Seeking Balance

We are always striving for balance in our photography. We look for it when we are working with tones, when we are composing and also, in how much time we spend on our craft. I know only too well that sometimes spending too much time on what I do can create an imbalance.

As photographers we are drawn to our passion because deep down we are seeking to find a balance between light and shade. Light and share are our Yin and Yang.

Ataranga Hanga Piko Riata, Easter Island   Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Ataranga Hanga Piko Riata, Easter Island
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

The process of seeking balance is important even though I believe the goal of reaching it is not. It is important because it is the mechanism that allows us to create new work. Without this 'seeking' we would become static and nothing would be produced by us. It is also an impossible thing to achieve because life is fluid and when things are always in a state of change, balance is difficult to keep.

Instead, I see 'seeking balance'  as a journey that allows me to explore and create work along the way. It is in moving and changing between states where our creativity flourishes.

Volcanic fault line, Tongariki, Easter Island Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Volcanic fault line, Tongariki, Easter Island
Image © Bruce Percy 2016

So I think it's healthy to find there is an ebb and flow in one's work. I have moments when I produce very little and then times when I am very creative.

In considering how seeking balance affects my work, I'm aware that recently I've been moving towards a more monochromatic, less saturated look. But sometimes the work does not suit it and I return once more back to more vivid colours. One could argue that this is me seeking balance in the colour aspects of my work.

I've also become aware that sometimes my images are heading towards brighter tonal ranges and then back towards darker tonal ranges. One could also argue that this is me seeking balance in the tonal aspects of my work.

I've come to realise that this moving and shifting is as if I'm flexing some tonal muscle, getting used to a new range of tones that I've not worked with before.

Image © Bruce Percy 2016

Image © Bruce Percy 2016

I believe that we are always hunting, searching, looking for balance in what we do. Yet seeking balance is not about attaining it, It is really more about the movement from one state to another and how new work comes into being through the changes in us.

Just as Yin cannot exist without Yang, and darkness cannot exist without light, creativity cannot happen without a need to seek balance. Once we understand that the act of seeking balance in our work is really a journey, and not a struggle to overcome our limitations, then we become free as creative people to see where it may lead us.

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.

Easter Island 2016

This week I'm on Easter Island. It is my third visit to this island since I first visited back in 2003. A lot has changed in the thirteen years since I first came here.

Image courtesy  Richard Cavalleri, tour participant 2016 

Image courtesy Richard Cavalleri, tour participant 2016 

I think returning to a place can be very rewarding, for a few reasons.

The first and most obvious one, is that by returning, you get a another chance to capture what you failed to capture during your first visit. To fill in the missing gaps on what you thought was possible. And of course, you get to dig a little deeper. Each time I've returned to a place, I've found my knowledge and understanding of it just gets a little richer and my photographs seemed to touch areas of the place that I didn't encounter the first time.

But it's not just this aspect of revisiting a place that is rewarding. I've often found that each time I return to a place I have photographed before, that I find myself reflecting on who I was, what I was trying to achieve and also, just how much I've changed as a photographer since that previous visit.

My first visit to Easter Island in 2003 was at a time when I had only just been making photographs seriously for about three years. I still hadn't grasped what grad filters could do for my exposures, or indeed, how full ND filters could help smoothen down some of the textures in my photos. I was also very unclear at the time as to how far I could push the boundaries of my chosen film stock with regards to the quality of light I could photograph. There are numerous technical aspects that I did not know at the time, that I do know now.

Image ©  Richard Cavalleri. This is a cropped version of the first image in this post. Richard and I spent some time discussing aspect ratios and image-interpretation / editing techniques during our time together.

Image © Richard Cavalleri. This is a cropped version of the first image in this post. Richard and I spent some time discussing aspect ratios and image-interpretation / editing techniques during our time together.

But it is more than this. Since that first visit in 2003, I've found that I've gained so much experience from photographing other terrains around the world, that I can draw upon this experience to help me photograph Easter Island in ways that I struggled to interpret. Back in 2003, I had found the terrain here extremely complex. I did not have the compositional skills to translate what I saw here. Nor had I the understanding about light to work with the landscape at other times of the day other than sunrise and sunset.

So I find myself looking back very much at who I was in 2003, not just in terms of what I knew as a photographer, but also in what I was looking for in the images I chose to create. This time round, I'm much more interested in the landscape and the more anonymous locations, rather than the statues.

I can't help but feel very grateful to have had the chance to revisit this amazing little island at spells throughout my photographic development. Each visit is like an 'intermission', a placeholder to notice the changes in my art.

I do think that revisiting places is good for the photographic soul. Some places just get under your skin, and don't let go. Some have unfinished business because you realise that you didn't have the skills to work with them the first time round, which is something I feel very much about Easter Island.

Many thanks to Richard Cavalleri for letting me use his image of the fifteen moai statues at Tongariki on Easter Island during my first (and last) photo tour here. 

Pockets of colour on Easter Island

I found a bay on Easter Island where the sun wasn't bleaching out the entire landscape.

I used a very long exposure for this shot. Maybe around 2 minutes. Near the end of my trip, I stumbled upon some more great geology. These rocks are volcanic, as is all of the entire landscape of Easter Island. But rarely did I find pockets of red in the stones. I feel the red of the rock has a nice releationship to the golden colours on Poike - one of the triangular points of Easter Island that you can see on the horizon.

Easter Island, 2nd time round

Way back in 2003, I visited Easter Island. It had been some place I'd wanted to go for as long as I remember. As a child, I had a small globe of the world in my bedroom, and I often used to look at the tiny dot of Easter Island on it, and wonder what it was like to be there.

I'm now back there this week. It's my second trip to the Island. It's a beautiful island, and quite strange too. It also has some of the most challenging photographic light with which to work.

Firstly, I felt way back in 2003 that the entire place should really be photographed in black and white, not colour. The subject matter looks very displeasing in colour, simply because stone and grass aren't that interesting to look at. I found my initial attempts at colour images of Easter Island somewhat lacking. It was hard for me at the time to consider taking all my velvia images and converting them into black and white, but that's exactly what I did with them, and after a lot of wrestling, felt that the entire project had been a disaster for me.

Roll forward to 2012, and I've been back on Easter Island for the past two days and I don't think my judgement was all together constructive. I felt that if I returned, I'd know how best to shoot the locations now, and would approach them from a 'black and white' perspective from the onset, rather than considering taking colour photos and trying to 'will' them into being something else (black and white) later on.

So it's been very liberating knowing that I can shoot it more extreme light, and not care too much about colour, just thinking more about form and tonality. I've discovered that I didn't get things so badly wrong on my first visit: this is a very hard place to photograph. The light is harsh and intense for most of the day, and when the light does become soft, often the statues are so dark that it's not possible to render any detail on them while holding the values in the sky too.

This has led me to go back to looking at my earlier work and reconsider that maybe what is required is a more deft hand at the darkroom end of the process. To be blunt - I didn't really know much about tone and form in 2003. I had only been shooting for a few years, so when I was faced with working on my images in black and white - it was a form I knew very little about in terms of manipulation to the picture to bring out what I was trying to say. In other words, I lacked the skill and experience to do the images justice.

So I'm now very keen to return home and go back to the original negatives that I made on my first visit. Some of the problems I had at the time, are still evident in the locations now: statues have no discernible features until the sun is up, and when that happens, there is so much contrast, that there are blocked shadows everywhere.

But I'm happy I came back to Easter Island. I do feel I've been capturing new images, and along with fresh memories of familiar locations, I've been able to reinterpret the scenery in a new way. The light is still harsh for most of the day, but on this trip I'm seeing a lot of rain in the mornings, which is helping diffuse and bounce the light around the landscape a bit more.

On a different note, the island hasn't changed much in almost 10 years. There's little in the way of development which is just great to see, but if I were to criticise anything, it would be CONAF's treatment of the historic locations. Many now have really ugly wooden fence posts around them, which make for difficulty in shooting, and they don't discourage people from going in and touching the relics either. So nobody wins. That nice shot of the stone circle you see in this very post is now no longer possible because of some wooden fence that looks like it was put up by my neighbour after a visit to Homebase.

A few days a go, I wrote on this post some misleading information about the access rights to Rano Raraku. I said:

"The other thing that is really quite upsetting about this, is restrictions now to Rano Raraku (where all the stone heads were carved and many are still to be found). To get in here, it is now a $60 USD entry fee. That is fair I feel. I think it's good that they charge a price for the upkeep of these historic areas, and the ticket does last for 5 days. But what I really object to is that the ticket is only valid for one entry only. If you want to go back again, it will cost a further $60 USD, which feels as if someone at CONAF was in a very petty mood at the time of the ticket price and rules review."

It turns out that this is not correct - access is for multiple times over a 5 day period, so I think the price of the ticket is very reasonable indeed. CONAF told me today that the price of the ticket was $10 USD for around 20 years, so they needed to upgrade the price, which is understandable, but the main argument I had was access only once. It isn't true, and seems to be a story that is propagated on websites and also through word of mouth via tourists on the island.

Are you ready to shoot the landscape?

I was discussing my plans today for my forthcoming trip out to South America to run two photographic safaris (Patagonia and Bolivian altiplano). I have a week to kill in Patagonia, and the conversation came round to me going back to Easter Island. I've been wanting to return for some time. Way back in 2003 I came here, found the place too small to be for more than a few days and quickly got cabin fever. It was only once I'd gotten home, that I was able to digest just where I'd been, and to think about how amazing the entire island is. I never really 'got it' at the time, so without any planning, I've just found today that my plane ticket has been changed to take me there in early June.

Wish me a good photographic trip!

I feel sometimes, I need to go twice to a location before I can shoot it - first time to get my bearings, and get acquainted, the second time to get to work and make the most out of the place. In Easter Island's case, I think I just went there far too early in my own photographic development. I'm intrigued by the idea that we do our best work when we find a place not only inspiring, but that we reach a point in our photographic development / skill, whereby we understand the place and know how to shoot it.

Some of my portfolios are better than others.

Every now and then, I feel I've reached a peak in what I do, and then find that further work does not maintain that level. I'm ok with this. The ebb and the flow of creativity means that some things will be better than others, and there's no telling just when I'm going to hit a coal-seam worth mining.

But timing is important.

Some landscapes can aid in our photographic development, and bring us to a new level in what we do, while others can hinder it.

We've not reached the maturity level required to know how to tackle them. Our skills are out of step with what they require to do them justice. Maybe we're more at home with them, than they are with us....

I feel I didn't get on well with Easter Island on my first visit in 2003. I'm sure I wasn't ready to photograph it, and as a result, I tried desperately to make something of it, when I didn't really 'see' it. I think this is a question we should ask of ourselves. File it under 'self awareness', but if you'd much rather not go around making blunt attempts at capturing the essence of a location, maybe you need to consider if you've reached the level required to 'understand' it, and know how to convert that understanding into a successful photograph?

Wish me well for my return to Easter Island :-)

Easter Island

I lost all sense of context whilst on Easter Island. In this podcast, I explain how easy it is to lose your point of reference in a new land. In this case, I found that after a few days on Easter Island, I felt like I'd always been there. Home felt like it had never existed.

I sometimes find I lose all sense of context when I'm somewhere remote, making photographs.

I'm just not sure if that's a good thing or not.

Please click on the image to play the podcast


Easter Island Photographic Workshop

Some places hold a spell over me, and I just have to return because I feel that I haven't fully explored all the photographic potential that is there. Easter Island is one such place for me, and I'm pleased to announce that I will be returning in 2009 (March 22nd to March 26th) to conduct a photographic workshop. I have aligned this trip to coincide with my annual workshop to Torres del Paine in Patagonia.

tongariki.JPG This is a very special trip that I have set up where each day gives a lot of concentrated time at many of the best locations, and of course, I'll be there to share thoughts on photography as well as discuss techniques.

Easter Island has to be the most remote place I've ever been to. The island is small, taking roughly about half an hour to get from one side to the other in a jeep. During that half hour early morning drive, I would pass an abundance of archaeological treasures, volcanoes, wild horses and silhouettes of the famous Moai statues. I was always aware of the pacific ocean on my travels, as well as the wide open sky. The clouds race over Easter Island's landscape creating shifting patterns of light and dark.

Please feel free to view the itinerary and if you have any questions I'd love to hear from you.

Easter Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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