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 :)



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!

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