Appetite

So a few days ago I wrote about appetite.

I deliberately left it open and didn’t continue to expand on what I meant. My reasons were two:

  1. that I think if you’ve got it, you would know what I meant.

  2. and if you didn’t know what I meant, you might be prompted into thinking a bit more about it.

The web is full of self-help stuff. Most of it has a short-term feel-good factor but it’s rare that things we read stay with us the long term.

we’ve got to do the work. And we’ve got to be clever about it.

Me explaining things all the time isn’t you doing the work. It’s me doing the work, and you choosing to tune in, and tune out when you feel like it ;-)

Fjallabak-(6).jpg

The thing about appetite, is that it can be whatever you feel it means to you.

You may define it as ‘drive’, you may define it as ‘effort’, or ‘talent’.

But I’ve known many talented people who never complete things (that’s ok - it’s no judgement - do what you want to do), but I mention this just to illustrate that having talent alone doesn’t make someone a great photographer. Neither does working hard. I’m not a big fan of the 10,000 hour view that if you put enough time into something, you’ll get better. You can spend a lot of effort running in a circle.

I think good artists are self learners. They are able to use their time to learn from themselves as they go along. I’d dare to say that most great artists didn’t get to where they are because of an art class they took. Sure, the art class will have given them skills and new ways of working, but they had to spend the time and effort joining the dots, making the connections and finding their own path. In other words, at some stage : they took hold of the responsibilities of their own development.

That’s the appetite I’m talking about.

Having the aptitude to grow is one thing, but wanting to do it badly enough is another thing entirely.

If you really want to improve in your photography then there are no shortcuts. No quick fixes, no instant results.

We all have to do the work.

And we have to have the appetite to do it.

The rarest quality

Everyone is hoping to improve their photography skills. Skills can always be learnt.

But there is one thing that is much rarer than skill, and it’s something that can’t be learnt.

It’s called appetite.

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Colour compression & colour spaces

I’ve been working on some notes about printing lately. So this post today is all about colourspaces and what happens when we move an image from one colour space to another.

In the article I point out that colour management is not about colour accuracy, but more about how we choose to work around physical limitations as we move from one device to another, each with different colour gamuts.

2200 Matt paper has a small colour gamut, than Pro Photo RGB. So what can we do to make our image look good on 2200 Matt Paper even though it is physically impossible to do a direct conversion?

2200 Matt paper has a small colour gamut, than Pro Photo RGB. So what can we do to make our image look good on 2200 Matt Paper even though it is physically impossible to do a direct conversion?

The problem

Each device has its own physical limits to the range of colours it can record or reproduce. This is the problem: what do we do as we move an image from one device to another?

For example, when sending a file with a wide gamut of colours to a monitor or printer with a smaller gamut of colours, something has to be done with the colours that fall outside the physical range of the device’s effective gamut. Do we ignore those colours, or should we do something else with them?

The solution : Rendering Intent

The answer is : we decide, and we tell the colour management system our decision by way of a feature called Rendering Intent. Rendering Intent is where we tell the colour management system which rules to apply with respect to out of gamut colours.

There are several different rendering intents available. The two most commonly used rendering intents are Perceptual and Relative Colourmetric, which kind of do this:

Perceptual : shrink all the colours from the larger colourspace to fit the destination colourspace.

Relative Colourmetric : out of gamut colours are clipped, moved to their nearest relative within the new colourspace. All the other colours remain unchanged.

That’s a brief summary. Let’s consider them in more detail:

Perceptual

This rendering intent as the name suggests tries to adjust the content of the image so you perceive it as similar to the original image even though the colourspace is smaller. It does this by adjusting all the colours while keeping their relationship to each other intact. Although it is not ‘colour accurate’, most photographs look about right when it’s chosen as more often than not, it’s the relationships between the colours in the picture rather than their colour accuracy that is important. Here is an illustration to show how all the colours are shifted to fit the new colourspace:

Rendering-Intent-Perceptual.jpg

The other most common way of working around out of gamut colours is to choose relative colourmetric:

Relative Colourmetric

This rendering intent keeps all the colours that were within gamut unchanged. It’s a useful rendering intent when you want to ensure colour accuracy for certain colours - perhaps skin tones for example. Only the colours outside the gamut are clipped. They are moved to their nearest available in-gamut colour relative. As you can see below:

Rendering-Intent-Relative-Colourmetric.jpg

As you may now realise, colour reproduction is a compromise. And colours often have to get compressed if we are moving from a device with a wide gamut to a device with a smaller gamut.

We have to make the decision about which rendering intent to use. And the best way to choose the right one, is to demo them. If you are printing, then under the proofing preview, you can move between the different rendering intents to see how the colours are changed. Choose the rendering intent that suits your image the best.

No right or wrong way

Rendering Intent is best auditioned on a per image basis. Further, although an image may suit one rendering intent when printed on paper X, you may find that the same image prefers another rendering intent when printed on paper Y.

So you need to experiment on a per image basis.

But what about monitors? Do we have to compromise with them also?

As it happens, yes. Standard monitors have their own colour spaces (profiles), and when viewing something that comes from a larger colourspace on the monitor, a compromise has to be made.

Monitor Profile Rendering Intent

From what I understand, Monitor profiles are matrix based and this means that they have no idea how to deal with out of gamut colours. So they are simply clipped. In other words, when displaying out of gamut colours on a monitor, the monitor is essentially using a rendering intent of ‘Relative colourmetric’ (as illustrated above). We don’t have a choice about rendering intent when displaying an image on a monitor. It’s always ‘relative-colourmetric’.

In the diagram below, I have a Pro Photo colourspace image open in Photoshop, but I am viewing it on a monitor that has a smaller colourspace than Pro Photo. The colour management system responsible for the conversion from the image profile simply displays the colours unchanged, and any colour that it can’t display is just clipped to its nearest relative within the monitor colourspace.

monitor-profile-rendering-intent.jpg

In summary

  • Colour management is not the same thing as colour accuracy.

  • To manage colours, we need to have profiles that describe the colour gamut of each device, but we also have to make decisions on how to deal with colours that fall outside the gamut of a particular device. This is called the rendering intent.

  • We can choose which rendering intent to use when printing.

  • But we have no control over how out-of-gamut colours are displayed on computer monitors, they are just clipped to fit the nearest colour within the destination colour space.

Cameras and Colourspace Confusion

A lot of photographers think that the colour space option of ‘sRGB’ or ‘Adobe RGB’ on the back of their camera is used to set the colourspace of their camera.

It doesn’t do that.

The colourspace settings are only for the jpegs that are produced in-camera.

RAW-Conversion.jpg

RAW data is unaffected. Indeed, RAW can’t be modified. Think of RAW as a 'negative’ that comes out of an old film camera. The negative can never be changed once created.

So the ‘Adobe RGB and sRGB’ settings on the back of your camera are just for any jpegs that the camera ‘generates’ from the RAW capture .

If you are shooting RAW all the time, then you don’t need to worry about colourspaces while shooting.

Q. So when is the colourspace important then?

A. When you open your RAW files

When you open (or import), you are translating, converting the content of your RAW file into the host software’s format. In Photoshop’s case, you always go through the Adobe Camera Raw software before the image is available in Photoshop. It has to go through this translation stage.

The Raw Converter is where you can set the colourspace and it’s really important to pick a colourspace large enough to contain all the data that your RAW file has.

Effectively speaking, RAW files have no colourspace that you know of. Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but when you open up in Photoshop, you  have  to go through the Adobe Raw Converter. This is where you choose the colourspace and the RAW file is translated to that colourspace.

Effectively speaking, RAW files have no colourspace that you know of. Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but when you open up in Photoshop, you have to go through the Adobe Raw Converter. This is where you choose the colourspace and the RAW file is translated to that colourspace.

Pro Photo is the colourspace to choose, because it is a large enough container - much larger than Adobe RGB, and most likely much larger than any colours your camera can record.

A not too accurate illustration to show that Pro Photo is a larger colourspace than Adobe RGB. You should open your RAW files in Pro Photo.

A not too accurate illustration to show that Pro Photo is a larger colourspace than Adobe RGB. You should open your RAW files in Pro Photo.

If you choose Adobe RGB you may be clipping (throwing away) some of the colours that your camera can reproduce, because your camera may be capable of recording colours outside of the Adobe RGB colourspace.

The best option is to open up your camera files in Pro Photo. It’s a larger colour space and won’t clip the data. You’ll keep all of the colours in your file.

Q. But doesn’t the RAW format have it’s own colourspace?

A. Technically speaking there is a lot of splitting hairs about this. Some say no, some say yes.

The camera has its own proprietary way of recording the data, and this ‘specification’ is given to the developers who write the RAW converter engine. It’s up to them how they translate the information and this is why RAW converters vary (please note this is a serious oversimplification here).

Q. Why keep all the colours if your monitor or printer uses a smaller colour space?

A. Because the more data you have while editing, the better

Your camera is a glorified computer that just stores numbers. Photoshop just reads numbers, and when you alter a photograph you are truncating those numbers. It follows then, that the more data you have, the less chance you have in introducing weird problems into the file when you edit or adjust it in any way.

Although you cannot see all the colours present in Pro Photo because your monitor maybe has a smaller effective gamut, you still get the benefit of having more data to play with while editing.

In summary

  • The colourspace settings on the back of your camera are just for the jpegs it ‘generates’ from the RAW files.

  • The RAW files are unaffected and can’t be changed.

  • When you import a RAW file into a photo editing program, it has to get ‘converted’ or translated. This is when you need to choose a colourspace

  • Choose a large colourspace otherwise you may truncate colour data

A few thoughts on writing e-Books

Over the years, I’ve been writing e-books with the aim that they become more ‘reference’ material than something attributable to magazine content.

When I put ‘Simplifying Composition’ together, it took me about a year to really think it through, to figure out what I needed to say and to then formulate it on paper. It’s not the writing that takes the time, it’s the idea, the concept, and the arrangement of the words so that the message is as clear as it can be.

And that was the hardest part of all - figuring out what it is that I needed to convey in writing. The message needed to be simple. It needed to be clear, and for that to happen, I needed to be clear myself with what I wanted to say.

It is often in the process of explaining something that I find holes in my own knowledge. If I’m finding it hard to explain something it’s usually because I don’t fully understand something as much as I thought I did. Writing an e-book is a self-learner, a process of self-help. Of clarifying my own ideas and filling in the gaps in my own knowledge.

Fast Track to Photoshop
11.99
Add To Cart

Writing an e-book about Photoshop was similar. It took about 2 years for me to do this one. I think the first year was mostly procrastination, brought on by a feeling of difficulty. You see, Photoshop’s tool set is huge. And the truth of the matter is that photographers only need about 10% of the program.

It took me a while to realise that most Photoshop book are like reference manuals. They may be in-depth and tell you everything about the program, but they suck at getting you off the ground, of cutting out the chaff, and of getting you to the tools that you really need to know.

So it took me a while to figure out that photographers just need to learn Layers, Masks and Curves to get going. Write an eBook about those features and you’ve given everyone a head-start, a push in the right direction, rather than getting lost in some massive reference manual with no idea where they are going.

How does one write a book about printing?

And this is the problem I’m at right now.

The subject of printing is massive. It has to cover monitor calibration, monitor profiling, profiles, proofing, colour spaces. Each of those is a massive topic on its own, so I have come to realise that I need to have a ‘fast track’ way of cutting out the noise, of cutting through all the technology to get people up to speed as quickly as possible.

But there is so much miss-information and miss-understanding out there.

fast-track-printing.png

Many think they need to profile their printer, many think that their camera works in Adobe RGB colour space.

Many think that all devices work in Adobe RGB colour space when in fact they don’t. They work in their own proprietary colour space and the colours they’re capable of recording or reproducing may not fit exactly any particular colour space - they have their own personal signature.

Similarly, so many people think that their printers work in RGB, they don’t. They are CMYK devices. Just go and look at the ink sets used on any Epson Ultrachrome ink printer - there’s a clue in the names - Light Cyan, Light Magenta, Yellow…. . So although there are beliefs out there that CMYK is a smaller colourspace than Adobe RGB, it’s not true - they’re just different,.

Lastly, understanding printing is about understanding that everything is a compromise.

So too, is writing an e-book about it.

The lone tree cliché

I know, trees are such a cliché aren’t they?

But I think that often a photograph isn’t about the subject. It’s about the treatment. It’s about the sensibilities applied.

Everyone can take a photo of a lone tree. But what we should be aspiring to, is to convey a level of excellence, of elegance, of beauty that is above ‘just another picture of a tree’.

Doing what everyone else is doing means you just disappear into a sea of sameness. But you can avoid it, I believe, if you try to set your work apart in some way. Often that can happen, not by the subject matter you choose, but how you choose to shoot it, and how you choose to edit it. Often the excellence is in the execution of the work.

Landscape as director

I’ve just had to accept that certain landscapes are what they are. They have an uncanny knack of knowing how to direct you: they tell us what needs to be done. We just have to listen.

Therein lies the problem. Most of the time we don’t listen to what the landscape is telling us. Instead, we often try to force upon it what we want. What we are looking for. Instead, we shouldn’t be looking for anything. We should be a clean slate, ready to work with whatever conditions we are given.

How many of us go to places with pre-visualised expectations? Hoping to get a certain shot we’ve seen before, or the same conditions?

I’ve been having problems this past year with my use of colour. Or perhaps the lack of it. I was very happy to find that my South Korean image had quite a bit of colour in them. I feel there’s been a pendulum-swing as I’ve gone from reducing colour further, and then further still, to feeling I’m starting to re-introduce it into my work.

Not so with Hokkaido.

As you can see above. These images may ‘appear’ to have little or perhaps no colour to you. All I can say in my defence is : it’s what the landscape directed me to do. I can’t make the landscape be anything it isn’t and rather than have an up-hill struggle to make it so, if I follow what the landscape tells me, things just tend to ‘flow’ much easier.

Hokkaido is not a landscape of strong colours. But it does have them. I think the art in making good photos of Hokkaido isn’t necessarily about working with negative space. Neither is it about working with snow scenes only. I think it’s about working with tone and colour responses. These are where the emotion of the picture reside.

Snow is not white. Neither is it just one continuous tone. Snow is a vast array of off-whites, with subtle graduations running through the landscape. Our eyes are often blind to these subtleties as we start to photograph it, but with some well informed time behind the computer monitor editing and reviewing, we should all come to learn that white has a tantalisingly vast array of shades and off-white colours.

Hokkaido has been my director. It has guided me in my lessons over the past four or five years. I’ve learned so much from working in this landscape when I have chosen to listen to it.

Today, colour seems louder than it was yesterday

I’ve just completed work on some new Hokkaido images. The past few weeks have been a journey in colour reduction and more specifically: colour use. Reduction can be done by anyone, just turn the colour down. But to apply colour sensitively, takes skill and a whole lot of consideration and doubt.

Hokkaido-2019 (29).jpg

Now that I’ve finished the Hokkaido images, I’m struck by how little colour there is in them. Yet if I try to put the colour back in, they just sit wrong. They don’t work. They need to be the way I’ve edited them.

Looking at my website main page today, I was struck by a feeling that there is simply too much colour. I don’t think that’s true one bit, but what it is telling me is that I’ve been working with such quiet, muted tones this past week, that somehow, every colour feels strong for me at the moment.

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Our visual perception is often changing, and I think for me, it’s as if it all depends on how I feel today. Tomorrow I may feel otherwise, find that there isn’t enough colour. All I know is, that colour needs to be used carefully, and applied only when it’s required. You can create some noisy, complex images if you let the colour run riot.

Perhaps my sensibilities are changing yet again. Perhaps it’s just a moment. A passing phase. All I know is, that today, colour seems louder than it was yesterday.

The idealised view

Photography isn’t about capturing what’s in front of us. It’s more about capturing what is within us. Often when I see workshop participants want to stop somewhere to make a photograph, it isn’t what’s in front of them that they are drawn to. Instead, they are drawn to an idealised view of what’s there.

I was laughing to myself when I saw this. It was simply too good to be true. Too symmetrical, too balanced, too orderly. Too close to an idealised view.

Image © 2019.

When we see a composition in our mind’s eye, what we do is take each element of the scene that is important to us, and discard the rest. Although the scene may be far from perfect, we focus on the parts that give us what we see in our mind, and discard the rest. This is often why many of us find our photographs never match what ‘we saw’ at the point of capture.

In other words: we have a tendency to idealise the view.

If we can find such an idealised view that requires little or no post-edit work, this is perhaps the goal we all seek. But it’s often not like that, and often most compositions out there are compromised in some way.

I think this is why I love Hokkaido so much. Although the landscape is heavily shaped by man, with a bit of work it is possible to find those rare moments when everything clicks into place and all the components before my camera lens fit into perfect symmetry. It satisfies my urge to make sense of the nonsensical, to make order of the disorderly, and to make pleasing compositions of random elements that come together for a brief moment in what seems like an intended way.

Mark Hollis, musical genius has passed away

Dear Mark Hollis,

Thank you so much for the music.

Spirit of Eden is one of my most treasured of records. Musically it is a masterpiece that many did not understand at the time of its release in 1988. But it has since garnered the badge of being one of the most influential rock albums of all time.

Spirit of Eden is hailed as the source of ‘post rock’, and cited as a major influence by bands such as Sigur Rós

Spirit of Eden is hailed as the source of ‘post rock’, and cited as a major influence by bands such as Sigur Rós

Many say that Spirit of Eden was responsible for the wave of post-rock bands such as Sigur Rós. I well remember upon its release that there was nothing to compare it to, and that this was the problem: it was too ahead of its time. It was released when there was no post-rock genre to embrace it. But people did. What started out as a sub-culture of appreciation for this work has grown over the years to the point that the album is now recognised for being the treasure that it is.

Being a creative person myself, watching your career, and how you managed to remain true to yourself and your art over the years has been a vital lesson for me. You taught me, through your music, that is much better to follow your own path than to follow others. It may be a lonelier road at times, and many people may not understand you, but being true to who you are is what counts.

Spirit of Eden has given me so much peace and beauty to my inner-life over the past thirty years. I wish to let you know.

I wish you peace Mark.

Classic locations vs anonymous locations

A few days ago, I discussed how it’s ok to go and photograph well known locations, and even copy well known compositions. I explained that you can learn a lot in the process of going through trying to emulate a shot you know so well.

I’d like to think that the reason most of the readers to this very blog are here, is because they are either seeking inspiration for what they do, or at the very least, looking for some advice on how to develop as a photographer. Particularly in finding one’s own ‘vision’ and ‘style’.

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I’m afraid I can’t help you find your own style, but I can at least help you figure out how to work on your own vision. Vision for me, is all about what is seen in the mind’s eye. When we stand and look at some scenery we’re often able to imagine a completed photograph in our mind when we spot one or two compositional objects around us.

As much as I think going to well known places can be hugely instructional. I don’t think that travelling the same well trodden route as countless other photographers is an easy way to find your own vision.

Firstly, you may suffer from ‘I’ve seen this place so many times, shot a particular way, that I can’t see it any other way’. Yes, being overly familiar with a place before visiting it can actually make it more difficult for you to find your own view.

Secondly, even if you do find your own take on a well known place, it’s just extremely hard to make it ‘your own’. This is the main problem for me. Well known places are harder to stamp your own individuality upon, because of familiarity.

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For me, I’d much rather find my own places to photograph. 

Firstly, I’m less burdened with pre-visualised views based on other photographer’s efforts. I feel I’m able to avoid the trap of doing what everyone else has done, because no one else has done it.

I also have more of a chance to find what ‘I see’. My ‘vision’ get’s more of a workout.

Secondly, If I’m able to find good compositions in less visited places, I’ll have more of a chance of making them ‘my own’.

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Working with anonymous places may have all these benefits, but they also have a few challenges as well:

Firstly, it’s really really hard to work with anonymous places. The reason they are often anonymous is because easy to find, obvious compositions aren’t available (otherwise there would have already been a lot of visitors turning the location into an iconic spot).

Secondly, it takes a lot of effort to find good compositions in lesser known places. Whereas with Iconic well known places everyone knows where to stand. With anonymous places we have to go out there and scout for locations that no one has found before. This takes money, effort and a whole lot of time.

But if that isn’t enough, finding original places and compositions require creativity and talent: the skill of finding a good image where no one else has done so before is the elusive ‘x-factor’ that all photographers should seek.

Thirdly, a degree of conviction is required, and trust in one’s own judgement that there is something here to photograph that no one else has seen before. Unlike iconic places, anonymous places aren’t tried and tested. Photographing them means being vulnerable because you have no other photographers to back you up in your decisions. You may doubt yourself because you think ‘if there were compositions here, surely someone else would have found them already’?

Choosing anonymous places requires hard work, and guts. Shooting them shows independence. It shows you’re not happy to follow what everyone else is doing (in my opinion a great attribute to have). Shooting them allows you to start with a clean slate. Being the first explorer of a place that hasn’t been photographed before can be scary and exciting at the same time. Scary because you may be wondering if you’re wasting your time, and exciting when you find something beautiful when you least expected it.

I’d much rather choose anonymous places over the iconic. I’d prefer to avoid the tried and tested. At least that way I’d be working towards my own vision of the world.

The world is certainly big enough, with most of it un-photographed and undiscovered, for each of us to find our own voice. And some of it is staring you in your face, right now, just waiting for you, and easily within reach of your doorstep.

Romania, visit #2

I’m in Romania right now. I first came here in February 2018.

I seem to have a habit lately of taking friends up on their invites, and of doing zero research and just going and seeing what happens. This approach often yields images that I couldn’t have imagined if I had planned anything in advance and I like that very much. Art isn’t about guarantees.

This week is no exception to last year’s visit, where I finished the trip by thinking ‘I’m not sure if I got anything’. The Romanian landscape requires a lot of work.

But I’m ok with that. In fact, I ‘m more than ok with that. I like the ‘not knowing’.

Shooting in Romania. Image by Florin Patras. Used with kind permission.

Returning home, feeling that things are unclear is a good way to end a shoot. One shouldn’t go home thinking ‘I cracked it’. You should always be left in doubt about your efforts.

Doubt is healthy. It means you care. The most proficient always have doubts. It means they are willing to consider that the work may not be right, that there is room for improvement. Doubt is not a weakness. Being overly confident is.

You see, for me photography has never been about guaranteed results. Nor has it ever been about capturing great images. For me, photography has been about taking a chance, and getting out there. It’s been about living in the world around me and engaging with it.

Whether we create great work or not is always to be seen, but living in the moment and connecting with the world is, I believe, why we do what we do.

And if it isn’t, then we’re in trouble ;-)

Good artists copy, but great ones steal

I believe Pablo Picasso once said ‘Good artists copy, but great ones steal’.

When I first started making pictures, I was keen to follow in the footsteps of my heroes. I remember going to Patagonia because of Galen Rowell’s images of Torres del Paine. So too, I visited Hokkaido because I love Michael Kenna’s work from there.

I think it’s a mandatory part of the process of learning, to follow in your heroes footsteps. Imitating your heroes is one of the best ways we learn.

An old image of mine, of Elgol, on the Isle of Skye. Visiting well known locations can teach us a lot and even copying well known compositions can aid in the teaching also. I think that for me, I’m really keen to see if I can transcend the well known view, to try to find my own style or vision. To make the scene ‘my own’.

An old image of mine, of Elgol, on the Isle of Skye. Visiting well known locations can teach us a lot and even copying well known compositions can aid in the teaching also. I think that for me, I’m really keen to see if I can transcend the well known view, to try to find my own style or vision. To make the scene ‘my own’.

As an example of this, every song writer will tell you that when they first started writing songs, they would cover other people’s, study others guitar riffs, anything they had heard and liked. They will also tell you that they learned a lot by doing so.

I remember while at high school, watching the new kids arrive at the beginning of a new term and choose to hire out the music equipment from the music department. It wasn’t long before I heard them playing ‘house of the rising sun’ or ‘stairway to heaven’, or some other well known ‘standard’ - songs that are known to be great to learn to play. This is completely natural and to be encouraged.

So copying and emulating the people you admire has always been part of anyone’s education.

With regards to the ‘stealing’ aspect of Picasso’s quote, I think what he was referring to the talent some people possess at being able to take an existing idea and make it their own - in other words take someone else’s idea and make such a good job of it that they now own it. A perfect example of this, is the musician that covers someone else’s song, but does such a unique or exceptional rendition of it, that they become so well known for their version, that the song becomes their song.

I think as photographers, if we go to well known locations to make photographs, we should hopefully be striving to do the same: make the scene ‘our own’. I make no judgement on those who are content with making copies of well known locations, as it is similar to all the musicians out there who ‘cover’ someone else’s songs. But if we can somehow make a rendition of a well known place that transcends the derivative, then we have achieved the ultimate prize in our own photography: we have managed to make the scene ‘our own’.

For me, photography is all about developing my own vision and consequently, developing my own style. Trying to put my own stamp on a place, by either shooting it in a way that hasn’t been done before, or by doing something that enables it to be clearly evident that it’s one of my photographs is what I am most interested in.

It’s just extremely hard to do.

We all have to start somewhere, and we often begin by emulating the work of those we admire. It’s perfectly natural and constructive to do so. We can learn so much about the craft in the process. Copying is often a transitory thing for most of us - an apprenticeship if you will, and the precursor to developing our own sense of style and vision. Which I firmly believe is the ultimate goal of our own aspirations.

Too much noise in our lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pendulum of colour

You have to go too far one way, in order to know where to dial it back. If you never go beyond your boundaries, then you’ll never know where they are.

I see changes in my photography happen slowly throughout the years I’ve been making images. I think we have several muscles that need to be exercised: our visualisation muscle, our composition muscle, our tonal muscle and also with regards to today’s post: our colour muscle.

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Learning to use Colour is something many of us don’t even know we have to do. I remember in the early years of my photography how happy I was to just have very strong colour in my images. I never gave colour much thought except ‘is it punchy enough’.

Now I see very differently and understand that some colours:

  1. May not compliment the scene

  2. May cause distraction if too dominant

  3. May cause the scene to be too busy if there is too much of it

  4. May cause the scene to be too ‘dead’ if there isn’t some form of colour in there

  5. Colour needs to be used carefully because it is a component of what we call ‘Composition’.

I think I’ve been working on my Colour-muscle for the past 4 or 5 years. Where I was once happy to just load up the photos with oversaturated colours that caused my eye to be thrown everywhere at the same time, I began a process of reduction. And further reduction, until I began to feel as if my work was just a shade away from being monochrome. I have a theory about this which I’d like to call ‘the pendulum of colour’.

The Pendulum of Colour

We have to learn where the boundaries are. Boundaries are personal: your boundaries will be different from mine. But we all have to find them. Boundaries are important because they tell us a few things:

  1. That we’ve really explored the realm

  2. That we know where the limits of acceptability are to us

  3. Most importantly, that we have found we can go much further than we thought we could.

If you don’t go beyond what you think is acceptable, then how do you know you’ve gone far enough? If you are conservative with your use of colour, tone, composition, focal lengths and stick to the same formats all the time, then you’re never really exploring what’s possible. You aren’t reaching your full potential.

So you have to go way beyond what you think is acceptable to find out where your limits of acceptability are.

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I think, for most of us, our use of colour tends to have this kind of trajectory:

  1. We begin our photography by being delighted at having strong colours in the work. Any form of strong colour is great. But we still have to learn how to use colour selectively

  2. As the years go by, we begin to tire of strong coloured photographs and begin to feel we need to find something more. We start to notice that some of the colours are displeasing and we want to reduce them, or desaturate selectively This is what I would call the first pendulum swing: we are now going the other way with our colour use.

  3. Years may pass, but we find we become more aware of colour casts, of shadows having deep hues we never saw when we began our photography. Indeed, looking back at our first attempts causes us embarrassment.

  4. We begin to tune out certain colour casts. The photos become more muted as a result.

At some point, you may feel you’ve reduced colour far too much in what you do. That’s where the 2nd pendulum swing happens. This pendulum swing is different though, for one reason: you have gained experience and understanding of colour. Although you may be re-introducing colour back into your work, you’re much more informed about where, when and just how much you need to use.

As I said at the start of this post today: “You have to go too far one way, in order to know where to dial it back. If you never go beyond your boundaries, then you’ll never know where they are.”

Your use of colour is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. You need to push it far beyond what you’re normally capable of to find out if there’s more potential for you. You also need to do this to understand where the limits are for you. Dialling it back is informative because you begin to understand that you don’t often need as much colour as you once used. When you’ve been doing this for a while you realise that you can re-introduce colour, but it works best when applied selectively and with a much more considered approach.

We change all the time. Our tastes, aesthetics are all on their own pendulum swings, but each time we revert back to something we did a while ago, we do so as a changed person. We don’t repeat: instead we become better at what we do.

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In Hokkaido

Sometimes I wish I had photos to show others where I was, and what it’s like to be there.

After reviewing the image below, I’m just sorry I never made any use of that lovely curved tree trunk to the left of the frame. I was too busy (that’s me in blue) shooting one of my favourite trees in Hokkaido during an exceptional snow storm.

Image courtesy Steve Hunter, Hokkaido tour participant

Image courtesy Steve Hunter, Hokkaido tour participant

If you only ever shoot in sunny weather, your photography will take on only one possible dimension of what beautiful planet Earth has to offer us. The more I continue with my photography, the more I am realising that images can be made in all kinds of light, and during all times of the day.

Years ago, I only ever shot at sunrise and sunset. Everything had to have a red glow about it. These days you’ll find me shooting in the middle of the day, and sometimes in sunny weather if I feel I can use it to some benefit.

But I still think that most of us pack up and go home when the weather gets tough. Yet that is when things get interesting. Just look at the diffusion of the light on the base of the trees in that photo above. I haven’t got my films back yet, but I already have anticipation of the day we went to lake kussharo and photographed in extremely stormy conditions. It was wonderful.

Symmetry, patterns, Maths

There’s high correlation between music and maths. So too, is there high correlation between photographic composition and maths. And if that is true, then there is high correlation between music and pictures. They are one and the same.

One of my passions is music. I think that when it comes down to it, I’m just attracted to patterns. Whether it’s visual patterns (such as diagonals, curves, lines, shapes etc in photography) and patterns in music.

In the video below, the presenter shows you how electronic music is created by using certain numerical patterns. I’m not expecting anyone to know what a VCF, Gate, Clock, VCA is, but if you just listen to the sound he’s creating, and realise it’s all based on maths - it’s really inspiring.

South Korea 2018

I went to South Korea in December last year for an 8-day trip. I had been invited over by my friend Kidoo whom I met through my workshops. I hope to write more about my travels there in my coming newsletter this month. In the meantime a new gallery is up on the site for you to enjoy.

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Ghostly Steel grey

This image has been sitting in my filing cabinet (I shoot transparency film) since February 2017. Volandstind is one of my favourite mountains in the Lofoten islands of Norway.

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This image was taken on a particularly windy day in Lofoten with driving rain passing through every few minutes. Making images like this one doesn’t happen on a calm day, nor does it happen on a settled dry sunny day either. But you knew that, because that’s why you come to my blog. I shoot in inclement weather mostly, and if the weather is challenging, then it’s a good indicator that you might get something of interest in your photographs. If you can get over how rotten it feels to be outside on such a day.

I remember having to set the camera up and just wait as the squalls of rain passed through. Rather than just firing the shutter, I prefer to stop and watch the elements and look. Some times the visibility increases too much and that beautiful conical shape of Volandstind was lost to too much detail. Other times the visibility would decrease so much that the mountain was hardly visible at all. It was all a case of waiting for the right level of visibility and studying the weather.

You have to become an observer of weather patterns. Understanding what sort of day it is, and whether the rain squalls are passing through and what their frequency is, is important in anticipating what will happen next.

Most of my ‘strong’ images often leave a big impression upon me at the point of capture. Because I’m a film shooter I have no preview, so I have to trust what my memory tells me. With this photo, the residual memory of it stayed with me for so long that when I dug out the transparencies today I had it first and foremost in my mind to seek out and edit.

Steel blue

You can use colour to convey a feeling. And if you reduce the colours in your pictures to just a few, then the message gets stronger / simpler.

You can use tone to help lead the eye around the frame, but it is colour for me, that conveys emotion.

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I’m not the same photographer I was 10 years ago. Where I once crammed lots of tone, texture and colour into the frame, I now do the opposite.

With early efforts, I think the high saturation, high colour, complex textures and busy compositions are similar to someone trying to convey all their points in one paragraph. As we learn to go on, we move each point to its own paragraph, to its own space where it has a chance to express itself.

I didn’t see the ‘steel blue’ when I was in Romania. It only happened during the editing and by creatively messing around.

I like to try to be as fluid as I can. ‘what happens if I turn the hue slider this way?’ and suddenly a steel blue colour leapt out of the frame. It was always present - you can’t bring something out that isn’t there, And once it was there: I knew it belonged.