Presentation in everything is key

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

 For my Altiplano book announcement

For my Altiplano book announcement

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

 Lençois Maranhenses portfolio

Lençois Maranhenses portfolio

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

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

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

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

 Extreme Iceland winter trip

Extreme Iceland winter trip

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

 Fjallabak, central highlands of Iceland, 2018

Fjallabak, central highlands of Iceland, 2018

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

 Puna de Atacama, Argentina 2017

Puna de Atacama, Argentina 2017

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

 Easter Island

Easter Island

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

 Bolivia

Bolivia

 Senja, Norway

Senja, Norway

 Hokkaido

Hokkaido

 Puna de Atacama, 2015

Puna de Atacama, 2015

 Patagonia, 2015

Patagonia, 2015

 Isle of Harris, 2014

Isle of Harris, 2014

Should photography be a private endeavour?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The aura around image making

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some things become engrained in us.

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

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

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

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

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

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


1 Space available for Printing Masterclass

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

Fine Art Printing Photoshop-CS Masterclass
448.00

Image Interpretation & Printing Techniques


2019, May 27 - 01



Price: £1,695
Deposit: £448


6-Day Photographic Mentoring Workshop
Wester Ross, Scottish Highlands

 

Introduction

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

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

Add To Cart

Bad days of autumn and winter are approaching

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

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

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Adventure in the Central Highlands of Iceland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you don’t go, you don’t get.

Altiplano Book Sold out

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

Only 5 copies left of Altiplano book

Dear all,

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

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

Altiplano (Special Edition)
145.00

Photographic Monograph

The high plateau of South America

Released on 1st of November

Foreword by Paul Wakefield

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

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

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

The Special Edition

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

Specifications

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

Edition of 100

£145

Print Choice:
Add To Cart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book now available to purchase

Altiplano Photographic Monograph

Extremely limited edition of only 310 copies.

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

Shipping on 1st of November

Foreword by Paul Wakefield

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

300mm x 300mm

Soft cover

108 pages

67 full colour plates

Foreword by Paul Wakefield

Introduction by Kathy Jarvis

Essay on simplified composition

 

pre-book-announcement.jpg
Buy

The book comes in Three editions

  • Standard edition

  • Special edition with slipcase and choice of one print

  • Black edition with slipcase and three prints included

Buy

from discovery to technique to tic

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

  1. Discovery

  2. Technique

  3. Tic

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

Lencois-Maranhenses-2018-(3).jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Why compete?

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

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

Fjallabak-Sept-2017-(5).jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Working Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The proposed title for my Hokkaido book.

The proposed title for my Hokkaido book.

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

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

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

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

Altiplano

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

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

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

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Don't automate it

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

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

Hokkaido-2018-(19).jpg

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

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

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

Luminosity Masks - the TK Toolkit

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

An analogy with Zooms vs Primes

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

Gestation Period

I'm publishing a new book this September which has had a long gestation period.

If I had been less experienced in my creative efforts I may have given up on this project many times: it's often hard to know when something is paused (stopped temporarily) or has reached a point where things can't go any further.

 Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia Image © Bruce Percy 2012

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Image © Bruce Percy 2012

I'm more and more of the opinion that you can't rush things. Everything has its own time and place, and everything has its own non-linear pace. Feelings of great satisfaction as well as great uncertainty tend to mix and merge as we navigate through the ebb and flow of our creativity. Being a creative person is often more about reading and understanding when flow is working and when it isn't. 

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Pauses in our creativity can at first appear to be difficult times. No one, no matter how talented or creative they are suffers from periods of feeling stuck. I have often found with hindsight that these periods of inactivity are usually rests where a new direction is about to take place, or some new work is about to be created, and when I find that I can't go any further, I just let things be for a while and do something else to take my mind of it.

Altiplano was like that. This book has been in my mind since around 2012. I first mentioned the title of it to some friends long before I knew I had enough material to complete it. Had anyone asked me how the final product would look, I couldn't have guessed correctly: I just had to trust that future work would let the seed of this idea grow into something more concrete.

There were delays along the way. Many of them, in many different forms. Around 2015 I had reached a point where I felt I could add nothing new to the work. I had been to Bolivia many times and felt that my image making there was becoming cyclical : I was now settling into certain formulas with some of the locations I had been growing into over the years, and I was beginning to feel I was reaching a natural conclusion with this landscape. Then, without warning the image on the front cover of a travel magazine I noticed while waiting in my dentist's office found me looking at Argentina as a continuation of the project. The Puna de Atacama had sufficiently different landscapes that its Bolivian cousin to work on and all of a sudden the book was no longer finished, and I knew I had a few more years yet to work on it.

Then there were schedule problems. My workshops and tours are set up 1 year and sometimes 2 years in advance. Trying to find time within my working life to get out to Bolivia or Argentina to complete what I saw in my mind's eye was difficult.

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

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

And one mustn't forget that making a book is a slow process: as soon as you have other people involved in the project, things just slow down. Waiting to hear back from printers, waiting for your graphic artist friend to find time in his own schedule to work on the book meant that things started to become drawn out. The book was commenced in full last year, and then I had to shelve it for about six months. Then we re-commenced with it this January and all the text was mostly completed by March. Translations were required as the book is also in Spanish and that added further time to the project. And while all this was going on, we were finding that we were changing the format and concept of the book. I don't think Darren and I have changed our minds or reviewed a book so many times in the past six months.

 The Labyrinth, Puna de Atacama, Argentina Image © Bruce Percy 2017

The Labyrinth, Puna de Atacama, Argentina
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

Some things just take time. There has to be a way of pushing forward while at the same time not over-stressing it. Things need to be helped, but they shouldn't be rushed. Everything has its own rhythm, its own way of evolving and our task as creative people is to work 'with the natural flow' rather than against it. Force something to be finished when it's not ready to be and the work suffers. Don't put any effort into it and the project stalls. Finding the balance is a skill in intuition. Knowing when to pause and wait for an answer, and knowing when to push forward is key.

If the work is good, then you should persist (not give up), and if obstacles are in your way, just choose to look at them as pauses: they are often there for a reason. Keep thinking about where you want your work to go, and this will help you steer your creativity in the right direction. My 'Altiplano' book wasn't an effortless task, it had many delays and obstacles along the way, but it is here now, it is real, and that just gives me the confidence to understand that sometimes, when I think things are stuck or going nowhere, it is just a brief pause in the birth of my ideas.

Collating

Today I've been collating my images from Iceland and Japan, with the thoughts of putting together two future book projects. I've been struck by just how much work I've done over the past three years in each location, but also, how much is still incomplete in the sense of producing a book on each subject.

Playing around with sequencing of my central Iceland photographs.

Visualisation is key in propelling me forward with what I do.  

By collating the work and laying it out in a visual sequence i'm able to build an emotional connection to how I see the work panning out as it continues to be supplemented with new work. This can be very inspiring for me, and I often find myself dreaming up some additional images in my minds eye.

This aspect of visualisation is usually down to 'lost opportunities' - those 'photographs that never were', as you spied them while passing by some place, or because the weather changed and you failed to make them on time. They leave an indelible mark on your imagination that trigger strong feelings of 'I must return here, as I know I am not finished with this location yet'.

As a result of all this visualisation and dreaming of expanding the work, there have been for the past few years, ongoing discussions with my Icelandic and Japanese guides as to new places I wish to research and photograph. Everything is a work in progress. This is all good stuff as it gives me purpose: I can see that there are still unfinished ties to each of the locations I've already made photographs in.

What is most exciting for me, is that I am acutely aware that I often underestimate how much new work will come out of further explorations. New work often enriches existing work by allowing it to take on a new identity. Sometimes I feel the work is one thing only to find out that once I'm done adding new work to it, that it has become something different entirely. And I find that just very inspiring.

Collating one's own work is a great way of figuring out what you've achieved, and where there are missing gaps in the work, and which direction you need to take it.

Playing around with sequencing of my Hokkaido photographs.

Pre book announcement

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Book Pre-Announcement

Last year I published a small book which sold out before publication. I got many emails from people who were disappointed that they'd missed out on it.

So this year, I have decided to give advanced notice.

25th September, 7:30pm GMT
 

Altiplano will go on-sale on the 25th of September via this website only.

There are only 300 copies available
+ 10 very special copies.

(Please Note: please do not ask to reserve a copy. The point of this pre-announcement is to give everyone a chance of owning a copy).

Restraint for certain global edits

As a beginner to editing my work, I would often apply broad sweeping global edits. Partly it was because I thought that this was the right thing to do. Partly it was because I didn't know any better. Mostly though: if someone had suggested I edit individual local areas of the picture, I wouldn't have known which areas to change or why I would want to change them.

Global edits may feel like the quickest and most obvious way to adjust an image; you get maximum effect for little effort. Want the image to be more punchy? - then just increase contrast across the entire scene and it will definitely feel more exciting to the eye. That's certainly how I felt about global edits when I started out editing my work.

Global contrast applied: Everything is 'hard-toned', and my eye is jumping from the black volcano to the sand in the foreground and then to the hill on the far right-hand-side. My eye is being pulled everywhere.

Image was left 'soft' and I applied careful local contrasts to the Volcano only.  This gives the  'impression' that there is contrast in the image, while maintaining softer tones in the frame. Thus resulting in a more 'calm' and less fatiguing image to look at.

However, In my experience, at the initial stages of an editing session, I have rarely found a global edit to be the correct thing to do: often the amount of change that I wish to impart on one area of a scene rarely works with other areas of the scene, unless of course, all the relationships and their proportions to each other are in place. This is rarely the case: often an image starts off with some areas requiring more work than others, or some areas requiring to be quietened down while other areas need to be made louder.

 By adding contrast and saturation at the very beginning of your editing session, you can lead your image down the wrong road. Lightroom's ordered panels that suggest a workflow encourage 'baking in' global edits at the very start of your editing session. Something I wouldn't recommend, unless you know you need to brighten / darken an image. But trying to achieve 'final contrasts and luminance here' is a bad approach.

By adding contrast and saturation at the very beginning of your editing session, you can lead your image down the wrong road. Lightroom's ordered panels that suggest a workflow encourage 'baking in' global edits at the very start of your editing session. Something I wouldn't recommend, unless you know you need to brighten / darken an image. But trying to achieve 'final contrasts and luminance here' is a bad approach.

The other thing that I don't like about global edits, is that I may (and often am) affecting areas of the image that I don't understand quite yet, or haven't looked at in greater detail / understanding. I am essentially blind to these areas because when I apply a global edit, I often only notice the areas that I'm interested in changing, and don't notice the areas that I don't want to affect.  Rarely do I understand until much later that my global edit has had a negative impact on some area of the picture I wasn't aware of.

Some things can't be undone

There is in my opinion, a lot of bad advice out there. The Lightroom recommended process of walking down the right-hand-side panel in order is, to my mind, prone to error. By trying to achieve final contrasts and luminance here at the very beginning of your editing session encourages baking in tonal adjustments to areas of the picture that may not require them, and will be difficult later to undo them.

Often when contrast is added, it is often difficult (read impossible) to undo it on further adjustments. This is similar to shooting in hard light: you can't take away shadows and contrasts if they were in the original scene, no matter how much contrast reduction you wish to add, but if you start off shooting in soft light, you have the luxury of adding contrast in to suit, and you can do it to varying amounts throughout the frame also. 

With this in mind, if we go back to thinking about our RAW editor settings, it makes sense to leave the blacks and whites and contrast at default settings, so that if there are any smooth tonal graduations in the frame : they remain intact.

More contrast means less smooth tonal graduations

This is really the key to this post today: adding contrast as a global edit at the very beginning of image editing will reduce smooth tonal graduations in the frame. You make the image tonally 'hard' and the eye is pulled all over the place - everything will be shouting for the viewers attention.

Conversely, if you take my advice, and deliberately leave your RAW settings so the image is quite soft and flat, you can add in the contrasts and punch to local areas of the frame that need it, while maintaining many of the smooth gradual tonal shifts. The final result will be more restful to the viewer's eye and will also reduce the chance of viewer fatigue.

Global edits are worthwhile

Having said all this, it is worth pointing out that global edits do have their place. For me, they are used to 'equalise' the picture once all my local adjustments have been made. Once I feel that all the adjustments are now in place, but the entire image needs to be either brightened, or darkened, or perhaps some colour cast needs to be removed, this is when I will work with global edits.

So for me, if I were to sum it up:

Local edits are for 'interpretive, creative  intentions'.
Global edits are for 'equalising' or 'finishing' a picture.

 

The value of understanding Colour Theory

I'd like to say a big thank you to those of you who bought my Tonal Relationship series of e-Books so far. If you've been reading and following them, you should know by now, that I'm big on working with tones in a photograph, much like how an artist painter would.

colour-theory.jpeg

Photography is not just about clicking a shutter and 'getting it right in-camera'. Camera's do not see the way we see. And besides, if one considers that anything after the shutter has been clicked is 'manipulation', then they are forgetting that the choice of lens they used, the position they were in, are all interpretive.

For me, photography is no different from being a painter. I may not paint with oils or watercolours, but I have to abide by the same rules and concepts that a painter has to: if you do an art class you will learn a lot of valuable lessons about composition. Indeed, I encourage you to attend an evening art class. You will learn so much about tone and form that is all applicable to the art of landscape photography.

Which brings me to the point about my post today: as landscape photographers, we not only need to understand tone and form, but if we shoot colour, we also need to understand colour. How many times have you thought you could boost a certain colour in your picture only to find that although it seems as if it's present in the scene, it actually isn't there. This my friend, is all down to a lack of understanding colour, how certain tones are made up by multiple colours. 

For me, understanding colour, is paramount in removing colour casts, and by tuning certain colours to fit with others. Rather than boosting a colour, I often find myself reducing colours that are at the opposite side of the colour wheel to the colour I want to boost. And it's not just a case of boosting / reducing colour that is required. Often I find I have to 'tune' a colour - by adjusting its hue I can remove casts or even 'tune' the colour to fit more in-line with other aspects of the photograph.

So I think this is what I want to write about in my 3rd instalment of my 'Tonal Relationships' series. Right now, it's more a flicker of an idea. I haven't really figured out exactly what the e-Book will entail and I find that sometimes leaving it for a while helps me clarify the aim of such a book. This is what happened with the Tonal Relationships part 2 e-book. That one took me more than a year to work on. I got stuck at times, unclear if I was heading in the right direction and when that happens the best thing you can do is back off, and go and do something else for a while. So when you return to the problem in hand, it is often much clearer to see.

So that's my intention. I wish to write an e-Book about colour, and how it applies to editing photographs and also what it means when we are out in the field choosing our compositions. You may have noticed that over the past while, I've become a colour obsessive. Perhaps you feel my photographs have become more muted, almost monochrome (and for some of you they probably do look monochrome now), but colour once you begin to really work with it, becomes something that you want to apply delicately. Overly-vibrant, loud colour photographs, I have a theory - belong to the beginner. Once you start to really see all the colour distractions, it becomes a case of trying to calm things down a little (or in my case: a lot). I'm not for one second saying that everyone should go for the more muted look that I have adopted of late: I'm saying that if you are able to interpret colour and understand it better: you'll make more sensitive and worthy choices during your editing.

Please don't hold your breath for this e-Book. I'm pretty sure it will take me a while to find the right approach to tackling this subject, and due to my workshop schedule, time is in short supply.

The importance of rest

I realise that for most, there is never enough free time to do what we want to do. Often our work and family commitments mean that our passion for photography gets much less attention than we would wish.

 Central Highlands of Iceland in Winter Image © Bruce Percy 2018

Central Highlands of Iceland in Winter
Image © Bruce Percy 2018

Right now, I'm doing the opposite. I am spending a lot of free doing things that are unrelated to photography. I haven't made a single photograph, nor picked up my cameras for over two months now, and I'm very happy that this is the case.

I like to give my love for photography a rest every year, and I deliberately step away from it, so that I can recharge my interest in it. Perhaps you find this odd - how can someone improve their interest in something by taking time away from it?

As the saying goes 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' is never more true when it comes to what we love. And likewise, 'too much of a good thing, isn't good', is also true.

If I were to keep going, every single day, making photos, it would soon begin to feel like a chore, and I doubt that I would have the needed time to absorb what I had experienced, and to grow from it. Growth comes from rest and so by giving my photography a rest, I allow myself time to recharge.

I have found that by the end of my rest periods, I come back to photography with a fresh view. What may have started to feel old and tired now feels exciting and fresh. And I often find that the distance away has allowed me to collate my thoughts and approach photography with a slightly new way of seeing and doing things.

This summer, I spent my 'vacation' learning to Kayak, and by working on music, and by just catching up with friends and doing things very unrelated to my photography. It has all been good, and as I see September approaching soon, it won't be long before I am standing in some vast black desert in the heart of Iceland, knowing and loving every minute of it. More so, because I chose to take time away from it, so I could enjoy the experience of getting re-aquainted with it.

If you are finding you aren't enjoying photography so much of late, or that you are wondering if you should stop, then I would suggest you take a break. Go do something entirely differently for a few weeks, even a few months. Rarely have I seen anyone drop a passion when they do this, but I certainly have seen people drop a passion through burn out.