Why you shouldn't set Levels

If you want your files to look like medium format images, then you should try to stay away from the Levels command. Regardless of what tutorials you see out there that say 'set the levels'.

Here is why:

  • The Level's command makes the tonal transitions more sudden, and therefore harder.
  • Tones that had soft graduations become harder as you move the left and right level adjusters towards the middle.
  • You are in effect adding contrast to the image, and that by definition means the tonal responses in your file become more sudden, and therefore harder.
Blue Pond Shirogane, 1.jpg

I only use the Levels command occasionally and never at the beginning of an editing session. It is a blunt tool which applies itself globally, and although is useful for fine-tuning a completed picture where the tonal relationships need to remain intact, is a recipe for disaster if it's used at the beginning of the session.

Indeed, global edits should be shied away from until the very end of your editing sessions, because global edits are lazy edits. I have rarely ever found an image that I can adjust the entire picture with one edit and if I've believed so, it is usually due to an oversight about what is really going on in the picture.

Photographs need to be approached sensitively. You need to work on each individual area that you wish to either bring forward or suppress. Attempting to do this with one global edit won't give you the best results and you'll only nail things down that shouldn't be touched.

If the edit session is just starting out, you need to keep the file as soft as possible, and only introduce depth or contrast in local areas. It is this 'contrast' between soft areas and hard areas, or unedited and edited areas that will give your images the contrasts you seek, whilst retaining smooth tones.

But! you say; 'I wish to make the image more punchy, and make sure I'm using the full tonal range of tones from absolute black to white in my prints. Shouldn't I use the level's for this?'

No. Not every scene you work on requires the full-tonal range approach. Some images may have softer qualities, and don't use the full tonal range available. Consider the images in this post today. If you open them in Photoshop and go around with the Curve Hand-tool and inspect the tones, you won't find any absolute blacks in these. They don't need them, and to have make them more punchy would have killed the tonal response that was present in the scene.

Blue Pond Shirogane, 3.jpg

Globally adding contrast to a picture is to apply the same brush to everything. It's a very blunt way of trying to bring presence to a photograph. It also means you aren't reading the contents of your images or that you understand what is going on in them.

Selectively choose the areas you wish to emphasise, and leave the others alone. Good images have quiet areas as well as loud areas, whereas badly edited images often suffer from everything vying for your attention.

If you wish your images to have more punch to them, the best way to do that is to keep some areas of it soft, so that the more harder areas have something to contrast against. That means using local edits, and it also means individually adding or reducing presence selectively. If you do this correctly, you'll find that your images retain their smooth tonal responses while also having presence. But by starting off by setting the Levels in your picture and therefore making all the tones in the picture harder, you leave yourself no room to manoeuvre and there is no room for your editing session to grow.

Gerhard Richter

I was in Norway last week, visiting a photo-pal. Except that my friend and I came down with a really bad cold and spent most of the week just trying to breathe, as our lungs were a mess.

While I was at my friend's home, he showed me some DVD's. One of them was about Gerhard Richter. I must confess I did not know of him, but I was intrigued. Particularly by his portraits, which look like photographs, except they're made by oils.

So I've just received some books and more DVD's to accompany my recuperation. Here is one of them. I've had a brief look and it's wonderful. So I hope to write a more detailed review later.

81gc3Ca5dJL.jpg

Film Lab Recommendation

I can recommend 'AG Photolab - https://www.onlandscape.co.uk'

I've chosen to write this post today, to help other film photographers. If you are having problems getting good processing done, then I can recommend AG Photolab here in the UK. I'm not doing this because I have any business or financial interest in AG Photolab, and they haven't asked me to write a review either. I am just doing this because I receive emails all the time asking me where i get my processing done, and I have been using this company now for around 5 years, so I feel I have sufficient experience with them to recommend them.

 All my films have been processed by AG Photolab since 2014.

All my films have been processed by AG Photolab since 2014.

I often receive emails from film photographers asking me if I can recommend a processing lab for them. The short story is that good quality processing is becoming harder to come by. Film sales are up, but lab experience is down.

About 5 years ago, I began to notice that many labs weren't producing good results for me and it was becoming a lottery as to what would happen if I sent my films in. I had many films ruined by bad processing. 

This wasn't good enough and so I started to hunt around and ask people for advice. I'm glad I talked to Tim Parkin from On-Landscape magazine as he put me in touch with Matthew Wells company 'AG Photolab' in Birmingham.

I have been using AG Photolab now for around 5 years. The processing has been consistently perfect. No steaks, no strange artefacts in the processing. When I have contacted them about altering my order, or perhaps cutting the films into sections of 3 (for my film scanner tray) they have been very responsive also.

But it's the quality of the processing that has made me stick with them, that and also Matthew Wells (the owner) dedication towards analog film and processing. I've had may conversations with Matthew on the telephone where it's been very clear he is passionate about doing the best processing he can, and has helped me on many occasion with my enquiries.

I know that they can deal with your film processing from overseas if you choose to ship to them. But I would definitely say that if you do - you need to be patient. I find it takes around two weeks to get my films processed and delivered back to me. I take great comfort in this: they have repeatedly stated to me that the reason why it takes so long, is that they don't want to rush things and that they realise that the most important thing to make sure that they keep the quality high.

Should you choose to send film to AG Photolab, I should let you know that they are great at keeping you updated:

1) the first thing that happens is you receive an email from them saying that your films have been received.
2) another email when the films are now being processed
3) and another email when the films are being shipped
4) depending on the carrier you choose, you also get updates on the tracking and where your film is!

Everyone's experiences vary, but I have been recommending AG Photolab to those who ask because they've given me consistency to my processing. Matthew Wells has told me that they often use my transparencies as an example to show other customers because, as he says so himself 'you have a lot of negative space in your images, and that is where you can really see any errors in the processing'. 

AG Photolab - http://www.ag-photolab.co.uk

Portfolio Development Skills

This post originally offered a space on my September portfolio skills workshop.
It has now been filled.

You may have noticed that I'm offering more 'skills development' style workshops over the coming year. Going on location is great, and shooting is fun and that is mostly why I have tours. Workshops on the other hand should be just that - a space where you learn and develop your skills.

Portfolio Skills Development Masterclass
448.00

Image Interpretation Techniques for building cohesive portfolios

September 3 - 8, 2018

Price: £1,495
Deposit: £448

5-Day Photographic Mentoring Workshop
Wester Ross, Scottish Highlands

 

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Shooting is just one part of our workflow. There is also the question of editing, which in my view, is as much of a skill and art as shooting is.

I personally feel I've learned more about my photography and my 'style' during the editing stage than the shooting stage, and would also suggest that the things you learn about your images whilst editing, often bleed back in to your visual skills whilst out in the field. Shooting and editing become symbiotic: one informs the other.

It's one of the reasons why I detest the phrase 'post-process'. Words can influence our attitudes and I believe this phrase just encourages us to think that editing is something we do as an afterthought. As if it is unrelated.

Further, I think the word 'process' encourages us to think of editing as some kind of activity that has no art to it. It's an incredibly creative part of the birth of one's images and I find it a hugely inspiring space to work in..

Well, further to this is the skill of developing one's own style. I believe that most of us don't know if we have one, and I think this is because we aren't really given tools with which to look for it.

One of the best ways to figure out who you are as a photographer, and how best to move forward with your art - is by looking at your work from a 'project' or 'portfolio' basis. Working towards building stronger portfolio's of your work can only lead you to be a stronger photographer.

That is why I've put together the workshop you see listed here. I'm really keen to show others how to recognise themes in their work and build cohesive portfolios, with the aim of helping them become clearer about where they are with their photography and how to make it stronger.

Vanishing Point II

It's often been said that the eye is attracted to the brightest part of the frame. And I have added to this by saying that I think the eye is attracted to the tone that is less like the rest of the picture. So in a bright image, your eye is attracted to the darker tones, and in a dark image your eye is attracted to the brighter tones.

In my image below, I find my eye is pulled right towards the middle of the frame to the darker tones of the curve of the foreground slope and also the thin dark line of the hill.

Fjallabak-Winter-2018.jpg

I've deliberately brightened the edges of the picture: it is in effect an inverse vignette. Can you see it now that I've mentioned it?

As with all good edits, they should touch you in some way without you being consciously aware that anything has been done. You should instantly buy the illusion that is being cast upon you.

1.jpg

One final note today: I felt there was a danger that everyone would think that these images had no colour in them, that they are just black and white. I've found that some of us are very aware of colour casts and can spot when white snow is really blue-white, or magenta-white, or grey-white. I've chosen to show you the work here now with a white background, as I think it allows you to notice the colours in the pictures more. You should perhaps ask yourself what colour is the snow in each of these images, or in particular, what tint does the whites in each picture have?

2.jpg

Good Printing means good Editing

Four years ago when I first introduced my Digital Darkroom workshop, it was the least popular thing I offered in my list of workshops. I was personally surprised by this, as I had thought that this kind of workshop would be something a lot of people would be looking for. I was wrong.

It has taken this number of years to establish the course, and now it fills up very quickly each year. I'm glad that photographers have come to realise that editing is a skill that requires as much thought and deliberation as our fieldwork.

"Good edits come from improved visual awareness"

 

Editing isn't about just making the image a little more punchy, neither is it about applying templates to your work to make them look better, and it certainly isn't about trying to fix a bad image. Editing is about working with the tones within the picture, so you can navigate the viewer's eye around the aspects you want them to look at, and to take their eye away from the areas you wish to place in the background.

fine-art-printing.jpg

Right now, we are living in a period where the emphasis is on shooting. Editing is almost an afterthought. Something that is done afterwards. For some it is an attempt to 'try to make the picture look good', and for the few who have figured it out - they have come to realise that editing is related to what they noticed in the field. Indeed, I often choose locations to make a picture due to their tonal properties - I know they will work well in the edit stage because they have enough tonal separation to work with.

I do not treat the editing stage lightly. I have found it is perhaps the biggest contributor to my 'style'. It is a highly creative space to work in and I will spend hours, if not days and weeks working on a portfolio of new images.

I'd also add;

"Good prints are made from good edits.
And good edits can only be verified by reviewing prints"

 

This is most certainly true. You can't make a good print from a badly edited image, and likewise, you can't make a good edit without printing it to evaluate it. Let me explain.

When I came to preparing my Colourchrome book for publication last year, I printed every single one of the 40 images. I had to do this because it's the only way to confirm to myself that I've got my edits right.
 

"A calibrated and profiled monitor will only get you so far.
I've been fooled many times by seeing colour casts and other problems in the final print that weren't initially obvious on the monitor.
I would go back to see if they were visible on the monitor only to find out they were. I now print to verify that what I'm seeing is true. It's the only way"

 

Even though my monitor is calibrated and profiled to give me the most accurate representation of what's in my files, I still find discrepancies once I print them. This is because the eye is highly adaptable and once we've seen the image on the monitor for a while, we adapt to the monitor's colour and tonal response. For me, I've found that after a while I can't see colour casts. I need to print the work to verify it.

When I find discrepancies in the print, I go back to the monitor to check if those discrepancies are visible there also. They always are. Yet I had not seen them, because my eye had 'adapted' to the monitor the more I looked at it and I've come to realise that there is yet another skill required to 'interpret' what my monitor shows me.

Until I master being able to 'read' my monitor, the only way to 'see' the picture, is to print it out.
 

"We all should print.
It forces us to look again"

 

Prints also force us to take note of the luminosity of the tones in the print. It's only when I print that I notice that I'm not taking advantage of the tonal range available to me. You can of course use the hand widget in the Curves tool to interrogate tones to find out where they reside in the tonal scale. Or even use the LAB mode's Luminosity value in the info palette to show you where the tones really reside, but you still need to print the image out.
 

"Where I once thought something was bright and stood out,
I
'm sometimes confronted with a lacklustre tonal range in print.
The print tells me I haven't gone far enough"

 

It's really a case of learning to interpret what your monitor is telling you. It's very hard to do because our eye adapts to what the monitor shows us and we become blind to what is actually there. 
 

"If you aren't printing: then you aren't getting the most out of your edits.
And ultimately, the images aren't optimised"

 

So you need to print. All photographers should print because it is a vital step in pushing your images to the best they can be.

Printing is also a step in learning to 'see' better, because we are forced to look again, to re-interpret the print and notice how it differs from what we thought you were seeing on our monitor.

My advice is - print, and incorporate it as part of your editing workflow. Printing helps inform your edits and show where you need to tighten up on tones that aren't as bold as you thought they were.

"Did I say you need to print? 
...You need to print!"

The Moon

This video is wonderful. 

I really should get a telescope. I've often wondered why there isn't such a high correlation between astronomers and landscape photographers, for in this video, it conveys the wonder of seeing the moon up close.

Vanishing Point

As I push and push the tonal registers in my edits, I begin to notice that there is a fine area where things are still just about visible, but almost at the point of disappearing. I like to play around with that vanishing point because in doing so, I can hopefully lead the viewer into having to look again, to wonder what is there.

After all, why does everything have to be spelled out for us? Where does the need come from, for this clarity in what we produce?

Fjallabak-Winter-2018-(22).jpg

Why can't things be implied, left open to interpretation? Isn't there beauty in what has been left unsaid? 

Not knowing can be thrilling, but above all, more interesting to me than an answer, because up until the answer is given, anything is possible. Because when the answer is revealed, any mystique that was present, instantly vanishes.

Fjallabak-Winter-2018-(7).jpg

The central highlands of Iceland is a space where boundaries become unclear. It's attraction for me is that often times, things aren't spelt out. Definition isn't always high on the agenda, and it's a place where gradual variances in tone can almost be lost in plain sight. What you think you're seeing isn't there because your mind wishes to fill in the empty spaces with 'something'.

Editing images so that the tones are almost at the very edge of becoming nothing (in this case absolute white) but still retaining a hint of colour is something I find fascinating to play with.

Where the dividing line becomes hard to find, your mind goes hunting for it, for your 'must' find a division point, an anchor, something to latch on to.

I ask myself 'why is that so?' Why do we need to have boundaries defined for us? Can't they remain unsolved for us? Where does our compulsion come from, to make sense, to answer all the unsaid aspects of a picture?

Fjallabak-Winter-2018-(5).jpg

So I deliberately edit with the intention of introducing snow-blindness to our view of the photographs. Not knowing where one hill begins and another ends, is the story of these photographs. The central highlands becomes a playground for messing with the viewers visual system and its need to construct, to make sense of what it is seeing.

Fjallabak-Winter-2018-(15).jpg

I'd much rather watch a movie where the story is left with no conclusion, than an film where everything is spelled out and explained to me. Because the film with no proper ending has room for interpretation, for it to become whatever my thoughts make of it.

Because in the agony of not knowing what really happens at the end, we endlessly work on the problem - always looking for meaning. It's certainly a much more interesting way to conclude a film than the tired approach of having to allocate 10 minutes at the end to explaining just what we saw. That kind of film invites us to think we need answers, when instead, there is often beauty in not knowing.

Do it for yourself, do what makes you happy

"You can please some of the people, some of the time,
but you can't please all of the people, all of the time,
so you may as well do what makes you happy"

Take it from me. I've been on the receiving end of a whole spectrum of correspondence and feedback about what I do. It ranges from very encouraging and positive to highly-critical. All of it is good and you just need to remember that any feedback you get is just someone's point of view. They're entitled to it and you are entitled to disregard it if it makes little sense to you.

Hokkaido-2018-(11).jpg

If you plan to be a creative person, you will need to be prepared to stand up for your work, and to believe in yourself. Accepting that not everyone is going to like what you do and that someone else's opinion is just that: an opinion and nothing more will help you a lot.

My thoughts about creative confidence come down to these points:

  1. Don't pander to what you think others may like, because you will only get lost as you are torn between one opinion and another.
  2. Following trends only means you are conforming. You may be fitting in, but you won't be standing out either. Creative confidence is all about being an individual and finding your own path.
  3. Don't create your photography looking for kudos, because you will only get lost as you seek others approval. See point 2.
  4. Remember to enjoy what you do, because that joy is a sign that you have tapped into the right kind of creative direction: if it feels good, then you've found your creative-flow and you should run with it and see where it takes you.
  5. Don't be overly critical of yourself because a serious case of 'writers-block' will only ensue. Instead, try to remain grounded and seek honesty with your efforts. All artists create bad work and what separates a good artist from a poor one is the ability to be objective: they aren't scared to see what they've created for what it is, and to work towards excellence in what they do.
  6. Celebrate it when you create something outside your usual parameters; it is surely a sign that you are experimenting or reaching new ground in your own development.
  7. Accept that nothing is a failure: bad photos, images that didn't quite work out teach us so much and besides, art should never be judged as successful or unsuccessful: it just is what it is. We are not here to give marks, to score points. We're here to be expressive.
  8. Above all else: try to trust yourself and your judgement. Take note of when you 'feel' something is right and wrong and act accordingly.

I think the last point is perhaps the biggest one for me: learning to trust yourself, your judgement and your abilities takes confidence. Confidence comes from really knowing yourself and knowing where you are with your art. Good artists are always asking themselves questions about themselves, they are always seeking to grow and are always open to the thought that their art may take them to places they had never imagined: if they are willing to let go of personality traits such as being overly-critical (never happy with what they've done), overly-controlling (expecting a particular outcome), too easily pleased (happy with the usual), then some great art may come their way.

Digital Darkroom & Printing Workshops 2019

Just a short post today, to let you all know that I've published all of my Scottish based workshops for 2019 on my workshop page.

Digital Darkroom Photoshop-CS Masterclass
448.00

Image Interpretation Techniques

2019, May 13 - 18
2019, Sep 02 - 07

2019, Oct 21 - 26


Price: £1,595
Deposit: £448

6-Day Photographic Mentoring Workshop
Wester Ross, Scottish Highlands

 

Introduction

This workshop is a 50 / 50 split between field work (making images in the surrounding Wester Ross highland landscape) and Digital Darkroom Editing / image interpretation techniques carried out in a studio environment.

During our time together we will be based in the north west of the Scottish highlands in the beautiful area of Wester Ross.

Please note: This workshop is not about learning Photoshop-CS. Instead, its aim is to teach you how to interpret your work with the skills you have.

Date:
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Fine Art Printing Photoshop-CS Masterclass
448.00

Image Interpretation & Printing Techniques

2018, Jun 04 - 09
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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I am specifically focussing on mentoring style workshops with a focus towards learning. The workshops in particular are my Digital Darkroom and Printing classes. Both of these trips involve a lot of interpretation and daily discussions.

I've also chosen to change the format of both the Digital Darkroom and Printing classes so that they are focussed around Photoshop CS. This is because over the years that I have been running my classes, it has become apparent that Photoshop's Curve tool is the finest tool for tonal adjustment out there. Typically the workshops would start out with participants using Lightroom but often abandoning it when they saw the power that Photoshop's Curve tool has. I'm sure this might be quite contentious to many and I realise that everyone's mileage may vary.

A forest wedding

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

 A forest wedding, Hokkaido. Image © Bruce Percy 2017

A forest wedding, Hokkaido.
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

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

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

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

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

 

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

 The Cuernos & Lago Pehoe. Image © Galen Rowell

The Cuernos & Lago Pehoe.
Image © Galen Rowell

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

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

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

 The Cuernos & Lago Pehoe Image © Bruce Percy

The Cuernos & Lago Pehoe
Image © Bruce Percy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript:

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

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

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

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

Forest Shadow

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

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

Hokkaido-2018-(15).jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International to British Translation

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

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

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

english1.jpg

The quiet background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Hokkaido Images

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

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

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

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

The value of anonymous places

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

No words, and no titles.

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

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

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

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

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

I agree.

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

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

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

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

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

I think they do.

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

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

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

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

Exhibition 2019 Mockups

I'm holding another exhibition later next year (Summer 2019), t

The last few weeks I've been working on the image selection for the forthcoming book, and we have now completed this, along with the text that is going along side the book. Currently I am awaiting Spanish translations as I feel that since this is a book about a region of South America, it should honour the landscape by also having a Spanish translation.

What I found last year about preparing my book, was that I really needed to print each image out to ensure they were optimal. When I did print them out, I noticed that some of them didn't have the 'sparkle' that they seemed to have on my monitor (even though my monitor is tightly calibrated). Some things needed to be pushed so that I was using the tonal range of the paper. It was a fascinating thing to do, as you can so often think the image is finished on the monitor, only to notice discrepancies in the tonal range once printed.

Once I had completed the printing of all the images that were to be contained within the book, I then replaced the original files with the optimal ones. So in essence, the images that were contained within my 'Colourchrome' book were the result of fine-tuning by print-review. Most important and I would urge you to do the same for any image you work on: print it out and evaluate it. Sit with it for a while and see how your impressions of it changes over days if not weeks. You'll be able to notice problems in the image that you weren't aware of on the monitor.

And so it comes to which images to prepare for an exhibition?

If you are considering doing an exhibition (I highly recommend it : everyone of all abilities should exhibit their work: it is the final stage in photography in my opinion), it's a good idea to go into the exhibition space and take measurements. My dear friend Alan Inglis suggested this to me when I was in the initial stages of looking for a location to exhibit. He came in with me and took measurements of the walls and also made some iPhone photos of the walls too (the images you see here).

Once we'd done that, I could set up mockups of the actual frames, all to scale of course, so I could experiment with a layout.

This is what you are seeing on this post today. I have chosen a selection of images and laid them out whilst trying to give them sufficient space, while at the same time maximising the number of images I can display (the more you show - the more value and interest to the viewer).

Last year's exhibition was terrific. I really enjoyed the experience: I got to meet so many people from past workshops and tours who came in to say hello. I also got to meet people that have had me on their radar for sometime, yet I was not aware of them. And the exchange in discussing your work is not to be underestimated.

Once I'd finished the exhibition, I was sitting around thinking 'now what?'. What do I do next? So I asked my favourite Photographer - Michael Kenna that, and he said:

"Hey Bruce,

You should have a show every year - include a few classics and show new work.
It will keep you on your toes. Sales may not increase - that remains to be seen.
But, it’s a good way to measure your own progress. Specific goals and deadlines always make us work a little harder."

Well, you heard the man. He knows a thing or two about exhibitions. So I chose to listen to what he has to say and decided I would do another one this year.

About the mockup's : that is exactly what they are. They have given me the opportunity to see what the final exhibition may look like, and I have been able to move and swap things around till I get the 'flow' right. What is most inspiring of all though, is that by visualising the final exhibition this way, it all just begins to take on a more 'real' aspect. You feel you are one step closer to your goal! I always try to use visual pictures to help me see where it is that I am wanting to go, whether it is mockups of exhibition spaces, mockups of books I want to produce, or even mockups of future workshops I hope to hold.

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Moving beyond the accessible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The choice is yours.

Printing is a vital part of image Editing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mostly it's all about point 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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