endeavour?

Over the years of running workshops, I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about the ‘why’s. Why are some compositions good, while others are bad? For example.

One of the ‘why’s I’ve had to think long and hard about is the ‘why do we do photography in the first place?’. I think the answer is different for everyone out there. Even though I think it ‘should’ be simply ‘because we enjoy it’. But I don’t think the answer is as clear as that, or the only one out there.

We all do photography for different reasons. Some of us do it because there is an inner artist that just wants to create new things. I think this is where I come from: I see photography as a creative endeavour and one which allows me to show my own voice. But for others, being an artist may not even come into it. It could be a simple past-time, something that gives enjoyment for nothing more than itself. There is no desire to exhibit or complete work. Instead, the pursuit, the simple act of going out there into the world to make photos is enough. It’s certainly something I admire as I personally wish I was more inclined to be that way, than where I am today.

Running a small photography business like mine, means that it’s important that my work has some interest for an audience. I make my living from running workshops and tours, and people come with me because (hopefully anyway) they like what I do, and want to share in going to places that share the same aesthetics as my photographs. So there could easily be a pressure there on my part, to feel I have to deliver a set of good new images from time to time to keep my audience interested. I am lucky that I don’t feel that way: right now, I just create what I want to create, and luckily for me, there are others out there who like what I do. I’m very fortunate as I know this might not always be the case in the future.

So at the moment, my photography has become a very public thing. I use my work to help sell my tours and workshops and also my abilities as a photographic teacher. So my work has to be out there for others to see.

But I’ve come to realise lately, that I think photography is a very personal endeavour. It is something that, if I were not running a business, I would make my photography a private endeavour. Because I think that although some of us do hope to get kudos and praise from others, ultimately, we do what we do, for ourselves. It’s just for us.

I can envisage a time in the future, once I have retired, that I will be creating images, but I won’t feel the need to share them. You may think this to be crazy or just plain stupid. Why create the work, if no one is going to see it? Well, I think it’s ok to create work that no one is going to see. Because we create the work for our own enjoyment. I’ve certainly been made aware that even when others like what I do, they seldom like it for the same reasons I like it. So after a while, as much as it’s appreciated that others like your work, you realise that the thing that matters the most is how you feel about it. Everyone else’s viewpoint, as welcome as it is, is really secondary to the point. You do your work for yourself, and in that way, it can exist as something that has no purpose other than to be enjoyed in the making.

I think right now, we are living in times where kudos about our photography is taking too much attention from the actual act of just creating work. With so many platforms to share our work we can so easily get lost in a chase for higher like counts, or to win competitions. But the truth is, that the person who cares the most about your photography : is you.

I think I’m at a stage in my own work, that I’d really like it to be a private endeavour. I think I can do that by choosing which aspects of my work I would be happy in sharing, while maybe there may be a few projects each year that I keep for myself. I’m not sure you perhaps understand, but I think all artistic creative people need to keep a little back of what they do for themselves. You don’t have to show everything that you do, and I think there’s something deeply personal in keeping some of your more private work back.

We do photography for no other reason, than we do it for ourselves. Sharing is nice, but it’s not the real reason why we do it. Photography can be such a personal endeavour, with no need for other’s views about what we’ve done. We do what we do, for ourselves, and isn’t that enough?

The aura around image making

Way back in the days of film only - the 80’s, when I was around 21, I got my first film camera. It was an EOS 650 with standard lens.

At the time, pressing the shutter was a big deal. Because every time I fired the shutter, I had committed some light to film. There was no undo feature, no delete button, and there was no preview to check that I’d got what I thought I had. Learning was slow, because it was often weeks before I got the film back, and in that time I would have forgotten how I’d set the exposure of the camera.

 Elgol, Isle of Skye, 2010. Image © Bruce Percy 2010

Elgol, Isle of Skye, 2010. Image © Bruce Percy 2010

Everything about working with cameras back in the 80’s meant that firing the shutter was a pretty big deal. As a result, most of the time, you didn’t do it. Everyone, and I mean everyone, thought twice before they fired the shutter. It was a different time, a different place we were in. All we had were analog cameras and firing that shutter meant we had to be sure we wanted to make the shot.

Although these days I am in a position not to worry about the cost of film and it’s associated processing, I still find that pressing the button of my camera has remained ‘a pretty big deal’ for me.

Some things become engrained in us.

Sure there were financial aspects to pressing the shutter back in the 80’s, but there was also an aura around the process of making images. We had no preview screens with with to check the final image, and there were often days if not weeks before we saw the results, so learning from our mistakes was much slower. We had to learn to trust ourselves, and our judgement had to come before we fired the shutter, not as it is now for many where they fire the shutter and then cast judgment on the preview.

But most importantly for me: there was a sense of magic that happened between the point I fired the shutter and seeing the final image. Often what I saw with my eye and what came out in the film were quite different. Getting films back was like Christmas each time: rarely if ever, did an image come out the way I had expected and this meant that there were real surprises as well as disasters in the processed films.

This ‘aura’ around firing the shutter has always stayed with me.

Although I am now in a financial position not to worry about the cost of exposing film, I still find that firing the shutter means a pretty big deal to me. There is a sense of commitment to it, a sense of finality. What has been done cannot be undone, and I have to live with the consequences. When I think that I’ve captured what I was looking for, I have to make a decision as to when to choose to walk away from a scene. To be able to say ‘i’ve got it’, and to walk away requires trusting in one’s own abilities, but perhaps more importantly, allowing oneself to ‘let go’. It’s ok if the images don’t come out, it’s ok if I screwed up, but I have developed a sense of faith in myself to get it right. Trust in one’s own abilities only comes when you are able to let go of technological crutches, and these days I tend to listen to my gut more.

As a photographer I have learned to listen to how I feel inside before I fire the shutter. I make the judgement before I make the picture, rather than making pictures and then making the judgement.

How does it work for you? Are you aware of how you feel at the point you fire the shutter? And specifically, have you learned to trust your gut? Or are you still relying on the technological crutches (preview screen) to confirm what you’ve got?


1 Space available for Printing Masterclass

I have had a cancellation for next May’s printing Masterclass. Perhaps this is of interest to you?

Fine Art Printing Photoshop-CS Masterclass
448.00

Image Interpretation & Printing Techniques


2019, May 27 - 01



Price: £1,695
Deposit: £448


6-Day Photographic Mentoring Workshop
Wester Ross, Scottish Highlands

 

Introduction

This workshop will cover the technical workflow aspects of printing from Screen calibration, proofing to print evaluation.

As part of printing your work, we will cover the same lessons taught in my Digital Darkroom' workshop, because good prints are made from good edits. And good edits can only be verified by printing.

Add To Cart

Bad days of autumn and winter are approaching

The seasons have caught me out: it seems as if summer was only just a few weeks ago. The nights are now very dark here in Edinburgh and I’m finding the seasonal shift, of windy days and rainy nights comforting. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become accustomed to certain seasonal shifts and the weather they bring. Had I not become a lover of landscape photography I may dread the advancing winter and the dark wet days of autumn. Instead, I believe that my love for photography has allowed me to think that all days, of any kind of weather are beautiful. They all have a special character. To shoot in sunny weather is a really limiting factor on one’s own photography and for me, I’d much rather be out there in what many lay-people call ‘bad weather’.

I wish you lots of photographic potential and wonder this autumn and winter.

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Adventure in the Central Highlands of Iceland

I’m just home from almost an entire month in the central highlands of Iceland.

I think I’ve made a lot of very special images from this trip, as we had some atmospheric / wintry conditions to shoot in. In the photograph below you can see some of my group and myself standing around waiting for a squall to pass through.

 Image used by kind permission. © Martin Bowen, 2018 September Fjallabak Iceland tour, 2018

Image used by kind permission. © Martin Bowen, 2018
September Fjallabak Iceland tour, 2018

In my view, fair weather photography is pretty one-dimensional. To open up your shooting options and to give your work some atmosphere, you need to shoot in all kinds of weather. It is not unusual for me to shoot in rainy, windy conditions. It’s the only way to get certain tones and atmospheres in my work, and I’ve learned a load in the process also. Besides, dramatic weather is quite exciting!

We had a blast. It was challenging trying to anticipate just how long some of the squalls would be. There were a few moments when we had hiked a little distance from the car, only to find ourselves in a white-out. Realising that we might not find our way back to the car if we stayed where we were, we would start to retreat while we could still see our footprints.

After a few days we learned to read the weather. We knew that most squalls that came through lasted for a few minutes and then things would clear. Learning to read weather and to understand the rhythms at play is advantageous. I’ve met a few mountaineers on my trips who have learned to do just that, and I often wish I had the same skill with regards to reading weather systems.

 me checking for when the clouds would cover the sun. The weather would vary dramatically, with sunny weather followed by a snow storm, followed by zero visibility in some cases, followed by some sunny weather…… Image used by kind permission © Martin Bowen 2018

me checking for when the clouds would cover the sun. The weather would vary dramatically, with sunny weather followed by a snow storm, followed by zero visibility in some cases, followed by some sunny weather……
Image used by kind permission © Martin Bowen 2018

The best shooting was done was at the edge of the storms. Just as the snow would start to blow in, the black deserts would have a stippled effect as hail began to land lightly, before it would all disappear in a white-out. Then, as the squall began to pass, we would be standing waiting for it to clear and that was the other best time to shoot - as the visibility began to come back.

Photographing in clear weather is just so….. boring by comparison.

I’m certain I got a lot of new, interesting material from this visit to Iceland. I shot 51 rolls of film, and my cameras were often condensing up - the prism finders of my old Hasselblad 500 series cameras would become so hard to look through, that I just had to guess and hope that I was getting on film what I thought I was seeing.

You have to venture outdoors in all weather. Staying in-doors because it seems like a bad day will only limit your photography, and I’ve only ever had a couple of trips where the group and I couldn’t get much done because the weather was beyond bad. Otherwise we have always managed to get something.

If you don’t go, you don’t get.

Altiplano Book Sold out

Just a final note today to say thank you to everyone who bought a copy of my latest book. It sold out within a week. The standard editions sold out within about six hours. Quite a surprise. Thank you.

Only 5 copies left of Altiplano book

Dear all,

Thank you so much for all the wonderful support. The Standard edition and the Black edition of my Altiplano book have sold out, and we only have 5 copies of the special edition left.

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I’m quite surprised by the level of interest for this book. I wasn’t sure if it would be of interest to you because of last year’s ‘best off’ collection in my Colourchrome book. I felt that perhaps the Altiplano is too specific an interest, and may only appeal to a small number of people.

Altiplano (Special Edition)
145.00

Photographic Monograph

The high plateau of South America

Released on 1st of November

Foreword by Paul Wakefield

This book contains 67 photographic plates from my journeys to the Altiplano regions of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile over a 9 year period.

The book also contains a number of essays on the subject of composition and of working with simplified landscapes. The book is introduced by Kathy Jarvis who has written a number of travel guides about the region, in order to set the context for the landscape and how it has been shaped by the people that live upon it.

The book is available in three variants, and is limited to a small print run of 310 copies.

The Special Edition

This version comes in an edition of 100 copies. Each comes in a deep purple slipcase and is accompanied by one print (from a choice of three prints).

Specifications

300mm x 300mm
Soft cover + Slipcase
108 pages
67 full colour plates
Choice of 1 of 3 prints
Prints is 8", signed, titled and numbered 1 to 100

Edition of 100

£145

Print Choice:
Add To Cart

I’m sorry if you wanted a copy of the standard edition, but didn’t get one.

It is hard to judge how many books to print…. it is a difficult one to judge because printing books is an expensive operation, and profits / margins are very low. To make money at all on printed books is hard.

But I so wanted to print this book. I felt it might be a vanity project (in other words - my desire to produce this book may be at odds with the interest in it). But I love books. I have a huge collection of them at home and I think photographic books are very important. Just like prints are. Photographs aren’t finished until they are printed or reproduced in books. Uploading them onto a website is nice, but it doesn’t really convey the detail and subtleties of the image.

I also love designing books. The concept is important, the laying out of the images is very satisfying, and then of course, having it all bound up into a final product just seems to feel like something greater than the sum of its parts.

There has been months of discussion and work between myself and my friend Darren Ciolli-Leach, who as a graphic artist is behind the finer details of my book designs. Without Darren, my books wouldn’t be as beautiful as they are. He has a fine attention to the medium of print, paper types and fonts. It is his level of expertise in book production that I admire, as he is always able to take my initial fuzzy idea and turn it into a professional product.

Both Darren and myself produced this book because we both love photographic books, and we love to try to create something beautiful. It’s all about the passion for doing something special.

I would love to continue to publish a book each year, so I am now busy working on some future concepts, and busy making new images in the central highlands of Iceland. Perhaps for that next book…..

Thank you for the support. It means a great deal to me.


Book now available to purchase

Altiplano Photographic Monograph

Extremely limited edition of only 310 copies.

This book contains 67 photographic plates from my journeys to the Altiplano regions of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile over a 9 year period.

Shipping on 1st of November

Foreword by Paul Wakefield

The book also contains a number of essays on the subject of composition and of working with simplified landscapes. The book is introduced by Kathy Jarvis who has written a number of travel guides about the region, in order to set the context for the landscape and how it has been shaped by the people that live upon it.

300mm x 300mm

Soft cover

108 pages

67 full colour plates

Foreword by Paul Wakefield

Introduction by Kathy Jarvis

Essay on simplified composition

 

pre-book-announcement.jpg
Buy

The book comes in Three editions

  • Standard edition

  • Special edition with slipcase and choice of one print

  • Black edition with slipcase and three prints included

Buy

from discovery to technique to tic

How often is what you do, more a ‘tic’ than ‘discovery’? I think that there are really three stages in approach to picture making:

  1. Discovery

  2. Technique

  3. Tic

Discovery is when we learn something new. Learning something new can come about by accident. While attempting to use a tried and tested formula, something may go wrong and we find out that the result is quite pleasing. It can also come about by simply putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone deliberately. Discovery in our art is what makes us grow and change, but it is not responsible for us fine-tuning what we do.

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Technique is when we learn to do something well. We adopt new practices, or take on something we haven’t done before but we need to fine-tune it. Fine tuning comes from practice, from doing things many times so we learn to understand where the boundaries are in any new technique we have and where the sweet spot is.

The last stage is when any adopted technique becomes more a ‘tic’ than intentional technique. What I mean by ‘tic’ is that we stop thinking about it and we just tend to apply it without any thought. Sometimes this is good - such as muscle memory - we know instinctively where the right buttons are on our equipment for instance, or we simply know we need to balance a scene against a false horizon and not use a spirit level….

But there is also the negative-tic. The kind of tic you do all the time, the one that has no thought behind it except that ‘it’s what I always do’. This kind of tic in our working methods is dangerous because it can lead to our work becoming predictable, and to us falling into a rut with what we do. For example: always setting the tripod up at the same height (something I see with some participants - every single shot they make is always taken from the same height). This is a ‘tic’ - a practice that is done with no thought applied.

I think all three stages of Discovery, Technique and Tic are valid as they are natural parts of the life-cycle in us adopting working practices. But I think that Discovery is crucial to moving us forward, as too is Technique. Tic on the other hand needs to be watched carefully, because this stage of any of our approach can lead to a lack of thought or purpose in what we are doing.

It’s good to be aware of what we’re doing. And of understanding when something we are doing, is just being done, because it’s what we always do. Everything we adopt in our working practices has mileage: the Discovery period may last weeks or even years, and the technique period may be something we master in a day or so or perhaps we never master. But when all those stages are over, and we now find that any approach we have is becoming more a ‘tic’ to what we do, then I think it’s time to re-evaluate and see if you really need to use it any more.

Why compete?

Some say that competition is good for us. In technological circles and business in general, competition between rival companies is good for advancing our knowledge and expertise. 

But what about competition in the arts? Is there a valid reason for allowing competition to be part of what you do? I think so.

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As much as I personally have a big problem with photography competitions (more on this later), I can appreciate that as creative people, we photographers need to have a sense of drive in what we do. Creating good photographs isn't something that happens by just going out once in a while with our cameras and making a few snaps: there is often effort - a lot of it - applied in the pursuit of trying to create good work. Sure, talent comes into it, but I've met many talented people in my life who never complete anything and through laziness, never move forward with their art. Conversely, I've also met less-talented people out there whom, through a sense of drive and pushing themselves forward, are able to move their photography further. Talent is one thing, but drive or lack of, is another and you need to have talent and drive to move your work forward in general.

Any vehicle you can find, which will help move your photography forward (or give you a sense of drive) is a good thing. It could be; setting up a project, an exhibition, creating a book. Anything that has a goal attached to it will help focus your efforts and stop you from meandering lost and rudderless around in a mix of 'not sure what to do, or where I'm going'. So projects and goals are important to help you move forward with your photography

I have a dilemma though about competitions. Rating art is a bit like saying you like blue better than pink, or that vanilla ice cream is better than a cat. Fish are good but bananas are better. Photography competitions are meaningless, and the only result one can look for getting out of one is the pursuit of focus in what one does. Winning is irrelevant and meaningless. The focus that a competition can give you, is the real prize.

Life is full of competitive forces. Getting promotion at work, being first in the queue to get off the bus, first to get tickets for a concert before it sells out. Life is a competitive race and as a species we need competition to survive. Our genes and species didn't get here, and neither did you, without our ancestors striving to make this happen. So in a way, competition is built into the core fabric of every human being, and every living thing on this planet.

If I were you, and you are thinking of entering a competition: think long and hard about your motivations to win one. Winning is really meaningless. But the focus that it may give you in honing your skills, working towards something is more valuable than any kudos you may get from the winning.

Art was never about competition. And art shouldn't be measured or compared. But competitions do have their place: if they give you a sense of focus and drive to move forward with your work, then they are no bad thing. Just remember that winning them has nothing to do with your art, because art is personal. You do it for you. You don't do it to 'win'.

 

Working Titles

In a short while, I will be announcing a new book about the south American atacama. The book encompasses photographs from the Argentine, Bolivian and Chilean high plateau. It has been a work in progress for around 8 years.

I had the 'working title' for this book earmarked around six years ago. I find titles a great way to conceptualise and to think about which way to steer my creativity. Once I had the title 'altiplano', I felt I knew what should be in the book, but also perhaps more importantly - what shouldn't.

 The proposed title for my future central highlands of Iceland book. I hope to publish this in the next year or two.

The proposed title for my future central highlands of Iceland book. I hope to publish this in the next year or two.

I find projects or themes a great way to steer myself forward. My creativity is more focussed once I have the 'correct' theme in mind. But the theme doesn't always surface straight away and I find that 'working titles' can morph into something else if I live with them for some time. 'Working titles' are like clothing: you try them on for size and to see how they feel. You need to wear them for a while to see if you grow into them or to find that they really don't suit at all.

Altiplano was one title that stuck from the moment I had it. It made me realise that I couldn't add in other landscapes from around Bolivia - I had considered the mines and some other areas but they weren't part of the region that is defined the altiplano. Boundaries are important in focussing attention.

I don't know if I've discussed this on this blog before, but my graphic designer friend Darren and I have been playing around with themes and designs for a set of books. The first of which is coming out soon. We pretty much hope to publish a further two books over the next few years.

I'm hoping to publish one about the central highlands of Iceland - this will be a book with no 'popular' landscapes in it. No classic waterfall shots, etc. It's all about the remote interior, and I hope for it to include my images from my winter shoots in the interior, and also the dark landscapes I encounter throughout the rest of the year. 

 The proposed title for my Hokkaido book.

The proposed title for my Hokkaido book.

The other is about Hokkaido. You can see 'mockup's' above. I wouldn't take the designs or titles too seriously right now - I'm showing you these to illustrate the process I go through - these are just 'working titles'. Hálendi means 'Highlands', and Shiro means 'white'. Just working titles and it's too soon to say whether they will stick.

What these working titles give me, is a way of visualising the final books. I've already been collating the work from each landscape, and I've managed to choose around 50+ images so far. But I can already see gaps in the work - areas where I need to look for images to fill out areas of the landscape that I have either missed out on at times in the past, or that I know are still there to be photographed.

Working titles are a great tool to help steer you forward. Making individual photographs isn't enough. If  you find yourself feeling rudderless, not sure where to go with your photography, but at the same time know that you are creating good individual images, then I would suggest you need a concept: something to help you glue your work together. 

The whole is always greater than its parts, if you get a really strong theme or 'working title'. It can propel you and give your creativity focus.

Altiplano

Some advanced copies of new book have arrived, and I'm delighted with the reproductions: they are amazingly spot on. 

The new book is 12 inches square - larger than last year's Colourchrome book which was 10 inches square, and has a lot more pages.

I'm very excited about it, and there will be an announcement this September 25th about the book. Only 315 copies, so if you want one, better be quick :-)

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Don't automate it

Pre-amble: Everything I write on my blog is just my point of view. That's all it is. I don't for one minute assume that I am right all the time, and any views I express here are simply my own. I write them here with the hope of maybe helping you with your craft and you should take what I say as just that - a point of view.

A few weeks ago, I published a new e-book. It's topic was Photoshop curves and how to really get to know them, as the curves tool is very powerful in helping you transpose or adjust tones in a picture. I personally think there is no better tool out there for helping me get what I want in my photographs.

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I'm not a big fan of automated tools and I tend to keep this side of my photo editing to a minimum. I do for instance use the Pixelgenius Sharpener tool kit, because I am convinced that it has better judgement with regards to the degree of sharpening that is required. Many photographers tend to either over-sharpen their work. This tool avoids that.

In general though : I avoid automated tools that take the control or 'awareness' out of my own hands. By being involved in the creation or construction of your images at each stage, you gain a better understanding of what is going on.

Photography is your personal way of expressing how you see the world. To keep it personal, you need to be intimately involved in all aspects of the image creation from capture to print. Using automated tasks at an early stage in your own development may feel as though they are giving you a boost, but there are never any shortcuts: you gain in apparent immediate improvements, but rarely do you find your own self development has moved on or learned anything in the process.

Luminosity Masks - the TK Toolkit

I played around with this toolkit, and although I think it's a great thing - it's only a great thing in the right hands. If you are still learning about how to adjust tones in a picture and specifically where you want to adjust them, then I would be very careful in adopting automated toolkits for this. My reasons are that I think the only way to really learn about tones is to adjust things manually. The Luminosity Masks tool kit might give you immediate results but that always makes me highly suspicious that I'm leaning towards convenience over skill. I don't mind using these kinds of tools later on once I've built up the experience and knowledge in my craft as to 'what I want to do'.

An analogy with Zooms vs Primes

This is perhaps a similar approach to using Zooms as a beginner. Zooms are great once you have built up a lot of experience of working with different focal lengths etc, but for most beginners, the convenience of a zoom means they are less likely to learn. Sure - zooms  'appear' to be the most obvious choice: why buy several lenses when you can have many lenses rolled into one? Well, my feeling is that when you use a zoom, you learn very little about the properties of the focal lengths you are working with. If, on the other hand, I give you a few primes to work with, you soon learn how they 'look' when you put them on the camera. If I give you a 24mm and 50mm lens only, you will soon learn to 'see' how they work and you can even visualise the scene in your mind in both focal lengths before putting them on. You also learn how their background / foregrounds are compressed, and you also learn what amount of depth of field each lens has. This is because most of the properties are fixed. With zooms, everything is variable. Much harder to remember what is going on.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, zooms make beginners lazy. We are more inclined to stay in one spot and force the landscape to fit to us (by zooming). If on the other hand, you use a prime, then the only way to get the landscape to fit correctly is to move. Moving allows you to find out more about the terrain you are on, and I've often found many great compositions as a result. Primes force you to fit to the landscape.

I think this is similar to using toolkits. On the surface, they give you a lot of flexibility but while doing so, they take the control out of your hands, and you don't learn. 

When I edit my photographs manually: I build up an intimate knowledge of how that photograph is constructed, how each object and tone in the picture interact with each other. I'm very doubtful this happens when I use automated tools, and I'm more likely to overlook aspects of the photograph.

So to recap: automated tools are ok, but I would avoid using them at the beginning of your photographic career. Build up your experiences first by constructing your edits manually. Then maybe years down the line, you can invest in certain plug-in's etc, but only after you've done the work. 

Summary

I know there are a lot of really cool things out there, and they all look like they give you great results, but I think that if you really want to learn, and become more informed about what you do : you have to do the work, and you have to do it manually from the beginning. It is only once you have done the work, spent the years learning to 'see' what in in your photographs and which areas need work, that you should allow yourself to use automated tools.

There are no easy short cuts in Photography. Convenience is rarely a word that is used by me in my craft as I know that to create great work, I have to put the effort in.