Scars on land

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

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

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

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

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It ended far too soon......

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

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

Bhutan portraits 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bhutan

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

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

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

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

Old meets new

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

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

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

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Portraits

It’s been a while since I photographed people.

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

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

Perhaps it’s time for a change :-)

Anonymous, Vague, Undefined

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

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

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Which leads on to my argument today.

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at an analogy of this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eldfjall

There shouldn’t be any boundaries in photography.

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

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Eldfjall, black lines and forms

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

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

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

nostalgia

A feeling of nostalgia is hitting me tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

Harris-Poster-13x19.jpg