Too much noise in our lives

There has to be space, plenty of it, to enable us to be creative. There has to be lots of free time to allow us to get under the skin of a place. If there’s too much distraction in our lives, then we’re not able to give photography the attention it needs.

South-Korea-2017-(9).jpg

Finding space is one thing, but having a settled mind with which to be creative is an entirely different thing altogether.

I think photography can be a meditative act. A space where you lose yourself. All sense of time disappears. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that often when I’m making photographs - I disappear. I am not aware of thinking any particular thoughts, or of being aware of being here.

But you can only get to this state if you feel your mind is capable of being settled. Got too much worries in your life, or too many pressures, and it’s hard, even with a lot of space - to disengage.

Decluttering one’s life is important, because by doing so, you give yourself the space to let something else in - your creativity.

For me, I’ve always needed space around me. I’m an introverted extrovert. I like being around people and I like being social, but I also recognise when I need to recharge my batteries and need time alone, space to do …. nothing …. or more precisely …. nothing much in particular, or with no agenda … is something I need more and more. Knowing I don’t have to be somewhere, knowing that the day ahead of me is free and I don’t have to stick to a plan is something that helps me a great deal.

I’m convinced this 'settled mind’ I’m seeking allows me to absorb my experiences, to digest what it is that I’ve travelled to make photographs of. When I come home from trips, I often find I need a decompression period of around two weeks. It gives me time to adjust, to think about where I’ve been and more importantly, to understand what it all means to me.

We’re not here to make only pictures. Photography shouldn’t be only an acquisitive act. It’s about how it feeds you that matters most. For example, I often find the greatest joy and satisfaction during the review of work that was created many weeks prior. Not the actual shooting.

Reliving my experiences this way, often after some time, allows me to reflect upon it, to really understand what it meant to me, and this can only happen if I have enough space, and peace of mind with which to engage with it.

The importance of rest

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

Central Highlands of Iceland in Winter Image © Bruce Percy 2018

Central Highlands of Iceland in Winter
Image © Bruce Percy 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All my work, is homework

Every image I create, whether I think it's good or bad, contributes to my photographic education. For this very reason I never think that any of my work is a failure: it all contributes in some way.

No matter how good someone thinks they are - the truth is that we are all in photography-school. We will always be learning. Even those we consider masters of the art of photography know this. Indeed, they welcome it. Because they understand that if they are no longer learning then they are no longer growing. And no growth means their art is dead.

The good artist knows that he is always learning, and will always have much to learn. He also knows that creating art isn't about success, it's about the creative journey. There is no room for words like failure or success, it is just a process that they have to do.

I feel a lot of contemporary photographers look for solutions in their tools when they really need to work on themselves more. I'd rather find something that works from the outset, than something that sort-of-works but needs to be worked on later. It's much easier to play with something if it's a great idea than to try to make something out of a poor idea. Looking for solutions in software or technical forums isn't going to help you improve. You need to do the work.

Hokkaido-2018-(29).jpg

Weak ideas will never work, no matter how much technology or software is applied to them. If an image has a strong idea behind it, it will be carried along by that. It needs no one's help.

You have to fail in order to learn. You have to get used to accepting that the majority of what you create isn't any good. Look upon it as 'prototypes'. Until we get to where we wanted to go with a piece of work, everything we create on the road to getting it right is a prototype. Not a failure. 

You have to understand that creating bad work is part of the process. And also to understand that even very gifted artists have to create a lot of rubbish in order to find the good stuff. If it was easy to create good work, everyone would be doing it.

Put the work in.Accept that the road will be a long one, but it will be a growing time while you're on it.

I'm very aware that all of my work to date has taken me to the point where I am now. I couldn't have got here without putting all the work in that has led me here. Everything I've done, every bad photo I've made and every successful one has taught me something, and has contributed to me being who I am now. This work has shown me that it's never the tools I need to improve, or the software I need to change. It is my application of them, my skill and experience that needs to grow.

So with that in mind, I'm very aware that all of my work, is homework. Everything I do educates me, and every apparent failure is a valuable lesson, so long as I choose to listen to what it's trying to tell me.

Our work is never finished. Every image we create, whether we think it's good or bad, contributes to our photographic education and our artistic growth, and I think we should revel in the discoveries and surprises of our chosen art form.

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.

Style is derived from Relating to the landscape

Building relationships is key to everything we do in life. In the case of friendships and family, we have to spend time with them to let the relationship blossom and deepen. The same is true of landscapes. As we spend more time in certain places, the relationship deepens. We begin to understand them in ways that the casual observer does not. Similar to meeting people for brief moments although we get a rush of new impressions, the relationship is still too young to really know them. So too, with landscapes.

hrafntinnusker , Iceland Image © Bruce Percy 2017

hrafntinnusker, Iceland
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

I'm lucky that over the past decade that I've been living my photographic-life, I've had the luxury of repeatedly visiting certain landscapes. They have become intimate, personal friends. Some I now know so well they are like old friends: I don't need to see them too often, but when I do encounter them, I know exactly where I am with them. Others are recent friends, I've known them for maybe a couple of years and I'm still learning about them.

We also define ourselves by whom we know. I think I define my photography by the relationships I have with certain landscapes. Iceland has been part of my photographic world for thirteen years, while Patagonia fourteen years. The Fjallabak landscape in the central highlands of Iceland is relatively recent as I have been spending time with it for around five years now. And then there is Hokkaido, a recent acquaintance of just over two years that I am still getting to know.

They have helped shape and define my photography, and my photography has contributed to who I am. So in a sense, these landscapes are part of me.

We should be choosy about whom we let into our lives. Invite those that are supportive and that you can support back, is my advice. Being around healthy attitudes and positive people is an ingredient for a happy life with room for you to grow. Similarly, choosing your landscapes wisely, by going for those that resonate with you and perhaps those that keep calling you back is vital, if you are to develop your own internal landscape.

hrafntinnusker , Iceland Image © Bruce Percy 2017

hrafntinnusker, Iceland
Image © Bruce Percy 2017

The landscapes I work with have defined part of who I am. They have defined my signature. They illustrate not only what I resonate with, but also what appeals to my aesthetic. There is often a theme running through all of them. I do not just go anywhere. I am only interested in spending time with those landscapes where I know that I grow with each visit.

Choose your landscapes wisely and they will support you as a photographer. Work with those that resonate with you, because that is where any development in your photographic style will eventually occur.

I think I lost something along the way

I'm sure there must be a proverb out there that says: "in gaining wisdom, we lose innocence".

This week I've been running an exhibition in my hometown of Edinburgh. On the walls of the gallery I have these two images. As far as the exhibition goes, they are (respectively) my oldest and newest images that I have on display.

The first image was created in 2009 in the north west of Scotland. Despite many people thinking it is the distinctive Stac Pollaidh mountain of Assynt, it is in fact Ben Eoin. If I were to dissect it, I would say that this image shows that I was beginning to get more interested in shapes and patterns in my photography: the way the shape of the tree fits neatly into the space below the reflection of the mountain was a deliberate compositional choice at the time of exposure.

Early beginnings? Loch Lurgainn & Ben Eoin, Assynt, Scotland. © 2009

Early beginnings?
Loch Lurgainn & Ben Eoin, Assynt, Scotland. © 2009

I think you can often look back at where you've come from and see the path to where you are now. Somehow, it's pretty easy to see the direction of the journey you've been on. Yet, perhaps not so clear an indication of where you are going to go in the future. But you can get a hint of it as I feel that the past often indicates some elements of the future because looking back you can see traces of where you are now in your older work.

That aside, I've been thinking about how my style of photography has been changing (it has been a purely intuitive one for me: I have not consciously chosen to go the direction I have gone in. Instead, it has been an intuitive process, one which  I have seldom over-thought it). Suffice to say that I realise there has been change and that there has been a distillation of what I do over the eight years between the two images you see on todays post.

Present position. Grasleysfjoll, Iceland. © 2017

Present position.
Grasleysfjoll, Iceland. © 2017

But I also recognise something else.

As we gain experience in what we do, we tend to iron out the rough edges. Aspects of who we were are removed and although we may be wishing to improve our technique and vision, I do think something is always lost along the way of progress. Perhaps it's a sense of innocence in that I'm referring to.

I like to think that experience is a double-edged sword. On the one had it allows us to have a better understanding of what can and cannot be achieved, but it can also be a prison sentence. When you know what should be done you tend to discard possibilities for exploration and are less likely to be open to new discoveries: if you don't know there are any rules, you're more likely to break them.

Developing style and perfecting what you do, as much as they are things to aspire to, can become a set of hand-cuffs. As we develop our style and vision, I think we can become less able to experiment. Rather than letting our creativity go in places we have never been before, we may find ourselves going down the same tired old routes because we know they work and there is safety in these familiar patterns.

I think good artists are willing to not only explore, but perhaps more importantly, they are willing to let go of things they know have worked well for them in the past.

It's ok to change. It's ok to say goodbye to aspects of what you did that you loved, or still love. The last thing you need is to find yourself in a rut because you are too afraid to let go of things you know still work well.

To me this is similar to someone who is in a good job, a lovely home, but they wish to go do something else. It's safe to stay where you are because it's comfortable, but there's also something extremely boring and damaging about doing so. All you know is, changing and moving forward although risky, makes you feel more alive.

Looking back at my older work, I see things in it I wish I still had. I'm aware that I've lost things along the way. I do admit to feeling a sense of loss for the qualities I feel I no longer possess, but only in the way that I realise they can't exist alongside where I am now. To change means you have to let go, and when you change anything, you always lose something in the process. It is impossible to have both.

One last thing today before I go. I do think there is something often quite beautiful about early beginnings. This innocence I speak of: this quality of trying out things that somehow become lost along the way: it's an elusive quality. I often see it in many artists work, not just photographers. Musicians and painters, writers and actors. You don't often know you have it when you do, and you don't have it any longer once you know you had it.

It's impossible to recapture the past. All you can do, is keep moving forward and respect where you've come from. Realise it had its time, and that you are different now.

Different Perceptions, a Different loudness

I've often thought of photography as the act of 'paying more attention than usual' to my visual world. Rather than just glancing everywhere, I spend more time studying and watching how light affects and modifies objects around me. I look more.

But I've come to realise that photography isn't just about increasing visual awareness. We may believe that we are just honing and developing our visual awareness, but other aspects of our consciousness are also being heightened. In particular, I seem to be more sensitive to intrusive sounds in my environment than I used to. I'm sure I noticed them on a subconscious level in the past, but these days I seem to be more conscious of them. What was once quiet, is sometimes now too loud, aurally as well as visually.

But it's not just in my auditory and visual awareness that I seem to be more conscious these days. I also seem to be more aware of the levels of noise within my thoughts.

Take today as an example: I have a body of new work to edit, yet somehow I cannot find the peace within my mind to begin editing. I just 'know' that today, and indeed this week isn't the time to work on them. All I know is that I need a certain space in which to edit this work, but simply marking off some free time in my calendar isn't enough. I have to be feeling it as well.

If I'm not feeling it, I'd much rather go and do something else and leave the work alone for another day when I will have the proper emotional tools to work on it properly. But this too, depends on my level of awareness to figure out when there's no point in working on something because i'm either too tired, or just not in the right frame of mind to work on it.

We are all bobbing along on a sea of varying levels of perception and awareness. Some days I find I'm less sensitive to what is going on around me while other days everything can be too much. Visually, aurally and emotionally. I'm either in the right space to work on something or I'm not.

I've been saying for a while now, that improving one's own photography is sometimes about developing visual awareness, but that's only a tiny part of the story. Improving our photography is really about developing our awareness of everything around us and as well as what is going on within us. Photography isn't just about what we saw, it's also about what it meant to us and what it means to us now, and to do our intentions justice, we need to know when we've found the right levels of quietness within ourselves to bring the work to completion.

Delving deeper

It's good to get to know a landscape. Well.

Cono de Arita, Puna de Atacama, April 2017
Image taken by my guide on his Samsung phone. My films won't be ready until the very end of May !

I've been back in the Puna de Atacama region of Argentina this past week making some new photographs. My first visit here was two years ago. It was only a fleeting six day visit to the area where I felt I was often in the wrong place at sunrise and sunset. Despite being pleased with my first efforts, the experience left me feeling I had only scraped the surface of this amazing place. So many locations were wonderful but I was often there during the middle of the day when the light wasn't good. This is often the way with visits to new places: the first visit is more about finding out what it is I want to photograph and the second visit is about photographing it!

I like to get to know a place well, and repeated visits are the only way to do that. I see photographing a place like a continual learning experience where I hopefully grow in terms of my understanding of the place, as well as in my photography.

Logistics are often the biggest obstacle in getting to photograph a place well. With the Puna de Atacama, the region is vast. So vast in fact that my first visit left me feeling frustrated because in the space of a mile or so, there would be so many locations that would be suitable for the brief 20 minutes of beautiful light at either side of the day. With only 20 minutes to play with before the light would be bleached out at sunrise, and only 20 minutes to play with before the light was gone in the evening, it made choosing locations very tough indeed.

On location in the Puna de Atacama desert, Argentina, April 2017

So this visit was more about finding those special locations, areas where I wouldn't have to move so much to capture different aspects of the landscape before the 20 minutes of beautiful light was gone. That meant a lot of day-time scouting and many hills were climbed to find vantage points where I would have better luck when the light was good.

Spot-metering the desert in Argentina, April 2017

Location scouting seems to be a trial of errors. Working out where the sun is going to be and how it might react with the landscape can be done to some degree with Stephen Trainor's wonderful TPE application, but there still needs to be a lot of walking and climbing done to find those beautiful compositions where shapes in the landscape form the symmetry and balance I'm seeking.

Indeed, standing still in one location that is (hopefully) the best spot I can find, sometimes reaps dividends. With the Cono de Arita (the volcano shot at the top of this post (made by my guide on his Samsung phone), it was a learning experience to see how the shadows of the surrounding mountains interplayed with the salt flat and the silhouette of the cone as the sun dropped behind the horizon.

I believe it is only by spending time, and observing how the light interplays with the landscape that I can truly learn to be a better photographer. To obtain the images I want, I need to put the effort in, and that often means re-visiting a landscape many times over. Indeed, any landscape that I fall in love with will often become a regular part of my yearly photography because it has the capacity to teach me so much.

Something new in the familiar

I've often felt that the biggest limiting factor in my own photography - is myself. It's not the scenery, it's not the weather - it's me. 

Isle of Harris November 2016, Lumix GX1  (I use a small Lumix GX 1 for composition illustration purposes during my workshops)   Image © Bruce Percy

Isle of Harris November 2016, Lumix GX1
(I use a small Lumix GX 1 for composition illustration purposes during my workshops) 
Image © Bruce Percy

This is not a post about putting myself down. It's more a recognition that if something isn't working in the landscape, it's unlikely that it's the landscape's fault, but rather my own limitations to 'see' something beyond my own prejudices.

How often have you heard someone, or yourself say 'it wasn't happening today', or 'there's nothing here'. These kinds of statements say more about us than they do about the landscape, even though the language infers that the landscape didn't provide. A better statement to hear is 'I didn't see anything' or 'I find this place difficult'. With these statements we at least indicate that the problem lies within us, not the landscape. But they still have a degree of suggestion that the landscape may not be providing what we want. And there is the rub. 

Having to get past our own prejudices requires us to accept ourselves. We must see our own blindness, and we must also recognise that it is *never* the landscape's fault. It is our own.

If we cannot see something, then we should ask ourselves - what is it that we expect to see? And if we have any expectations, are they something we should entertain, or put to one side?

My own feelings on this matter is that we are often full of self deception. We go to bed full of expectations for the next morning, hoping the sunrise shoot will provide us with what we have already envisioned, or seek. But really, the landscape has no knowledge of us, or what we seek. It is just what it is, what it has to be at that moment in time. Our will or expectations is an illusion. It is our idea that somehow, we have control over what we want the landscape to be.

I often feel that photography is really a leveller. It tells us this: 'the landscape will be what it wants to be, and we have to adopt an open mind to see the beauty in what it is providing us with. Any expectations we had, any pre assumptions about what we hoped it might be - are our own issues to deal with.

Isle of Harris November 2016, Lumix GX1 (I use a small Lumix GX 1 for composition illustration purposes during my workshops)  Image © Bruce Percy

Isle of Harris November 2016, Lumix GX1
(I use a small Lumix GX 1 for composition illustration purposes during my workshops) 
Image © Bruce Percy

This past week, I've been on the isle of Harris - a small island in the outer hebrides of Scotland - my home land. It is a landscape and island that I have been coming to since 2009. I feel I know it well. Yet, this week one of my participants has found a new place on a beach I have been to many times. I am excited because I have found new things here, but I am also reminded that I have been here many times before and didn't see what was in front of my eyes. 

Being a good photographer requires a large degree of humility to accept when one is wrong.  I thought I knew this island (I don't), I thought there was nothing new to find here (there is), I thought I couldn't be surprised after so many visits here (I can).

That's what I love about photography. It's really a metaphor for life: when you think you know something or someone, or some place, the chances are - you really don't. It encourages me to be as humble as I *should* be. Life is more surprising that I think it it is. Places surprise me all the time and offer up new compositions and new views that I had not thought possible. If that's just the landscape talking, then what about people? Should I cast my preconceptions aside? Because let's face it - if  a landscape can offer up something surprising, something new that we had not seen on previous visits, then anything, and I mean *anything* is always possible. 

Photography has taught me so much. But one thing it has repeatedly done is tell me to 'open my heart to the future'. It is often in the unexpected, the open ended possibilities of what might be,  that we often grow.

Keeping it simple - the KISS principle

KISS is an acronym for "Keep it simple, Stupid" as a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960. The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. - Source Wikipedia

I think keeping things simple is one of the best bits of advice one can get whether it's in your photography, or any other area of your life.

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

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

Indeed, keeping things simple is a principle that has over time, been adopted by many disciplines from engineering to the arts to recreational activities. Here is another example of the KISS system taken from Wikipedia:

In film animation, "Master animator Richard Williams explains the KISS principle in his book The Animator's Survival Kit, and Disney's Nine Old Men write about it in Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, a considerable work of the genre. The problem faced is that inexperienced animators may "over-animate" in their works, that is, a character may move too much and do too much. Williams urges animators to "KISS". - source Wikipedia

I also know that in scuba diving, the KISS principle is employed with rebreathers. The belief is that by making the rebreather fully manual, it's more likely that the operator will have a complete idea of what is happening  at all times. This I understand, was due to many deaths from divers using automatic rebreathers that fail. It's a simple idea: make the user fully in control and that way there's less chance for things to go unnoticed.

I have a few KISS principles regarding my own photography. I don't suppose I'm the only one who does and each of us will have different approaches to our own working methods.

With regards to my digital-darkroom working methods, I prefer to keep things as simple as I can. I don't use multiple applications - I just use one and even with the application I use, I've learned to use around 5% of it. My belief is that by focussing on a restricted tool set, I have had the opportunity to become fully fluent with it, so much so, that it has become second nature to me, and my understanding of it has deepened over the years.

If I feel there is something I can't do with my current toolset, then I may enquire elsewhere.  But so far after 16 years, I've not felt the need to. In other words, I only employ new tools or techniques when the situation requires it. Rather than being let loose in a candy store, I prefer to work with what I know.

The same for my choice of lenses. For the first decade I only really used two lenses: a wide angle and a standard lens. Both were fixed focal length lenses. Because they were fixed, I got used to how they rendered scenes and what their technical limitations were (close focussing distance, depth of field range), because they only did one thing. By using only these two lenses, I was able to pay more attention to practicing my visualisation. It was only after so many years that I started to branch out to other lenses.

I also have a process for my kit. I keep everything in the same place, so I rely on muscle memory. Put something back in the wrong place and spend time hunting for it later on. I've also preferred to use the same tripod head for years because I know it well, rather than be tempted to buy new ones all the time. I'm tempted just as much as anyone else and when I have strayed, I've gotten lost or confused for a period of time while I've settled into using unfamiliar kit. These days I try to adopt new equipment carefully and spend a lot of time getting acquainted with it.

Economy has a lot to offer us as creative individuals. By reducing down to what you most frequently use and discarding the rest, your workflow becomes so easy that there is less of a chance of it hindering you while you are in creative flow. Whereas conversely, if you aren't too careful and keep employing new techniques when you don't need to - your creativity may get bogged down in technical troubles.

The skill is knowing when to look for new techniques and when to leave them well alone. If you feel you're getting on well with what you have, then I would urge you to keep it the way it is. If however you feel you've reached the end of where you can go with the tools you have, then it's time to engage in new tools. Just don't do it when you don't need to, as that is the best way to overcomplicate things when they didn't need any fixing in the first place.

KISS - Keep It Simple ( Stupid :-)

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.

Short time critic

Now that I've completed work on my new collection of images - from the Puna de Atacama of Argentina, I feel it's an appropriate time to talk about being one's own critic.

Images from the Puna de Atacama. Shot in June 2015, and I didn't start to look at the transparencies until early October 2015. It is now early November, and I've had a few weeks to sit on them, periodically doing a review to see if anything needs to be changed. But doing it for short spells, because this is the only way I can remain 'outside' of my own work.

Images from the Puna de Atacama. Shot in June 2015, and I didn't start to look at the transparencies until early October 2015. It is now early November, and I've had a few weeks to sit on them, periodically doing a review to see if anything needs to be changed. But doing it for short spells, because this is the only way I can remain 'outside' of my own work.

I've mentioned many times before, that I prefer to leave a lot of time between the shoot and the editing. I deliberately hold off sending my films away for immediate processing, and if I were a digital shooter, I would deliberately hold off editing my images for several weeks (preferably more). This I firmly believe gives me distance because with time, I gain a realistic sense of objectivity about what it was I accomplished. Editing straight away I feel does not give me the chance to truly see what the images hold, because I am too close to the work: I tend to suffer from a prejudice, often holding onto ideals of what I hoped the images would be.

Giving some distance to my work allows me also to be a more honest critic of what I've done. In fact, I don't just give myself distance between the shooting and editing stages any more. I do the same thing during the editing as well.

Editing is an iterative process. For each image, I tend to go through a process of edit, then review a day later, do another fine tune edit and leave it for several days then review. If I do any further editing, it is short and then I save them again, and repeat.

The issue is this: in order to edit my work well, I have to be a critic of my own work and to do this, I need to remain objective. The nub of the problem is that I'm only able to be an objective critic for a short while, because the longer I spend on the work, the higher the risk is, that I will become too lost in it. So I tend to review for short spells only. (tip: take note of your first impressions as they are usually right).

Being a good critic of my own work has required me to be able to step 'outside of myself'. This can only happen if I take time off between the edit and review sessions and more importantly, am brief when I do review. I believe a good critic is a short-time one. Don't overwork your work.

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.

Certain Landscapes have the power to Shape You

I’m sure all of us have had a positive encounter with someone, at some crucial moment, which has changed the course of our lives in some way.

Well, similar to this, I believe that some landscapes, when I've met them at a certain point in my own creative life, have changed the course of my own photographic development.

Seilebost beach, Isle of Harris, Scotland. Image © Bruce Percy 2014.      Seilebost becomes a massive sand flat at low tide. It's this vastness and space that allowed me to see parallels with the empty landscapes of the Bolivian Altiplano - a landscape that has taught me so much.

Seilebost beach, Isle of Harris, Scotland. Image © Bruce Percy 2014.  

Seilebost becomes a massive sand flat at low tide. It's this vastness and space that allowed me to see parallels with the empty landscapes of the Bolivian Altiplano - a landscape that has taught me so much.

I remember many years ago first visiting the Isle of Harris in the far north west of Scotland. I was struck by the beauty of the beaches there, but I had difficulty in translating the scenery into photographs that conveyed what I was feeling. I've had many encounters such as this in my photographic life where I've visited a place, and although I love it and find it extremely beautiful, I'm still at a loss as to how to photograph it (well). Making good photographs is not simply a case of finding good compositions and good light, but it's more than this for me: it's about finding an underlying theme - something which gives the body of work a sense of cohesion.

I tend to look at these encounters with the view that perhaps I'm not approaching the place the right way, or that perhaps I'm simply not ready as a photographer to get out of the experience what I feel is there. That doesn't mean I shouldn't try - it just means that perhaps I haven't the skills yet to convey what I'm seeing.

Take this case in point. It had been four years since I had last visited Harris. In the intervening years, I had photographed many ‘empty places’ that had taught me so much. I felt that if I returned to Harris now, I might have a better handle on how to approach its minimalistic landscape.

It was just a hunch, but I feel I've worked on my self-awareness enough to understand that what I am looking for has changed over the years. When I first started out making pictures, I was always looking for the iconic - for places that were easily recognisable, and also objects that are easily understood (trees, rivers, mountains). See 'association versus the anonymous' for more on this. More recently I've found I'm much more interested in the mood and atmosphere of a place rather than photographing known or easy to understand objects asI believe photographs can be extremely powerful if tones and colours are used to spark an emotional response. Well, that's how I see it anyway.

Laguna Colorada, Bolivian Altiplano. Image © Bruce Percy 2013  Laguna Colorada is a red lake at high altitude. There are no structures such as mountains or trees in this landscape to grab onto for security. You have no alternative, but to work with what it gives you - tones and colours only.

Laguna Colorada, Bolivian Altiplano. Image © Bruce Percy 2013

Laguna Colorada is a red lake at high altitude. There are no structures such as mountains or trees in this landscape to grab onto for security. You have no alternative, but to work with what it gives you - tones and colours only.

I show both these photos for one purpose: to illustrate that the Bolivian shot made in 2013 helped me 'see' how I could approach the Isle of Harris here in Scotland. Ok, you might want to discuss how both images are quite similar, and maybe you’re thinking I've just borrowed from a template of what worked previously. But I feel the similarity is due to much more than that.

Firstly, when I went to Bolivia, I was forced to work with tones and colours because sometimes there's not a whole lot else in the landscape to work with. 

(On a side note I fully appreciate that it can be quite daunting for many of us and I would not criticise anyone for feeling there was 'nothing there to photograph'. I feel so often I rely on easy to understand objects such as trees, rocks and mountains to give my photographs focus. But i've realised that the act of looking for recognisable objects in the landscape is sometimes just me looking for a emotional crutch, and what I'm really doing, is avoiding working with what i’ve been given).

Since visiting Bolivia and learning to work with empty places, the experience has had far reaching repercussions for my photography. I now find it much easier to approach empty places with confidence and to work with different climatic conditions. I often see parallels between one landscape and another and I utilise these relationships when I'm aware of them. For example, the black beaches of Iceland have taught me how to approach the black volcanic lagoons of Patagonia. I see parallels all the time now and I know this is because one landscape teaches me how to photograph another.

As for the Isle of Harris: I remember when I made the image you see at the top of this post. I was on the beach with my group of workshop participants, and one of them, Carlos said to me 'this reminds me of your Bolivian Altiplano shots', to which I replied 'Yes!'. Most of the time however, the connection isn't so obvious. It can often be an unconscious process where I realise many months or years later that there is a connection between one place and another. That's why it's taken me about six years to figure out how I think Harris is best conveyed. I needed to go to Bolivia first to be taught how to work with empty places before I could approach a part of my own country.

Some landscapes have the power to shape us. They can be road-signs to show us where we are going with our photography. It's just up to us to have the awareness skills to see the connection, or let the connection come to us many years down the line, and run with it.

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.

 

Association versus the anonymous

I often feel there's too much emphasis made of association.

Landscape photography requires us to be able to abstract: to reduce meaningful objects down to their graphical forms. Rather than thinking about trees, rivers and mountains, we should be able to see them for how beautiful their forms are. Rather than seeing 'mountain', we may see  'pleasing conical shape', rather than seeing 'tree', we may see 'pleasing wavy flow through the image', and rather than seeing 'river', we may see 'beautiful s-curve through the frame'.

Scarista, Isle of Harris, Scotland November 2014, © Bruce Percy. But you didn't really need to know where it was did you? ;-)

Scarista, Isle of Harris, Scotland November 2014, © Bruce Percy. But you didn't really need to know where it was did you? ;-)

But I think this only happens for some of us, and for the majority of us, we photograph things because we know them. If I show you a chair, you associate with it, because you know what a chair is. If I show you a tree, then most people see a tree, because it's what they already know.

To find a beautiful composition, we need to be able to see the relationships between objects, not in terms of what they are (association) but how they graphically fit together. Perhaps the tree and the mountain have similar shapes and there is empathy? Perhaps the tones in the river compliment the tones in the tree? If we do this, we make our imagery stronger, because it has more foundation in the arts than it does in real life.

But there is more to this problem than simply being able to abstract objects down to their basic elements of form and tone. Our problem goes much deeper than this. I'm guilty of finding myself on many occasions making pictures of a place, not because the light is beautiful, but because the place itself is iconic. In fact, sometimes the light at the iconic place is not so special and there is better light elsewhere, yet I still choose to photograph the iconic place.

I've had to ask myself why is it that I do this? Well, I think the reason is simple: we are attracted to what we know and the power of association is a very strong force to deal with. We seek what we know, because we find safety and comfort in it.

So my question to you is: what would you rather do? Would you prefer to photograph an iconic place in boring light, or photograph an anonymous place where the light is beautiful? I think you may say the later, but the truth is, I think many of us often do the former. I'm certainly guilty of it.

When it comes down to it, a photograph of an anonymous place in beautiful light is more powerful than a photograph of an iconic place shot in boring light. But despite believing this, I seem to always gravitate to what I know over what is photographically better.

Being a landscape photographer is sometimes about overcoming our human instincts to go with the familiar and this is certainly one example where our being human gets in the way of better photography.

My first Digital Darkroom Workshop

I'm just home from leading my first ever "Fieldwork to Digital-Darkroom" workshop, which entails marrying what is done out in the field with the post-edit stage. My course is based on my e-book - 'The Digital Darkroom - Image Interpretation Techniques'

Still very much a work-in-progress e-book, but I feel I'm getting a better sense of what should be included now that I'm teaching digital-darkroom interpretation skills.

Still very much a work-in-progress e-book, but I feel I'm getting a better sense of what should be included now that I'm teaching digital-darkroom interpretation skills.

The course was run at Adrian Hollister's Open Studio environment in the north-west of Scotland. Adrian runs many workshops with such notables as Joe Cornish, David Ward, Eddie Euphramus and the wonderful Paul Wakefield. His studio has six iMac computers, all colour calibrated and it's on the door-step of some wonderful landscapes which are within a 30 minute drive. Perfect venue for running such a workshop.

I've been wanting to run a course like this for a very long time, because I feel that the editing stage is often considered as an almost secondary, isolated task, something that is unrelated to the capture stage. 

Adrian Hollister's Digital Darkroom Studio, Mellon Charles, Wester Ross, Scotland

Adrian Hollister's Digital Darkroom Studio, Mellon Charles, Wester Ross, Scotland

I firmly believe that the fieldwork and editing stages are interrelated. Our editing sessions teach us about things we didn't notice at the time of capture and they illustrate to us what we need to be more aware of in future - if we choose to make the connection! Similarly, once we know how far we can push and pull images in the digital-darkroom, we are in a more informed position whilst choosing certain subjects, contrasts and qualities of light. There is a symbiotic nature between the two, and so for me, the word 'post' as in 'post-process' discourages our thinking into believing both tasks are unrelated, when they are not.

In fact, I abhor the phrase 'post-process' because it makes the entire editing stage sound like a functional, emotionless act. Images become something you could just stick in a washing machine, turn a few dials and let it run on auto. Which isn't the case. Editing requires much awareness - of tonal relationships, of competing elements, of flow throughout the image.

And adjustments made in the digital-darkroom should be made whilst noticing how our emotional response is affected when we change tones and contrasts in the work. It is much to do about 'feel' as it is to do about technology.

So I made a point that this week's workshop would not be about teaching photoshop, or teaching Lightroom. Anyone can do that in their own time, and that kind of knowledge is easy to get. No, what I wanted to teach was how to interpret what you've captured - to see and take advantage of themes present within the composition, to notice tonal relationships between subjects within the frame, to see that each image has an underlying structure that almost spells out how it should be edited to bring these motifs further forward. 

The digital darkroom is a creative space, one where we can bring out the essence of the motifs we discover in the image. That's its primary function for me. I do not see this as a way for fixing bad images. A bad image is always a bad image. We have an expression here 'you can't polish a turd'. Instead, I see it as a way to bring out the beauty and essence that can, with a bit of interpretation, be found in a good image.

But interpretation is a skill, and like composition, has to be earned and improved over the lifespan of our involvement with photography. There is no manual for this, just an improved ability to read an image, to understand what is going on, and to know your toolkit (software) well enough to be able to bring forward your interpretation.

So I was curious to see how my group of participants would edit their work after five days of guidance and continuous feedback. I definitely saw improvements in most participants work. Certainly in the daily reviews I would notice that all of the participants had observations and awareness of what might be done to help remove distractions, or bring out themes within the work, but what I had not envisaged was that some of the group would be far too subtle with their edits and I think there are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, each one of us has our own aesthetic. We have our own tastes. Some photographers are more interested in the verbatim. What they see out in the landscape is what they want to capture, and so the edits will be done with a lot of sympathy for how they perceived their reality.

Secondly, some will under-edit because of a lack of objectivity. Ideally we need a few weeks between capture and edit. I always find that if trying to edit work straight away is hard because we're so often attached to an idea of what we wanted to convey and if the image is not successful in this regard, we may feel it is not a success. Leave it for a few weeks and you will come back to it with a fresh eye. If there are any motifs of themes within the image - you're more likely to work with those because you're more open to see other things where you were not at the point of capture.

Thirdly, I think under-editing happens through a lack of confidence. Too scared to adjust the image too much because the photographer feels they don't have enough skill to know what to do. But I also think it may be because they feel they may lose something in the process, and could be holding onto how the image looks now, and can't see beyond that to another destination.

It's this that interests me most and I must confess that I feel there is no clear answer. Editing is a skill that is derived from many years of self-improvement. If I look back at my own editing abilities, and consider images I shot 10 years ago, I can see that often I knew there was something missing in an image, but I couldn't put my finger on what it might be. I see tonal errors in them where at the time of edit, my abilities were so untuned I thought I saw beauty. Where I was perhaps overcome by the strong colours of my chosen film, I now see a clumsy edit.

Digital-darkroom skills take a lifetime of continuous self-improvement. We have to put the work in. But we also have to be smart about it. Simply cranking up contrasts or saturation across the board is a clumsy way to edit work, and it should be something that doesn't happen so much as it did when you began your editing career. But things only change if you take the time to consider and reflect on what might be the best way forward to edit your work, and self-awareness is something that has to be built upon over time.

I found my Digital-Darkroom workshop did help my participants. There were moments where I felt I had led my horses to water, only they were unable to drink, because if they can't see it themselves, then I can't force them to. Improving editing skills can't be rushed, but certainly a week in the field and behind a computer with a photographer you like the work of, may help bring about an improved sense of awareness, and that's what I believe happened this week.


Bracing Myself

In just a few days time, I will be thrown back into Winter. Each February I spend two weeks above the arctic circle in Norway's Lofoten islands, and each year it's just like a winter reset.

Made after several days of looking at this scene. Sometimes I like to let a view sit in my mind's eye for a while before I know how I think I want to capture it.

Made after several days of looking at this scene. Sometimes I like to let a view sit in my mind's eye for a while before I know how I think I want to capture it.

It can be a bit of a jolt to the system, to have to go to Norway at the end of January. While winter is starting to show signs of loosening it's grip here in Scotland ( the days are gradually getting longer), it's not the case in the Lofoten islands up above the arctic circle.

One of the ways I cope with this, is to review my images from Lofoten. It helps me get my 'head into gear' for the trip ahead. My mind is filled with mountains and that beautiful northern light for days before I arrive.

I think there always has to be a 'settling in' period when we venture out with the camera. Go somewhere so different from where we've come from, and it can me physiologically challenging.

But today I've been thinking about the image at the top of this post. It is the view from my friend Camilla's spare bedroom. Camilla lives in the beautiful town of Reine, and her home is situated on the very edge of Reinefjorden. It's one of the most amazing views in the world as far as I am concerned, and it's a place where you can constantly study the shifts in light and season.

Making the photo you see here was hard. Simply because each time I looked out my bedroom window, the view seemed to suggest that although there was something beautiful happening every second, trying to capture the essence of it, would be a challenge.

I think some locations can be quite intimidating on that front. They're just so enigmatic, that the act of trying to start, to begin to make photographs of it, can be quite daunting. Start on the wrong foot and you might just screw up. Take the wrong approach and you might find you feel dissatisfied with what you create: often I feel there has to be a right time and it's best to just leave things until it feels right. So I left my camera in the bag for a few days.

The pressure was gone.

I just enjoyed what I was seeing and this in turn allowed my mind to become immersed in Lofoten. I found my mind and my dreams of what I was seeing began to sink into my emotions over the coming days until it eventually became second-nature. 

I started to understand, to anticipate what the winter storms were going to do to the view I had in front of me. I knew by now where the snow showers were going to go and what parts of the mountain scenery would be obscured and it was at that moment that I took up my camera and started to make photographs.

Simplifying Composition, 2nd Edition, almost done!

Since becoming a full-time workshop leader in 2008, I feel I've experienced and gained so much more than I ever imaged I would. One aspect of this, has been my own development as a teacher. It's been a great experience for me to teach others - sometimes intense, often a lot of fun, very sociable and highly rewarding. 

2nd edition - a complete rewrite

2nd edition - a complete rewrite

One of the biggest privileges of being a teacher is that it's not just your students that learn. You learn too.

I feel very privileged to  regularly have the opportunity to get a better understanding of many of the core competencies of photography, simply by having to teach them. I now look at each workshop I do, not just as a place to teach others, but also as a space in which to strengthen my own understanding of what I do and why I do it.

It's been quite some journey and every now and then I like to look back and review things. See where I've been, how far I've come.

Way back in 2010, I published an e-book titled Simplifying Composition . It has been one of my most popular titles and I've used it as the basis of my workshops here in Scotland for many years.  

This year I've been feeling that it's about time the e-Book was updated to reflect where I am now as a teacher. Because of this, I've gone back to scratch and rewritten it.

I'm pleased to tell you that the first draft of the new edition is now complete. Other work commitments aside, I hope to have the new edition released early in the new year.