Fay Godwin

I love many aspects of the photography world : landscapes such as Ansel Adams, Paul Wakefield and of course Michael Kenna, but I also like images which have no immediate asthetic appeal to them. Reportage images tell a story yet they are seldom beautiful to look at in an obvious way. fayselfportraite.jpg

© copyright Fay Godwin

And then there are photographers that I cannot define so easily. One such person is Fay Godwin. Her images have a sense of reportage about them, yet at the same time, they don't appear to have any particular message to give anyone. They just are.

But the reason why I bring up Fay, is that tonight I've been reading Elmet - a book she made in the 1970's, and decided to look up the internet, only to find an interview with her with a line I feel I must share with you all.

Fay is asked the following question: What would be your advice to a beginner in photography?

And her reply is : Look at lots of exhibitions and books, and don't get hung up on cameras and technical things. Photography is about images.

What is required to make a great photograph?

I was just thinking today, that if someone asked me - what is required to make a great photograph? Then I'd have to come up with a top ten list of 'things' that I think contribute to making a good photo. largejokulsarlon12.jpg

1. Being there. You must have heard the term 'f8 and be there'? Well, it's the essence of a good photo. Being in the right place at the right time, or in the case of landscape photography, recongising a good composition, and being submerged in beautiful light

2. Recognising the moment. Knowing that right here, right now, the light and the subject matter are combining to provide something you feel inspired to capture.

3. Being open to 'anything can happen'. Often I've found photographers so intent on making an image, and rooted to the spot, that they can't see the wood for the trees. If they only let themselves 'go' and disengage from the process of making a picture, perhaps they will see aspects they didn't notice, or will research / roam the location they are in. I remember on one workshop taking a picture of some horses below the Cuernos in Torres del Paine. The composition was so obvious to me, yet a participant of my trip said to me afterwards 'I didn't see it'. And I'm sure it's because they were so wrapped up in capturing what they were trying to 'make work' that they missed what was being offered to them.

4. Being able to recognise a good composition. Some people instinctively know when a composition works and just go to it like a duck to water. Others have to experiment over time to discover what lenses work and what sort of compositions work too. Nothing is cast in stone and each person has their own 'vision'. Some are more focused / tuned than others.

5. Knowing that what you want to capture will fit onto your film or sensor. With experience, certain exposures work more than others. Soft light works best than midday light, but having experience can help you determine what will work. I guess this is now getting into the technical realm.

6. We're now into the technical realms of photo making. But have you noticed that I've not even mentioned a camera yet? That's because the camera is purely a tool that YOU direct. I've taken pictures on a crappy 35mm camera that have been better than images I've taken on Large Format. Seven is about exposure. Understanding dynamic range and how to correctly expose the shot to get what you 'see'.

7. Which is important? Freezing time, or depth of field? Often I find with landscape I want to take long exposures when something is moving fast in the scene. I like to convey movement and the passing of time, but sometimes it's not appropriate. Knowing when and how.

8. A camera. Yes, it does matter, but not as much as the other aspects I've described. Naturally, it's an over-simplification to say a camera doesn't matter, but the point is that it is not the most important element in taking a good picture. It is just a tool and some tools are better than others. Some can hinder than aid, and I've found that some cheaper tools hinder less than some expensive tools. I like a camera which doesn't get in the way. It should be simple to use, and act as an aid or interface between what you see and what you capture. If you're spending too much time fiddling with it, then it's a hindrance,  not an aid to capturing the moment.

9. I can't think of any more.

So you see. It's not about the camera. But you do need a camera to capture your 'vision'. Those that say the camera does matter are missing the point. The camera is the last step. It is something you use to record everything esle that came before - being there, recognising a moment, understanding light and composition and determining the right exposure. Only then do you reach for your camera.

You don't need to spend £££ to make fine images

This is the first image I made and thought 'wow'. I was around 22 years old at the time and I didn't know very much about photography at all.


I'd just got my first camera for a year - a Canon EOS 650, which at the time was very sophisticated. It had autofocus and a really impressive built in meter. But I was always coming home with really crap shots.

And that wasn't the cameras fault.

Then one day, I learned something that changed everything for me. I discovered the magical qualities of light and composition. I'd never really thought about it before, but if you get great light, great subject matter and are able to compose a shot in such a way that it just seems to 'work', then you're potentially on your way to creating a very fine image indeed.

So this was shot on Agfachrome, which I bought cheap in a bargain bin at my local photo place, with an EOS 650 camera which you can pick up for around £60 here in the UK, with a wide angle lens on it.

That was it. Oh, and stunning lighting, an exceptionally thunderous August evening around 9pm plus some great subject matter. I'm going to give myself a little credit too - an operator that recognized a potentially good image and after some stumbling around a field searching for a good angle of view, was able to pull off a nice composition.

I took other shots that night and although they all have the same lighting, and subject, this one really stood out because the composition was just 'right'.

So if you want to make good photographs, you just need a tool that you are comfortable with and gives you good enough resolution that you are happy with (I have this printed up to 24 inches wide, framed in my home).

But above all else, you need a desire to get out there with what you have and make pictures. That's what it's all about really.