Last Days of Autumn...

Morning Glory...

Towards the back end of October I managed to get 90 minutes or so alone in Ashridge during what can only be described as a 'fog-fest'! As you know I'm partial to a bit of fog and mist and especially in woodland, it helps distinguish features and brings a sense of order to what can often be difficult vistas to distil.

Arriving at around sunrise I headed deep into the woods to an area I'd spotted on a previous casual walk a few days beforehand. Upon reaching my destination I spotted a group of deer, and a stag no less sitting around some trees, despite presumably seeing a fair amount of humans in this area these animals are very shy and despite my best attempts to remain un-noticed they soon sloped away into the dense woodland. Other than this brief encounter I was alone with the trees, the fog, and the cold...perfect!

I reflect on this morning as the peak of my local Autumnal explorations. Going into this time period I had thoughts of multiple mornings out exploring but reality always bites and I didn't get out as much as I would have liked. That said, the peace and tranquility of this morning in particular was very special. I find it's not just about the image making, it's a chance to start the day in a beautiful way, not far in miles from civilisation but far in mood. The images I make here are really for me to 'lock' in the feeling and atmosphere I experienced on the day, these types of images are very personal to me and it's probably a result of the freedom I have in using my photography primarily for personal reasons as opposed to any pre-determined or timeline driven commercial demands. To work under those conditions would surely illicit a different feeling, response and thus logically a different end result.

In the area I was exploring there is a huge tree that demanded some of my attention. Taking a successful image of something so tall and wide within a woodland is not exactly easy. Where do you position the trunk in the image? How much do you try and squeeze in towards the top, it's impossible to get it all in. With that in mind I centred the composition below and tried to use the foggy backdrop to let the rest of the woodland recede and bring forward the structure, size and reach of this impressive specimen:

See more images like this in my WOODLAND GALLERY

Lake District Day 1 - Ullswater & Halin Fell

Heavenly Light...

I'm extremely fortunate to have a friend of the family who owns a holiday chalet in the Lake District. Positioned between Keswick and Penrith in the north Lakes area this made for a fantastic base for some Lake District explorations at the beginning of November.

I had actually hoped to head up the week before I did because I wanted to catch some of the prime Autumnal colours and atmosphere and I spent most of that week at work cursing my luck that I couldn't go at that time. As it turns out I got thoroughly rewarded for my patience (albeit enforced), and because I missed half term I had a much easier drive and was generally quite alone on my travels.

Sunday 1st Nov:

With the alarm set for 5.30am I had a pretty average nights sleep, I often find when I know I'm getting up early for a reason I sleep badly. It's similar to knowing you have to get up to go the airport and you just can't miss the flight! So, after a night of tossing and turning I was actually quite happy to get going in the pitch black. I already had a solid plan for the morning, often I work this way and then have some rough ideas for where the day can progress to, this is usually fluid as the weather can dictate the best option accordingly, a balance of flexibility and patience often yields the best results.

I'd picked Ullswater as my Day 1 location as it was an area I knew a little already, you can't beat a bit of local knowledge when you're driving around dark lanes at silly times of the day! So, I had my first location in mind and it was at the shore line. I spent a good 90 minutes here watching the landscape light up slowly as the sun struggled to rise behind a fairly serious bank of cloud and fog. I actually got a couple of shots I was happy with here but they were earmarked for a privately commissioned piece of work so they can't currently be shared publicly, more on that next year!

Happy with this tranquil start I headed up Gowbarrow Fell towards the viewpoint at Yew Crag. This path ascends steadily and offers excellent view down Ullswater towards Glenridding and from the viewpoint you can see all the way up and down the lake in both directions. However about 2/3 of the way up the path I was conscious that the sun was finally managing to break through the cloud cover and I was treated to a pretty special few minutes of heavenly light as it ploughed across the lake. 

Ullswater from gowbarrow fell - towards pooley bridge

When you're treated to a light show of this nature the challenge is keeping concentration enough to still make strong compositions, the temptation is to be slightly overwhelmed by what's happening and either shoot haphazardly or in some cases be frozen into in-action. It's the buzz of these moments that make 5.30am starts and dragging a heavy bag and tripod up hills all worth it!

Ullswater from gowbarrow fell - south towards glenridding

The light continued to change and it was a pretty spectacular 20 minutes or so, although the main action lasted just 2-3 minutes. Energised by this fantastic scenery and with the day to day worries of normal life dripping away I charged on up to the main viewpoint. I spent some time here playing with different compositions but really the main excitement had happened, and deep down I knew it. So, after taking some time to imbibe the gorgeous views I headed back down towards the car.

After an early lunch (desperately needed after a 5.45am breakfast and some solid ascending and descending) I headed over to the other side of Ullswater to Hallin Fell. Even the drive around the lake is very picturesque and thankfully most of the half term crowds were probably heading back down the M6 so it was fairly quiet. 

After locating the car park at the foot of Hallin Fell I kitted up and started up what is probably best described as a short but very steep ascent to the top. Hallin Fell has excellent views back over Ullswater and also towards the lesser known valleys of Martindale and Boredale (see below):

I spent a good 3 hours or so up Hallin Fell, in fact I even had a little snooze behind a cluster of rocks near the summit. Amazingly the temperature was between 17-21 degrees and the sun was blazing down, quite impossible to imagine in November! In fact I even got a tad sunburnt which seems frankly ridiculous. However, the clouds never completely disappeared and this led to some wonderful late afternoon light, especially as the sun neared the horizon of the peaks. The texture and depth on the fields below was wonderful as I looked down towards Ullswater, the remnants of Autumnal colour and with some leaves left on the trees it was really an excellent spot of weather for the day and I felt suitably gracious for the show.

Looking down towards Ullswater from Hallin Fell

Feeling more than a little guilty and smug after being treated to such warm and wonderful light I headed back to base. Time to eat, re-charge (batteries and feet!) and get ready for Day 2...

Coming Next Time: Day 2 - Buttermere & Beyond...

Seeing vs Looking...

A couple of recent experiences got me thinking about how we all digest the various sights we encounter on a daily basis...

Imagine you're rushing to work on a busy street on a Monday morning, the weather is cold and damp, you're 10 minutes late, everyone seems to be slowing you up and getting in the way, you get the idea! Let's say a billboard over the street has a wonderful reproduction of a famous painting on it advertising an Exhibition in your area. We can all safely assume the brief glance we may shoot up at the billboard can only give a very transitory and unsatisfactory visual stimulation to the viewer, this is for want of a better explanation 'seeing'.

Van Gogh - Sunflowers, 1888

Contrast that with spending 15 minutes stood in front of the same painting in a quiet gallery, and being able to really study the texture, the brush strokes (as above), how the subtle colour changes affect the mood and drama of the painting, let's safely call this 'looking'. So what? Well, the worry is that every day the pressure is being cranked up for most people, more work, less time, and we consume media at an ever increasing rate. The average Londoner sees 3,500 visual messages throughout a day around the capital...and according to research 99% of these fail to even register with the viewer after the initial glimpse. With that over saturation in mind why is it of no surprise that the quantity is consuming the quality and all we mainly do is see, not look?

Our senses are being trained to move with fleet of foot from one stimulation to another, be it the reduction of music to a background noise or the swipe of a thumb up a smartphone timeline we are making visual and audio judgments in the blink of an eye. I recently took a trip to the National Gallery in London, I had been researching and looking forward to seeing some paintings by the Italian greats Canaletto and Guardi. Both were masters of the Venetian scenery and I was looking forward to slowing down and imbibing these great works.

On arrival at the National Gallery it reminded me of a weird mix of a Bus depot and a foreign exchange tour...Of course what should I have expected being slap bang in the middle of London really, but part of me was hopeful I'd find a couple of quiet minutes to really 'look' and not just 'see'. After waiting patiently for the particular room to open (there was some union strike action so half of the gallery was shut - very continental!) I found my way towards the 18th Century gallery and here started the game of shuffling and barging that was required to get even a fleeting full on view. It reminded me of being in a busy bar trying to get served yet the waiter never quite caught me eye, in this example the poor old Canaletto would have been looking left, right and centre amid a sea of expectant faces wanting their 'drink' of classic Venetian art.

Canaletto - The Stonemasons Yard, c.1725

Mildly disheartened I was swept away with the crowds and almost accidentally came across the great 'Sunflowers' by Van Gogh. Here I managed to stand firm for 30 seconds against the army of selfie stick waving passers-by who seemed intent on regurgitating their transitory experience across the whole room. I did manage to get to see & study some of the wonderful texture of this painting but oh what I would have given for the room to be emptied! Perhaps this is, or will be, made an option, of course for a price! £100 for 30 mins private view sounds about the going rate in London :)

I left a little downhearted, feeling somehow robbed of my experience. Of course it's good really that everyone can have access to this art by making it publicly available for free but really if we continue to treat it in such a consumable way it's stature and quality will logically be diminished. We'll know it's famous and supposedly good but perhaps we'll lack the understanding of why...

Guardi - The Doges Palace and the Molo, c.1770

'Picking the Pounds from the Pennies' - Finding order in grandeur...

From trigger happy to artists block - The Photographer can experience the exuberance of image making or the doldrums of compositional 'blindness' at any given time. Upon arriving at a location so many factors can influence the end result; the weather, the light, your own mindset/mood, the creative vitality of your mind on that day and more. Indeed for many the resulting images are just a byproduct of a wider joy taken from being out in nature and witnessing many amazing acts of light and form. For this blog post I'm interested in 'picking the pounds from the pennies' i.e. exploring why we find certain images and compositions more aesthetically satisfying than others from one particular location and some of the mind set whilst composing and later reviewing these images to make sure we capture the feel and essence of a location when presented with a wide vista.

I'm going to use some recent examples from an image making session in Italy that lasted less than one hour. I'd been keeping an eye on the weather throughout the day knowing that around sunset I would be able to make a quick trip to a viewing point near the top of the mountain we were staying on. Many other photographers know the mindset now, you start to run through scenarios of composition, what the challenges will be, how to try and overcome them and yet of course you don't want to burden  your creativity with pre-supposed ideas. Indeed I tend to work much better 'off the cuff' when I arrive in an area with a loose objective and be more reactive to what I see and feel at the time.


So, what I knew for certain was that there was a wide vista from this viewpoint, I also knew roughly where the sun would be due to the time of year and obviously time of day (there are also useful apps to help with this, for example The Photographers Ephemeris). However, I also knew for certain that just to point the camera at this 180 degree huge view across valley and mountains wouldn't result in a very interesting shot. Why? Well, sometimes too much is too much, for a grand vista to work it usually needs some form of physical journey for the eye to lead the viewer through the image, for example a foreground, mid and far distance that differ and 'flow', sometimes by the use of natural lines in the image for example, or by differing textures or colours and areas of contrasting light etc. I knew here that basically I was perched on the side of a mountain looking straight out over a valley with peaks far off to my left and right. 


Often when I am greeted by a wide view that looks impressive to the eye of the beholder I know this won't translate into the camera, after all it sees in 2D not 3D. So, often my thought process is to simplify. How can I condense the view into a more manageable series of shapes and forms that provide some sort of flow or visual structure. Obviously the challenge here is to try and maintain some of the grandeur of the view and with this first image the fact you can see civilisation/the valley floor down in the far left gives a good idea of scale.

image 1 : selecting a portion of my view to try and condense the scene whilst retaining the sense of scale and grandeur

The clouds here help give a little interest by catching the last light from the sun and the repeating patterns of the mountains on the right side of the image is something I develop on over the next two examples. Could the image be a little too weighted to the right though? What is that left side offering other than scale? Is scale enough to warrant it's inclusion? What about that section of sky above the cloud line on the right, is it a bringing anything?

Simplify Further:

Yes, as with many things in life if you think you've simplified it enough you're wrong, you can always simplify it further! You can see below I also have changed the orientation and switched from Landscape to Portrait. I find myself often shooting in Portrait and maybe it's because I find it easier to balance elements when composing up and down rather than left to right...don't let a psychologist get their teeth into me! So here, we have reduced the scene to help show the relationships between the overlapping 'triangles' of the mountains which recede nicely but I've also introduced the cloud above to help balance the image (actually nature introduced it, I just reacted to it!):

Image 2 : Here i've reduced the elements in the scene and used the cloud at the top of the image to balance and add another texture

So, a few questions come into my mind now...How important is the cloud? Can you imagine the image without it? For me the image wouldn't be as satisfying without the cloud as it would feel a little bottom heavy. Due to the time of day there wasn't much light illuminating the dark green of the tree covered mountain side and this may 'drag' the picture down visually. I also think the slight V in the cloud mirrors the V seen as the mountains recede off into the distance. But, what's happening in that middle area, there are some wisps of cloud but is that area something of a void? Does the eye rest on that blank area in the middle? Not sure...


We've simplified the elements far enough now in my view, too much and we'd be in danger of losing the scale. It's just a case of refining the composition to try and maximise those elements. The repeating pattern of the slopes is what is drawing me to the scene and of course the warm hues of an Italian sunset. So, how best to capture those feelings and commit them to pixels? Well, and this is all done in a matter of moments and often quite sub-consciously, I decide to switch back to Landscape orientation and compose the image with less sky and just let the form, shape and colours do the talking:

image 3 : with a strong focus on the shapes and form this final view is more abstract yet still provides scale and the warm hues of a mountain sunset.

The final image above is probably for me the most satisfying of the three. But, the glory of any art form is that some people will have other feelings, they may prefer the wider view, or the portrait orientation of a similar scene.

What's interesting is to really analyse how much of this is conscious thinking at the time vs how much of this reasoning the photographer retrospectively applies when editing and selecting images upon arriving home. For me the ongoing battle is to try and bring as much of this rationale into the field without letting it strangle my feelings and emotion for the scene as it happens. Often I'll sit and try and imbibe the atmosphere whilst scanning the whole area to find shapes, forms, colours or texture that help me transmit the essence of the scene back into my images. But, as always it comes down to what you are trying to portray in the image, the mood, the feeling, the spirit etc.

So, perhaps the next time you scale a hill, mountain or even have a large urban vista in front of you and take a quick pic only to look back at it later and wonder why it doesn't live up to your memories one technique could be to apply some of the thoughts above and simplify, simplify further and refine.

'Rustic' Italy...

I'm lucky enough to have a wonderful Italian girlfriend and she's lucky enough to have a family home tucked away in the mountains of Northern Italy. We managed to spend a week out there at the end of August, and despite it being a week 'off' for relaxation, walks, reading etc I obviously couldn't resist taking the camera and maxing out the EasyJet cabin allowance accordingly!

This particular area of Italy is the Trentino region and is near the towns of Levico Terme and Trento. Nestled 3/4 of the way up a Mountain the house is beautifully positioned on a very quiet track/road with a nice vista across the valley and with woodland behind. This type of location is popular with locals who often have a house 'up' in the mountains and historically many families came up for the whole summer, to escape the 35 degree heat in the valley and to have an extended holiday. I get the feeling as the ongoing surge of commercialism and 24/7 work nibbles away at society generally (albeit met with different levels of adoption across Europe) that far fewer families make this traditional escape, and certainly not for weeks on end. 

The houses are sparsely spread as the road winds up the mountain with just the odd residence here and there and the occasional cluster of 2 or 3 buildings together. I wonder what will happen to these buildings as many are in need of some repair. Will they be consigned to dereliction or will there be an appetite to restore and save them whilst retaining the character? I'd be interested to see their state in 100 years, if I had to guess I'd say many will be exactly the same. Perhaps like other historic parts of Italy, where cities retain period buildings and appear in some sort of architectural time warp (no bad thing!), they will assume a timeless look that helps cement this countries reputation for character and beauty in architecture. As you can see, beauty can also be rustic....

'First Light' meets 'Last Night'

Bournemouth Pier, Sunrise

Bournemouth Pier, Sunrise

I knew deep down that going to the beach at 4.15am could have it's problems. First off I had to creep like a ninja from my bed to avoid waking the significant other, then I had to somehow navigate 3 creaky doors out of our temporary accommodation in Bournemouth (without waking the whole place) and then it was something of a gamble on who or what I might bump into at 4.15am on the weekend in a Tourist heavy seaside town in the peak of Summer...

Well, pretty much as soon I as I left the house I turned to see a group of young lads that had obviously been out on the town and who were clearly still full of the happy juice. The fact I was (a) carrying a pretty heavy duty metal tripod, and (b) was fully sober and in pretty lean condition gave me perhaps a misplaced sense of optimism about how this rendezvous could turn out. Thankfully nothing came of our pre-dawn stand-off, apart from one of them quipping about how it was a pretty crap time of day to take pictures. I decided not to bring this chap to task and explain how the 'golden hours' were actually very fruitful, something told me this may have not gone down so well!

Onwards I went, constantly checking over my shoulder for the next group of comedians. As I got down to the beach the dark was just beginning to recede into dawn. I had already got a good idea where I was heading, it was then just a case of reacting to what the weather and light would throw at me.

Thankfully there was a good dash of colour just after sunrise (albeit v.brief - about 2 minutes max) and the receding tide allowed me to make the image above with the rivulets of water meandering through the sand in the foreground and the rich orange and blues illuminating from above.

Photographers often talk of 'the moment' to take the image, when the light is at it's optimum. This transient light can be elusive and as such it rewards with the biggest 'kick' when you catch it. With restricted chances to get out with the camera recently the best I can do is make sure I don't miss that moment when I am on location, thankfully with this one a happy concoction of pre-planning, early rising and patience paid off nicely.

For other images from Dorset and to see my UK Gallery please click here.


A trip to the Dales...

A recent trip to the Yorkshire Dales brought happy memories of my 10 year old self...

It was something of a flying overnight trip and allowed me to visit a couple of places I'd not been to since Primary School, in fact one location in particular that was famous to the rest of the world for featuring in the Robin Hood Prince of Thieves film (Kevin Costner), but was 'famous' to me for bringing back strong memories of my first real trip away with classmates and without family. The Hardraw Force Falls really stuck in my mind as a 10 year old, partly because it's one of the first images I remember taking and getting printed to a large size.

So, it was with a slight sense of self imposed anticipation and trepidation I attempted to re-visit and improve upon the 10 year old Sams picture of this iconic (to me) location. With a slightly strange approach (through the local pub) I headed up the path to the Falls. It stirred up some nice memories and I felt quite nostalgic as before long I was soon transported back to 1992 and the innocent sense of awe at seeing such a beautiful waterfall.

During the days beforehand there had been some heavy rain and the falls were extremely full with water, at first this is quite impressive but from my photographic point of view (and to fulfil my pre-determined plans for the shot) it required a re-think of where I could stand as the spray was literally like standing in a shower anywhere within about 25ft of the base of the falls...this is not good for expensive cameras and filters, and more importantly you never get a 'clean' shot!

So, after a little reminiscing, and then cursing the weather Gods, I set to composing the image you see below. In the end I'm not really satisfied with this, the water flow was too fast for me to get the atmosphere I was looking for but it's just a good excuse to go back another time!

Hardraw Force, Yorkshire Dales

The afternoon saw me head over to the picturesque Swaledale. It really displays the classic look of the Dales with the dry stone walls and compartmentalised fields. I took a walk up the side of the valley and found a couple of shooting spots. The weather was a little overcast with just the odd burst of sun but nothing heavenly or dramatic so I'll stick this one down as good exercise and good reconnaissance.

Swaledale, Yorkshire

To see other images from Yorkshire please visit my Project 33 YORKSHIRE GALLERY

New Project 33 Images - Home Counties

So, it's time for a bit of 'tree love' with the first in the series of new images for the 2015 Project 33 location of the Home Counties. Living within striking distance of the lovely woodland of the Ashridge Estate means that I often use it as a base camp for shooting woodland and inner landscapes.

The three images I've started the Project 33 (Home Counties) gallery with were all taken on the same day. If was a particularly misty Sunday and I actually ended up with five images I was pleased with, the other two will be released very soon.

I had risen early to catch the sunrise from the local Ivinghoe Beacon area, however throughout the whole Sunday the sun never made it through the think layer of mist and fog! After spending a couple of hours circumnavigating the 'Beacon' trying to find some shooting possibilities I was actually heading back down the path to the car to head further into Ashridge when finally the sun made something of a attempt at peaking through. The fog acted as a beautiful diffuser of the light and backlit the trees nicely in the scene below:

The diffuse light brought just enough colour to the slightly damp grass around the trees and the path winding through the shot hopefully helps lead you into another world...

It's often a good idea not just to look left and right but also to look up...I composed the shot below thinking of the veins in the eye, a subject I've been exposed to images of quite a lot in the last 18 months due to my partners degree course in Optometry! It's interesting how images and scenes I see daily can influence the compositions and feel of my images. So, Giulia this one was very much inspired by all the slides and images I've seen you studying!

And some of the inspiration...

An example of the images of the eye I've been exposed to recently...guess they rubbed off into my compositions!

An example of the images of the eye I've been exposed to recently...guess they rubbed off into my compositions!

After this short spell of shooting on the path back to the car I drove further into the Ashridge Estate and went for a walk deep into the Forest. The challenge is always trying to find order in amongst the chaos, whilst it can be appealing to our eye at the time it's quite something else to distill the medley of branches, trunks, leaves etc into a suitably tranquil scene with the necessary order to sustain the viewers gaze.

I came across the clearing below which interested me due to the contrasting purple and green grasses and bushes in the foreground that led nicely into the scene with the natural buffers of a couple of strong trees at either side of the image to help keep the eye from wandering out. 

The final image was actually made of 5 images stitched together in a panorama. Ideally you'd normally set-up your tripod to ensure an even horizon so the stitching could be less problematic but due to the nature of the uneven and rough woodland floor beneath me I actually hand held the 5 shots and just pivoted my body right to left to catch the images. This was the first time I've attempted a 'standing panorama' and I was delighted to see I'd kept everything straight and overlapping nicely to enable the computer to stitch them together seamlessley.

Click the image to see it full width

Please click here to see the Project 33 (Home Counties) gallery and all the images full size.

NEW Project 33 Image - in honour of St.Davids Day

Being very remotely Welsh myself (My mothers grandma was born there) I feel duty bound to 'release' this new image on March 1st 2015 - St. Davids Day!

The image was actually made on a January trip to the Gower peninsula...Against all the photography rules it was made near to midday (usually a poor time for interesting light) but due to the soft overcast sky with just subtle light glancing the sea I decided to make this long exposure image.

I really wish I could have taken a picture of my predicament, I was perching on a slightly precarious looking ledge looking down across the rocks at Southgate. The wind was hammering into me and I was lying down with my legs dangling over the edge trying to provide a windbreak to protect my camera and tripod from being 'buffeted' during the 139 second exposure. 

This was very much the look I was going for, contrasting the dark craggy rocks with the relentless ebb and flow of the incoming sea...well worth lying sideways on a cliff edge for, and well worth celebrating the wonders of Wales on St.Davids Day!

To see all the #Project 33 images please click here

Let's get things in perspective...

For any of you that saw the recent #thedress colour debate this is a kind of twist on, not everything is always as it seems and I wanted to link that to the thought process that photographers go through when editing for a final image.

Rather than colour or white balance (which made the dress situation tricky) I'm focusing on perspective and how different aspect ratios can give quite a different feel to the same picture. The aspect ratio you chose can help highlight certain areas of a picture, provide a mood (calming or more tension) and make the viewers eye feel more relaxed or more active depending on the space within the image to move about.

The standard DSLR style camera that I use shoots in 3:2 aspect ratio, there is an example of this in the picture below which is 'straight from the camera' of a beach scene at Mewslade Bay:

Image #1 - In standard 3:2 ratio from the camera (click to enlarge image)

Here we can see the full scene in it's entirety, the rocks are present in the foreground, there is a bit of headland jutting into the top right of the image to give a bit of scale and sense of place and of course we can see the sun beams breaking through a dense sky. It's generally quite a wide open scene with just the 3 main elements as described above.

So, let's see for example what happens with the scene when we change it to 16:9...

Image #2 - In 'widescreen' 16:9 ratio, as used by some movie makers (click to enlarge)

At first glance it doesn't look very different but if you compare to the first 3:2 ratio you can see that by loosing a little at the top & bottom of the image we've condensed the elements, does this give the image a feeling of extra width? Does it allow all the elements enough space? Are the rocks too close to the bottom of the frame? Do we end up with a 'gap' in the middle of the image? This can be quite subjective so don't be afraid to prefer any style!

If we take the image into a smaller 4:3 aspect ratio we have to make some decisions...

Image #3 - In 4:3 ratio (click to enlarge)

Here we have taken the image down to a 4:3 ratio and we've had to restrict what now goes in the frame, I decided on this example to lose the headland from the upper right part of the image, for me the rocks, the sun and the reflections are the main area of interest so I chose to highlight them. For me I don't often settle on a 4:3, there are probably some scientific reasons (!) but for me it all feels a bit cramped, or 'shut in', I'd either like to see more of the scene OR see the order of a 1:1 square crop, as we'll go onto below...

Image #4 - The 1:1 or 'Square Crop'

This is a crop I'm becoming more and more comfortable with. For me, the order and uniformity of the 1:1 crop works really well when there are strong graphic elements that are structured and/or when there is a distilled scene with just 2 or 3 points of interest, something I'm often trying to introduce into my vision and style. In the scene above I think it helps simplify the composition and bring a sense of balance.

My personal favourites here would be the 16:9 to really get the sense of a wide sweeping vista, or the 1:1 which helps keep all the elements balanced and provide a window into the view that doesn't feel cramped and retains a sense of order.

So - it's never as simple as just turning up and pressing the shutter. Some cameras allow you to switch aspect ratio when taking the image, sadly mine doesn't! So, for now it's a case of considering at the time of shooting what you can 'envisage' the final result to be and also when editing it's a good tool to help you settle on a final 'best image'.

Feel free to comment on your preferred aspect ratio for this picture...and why!

Outdoor Photography Magazine

During the last few years I've bought a number of different photography related magazines and publications. In the last 12-18 months I've settled on my magazine of choice being Outdoor Photography. It has a nice blend of articles, images, location guides, tips and gear etc.

Outdoor Photography - March 2015

Outdoor Photography - March 2015

So, to mark the end of last years #Project 32 I sent them an email basically saying 'thanks for what you do, it's been helpful during my photographic year, this is what I've done, and keep up the good work' etc. I was delighted to receive an email back from them saying they'd like to publish my letter and would I be ok if they were to use one of my images in the magazine? Errm, ok!

So, if anyone wants to see my 'print' debut (ahem!) you can pick up Outdoor Photography (March 2015 issue) from all good newsagents (or subscribe online) and you'll see me in the 'Letter of the Month' position...

My 'Letter of the  Month' - Outdoor Photography Magazine (March 2015)

No.3 & 4 in the #Project 33 series...

I've had the time to let these images 'settle' and it's something I've enjoyed; having the chance to re-visit the images and assess their strengths and/or weaknesses. In the past I've been quite quick to upload images and then later looked book and wondered if I was really happy with them. With the pressure of hitting a certain number removed this year it's allowed me to 'digest' all the images from a certain trip and make sure they reflect my feelings about the atmosphere and mood I'm trying to capture.

No.3 is a another shot from Mewslade Bay, it was just as I was preparing to leave. Wet, cold and being blustered by the wind I looked back over my shoulder as I scrambled up the rocky path off the beach and saw this wonderful shape in the trenches of water that scythed through the beach. Using a 2 minute exposure I wanted to reduce the scene to it's core elements of shape and colour and highlight the pattern of the water as it links up with the shoreline and also soften the sea and sky to merge the elements into a mix of blues. I stood side on to the camera trying to protect it from the wind as I didn't want it moving during the long exposure. With fumbling freezing fingers I eventually packed up and headed back to the car in the encroaching twilight...

Mewlsade Bay No.3 - #Project 33

During my Gower trip I spent time researching and exploring new areas of the coastline for my to make images in the future. I spent sometime around the cliffs of Southgate, initially I was walking the top path and looking down trying some experimental shots of the sea meeting the cliffs using a telephoto lens, whilst there was promise in these angles it was increasingly difficult against the high winds that were smashing into me and my tripod! This was the weekend when the forecasters warned everyone on the west coast of Britain that winds of 70mph+ were incoming, that might explain why there weren't many people out!

So, I decided to try and get down off the tops and to the shoreline. The peculiar rock formations of the Gower peninsula are quite eye catching, sharp angular rocks that look like they should make up some far off planetary system protrude from the ceaseless crashing of waves off the west coast. I'd like to say I gracefully made my way over them but looking from afar I probably cut a pretty shabby and high risk figure as I teetered my way through the sharp spikes trying desperately not to impale myself.

Crouched over a smattering of these sharp protrusions (that were menacingly close to areas that wouldn't appreciate being stabbed by a sharp rock!) I made the image below, again using a longer shutter speed to soften the water and highlight the contrast between the fluidity of the sea and the resolute firmness of the rocks.

Rocks at Southgate - #Project 33

To see all the current #Project 33 images please click here

The first #Project 33 images & video...

What better way to start than on the coastline of the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. I'd been to Mewslade Bay before, in fact the memory will stay with me as I ended up hiding behind a rock trying to avoid getting soaked and battered by the wind. This time I planned more strategically for low tide and the Welsh weather held out in terms of no rain and less(!) wind but it was still bitingly cold!

I knew there were some unusual rock formations that are exposed at low tide so I made my way down the slightly precarious boulder strewn approach to the beach and headed towards the high rock walls. I arrived just before low tide peaked (around 3pm) and there was still some freak waves coming in that forced a couple of quick tripod retreats (see the video below images!). There were a couple of walkers out with dogs but thankfully I remained undisturbed and focussed on trying to capture the essence of this remote bay and the brooding sky as it closed in. 

I'm really happy with these first two images, they both were produced using a neutral density filter on the lens which is basically a very dark piece of glass. This allows for a much longer exposure and streaks the water and sky nicely. I find these particularly effective when trying to convey the sense of movement and impermenance that a coastline portrays.

In the second (square crop) image I had to be very careful with the composition and cropping of the sky. There was a bank of darker cloud that the sun was penetrating with a lighter sky above. For me the top of the image needed the buffer of the darker sky to stop the eye from being drawn out to the lighter sky above, this 'frames' the scene below better in my opinion, this is an image I'm really happy with.

Introducing #Project 33 (2015)

So, after the successful completion of #Project 32 the only logical next step was #Project 33. However, I wanted to change the overall goal, otherwise if I carried on in the same way my output would need to keep increasing as the years go by, and quantity is no measure of quality.

Whilst the need to fulfil the quota for #Project 32 did 'keep me honest' in terms of motivating me, to get out and make images as the year ticked by, I've come to the conclusion that on occasion the need for numbers forced me to accept lower quality images for the collection. So, for this years Project I've taken away the need for it to be 33 images, in fact I've gone a bit looser with the interpretation of 33...

I mused on this for some time, and have tried to work 3 into the plan somewhere, after all I'm never going to be all the 3's again as the chances of living to 333 are none. So, I've decided to focus on 3 geographic locations and get the most I can out of them throughout the year. If that yields 10 or 100 images it doesn't matter the idea is to create a portfolio (small or large) from each area that I can be proud of at the end of the year. Like it? I hope so!

So, where are these 3 locations going to be and why:

1. South Wales

I've chosen South Wales because last year I really enjoyed the time I spent there. Although it's a fair drive from St Albans it's not a bad drive and there is an abundance of interesting coastline and countryside. From rocky outcrops, long swathes of sandy beaches, waterfalls galore and the impressive Brecon Beacons...there should be plenty of opportunity here for good images.

2. Berks, Bucks & Herts

I can't always be galavanting around the UK and so it was important that consideration was given to my local area. Despite there being a rather disappointing lack of coastline, mountains, waterfalls, lakes etc there is something to be said for local knowledge. I've found that the better you know the location the higher the chance of a good photographic reward. Plus, the local aspect ensures I can stay 'shooting' throughout the year.

3. Yorkshire

I've chosen Yorkshire for a couple of reasons; it's packed full of photogenic locations including countryside, coast, waterfalls, forests, and much more. Plus, I've already got a trip planned up there in March on a coastal workshop with a photographer whose work I admire and it seemed like a great way to kick start my Yorkshire explorations.

So, the hope is that with more time in a smaller number of places I can really learn to 'see' the areas better and not be forced to produce quantity but rather concentrate on quality...

To see the first images and a time lapse video of where and how they were captured please CLICK HERE

Wish me luck! Stay tuned to the newsletter and my NEW Facebook page for all the latest details, images, videos and much more.

No. 28/32 #Project 32 - A touch of frost

Again it was another early morning trip to Ashridge, I'd been hoping for some mist but instead was met with a bitingly clean frost. I wanted to try and find a more intimate shot which highlighted the texture and crispness of the morning frost.

I actually explored a new area of the woods this time and as I walked through the path un-disturbed by the real world (mine had been the only car in the car park) I was shadowed on either side by a legion of squirrels and birds watching my every step. Ahead I spotted around 8 small deer and even though I stopped dead in my tracks they'd clearly heard me coming and scattered away into the undergrowth. I found an area of fallen trees that were heavily 'bitten' by the morning frost and tried to find a pleasing composition.

I played around with various angles and used different apertures to get a varied depth of field. At first I wanted to get the whole image in focus by using a small aperture, however due to my extreme proximity to the subject I was only getting around 75% of the shot in full focus, not wanting to get into image stacking and stitching I decided to go in the other direction. Using my widest aperture of f3.5 I tried to isolate the frosty leaf into focus and leave the foreground and background to disappear away, leaving focus on the leaf. There was a little chink of light just on that part of the branch which helped isolate the leaf further.

Click Here to see the full #Project 32 series

No. 27/32 #Project 32 - Ashridge Panorama

Ever since my first trip to Ashridge this image had been in the back of my head. I knew that the woodland would look great in the mist, and with the autumnal colours and the trees stripped bare it would all come together nicely.

Being sort of on my way to work I've made 3 or 4 visits here since September in the early hours of the morning, during these trips I'd narrowed down the exact place I thought the panorama would work best in. On this occasion I really was pushed for time and so the pre-planning I'd already done in my head kicked in and made the image possible. I'd been scoping the weather forecasts and I knew there was a pretty good chance of mist on this Saturday morning. I arrived and was encouraged by the first signs of a mist sitting in the woodland. After a high paced walk to the exact spot I'd planned it was a military operation of tripod up, camera out, checking the horizon was balanced and shooting away. I'd already dialled in the camera settings the night before knowing this would save me 30 seconds in the morning.

Click image for a larger view

The final image as you see it is 12 shots stitched together left to right, it's quite difficult to appreciate a panorama like this in full without seeing a large print of it, perhaps I'll bite the bullet and get that ordered for the house before long...

Click here to see the full #Project 32 series

No. 26/32 #Project 32

This image was actually taken earlier in the year in the Peak District during a one day flying visit. It's an image that has grown on me, I think at the time I was dismissive of it as it had been taken literally in the blink of an eye whilst I was searching for a location to set-up at for the oncoming sunset. 

It's easy to get 'attached' to images and the locations, this can be amplified when you've gone through the ritual of researching, pre-planning, making the journey, braving the weather and setting up just as planned. It felt like I was cheating with this image though as it was totally spontaneous, I spotted the climber sat in what I thought was a slightly precarious position and I fired off the shot...however, the attachment I may get from a more pre-planned shot is solely mine and doesn't always have a direct effect on the end product. Each image should be judged from the outside in perhaps, rather than the inside out...

Click Here to see the full #Project 32 series

No's 19-25 #Project 32

I managed to grab a 36hr trip to South Wales recently and crammed it full of waterfalls, coastal trips and a lot of rain!

The Brecon Beacons is a very picturesque area and is well known for its waterfalls. Always being a sucker for a good waterfall I left Hertfordshire early morning and headed to South Wales. The weather had promised rain and grey skies, I was happy with the overcast aspect of this as it’s good light to take waterfall images, however as I found out the rain was another issue altogether!

Over the next 36hrs I found a rhythm of scout, compose, set-up, uncover camera, shoot, clean and dry camera, re-set, shoot, clean and dry camera etc...the rain, coupled with the spray from waterfalls and even the sea when I got there, played constant havoc with my lenses and filters.

However, as it was a fairly bleak couple of days in November at least I was nearly always alone...

Click on an image below for a larger view:

The coastal shots were from Mewslade Bay on the Gower Peninsula, let's just say the weather was  slightly on the 'confrontational' side of things. I arrived around 6.30am in time for a sunset at 7-7.15am...I should point out it was pitch black and hammering down with rain at this point and I was in full outdoor gear including multiple waterproof layers and a head torch to try and see down a very dark path that led to the bay.

After what seemed like a rather dangerous and very windy trudge down the path I arrived to what appeared to be high tide and a constant battering of rain and sea spray. The sea was smashing into the rocks and there was no beach to speak of because of the high tide. Not to be beaten I ended up 'hiding' in the dark behind a large rock out of the wind for about 30 minutes whilst I waited for the sun to come up and keeping my fingers crossed that the rain would cease and some glorious sunshine would arrive...failing that I was going to cover up and walk out to safety!

Despite the inclement conditions and poor outlook I decided to stick it out and at the very least it would make for good experience. After a while the rain backed off to a steady splattering and I decided to crawl out from my hiding position, the light was still pretty low so I spent a few minutes trying to scout around for a position. Needing some more wind cover I dropped down into the rocky outcrop near the Sea, this provided a little rest from the elements and I spotted a couple of nice rocks to use as good foreground interest. It was however a constant battle with the rain and sea spray covering my lenses and filters, I managed to get just shot that wasn't totally speckled with water from this position (no. 25). 

I then moved a little further back and round to the entrance of the bay (no.24) the light was at its most interesting here because there were still some moody clouds but the sun was doing its best to creep through. The rocks in the far distance caught some of the sun and this is the shot I was most pleased with. At around 9.30am and feeling quite assaulted by the elements I decided to head back to the car, just as I turned to put my final filter away the sea splurged one final large wave in my direction and I got covered...time to leave!

To see all the images and the current progress of #Project 32 please click here

No. 18/32 #Project 32

No. 18/32 Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire

No. 18/32 Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire

Another early start and I found myself alone in the woods at Ashridge. It's a large area of woodland in Hertfordshire and even in more sociable hours you can find plenty of quiet spots for a nice peaceful walk. I arrived at around 6.45am (15 mins before sunset) - I'd really been hoping for some early morning mist so that I could get a nice lonely, atmospheric shot of the textured solidity of the trees surrounded by the maliable softness of a morning mist. However, no such joy on this occasion (despite following the weather forecasts religiously!). 

There was a wonderful silence broken only by the crunch of my shoes on the fallen leaves, upon approaching my preferred shooting spot I caught sight of 5 deer gently moving through the woods. Although I stopped in my tracks they'd clearly spotted me and before I could even contemplate reaching for my camera they had drifted off into the endless maze of trees.

I find it a challenge to find any coherent compositions in woodland sometimes (can't see the wood for the trees!), although our own field of vision can make it look ordered the 'eye' of the camera sees differently and great care is needed to find a visual route for the viewer in the image. Just a bank of trees can be lacking in depth and provides a visual barrier to the eye as it tries to wander through the image. By using the fallen branch in the image above I'm trying to help lead the eye through the scene into the dense woodland beyond, there is something of a straight path that leads on from the branch and into the seemingly never ending woodland realm beyond. I did make one other image here that I was really happy with but I'm keeping that hidden for now as it's going to compliment another release I'll be making on the completion of Project 32.

Aside from the 5 deer (and 100+ squirrels!) I only saw 1 jogger in my 60 minutes at Ashridge, it was indeed a very peaceful way to start the day...

To see all the images in #Project 32 please click here