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.

The creative edit

Today's post is all about the creative edit. I'm been very kindly given permission to use one of the images that was discussed and edited during my Digital Darkroom workshop this past May. Many thanks to Orchid for allowing me to share this image with you.

Disko Bay, Greenland Image © Orchid Fung, workshop participant, Digital Darkroom class May 2018

Disko Bay, Greenland
Image © Orchid Fung, workshop participant, Digital Darkroom class May 2018

There is often an image hiding within an image, and often a re-interpretation hiding within an interpretation. When we first compose a scene out in the field we often look at it from the point of what was there, often focussing, composing, setting up with the intention that we are going to record faithfully what we see. But when we come to edit or to review the image later, we often re-interpret the original composition and see other crops or other compositions within the original frame. This I believe is perfectly normal and should be encouraged.

I think if you are a photographer, you are always 'seeing', but also, you should always be interpreting, and that means even re-interpreting. To look at a photograph and see something else within it, is a similar process, if not identical to the one that allows us to look at the original world view and choose how to interpret it with our initial capture.

If you get good at choosing what to put into the frame and what to leave out , then I see no reason why this should not continue when you come round to reviewing your work and then deciding to re-crop or make another photo out of an existing one.

Which is what we did here with this photograph.

The original capture (RAW file with no processing applied) it shown below. My intentions are to illustrate that sometimes there are strong shapes and motifs in a photograph that will get stronger if we manage to remove the other things that are competing for our attention, and also, that it is perfectly ok to depart fully from what was captured.

The original raw file

The original raw file

During my workshop, we discussed how as visitors to a location, we are often caught up in the experience of being there. We live in a 3D world with real objects and we often tend to separate them in our mind because we know they are physically different things. I also believe that we look at tones in different ways when we look at scenery compared to how we look at tones when we look at a photograph. I am convinced that my dear friend Orchid thought the highlighted snow in the foreground was a pleasing part of the photograph because I too, have done the same. I have also taken many many photographs where I was inclined to put a foreground into the picture when non was required. This is, I believe, because as physical beings we wish to represent what was immediately in front of us. Foregrounds are a way of allowing us to step into the picture after all.

 

 

It is only when we review the image later that we find that perhaps the foreground is too distracting, or maybe it doesn't have enough aesthetic beauty to support the rest of the frame. Which is what we discussed with this photograph. I know the photograph was taken because of the mountain peak in the background and I believe the foreground was put in there because of such a need to have something to help us walk into the frame.

For me, I'm fascinated by the disconnect between a photograph and reality. I do believe that we see differently while on location than we do when we are reviewing photographs. For many of us the process is different, yet I have a very strong feeling that it shouldn't be. We need to be able to 'see photographs' while on location. Not scenery, and this is the hardest thing to do for most of us because we've had a lifetime of thinking and seeing the world as a living breathing 3D reality.

So what of the final edit? Are you shocked at all by how different it is from the initial capture? I'm curious because for me, I think of photography is the art of creating an illusion. Photographs aren't real, even when we don't alter them, they still do not convey what we saw or how things actually were. We could get quite philosophical if we chose to on this one.... but for me, photography is a creative-arts endeavour where our aim is to create a beautiful illusion. How we get there is a matter of personal ideals of what photography is and what it isn't. I have my own thoughts on what is photography (dodging, burning, cropping) and what isn't (blending, HDR, merging, superimposing things) but that is just for me. I realise that each and every one of us has our own boundaries of what is and what isn't photography and I respect that you may be happy to merge or superimpose things - there are after all no rules, and nor should there be. It's an arts endeavour we're discussing here.

I think my interpretation I made of Orchid's photo takes the viewer to the heart of the picture - that beautiful peak at the back of the original frame. By softening the tones down dramatically across the picture, we have removed a lot of textural details that would be vying for our attention. Doing so enables that beautiful graphic zig-zag shape to emerge in the photograph a perhaps the reason for the photograph. It was there all along, but it was competing with so many other elements that it was being drowned a little.

I think editing is an enormously creative process. It is a space that I can spend hours and days in, and it has taught me never to judge my work at the point of capture. I never really know just what the final images may end up being like, and I've certainly had images that have become personal favourites when I almost never worked on them because I wasn't convinced they had enough merit.

Photography is the art of looking again. And again. Of being open, and willing to re-interpret something another way. I hope today with this example I've shown you exactly that.

Many thanks to Orchid Fung for allowing me to reproduce and discuss her beautiful image.

You've gotta hand-craft it

Many years ago, before my current occupation as a photographer, I used to be a budding musician with lots of nice synths at home to play with. This was the 90's and an era where most synths turned up with lots of nice sexy factory presets to play with. Indeed one of the issues with 90's synths was that they only usually had one slider on the front of the panel and thus were a nightmare to edit the sounds, so most people would tend to use the factory presets with almost no changes to them at all.

This past month I have returned to music and I'm presently busy building a little home studio of some nice synths to own. I've deliberately chosen to look for machines that have lots of knobs and sliders on the front panel so that they will encourage me to shape the sound to my liking, rather than hope or rely on some preset to work in the music I'm making.

You may wonder what this has to do with photography. Well quite a lot.

I don't believe that plug-in's that offer presets to work with are a good way to start, or to continue with for the long-run. I can sympathise and appreciate that they may feel like a really great way of kick-starting your editing, or that they perhaps influence or inspire you, but the chances of them actually being exactly what your images need is pretty slim.

I've reached the conclusion that the best approach to image editing is to hand-craft it. Here's my reasons why I think it's good to go the slow manual way:

  1. You are given the opportunity (through having to figure out what you want to do to an image) to learn what components of tone, colour and form your image is made up from.
  2. You learn a lot about what works and what doesn't when you have to go in there and deconstruct  your image. Presets don't encourage this.
  3. Presets will rarely, if ever, give you exactly what you need and they will not encourage you to look or study deeply into what is going on in your work.
  4. Hand-crafting your work means that you build up skills to interpret what you've created, and also to think about what you might want to look for in future when you do return to shooting outside.
  5. It should go without saying, but each image you create does not conform to a preset. It has its own character and therefore needs to be treated on an individual basis.
  6. Photography is about being creative, and convenience should not be part of the creative vocabulary. Making good or great images isn't easy, and we have to put the work in to learn.
  7. Perhaps the most important point - you get to tune the image exactly the way you want.

Perhaps you think that presets are a great starting point, and that you still tune and edit manually anyway. My thoughts on this are that when we apply presets to our work, we only see or understand a little of what has been changed. if you wish to iron out some of the effect it's a little bit like going 10 steps forward to have to retreat 8 steps to get to where you want to be. I'd much rather walk each step at a time and build up a good understanding of what it is i'm doing with the edit at each stage.

I used to rely on presets for synth sounds in my music and often found it hard to get certain sounds to mix in well with others. Now that I have a collection of synths at home with tweak able parameters I can shape the sounds to fit in more. It brings me confidence when I hear certain sounds just shift into focus as they are tuned to fit into the music. Rather than flipping through thousands of presets hoping for the 'right sound' I am creating it myself.

By taking the reigns of your editing and pulling the decisions and control back into your own lap, you are giving yourself the opportunity to learn about your yourself, your work and to improve your own visual awareness. As tempting as certain presets may be, I'd suggest going the manual way for a while and see how it goes.

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

 

Add To Cart

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

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.

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.

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!

Is there a need for Narrative?

During the summer, I was interviewed and  asked if I could explain the narrative behind my photography. On impulse, I responded 'I've never considered that my photography has any kind of story. My images are just aesthetic responses, ones that please me'.

Hokkaido-(20).jpg

I couldn't help feel that looking for, or requiring a narrative in one's photography could be a little bit pretentious. I appreciated that my interviewer's question was asked with genuine sincerity, but I just felt that my imagery is just an emotional response - I do what I do, and the images are what they are, and it's up to the viewer to see in them what they see.

Having given it some thought, I've come to realise that narrative doesn't specifically have to be a clearly defined story, and if there is any kind of narrative to what I do, then it is about leaving enough room, so that others can form their own story.

Like a song we have fallen in love with, each of us forms our own internal emotional response and our own personal vision of what a song truly means. Most song lyrics are often abstract, vague formations of words that give the listener room to form their own interpretation. For me, that is something I find very appealing - that we are allowed to create our own internal dream world.

Having a narrative may be important to some of us. But for me, if I do have any narrative, it is in leaving things deliberately open and inconclusive. I prefer to let the viewer make up their own mind.

Thoughts on approaching a location

Sometimes you find a location that is so sweet, you know as you approach it, that it's going to work.

The above image was just exactly like that for me.

Below is a 'contextual' image showing me approaching these trees. I'd seen this location from a far distance, and felt that a telephoto would not be sufficient to work around parallax issues with the trees.

Before I'd even set foot outside of the car, I could already see the potential in my mind's-eye - I had already begun to visualise and dream how the final images might turn out!  

But sometimes as I approach a landscape, it turns into something entirely different. I am pleased to say in this circumstance it held up to what I was visualising in my mind.

Context shot, showing me on location in Hokkaido.  Image shot by my Hokkaido guide, January 2017

Context shot, showing me on location in Hokkaido. 
Image shot by my Hokkaido guide, January 2017

Although I love to edit my work and will often depart radically from what was there by using dodging and burning techniques, the final images you see here are pretty much verbatim. The only difference between the photograph of me on location, and my final images is that the sky clouded over once I got into the location, so there was more of a marriage between land and sky. 

My only on-site decisions were more about placement - of where I should be standing to get different vantage points of the trees, and to be observant to any patterns that the trees made (see central image of the three trees at perfect placement to one another). Further, it was also paramount that I remove the background hedge from the shot at all costs, so I spent a bit of time looking for vantage points where the hedge would disappear from view.

I'd like to finish today's post by stating that often as a photographer i'm tempted to go closer towards the subjects I wish to photograph. Whether it's the edge of a lake or the edge of a cliff. This can sometimes be a real failing because of two points:

1) If you like your subject from where you are standing, then chances are it's not going to look the same once you get closer. So shoot it from where you've noticed it, before moving in. Practice using different focal lengths such as telephoto view to accomplish this.

2) As you approach a location you like, the elements start to move around and sometimes things get lost or hidden from view. See point 1.

Your journey can sometimes become an exercise in 'chasing rainbows'. You think that by getting in close, the composition will get stronger, but as you do approach, the scene falls apart and the subjects do not hold together in the way you first saw them. Often times, it's because the best vantage point was from where you started.

I'm glad to report that although I was worried that the big hike into this location,  on snowshoes might have resulted in the trees becoming obstructed by hills, or by my being too low to photograph the trees straight on, the location worked beautifully.

I knew it at the time things were going well. As I slowly made my way forward, the trees and the compositions I had in my mind's eye remained in place. But I did keep an eye on how the compositions were changing as I approached.

I'm a great believer that when something is working well, whether it be in my photography or in my life, it tends to flow and come together easily. That's exactly how these images happened. It was as if they fell into my lap.

Looking for nuggets

I'm just home from a month away in Norway and just before I left, I had editing my recent Hokkaido work. I only had two days to do the edits before I left for Norway and I knew I had only picked off the obvious contenders for a portfolio before I left.

Now tha I'm back, I have some free time for a few weeks, to review the edits I made, and also to see what I left behind in the pile of over 50 rolls of film I shot whilst in Hokkaido.

It's always interesting revisiting my edits after some time away, and I've noticed some slight luminosity issues in the final work which I have now corrected (but can *you* spot them? Perhaps not, as I think this is the kind of issue that is only apparent to the owner of the work, as perhaps we are often more critical of our work than others would be). 

Lake Kussharo

Lake Kussharo

Looking at some of the remaining transparencies today, it's stuck me that I left a lot of nice images unedited.

Indeed, I often feel that the edit stage should be in iterative process. Just because I have gone through the films a few times during the few days that I concentrated my time on the edit, leaving the work for a further week or so and then coming back to the original images and looking again can yield more images that are worthy of inclusion in my portfolio.

A recently found nugget in my pile of 50 rolls of Velvia.

A recently found nugget in my pile of 50 rolls of Velvia.

I can be too close to the work. Leaving it for a spell allows me to see things in it that I was perhaps blind to at the time of the edit. But it is also worth going back again and again in the coming months and even years to see if there are images that I've missed. What I find uninteresting one day may be interesting to me on another day which can tell me a lot about how my eye is changing and that my skill and perhaps tastes for certain compositions is evolving.

I increasingly feel that photography is a game of awareness. Learning to see what's there that may be hidden in plain sight. It is a constant game of review and reconsideration. Always trying to keep an open mind, always wishing to notice something that I was blind to only a few days ago. Photography is a way of challenging ourselves to opening our eyes, and the more I continue, the more I know that I am only ever seeing a tiny part of what's in front of me.

The space between us

My father has often pointed out to me, that many of my pursuits or hobbies have been solitary ones. When I was a small kid, I spent a lot of time painting and drawing and much preferred to spend a lot of time on my own. I am to my own admission, a covert introvert. Over my life, I've learned social skills to help me hide the fact that I spend a lot of time looking within, and find the time on my own with my own thoughts something that I really need, and also enjoy.

When I made this photograph of this small volcanic cone in Argentina, I'm sure I tapped into my ability to remain within the scene while at the same time be outside of it. My camera is a great way of giving space between myself and my subjects.

When I made this photograph of this small volcanic cone in Argentina, I'm sure I tapped into my ability to remain within the scene while at the same time be outside of it. My camera is a great way of giving space between myself and my subjects.

Now before you start to think that I'm someone who's not sociable or able to have a conversation with, those that know me probably find me very chatty and outgoing. The reason why I bring this up, apart from to convince you that I am a normally functioning human being, is that I think one of the true skills of a photographer is to be able to be part of something while at the same time remain outside it. Let me explain further.

In order to really see something for what it may present in picture terms, there needs to be a degree of separating ourselves from what it is we are photographing. We need to be able to look at something differently from those around us. Rather than thinking of our potential subject as something of purpose, we are instead looking at it from an aesthetic point of view. There has to be space between us and our subjects for this to happen. But there also has to be a sense of connectedness to our subjects as well.

I think I have, through my own genetic introversion, gained skills at a young age to be part of what was going on around me, while at the same time remain within myself. This skill has allowed me to be able to exist in the external world while also hold onto my own rich inner-life.

I think this is one of the components of most if not all photographers: we have the ability to be part of our surroundings while at the same time, be separate from them. There is no better tool that I can think of other than the camera which allows us to exist in the world, while also at the same time be outside of it. When we pick up a camera, we create space between ourselves and our subjects. We are no longer part of the scene but instead we are outside of it looking in. And I think this is a situation that many of us find comfortable to be in.

Before you assume that my point of view is that all photographers are introverts (this could be true, it may also be false), the point I am really trying to make today, is that making photographs requires an interesting mix of being able to be part of something while at the same time be outside of it.

If you are someone who has a rich inner-life, then you may find that photography has come naturally to you because it allows you to be outside of the situation, while at the same time part of it. But if you are not an introvert, then maybe this experience of being outside of the scene is still an interesting one for you because it is something you don't normally encounter. It's a real luxury to be able to enjoy something in a way that isn't often encountered in our day to day activities.

Either way, the point I am making today, is that for photography to work, we have to have an interesting mix of being able to be part of the scene we are photographing, while at the same time remain outside of it. Cameras allow us to do that, and I think that's one of the reasons why I was drawn to photography in the first place; It satisfies my need to be part of the world, while at the same time remain outside of it all, looking in.

Longevity through Ambiguity & Suggestion

There is real danger in overworking an image to the point that the viewer has little chance to attach or develop their own sense of personal interpretation to it.

Hokkaido, Japan, December 2015 Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Hokkaido, Japan, December 2015
Image © Bruce Percy 2015

As a beginner, I was blinded by strong colours and contrasts and looking back, my eye was not tuned to appreciating subtle shades or hues. Everything had to be obvious, and for want of a better word - loud.

I feel that it has been a long journey (that is still in progress)  for me to begin to appreciate the finer and more subtle nuances of the art of image editing.  This has lead me to believe that the appreciation of the more subtle aspects of image 'reading'  tends to develop at the same time as our photographic eye develops. Where once I had to work at seeing what was really in front of my camera, so too, I overlooked the more subtle shades and tones of some of the finer imagery out there.

Without wishing to offend anyone, or take sides, I do feel that this is one reason why we sometimes see such heavily edited work on image forums. Sometimes the approach works well and we know the executor has a deft hand at the dramatic, but sometimes it is simply because the photographer is still learning to balance between what should be spelled out to the viewer what should be left to suggestion. With the later, I may be left feeling that the photographer behind the work is simply trying too hard. None of this is judgemental, but instead, I give this as an observation to how we start when we are new to photography and how our sensibilities alter and hopefully become more acute as time goes on.

We all, I believe, go through different periods of visual awareness. And there is really no short-cut to arriving at a sense of refinement.  For instance, in my own case, you wouldn't have been able to convince me a decade ago that what I liked may have lacked subtlety. I just liked what I liked.  Nowadays I may balk at what I did back then, but I realise I had to go through the growing pains (and still am) of learning to understand what makes a good image and what makes a great print.

Indeed, there is a place for everything. In music we have pop bands that are more like an audio bubblegum, and at the other end of the spectrum we have some music that some or perhaps many of us would find impenetrable, or just downright hard to listen to, let alone understand. And some music is instantly disposable while other pieces can become real growers that embed themselves into our lives.

I think the proof in one's own photography is in the staying power of the images we create. If we can make images that still resonate and work for us a few years down the line, then this would be a great achievement. The ultimate achievement however, is to create work that we are still proud of many decades later.

I think the only way to do this, is to try to build in some kind of depth to the work, a subtlety or perhaps deliberate ambiguity. It is through suggestion that the story can always be changed or reinterpreted as the years go by.

If your images are too forced, or lack any kind of space in which to allow the viewer to reinterpret them, then they may fail to have the longevity that you seek. But If your images do have room for further growth, through the use of subtitles such as delicate use of shade & colour,  then you may be on to something great

Graphical elements, or landscape?

The Landmannalaugar region of the central highlands of Iceland offers up a lot of graphical elements when the conditions are right. The following images were made during the summer of 2015 when there may still be snow in the region. Winter always has a much firmer grip on the centre of Iceland for longer than the coastal regions, and it's no uncommon to find that some areas of the highlands are still inaccessible in the early summer months.

Arcs & Triangles, Landmannalaugar, Central Highlands of Iceland Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Arcs & Triangles, Landmannalaugar, Central Highlands of Iceland
Image © Bruce Percy 2015

If you're a regular here, then you'll know that I'm particularly drawn to a more minimalist style of photography. I love to play with graphical elements that occur naturally  in the landscape and use these to impart (hopefully) a more powerful composition.

Curves and diagonals as well as tonal balance or proportions in the frame balancing in some way or other are the things that I love about what I do, and some landscapes are better for working with these themes than others. The central highlands of Iceland is one of those places, but I should warn you - it's not an easy place to photograph!

Camouflage, Landmannalaugar, Central Highlands of Iceland Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Camouflage, Landmannalaugar, Central Highlands of Iceland
Image © Bruce Percy 2015

I've just been going through a lot of my images from my recent trip here  this September past, and as part of completing work on this small chapter in my photography, I felt I had the enthusiasm and time to pull out the transparencies that were shot over a year and a half ago.

I'm a big believer in doing things when they 'feel' right. I never got round to editing the work from the summer of 2015 because I just wasn't in the mood. For years, I would have never let work sit unfinished for so long, but I've become comfortable with this approach now. Dare I say that I've gained some confidence in feeling that there is no rush, no need to edit right away, and that if I leave the work until I feel inclined to work on it, then that will produce better results.

A much younger me would have felt an internal pressure to work on the images soon after, and would have worried that if I left them for more than a year, that I would never get round to working on them. Well, that ain't so. I've got a massive backlog of work from the past three years or so, and I'm aware that although some of it I may never get round to, it now seems to be a common theme for me to only get round to editing the work maybe a few months or much later on.

What I loved about working on these three images, was that I hadn't seen them for more than 18 months. I could connect with what they are, rather than what I had intended at the time. I also think my eye is looking for things in a more attuned way than I would have been a year and a half ago.

These three images are really all about shapes. Graphical elements. The landscape is often full of them, they are signs, indications of what needs to be photographed, composed a certain way and also edited a certain way. Look for them, forget that you are photographing mountains river and sky, but think instead about patterns, shapes, curves, diagonals and the occasional triangle, and I think you can't go wrong. Well, you can go wrong if this isn't something that appeals to you. So only go this way if you think it makes sense. I offer it as a suggestion if you think it does :-)

Curves & Zigzag, Landmannalaugar, Central Highlands of Iceland Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Curves & Zigzag, Landmannalaugar, Central Highlands of Iceland
Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Dalkúr & Þóristíndur

Dalkúr & Þóristíndur are two mountains in the Veiðivötn area of Iceland. Veiðivötn means 'fishing waters or lakes'. It is an immense landscape of black desert that stretches for as far as the eye can see. It´s beautifully stark, one of those places where you become very very quiet the first time you enter. For all around you is abundant space with just very subtle gradual changes in dark grey and sometimes faintly dark brown desert.  If there is colour to be found here, it is in the form of iron ore brush strokes, often highlighted on the side of small black volcanic cones that occasionally dot the landscape.

Dalkúr & Þóristíndur are two mountains quite visible from the highland-road - an unsealed track made up of nothing more than tyre tracks from high clearance vehicles that manage to make it out to this place.

I'm not one for shooting towards the light. I call this 'shooting against the light' as it always feels as if the direction of travel of the light photons is against me. This kind of shooting results in extremely contrasty light, which I often find very hard to control during exposure and afterwards in the digital darkroom. But Veiðivötn encourages me to do just that because the sand is so dark that hardly any light reflects back from it. Contrasts are required, otherwise the final negatives may appear to be extremely flat.

With this shot, my photo group and myself made a brave attempt to shoot this while rain fronts were coming in every 10 minutes or so. The rain was obviously coming in our direction because the laws of the universe state that wherever you wish to point your camera, the wind and rain direction will always be lined up to land on your lens! So we had to repeatedly dry the lenses off and hope that some of our captures would not have any rain drops.

But most importantly for me was the need to control the contrasts. This shot was taken at a lull in the intensity of backlighting that was occurring. Sometimes the sun would poke right through the background cloud cover so much that I new there was no point in shooting. From a learning perspective, I should stress that when the light looks good to our eyes, it is often still too extreme in contrast. So I waited until the clouds began to cover the sun up so much that the contrast effect was at its lowest. Although the light may appear less exciting and not worth taking, it is the perfect time to capture something that has good dynamic range on your film or sensor, and still maintain the dramatic impression you felt whilst there.

Stac Pollaidh and Cul Mhor, Loch Bad a Ghaill, Inverpolly, Scotland. 2015. Image © Michael Kenna 2015

Stac Pollaidh and Cul Mhor, Loch Bad a Ghaill, Inverpolly, Scotland. 2015. Image © Michael Kenna 2015

On a side note: last year while I spent a very enjoyable week with Michael Kenna in the landscapes of the north west of Scotland, it was interesting to note that he prefers this kind of light. He is a black and white shooter, which often means he is looking for contrasts. I hadn't appreciated just how much though until I saw one of his images taken of a place I know so well, shot in the early morning with the sun coming up behind the mountain. This location I prefer to shoot when the sun is behind me, while Michael preferred it backlit. Somehow I feel my time with Michael may be the reason why I chose to shoot Dalkúr & Þóristíndur with backlighting. I often feel things are learned by absorption.



Back to my image. I also loved the boulder patch below the mountains. With backlit light they stand out and provide another contrast to the picture. They also provide an elegant arc that is the inverse of the curve of the skyline. 

These boulder patches are few: you can drive for miles and just encounter empty desert and then out of the blue, there's a small boulder patch sitting on its own. This is similar to the Bolivian Altiplano, with both landscapes, perplexing things happen where rocks appear to lie in places with no relation to the surrounding landscape.

Interestingly for me, I find Veiðivötn to be the antithesis of the Bolivian altiplano in terms of colour and tone. Both are vast empty minimal places and they feel like brother and sister to me, only with the Altiplano I'm encouraged to open up the tones and shoot the bright colour landscape, whereas with Veiðivötn, its power is in its shadows and mysterious dark tones. It is a landscape full of suggestion, a place where the mind wishes to peer below the surface, and on each visit there, I feel as though I have yet to scratch below the surface of what is there.

Landscape as conciliate

Some places get under your skin and each time they do, it is often for different reasons.

I've fallen in love with some landscapes because I feel as though my current level of abilities are in-sync with it. I'm a great believer that certain landscapes can be key to our own personal development as landscape photographers. Meet the right landscape at the right time in your own development and good things start to happen. These kinds of landscapes are growth zones, places that often offer us just the right level of new insights into what we do. They often show us the way forward and give us enough scope to move forward without it being too easy nor too hard.

Motu iti, motu Nui, motu Kao Kao, Easter Island Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Motu iti, motu Nui, motu Kao Kao, Easter Island
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Then there are those landscapes we struggle with. We will say 'it wasn't working for me today', or 'I couldn't find anything there' or 'I found it very complex, too hard'. These are all positive affirmations to have because we acknowledge that the problem lies within us and not the landscape.

I have a strong belief that all landscapes have something to offer the right person at the right time in their own development. Meet a landscape too soon and the going will be tough. It may even put you off returning there another time. Meet a landscape too late in your own development and you may find nothing there that works with your current style and what you are seeking to say.

Choose your landscapes wisely. I wouldn't rush around photographing everything all at once either as I think the only way to achieve a sense of style on your own work is to grow with the places that do work for you. They have lessons pitched at the right level for you and they're comfortably challenging enough for you to work in without getting overly frustrated.

Fifteen moai at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Fifteen moai at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Then there are those landscapes that despite finding challenging and hard, and you can't help yourself by repeatedly returning. It is as if you know there is something there, something worth shooting. It's just that you're not sure what's missing inside of you to allow you to capture what you're feeling.

For me, Easter Island is just like that.

There's a starkness to this place. Black volcanic rubble litters the landscape and often times the light during the day is so harsh it seems that I'll never find the soft tones that I'm seeking in my photography. The light for me, is so different that I really can't make my mind up how best to approach it, so much so, that I've tried going back in different seasons to see if the light works better for me.

This June was perhaps the most successful trip I've had there to date, because it was also the most cloudy. With occasional overcast days that allowed me to shoot the statues and landscape with lower dynamic range and more gradual tones I was happy. But I couldn't shake the feeling that I was still very much in my own comfort zone, willing the landscape to conform to me and not me to it.

Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

It's been thirteen years since I first visited the island. During that time I've been to many places that have resonated with me, where I feel I was able to grow and produce good work. I've also built up a lot of shooting hours now, so I felt that if I returned to Easter Island now, I may be able to work with what it offers.

This turned out to be only partly true. What I did discover was just how much I've changed since that first trip in 2003. I found myself reflecting a lot on what my level of ability was back then from a technical stand point, but I was more interested in noting that I was really looking for very different things. I felt as if someone had peeled back a curtain to show me more than I'd seen on my first visit.

It was enlightening in more ways than I could have imagined.

Being able to look back at where I'd come from, from a photographer's point of view was one thing. But because I was in a landscape that conjured up memories and feelings of who I was back in 2003, I couldn't help feel very reflective as a person. So much time had passed. Rather than being someone in is mid-30's, I was now someone fast approaching 50. I was looking within a lot.

Horses on Rano Kau Kau, Easter Island Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Horses on Rano Kau Kau, Easter Island
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

I've often attributed photography to being another way for us to meditate. When I am out there making photos, I become invisible to myself. Time disappears, and the present moment often becomes the only thing occupying my mind. I am here. Nothing else matters. The past and the future don't even enter into my mind. But sometimes, just sometimes, when I visit certain landscapes, they seem to act as a mirror, a time to reflect upon who I am, where I've been and what life has meant to me so far. Other times they ask me questions about where I'm going, what the future may hold.

I guess that's why I keep returning to Easter Island. It is a landscape that asks a lot of questions of me. I've built up a history with it so when I do return, it often shows me old memories.

I don't know if any of this is any good or bad. I just think that as photographers, we are often using photography to consider and reflect upon who we are and also where we currently are.

The landscapes we get to know hold many memories for us. They record imprints of who we were and what we were thinking during our past visits, and they remind us of these each time we return. It's a beautiful and special relationship, and I am often reminded that we're not simply here to make great captures; we're also here because of what this exchange does for us on a more intimate and personal level.

the recounting of an experience

For a long while earlier this year I felt as though winter would never end.

Now it feels like a distant memory.

I've just been browsing through my images from the island of Senja. It's the first time I've done this since I finished work on the edits back in March this year. You see, I don't often look at my own work once it's done.

But today I received a print order for one of my Senja images, and one thing has led to another and I've just spent the past twenty minutes browsing through the images I created back in February of this year.

When I look back at the images from a shoot, I often find my mind is filled with the same sensory feelings I had at the time I was there. It's like I've just been transported back to the shoot and I'm reliving everything I felt whilst there, and who I was at that moment in time.

I can recall the quality of the light throughout the day while I was on the island of Senja, and how it never really ever got very bright for most of the week. While I was there I was living in a perpetual semi-winter-darkness of muted tones and almost no colour. My energy levels were sluggish as I was still feeling the effects of the short days and lack of sunlight that winter often provides.

I think that's one thing that is very powerful about our own imagery. Because the images are ours, we have the ability through them, to be transported back to a place and time as if it was just a recent event in our lives. This is a highly personal experience as our images don't have the same effect on others. The impressions they give us are ours and ours alone.

I find any personal feelings tend to diminish the more frequently I visit my images. If I look at them too much, the impression of the shoot and my time whilst there gets lost in the new imprinting of current experience,  of where I am now, and of who I am at the moment of the current viewing. And the more I do this, the more the images become so familiar that they trigger almost no memory of past events at all. I  become numb to them.

Like a piece of music from our past that is played on the radio, the music has power to take us back to another time. I think with images we've made, the same is true. I just don't wish to view them too often, otherwise I worry that any emotions and memories associated with them will soon become blurred at best, or at worst, lost to me forever.

The undefined line

Sometimes, what we're really attracted to in a picture, is not the form or the subject, but the contrast between where the subject begins and where it ends.

Kitami , Tanno, Hokkaido,   Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Kitami , Tanno, Hokkaido, Image © Bruce Percy 2015

I think that's why I love images where the main subject in the frame isn't so clear. My mind has to 'fill in the gaps'.

These Hokkaido images were made with this in mind. But the editing had to be done carefully. Just like writing a story, I needed to decide on the correct amount of detail to provide. If I had given too much away, the viewer's interest may wane, and if I hadn't give enough away, the viewer may have been confused and lost. 

Kitami , Tanno, Hokkaido,   Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Kitami , Tanno, Hokkaido, Image © Bruce Percy 2015

It was interesting for me to shoot these images. I was confronted with absolutely nothing (and I mean nothing). I felt like I might get snow-blindness because I could not discern the sky from the ground and I found that my mind wanted to fill in the emptiness with something.

Just the hint of a tree, and my eye's seemed to latch onto it, like I was clutching at a lifebuoy ring.

Our visual system 'constructs what we see'. This is why we see faces in the shapes of rocks for instance. So when I was working in these empty places, I couldn't help but find my mind was going into over-drive, trying to imagine more than what was there. If you've ever been driving in a white out, you''ll have experienced your mind imagining obstacles that come out of the snow in front of your path.

So with these edits, I wanted to ask the viewer to work a little harder. The first image requires more work than the last one does. I love playing around with different strengths of contrast, not only while I'm editing work, but also at the time of capture. I was well aware that sometimes the trees would come and go, surface and sink behind a veil of snow.

You see, not everything is so clear cut - in art as it is in life, and why should it be? Through concealing elements within the frame, we invite the viewers minds to imagine what may be there - to fill in the gaps, and that's no bad thing at all :-)

Veiled landscapes

When I researched my trip to Hokkaido, I had wanted to include the famous 'blue pond'. Many of you will know it from one of the desktop images that is available on the Apple Mac OS.

The blue pond, Hokkaido, Japan December 2015 Image © Bruce Percy

The blue pond, Hokkaido, Japan December 2015
Image © Bruce Percy

I'd been told by my guide, that this pond is frozen over from November until late April and there is often a lot of snow covering the surface. So the chances of seeing any colour would be minimal.

The winters here are extremely cold. I mean really, really cold - Siberia cold. So I turned up in mid December expecting to use snow shoes and wearing all my clothes and underwear at the same time ;-) Only, I think the weather was really messed up due to El Niño. I found Hokkaido practically balmy with temperatures above freezing.

One positive aspect to this change in the usual December climate was that the landscape was covered in a mist, which I think was brought on by the warm air mixing with the cold snow covered landscape.

So when I met my guide on the very first day of the trip, I asked him if the blue pond would be visible. What I didn't understand until after I'd seen it shrouded in fog, was that this is a very unusual situation to have. In fact, I think my guide told me that he had never seen the blue pond like this before.

The Blue Pond, Hokkaido, Japan, 2015 Image © Bruce Percy

The Blue Pond, Hokkaido, Japan, 2015
Image © Bruce Percy

It's often hard to judge your feelings on visiting a place for the first time. When I think about some of the places I go to each year as a repeating schedule of my workshop itinerary, sometimes I see a landscape in very unusual conditions and despite telling my participants how unusual it is, I think we all come away from our first experiences with an assumption that this is how it always is.

Certainly for me, I loved the blue pond so much that l asked my guide if we could stay nearby so I could try to photograph it again in the morning. What I discovered the next day though, was that not only had the fog dissipated over night, but so too had any atmosphere to the place. I made zero photographs this day as a result.

I love fog. It can reduce backgrounds to nothingness, and can give a sense of depth to 3D objects when converted into 2D

Fog also adds mystery. We enjoy not knowing the full story and I'm convinced that our minds enjoy filling in the gaps - what we can't see - we imagine.