Cloud Inversion, Torres del Paine, April 2019

I love bad weather, snow storms, rain and fog. Temperature inversions are also pretty neat.

Most times that I am in Torres del Paine national park in Chile, we tend to see a temperature inversion from one particular viewpoint in the park. This year, we saw it happen on two consecutive days, but it is often so fleeting that on the second visit, I almost made the decision to keep driving as there seemed to be nothing special happening. But the clouds came in thick and fast and it wasn’t long before the entire valley below us was hemmed in with a thick cloud.

My guide Sabine and some of the group participants from this year’s Patagonia tour.

My guide Sabine and some of the group participants from this year’s Patagonia tour.

As you can see from the group photo above, the cloud was below us. It acted like a ‘sea’ in some respects. And it kept changing over the course of the hour or so that we were there.

I made a series of shots using a telephoto lens and a 2x converter for my Hasselblad film camera. I had the equivalent of a 250mm lens on, and sometimes I used a combination of 2x and 1.4 converters stacked together to get in close to the peaks of the Cuernos (horns) of the Paine massif.

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Being highly selective on what you choose to put in the frame is of course one of the key points in composition. So too, is what we choose to leave out. It would have been so tempting for me to make vista wide shots of the valley with the entire range peaking out of the sea of cloud, but I chose instead to narrow right into what I consider the ‘signature’ shapes of the Torres range.

I was also attracted to the whispy, flowing s-curved shapes of the clouds as they moved horizontally across the frame. I felt these would add a degree of ‘elegance’ or ‘simplicity’, to add compositional flow to the shots.

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There’s a tendency to dream up in one’s head what I’d like to see. In my mind’s eye, I was hoping for a shot like the one below, where perhaps the clouds would part at such a point and show me just the central part of the signature region of the Torres mountains. I did get the shot, but as you can see - it’s quite grainy. I love this grainy effect, but it’s really caused by me pushing the contrast extremely hard in the edit to try to bring out the mountains. They were very very faint in the original transparency.

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Working in low visibility is advantageous. It’s also a guessing game and can lead to many many surprises.

I often feel that most of us are uncomfortable with images that are vague, unclear, or just lead too much to interpretation. Coupled with that, there is often a tendency to stress the point. If we feel something is nice, we tend to exaggerate it for fear that others don’t see what we saw.

Being able to edit images to still maintain a degree of subtlety is hard. But if you can pull it off, it probably signifies that you’re more confident, less likely to try to stress the point to your audience. You trust in knowing that the photograph is as strong as it needs to be, and that your viewer may not need to be hand-held through viewing it as much as you would have tried to do in the past.

Working with vague, undefined, hidden landscapes is wonderful for this. Besides, I’ve always enjoyed a story that gives me room for my own interpretation.

Shooting the non obvious

I must admit that the three images below, were only caught because of rare climatic conditions.

One of my favourite national parks - Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia is still offering up new things for me, despite us being old friends. I have been travelling here since 2003. Since that time, I’ve seen my photography flourish from a keen amateur into something else entirely.

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I had wondered if I’d reached the end of where I can go with Torres del Paine. To some, it may seem as if this landscape is overly busy, complex, and not for the minimalist photographer. I’m often at pains to say to everyone who will listen to me, that I think the biggest limitations in our photography - is us. It’s us who holds us back.

Not the landscape. The landscape has no concept of us, and it’s just going to do what it does without us. So us wishing it to be a certain way, is just us dealing with our own expectations…. badly I might add.

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I could never have guaranteed these shots. And I think that’s what’s just most inspiring about photography: we never know when we’re going to strike gold, or create a set of images we couldn’t have anticipated.

It teaches me that I always need to be open. I need to be ready, and able to look laterally at a place. I’m not immune to the same problems we all have: I get disappointed, despondent when I think a place isn’t working. I also know I need to rise above it, and that I can’t control what the landscape provides. Even so - I still get downbeat when things aren’t working in my favour. I know it’s my problem. Not the landscape’s.

I just love that if someone had shown me these three images a year ago, even a month or so ago, I would never have imagined it possible to make such minimalistic shots in Torres del Paine. It’s no back slapping here - just simple wonderment that I should always try to expect the unexpected, that life is always full of surprises, and the best in what we shoot is always still to come.

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In Patagonia

I’ve just finished a tour of Torres del Paine national park in Chilean Patagonia. Thanks so much to everyone who came and shared some time with me :-)

Image courtesy of Mark McClure, tour participant 2019.

Image courtesy of Mark McClure, tour participant 2019.

I’ve been coming here since 2003. It is my favourite national park by far, simply because I feel I have history with it. Some places get under your skin and become part of who you are, and I think shape you as a person through the experiences you have with them.

So many wonderful encounters ranging from Sabine, my guide who is such a lovely person, to seeing Puma’s on just about every tour I’ve done here in the past 5 years.

The park is changing quite a lot now. As is the case with everywhere else : things are busy. Too busy.

So many photographers now, and tourists. We are living in a smaller world.

I’ve been running tours now for 10 years and I’ve seen so much change in that time. Airports have expanded, tourist numbers have gotten larger, and there are more photographers. It is becoming harder to have a solitary experience in the world’s famous places.

Scotland is overrun with tourists. Lofoten is overrun with photographers in the winter. Iceland is the same. Everywhere that has a magnetic pull, is now no longer the idea of the sole traveller but the idea of the many. Having that solitary experience is becoming less and less a possibility.

Image courtesy of Mark McClure, tour participant 2019.

Image courtesy of Mark McClure, tour participant 2019.

Much like the hiking community, a set of principles, a code of conduct would be very welcome. I feel that things are changing and park guidelines are becoming more and more restrictive.

I’d love the national parks to consider the dreams and wishes of all landscape photographers, but at present many of the rules and regulations are going in the opposite direction: things are becoming more restrictive. This is of course to save these places from the increasing footfall they’re experiencing.

If we want to get the photos we want, we have to cooperate as best as we can: we all have to be the best ambassador we can for the photographic community. I don’t know what that might entail and far be it for me to suggest, or put some thoughts forward on this.

In the meantime, all I can do is go out into the world and care for it: realise that it is a precious thing and that I represent the photography community at large with my actions. Act responsibly and try not to put the pursuit of my photography above everything else.

I wish for all of us to consider that regulations are becoming much tighter, and if we want to continue to photograph these special places without too much restrictions, we need to go lightly, and with much care into the world.

Patagonia 2016

This week I published some new images from Patagonia on this very website. 

My previous visits to Patagonia yielded monochromatic, often dark toned, images. I felt at the time, this really summed up my view of this landscape. Seems I may have been too quick to judge as this year I found myself confronted with a softer, lighter view of the place.

Serrano Forest, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Serrano Forest,
Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

I think the appreciation of what I saw and how I interpreted Torres del Paine this year was influenced heavily by my visit to Hokkaido last December.

Since that visit, I feel my images have been moving towards the higher registers of tonality. Rather than focussing on the dark tones and 'drama', I now feel I've found a few more octaves of light to play with.

Like a singer who stays in the middle range of their voice for safety, I'm curious if this is what most of us photographers do with the tonal subjects we shoot. Most of what we do resides in the safer tones. Yet, by pushing the exposures to the extreme outer edges of our comfort tones, we may find some new things to say in our work.

Ice & salt in Laguna Armaga, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Ice & salt in Laguna Armaga,
Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

In this new work, there is a mixture of dark images and as well as lighter ones. The skill I feel, is to marry them so they feel part of the same set. 

Tones and tonality has become something I'm very obsessed with over the past few years. I think it's easy enough to make nice images these days, but to really make your images stand out, or to go that extra mile, I feel an understanding or tones and relationships between them is vital.

Returning to the same places time and again is a tortuous thing for me to go through. Not only am I so fortunate to return to Patagonia on a yearly basis, but each year it feels as if the place sets me new challenges, new homework.  The benefits are enormous. Through this process, I get to grown as a photographer in some way.

Rio Serrano Forest, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Rio Serrano Forest, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

What I like most about this years work, is that I made photographs of lesser, iconic views. I've never shot Lago Pehoe before without the Cuernos mountain range in the background. The mountain range always seems to dominate my view of the place. It's therefore unusual for me to make more abstract or intimate compositions.

Lago Pehoe,   Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia   Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Lago Pehoe, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

At Lago Sarmiento we had no view of the Paine massif, and this was very freeing. I felt I could concentrate more on the shore and the rock formations there. Sometimes the Paine massive is just too magnetic. It can over dominate the scene.

Rio Serrano Forest,   Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia   Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Rio Serrano Forest, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Patagonia's Calling........

In just a few days time, I will be heading back to one of my most favourite places in the world. I dearly, dearly love Patagonia and in particular Torres del Paine national park.

The Cuernos (horns) of Paine, from Lago Pehoe, Torres del Paine national park. Chilean Patagonia. One of my most favourite places in the world!. Image © Bruce Percy

The Cuernos (horns) of Paine, from Lago Pehoe, Torres del Paine national park. Chilean Patagonia. One of my most favourite places in the world!. Image © Bruce Percy

I feel I have a deep connection with this place. I can't quite believe that I have been coming here since 2003.... more than a decade.

There is a spirit, a vibe to Patagonia that is hard to convey in the written word. It is something you have to feel for yourself. I find that some places that I visit, have a 'feeling', a 'smell' to them. There's something very timeless about Patagonia. It is a place where you can choose to disappear. With such wide open spaces, and such small rural communities dotted at such large distances from each other, I find I can let my mind roam.

I think we all want to be free. To escape, and to find somewhere that time seems to stand still. I think that is Patagonia to me. It is like an old friend, one that hasn't changed much over the intervening years. Patagonia is still very much the same place it was when I first visited it back in 2003. I find there's a comfort in knowing this :-).

So forgive me for feeling a sense of joy tonight for visiting this landscape. It is indeed an old friend. It is also a home from home - a special place for me, to just be :-)

This last image was shot on the very last day of my tour there last year. I know Torres del Paine so well and one of my favourite locations is towards the southern side of the park.

I stay with my group at the Rio Serrano village. In this shot - you can see the Paine massif ( a 2,884m mountain range jutting out from the landscape at almost sea level) with lifting early morning fog from the Rio Serrano pass. 

Sometimes when I'm in Torres del Paine, I see temperature inversions. It's hard to describe to people who haven't been there how otherworldly the place is. To have a mountain range like that jut high into the sky from sea level to 2,884m and literally have a different weather system at the western side compared to it's eastern side - is normal here.

I've seen snow and rain happen on the left-hand side of the frame while it's been sunny and dry on the right hand-side. I'm sure you get my drift.....

A photo can only do so much and the rest is really about being there to actually witness it :-)

And with that last thought, I wish you many happy photographic endeavours :-)

Epiphanies in the study of light

When I look back over the past twenty years of my photography, I can remember many moments when I had an epiphany - a sudden insight, to what kind of light really worked well in a photograph.

Lago Nordenskjöld, from a secret location Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia. Shot in mid-afternoon light on an overcast day. Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Lago Nordenskjöld, from a secret location Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia.
Shot in mid-afternoon light on an overcast day.
Image © Bruce Percy 2015

If I summarise it, it would be down to this; 

I started out shooting in bright blue sky sunny days because my eye liked it. But I found my camera didn't as the pictures wouldn't come out the way 'I saw them'. The first epiphany was that camera's don't see the way we see, and what is exciting to the human eye, is too high contrast and hard for a camera to record.

Then there came the second epiphany: If I shot at sunrise or sunset, the colour was often beautiful and it gave my images a sense of magic (or glow) that I couldn't quite get during the sunny days I had been shooting in until that point. I learned that the light is warm at sunrise and that often the atmosphere of a place is often calm too. Midday light is a rather cool light in comparison to the warm tones of sunrise.

For a long while, I would do nothing but shoot at sunrise and sunset. It's a great learning experience to continuously work in soft light at these times of the day, and although we all seek those golden colours, they don't always suit the environments we're photographing.

Shooting the isle of Rum from the Isle of Eigg one overcast, rainy miserable day, in 2007 taught me so much about overcast light, and how beautiful it can be in a photograph.

Shooting the isle of Rum from the Isle of Eigg one overcast, rainy miserable day, in 2007 taught me so much about overcast light, and how beautiful it can be in a photograph.

After many years of working in this light, I found myself on a very wet beach one afternoon in winter and had another epiphany. Midday light worked too, so long as the light was very overcast. I hadn't up until this point, imagined I could get any kind of 'mood' to my work except by working during the golden hours, and since this moment back in 2007, I started to employ working at other times of day, providing that the light is soft.

Over the course of 10 years, I'd gone from shooting only in sunny light, to only shooting during the golden hours, and then finally, coming back to shooting in midday light, so long as the light was soft. My understanding of the kinds of light I could shoot in had altered and I knew that soft light works best.

And then another epiphany happened. Although I would shoot any location if the light was soft, at sunrise, sunset and in the middle of the day, I found that some of the images didn't work because the light had to suit the subject. For instance, the stark black volcanic beaches of Iceland work well if the light is very cold / monochromatic. Composing a monochromatic black beach with warm light seemed at times to be at odds with each other. The landscape didn't really need the warm tones of sunrise, and if anything it was a distraction.

Small ice floes in Laguna Armaga, Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonian winter Image © Bruce Percy 2015

Small ice floes in Laguna Armaga, Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonian winter
Image © Bruce Percy 2015

These days I still prefer to work with soft light, but I try to work with landscapes based on their tones and colours. Some places are monochromatic in nature and therefore I feel they work best in a neutral colour temperature (midday). For example, Torres del Paine national park can be a monochromatic subject. The mountains are granite grey with dark sediment rock layered upon them and Its beaches are made up of black volcanic rock. The mountains have a very stark look to them, so rather than seeking to shoot them in the warm glow of sunrise and sunset only, I find that the cooler colour temperature of midday light can often work better.

I've come to realise over the years, that beauty is everywhere and it can be rendered under different colour temperatures - not just the golden rays of sunrise and sunset.

Busy Landscapes

It's very difficult to make good images of busy landscapes, and yet we are often drawn to places with too much going on.

The Cuernos (Horns) of Paine & destroyed forest, Chilean Patagonia, 2015

The Cuernos (Horns) of Paine & destroyed forest, Chilean Patagonia, 2015

I know of no other craft where one starts with complexity.

In just about any other pursuit, we start with the basics and move up from there. If you take up juggling, you don't start with three balls, you start with one. So it is with photography: each object that is added inside the frame of your camera is like adding another juggling ball to the mix. And if you're juggling balls, you need to know where they all are at the same time.

Yet when we look around our surroundings, we have an amazing ability to filter out most of it. Our vision has evolved to allow us to focus on the things that we're interested in, and exclude those that we're not. This may be really useful in everyday encounters, but it's a disability when it comes to interpreting scenes for photographic possibilities.

So often have I come home and found that the image did not convey what I saw. As a beginner, I would be surprised to discover additional objects in the final photograph that I had not seen at the time of capture. I've gone through over 20 years of trying to improve my awareness to see what is really there - to overcome my instinct to filter out things in the scene.

As I've developed my compositional skills, I've come to realise that beautiful scenery does not automatically equal great imagery. I've also had to accept that there are some things that can't be photographed well. Some places are too big, or have too many things going on in them to capture in their entirety, and what often works better is to take a subset of a location because it makes for a more powerful image than the entire scene does. An example of this is that I've often found that to reduce an entire waterfall down to just a few segments of it - may be more powerful than a photograph of the entire waterfall.

When we put too much in, everything becomes diminished or at best, confused. Consider it another way: if you were writing a proposal for your work, you would never try to discuss several points at the same time, as things would become confused or the points you are trying to covey would become lost. Instead, you would cover each point in its own paragraph. Well if we use this analogy, a set of images is akin to a proposal, and each image is akin to a paragraph in that proposal.

The skill of a landscape photographer, is to be able to take a location and distill it down to a few elements that convey a clear message. The final photograph may not be an accurate impression of the place, because there's been a degree of interpretation applied. Which is fine by me, because that's what photography is all about, in my view.

I knew when I made the image in this post that it was a busy scene. I had already reduced it down to two basic elements as I saw it: the background mountain range and the foreground branches. But I still felt there were unresolved issues with the composition: there's just too much textural information everywhere in the scrub and this detracts from letting my eye move freely between the foreground branches and the background mountain range. In addition, I also felt that the branches might get 'lost' in this textural complexity because tonally, they're not too dissimilar.

My point is this: I knew there was too much complexity. But I also knew that as much as it wasn't perfect, I could live with it. And this in itself, is a whole different ball game from when I used to come home and wonder why my images hadn't come out the way I had seen them.

 

Success Rate

Ansel Adams said if he was able to make one good image a year that he liked,
he was doing well.

I'm very much in agreement with the sentiment behind Ansel's statement as I'd personally prefer to produce a very small quantity of high-quality work, than a lot of average images.

I've been thinking about how I dislike the terms 'hit-rate' and 'success-rate', as I feel that measuring one's own creativity is a destructive thing to do. Instead, I prefer to just be aware that my creativity has an ebb and a flow to it. For instance, I've found since I started this website way back in 2001, that I only manage to add a hand-full of images a year to it. But each time I do go to look at my archive work and recent work sections, I'm very aware that the work has taken a lot of time, patience and effort to create. 

I'm not that prolific and I as I see it, there are a few factors at play that determine my output.

This image wasn't planned, nor did I ever think I would make an image of Flamingos. But by returning again and again to a place, I can often find that things happen - wonderful things :-)

This image wasn't planned, nor did I ever think I would make an image of Flamingos. But by returning again and again to a place, I can often find that things happen - wonderful things :-)

Firstly, I have my own sense of what I feel is acceptable. I call it my 'in-built-quality-control', and it's what I use to determine whether an image is good or bad. Hopefully, I'm not too harsh on myself (by setting the bar unrealistically far too high), nor too easy on myself (by being happy to publish everything I do). Quality control is vital in understanding yourself, where you are artistically and for ensuring that others get a clear picture of how you see yourself.  I'd like to suggest you read this article of mine, which I wrote about the final selection process where I started out with around 400 images and filtered it down to around 30 or 40 I was happy to publish.

Secondly, I don't measure myself based on any success rate. I don't measure myself at all as I feel it's an unhealthy thing to do. Instead I accept that my creativity has its own natural flow which I can't control. None of us know when we are about to create our best work, nor our worst. A good photographer is open to new things coming in and to letting go of things that don't work, otherwise it's possible to become stuck.

I also understand the value of creating bad work. To get to the good work requires experimentation and an openness to try things out which may fail. Exploring the possibilities of one's own creativity requires us to be able to deal with failure because there will be many failures along the way. But rather than using the word 'failure' though, I would prefer to use the word 'experiment' or perhaps 'work in progress'. It's a much more constructive way to look at work that didn't meet your own standards. Our work is never finished anyway - we are always in a constant state of change.

The difficult to photograph Cerro Torre in the northern part of Los Glaciares national park, Argentina. This is perhaps the image I spent most energy on getting. I had visited this area several times over several years, often coming home with nothing - the place is so famous for its bad weather. I've had so many emails from readers who told me they saw nothing when they were here. Well, I camped here once for more than a couple of weeks and I saw nothing too.... but I kept returning and I got this shot for a brief 5 minute window.

The difficult to photograph Cerro Torre in the northern part of Los Glaciares national park, Argentina. This is perhaps the image I spent most energy on getting. I had visited this area several times over several years, often coming home with nothing - the place is so famous for its bad weather. I've had so many emails from readers who told me they saw nothing when they were here. Well, I camped here once for more than a couple of weeks and I saw nothing too.... but I kept returning and I got this shot for a brief 5 minute window.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, I understand that good work is the culmination of many things such as time, effort and patience. A good portfolio is not created overnight nor with little effort. Instead, good work is accumulated gradually over many years, with a lot of of experiments along the way and with a lot of perseverance. I also find that living with the work for many years allows me to have a sense of distance which brings a certain level of objectivity and awareness. I am always considering and reconsidering my older work. It allows me to notice changes within me.

So I think 'success rate' is a poor demonstrator for my art. I prefer not to think about this because everything I do, right from the experiments to the keepers - is all part of the creative process. Creative work should never be measured, instead it should just be allowed to flow in its own way and under its own pace.

Patagonia & how I fell in love with it

In 2 days time, I will be on my way to Patagonia. It's a special place for me, a home from home if you like, and a place where I have had so many special experiences. For example, once I found photography, Patagonia was the first place abroad that I was drawn to go to. It is also the first place that I conducted a photography tour/workshop in my photography career.

The Paine massif, shot from Lago Pehoe, Torres del Paine, 2009.

The Paine massif, shot from Lago Pehoe, Torres del Paine, 2009.

Despite Bruce Chatwin's 'In Patagonia' book being largely a work of fiction, and not an auto-biography as he tried to suggest, his book still conjures up for me the essence of what I think Patagonia is all about. In his book, he describes a place where people go to disappear, where there is a wild climate and so much space that people can reinvent themselves.

As much as I see that aspect of Patagonia, it's lure for me is different. Instead, what I see are similarities with my homeland of Scotland.  Both have similar (inclement & windy) weather and both have a lot of empty spaces. When I am in Patagonia I find my mind saying 'I know this'.

But the more I travel, the more I see other correlations between landscapes that are separated by great distances. Although Patagonia reminds me of parts of the Scottish Highlands, such as Torridon & Assynt specifically, I also see similarities between itself and Iceland. 

With its expansive pampas and arid deserts of bush and scrub-land that go on for hundreds of miles, as well as the black beaches in the Torres del Paine national park of Chile, I see similarities between Patagonia and the wild interior of Iceland. They are to some degree in my mind, inseparable.

I guess I just love wild empty places :-)

It seems that the more I travel, the more I see similarities between the special places that I have become acquainted with. Through these similarities the world has become a smaller, more intimate place. It has become a place that I now call 'home'. And I'm fully aware that knowing this, is a rare and beautiful position to be in :-)

New Website Portfolio's

I've been away all week on the isle of Eigg with a terrific group, running a workshop. I've not got much time today, but felt I should let you all know that all the new images I've been producing for the past year - are now up on my site.

I decided to separate them into a 'new' section, away from my older work, as I feel there's a refinement in my style over the past few years. So if you'd like to browse the work, which includes Iceland, Norway, Patagonia and my recent trip to Bolivia, please click on the 'new' section to the navigation menu at the top of the blog.

I hope you enjoy the newer images presented in portfolios, even if you feel you know most of the work by visiting my blog.

Space in the landscape and time to reflect

I often think that it's a very tempting thing, to include the entirety of the subject you're shooting, into the main body of the frame. But some subjects are so large, that it's impossible to get them into the frame in a pleasing way, without them engulfing the entire photo. The Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina is like that.

In this photo, you can see the tongue of the glacier poking into the left hand side. If I were to let you know that the face of the glacier is around 80 metres high and that the entire tongue is around four miles wide, then I'd hope that this would convey just how large it is. It's imply too wide to fit into the frame.

I shot the same glacier a long time ago, and I managed to 'stitch a 180º composite together (see last image in this post). It's perhaps more of a 'traditional' view of the glacier. We're presented with the entire thing and I think this is an obvious thing to want to do. I was curious as to how I would shoot the glacier on my return this summer, knowing that I wasn't going to stitch any panorama's together, and also knowing I would be composing in square.

I think a few things have changed in me since I made the panorama in 2003;

1) I'm much more interested in the atmospheric elements of the weather. I love it when the cloud comes down and things in the distance become veiled. Fog or inclement weather in general can really change the mood of a scene. And I think it's important to be aware of this. So often I feel, we are influenced by how we feel - if it's a cold wet day, we can feel miserable and not inclined to make images. But we have to take a step back, think about the scene as a final image. We have to detach ourselves in a way that we can simply see the tones, and the mystery rather than think the day is a right-off.

I don't think I would have made my recent image (the first one in this post) if I hadn't learned that. I think I would have just packed up my camera and thought nothing was happening.

But I'm now of the opinion that all days are beautiful. It's just up to us to recognise this and work with what we're given. I don't feel miserable in low-cloud inclement days now. I actually feel the beauty of it.

2) I'm also much more interested in playing with what's not there. Our eye has a tendency to fill in the gaps for us. I deliberately decided to include just a tiny part of the Perito, because I felt the space around it - all that expanse of empty sky had a lot of beauty in it. I was particularly drawn to the headland (the dark) land that fills the centre of the frame - see how it tapers off towards the far right? That was an intentional composition device. The top of the headland is missing because the cloud in the sky is reaching down towards the sea. In some respects, this is really an image about 'context'. I've given you the glacier, and we know it's a shot about that, but I've mostly decided to show you the environment it sits in. In this case, I'm trying to convey the atmospheric / weather conditions of the day and how the glacier sits within that space. We don't actually see much of the Perito Moreno glacier and I think our mind is filling in for what is not there.

Admittedly, these two images are of very different kinds of days. I was lucky that the weather had closed in the day we visited this summer. The landscape was less visible, more hidden, and I think that allowed me to reduce, and abstract, to make the photograph more a 'graphic' than a recording of a piece of scenery. For me photography has never been about the verbatim, but more about suggestion.

I'd like to finish up by saying that in this post, I've also discussed how I've changed. I think it's very important to be able to look back at your own work and your current work, and consider the direction that you're heading in. I think it's healthy to stop and reflect, to recognise the changes that are happening inside of you and to know what it is that you're seeking in your current 'story making'. I use that phrase deliberately, because I feel that all photographers are simply telling stories with their images.

Final Selection

I've more or less completed the scanning and image selection from my trips to Bolivia and patagonia this June. I have to say that the number of images I'm left with is very small. But there is a reason for this: I felt that there were two particularly strong shoots for me during the time away where the images feel very 'cohesive'. I really prefer to choose images that behave as if they belong to a set, and in the final selection here, I think you can see that.

The two shoots in particular that really worked for me were of Laguna Colorada on the Bolivian Altiplano, and that of the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentine Patagonia. I certainly have other images that were successful, but they don't fit this particular 'theme' or 'style'. And I think this narrowed down selection indicates perhaps where my style is strongest at the moment.

I think that's a very key thing to understand about your own photography: what it is you're currently trying to achieve and being successful at. I see these images as a reflection, an indicator of what it is I'm striving for. I think they're very simplistic and mostly are involved in conveying colour as mood. There is almost nothing inside the frames as such, but I think the mood of the places is very strong in them.

I shot a hell of a lot more images, but I've had some technical problems with those. I made them on Kodak's Portra 160 (the new stock) but I'm having trouble scanning them. I've determined it's not my scanner that is at fault, but I've got coloured streaks going through the images in very bright clear areas, and I'm not sure if this is a product of the development, or if it's an issue with the batch of films I've bought. I'm seriously not happy about this and it's a lesson to myself to never go away again on a shoot with untested equipment or materials.

A study in Red, and a study in Blue

As many of you know, I've been struggling with the Hassle-Blad (hyphen intended) for the past year, because of all the technical issues with the stupid thing (you can tell I really love it). To be fair, the system is extremely old, and I doubt it's ever been serviced properly, if at all. So If you can recommend someone who knows what they're doing (Hassleblad UK seem to want to charge me £400 alone to just service two film backs - I don't think so), please do get in touch.

I seem to be attached to the system right now though. I love composing in square, although I know it does not work for everything. If I look at my 'style' of work, I often shoot portrait orientation and I believe this is because it allows me to use a lot of foreground as well as sky in my shots. Square does not allow for this, unless you get further back, or let a lot more 'stuff' come in the sides of the frame.

In the above set of four images, I made a beautiful study of Laguna Colorada on the Bolivian altiplano. At 4,500 metres, the air is extremely thin here, and we were all struggling for breath. But the light! Those intense red evenings seem to be something that happens a lot there. My guide did say though, that we had an exceptionally beautiful evening there. Still, the subject is rather minimalist, and when you consider making four images - to work as a set, rather than individual scenes, a story forms - and for some reason, the entire set becomes stronger than the sum of its parts.

While I was running the Patagonia trip in the southern hemisphere winter, I made these studies of the Perito Moreno glacier. We had a very wet journey out there and everything was looking very gloomy. There was most definitely a low mood to everything and the cloud had come down to obstruct the backdrop view. Years ago, I would have been disappointed, packed up my camera and headed for the cafe, but I feel I know my subjects and light better. I loved the tones that the cloud were producing. Everything was glowing - the glacier had taken on an eerie luminance in the soft morning twilight.

Seeing these images only confirms to me that I need to continue with square - it is something I am growing into.

I still love 4x5 very much (which is what the Mamiya 7 is - the negative has the same aspect ratio as 4x5, despite being labeled a 6x7 camera). So I'm fully aware that I will continue to shoot 4x5 aspect ratio as well as square. So often we think of replacing one thing with another (I'm thinking of that phrase - 'have you gone digital yet?' ).

It's been about a year now of getting used to the Hasselblad and the square format. When introducing something new into my workflow - I feel I need to give myself time to grow into it, in order to find out if it's for me. I can't tell straight away if it's not.

I think that we need to give ourselves more than a few months, perhaps even years to discover if we have the aptitude, or leanings towards a certain format - patience,  and allowing ourselves the time to get fully into something,  can only help reap artistic dividends, I feel.

Lago Grey, Patagonia 2012

I've only just dipped my toes into my images from this years Patagonia photo trip. Here is a backlit shot of Lago Grey with Paine Grande cast in an orange glow from a setting sun.

I was initially attracted to the rock in the mid-ground - with it's graphic-angular shape and directional lighting. But it was only while setting the camera up on my tripod that I noticed the lower darker rocks. I felt these could be a great foreground detail with their mottled texture. Often black rocks turn to a muddy mess in a scene, but when there is back lit directional light shining on them, it can help lift their tonal values from extreme black, into the lower mid-grey tones. Making it easier for me to record them on Fuji Velvia.

I made this image on my Mamiya 7 camera. I'm aware that  I'm a landscape photographer who feels more at home with portrait-orientated compositions. Perhaps it's the ability to mix a lot of sky in with a lot of foreground that works for my eye. I'm really not sure, but having a mix of aspect ratios to work with has really helped me open up my eyes to the surrounding landscape and consider where each object should be placed.

In Patagonia

As landscape photographers, we need to feel a connection with the places we photograph. We have to surrender ourselves to the smells, moods and feelings of a place and let the landscape pervade our own thoughts. I've been in Patagonia now for just over a week and familiar 'feelings' that I've experienced whilst here on previous trips (this is my 7th time here) have resurfaced. A place can be like that - like a familiar piece of music that you haven't listened to in a while, you are instantly transported back to a mood, a time, a feeling upon hearing it. It's been just great getting re-aquainted with this old friend of mine now. So this week I couldn't help myself, but buy a second copy of Bruce Chatwin's 'In Patagonia'. It cost me around £28 believe it or not, but I had to have it. Reading about Patagonia whilst here seems to be the perfect thing to do and Bruce's book is a great (if highly inaccurate account) of Patagonia. What Bruce does with this book is set the tone of how Patagonia feels to the traveler.

I'll admit that I'm not too keen on the fact that there are many lies contained within the book. His meetings with people who live here are often more fable than fact, but he does do a good job of giving you an impression of a place that is remote, lonesome, possessed, and one which can possess you.

As is quoted in Bruce's book - Patagonia is a magnet for those who's malady is 'the horror of one's own home'. Restless people come here and I feel I can relate to that. As much as I love being at home, when i'm there, I'm often wishing to be away, and when I'm away - I'm often wishing to be home.

If you're thinking of going somewhere, I can think of no better thing than to buy books about the place. Photography books might give you some idea of what is there, but the written word has a better chance of helping you get into the mindset of what lies before you. Maybe it might help settle you into the mental adjustment an undertaking of this magnitude will have on you: going away for a prolonged period of time can be overwhelming. My way of life in Scotland is so far removed from many of the places in the world I visit, and I'm often confronted with having to rip myself away from my home life, to be replanted elsewhere. Reading books about my chosen destination before I go, often helps me with the adjustment and they're also great devices to help me slowly untangle myself once I've returned home too.

In a few weeks I will be back in Scotland, in my old routine, but I will have Bruce Chatwin's 'In Patagonia' to help me slowly disengage from the life that I am leading right now as I type this post from my hotel in deepest Patagonia.

Wishing you were where your heart wishes to be.

In Argentina now

I'm almost finishing up my Patagonia Safari in a few days time, and we've seen quite a few memorable images over the past week and a half. Torres del Paine national park was a winter wonderland and each morning we had excellent, atmospheric views at Pehoe. We also had a successful sunrise view of the towers through low cloud. It was really beautiful to witness.

My Hasselblad continues to stun me with yet more failures. A spare body has jammed and now a film back continues to pump film through it without ever getting to the first frame. I've also had the wind catch my Mamiya 7II camera and toss it onto the beach. The camera still works, but the rangefinder feature is broken and there's a massive hole in the top of the body. So It will be going back for repair when I get home and I've just bought a Mamiya 7 Mk1 body tonight to help me out as I'm away to Iceland a week after I get home. I've got a month of personal photography time in the centre of the island and also have to meet up with Ragnar Axelsson too, which I'm looking forward to.

Tomorrow morning we are all heading out for sunrise to visit the glorious Perito Moreno glacier - perhaps one of South America's highlights. It is a living, breathing mass of ice that creaks and groans. Large sections of the face of it come off and hit the surrounding water on a frequent basis, often with a deafening crash.

I first visited this glacier in 2003, and made the above image. It's actually a stitched composite of several images (I don't normally do this kind of thing, but in this instance had to, because the glacier is 4 miles wide, and easily takes up over 180º of field of view).

Venturing here for sunrise is great. Tourists don't arrive here until 10am at the earliest, so you have the whole place to yourself. It's winter here, and as it turns out, sunrise is at 10am tomorrow morning, so we will be there for the start of civil twilight. It's a great time to be there as the glacier faces east and it slowly reveals itself to you as the light comes up. At first you can only hear it and that is spooky in itself. As the minutes pass you become aware of the faint glow of the glacier and then as the sun comes up the face of the glacier shifts through the cool colour spectrum and seems to convey many different colours. It's simply wonderful to witness.

We will be heading back to Punta Arenas in a days time, where some of us will say goodbye while four of us continue on to San Pedro de Atacama for a few days before we venture onto the Bolivian Altiplano for a week's worth of photography. I'm having so much fun on this trip I don't want it to end.

Wish you were here!

Patagonia Calling

I'm in Punta Arenas, the gateway city to Chilean Patagonia. Tomorrow I head up to Torres del Paine national park for the next two weeks of a safari based in this beautiful part of the world.

I'm very pleased to be back here. It is winter time in the southern hemisphere, but despite this, it is very mild here in Punta Arenas. I've just met up with my guide for the week and she has told me there was plenty of snow a few weeks ago, but that the wind has taken it all away. She showed me some of her photos and It was amazing to see how much snow there had been.

The best thing about being here in June though, is that the sunrise and sunset times are very sociable - sunrise is at 9am (bliss - I don't have to get up so early - yes I'll admit - I'm not a morning person - probably much to your surprise). And sunset is just before 5pm, so the day is nice and short with a low lying sun.

It's been five years since I was last here. I can't believe it's been that long for me, and it's only become possible to return due to client demand. I've had so many clients over the past three years of running workshops in Scotland ask me when I was hoping to go back that I knew I'd have enough interest to run the trip.

So thanks Jez, Adrian, Leslie, Polly, Bo and James for wanting to come with me.

Patagonia - now sold out.

Update: this trip is now sold out! Last week I had a cancellation for my Skye workshop, which was filled straight away, so the Skye trip is now sold out, for those of you who were considering it.

As is the nature of having bookings taken so far in advance, things change in people's lives and suddenly, they can't make a trip any more. One of my participants for the Patagonia workshop can't make it now due to a family member's graduation, so there is now a freed up space on the Patagonia workshop.

If you'd missed booking the trip when it sold out, then now is your chance to come along. It's been a very popular trip so far, so if you want to come, have a look at the details here. It has all the information on the trip, and also the booking form should you decide to come.

First come, first served.

Torres del Paine Park ravaged by Fire

I'm in Iceland this week, currently in a nice chalet near Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon. It was a complete white out on the way here, with a lot of snow. The entire south part of Iceland looks amazing. Anyway, today I'm writing about some very tragic news about Torres del Paine national park in Chilean Patagonia. It is one of my most favourite places in the world. But as of a few days ago, 85 sq kilometres of the park has been ravaged by a fire, which the authorities are speculating may have been caused by human intervention.

Because of the nature of the park's weather systems, it is often extremely windy there, and if the place has been dry for an extended period of time, then any camp fire (fires are not permitted in the park) can wreak havoc in the area.

It's just such a real shame about Torres del Paine. It's such an amazingly beautiful park.

Now, of course, the fire could have been a completely natural event. The problem is though, that if we have beautiful parks, they should be shared and visited by people. But mistakes happen, people feel they're in control and know what they're doing, and then a mistake happens and a fire like this rages out of control. I don't know what the answer is for park conservation, but I certainly hope that it does not mean that some day, I can only enjoy some place like Torres from behind the glass of a tour vehicle, because legislation has gotten so tough, or we're being so 'nannied', that we can't possibly be responsible for our own actions.

I'll be visiting Torres del Paine this June, as part of a Winter photographic trip. It will be interesting to see the amount of damage in the park when I get there, but until then, I hope that the fires in Torres del Paine will be extinguished soon.

Strife in Patagonia

A few weeks ago a friend informed me of the troubles that Thom Hogan had on a recent workshop to Chilean Patagonia. I read his article with interest but I had a few issues with it.

Firstly, on all the travels I have made over the past 10 years, one thing has been a constant: nothing stays the same and most countries have periods of instability.

Secondly, the rest of the world is not like the west. As a westerner, we live in relatively stable environments where most of the time, things happen when we expect them to happen.

I was aware by reading Thom's posting that he and his group had a very tough time in Chile and that certainly, some aspects of how the country dealt with the strike could have been much better.

But the fact is, that I feel Thom's article has done nothing but damage his own possible business of returning to Chile some day to to a future workshop, has tarnished the tourism industry in that region (from reading Thom's posting, he feels they've done it to themselves, but we're talking about a time of unrest when things happen that don't make sense) and he's put photographers off a region of the world for a much longer time than the strike or future strikes may occur.

Certainly, it is worth being aware of issues in a part of the world if you are planning on visiting, and making your plans being fully informed is no bad thing. But his article came over as overly-sensationalist, particularly his use of the word 'hostage' and by also recommending people boycott the region.

For what it's worth, I've been there over seven times now and on each occasion I've had nothing but good experiences. The Chilean people are very warm and friendly.

If I were considering traveling there over the next few months, I would certainly take into account that there is a continuing issue with fuel prices in the region and make my plans accordingly, but it wouldn't put me off going there in future.

If I were to boycott any region of the world where there was instability, I would be severely restricted to where I went. Just one look at the British Consulate web site is enough to make you feel you shouldn't step foot outside of the UK, but it is this over-dramatic representation that puts people off for good. The world is in constant change, prices go up, places have a strike, the strike is off. It's unfortunate that these things happen, but I wouldn't try to persuade others not to go to a country or a region because you were unlucky to get caught up in some issue whilst there.