Podcast : India's Taj Mahal

I've not even begun to work on my Indian images yet. But along while back, sometime in February when I got home, I started to collate all the usable images from my visits to the Taj Mahal.

Please click on the image to play the podcast

It's quite an incredible landmark and it didn't disappoint me. Photographically however, I was restricted : they won't let you in with a tripod or any recording devices. Still, I did manage to smuggle an audio recorder past the entrance gates. So in this podcast, you can hear ambience from the surrounding gardens. It's hard for me to explain, but it was just so calming to be there, despite the fact that I was there with 1000 other people at 6am in terrible smog.

My throat and lungs ached after spending a couple of hours there. So bad was the pollution.

However, the Taj Mahal is simply one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen. It did not disappoint.

I went perhaps three or four times, and the last time was enough for me. Going in the evening is the worst because everyone, and I mean everyone, is there. It was like Disney Land. Terrible. It's also a shame that the gardeners are onto touting the tourists too. After spending weeks being harassed by threatening touts, I thought I was going to get some peace in the gardens. So I was pretty frustrated when I had to tell the gardeners to leave me alone in peace.

I think the Taj Mahal has to be enjoyed in silence, with time to reflect, it's a beautiful special place, more so because it is a reprieve from the madness of India.

Panoramic at Sarmiento

Sometimes, it just doesn't fit into the frame of your camera. You have to look outside the limits of the view finder and visualise it in a different aspect ratio. Here's a shot from my workshop trip to Patagonia. Taken first thing in the morning in very blue light. I decided to crop it at the top and the bottom and make it a panoramic. Admittedly, it's a homage to Paul Wakefield's shot of the very same rock and scenery.

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I love coming home and editing my photographs. Just stopping at the shooting would be only half the story for me. What love doing is collecting the best shots together and piecing together a body of work that works as a nice collection. I'm almost done now, and can't wait to show them and discuss them at some talks I have coming up soon. I guess that's just the way it is - being excited about your most recent work.

Anyway, here is another shot of Lago Sarmiento. I love this one because I don't normally put the object of focus above my point of view, but in this shot, it just seems to work nicely. Both shots were made on a Canon 5D, and I've cropped to suit my preferred aspect ratio of 6x7.

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Success at Cerro Torre

I'm just back from el Chalten, the northern region of Los Glaciares national park. This is my third time here, because every other time I've come, the weather has played tricks with me - as it has done with other photographers and climbers alike. This region is notorious for really unpredictable bad weather, so I had no idea if I was going to strike lucky this time.

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This is a file, straight from my Canon 5D. All I've done is set the levels in Photoshop.

I'm pretty knackered. I've spent three days hiking around this area with an unusually heavy backpack that has contained all my camping gear, head torch so I can see where I'm going in the mornings before sunrise, and of course, a lot of Canon lenses including a 400mm.

I've had mice rummaging around my tent at night - they've chewed spoons, cups and the nozzle of my camelback water carrier, and I feel sleep deprived - it's hard camping out when the temperature at night plummets below zero. I think it must have easily gone past -5 as winter seems to have come early to Patagonia. Then there has been the early starts, getting up in the cold, to trek over some glacier moraine with a head torch on in the dark, so I can make photographs. For what? I must be bonkers.

But it was a beautiful sight. Once I had chosen my spot (the foreground iceberg was so beautiful), I just watched as the light hit the glaciers (on the left hand side of the shot) and watched as everything just came together so nicely, almost like it was a film set.

In the image you can see Cerro Torre mountain set in the background to Laguna Torre which has some ice bergs in it. Last week the weather was so foul here that the entire Laguna froze up. It's a very wintery shot this, and I can vouch for it in terms of how cold I was in my sleeping bag each night.

All I did for this shot was put the tripod down very, very low, used a 17-40L lens at around f8 for 10 seconds with a 3 stop hard grad on and a polariser. I'm not usually a fan of polarisers, and even though this scene is directly facing east, the polariser really does change the blues in the sky to a more saturated colour.

And the last thing I did was shoot constantly. I was scared to move because I felt the composition was so good, and the light would perhaps be gone in a few minutes time... so I just shot, checked the composition and kept on shooting some more.

When I review the images on the screen of the 5D, it's interesting to see how the light changed so fast and how the best colours were so fleeting.

I'm over the moon about this shot. It's taken me 3 years, and three return trips to this godforsaken place to get this image. I couldn't have imagined it being any better.

Easter Island

One of the most impressive locations I've ever photographed has to be Easter Island. Situated in the middle of the Pacific ocean, it is one of the most remote places I've ever visited. I'd come here to photograph the island because it is full of petroglyph's, ancient ceremonial places and of course, the famous Moai statues. largeranorarakuhorses.jpg

I spent six days here and must confess to suffering from cabin fever after three days. Although there is lots to see and photograph, I found the hot days unbearable and the evenings sleepless. Night time consisted of many of the dogs on the island barking until the small hours, and when they did finally stop, the cockerels or roosters would kick in. I nicknamed the island 'rooster island' and for me, it will always remain so.

It's very hard to hang around when I'm feeling like that, simply waiting for the day my plane leaves. Yet, paradoxically, when I returned home to Scotland, I couldn't believe where I'd just been.

To this day it remains one of the most special places I've visited so far.

The above shot is of Rano Raraku volcano. The island is triangular in shape, and each corner is composed of a major volcano. Rano Raraku is a small volcano situated in the south eastern side of the island and is where all the stone statues were carved. Many of them still rest on the slopes of the volcano.

On one of my many trips back and forth across the island (which took no more than 20 minutes one way) I saw these horses grazing below the volcano. The scene just seemed to be begging to be photographed and I had to stop the jeep and jump out. It's a hard thing to do sometimes - think about photography whilst driving (and not crash the car - something that I must admit I have failed to do on several occasions now - but that's another story).

I felt at the time that the shot was going to be a throw away one (trip fatigue was affecting my judgment). But much later, after I returned home and got it processed, I felt very differently about it. This I think, is because when I'm away shooting somewhere, the first few days are fresh, new, interesting. But after a while, the exotic place that I'm in has become my 'normal point of reference'. It becomes so normal in fact, that I start to take it for granted and I loose sight of what is special about it.

It's only when I return home, and have gone through the dreaded 'post trip adjustment phase' which for me, lasts around about a week, that I start to appreciate how special and exotic a place was. That's when it's time to review the photos.

Sometimes it's hard to judge your photos whilst your in the midst of making them. You need a sense of distance to appreciate them for what they truly are.

Culpeo

The Culpeo is a South American species of wild dog. It does look very much like the foxes we get here in the UK, but this was shot in Torres del Paine national park in Chile last november. I've just upgraded to Apple's Aperture 2.0 and whilst doing that, I've come across this raw file from last years trip to Patagonia.

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Elliott Erwitt said that he has negatives spanning the entire duration of his career (well over 40 years worth) and he sometimes finds upon reviewing them that there is something he missed first time round.

It's good to revisit all the transparencies (or raw files) that you've shot - there may be something there you missed first time round.

I find it hard to be objective straight after a shoot and a sense of distance is often required. It's only then that I can see images for what they are, rather than what I wanted to achieve.

I'd forgotten about this picture of the Culpeo. It has a nice composition.