Puglia - Sep 2019 Tour Recap

I’ve just come back from this years Puglia photography tour for Light & Land, and yes, I am missing the late 20 degree heat!! This was my first year running this particular tour but not my first trip to Puglia, in fact it’s an area I’ve grown very fond of, and each time I visit it reveals more of its visual treasures. When the chance came to lead this tour I was more than happy to say “Yes Please!”.

The tour is split into two main sections, for the first 3 nights we stay in the small harbour town of Giovinazzo, just north of Bari on the east coast of Puglia. Then, we move inland to Alberobello, well known for its mass of Trulli homes and stay there for 2 nights before heading back to the UK.

On any trip I spend time discussing ways to approach various locations, all the while my job is to enthuse guests to expand their current approach as opposed to imposing mine. The last thing I should do is create a group of mini-me’s - it’s the sin of any teacher!

Days 1-3: Giovinazzo & Surrounding Area

Our base for the first 3 nights of Giovinazzo is an attractive small harbour town. The hotel is situated within the old town walls and even offers a rooftop terrace for a very quick and easy sunrise or sunset location. From here we branch out to other locations such as Matera, Polignano a Mare, San Vito and Santo Spirito. Each has it’s own charm, visual character and story as the guests found out.

Santo Spirito Harbour

Santo Spirito Harbour

Usually we start with a couple of hours in Santo Spirito on the day of arrival. This area sits behind a couple of long harbour walls and offers a snapshot of the variety of environments we encounter throughout the week in one small microcosm, let’s call it something of a photographic warm-up.

From small details of fishing boats and paraphernalia, to the clean lines of the local architecture, to opportunities for more minimalist long exposure shots. I try to use this area as a visual introduction to Puglia, which may be very different to the guests local environment in the UK. It’s hotter, flatter and commonly featuring a lot more blue sky in Puglia so it can take a few sessions to start to adjust the eyes accordingly.

Movement in San Vito

Movement in San Vito

On our 2nd day we visit San Vito and Polignano a Mare. In the harbour of San Vito there are gloriously coloured boats bobbing gently in the harbour. We discuss ways to try and represent and show that movement, essentially trying to stimulate the thought process of taking images about things, not just of things. ps - This is also site of an extremely good local restaurant (more on those later!)

Polignano a Mare earned the nickname of “Clacton” in our group this year after I explained that ‘a Mare’ essentially means ‘on sea’ and before you know it someone piped up with “like Clacton!?”. No knock on Clacton-on-Sea but I suspect we had better weather in Polignano and here the guests were tasked with really concentrating on, and highlighting, the clean angular lines (and bright white colour) of the architecture here.

Shapes in Polignano

Shapes in Polignano

Heading inland on Day 3 we visit the fascinating Matera, European City of Culture for 2019. This city is carved into the rock and sits astride a large hill with stunning views all around. Matera has an interesting back-story, it had seen various settlers throughout the last 2,000 years but it came to ‘fame’ in Italy around 60 years ago when it was discovered that many families were essentially still living in caves, with children and livestock all under one roof. These rock ‘shanty towns’ were called the Sassi (Sasso is Italian for Rock). Word spread and it became a national scandal that people were still living in this way after the second world war.

In the end, the citizens were moved out of the rock Sassi homes and re-located, some more successfully than others. As part of the tour we visit a local heritage centre where there is an interactive video presentation explaining the history of Matera. It’s important when shooting any location that you have some knowledge of it’s political and natural history, all these elements should be put into your visual melting pot so you can seek to included some of these themes or references in your image making there.

Cave Dwelling in Matera

Cave Dwelling in Matera

Days 4-6: Alberobello & Surrounding Area

After this first part of the tour we head inland to Alberobello for a couple of nights. We choose this time because Alberobello plays host to the Festival of Saints Cosmos & Damian and the town is awash with music, lights and celebrations. This makes for many great photo opportunities and all the guests really enjoyed the buzz around the town, including some great quality local bands playing traditional Italian songs.

However, it’s not all party-time, Alberobello is world renowned for its concentration of Trulli homes. These traditional Puglian homes have been in existence for hundreds of years. Made of dry-wall construction, without water, the design facilitated a quick way to disassemble your lodgings should the Kingdom of Naples tax collectors come knocking!

They are fascinating buildings and no doubt the shape of the roofs in particular are very photogenic. One way to put together a story of the Trulli is to capture many small details and present them in a set or panel of images. Another is just to solely focus on those dynamic rooftop shapes and capture them with a complimentary medley of sky and cloud.

Trulli Rooftop Cones

Trulli Rooftop Cones

From Alberobello we also reach out to locations such as Locorotondo (regarded as one of the Top 10 prettiest villages in Italy) and Ostuni. Also in this leg of the tour we get to spend some time exploring an area of olive groves. Some of the trees here are hundreds of years old and have such texture and character in their trunks.

Puglia has had some issues recently with an aggressive plant bacterium that has wiped out around 15% of the olive trees in the area. With an olive tree population of 60 million (!) this destruction is no small feat. Currently Puglia produces around 40% of Italys olive oil output and scientist and farmers are working hard to secure the trees in this beautiful region for plenty more generations to enjoy.

Olive Trees

Olive Trees

In summary, this is a tour that covers an array of photographic situations and opportunities. From the clean angular lines of the architecture, to the more traditional shapes of the Trulli homes. We also get chance to shoot in harbours and by the sea to experience the movement and dynamism of coastal photography, plus some quality time spent wandering in the olive groves and local landscapes.

I’ll be leading this tour again in 2020 and places are now available to book. It would be great to see you in Puglia, and as I hinted at before, I can promise you the best food and drink you’ll probably find on any Light & Land tour!

Dolomites - Summer 2019 Tour Recap

I wanted to just post a blog about the recent tour I ran for Light & Land to the Dolomites in June 2019. It’s an area I know very well having made nearly 20 trips there in the past few years. I’ve been lucky enough to visit at various times of the year and along with deep winter, the early Summer is my favourite time.

Dusk in the Dolomites

Dusk in the Dolomites

The views on this trip start from your approach into Innsbruck on the plane. Nestled between the mountains, Innsbruck is a small but busy city of around 300,000 and it offers a very scenic route in on the flight path. I’d arrived a few days earlier so met up with the group at Innsbruck and we made the drive (also full of great views!) down into Italy and to our base in Colfosco.

Only 2 of the members of the group had visited the Dolomites before, one a number of times and the other just briefly some years back. For the other members of the group it was their first taste of this stunning area. The closer you get to Colfosco in the Alta Badia region, the more amazing the views get so there was lots of anticipation for the coming days of photography.

We arrived in the early evening at the hotel so after dropping the bags in our lavish rooms (also with amazing views!) we walked up the road to a small viewing point just to familiarise the group with our ‘home’ location. As is the case in new places there were lots of “oohs” and “aahs” as the sheer scale and jagged nature of the mountains became apparent up close and in the late evening light. However, we had a very early alarm call (4.10am) so it was soon off for dinner and bed.

Sunrise at Passo Gardena

Sunrise at Passo Gardena

The following days provided a variety of shooting scenarios. From early morning sunrise sessions, through to high altitude cable car rides and even some inner landscape detail shoots. I feel it’s important to pace the trip correctly, with ample time to explore each scenario and vista and really get to know the area.

During our first day we were treated to a stunning sunrise at Val Gardena, this spot is probably amongst the most well known on the trip. The near panoramic views make it ideal for sunrise and also sunset at certain times of the year. Our first morning was something of a gift and it really was one of those situations where you had to be fully attentive not only to what was happening in front of you but also to everything else around you. Having experienced a number of sunrises here I was happy to help prepare the group for where the light would be and when, then at the time it’s a case of working with each individual to help them craft something based on their vision and reaction to the scene.

Later that day we visited the Passo Pordoi cable car which takes you up over 3,000m to Sasso Pordoi for some simply stunning views of the surrounding Sella Group of mountains and the impressive Marmolada. Here we discussed how to deal with such grand scenes with seemingly never ending vistas. Learning how to distil the scene succinctly into a coherent collection of shapes, lines, light and form. Essentially it’s about really being selective about what is and isn’t in the frame. Usually you’ll need less than you think.

Near Passo Pordoi

Near Passo Pordoi

When the view stretches for miles in front of you, and if you’re at altitude looking across or down (as opposed to up at it) one strategy is to deploy the longest lens you have. This helps cut-out vast swathes of unnecessary visual ‘clutter’ and we talked about how in my opinion it’s sometimes important to compose differently when using longer lenses. It can be helpful to look for very bold, strong shapes and elements that split into 2 or 3 distinct groups.

In the image above you can see by just selecting a small segment of the mountainside we can still afford the frame some ‘space’ visually between the mountain and the clouds. Essentially this breaks the scene into 3 roughly triangular shapes, which in themselves offer some dynamism because of the angle and this matches the jagged nature of the rocks. Using Black & White in this scenario also helps deal with some of the haze you can experience at higher altitudes and more importantly it allows for a common relationship in colour/tonal weight between the mountain and clouds, the sky is also allowed to be essentially blank so as to not pull the eye and again to compliment another element, the snow. Essentially you are dealing with quite literally shades of Black & White!

An absolutely amazing tour amongst Europe’s most superb and dramatic mountains. Sam certainly knows the area and took us to easily accessible views in the heart of the peaks - and all at the perfect time of day. He was very attentive to each participant’s needs and level of photographic experience, advising each as necessary whilst giving us the space to “make” our own personal images.

Combine that with almost perfect photographic conditions with rainbows on request, which has ensured that I have returned home with an SD card full of amazing images. A FANTASTIC TOUR!!! 👍
— Feefo 5* Independent Review

Inner Landscape - Mountain Stream

Inner Landscape - Mountain Stream

Although this area is obviously well known for its huge mountain vistas, I did want to help the group explore their visual creativity by spending some time on the inner landscape. I’ve found a small but interesting area with a series of waterfalls and small rapids in a nearby mountain steam and so we spent a good couple of hours here exploring. The idea very much being that in these scenarios the image doesn’t always immediately present itself. There’s a couple of ‘obvious’ shots like there would be in the big vistas, but I really wanted to encourage the group to seek out and craft their own images using the flow, energy and shape within the water.

Sometimes you have to practice what you preach and so after making sure everyone was in full flow with their image making I took a few moments to shoot the image above. The aim of this location and indeed of making this image, and sharing it with the group, was to really encourage them to consider not only the obvious scenery when on a trip but also to consider the unseen.

During our Light & Land trips the aim is not only to give you a great few days experience in a location, but also to furnish you with the inspiration, skills and enthusiasm to go back to your own patch and create some unique images. Finding a small stream locally could afford you similar opportunities when you know how to look and how to start crafting well balanced images using energy and flow.

From Rifugio Lagazuoi

From Rifugio Lagazuoi

Throughout the next couple of days in Alta Badia we visited various wide vistas and some more intimate scenes within the valleys. I did just want to pick out one location in particular which is up at the Rifugio Lagazuoi above Passo Falzarego. This area (as seen above) offers spectacular panoramic views and we were lucky to have some interesting cloud and passing weather in our morning session here.

However, this place has a great deal of history to be considered, and I was delighted that we had booked a tour with local guide Andreas. Fully decked out in his Austrian WWII outfit, Andreas told us the full history of this particular mountain pass and some of the horrific events that had occurred here in WWII.

The Austrian troops had dominated early on because of their superior positions at the top of the mountain, but over a period of time the Italian troops tunnelled away and eventually ended up blowing a huge part of the mountain apart to try and break the Austrian position. This battle played out over many months and through a couple of cold, bitter winters during which they had record levels of snowfall. Our visit in early June saw some snow still on the ground and it was pretty chilly, you can’t begin to imagine months on end of freezing temperatures in clothing that is far below todays standards for insulation.

The Group with Andreas (in full military gear with heavy rifle!)

The Group with Andreas (in full military gear with heavy rifle!)

Knowing this history highlights the importance of looking beyond the stunning aesthetic nature of some of these locations. We discussed how as a photographer you might consider some of these stories to reflect or represent the location in a different way visually. In the image below for example, just imagine being a young 18/19 year old soldier, commonly from other parts of Italy, being stuck in this freezing cold, desolate feeling place. Days or weeks could go by in the Winter with no sight or sound of anything except these freezing peaks and the constant threat of gunfire or explosions.

My belief is that if you can start to connect to some part of a locations history either geographically or with human stories, there is a much higher chance of starting to create meaningful images that go beyond the ‘of’ and consider the ‘about’.

Towards Tofana di Rozes

Towards Tofana di Rozes

Throughout the next few days we carried on exploring the Alta Badia region. At this time of year there really is great variety in the shooting subjects and conditions as you can hopefully see from the small selection of images here in the blog. Even during mid morning and mid-afternoon there can be great light which really moulds and sculpts the rocky features of these mountains.

Sasso Piatto, Cinque Ditta & Sassolungo from the Sella Pass

Sasso Piatto, Cinque Ditta & Sassolungo from the Sella Pass

I really enjoyed the trip and learnt a lot about using my camera. Excellent guidance from Sam Gregory, excellent locations and superb hotels.
— Feefo 5* Independent Review

As we approached the final afternoon and evening of the tour we moved from our base in Colfosco to the Alpe di Siusi area. This area is the largest high-altidue alpine meadow in Europe. It’s become very well known due to its incredibly picturesque scenery and the fact that essentially it’s cut off to cars and through traffic. This creates a peaceful experience for you to explore on foot and using the provided bus service.

After arriving at our exceptional hotel in mid afternoon we headed out to explore this area. At this early summer time there are flowers in the fields and the grass is vividly green with great undulations in the fields.

In the Meadows - Alpe di Siusi

In the Meadows - Alpe di Siusi

After a pleasant afternoon strolling and picking out shapes, and moments of fleeting light in the landscape we headed back to base for refreshments and re-energising before the evening sunset shoot. I’ve been in this location a number of times, BUT I’ve never experienced the kind of sunset we were about to witness…

The early part of the evening saw some nice side light and because there was still some weather rolling around the peaks I could tell we might be in for something special. The group had been finessing their compositions and waiting patiently for a couple of hours. We’d had some good image making possibilities already and there was the odd murmur about dinner…however, I decided we should really hang on to not miss anything. As it happened we were then treated to a mad 15 minutes of passing light, rain and resulting rainbows that stretched out above the view in front of us.

Evening Light - Alpe di Siusi

Evening Light - Alpe di Siusi

As mentioned earlier in this blog, I’m one for seeking out images, looking in lesser known places and really trying to craft a scene using shape and flow. However, sometimes there’s nothing wrong at all with letting something incredible just unfold in front of you! Although we’d had some time to finesse compositions and preferences, when this light unfolds in front of you it’s easy to loose your calm! It’s in these moments it really pays to know your camera settings, know how a polariser can affect a rainbow, and have your framing ready. What’s most important though, is to sometimes look up from the camera and soak the scene in with your eyes, never let the frame get in the way of a life experience.

As you can imagine we headed back to the hotel on something of a high and we had a great final evening together praising our luck with the weather and also enthusing about this amazing part of the world.

We still had one final sunrise together and true to form for this trip, the weather delivered once again. After a rather tame start, the side light flooded across the meadows and lit up the side of the mountains. I find this is typical of how the Dolomites works, the final day is something of a tease, reminding you why it’s so important to come back again and enjoy this spectacular scenery…why not join me in 2020 on our next tour here! (More Info)

Sunrise - Final morning

Sunrise - Final morning

I’ll leave the final thoughts about the tour to one of the guests who kindly took the time to fill in some feedback. You can see all the reviews via the Feefo website.

At the risk of hyperbole, this was simply a wonderful trip in a fabulous area with enormous photographic potential. The hotels were excellent as were the food and the logistical arrangements.

The key to the success of the trip, though, was the leader, Sam Gregory. He was very organised, had good knowledge of the area to optimise the photographic opportunities and he imparts his considerable photographic wisdom with a light touch and an admirable humility. I learned a great deal from him on composition, technique and post-processing. I could not have asked for anything more from this trip.
— Feefo 5* Independent Review

The Image Making Process

The idea of this blog post was to discuss the importance of the images the public don’t see, but which make up part of the process for the photographer. Inspired by a recent visit to a Willy Ronis exhibition in Venice and with a little example of my own, I also consider how shooting digitally may affect the process…

Who was Willy Ronis?

Willy Ronis was a French photographer well known for his street & social documentary photography. His work was chosen by Edward Steichen to be displayed in the 1953 ‘Work of Five French Photographers’ exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA). Not long after, in 1957, he was awarded a Gold Medal at the Venice Biennale, this is one of the reasons his work is currently on display at the Casa dei Tre Oci in Guidecca. Amongst the 120 images on display there are also some of his contact print sheets & negatives which inspired this blog.

The Working Process

It’s always fascinating (I think!) to see the images that didn’t ‘make the cut’ so to speak. Looking at a set of negatives can start to reveal some of the working processes of the photographer and indeed the route to construction of certain images. Take this famous example below, in the text at the exhibition Ronis explains that he was alerted to the Gondolieri as their voices became audible to his left, he knew he would have one chance to make the image as they walked across the scene and ‘click’ there it was.

Image: Willy Ronis (1910-2009)

What’s clear in the contact sheet prints is that he’d been waiting here for at least a number of minutes watching various potential scenes unfold. This is one of six images made at that location, each one no doubt building to the ‘decisive moment’ which he chose as the ‘winning’ image from this scene. You see in the contact prints a change in exposure and also how the image needs some action on the right hand side to balance and impart energy, it changed the dynamic totally from just the ladies chatting with the child. He knew this of course and it was a matter of waiting for the characters to enter the scene accordingly.

There are however also examples of images where the moment was so fleeting that just one or two images were made, these are times where it’s now or never. In the image below (also in Venice) there were just two versions on the contact prints, the first with the girl heading out (as shown below) and the second with her returning.

Image: Willy Ronis (1910-2009)

In the second image, the girl is returning towards the street and her body is directly in line with the wooden support on the gangway. This is just one of the reasons why the first image (as shown) is stronger, because of the separation and balance of elements, but also perhaps because here she is heading somewhere, but we’re not sure where. It’s an extra element of intrigue, the beginning of a journey into a relative unknown, however brief.

Modern Relevance?

So, what does all of this have to do with anything we may be thinking about in our photography today? Well, firstly many of us now shoot digitally which has an affect on our ‘in-field’ processes. The ability to immediately assess an image on the live view or viewfinder review screen helps inform our aesthetic choices. For the film photographer it’s an expensive habit to shoot and re-shoot scenes without being able to quickly see the results. It does also depend what style of photography we might be shooting though.

For example, the street photographer is often waiting for a scene to unfold, for characters out of his/her control to enter the scene and to react accordingly. It’s a situation that may also apply to landscape photographers, we may be waiting for a change in weather or the flow of an incoming tide for example. All genres excel in the ‘optimal light’ for the scene and of course the craft is to make compositional sense and order out of whatever the elements in front of us may be.

My Approach

I wanted to try and show an example of how I approached a certain simple scene, with a bold graphical element, and how the images that I wouldn’t normally show contributed and brought clarity to the final image choice from that scene.

I know some photographers find they start wider and work in to find the detail, others (Bruce Percy being one I believe) start closer and gradually work wider if required. The idea of this second approach is that perhaps you have already identified the core essence of what attracted you to the scene and then you build upon it, as opposed to having to distil down to what you originally were attracted by. The ability to make the visual connection from eye to composition in camera will affect your approach here and I find that sometimes I go both ways.

The final image: A balance of extraction, colour and shape

The final image: A balance of extraction, colour and shape

The above image was made in Napier, NZ. There is an interesting modern sculpture that extends from the beach into the sea. I knew there were shapes, colours and flow to play with when I saw the structure and I’ve tried to retrospectively review my approach below, in the order the images were made.

The Process - In Order

As mentioned above, I often work closer in, further out, or indeed just throw around visual ideas as I’m exploring a scene. Some may argue this shows a lack of clarity in my approach or assessment of a scene, perhaps that I’m unclear on my purpose. However, I would argue that there are multiple ways to successfully interpret a scene or element and this working process is no different to a chef experimenting with flavours, seasoning or indeed presentation.

The images are displayed below in the order they were shot. One quick note: Yes, they are processed differently. At the time I was bouncing between colour or black and white and the camera I now use allowed me to explore that ‘live’ (which is something I’ve enjoyed adding to my process) but more on that later.

Image by Image - Developing Ideas

Image 1

IMAGE 1: This is the first image I shot of the structure. There were certain things going though my mind immediately that led me this way:

  • Part of the attraction was the shapes of the structure. I wanted to emphasise these by extracting and abstracting them from the overall construction.

  • There were various people stood under the structure, one way to cope with that is to simply remove them from the scenario.

  • The structure had a clean white colour and the high-key black and white treatment helped add something to the graphic design.

  • By extracting this segment there is some ambiguity about what we’re actually looking at and that forces us to look more at the shape and flow rather than tying it to an objective structure.

Image 2


  • Stepping back I wanted to show the structure a little more clearly, essentially making it more obvious.

  • I chose to do this partly because of the cloud above which I thought added balance. Arguably it could work without but because the ‘legs’ of the structure are cut-off, I felt it needed a similarity in the sky (i.e. something else light) to potentially distract from the fact those legs don’t finish.

  • It doesn't really work. The clouds on the right hand side are a bit distracting and there’s not getting around the cut-off legs issue. What you can’t see is that there are still people there so I was compromising by framing higher into the structure.

Image 3


  • Moving back in helps create a stronger image.

  • It’s let down by the small clouds near a couple of the lower legs, and perhaps the whole composition is too bottom right heavy.

  • Direct sunlight and blue skies vs white structures can work very well in B&W and it was good to preview this live using the viewfinder on the Nikon Z6.

  • Undoubtedly this closer approach leads to the next image (my preferred choice). The cogs are turning…

Image 4 (My Preferred Choice)


  • You can see this is perhaps a result of the previous images where I’ve been trying to find the right balance between extraction and compositional flow.

  • In my opinion this is the best balanced compositionally because the visual ‘weight’ of the structure is evenly dispersed across the frame, with room to breathe in that bottom left corner.

  • In terms of colour vs B&W, although it was potentially B&W inspired you just can’t beat a clean blue and white combination. The contrast allows the structure to ‘pop’ out of the background.

  • The lack of any pesky clouds helps and I stood for a moment waiting for them to clear accordingly.

Image 5


  • The postcard shot! This is more of a record shot for me. Finally everyone cleared away and so I took the chance to shoot the structure in its entirity.

  • The strong foreground shadow adds some depth and interest but fundamentally I find the extraction shots more visually interesting. This is because of the focus on flow, curves, lines and the semi-abstraction which adds some ambiguity.

The Process - Retrospectively Deconstructed

You may ask: Are you really thinking these things as you shoot? The answer is yes to some degree, and perhaps some is happening in my sub-conscious. It may seem indulgent to retrospectively project a thought process onto the images afterwards but I find that de-constructing your own images and shooting patterns is a helpful way to self assess and improve.

New Nikon Z6

New Nikon Z6

I mentioned earlier that shooting digitally informs my process. I’m happy shooting film sometimes but I do find that one major advantage of digital is the chance to immediately review and tweak compositions. Part of me is heavily influenced by the Precisionist style of work that I love to see, and that side fights with the looser, exploratory style I often employ when trying to unlock the compositional essence of a subject or scene.

The chance to not only see the composition in the required aspect ratio through the viewfinder, but also to see it in potential edited form (i.e. choose from multiple processed versions) on the new Nikon Z6 that I use has been a really helpful creative tool. It allows me to get as close as possible to the finished article at the moment of capture. This post is not about gear (although there will be a Z6 review coming soon), but gear here is relevant, it affects how I approach a subject and thus the final outcome.

In Summary

If you’ve made it this far then hopefully you’ve found some of this interesting. I would certainly recommend looking back at your shooting patterns. Perhaps start with your chosen ‘winner’ from one scene or another and then look at how you shot before and after that at the same scene/location. There could be some points to learn from and you may start to see common threads to how you approach things. Were you waiting for a different light? Did you change the composition? If so, why? Did you get stuck in one place? Could you have moved around more, explored a different angle? Were you thinking about the finished image? This de-construction may help you think about a new way, or indeed it may simply help you become more efficient in your shooting approach.

Maritime Alps, France - Rustic Charms & Hidden Gems

Having visited this area a handful of times in Spring and Summer I was keen to return in Autumn to see the seasonal variation. So, with a 3 day window towards the end of October being my only chance this year I scheduled a quick trip hoping for some autumnal colour and the last kiss of warmth for 2018…

Arriving in Nice is usually a warming experience, not necessarily for the welcome but due to the weather! The plane actually runs parallel with the shoreline as it prepares for landing and you can see the sparkling boats of the glitterati laid out below in opulent harbours populated by the mega-rich. It’s such a tonic to know that just 20-30 minutes away lies a little oasis of calm and a collection of charming French villages.

Around Vence 

My base (and our base during the May 2019 tour) was in St Paul de Vence. A charming and extremely well-maintained old village up in the hills behind Nice. St Paul (as it’s called by the locals) is a hub for modern art and as you wander through its beautifully cobbled and windy streets there are multiple galleries and stores selling all manner of fine art including paintings, sculptures and mixed media. There is also the famous Fondation Maeght which houses a world-renowned collection of modern art. Exploring with the camera here is a relaxed affair, and there are shooting opportunities during the day and night.

Just 15 mins from St Paul de Vence is its big brother Vence. This has the feeling of a busy town but it has a beautiful historic centre including a walled old town and also a small ‘ghetto’ area (of the historic type). This allows for a wide variety of image making possibilities and Vence has a great selection of colourful facades and doorways to explore. The great painter Henri Matisse spent a lot of time in Vence and you can see there is a strong history of art in the area.

Rustic Villages

Nearby to St Paul is the attractive Tourrettes-sur-Loup which clings onto a hillside and has a charming square. Not only do they do wonderful food here but the Church has a very aesthetically pleasing interior and can be a good spot to grab some respite from the sun if required. Exploring man-made shapes and architecture can help develop your eye for spotting natural curves, lines and arcs in the landscape and as such I love exploring these locations. 

About 30 minutes away you can climb further into the mountains to visit smaller villages. The further into the mountains you go, the more rustic they become! Carros is at the entrance to this upper Alps area and it has beautiful cobbled streets which look great at night in particular.

As you travel on from Carros the villages get smaller and smaller and the textured rustic nature of these hideaways are great to play with photographically. Shooting in these villages generally may well appear easier than it really is. I am an avid lover of wild landscapes but over the last 2-3 years I’ve enjoyed the challenge of making order in these more enclosed and inhabited spaces. It’s my belief that the end results need to be compositionally sound and watertight to be successful and that does take some time to finesse. For anyone out there who’s used to the wider vista this would be a stimulating and rewarding way of re-seeing order in compositions.

The Loup Gorge & River

It’s not all about the villages in this area though. The Loup river runs down through the Alps to the sea and there are a number of river areas and waterfalls to explore. Our tour in May 2019 will explore a beautiful river walk which offers lots of opportunities for detailed abstract shots and indeed experimenting with shutter speeds and creating shapes in the water. We’ll also spend some time at the Saut du Loup waterfalls which I’ve become slightly obsessed with! There is a gorgeous sweeping natural arc in the rock here and it’s the kind of place you can spend some time really playing with shutter speeds and compositions. Be it capturing the wider scene or focussing in to a set of abstracts. 

What to Expect

 Throughout our time here in May 2019 we’ll explore other small towns and villages including Antibes on the coast which has a nice mix of old and new and houses the fabulous Picasso Museum– what better place for some inspiration! I’m also keen to discuss composition in further detail with guests and this will involve some image review sessions and conversations about finding order in busy scenes.

Due to the variety of shooting locations there will also be chance to explore and develop alternative techniques such as long exposures, ICM and Multiple Exposures. There will also be time available to discuss using correct filtration and other core principles of photography. 

In summary, this area has a charming and relaxed feel, even though its so close to the contrasting hustle and bustle of the Cote d’Azur. Personally I can’t wait to go back and would be delighted to see you there.

It's just "Click Click"...

Photography is easy, right? It's just "click click", or so I'm told...

I have two wonderful nieces aged 10 (Rebecca) and 6 (Chloe). I recently took them out to the woods for a picnic on a warm Sunday afternoon. The 10 year old is very bright and curious and she was asking me about my photography. I'd just been away for a few days preparing a workshop and so I was telling her about what that involves and why people come away for a few days with a photographer to improve their skills and enjoy a nice location. I could see the cogs whirring away inside her mind at high speed as the slightly quizzical look on her face sharpened...


"I don't really get it" she said, "taking a picture is easy, its just click click, right?!" - These are the words of a 10 year old who's just got their first mobile phone! After an initial hesitation about opening this particular can of worms my obvious answer was that yes, the action of taking the picture is easy, it's just the click of a button. However, there can be pictures that are more interesting or less interesting - I was trying to avoid good and bad, and don't get me started on calling them images not pictures!

As she has some musical prowess I gave the example that playing a note on the piano is easy, you just press it, but playing a piece of music is a bit more complicated. I was making progress in winning her over on this so then we got into what makes a photograph more interesting. Anyone with kids can imagine this was just the start of being pulled into the conversational rabbit hole where the questions come at you from often very unexpected angles of thought!

The 'Golden Spiral' - The proverbial rabbit hole of compositional hypotheses!

The 'Golden Spiral' - The proverbial rabbit hole of compositional hypotheses!

After 10-15 mins or so of me trying my best to distil my thoughts on composition, light, form, nuance, subtlety and the work of the great masters she rather diplomatically took pity on me and said "yes, I suppose some pictures are more interesting than others - I took a great picture on my mobile phone of Chloe wearing rabbit ears and it's amazing!"...Rebecca 1-0 Sam

So, next time you're agonising over a composition, just stick some rabbit ears somewhere in the scene, go click click and you'll be sorted :)

Fathers Day Reflections: More Than An Image...

Some of you closest to me know that sadly my Dad passed away earlier this year. Being the soft (ahem!) Northern romantic that he was, he picked Valentines Day as his time to leave us - he never did like it! In the subsequent weeks myself and the family were going through some old photos and looking back over Dad's career and work life. It got me thinking just how important images (and printing) can be for all of us, and how perhaps as some of us landscape photographers chase our 'created images' we shouldn't forget to take a few 'pictures' along the way...

Dad at work...

Dad at work...

After leaving Music College in Manchester my Dad went on to be a professional Trumpet player and musical arranger. After a period of playing he also moved into teaching and specifically he set up the Manchester Youth Stage Band which was the only band of its kind in the North and mirrored the National Youth Jazz Orchestra which was very much centered around the South. The subsequent huge success of the band led to him appearing in certain Newspaper articles and it's with great joy that not only did we still have the original cuttings but also some of the prints that were made at the time by the photographer - well done that photographer!!

Without these prints being made at the time I wouldn't have been able to scan them and store them for generations to come. I can even re-print them as necessary, and although this particular picture (above) is a posed photo for a press photographer it also tells a story nicely about Dad. It sets the scene of what he does, Trumpet lying to the side and music manuscript on the desk. And for those who knew up him best the familiar left hand holding of the pen can bring back memories of him working away at home around the family.

Dad pointing at the bread...and why not!

Dad pointing at the bread...and why not!

Among some of the press images we stumbled across this beauty (above) - none of us ever got the story of why he was pointing at the bread but no doubt it was an advertisement or similar in the local paper. On the surface it's a light-hearted picture to cherish but for me I can see that smile on his face that I also saw all through his life and even into the final days. Again, the importance of this being printed at the time and stored away can't be underestimated for us now to reflect upon.

I for one am very guilty of partitioning my photography into solo trips into the landscape, it's very rare that I'd have my camera out at a family gathering. With young nieces this is surely a shame because I should be utilising my skills to capture moments of their youth that they can enjoy in many years to come. It's so alien to how I would normally work photographically but that's the point, it isn't work, it isn't a job, we should all feel no pressure to just shoot away in those circumstances, even with just our smartphones. And, let's all make sure we do some printing so we can keep these memories for years and generations to come...

If you're seeing your Father, Dad, Old Man (whatever you want to call him!) today, why not make sure you grab a picture or two for the future :)



Pan Fried or Slow Roasted?

Forgive the slightly off the wall title of this blog, but I want to just mull over an observation about the different speeds at which photographers process and share their images. I wonder if you fall into the pan fried or slow-roasted variety?

After sharing both my Dolomiti Winter series across my various social media pages from April-June I got a couple of messages and comments about how they weren't quite 'in season'! It was all light hearted jest and perfectly fair to say but it reminded me how many of us operate at different speeds not just in the field, but with relevance to this blog, in our post processing, curation and publishing of images. 

Image from DOLOMITI II Collection

Pan Fried

On the one hand I see images processed and posted from photographers within minutes or hours of shooting. The weekly competitions run by various companies and social groups on Twitter/FB etc no doubt encourage this quick turnaround but I know plenty of photographers at all levels who actually prefer to work this way.

My good friend and colleague Paul Sanders generally prefers this 'quick release', and it's not just about the processing and sharing but it reflects how he shoots generally. The focus is very much on him reacting and responding to the landscape around him emotionally, as such he wants the edits to be as fresh as possible to really capture the spirit of the moment. There are exceptions where he's worked on longer series of work but that has tended to be a rarer approach for him.

Paul posted this at the time with the following text: "Just because something or someone looks ruined it doesn’t mean they aren’t beautiful"

I was with Paul at the time of this image and know he released it later that day. It got me thinking about this topic generally and realising that it's perfectly ok for each photographer to have their own approach - you have to work in the way that best suits you, as long as you can explain why it best suits you ;)

There can be commercial requirements to share images in a timely manner, for example you may be leading a workshop during that week and as such it's relevant to put something out at the time. However, it's commonly not about that and Paul is by no means the only highly respected professional who works in this way. It creates a sense of raw energy, spontaneity and truth in images for the viewer and for the artist. It doesn't mean you can't go back and re-assess images for later prints or books etc but it does perhaps free your mind of carrying around what I'm going to call 'image baggage'.

Slow Roasted

I must admit I'm firmly a slow roasted kind of guy. The Dolimiti Winter series were shot over a 3 year period and I decided to wait until they were curated into a couple of sets before letting any of them 'out' into the big wide world. I'm currently working on a series that has been 12 months in the making and this is both good and bad. I lie awake at night thinking of how the series may be curated, mulling over images and the meanings, and I'll go through ups and downs of really liking the work and other days wanting to delete it all! It can also make producing other work difficult because you have that aforementioned 'image baggage' getting in the way.

The argument is that if you tend to think more in collections or projects then this slow roasting is perhaps a better idea for many. It does sometimes mean that many images never see the light of day publicly though because they become non-starters, but I'll be covering that in another blog coming soon :)

Image from upcoming new work

Image from upcoming new work

In Summary

A mental distance from the image created by time away from it can perhaps let you have a more critical eye on the composition and processing. I like others often do this over two or three passes over the work. The time away may also let you shake off some of the personal background that was associated with making the image...if indeed you want to! Perhaps some photographers don't want to loose that immediate connection that helps them process it in the most truthful way to their freshly experienced moment.

There is no right or wrong, only different approaches that suit different personalities. I'd be interested to hear from you in the comments below if you're one way or the other, or perhaps a bit of both and why. 

There can sometimes be commercial reasons for me to speed up my 'digesting time' - If a client is waiting for an image, or set of images there can be deadlines but in my personal work I try as much as possible to give the work space to breathe, time for me to re-check processing and pull it all together slowly. I'll often print images and leave them around my home office for a few weeks for me to let them seep in. 

The short answer is that however the proverbial image is 'cooked', the main thing is that it tastes great and the chef enjoyed 'cooking' it...the method and journey to the diner is of secondary importance.

Aspect Ratios - Overview

In this blog I use one image and demonstrate its interpretation through a variety of aspect ratios. You can even place your vote on which you prefer at the bottom of the blog! 

At a later date I'm going to write a more detailed blog on each aspect ratio with various examples...

I was recently out leading a workshop with my friend and colleague Paul Sanders on the Dorset coast. We had a lovely group of clients with us who'd got in touch originally through 'The Togcast Podcast' that we host and we ended up running a small weekend event for them (ps If you'd like to do this as well please do get in touch). As ever it was a mix of helping to inspire people with different locations, varying conditions and also talking them through different ways to approach a scene based on our experiences. 

On this occasion we spent some time discussing different aspect ratios. It was quite interesting that although some of the clients had tried different aspect ratios in the post-processing stage, usually it was actually more about cropping to remove distracting elements than setting an aspect ratio specifically. None of them had really used their in-camera live view aspect ratios when out in the field with a view to interpreting and composing a scene differently at the point of capture. I would reflect that 99% of my landscape shooting is not done at 3:2. I've found this is just what suits me and each to their own (all the usual caveats etc) but I think there are various reasons why I've gone this way:

  • I have used a couple of film cameras for a number of years that offer a 1:1 view through the glass, part of me is simply used to 'seeing' in that way
  • Undoubtedly I've been influenced by some of the photographers whose work I have admired (and still do!) over the years
  • With my compulsive search for order in compositions I've found certain aspect ratios lend themselves more easily to balance (for my eye)
  • I strongly believe that there are certain visual elements and shapes that are commonly more suited to different aspect ratios
  • It's a creative and effective way to accentuate certain themes within a scene

The Scene & Motivation

It was a muted day on the Jurassic Coast and there were lovely pastel colours in the sky and the clouds were blending into the horizon nicely. Looking out to sea there was a sense of just drifting out to infinity and so my initial inspirations were to create an ordered, tonally muted, simple composition to complement the peaceful view we were experiencing and to highlight the interesting (and fairly delicate) textures in the cloud and use the loan boat as a source of scale.

The image is neither here nor there for me but I did think it made for a good example...

1:1 Aspect Ratio (As Shot)

Commonly I walk round with my camera set to 1:1 and use it in Live View mode. It has become my 'go-to' and that brings it's own dangers. It's easy to become reliant on something and use it as a safety blanket, this can lead to your images becoming repetitive and also it can limit (or at least stifle) your creative eye. However, on this occasion I was quite sure that a 1:1 square would complement the scene nicely. When shooting in a very minimalist style the square aspect ratio can be a good option as it's equally balanced shape brings a natural sense of order. Also the story in this image is not a front to back, or left to right narrative - more on this later in the other aspect ratios! In the square you can leave a good amount of space and it can work well with straight horizontal or vertical lines such as the horizon here.

I find that a rough 80/20 rule can work well for horizon placement in a square if it's an image that has a simple horizon and not much else. This can work both ways; you may have a more interesting foreground that you wish to highlight and a flat sky in which case you can push that horizon way up on a square without it feeling cramped like it would in 3:2 or many other aspect ratios.

5:4 Aspect Ratio 

I really love 5:4 in many situations (although perhaps not here). If you're a square fan generally then you'll find that 5:4 is a great addition to your arsenal. It is generally much better at coping with scenes where a more vertical story needs to be told. For example if you have an element that people are used to seeing in an up/down state visually: high waterfalls, trees, certain buildings, people etc. It can also be a better way of letting the eye 'travel' through an image if you're using a foreground element to guide the viewer into the scene, think about a path into a woodland or a rock into a seascape etc. The slightly more vertical shape of 5:4 vs 1:1 is often more complementary to those scenarios. It comes down to how you want the viewer to travel through the image.

In this situation for me it doesn't add anything to the square. We're just seeing more sky and it's making the boat seem too tiny (it's probably too tiny in all of these but that's all the more reason not to exacerbate things!). 

One minor annoyance is that Canon don't offer this aspect ratio in their live view options, the closest is 4:3 so if you're looking to use 5:4 start with 4:3 and either get used to knowing how much it will crop to at 5:4 or just embrace 4:3, it's pretty nice as well ;)

16:9 Aspect Ratio 

This is one of my more commonly used aspect ratios. If we refer back to my comment about the directional narrative of a scene then I would say that 16:9 often works really well for scenes where there is a left to right flow (or perhaps right to left - thats a blog for another day!). For example a distant set of peaks with fluctuating heights where the story is about the line of peaks not the foreground. Or perhaps a longer lens compression of a rolling countryside scene. Anything where you want to show lines, flow, rhythm from a left to right point of view. Obviously because this aspect ratio is very short and wide it doesn't tend to be great if you're wanting to lead the viewer in from the bottom of the scene as discussed in the 5:4 section.

It can also work well with minimalist scenes if you're trying to show a wide expanse, think of some of the great cinematic uses of 16:9 as a format at the movies. I particularly enjoyed a scene in the latest James Bond film 'Spectre' where they had a train snaking in left to right across the scene, or think of the classic American mid-west shots of the impressive rock stacks and the sense of grandeur and open space it brings.

In our example scene on the Jurassic Coast above I would say this 16:9 is an option, it does add a certain obvious width which can create a feeling of space and expanse but perhaps due to the simplicity of the elements I actually prefer our next option if we were looking to go wide...

16:7 Aspect Ratio 

If you're going to go wide, go really wide ;) Sometimes (just sometimes) the 16:7 is a great option. Obviously it has a very panoramic feel and the same suggestions apply about it suiting left to right compositions. Often it can feel a little too compressed though if you have any jagged peaks or elements too close to the top and bottom. In fact this is true of 16:9 as well, I find that leaving a little room top and bottom is beneficial to let the scene breathe, otherwise it will feel crammed in. If there is a fair amount going on in a scene I usually find 16:9 works better but it's worth experimenting with yourself. Use the 16:9 in live view and cover over the top and bottom to see if the scene can take stretching even further. Bear in mind that 16:7 images when shared on the web (especially via social media) can loose impact because they just feel small. They're best shown large, and/or printed large.

In this scene I actually prefer the 16:7 to 16:9, perhaps because it's so simple and when we think of a horizon it is of course naturally a horizontal element, as such giving it an aspect ratio that enhances that element tends to work. It adds to the sense of scale of the boat being out at sea alone, more than the vertical aspect ratios which just gave us more sky, which whilst you could argue that also gives scale, it's worth remembering it's a boat not a plane! It belongs on the water and as such that is the element we perhaps need to highlight more with this elongated horizontal aspect ratio.

3:2 Aspect Ratio 

I'll be completely honest and say that putting the image into 3:2 was the reason for this blog being created. Imagine the horror, shock and surprise when I found I actually quite liked it! There is a good balance between sky, sea, the use of the boat, a sense of space and expanse. 

It reminded me that we can all too easily fall into our 'routine' when out shooting. Using the same ideas, techniques and visual strategies can be comfortable for us but commonly it can limit our creativity. This applies to people who only ever shoot in 3:2 and it applies to others like myself who have maybe found another safety blanket.

In Summary

This blog is not about which aspect ratio is best for you, for any one scene or indeed necessarily even for this scene. I wanted to try and give some pointers about when you could consider using certain aspect ratios to enhance your compositions. Be it to introduce more flow from bottom to top, or left to right. Perhaps you want to really simplify and emphasise graphic lines and shape, whatever the scene the point is to consider WHY you're attracted to it and HOW you can use your composition to accentuate and highlight the spirit and flow of the image. It's far more beneficial to use these aspect ratios at the point of capture than to apply them after the fact.

ps - I was going to go into the use of that boat and show you some with boat and without boat, but that's another blog for another day! In the meantime just cover it with your thumb and see what you think!

Your Choice

Which aspect ratio do you prefer for this image?
Created with PollMaker

Five ways to blow £2,000 improving your landscape photography...

With the release today of the NEW Canon 6DMKII it got me thinking, if you have a cool £2k burning a hole in your photographic pocket what's the best way to invest it in your image making progression & enjoyment as a landscape photographer? Here's a few options...

1. Buy a Canon 6D MKII

As a Canon 6D (original) owner I have been conscious that my poor old boy might be superseded at any given moment. In fact, when I bought mine for just under £1,000 (thanks Cashback offer!) a couple of years ago it already occurred to me that I was buying something that would soon be replaced, BUT I had the money, I 'needed' a better camera and I bought it and have been very happy since, it's a very capable bit of kit, even in a culpable pair of hands.

So, the obvious question is - in the hubbub of promotion and advertising, should I blow my sadly imaginary £2k on the new model, ahead of any other investment?

The Verdict:

Boasting an improved sensor based on the newest Canon design this 6D MKII 'should' possibly give me more detail and more dynamic range and quality. I will never know this without buying it though, and that's a bit of a problem. I could possibly hire one for a few days but it always feels like money you could have invested in buying. Will it improve my compositions? Will it enthuse my creative juices and expand my artistic vision? No, is the blunt answer but we mustn't be too harsh, the kit needs to be good enough to help us realise and execute our aesthetic vision.

The new 6D MKII also has an ISO to 102,400 (expanded) so when I get booked to shoot that series of gigs in a cave with candle lighting I should be ready to rock...I won't hold my breath, we all know that once you go past around 6400 things start getting a bit sketchy. It also features a 45 point AF system - as someone who only ever uses the central point, and actually more often than not I use manual focus, I really can't get excited about this for landscape & outdoor photography. I'm not shooting birds, or formula 1, and on the odd occasion I've had to do commercial shoots with people I've found the 6D to be perfectly capable as it is.

The final main tech change (at a glance) is the articulated screen. I must admit on occasion, when in a tight or uncomfortable spot and I'm precariously balanced on a rock by the sea or similar I could find this useful, also when shooting video it can be preferential - but it's not a deal breaker.

2. Go on a Workshop or Tour

Depending on who you go with I reckon £2k could get you a 4-6 day workshop to a fairly interesting location. Just looking around briefly it could take you to:

  • New York (Light & Land): Charlie Waite & Paul Sanders (sadly fully booked for 2017!)
  • Isle of Harris (Bruce Percy): Mentoring workshop (also fully booked for 2017!)
  • Tuscany (David Clapp): At £1,649 you've got some spare spending money!
  • South Africa (Alex Nail): Get off the beaten track and have an adventure!

These are just some quick examples but all are in great locations, and most importantly are with experienced photographers and leaders, whether you're looking for classic landscapes, cityscapes or a slice of adventure. There are many options out there so do explore!

It always amazes me that this niche world we operate in is so accessible. I've used the analogy before but imagine being into football and being able to go on a training course with Messi or Ronaldo for 5 days with a handful of other people and it costs under £2k - mind blowingly impossible!!

The Verdict:

I've been on a handful of workshops in my time, some more useful than others. But, on all of them I learned something, perhaps some technical development, or a new approach to 'seeing' or indeed useful post processing tips. Whatever it is you will learn something, plus you get to see a new location and meet some other like minded folk. What value on just indulging in photography for a few days - priceless! (well actually it's a few hundred quid as a minimum).

It may depend on your experience level, or if you really enjoy and admire the work of one photographer. Why not meet them and see how they work and let them give you some help. Even if you are very experienced there's always something new to know.

3. Take a 1-2-1 or Portfolio Review

Slightly different to taking a workshop here. I'm talking about either a day or two in a 1-2-1 situation (of which you could probably afford a few different options), or perhaps submitting your portfolio to a range of photographers for some critiquing, or taking a closer look (sorry about the picture below!)


The Verdict:

This is a different vibe to a workshop where you will be in a group environment, this has its pros & cons. With your £2k you could probably organise some one or two day sessions with two or three different photographers. Let's say two for arguments sake once you add in travel and food etc.

Although you would have less days out than on a workshop you'd probably get as much, or more individual help and focus. This short sharp burst of assistance could really open your eyes to new techniques, different ways to approach image making, or mastering some technical element you've struggled with. Don't be afraid to really invest in yourself and get expert assistance!

The other option is submitting your work to few different photographers for portfolio reviews. The worry with this is showing 5 or 6 people may lead to some broad comments that could leave you without focus, or you may see common threads in the critique which could easily point you in the right direction...something to consider at least. You could send one and save most of your ££!

4. Travel

Let's say you're feeling pretty assured, you may already have a good grasp of what you're trying to do with your photography or you just enjoy the escapism and don't want to be in a group. I reckon for £2k you could have a pretty great time traveling yourself and making a strong collection of images:

Here's a sample itinerary to stimulate the mind:

  • Plane from London to Scotland (£99)
  • 5 nights in The Highlands (£600-£700 inc.food)
  • Plane from Scotland to Venice (£149)
  • 3 nights in Venice (£500-£600 inc.food)
  • Train to Tuscany (£40)
  • 2 nights in Tuscany (£250)
  • Flight back to London (£175)

The Verdict:

Depending on your travel tastes and style this may or may not be (a) possible and (b) float your boat, but you get the idea. You could go off piste a bit more and try some less 'classic' locations. I know my friend and colleague from The Togcast (Photography Podcast) Paul Sanders has been exploring Albania & Romania for example. You could also get over to South America and back (just!) so the world is your oyster!

I personally find that traveling alone is when I'm at my best photographically. With a very loose itinerary it's even better, just allowing me to find locations, re-visit them and just imbibe the atmosphere and get to know somewhere. Check out this portfolio I made in Scotland with a £250 film camera! Perhaps even try shooting some candid portraits of the locals, or just sit on a mountain for 6hrs watching the light, it's up to you and you probably have a decent enough camera to catch it all already. You may also find this total immersion does wonders for your creative eye.

5. Alternative Equipment - Go Retro!

Ok, so this is a bit of a twist on No.1 but I'll try and make a valid argument for it below. Pictured is a Hasselblad 500 series film camera, used by some of the masters of photography, your £2k could buy you a Hasselblad 500CC with 2 or 3 lenses and leave you enough spare dosh for a roll of film or two and some processing. That's a Swedish made top end body (revered by many) + lenses for the price of a mass produced digital body only.


The Verdict:

So how would this help your development? For a start it would make you slow down and appreciate the value of each image. When it costs a few quid per shot (after taking into account film/development/scanning) you soon start to cut down on wasted shots and take a little extra time over each composition and asking yourself "is this really a great shot?" before you hit that shutter (oh and what a sexy shutter the Hasselblad has by the way - kerchunk!!).

With a good scan you can blow 26.2 MegaPixels out of the water for re-production purposes and can anything really beat that authentic film look? Perhaps the fact you're slowing down and becoming more selective may also improve your eye and own self-critiquing before the shutter is released, knowing when not to shoot is as important as knowing when to shoot here.

However, it's still a piece of kit - and pieces of kit only produce when you are somewhere, so perhaps only go for this option if you've got your travel or workshop already booked ;)


The Summary

You've got to do what feels best for you! First off, ask yourself if you get out enough and if you do then check out what gear you have and if you feel it's really holding you back or affecting your image making chances negatively - if so, explore those new cameras!

If, like many, your main challenge is actually getting out enough or indeed wanting to really improve your art then perhaps you could consider the other options.

The final option is to give me your £2k and I'll happily spend it for you!

Diversify or Die - Photography, Videography & More...with David Newton

I’m not quite sure how I got where I am, I just kind of fell into it, but I’m doing what I love!
— (David Newton - Togcast Ep.18)

David Newton (www.photopositive.co.uk) is a SanDisk Extreme team member, a Canon specialist tutor and one of the busiest photographers on the scene today. In this weeks Togcast episode we chat with David about the necessity to stay ahead of the curve professionally and discuss some of his recent road trips for Canon and other brands.

It's something of a cliche to say that modern photographers need to be not just 'Jack of all trades' but 'Masters of all trades'. David has diversified into videography and drone work alongside his already broad portfolio of skills covering all manner of photography from macro to time lapse, and portrait to landscape.

Something that drives me on is a fear that I’m not getting the best out of every situation
— (David Newton - Togcast Ep.18)

David and host Paul discuss the desire and drive required to stay on top of your game and bring fresh eyes and techniques to your kit bag of skills. Whether it's because of the mental burdens of being self employed in a highly competitive marketplace or perhaps just because of his own internal drive David discusses some of the fears he may have whilst out shooting and how that helps inspire and motivate him to work harder, try different things and stay fresh.

This is a guy who took 63 flights for photo/video related work projects in 2016, it may sound glamorous but that's a lot of time away from home and living out of a suitcase. Knowing your gear requirements inside out is par for the course and also understanding how to match that to a commercial clients vision is part of the skill required.

“There are a lot of people who go and teach but they don’t ‘do’…I want to be able to say I do go and shoot this stuff before going and teaching it”
— (David Newton - Togcast Ep.18)

Whilst many pro's have found it necessary and commercially constructive to diversify, David also loves the technology. His work with Canon as a specialist tutor and touring brand 'evangelist' has driven him to really stay current and make sure that if he's teaching these skills and techniques it's something he knows he has mastered in a real life commercial situation already, bringing another level of credibility to his teaching and advice.

It can also be enlightening teaching other creatives at different levels of skill and at different stages of their development. Sometimes when teaching you can learn a great deal from the student making it a two way exchange of ideas and it's Davids open mindedness to this that has helped make him the 'go to' guy for big brands wanting his teaching skills and style.

“We’re now in a world where photography has less value…Clients are less willing to pay for photography”
— (David Newton - Togcast Ep.18)

Many photographers are now trying to seamlessly bridge the gap between photography and videography, David chats about the commercial value of videography now being higher for him than photography. We speculate that this is probably due in part to the time consuming nature of editing and the fact some of these skills and processes are still quite tech heavy for the average marketing team member who might be comfortable making reasonable images for branding but hasn't had the time or opportunity to up-skill and produce high quality video, leaving a space for the pro market to fill.

If you cut me I bleed Canon red!
— (David Newton - Togcast Ep.18)

Obviously David is Canon through and through, and on a recent road trip with a fellow photographer he was able to compare the 5DsR back to back with the new Fuji GFX. It seems like there wasn’t a huge amount in it with regards the image quality but David makes a fair point that at this stage the Canon is perhaps more versatile due to the wide selection of lenses and other accessories available to help in all shooting scenarios, something Fuji are surely working towards so it will be interesting to see how that develops.

The Togcast is a Landscape & Travel photography podcast and is hosted by Sam Gregory & Paul Sanders. Subscribe on iTunes or Podbean to get the latest show straight to your device.

Shooting Long Term Projects with Marc Wilson

My work is based around a memory of history set in the landscape
— Marc Wilson: The Togcast Ep.17

Sainte-Marguerite-sur-mer, Upper Normandy, France. 2012 Studland Bay I, Dorset, England. 2011(The Last Stand Project - Marc Wilson)

As many of you know I host The Togcast - Photography Podcast with my friend Paul Sanders. We've completed 16 episodes since Sept 2016 and have primarily concentrated on Landscape photographers as this is both our fields of 'expertise' and we move in those circles of peers. However, our appreciation and study of photography is across a broad range of genres, some of which crossover with landscape photography in some way. So it was a great pleasure to catch up recently with Marc Wilson (www.marcwilson.co.uk) who is best described as a documentary landscape photographer and to delve into some of his project work on Episode 17 of the show...

Marc deals with long term projects anchored in the history of the chosen landscapes. Between 2011-2015 'The Last Stand' project focused on old military posts and stations around the coasts of Northern Europe. There was a strong visual aesthetic that ran through the work and in the show we discuss some of his shooting methods and preferences to create that consistency and visual narrative.

Studland Bay I, Dorset, England. 2011 (The Last Stand - Marc Wilson)

Studland Bay I, Dorset, England. 2011 (The Last Stand - Marc Wilson)

It’s a combination of sticking to a visual aesthetic but treating each image individually as well
— Marc Wilson: The Togcast Ep.17

The project involved trips to various parts of coastline in the UK and Northern Europe and the completed work was met with critical acclaim. The work was one of the award winners at The Terry O’Neill awards in 2013 and was published as a book in late 2014. It has sold out of its 1st edition by early 2015 and a 2nd edition has now been published.

We also spent some time in the show chatting about his current work based on the locations, stories and impact of the holocaust called 'A wounded landscape'. This project has raised the bar even further with more locations, more exploration of the back stories and obviously a hugely sensitive subject matter.

After I’d created ‘The Last Stand’ I felt that I’d found a visual language that was subtle or sensitive enough...so as a photographer I now felt ready to approach the subject that I’d been hoping to do for 20 years or so
— Marc Wilson: The Togcast Ep.17

In the episode we discuss Marc's dedication to getting the project completed, whilst balancing the commitments of his professional commercial shooting life and having a young family. It's clear that he's very passionate about the subject matter and what's interesting is how his approach to shooting the images in this project have changed based on his emotions to the landscapes as he finds them.

After having worked with large format film equipment on 'The Last Stand' Marc actually has changed his shooting approach with 'A wounded landscape'. This came from his experiences in a test shoot trip he made to France where he realised that to really connect with the work he had to shoot with more freedom to capture his emotional reaction to the location. This meant sometimes using medium format and smaller 35mm cameras whilst coming off the tripod which allowed more spontaneity and no doubt a different set of options for compositions and style of image.

We also discuss how the feedback he's received through showing the work to survivors, specialist historians and groups of modern youngsters has kept his motivation and also re-assured him that the ongoing visual aesthetic is suitable for the subject matter.

Taking on such long form projects is a huge commitment, Marc has budgeted £40,000 to complete 'A wounded landscape' so we chat about how that figure is raised, and how he has to work in stages to keep momentum and maintain his focus.

What makes a strong visual image is that dedication and caring to get the image exactly as you want it
— Marc Wilson: The Tocgast Ep.17

As part of the funding process and to engage those who are connected to the project Marc has released a 'Working Archive' of the images so far in 'A wounded landscape'. This is a box set of 55 7"x5" inch matt C-type prints (49 photographs and 6 texts). This set gives a glimpse into the sprawling nature of the subject, encompassing location images and the beginnings of some of the stories that are an integral part of ‘A wounded landscape’.

It's a clever creation to keep followers engaged in the process, carry on the funding cycle and also to begin the visual narrative for the project as whole.

A wounded landscape - Working Archive Collection 1 - Available at marcwilson.co.uk

In summary, I have great admiration for Marc's work ethic and commitment to his projects. It takes a huge amount of organisation and self discipline to plan for a 3-4 year project, and it can only be achieved when the subject matter really connects with you. If you're looking at starting a longer term project it doesn't mean it has to just be based around a historically stirring topic, it may be something more local to you or something to do with your passions and interests. Whatever it is you'll need plenty of determination and persistence but with the hard work and planning will come really meaningful sets of work to be proud of.

You can listen to the Togcast via the TheTogcast.com, or via iTunes or Podbean. The show is released twice monthly and features interviews with photographers across the UK and further afield.

A Game of Inches...

I'd been wanting to write a little blog about this topic for a while having encountered a good example to share whilst in Scotland, but it was upon seeing a fellow Twitter 'Tog' Russ Barnes (@gblandscapes) mention something similar today that I knew I should get on and write about it.

So, I once heard Charlie Waite say that he often took a little step ladder out and about with him on his photography travels. The idea being to change the perspective slightly, and to help aid separation where required. In fact I automatically think of one of his images made at Rydal Water (view image) in the Lake District where I know he used one, and another in Bolivia where if I'm not mistaken he actually stood on a table to make the image (view image). I've also seen various pics of David Noton atop his Land Rover on a customised platform for similar reasons but seeing as EasyJet wouldn't allow either a step-ladder or a Land Rover into my hand luggage en route to Inverness I had to improvise back in November when I ran into a small but not insignificant separation problem...

There I was enjoying a gorgeous Scottish morning in The Highlands, I'd found a nice little spot on the edge of Loch Droma and I set about making a composition. The light was playful without being overly dramatic, there was a little bit of cloud interest and I found a nice curving foreground to play with. The morning sun was catching the reeds nicely in the still water and so far so good.

Original Composition

So, I'm feeling pretty good about this composition but whilst my eye is wandering around the frame it crashes into a 'red alert' zone as I like to call it. A cardinal sin, a schoolboy error, a rookie mistake. It was as if Charlie was in my ear saying "oh dear boy, such a shame about the lack of separation, just think what could have been".

Oh dear...

It's a mess

So, after cursing EasyJet (and indeed Charlie a bit for being so shrewd and always having his ladder magically up his sleeve!) I decided to make this one a victory for the 'Centre Column' crew. My tripod was already extended to full height, but it was a simple case of winding up the often maligned centre column on the tripod to elevate the camera around 10-12 inches and hit the self timer and voila! Problem solved (see below).

The log remains despite it being a slight break in the reflection but it was there in real life, and so it stays in the picture. Dust spots, specks etc I'm happy taking out but otherwise I'm fairly resolute on leaving all original components as they were whenever possible.

'Corrected' Composition with separation (I can now sleep at night)

Cleaner separation

That's better!

It's a small difference in height and clearance, but for me it's a massive difference in the success or not of the image. Of course there may be other issues or reasons to dislike the image or find fault, but this was a clear case of spotting a specific issue at the point of capture, finding a solution and it paying off. The moral of the story? Always listen to more experienced Photographers than yourself and remember what they tell you! Oh, and I'm currently in negotiations with Land Rover and B&Q about a joint sponsorship deal :)

Thinking of going Pro?

The people who say today I’m going to quit my job and become a professional photographer...you’re living in a dream world!
— David Clapp - Togcast Episode 15

IMAGE CREDIT - David Clapp

Our most recent guest on The Togcast - Photography Podcast was David Clapp (www.davidclapp.co.uk). David is a busy working professional photographer who has carved out a stellar career primarily in the travel & landscape genres but as we discuss in the show you need to be doing a whole lot more than that. He contributes to Getty Images, gets commissioned all around the world for big brand shoots and he also runs workshops teaching everything from capturing to post-processing.  It's been a tough road from scratch to get where he has and we have quite a frank discussion about the realities of being a professional on the show.

IMAGE CREDIT - David Clapp

IMAGE CREDIT - David Clapp

It's something that many listeners have asked us to cover in our episodes, we often get emails saying "can you cover how to turn pro and make a living etc" and the difficulty is there is no set roadmap to lay out. Each individual has to shape their own career through a mix of hard work, opportunity, persistence and motivation. As discussed with David in the show you also need the rest of your life to be in order; do you have a large mortgage to pay? do you have dependents? are you prepared to cope with running a business? can you budget for the lean months at the beginning? It's quite clear that it's not just about the pictures...

You can’t just be romancing a camera at the top of a hill and expect everything to come to you
— David Clapp - Togcast Episode 15

IMAGE CREDIT - David Clapp

Your main interest may be in getting up that hill on a Sunday morning with a camera but if you're serious about turning your Photography into a viable career that's not going to be enough. You have to widen the subjects and genres that you shoot in, you have to be making work with a commercial value. What individuals or companies want to put on the walls of their homes or offices might not match your blazing sunrise or abstract rock formation.

Whilst this is a fairly frank conversation in the episode we hope that it actually leaves you the listener feeling energised, empowered and motivated to get out there and pursue your dreams...just remember to keep it real and be prepared to go the extra mile, or two!

David Clapp is a presenter for Canon Europe and has traveled widely to lecture, and create tutorials for Canon products and services. Find out more at www.davidclapp.co.uk

You can find The Togcast on iTunes, Podbean or via www.TheTogcast.com. The Togcast is a Photography Podcast hosted by Sam Gregory & Paul Sanders and is released twice monthly.

Commended Images - Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year 2016

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that two of my images had been 'Commended' in the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. It's always nice to receive peer recognition for images, and I look forward to seeing the images in print in the upcoming SLPOTY book that will be available in March 2017.

The two images were commended in the 'portfolio' category, and I had entered a few images from my trip in November 2016. The two chosen by the judges were quite different in their circumstances and visual aesthetic, but were both taken on the same day...

The Images

Image #1 - 'Last Goodbye'

I always find it hard to title my images but the competition request it, so this one was given the name 'Last Goodbye'. It was taken on the final day of my trip and it seemed fitting as Scotland decided to deliver one heck of a day of changing light and conditions, surely to tempt me back again.

At the end of a long 12 days of traveling, walking and image making (tough life eh?!) I got up later than I wanted to and bumbled into the car cursing my own laziness.

As I drove north up the A385 towards Ullapool there was the mother of all sunrises starting to unfold before me. It's got to be one of the most spectacular shows of light and colour I've seen in all my travels, the combination of water, mountains and this light produced a magical effect, Scotland offering me it's last goodbye. Still inwardly beating myself up for my tardy start, I tried to calm the natural excitement and think "where can I stop, where could there be a good composition etc?". Having spent a few days earlier in the trip based in Ullapool I knew I was just 5-10 mins away from the harbour and I could easily park, jump out the car and try and do justice to the amazing light before it no doubt disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.

I parked and scrambled from the car, didn't bother with a coat or gloves (a decision I firmly regretted when getting back in the car and trying to use my fingers!), I even left the tripod in the car, no time to waste! I played with a few compositions using different aspect ratios but all the time knowing time was not on my side. Other photographers know the feeling when a transitory union of light, colour and shape occur, it's a heart thumping moment and keeping clear headed is key to maximising the opportunity. The final image is literally straight out of the camera, I added +5 contrast in Lightroom, just to pep up the RAW file slightly, and didn't move another slider. The simplest of edits (about 10 seconds!), as I say this was a magical display of light and colour.

There are some issues and compromises that are made with all images; I would have liked to have totally separated the boats, if you look carefully there are two back to back, but to do that fully involved moving position by a good few feet and having tried that it compromised the rest of the composition in other more damaging ways. If I separated them cleanly it would have negatively affected how the mountains rose and fell throughout the frame, and especially the darkest foreground hill which I needed to drop the boats at the foot of, also for separation reasons. The spacing of the buoys would also have been affected so a compromise was made that is hopefully not too disturbing. After all, the focus of the image is not the boats, although they add scale and depth, it's the light and atmosphere and recession of the mountain shapes.

Image #2 - 'Perching Point'

Believe it or not but this was taken later on in the same day as the first image, it was truly a crazy day for changing light where I experienced blazing sun, dark clouds, high winds, rainbows and rain...only in Scotland!

I'd taken the long way round towards Clachtoll on the gorgeous B869 (never did a letter and 3 numbers wholly understate the visual quality of a road!), and it was around lunchtime. The wind was really howling and there were intermittent bursts of rain and then the sun would keep bursting through the dark clouds. I had a quick look around the area and the acute shapes of these rocks grabbed me, the sun illuminating a slip of the sea behind also helped and this was another attempt really to capture the feel and atmosphere from the location.

Choosing the 'right' shutter speed the sea was calmed a little whilst retaining some nice texture and colour (a real feature of the area), the perching birds on the main rock obviously led to the image name (click the image to see it larger and spot the birds) and I must say this was more of a technical challenge than the first image because of the howling wind. I was literally hanging on to my tripod (with my camera bag dangling off it as well!) to try and keep it steady during the exposure of a few seconds. With the wind coming head on this wasn't always easy as it brought plenty of sea spray that I was constantly having to wipe off the filters and camera.

Again the image is not without its issues; the far left rocks didn't have a particularly natural or clean end so that area of the image still feels a bit abrupt for me, I try and avoid lines leading up out of the frame like that. However, the matching diagonal lines perhaps balance it a little although the image is too heavy generally on the left side. I'm not convinced this is the best aspect ratio either (I shot it at 16:9 in camera and opened it up a little in the edit to 16:10). A square crop addresses some of the balance issues mentioned above but after some experimentation it seemed this version allowed more visual context by letting the mountains behind breathe a little and the pocket of lighter sky on the right where the sun is creeping through remains uninterrupted.

Buy The Book

Should you wish to purchase the SLPOTY book it will be filled with some wonderful images from many landscape photographers, including yours truly of course. Scotland is a beautiful country with some spectacular vistas and scenery so this book is sure to delight and inspire.

Click on the image above to buy the book

Click on the image above to buy the book

New Home, New Locations...

As some of you know I recently re-located down to Dorset because of my partners work. We're living between Bournemouth and Poole so there's plenty of opportunities for me to find some new shooting locations...

As you can imagine it's jam packed with holiday makers on this coast line during July/August but I've managed to find a few quiet spots on recent early evening sojourns. Usually by 7pm the tourists have retired to the pubs and restaurants for recuperation and aftersun cream at which point this intrepid explorer heads to the quieter spots, up the hills and down by the bays.

A couple of weeks ago I managed a couple of nights out in a row, firstly to the 'ranges' near Lulworth. Here there are some great cliff top walks that are only open at certain times, it's important not to stray too far from the path as this area is owned by the military and in the 'off-season' is an active shooting range!

Out to Sea

I arrived actually hoping to get a high vantage point to catch some late evening sun raking across the fields, however after a fairly short sharp ascent up the cliff I was more intrigued by these amazing cloud formations out to sea. The scene seemed perfect for Black & White and the trick then is to contrast the highlights and shadows to give depth and presence to the scene. Using a polariser on the lens helps darken the sky but also importantly it helps separate the clouds from the background which brings out that contrast you need. There were little pockets of sunlight on the sea which added to the drama.

Like many times the actual scene I was hoping to capture, of sun raking across the fields, never materialised as the sun wasn't 'playing ball' and there was a little stubborn cloud cover stopping it directing the last evening light in the location I was hoping for. However as I packed away and started to walk back down the cliff path towards the car (and a well deserved Twix) there was one final burst of fiery orange summer sun, so, quick as a flash (photography pun intended - get it?!) I swiveled my bag off my back and attached a long lens to fire off a couple of shots at some of the summer grasses, nearly shooting straight into the sun. This direct light causes a block of colour and sun flare which coupled with the large aperture and resulting shallow depth of field helped produce this image below.

Summer Sun

This image is 'straight out the camera' i.e. no editing, no added colour, no preservatives (!). Using this technique of shooting (nearly) into the sun and due to the late hour and the depth of orange naturally present it's possible to let the light do the work. Satisfied and in need of some sustenance I trooped off back to the car.

The next evening I headed to Kimmeridge Bay, a slightly unassuming and 'off the beaten track' small bay on the Isle of Purbeck (near Swanage). It's quite well known among photographers due to the natural rock/clay 'shelves' that are present just off the shoreline. Depending on the tide you can actually walk out (carefully, they are v.slippy!) onto these shelves and although most people set up on the main rock formation (just near the entry) I find it more peaceful and more compositionally pleasing to head to a far shelf looking back along the beach. There was some nice light as I arrived so it was a fairly quick set-up and then a case of trying to perfect the composition to make full use of the rocks and their various angles and textures. Finding the right aspect ratio is equally important as some scenes suit portrait, some landscape, either way the overall balance of the composition should dictate that.

It's quite easy to be overwhelmed by the geographical magnificence of this place and just end up pointing the camera at everything. I find looking for angles and shapes in the rocks that will lead the eye or just balance the overall composition is very important, no doubt with more visits here I may find more pleasing angles. There was a rather heavy sky which you can accentuate with a graduated filter, this was especially pleasing as the strip of sun light that was present was further accentuated. I'd been to Kimmeridge before in very flat grey conditions so was more than a little bit chuffed to be treated to this display.

The third image below was taken soon after arriving and as such there was a lighter feel to the scene, whereas the first two images shown below were taken later when the ambient light had faded and there was just the strip of sunlight on the horizon...

Kimmeridge Bay #1

Kimmeridge Bay #2

Kimmeridge Bay #3

Meet my new friend...

I recently attended the photography show at the NEC and after listening to various speakers I went away knowing that it was time...time to explore and get into a little film photography.

These days, the digital age means I can easily and quickly review an image after taking it, and obviously make small adjustments etc back on the computer, then share it with the world within moments. With the ease of this technology it's a constant job to limit the number of images you make, and really concentrate on the technique and composition. After all digital data has little or no cost, so if it's not quite right you can do it again, delete it etc. However, not with this little beastie!

This is a Rolleiflex 3.5 MX-EVS, I won't bore you all with the technical details (on this post) but it is a film camera, shooting 120 colour or black & white film, that takes images in the 1:1 square ratio. This particular one is from 1954, was relatively inexpensive, and although it has some battle scars most of the mechanics are in good working order.

So, the journey begins. I've already got various little projects in my mind for this camera and I'm looking forward to playing with it. After a slightly bad start (I accidentally took a picture of my chin at an oblique angle after misunderstanding the safety switch - nice one!) I did get out this weekend and took 4 images. How did it go? I won't know until I get the film developed...suffice to say hopefully I did better than my first chin shot!!

Here are a few phone shots of the Rollei in action...by the way I need a name for it, so feel free to send in any suggestions.

2016 - Catch Up part.1

This blog is really for the benefit of my email subscribers, I realised that in the midst of busying myself photographically with a myriad of projects I'd rather neglected to keep up my regular newsletters. What with posting to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & the website it's easy to become fragmented in the image sharing process, so this post acts as a 'recap' of sorts for the first few months of 2016...

Specifcially in this part.1 I'll be sharing some images from the a trip to the Lake District in late March. I was around the Buttermere, Crumnock Water, Wast Water areas and yet again got relatively lucky with the weather; i.e. It didn't just rain for 48hrs!

After a long day at the Photography Show at the NEC in Birmingham (working on a top secret project, coming soon!) I journeyed up to the Lakes and arrived around 10pm. Having checked the weather forecast and being realistic about my fatigue I treated myself to just a 7am wake up, had a particularly bad omelette for breakfast and was off out to Crumnock Water at a sensible hour.

Despite it being a pleasant Sunday am it was still very quiet, there were some nice reflections on the lake, often unavailable later in the day as the surface is far less placid as the day goes on. I also found some interesting compositions with the trees by the lakeside, in particular I like the golden collection sandwiched between the two banks of green pines either side. It's these contrasts and shapes that have been drawing my eye more recently over the wider vista.

After a morning of lake circumnavigation I decided to head up...and UP I went! Although I did take the slightly easier option up the Honsiter Pass (by car) it was only because I knew I needed something left in the legs for the following walk up to the summit of Haystacks. The Weather was closing in a little by this point and you can see in the image above (of the darkening sky and imposing peaks) that there were even the last touches of Winter on these higher peaks. With the camera staying in the bag a little more this walk was about enjoying the scenery, getting some fresh air in the lungs and some scouting for a future visit...however, you can't beat the odd phone selfie!

What a poser...above Buttermere

What a poser...above Buttermere

With just 2 days in the Lakes, and 1 of those ticked off I made the slightly long and looping drive from Buttermere around the Northern end of the Lakes and back down the Western side to Wastwater, it's only a few miles as the crow flies but there are no roads across this central area due to the mountains, which is good! Staying in an enjoyable little pub my arm was twisted to take part in the pub quiz that was taking part...on my own, in a team of 1. Fearing a ritual humiliation by coming last I was pleasantly surprised to find that I scored above various teams of two and four, I'd like to say it was my good schooling but perhaps the competition had just been drinking more than me that night!

The next morning and dizzy from my general knowledge exertions I pushed myself to get out early to Wast Water, just a couple of miles away, so at 5.30am I crept from the pub and jumped in the car. I'd never been to Wast Water and crikey have I been missing out. It's such a great place that is still seemingly very quiet, especially at this time of year, and really is classic 'Lakeland'. It was quite a grey day so compositions were more 'enclosed', perhaps with a view to capturing the spirit, colours and feel of this amazing area.

After a little bit of time at the lakeside I set off on foot on what can only be described as a slightly sturdy 6-7 hours of walking - I covered around 13 miles with an elevation gain and descent of 2,500ft...with the camera and two lenses, however I did have the good sense to leave my tripod in the car!

The images above, with the exception of the sheep shot, are from the Mosedale area which is a very dramatic 'bowl' of a view just on the walk out of Wast Water and between Red Pike and Kirk Fell, with the peak of Pillar up ahead. I spotted the two walkers heading on and couldn't resist the chance to use them to show the sense of scale...it's as engulfing a view as you can get in the albeit relatively tame peaks of England.

Having had some time to reflect on these images, and indeed print some of them to A3 size on quality paper it's actually the abstract image of the scree that is arguably my favourite of the above. The texture and colour represents everything about those scraggy, rock strewn mountainsides that I love about the Lakes.

Carrying on up and over the back of Kirk Fell I descended with Ennerdale on my left and actually I ended up going a little off piste at this point. Having come down the back of Kirk Fell (and walked off the map I had with me) there was a slightly alarming moment where I realised my only sensible routes back were (a) the way I came or (b) straight up a rather steep looking gap between Kirk Fell and Great Gable. Trusting my compass I decided for option (b)...it looked more direct and I hate backtracking my steps.

The route...

Option (b) was steep!!! And, I was tiring at this point, low on water, no food left etc. It wasn't exactly a stranded in the Himalayas situation but suffice to say I left the camera in the bag for 90 mins or so whilst I trudged my way up to Beck Head and the reassuring view back down to Wasdale before the cloud really dropped in.

The last image of the day, and in fact the trip was just before that brutal final ascent, looking back into the uninhabited Ennerdale valley, with clouds coming and some sunlight gracing the rocky ground. This image printed large looks great (if I say so myself!) and in my hour of mini-desperation I'm happy I took 2 mins to stop, compose, shoot and enjoy this remote part of the Lakes, before the drive back to reality and the call of work & traffic of the South.

Spring Greens...

As many photographers in the UK are well aware Spring is in full swing and the colours are starting to splash and saturate back across our landscape. In fact near me in Hertfordshire it's felt particularly 'summery' in the last few days, I still don't feel like we got an actual Winter, so it feels terrible to think Spring may be turning into Summer so soon!

Devoid of time for any distant travels with the camera recently I've been focusing on a particular area around Ivinghoe Beacon to keep my 'eye in' and look for interesting light and shapes especially. It's proved to be both challenging and enjoyable. Let's deal with the enjoyable first; being just 35 mins or so away from my house it's nasty but not brutal to be there for a 5.45am start, better still you can catch the last hour of light before sunset and get back for some well earned dinner.

However, and this is where the challenging part kicks in; the light at either end of the day has proved to give quite different results on the mainly green fields around the area. Some of you reading this may have seen my blog last week which had some early morning shots from a location just the other side of the Beacon, the intensity and vibrancy of the hues vary quite markedly from early am to late pm. Add to this the rather flat RAW files that we tend to capture and it's been a careful job to recreate what my eye saw at the time.

Let's compare these two images, both with a White Balance of around 5400k but the first taken at 06.33am and the second taken at 20.19pm...

06.33am (28/04/16) - 5450k WB

20.19pm (04/05/16) - 5318K WB

Quite different, right? Yes, and of course the White Balance is just one aspect to consider but it's useful to note they were very similar. In terms of processing in Lightroom; whilst I was actually adding a minor bit of vibrance (+7) and saturation (+5) in the early morning shot, along with the usual minor tonal adjustments (highlights, shadows, whites, blacks etc) to take the flatness out of the RAW file, I was actually taking it away in the evening shot (vibrance -10, saturation 0, and contrast -20).

What's important to say is that I feel I represented the colour palette I saw 'correctly' in both images, the early morning scene was paler with more yellow in the hues and the late evening grass was a much darker and richer green. The location was not exactly the same of course but the progression of the crop is similar in both places. Someone with far more knowledge than me could probably explain the cause of these variances in hue from a scientific point of view, but in some ways the reason why is secondary, the main challenge I had was dealing with it from a capture and processing point of view and wrestling with my internal doubts about how I could accurately represent the differences.



Those of you who've been out and about recently, especially in the South East will no doubt recognise these variances, In the past I've heard some photographers saying how Green was such a difficult colour to deal with...until this week I'd not really run into it, now I can wholeheartedly agree!

Development & Inspiration...(conscious or not)

I recently read a question put forward on Twitter by UK photographer Greg Whitton, he asked: "How important has Twitter been in your development as a photographer?"...the responses were varied with some stating it was a good source of inspiration, a good place to network and be exposed to others work, whilst some questioned how Twitter or social media could play any part in development or that it was perhaps too much of a 'thumbs up' atmosphere with not enough critical analysis.

I can see all points and for each photographer they are valid in their own right, for me the key word was development. It's at this point I'd like to play the 'music card', some of you know that's my other life outside of photography and I can't help drawing a parallel here that I believe is relevant. For many, Jazz as we know it is a melting pot of historical developments that were honed in the jazz clubs of the USA in the 1920's, 30's, 40's and beyond. Throughout this time period players grew the genre through exploration of new boundaries, however when deconstructed these were firmly based on, and influenced by, their peer groups, mentors and musical heroes of the day. Their 'Twitter' was much more hands-on and was hours and hours playing together in smoky nightclubs for little or no money; bouncing off each other, learning from each other, soaking in other peoples sounds, ideas and motifs and re-imagining them with their own twist. Sometimes consciously and no doubt sub-consciously as well, in the same way a baby learns to speak or learns the tone of language, you cannot help but take on influences from your surroundings (personal and online), it's human nature.

Take the great footballers of Pele, Messi, Maradona etc...none of them learned to play and develop in silo, it was through interaction with other players, their peers or heroes. Watching someone turn this way or that, using a trick and finding a different way to integrate that into their football vocabulary. Is Twitter perhaps a modern day breeding ground of inspiration? Or better still should it be regarded as a gateway to creative exposure? Perhaps, albeit littered with it's own foibles in the same way any public group dynamic will create.

I've made the comparison before that in music there are only a finite series of notes (12), in theory this sets a limit on the possibilities, but think about what a wide variety of music there has been through the ages, from Jazz to Death Metal and everything in between...all based on those 12 notes. However it's certain to say that to the educated ear patterns and inspirations can be seen across genres, this is not bad, but purely natural.

So what happens in music or photography when someone uses a very similar 'phrase' or structure of 'notes', or plays different ones in a very similar way to another? I feel like I bumped into this sub-consciously and then very consciously just a few days ago...

The above image was taken locally (Bucks) and I'm going to come straight out and say this is a definite case of Twitter influence. It was through Twitter that I first came across the work of Finn Hopson, who is well known for a wide range of work and for many he's best known for his 'South Downs Collection' and within that his 'Fieldwork' series. I've subsequently seen Finns work in Outdoor Photography magazine and no doubt other literature, he has a very impressive and enjoyable portfolio of work that I would recommend you check out.

Part of me was nervous to even make a connection or indeed write this blog, because it's important to state that in no way did I set out to re-create or copy Finns work, nor do I feel it is of a similar stature. Not only would it be futile to imitate the work of anyone else, as a copy is always a poor 2nd place (think of seeing a cover band vs the original!), but in fact one aspect of photography that strikes fear into me above all is feeling like my images could ever look directly similar to others. In fact this often makes me shy away from commonly known locations.

For instance just 1/4 mile away from this location there were probably 15-20 photographers in a 200 sq.metre area looking for bluebell shots. Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with that (and I've seen some lovely shots by the way) I personally would rather be somewhere alone, as photography is very much an escape and desire to be at peace and preferably be in solitude in the great outdoors (this may not be an original concept but it's very true for many of us). But what is interesting is that given similar ingredients: low light, undulating agricultural land, presumably a similar time of year to some of his shots (due to the crop progression status), grass colouration etc and with some sub-conscious influence in my brain it is inevitable that a comparison might be drawn by some, our 'tune' may sound similar yet be different in many ways.

Even saying there may be a comparison could be seen as being rather lofty of me, but my point is simply that through seeing Finns work it must have had some effect on how I 'saw' this scene and why I even put myself in this position. My belief is that this happens more often than we know when composing or creating images, it's impossible to know how picture X,Y,Z has affected your response to a scene 3-6 months later. 


Off the back of this morning, where I made 2-3 images I enjoyed, I've decided to try and put together a small body of work about this area. Doing these small projects is not a new idea but again I've seen various specific project-based bodies of work from other photographers on Twitter (and of course other places) that I have enjoyed.

This project will push me to think about how best to represent the area, be it wider shots, more intimate, more editorial perhaps in manner to show it is both an attraction to locals as a beautiful place for a walk but also it is a working agricultural landscape as well.

Surely these next steps, grown from a small sub-conscious seed influenced by some work I was exposed to, will help my development as a photographer in some way...

On a final note (ahem-another musical pun!), I think development is a word too often associated with those that may be deemed to need improvement. However, I've been lucky enough to meet and speak with many top musicians around the world (I mean the real ones who play instruments, not the wannabees on X-Factor) and commonly they all believe they are still developing and it's not unknown for top players in world renowned orchestras to still have the odd 'lesson' with their peers to help develop some new way of playing, interpreting the music or similar. Perhaps for musicians their gateway to this creative inspiration is listening to music, new or old, so perhaps YouTube, Digital Radio, iTunes etc. Whereas our visual based area of interest does lend itself to Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Photography Magazines & Books and so on.

In summary (well done if you've made it this far) in my opinion it's paramount to allow influences to seep into our minds and not be afraid to acknowledge it. I see elements from various photographers in the three images here, but at the end of the day they are my own interpretations of the land I saw in front of me. However, I'm not worried about admitting that my final 'tune' will inevitably use similar 'notes' to others, as long as it's true to my goals and convictions then at least I'm happy to play it.