Square Variations

Today I feel like posting an old post. The post below was written in 2012. I feel it’s just as valid now as it was back then. Today I’ve been talking to a few people about aspect ratios. Since I wrote this piece, I’ve seen a few camera manufacturers offer more aspect ratios in their cameras, but it’s still not enough. Aspect ratios should be programmable on all contemporary cameras. It should also be implemented in a way that works without it being a bit of an afterthought (Canon, Nikon). Through the more recent introduction of mirrorless cameras, some have embraced aspect ratios (my favourite is the Fuji GFX50s which has just about every conceivable aspect ratio available, and it can be programmed as a dedicated button on the body).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this article about me shooting images in Scotland.

Enjoy, Bruce.

April 2012

This past weekend, I was in Torridon conducting a weekend workshop. We had some very rainy weather, and one of the group - Steve - mentioned to me that he was glad the weather had been bad, as it gave him a chance to see he could actually make some good images despite the weather.

Top right

Top right

I often feel, that the reason why Scotland is so photogenic, is because of the changes in the weather. One minute it's misty, the next it's clear. And fog or low cloud levels can be a great way of making simpler images. Take the shot above for instance. This is Loch Maree. Normally, this group of trees have the massive Slioch mountain dominating the background. But with a bit of rain and poor visibility, Slioch was invisible. We were left with no horizon - nothing to give the shot context.

I loved the group of three or four trees clumped together. They were actually a subset of a larger group of trees, but I felt that we could easily 'remove' the rest and keep the entire shot very simple if we just had this small gathering of trees.

Variations

Variations

I made this shot on my little Lumix GF1. It's a great camera because it has interchangeable aspect ratios. I felt that square worked really well for this shot, as I could easily place the trees in three quadrants of the frame - top right, bottom right and middle right, as you can see in the above triptych. Question is, is one better than the other? And I like to consider that there is always more options than just one. So I guess the answer is 'it depends'. My personal favourite composition out of the three images is the first one. I feel the picture has a more 'uplifting' feeling than the rest, and it has more presence, because I'm really exaggerating the empty space in the frame more than the others. I also love the reflection of the trees.... I feel they have space below them to 'breathe'.

The middle composition, where the trees are placed in the bottom right, is perhaps less engaging for me, because the trees aren't so tight against the bottom of the frame. The picture feels less focussed for me, in terms of composition. I'd liked to have moved the trees even further down the frame, but I felt the reflections would not have enough space. I felt I had to keep moving the trees further up the frame. But it's a more relaxed composition than the first one - which I feel is more 'graphic' than being a photograph.

The far right composition is perhaps my less favourite. It is more of a 'standard' composition. I feel the horizon has been carelessly composed - for my taste. It's just a little below centre, and I think it might have benefited from being slightly above centre - giving that 'uplifting' feeling I was talking about in the first image, while at the same time, being more in-line with a 'standard' landscape image.

As much as I love square, maybe it might have suited more a 4x5 aspect ration as seen above?

4x5 crop

4x5 crop

Ultimately, when you have a simple subject such as this - trees and reflection, and nothing else, it's much easier to get down to the basic tasks of composition and placement in a frame. The less objects you have in the frame - the better, I feel.

I was immediately attracted to this scene when we were driving past, because there's little in there to distract. When was the last time you went out with your camera to shoot when the atmospheric pressure is so low, that almost nothing is visible?

Photographing in inclement weather

Cameras can take rain, so long as they're not left in a damp bag for days afterwards, that way they will die for sure. Cameras don't need to be weather sealed to be used in the rain, they just need a bit of sensible looking after, and taken in and dried once you're done. I've yet to have a camera die from rain water. They die because they're left in damp bags for too long.

Fjallabak-Sept-2017-(8).jpg

If you only photograph when it's dry, then you'll be extremely limited to the kinds of photographs you can make. Your photography will only show a narrow view of what the world has to offer and you'll be selling yourself short.

If you are worried about taking that $3,000 USD camera body out in the rain, then you've bought the wrong camera. Buy something you can take everywhere and not worry about. Better still, buy a used cheap body and abuse it.

Cameras are tools to be used. They should never stop you from making images and if they do, I'd suggest you get rid of them and buy something else that doesn't get in the way. That goes for cameras that are too complicated to use, or are too delicate for a bit of rain.

I'm lucky that I use old Hasselblad film cameras. They are 100% mechanical. They are inexpensive to replace if I break them. I've broken a few in my time because of the elements I work in. Sometimes they begin to rust inside due to all the salt air, or the fine sand of the Bolivian deserts cause wear and tear. The volcanic dust in Iceland can be particularly harsh also. But I'm never worried about them because at the end of the day - it's the photos that matter. I don't want to be held back by worrying about looking after the camera equipment.

Fjallabak-Sept-2017-(13).jpg

But before you think I don't care about my equipment, I'd like to tell you that I'm a gear head. I love photography equipment, and I do like to look after it. I just think photos matter more and so I do push them and use them in sandy, dusty, rainy places.

To clean them, I use a paint brush - 1 inch wide DIY store paint brush to get all the muck and dirt off the body. Blower brushes are pretty useless and when you have wet sand on a body, I'll leave it to try and then use the paint brush to wipe the sand off. It works beautifully.

So I do try to look after my equipment, but I also am not afraid to use it either.

Electronic cameras can take more rain water than you might imagine, but if you're not sure, then I suggest buying a cheap body to go out with. If you get those moody shots you want, then I think you won't look back, even if the resolution of the cheap digital body isn't anything close to your new camera.

The shots made in this post today were made in very foggy weather or in the middle of heavy downpour. The rain was so heavy that everyone else had retreated to the car. There was fine volcanic dust being blown around by the wind and it got into my camera bag, and into the body of my Hasselblad. I got soaked and the black sand of the desert began to stick to everything - my hands, my clothing and the outside of my camera equipment.  I was in my element though, as I knew I could not get these pictures of the desert any other way.

Use your equipment, and take it everywhere. Buy equipment that you're not afraid to damage, because it will also buy you  the freedom to experiment and work in all climatic conditions.

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.

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.

The Philosophy of Returning

I'm in Nepal just now, just passing through Kathmandu on my way to Bhutan. It's a 'family' trip this time - with my dad and brother, but I've brought my cameras along, hopefully to make some new images of the people of Bhutan while I am here.

A very rare and special encounter in the UNESCO town of Baktapur in the Kathmandu valley yielded this image for me in 2009.

A very rare and special encounter in the UNESCO town of Baktapur in the Kathmandu valley yielded this image for me in 2009.

I spent today going back to some old haunts. One in particular - the Boudha Stupa in the Tibetan area of Kathmandu was a special place for me back in 2009. So much has changed in the past six years for me since that trip that I couldn't help being a little reflective today about it. I found myself remembering who I was at that time, and what I was looking for as a photographer.

I've always felt there is a great deal of value to be found in returning to a location more than once. In fact, many of the landscapes I have photographed, I have gotten to know over many years and by returning many times. Some offer up their secrets upon the first visit. I may find that the first encounter is so special that an impression remains indelibly marked on my psyche for many years to come and seems to be the benchmark for all further visits. Most of the time though, I feel that each visit allows me to learn a bit more about a place, and understand it better. I also find that each new encounter yields different images.

The adage that you can't repeat what you did is often true, and going back somewhere to try to reproduce a certain look, mood or feeling just doesn't happen. You change. The location changes. And new things are brought forward as a result.

A woman I encountered many times at Boudha Stupa in Kathmandu in 2009, but it took me about six days to work up the courage to get in close and make this photo of her.

A woman I encountered many times at Boudha Stupa in Kathmandu in 2009, but it took me about six days to work up the courage to get in close and make this photo of her.

Being here today, I noticed that the Boudha Stupa has not changed, and it is still a remarkable site to encounter, particularly in the morning when it is covered in birds and all the local Tibetan's come to do their early morning prayers. But what has changed is that there are fewer Buddhists / Tibetans and Hindu's in traditional dress. In fact, the majority of the people I saw this time round were dressed in western style clothing. I am reminded today that the old pass away and the young replace them. The only thing constant in life it seems,  is change.

I didn't feel like making pictures today though, despite the Stupa being very beautiful, I felt I had more or less 'said it' back in 2009 and today has reminded me that what I managed to capture back then, was the product of about 12 mornings of repeated visits, hoping to find a new nugget that I had not been presented with on previous days. In short, what I got, was the product of hard work.

I feel today that I've been given the rare gift of being allowed to appreciate my work in a new way. At the time of making these photographs I felt I could have done better. But returning today, I now see that the place is hard to photograph. The people who come here to pray do not wish to deal with a photographer asking them for images.

The Boudha stupa at dawn. Many birds frequent the place in the morning during prayers. A more traditional dress sense was evident back in 2009, and seems to be more 'rare' now in 2015.

The Boudha stupa at dawn. Many birds frequent the place in the morning during prayers. A more traditional dress sense was evident back in 2009, and seems to be more 'rare' now in 2015.

But I also feel that I have no desire to photograph this place any more. I just feel I am content with what I got back in 2009 and there's no need to try and add to it.

So if I have any specific point to make today, it is perhaps that returning to a location can sometimes make you reflect, and give you the opportunity to notice how you've changed as a photographer. I feel I am looking back at who I was in 2009 and noticing where I am now.

Maybe some places need to be returned to only a few times. Like a special event in life, that one cannot repeat again, it's perhaps best to just remember it and cherish it for what it gave you at that moment in your photographic development.

My original images of the Kathmandu valley mean more to me now, since I have returned. My shoot in 2009 was a special moment in my own photography-life and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to reconnect with it and reflect on how hard I had worked to create it.

And that's just great :-)

Lee Seven5 Filter System Review

For a very long time, I've used Lee 100mm neutral density filters in my landscape photography. Neutral Density filters are, I feel, a vital piece of kit that all landscape photographers should own. The Lee system is in my experience the best you can get. I feel I can say this with some authority as I've had the privilege of working with all the filter manufacturers products over the past six years I've been running workshops.

Most pro-end filters are perfectly fine in terms of optics and colour rendition, but I've found many manufacturers products fall short in terms of filter holder design (i.e lack-of) or in being used in a compounded fashion - stack more than one filter together and an evident magenta colour cast will surface. It's always there, but it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. I have however, found the Lee filter system to be the least prone to colour casts, provided that the filters haven't aged. It's unfortunately the case that all filters tend to lose the colour accuracy over time as the dyes begin to fade. All Lee filters are date stamped and they recommend you replace them every three years or so (this is usually a non-issue for me, as I tend to use them so much, that I wear our my gear a lot earlier than that).

ND (Neutral Density) filters are essential in controlling the dynamic range and exposure between ground and sky - not just with film, but also with digital capture. If you're uncertain about their benefit, then I can't state how important they are. Even the 1 stop Hard-grad is vital. But you do need to buy a good quality set. Don't cut corners by going cheap - you'll regret it.

Anyway, this posting is about the miniature filter system by Lee. It's called the Seven5 filter system. It's been designed for compact systems and the filters are therefore considerably smaller than it's big-brother 100mm filters.

I've been meaning to write a review of the Lee Seven5 filter system for some time now. This review is primarily aimed at those who are thinking of using this system with a small format camera system such as a Micro-Four-Thirds format up to 35mm rangefinder.

I bought my set of Seven5 filters because I was looking for a compact filter system that would work with a little Lumix GX1 Micro-Four-Thirds system I bought for illustrative and teaching purposes on my workshops. I'm not a digital shooter, preferring to work with film for all of the work you see on this website. So I wanted a small camera format that was very compact. The Lumix GX1 along with a Panasonic 12-35 lens is what I chose, and the Seven5 filter system fitted the bill in terms of compactness.

The good

It's really compact. I like the filter holder and the adaptor rings. The filter holder is especially simple and it comes with the polariser attachment already built in.

Which brings me on to the polariser. What I've always liked about the Lee system is that the polariser fits on to the front of the holder.Which makes it much easier to rotate while keep the grads where they are. The only downside in this approach is that the polariser needs to be a lot larger to avoid vignetting (which is a costly exercise as the filter for the normal system is 105mm).

The Seven5 polariser is easy to fit onto the holder in one short rotation. The 100mm filter system on the other hand requires you to thread the filter on and off. I've never liked this - so much so - that I bought two filter holders - one for general grad use, while the other has the polariser permanently attached. It's much easier to swap filter holders than it is to thread and unthread a filter from one holder. With the Seven5 system this problem has been removed all together - it's a simple snap and rotate to lock it on and remove it quickly too. Very nice.

The bad

Whoever designed these filters for use of smaller systems assumed that the diameter of the lenses would be smaller than those of 35mm lenses, which in most cases isn't true. I've used these filters on a Micro-Four-Thirds system for a while now, and they don't cover the entire area of the lens when you wish to place the grad around 3/4 of the way up the frame - particularly when composing in portrait orientation. It's not uncommon to find the filter is not long enough with the bottom edge protruding into the lower region of the image. I think this was a design constraint to keep the whole system compact, but it does impact their use.

The other thing that I find confusing is the degree of 'suddenness' of the graduation in each of the hard-grad filters. They're too sudden for systems such as Micro-Four-Thirds or even 35mm cameras.

I have some thoughts on why extremely sudden grads don't work with small-format systems.

Hard-Grad's tend to be more obvious on wide angle lenses than telephotos because when a shorter focal-length is used, we're really zooming-out of the image and are therefore zooming out of the graduation. If we go the other way and go up the focal-lengths, then we're really zooming into the graduation - so the graduation becomes more and more diffused as we zoom up. So using sudden graduations like the ones that Lee produce for the Seven5 system on systems such as Micro-Four-Thirds where the focal lengths are smaller - (for example - an equivalent angle of view to 50mm on MFT is 25mm), it becomes apparent that the graduations are going to be more evident.

I should at this point make it clear that I use hard-grads most of the time. They are used far more often than soft grads - which are really for use in controlling more gradual tonal changes across the entire frame rather than for controlling the contrast between sky and ground. So it's not that hard-grads are too sudden in per se - they're not - they usually work very well for most of the situations I encounter in my landscape work. I do get emails asking about the correct placement, but these questions usually hint at the wrong strength of filter being used - if you can see the graduation - it's probably because you're using too strong a filter.  Hard grads aren't too sensitive to correct placement provided the strength is about right.

One last thing, I wish someone would produce a nice little filter bag for the Seven-5 system. I don't see the point in owning small filters, only to store them in a large bag. It kind of defeats the purpose of going compact.

In Summary

So my two main issues with this filter system are this:  Using it with small format systems, the filters are often too short (have less travel than I need for grad placement) and the hard-graduations themselves are too obvious / sudden.

If you already own the Lee 100mm filter system, it would recommend buying these for one reason - if you feel going compact is of the utmost importance for you. I can fully appreciate that a compact filter system for Leica Rangefinder users and smaller formats is very attractive. It certainly was for me when I chose to buy these.

Although the 100mm filters are considerably larger and bulkier, the graduations and filter-travel are just about right for using on any system from Micro-Four-Thirds upwards, so again, i'd only opt for the Seven5 system if compactness is the driving force behind your need to buy them.

Despite these points, I'm still happy I bought mine and I've learned to live with the limitations of the filter system because for me, it's the compactness of the design that was the essential aspect of buying them in the first place.

Heading towards the edge? Then take your time.

A few months ago I posted an article about using focal lengths, and more precisely, how they can be used to control the balance or dominance between foreground and background subjects.Stoksness, Iceland

In it, I spoke about how it's not uncommon to be attracted to the edges of a landscape. For instance, I'll often find myself heading towards the edge of a lake, or the edge of the sea and I've also found myself on occasion close to the edge of a cliff.

If my habit is to always go straight down to the edge of the sea/lake/loch/cliff, this can be a real limitation in terms of controlling background and foreground dominance. As explained in my previous article about focal lengths, part of my technique in balancing foregrounds with backgrounds is by how near/far I choose to be to my foreground. Anything at infinity stays at infinity and does not change in size as I move ten feet forward/back but my foreground changes in size dramatically. By automatically heading towards the very edge of a lake, I'm reducing any opportunity to use this technique to it's fullest.

I'm also losing out in another way too though. I miss out on exploring the parts of the landscape that I pass over to get to the edge of the water. This is the main point of this post today.

I've often found many great compositions whilst on the way somewhere. I think this is because as much as I can latch on to one area of a landscape and feel it might be very interesting to work with, I actively keep my mind open to finding and noticing other things while I make my way towards it. I'm just wondering though - is this something you do when you choose to head from the car to a designated spot?

A little bit like a life-metaphor, I think we can often miss out on opportunities as photographers because we're too focussed on being somewhere else.

Siloli desert, Bolivia

These days, I like to start at the back of a beach and slowly work my way forward. I'm well aware that small areas of a landscape can yield interesting compositions and I'll often find myself working with an area of a beach which is around 4 feet long for an hour or so.

This is why I prefer prime lenses because they force me to fit to the landscape, rather than me command the landscape to fit to my own rules. With a prime lens, I'm forced to move around to fit things in, whereas with a zoom it's often too easy to feel I can just stay in one spot and change focal lengths to get everything to fit together. By doing the later, I miss out on finding new compositions in my immediate surroundings whereas with the  former, I'm encouraged to explore.

I feel good photography is not simply about technique or being there at the right time. But more about temperament - how patient/impatient I am, and how I tend to latch onto an area of the landscape and become blinkered and ignore the rest.

Self-awareness, of knowing how I can behave,  has become  a vital photographic skill for me. I know I can sometimes choose to close my eyes to many photographic opportunities. Just having this knowledge has helped me reconsider what I may be passing up on - particularly so when I'm heading towards the edge of landscape.

Thoughts on the impact of equipment change

This year I re-entered the world of the field camera. You may think this camera is a large format 4x5 inch system. It's not. It's actually a medium format 6x9cm field camera, only I'm using it with a 6x7cm film holder. So it's really a 6x7 medium format film camera with the added benefit of having tilt, shift and swing movements. Many Canon and Nikon users can buy tilt-shift lenses for their fixed plane camera bodies, for me, I bought a camera with tilt-shift-swing movements built into the body not the lenses.

Because it is not a large format camera, it's much smaller and lighter than you can imagine from looking at the photographs here. I just took this little system with me to Turkey a few weeks back and I carried it onto the plane in a waist-level bag including four lenses (38, 47, 65, 80), light meter, filter case and my entire film stock. I don't like to travel with multiple formats if I can avoid it - too many options make for a confusing time and I wished to get to grips with this system while I was away. There's no better way to do that, than to leave every other camera (read that as 'crutch')  back at home.

So why did someone who already owns three different medium format outfits buy a fourth one? Good question.

My answer is that I'd been feeling restricted by the lack of movements in my fixed plane camera bodies. Working with medium format often means that I'm working within a range of narrower depth of field's than someone using smaller systems.

I know for instance that with my Hasselblad 50mm or my Mamiya 7 50mm, the closest I can get to my foreground subject is about 1 metre. For those of you who don't know much about medium format, a 50mm lens is equivalent (I must stress - in angle of view only) to a 24mm lens in 35mm format. I still have the depth of field properties of a 50mm lens, because a 50mm lens is a 50mm lens, no matter what format of camera you bolt it onto.

Shorter focal-lengths provide more depth of field than longer focal lengths. And this is affected by the choice of format you decide to use. Use a small format such as Micro-Four-Thirds and your focal-lengths are half of what they are with 35mm. Consider the following table. If you were to aim to get the same angle of view as a 50mm lens in 35mm format across other camera formats, you would use the following focal lengths:

But bear in mind that you have a lot less depth of field at 150mm than you do with a 25mm lens for the same aperture. You can see how focal-lengths affect depth of field by playing with an ultra-wide lens and a 200mm lens. When you attempt to focus an ultra-wide lens, it kind of feels as if nothing much changes right? That's because even wide open, most of the scene is in focus. Whereas with a 200mm lens, you find that the focus has to be extremely precise.

Back to my choice of field camera. Most 35mm shooters using a 24mm lens can get as close as 2 feet to their foreground and keep infinity in focus. With my medium format systems - I can't. The closest I can get is 1 metre, and that's all because I'm using a focal length of 50mm to get the same angle of view as your 24mm lens. One way I can get round this problem is to use tilt (see picture below for front standard tilt):

The other reason I chose to get a field cameras has to do with converging lines. I've been finding many subjects I wish to shoot don't work if I have to point the camera up or down at them. For instance, those lovely red huts in Lofoten can only be photographed if I'm exactly parallel to them. If I point the camera up, my subject starts to lean back, if I tilt the camera down my subject starts to lean forward. See picture below for an example of how to look down but also keep vertical lines straight (not converging). Notice how the film plane is level - the camera has not been pointed up or down:

I think buying new gear should always be done with a lot of consideration. We often think about the benefits of what some new equipment may bring, but rarely do we think about the consequences it may have on our existing workflow. I'm always concerned that I may lose something I value in the process of changing something.

For example, I had been using nothing much else but a Mamiya 7 outfit for around 12 years with only 3 lenses. I am so used to visualising compositions in these three focal-lengths and also in a 6x7 aspect ratio. I think my compositions got better and better over the years because I was so tuned into using the same tools time and time again.  Around 2010, I took on a Hasselblad (which has a square aspect ratio) and when I did, I did it knowing it would take me at least a few years to settle into it (it did). I felt I might find that it changed the way I see compositions and I was concerned that I might find my compositional-abilities disrupted by the change. So I knew about the possible impact, and took on the change with a lot of care for my creativity.

And now that I've just bought an Ebony SW23 field camera, I've been very careful to buy the same focal-lengths as my Mamiya camera because I didn't want to affect the way I visualise. Changes to my process are always done in small, almost organic steps.

So now that I've re-entered the world of the view camera,  I've already told myself it will take time. A lot of time. And to be patient. I'm very self-aware of my creativity and I like to observe how things morph and change over time. That is one of the most beautiful things about photography for me.

Paul Wakefield Book Review & Exhibition

When I started out on my photographic journey, there were a few key photographers that I think helped point me in the right direction.

For instance, Galen Rowell gave me permission to follow my traveling-dreams, while Michael Kenna showed me that it was totally ok to create a 'new reality' through heavy manipulation in the dark room. But there is one photographer that showed me that nature and natural scenery often possess an abstract depth to them that can be utilised to create strong imagery. That photographer is Paul Wakefield.

Wakefield's compositions of well known places are often unique, showing that there is always an abstract shape or form to nature's design. I find his images of anonymous landscapes - the kind that many of us tend to overlook - just as powerful as his images of the iconic places we know so well.

Paul Wakefield's newly published book

For those of you who aren't familiar with Wakefield's work, he has been a terrific influence on many notable landscape photographers. I know for instance that Joe Cornish often cites Wakefield's images of Elgol on Skye to be the catalyst for him deciding to venture there in the first place.

A few months ago, I received news that Wakefield was due to release a monograph of his work to date. I bought my copy in a matter of seconds, because I so wished to experience his beautiful work in more detail than I can on a website. The edition I bought is the £175 collectors edition in a clam-shell case with a print signed by him. There is also a standard edition at £48 available from Beyond Words books here in the UK.

The book is beautifully presented and printed on very nice matt paper. It is a large book and is very much in the style of a classic Ansel Adams monograph. I think all landscape photography monographs should be printed with a timeless-air of design to them, and Paul's book fits this category unreservedly. It is perhaps my favourite landscape monograph since Michael Kenna's Huangshan book (which you can read about here).

On a side note, there are a few images in Wakefield's book that take me to places I know well: the Lofoten islands of Norway, Torres del Paine in Patagonia and the isles of Harris, Skye and Eigg. It seems that Paul has been more of an influence on my own journey this past decade than I had originally thought. What is so joyful for me then, is to experience a different perspective of these places - sometimes I found myself doubting if his images were of the places I know, because his compositions often offer an unexpected view.

It is his skill for assembling great compositions in such a way that I find the most enjoyable in his work. I remember asking him a few years back if he could confirm that one of his images was of Lago Sarmiento in Torres del Paine, to which he replied  "don't you think images become more powerful when you don't know where they are from?" I would certainly agree with this.

The book does indeed tell you where his beautiful images were shot, but it saves us from any interruption by  leaving the images untitled, to enjoy for what they are, rather than for where they are a study of. For those of us with an enquiring mind, the locations are listed at the back of the book. I find this design choice a welcome one, because it removes any possibility of distraction while enjoying the work - images should be enjoyed first and foremost and analysed later.

Paul-Wakefield-E-card

So I end this post with news that Paul Wakefield is holding an exhibition this month at the Redfern Gallery in London from the 8th to the 26th. The gallery currently has stock of his beautiful hard bound book. The standard edition is available on-line from Beyond Words books here in the UK.

Redfern Gallery, 20 Cork Street, London W1S 3HL T: 020 7734 1732/0578 / F: 020 7494 2908 www.redfern-gallery.com

Getting Acquainted with new work

Back in February, I made my first ever trip out to Japan. It was a very enjoyable trip, mostly because the people there are terrific. Politeness is something that seems to be at the core of the Japanese, and I will definitely be going back next year.

Maiko, Kyoto, Japan, © Bruce Percy

The past few weeks have been deeply satisfying for me on a creative level.

I had originally gone out to Japan for a special one day event in Kyoto. I had high hopes that I might make some beautiful images of Maiko and Geiko (Kyoto's Geisha). All I can say about that day is that by the end of it, I felt extremely happy, feeling that I'd maybe made a few nice portraits.

I'm a film shooter, which means I have to live with the memories of those moments where I felt I captured something good. I think that's one of the reasons why I love shooting film. There is no pressure to review immediately what I've shot, and I go with the philosophy that what's done is done. It allows me to live more in the present moment. No stopping to review, just making images. Which is great.

Once I click the shutter, the image is either imprinted on my mind or it's not. I have to listen to my gut a lot and the more memorable images tend to stay with me in my thoughts and feelings for days after the event. I find it highly enjoyable to let my mind settle and absorb what it was I experienced. I often feel it takes a lot of time, maybe weeks or moths to really be clear on what I experienced, and in this way, it's great to just leave the films until I get home and have space in my mind and schedule to work on the images.

So this posting is really about the experience of watching new work come to fruition. In my studio I have a light table where I place my transparencies, and I also have a daylight viewing booth where I can review the contact sheets for the negatives I've shot. The Geisha portraits I made were shot on Kodak Portra 160 colour negative film, so I always request a contact sheet to be made, so I can easily look over the entire collection of images on a roll in one easy go.

During the selection and editing, I've felt I've been getting re-acquainted with Kyoto and my the day I spent there making images of Maiko and Geiko. It's been such a really beautiful thing to get absorbed in the sights and memories of the trip and also to find that the certain images that really made a big impression on me at the time of shooting, have reliably met my expectations. But there is also the beautiful surprise in seeing other images I had not thought would make the grade come to life, and  to watch the final portfolio take shape.

Each portfolio should have it's own vibe. Sometimes that vibe is based on the subject matter, but more so for me now, the collection of images has to have a cohesive feel to them - usually brought about by the colours and tones present in the work. I often feel my own images tend to speak to me and dictate how they are going to turn out, and it's up to me to see relationships in colour ranges or subject matter to find a common theme or story while I'm editing them.

The past few weeks of sitting in my home studio absorbed in contact sheets and watching the portfolio's story appear before my eye's has been really wonderful.

One mustn't rush the editing. When you have just made a collection of images it's all so tempting to get back to your home and busily start work on them, but there's really something wonderful to be had in cherishing the moment because it is a way of recalling the experiences and feelings you had whilst making them.

My new collection of images can be viewed in the new work section of this website.

Focal lengths are for controlling background to foreground presence

I often feel that many of us are attracted to different focal length lenses simply because of the difference in angle of view they provide.

Wide angle lenses allow us to fit more into the frame, but at the same time, they make everything smaller. Conversely, zooming up the focal lengths, allows us to fit less into the frame, and what is included, tends to be more present.

So changing focal lengths affects two things in one go: angle of view, and subject presence. Only, most of us really only think about angle of view.

In this post, I'd like to discuss how using a fixed focal length and zooming with our feet, can radically change the compositional balance between foreground and background subjects.

In the above image, this is how I perceived the location in my mind's eye.

I had decided I loved the background mountains so much that I wanted them to have as much presence in the frame as the foreground bush.

However, as soon as I got close to where the bush was, I ended up with the shot below (note how the background mountain is smaller, and less present in the frame compared to the bush):

What happened was that as soon as I got close to the bush, I realised I needed my trusty wide angle lens (24mm) in order to fit in the bush and also the mountain. I put it on my camera, and all of a sudden everything in the frame got smaller - the mountain and also the bush.

My next step was to walk  closer to the bush to give it more presence. This certainly worked - the bush became pretty dominant in the frame, but the background did not change in presence at all. And this is a key point to think about here:

"When you put on a wide angle lens, everything gets smaller, and if you move closer to your foreground, it changes dramatically while your background remains the same."

My foreground became more dominant, while my background became less dominant.

Here is the same location, shot at 24mm again, but in this instance, I moved  about 3 feet back:

Notice how the background mountains have not changed in size, but that the foreground bush has become less dominant. The key point to this is:

"By keeping a fixed focal length (in this case 24mm), and moving closer to, or further away from the foreground subject, only the foreground subject changes in size and becomes more dominant, or less dominant respectively"

Ok, so you may be asking - well how did Bruce manage to get the first shot then? And the simple answer is that I used the same focal length as my eye - I used the equivalent of a 50mm lens, to ensure my background mountains were the same size as I had originally perceived them. I then walked back until I could fit in the bush. The key point about this is that:

"When you zoom in, everything gets bigger, but you can only influence your immediate foreground. By moving back 10 feet or so, you can radically change your foreground, while keeping the background the same size."

For this very reason, I prefer to set a fixed focal length, and zoom with my feet. It's also the reason why I prefer fixed focal length lenses to zooms (at least until you fully understand the properties of using different focal lengths).

The key points about doing this are:

  1. When moving around a landscape with the same focal length, the background does not change size - even if I move 20 feet back, or 30 feet back, the background remains the same. The foreground however, changes dramatically.
  2. I figure out how big I want my background to be and zoom the lens to fit the background it in the frame.
  3. I then zoom with my feet. By moving nearer towards / further away from my foreground, I am able to get the right amount of proportion of foreground to balance with the background.

Those of you who have attended workshops with me, will know that I spend a lot of time balancing objects within the frame. I often think of proportions and spacial distances between objects and how they relate to each other. For many of us, this is as natural as computing where to put our hand to catch a ball, while for the rest of us, it's something we have to work at very much.

By zooming with a zoom lens on location, you make composition harder - because you move two goal posts at the same time: angle of view, and presence of objects within the frame.

"I find it is rarely a good idea to stand at one spot and zoom, because although I may fit everything I want into the frame, I'm not giving the background and foreground the correct amount of proportion to each other."

By using a fixed focal length, I have decided how big my background is going to be, and I use my feet to change the foreground presence to balance against my background. In the examples above, I chose to make the background mountain a certain size in the frame, and I then moved back and forth with my feet to increase / decrease the size of the foreground bush in relation to the background.

In other words, I spent a bit of time balancing the dominance of foreground subject with background subject.

If you own a zoom lens, then try to avoid zooming in and out to fit a subject into the frame. Instead, determine what size you want your background to be, and then zoom to fit that. Then keep the focal length static and move with your feet to fit in the foreground.

"Focal lengths are really for controlling background to foreground presence."

The invalidity of spirit-levels

I've been in Norway for the past three weeks running two consecutive tours. While I've been here, I've had a few discussions with participants regarding the validity of using spirit-levels when composing.

In this post, I'd like to put forward a counter-argument for using spirit-levels when doing landscape photography. I'm sure some people will disagree with me or feel that spirit-levels have helped them a lot, but this is really just my point of view, so bear with me on this one.

Many of us use a spirit-level of some kind to help us get our horizons level. There are a couple of issues with this as I see it:

1) The first is that we are only levelling our camera with gravity. We are not balancing the objects within the frame when we use a spirit level, and this is where we get it wrong.

Many horizons are what I call 'false-horizons'. A false-horizon is one where the contours of the land are not in sympathy with gravity. In the image example below, the edge of the lake appears to be higher at the right-hand side of the image and lower at the left-hand side. The camera had been levelled with a spirit level, yet the false horizon is not level with the frame of the image.

False horizon is not level

What is happening here is that the contour of the lake rises as we move further towards infinity in the frame. Leveling with gravity makes no sense because the horizon is actually rising. If we are to level our horizon, there is only one thing we must level it with - and that is the edge of the frame. Here is an adjusted image to illustrate how the image was recomposed to ensure the false-horizon is in balance with the frame of the picture:

False horizon corrected

I now no longer use a spirit-level for a few reasons:

a) I need to level  objects within the frame - with the actual frame, and not with gravity.

b) balancing objects without the aid of a tool such as a spirit-level means I am more in control of the overall composition. I have to think more about where all the objects are and how they balance with each other. I believe using a spirit-level takes this level of awareness away from me, and thus the compositions I would come up with are less focussed as a result.

2) The second issue I have with using a spirit level is that they allow us to compose images while we are not able to interpret the composition correctly. The reason why many horizons can be so far off the mark for many photographers is to do with how we physically stand behind our camera. Many of us often cock our heads sideways to view either through the eye-piece, or at the live-view screen. Most of us are not aware we're doing it, but what we're attempting to do is balance a composition while our head is not level with the viewfinder. This may not seem like a problem, but it really is. It is extremely difficult to balance a composition when viewing sideways because we simply can't interpret the scenery so clearly when we do. Take this image for instance:

I've rotated this image by 40 degrees to simulate how you would see this composition if you were viewing it through an eye-piece or on a live-view screen with your head cocked to 40 degrees. In the process of doing so, we find the image a little harder to interpret and understand compositionally. But here is the point: it's not easy to tell if the horizon is level in relation to the picture's frame. It looks level within the context of the frame its in, but is it really?

In the image below, I've rotated the entire frame to 0 degrees, to simulate how you would see the above composition if you were viewing it through an eye-piece or live-view with your head level to the camera:

Looking straight on to the picture, we can now see that the horizon is actually off. That's because we're able to interpret things more easily when we are head-on with the camera. Not when we've got our head cocked sideways.

But let me ask you this... what exactly is the horizon in this image? We actually build up an 'imaginary horizon' based on the contents of the frame. In the instance of this image, it's a strange combination of vertical lines in the red house, and also the struts of the pier. But there's a degree of 'keystone' effect to this image because I actually had the camera pointed down toward the ground. If I show you the levelled image, you can still see distortion in the house:

Levelled

You could argue that the image is still not straight. I think the real answer is that the image is as straight as it can be, taking into consideration all the keystone distortions that are apparent in the composition. We've somehow balanced the left-had side of the house with the right-hand side, and decided there is some level of balance in there. We levelled the contents of the picture within the context of the frame. Not with gravity.

Ok, I know it's not easy sometimes to get your head level with the eye-piece of your camera, but I always make a concious effort to try to get my head as level as I can. If it means I need to lie down on the ground to keep my head level with the camera, then I do it. If it means I need to bend my legs to keep my head level, then I will do it. Because when I am level, I'm not only able to notice if my false-horizons are level, but also if all the objects within the frame balance with each other. In other words, having my head level with the camera enables me to improve my compositions.

A spirit-level only levels our camera with gravity, but it does nothing to help us understand and fine-tune our compositions, and it does nothing to help us balance false-horizons. We must learn to level our images based on what is within the frame, and the only way to achieve this, is to keep our eye level with our camera.

Let your eye, rather than a spirit-level decide what is good. It's really up to your own internal sense of balance and composition to get it right.

Behind The Mountains (Fjallaland)

Last year, Ragnar Axelsson released his 3rd photographic book. I was lucky enough to pick up one of the first copies while in Iceland running my yearly September trip there.

I'm a big fan of RAX's work (as he prefers to be called). To my eyes, he is more a photo-journalist than a traditional landscaper - someone who is more interested in the people and their mark on the places they inhabit. I love many types of photography - not just landscape, and RAX's work is interesting because of his reportage style, his use of black and white, and of course, his deep connection with the subjects he chooses to photograph.

This new book has been given two titles. In his native Icelandic it is simply known as Fjallaland, because it is about a very special region of Iceland - the Fjallaback nature reserve. The english title for this book is 'Behind the mountains', because I think it would have been hard to market a book about a relatively unknown, specific region of Iceland outside of the country. The title I might add, is very appropriate, because this book observes the farmers on their yearly roundups, gathering sheep, in one of the most difficult but also magnificent grazing terrains of the Icelandic wilderness.

I loved how this book begins. Instead of being immediately greeted with the signature style of RAX's black and white 'fly on the wall' reportage photography, we are instead prompted to look at the Fjallabak region from space. There are a number of very high quality, satellite images of the region, showing the complexity and composition of the land here. Fjallabak exhibits a range of colours from greens to reds to yellows. This is because the land is made up up Ryolite, Obsidian as well as volcanoes, rivers, sands and lakes.

As we continue to delve further into the book, the images change to ariel views of the Fjallaback region. More of a birds-eye impression that shows us how large these mountains and their valleys are. This slow zoom-in from space to the region where the farmers work is an effective introduction to the book. I liked this very much as I felt the stage was being set for RAX's photographs of the farmers working in this remote landscape.

So what of the subject matter of this book? Well, it's really an essay of images, garnered over a span of several decades about the yearly sheep rounding the farmers do up in the hills. For many of them, it is a special occasion and one not to be missed.

My own impressions of this book was that it is RAX's best to date. Whereas his other two titles were broad in their scope of subject matter - be it faces of the north, or looking at the problems faced by the Inuit of the arctic, this book is more tightly focussed on one region of Iceland. It's clear to me that this is a work of passion and love. RAX has a deep connection with his subjects and is on personal terms with many of them. He has been part of this yearly round up for quite some time, and the images convey this very strongly. I also felt that because the subject matter was more specific than his previous work, that so too were his images and his essays.

If you have an interest in reportage photography, or an interest in the life of people in Iceland, or even like me, if you just feel you have an affinity for the place, then this book should be on your bookshelf. RAX's text is often brief, but when he does speak to us, we learn a lot about Icelanders and how they view life, and how they think and feel about their own little back-yard.

If you wish to see more images from the book, they are on RAX's site here.

Behind the Mountain is available in the UK at most book stores, or online, but if you wish to own a signed copy, I believe Neil at Beyond Words book store has a limited number of copies available.

Turner-esque

Triplekite publishing has released a very beautiful soft bound book by David Baker. ‘Sea Fever’ is a photographic monograph about the power of the sea.

Like a Turner-esque painting, the cover image sets the stage well for what is to be found within its pages. I particularly like the cover image. With a break in the clouds situated right at the heart of the image, I felt drawn in - invited almost, to come and engage with this book.

Making a book is not an easy process. Having published two books myself, I fully appreciate that there are many design considerations, and plenty of discussions that happen along the way. And often the way a book ends up looking is the work of a very long and thoughtful  process.

This book is tall, and large - a decision I think to enable the power of the sea to be conveyed to the reader when viewed as two-page spreads. It is also a soft back book, and very light to hold. I enjoyed going through it as it was never a cumbersome book to handle. It felt like a very large, luxurious magazine that encouraged me to engage with it. This was possibly due to its flexibility, which worked well with the content it conveys, because it enabled me to twist and re-shape the contours of the sea to my own pleasing. Rather than the images being fixed and my viewing being forced to settle on the work from one static aspect only, I felt I could engage, and play with the book more. I liked this aspect very much.

I’m no fan of images spanning two pages and I often dislike images bleeding over the very edge of the paper, for me, I like to be able to take in the entire compositional aspects of an image in one go. Often a break in the middle of the image (due to spanning two pages) can be irritating or unpleasing at best. Many of the sea images in this book do exactly that, but I was surprised to find that it actually enhanced my viewing experience, rather than detract from it. In this instance, spanning big images of turbulent sea across two pages works like an IMAX cinematic experience - these images fill your entire field of view and the result is that we are told that the sea is powerful, the sea is overwhelming. The same can be said about the images bleeding to the very edge of the page. I think it was a very effective design choice to do this because it conveys the message that there is no end to the power of a raging sea.

page-spread

Also, because of the very abstract nature of many of the images contained within this book, there is less of a need to avoid page splitting. The images are less about order, and more about conveying power. We are not here to study graphic forms, but more to enjoy nature when things get dramatic - as the title of the book conveys. So I have to give a lot of praise to Dav Thomas whom I think was responsible for many of the design  considerations of this very beautiful and engaging book.

With regards to what this book has to offer, it is a monograph. It tells a story in visual form only. There is very little text, and that is fine by me. I often feel that many photographers wish to learn from the photographer, and they think that learning will come from reading text. I think you can learn a great deal about the photography and the photographer by simply studying their work - the answers are in the imagery. All we have to do, is be open and let the photographer take us on their journey. Submit rather than dictate. The photographer has a lot to tell us, so sit back and let him do that. And a good book will do exactly just that, and in this respect, this is a very good book.

I am looking forward to seeing what other subjects Triplekite will handle in future.

Sea Fever is available from Beyond Words book store for £25.

Beautiful Lo-Fi

I've been listening to a lot of Icelandic bands this past year and one thing that has struck me is how open many of them are to messing around with the sound quality of certain instruments in the production of their songs.

Some parts of the music are deliberately distorted, or are messed around with so much, that they have become almost shadow facsimile's of themselves. Instead of hearing the actual instrument, I feel I hear an imprint, some kind of aural residue. It's a really effective way to take the listener on a journey, one where you engage more with the music.

Here's one example, by an Icelandic duo (twin sisters), called Pascal Pinon. The song is very beautiful, but also, so too is the lo-fi quality of the piece.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds6miVqD9ZE&width=400

The song was produced and mixed by Alex Sommers (he is the partner of Jónsi (pronounced Yonsi for those who are not familiar with Icelandic) of incredibly famous band - Sigur Rós fame). Alex is a genius at production.

So this has got me thinking about image quality, and how we often strive for the best resolution we can. And I believe many of us think that by having utmost image quality, the image will be more enjoyable to view. That is certainly true some of the time. I think there is a valid place for utmost resolution in imaging, but so too, is there validity in all forms of image quality, be it soft, blurry, fuzzy, noisy, underexposed or overexposed.

Seeking perfection in image quality is not a symptom of the digital imaging age. It has always been a preoccupation for photographers through the ages, regardless of whatever medium they were using. In the instance of film users, there has always been a portion of the photographic community who strive for finer grained films, or larger negatives in the pursuit of high-fidelity imaging. This is of course a nobel quest and one I would not disparage. It's just that I think that going the other way - reducing  image quality, intentionally, is just as valid and nobel a pursuit as any.

With music, we can create depth to a piece by using different frequencies - we can also add a sense of 3D by mixing high-fidelity sounds with low fidelity ones, as well as bright and dull sounds. Complex interplays of varying audio quality lends a sense of space to the music.

Similarly, messing around with the tonal range of an image is just as valid. Not everything has to be 'punchy', or have high contrast. Mixing in low-contrast areas with high-contrast areas opens up an additional dimension to an image. But this does not stop with tonal range.

We can add additional ways to interpret an image. Most of us think about tones and contrast, but varying the level of detail within an image can bring an extra dimension to the work. It is just as valid to have areas of the frame where there is lack of detail as it is to have areas where there is a lot. Softness tends to make the eye pass over an area of the picture, whereas sharpness attracts the eye. So in my view, I believe that images where there is a deliberate degradation in resolution is welcome, and can be beautiful if the treatment is appropriate.

I think there's beauty in softness. Softness lends ambiguity to an image or a part of an image. There's something fascinating about the unknown, about wondering what something meant, when we only have a fragment, a clue to work with. When areas of the frame are soft, we have to fill in the gaps.

Similarly, any flaws can be beautiful. Flaws introduce a sense of randomness, which often lend a certain uniqueness or 'character' to the images we create.

Low-fi images have a way of engaging our emotions and dreams, in a different way than hi-fidelity images do, simply because there are things left unsaid, or half-revealed.

We should embrace low-fi quality as an additional tool to our imagery, and not attempt to banish it. After all - all images are wonderful if they capture the spirit of a mood or emotion or feeling, since seldom do we throw something out if it possesses such beauty, even if it is flawed in some way.

Osmosis

Osmosis - A gradual, often unconscious process of assimilation or absorption.

Some landscapes come to us when we are ready to receive them. Not the other way around.

Lumix GX1, 12-23 lens, Lee 0.9 hard grad. This image was taken quickly to illustrate compositional and tonal relationships during my weekend workshop.
Lumix GX1, 12-23 lens, Lee 0.9 hard grad. This image was taken quickly to illustrate compositional and tonal relationships during my weekend workshop.

Last weekend I was running my umpteenth workshop in Torridon - a very special mountainous place here in the Scottish highlands.

Although I've always had a love for the place, I've often found it extremely difficult to make images here, until recently. I think I've learned to understand this landscape more through the act of being a workshop teacher. Consider this statement by Brian Eno:

"You don't really understand your own ideas, until you try to articulate them to somebody else. Also, in the process of articulating, you find yourself saying things you didn't know you knew" - Brian Eno

This has often been a case for me whilst running my workshops. I discover that I knew something I didn't know I knew. And also, that through the process of having to explain something to someone else, my own understanding of a place, or a photographic concept becomes clearer.

I've found teaching workshops in Torridon immensely rewarding in this respect. The landscape is fractured and complex. It is not a simple landscape to make good images from, and it requires you to see that many of the stones, trees and bracken all have similar tonal relationships. When these tones are compressed down into a 2D image, they often merge, and become very confused and jumbled as a result. 'Separation' between objects within the frame becomes key. Through this awareness, my eye has become more finely-tuned.

The image you see at the top of this post was made last weekend while we were busy trying to work with competing elements. It has taken me around 13 years to get to a point where I can look at a scene and know how best to deconstruct it down to a few elements that will work as a photograph. Through this time, I have often asked myself questions about my work, and I've often had to explain it to others.

 

As creative people, we have to listen to ourselves and become more aware of our own thoughts. It is only through a sense of internal-dialogue, and a sense of inquisitiveness about how we choose to approach landscape photography, that we are able to progress as artists.

In the video above, you'll see Brian Eno and Ben Frost discuss the creative process. I found it fascinating to hear Ben mention that he finds his work seems to be a kind of diary. I think this is true of my own photography: my images are a sounding board that show where I was, creatively speaking. They are a record of my photographic development.

Ben is in-tune with his creativity - he understands where he has been and where he is now. This is perhaps a fundamental skill that all creative people should possess, or at the very least, be learning to tune into.

Photo Transit App

As some of you may know, I'm a big supporter of 'The Photographer's Ephemeris' application - which I will refer to as TPE from now on. It's a really useful application for planning a shoot. I use it all the time on my workshops for figuring out sunrise and sunset times as well as twilight times etc. It has quite a lot of useful features.

Stephen Trainor, the developer of TPE, has been working on a new application called 'Photo Transit' for the past six to nine months. Similarly to TPE, I've been a beta tester for the application, and have contributed feedback and feature requirements from the onset.

If you liked TPE, then you may like Photo Transit.

Whereas TPE is useful for calculating the angle of the sun / moon, and figuring out sunrise and sunset times, in an easy to use graphical manner, Photo Transit allows you to plan a shoot by figuring out the kinds of lenses you may need. You set up your 'camera kit' - the focal length's of lenses you have in your bag, and it shows you what each lens would see over a specified area of terrain.

[embed width="400" ]  https://vimeo.com/73595182 [/embed]