Let’s Cut to the Chase…I could have Died

Let’s cut to the chase…I could have died, and all for a photograph. It’s that simple.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you might have seen I recently posted a few images of my legs from my hospital bed, one that shows me with a relatively normal leg and one that is swollen to about twice the size, the other photo showing that swollen leg in plaster. I’d ruptured my Patellar Tendon on my right knee. The rupture in this case was a complete detachment of the tendon from the Tibia (the larger of the two lower leg bones). The function of this singular tendon is to attach your Tibia to your Patellar (your kneecap). Your Kneecap kind of just floats there in front of your Tibia and Femur (Thigh Bone). The Kneecap is then attached from above by another Tendon to your Quadriceps (those big thigh muscles). You use this whole mechanism to straighten your leg, walk up or down stairs or kick a ball, etc. Essentially it enables you to walk. However, your Quads are extremely powerful muscles and they’re being held to your lower leg by this singular Patellar Tendon, but let’s just call that little fella Pete from now on. Therefore, now that Pete had been completely torn away from my Tibia, it meant my Kneecap was a reasonable distance up my thigh, the quads having pulled it out of place. Nasty.

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The more typical injury you see from your kneecap is a dislocation. It sounds and looks quite horrible, it’s also incredibly painful. Your kneecap is effectively pulled out of place, always to the outside of your leg with your leg bent. If it happens to you, you can either sit there in pain and wait for rescue or an ambulance, or you can fix it yourself. How the hell do you do that? Well, it’s easier if there is someone there, but you can do it yourself. You need to grab your lower leg that is bent back and with your other hand to the side of the dislocated kneecap, guide/push it back whilst simultaneously straightening your bottom leg…and ‘pop’, it’ll go back…pain gone instantly…relatively speaking. You’ll probably want to get yourself to hospital fairly quickly thereafter, but for all intents and purposes, you’ll be fine. On Friday 16th August in a fairly remote area of Snowdonia, this is what I thought I had done, and straighten my leg in the manner above I did…except the pain didn’t stop. Bugger. How do I know how to re-seat a dislocated kneecap? Because only the day before I learned how to as part of an Outdoor First Aid course run by Katherine Wills of Active First Aid in Llanberis in preparation for my Mountain Leader Assessment in November…bloody typical.

Before we get to how my injury happened, why I could have died and what happened next, let’s wind back the clock a bit.

I’m a big guy, I’ve always been on the heavy side, but recently I’ve been eating more. Back in April, my wife Lisa, Monty (our dog) and I were travelling along the NC500 route in the far North of Scotland in our campervan when Lisa got a phonecall from her dad to say her mum had collapsed, had had several seizures and been taken to hospital. She’d had a CT and unfortunately they had found a Brain Tumour. Lisa immediately returned to Nottingham whilst Monty and I slowly made our way back in the van. Unfortunately the prognosis for the tumour was terminal. So, from then until now, Lisa has been spending most of her time in Nottingham caring for her mum, whilst Monty and I have been leading a virtual ‘Bachelor’ lifestyle back in Solihull. Put it simply, I’ve been eating crap. I’ve been Monty’s chief walker of course and still been going to the gym, but ultimately, during the traditional low summer period for Landscape Photography, I wasn’t exercising enough to justify the intake and the pounds were clocking up. A few weeks ago I got a really bad sore throat which meant I could hardly eat for a few days…that was a kickstarter to eat less. The flipside to that was it was a bit of a shock to the system and I was feeling the effects of slightly low blood sugar occasionally, which can impede decision making a little. On the day of the accident I’d taken in approx 500kcals before I set off. This was supposed to be a short hop up a hill and back in a couple of hours, three at the most. I was already looking forward to a decent meal in Porthmadog afterwards.

NC500 VLOG

On the day there was a huge weather front that dumped a hell of a lot of rain on Snowdonia. I was working out of the back of the van that day (tethering my phone to my laptop so I could access my work network, reply to emails and answer or make calls), I had no intention of doing any photography because of the weather, and anyway, I was meeting James Burns on Saturday morning to spend the day on the hill with him. However, late in the afternoon I checked the latest radar and satellite images and noted the front and rain would clear towards sunset with clear sky behind and suddenly I thought “ooh, good chance of epic light with a stormy sky backdrop if I head to a western location and shoot east”. After a bit of thinking, I thought I needed a heather shot for my Snowdonia project and also a shot of Cnicht. I could kill two birds with one stone. I figured a shot from Yr Arrdu might just work. I could either park at Croesor and cross rough ground, or I could park at the parking place at Coed Caeddafydd in the Nanmor valley and follow the path up from there. A path I’d never been up. It looked shorter than the Croesor route so I went for it. Before I got there the heavens truly opened. Parking up at the parking place, I sat in the van for a good hour in a deluge and waited. The prospect of the hike wasn’t thrilling me at this point and when the rain finally stopped I reluctantly packed my bag…or rather unpacked it to lighten it…and prepared to set off on what was supposed to be a very short jaunt.

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Having done Mountain Leader training and also the first aid course, you learn there are certain things you should carry always and certain things you might not. Of course the list changes on the situation and your chosen activity. You don’t always have to carry a confidence rope for example, total overkill. As a minimum though, heading out for this type of walk, I should have been carrying the following as a minimum:

  • Map
  • Compass*
  • Whistle*
  • 2 Man Bothy
  • Headtorch*
  • Snacks and/or energy gel/s
  • Phone*
  • First Aid Kit, including a trauma bandage and over the counter painkillers (stored separately)

* Items that I actually was carrying.

On a full on mountain day, there are a few other items I would consider taking, and now, having had this experience, one more, which I’ll detail later.

After less than five minutes I encountered my first obstacle and seriously considered going back…I wish I’d listened to my 6th sense. At the top of a field beyond a gate the gradient increased significantly. However, the whole path and hillside was obscured by some of the tallest, thickest bracken I’ve ever seen. I guess this summer of long warm periods and cooler very wet periods has created perfect growing conditions for plantlife. I couldn’t see the path at all and had to guess my way through. No one seemed to have passed this way in a very long time. I was relieved when I made it through the bracken into the edge of a woodland and the path became obvious. Although good, the path was narrow, steep and the ground loose. Eventually I reached a stile and went over. There was a significant amount of water running off the hill, creating new streams. I took what I thought was the path but was actually a small stream, I was just making bad decisions. I got very wet and recognising I was just making mistakes made a mental note I was not coming back this way under any circumstances. If I made it to the top I was going to walk out the long way along a route I’ve done before where I know the path is good. It would mean a lengthy road walk but it was much more preferable to this. Eventually the terrain flattened and knowing that the official path on the map (which I was reading off GPS on my phone) went through the adjacent woodland, I crossed extremely waterlogged ground, sinking in water above my gaiters at times, to reach the woodland at the North-Eastern corner. I could see that if I followed the wall South I would intercept the path. The ground was drier but the atmosphere was thick with hill fog and it was very dark in the wood. I walked generally South hoping to intercept the path and then make a decision what to do next. Eventually I came upon a ruined building. I must have walked straight over the path! Pacing was very difficult because of the terrain, some bog and downed trees. At the building I decided with two hours of daylight left, that I had to get out of there. I started heading downhill in a Northerly direction and after about 5 minutes found ‘a’ path, very faint but obviously not an animal track as it zig-zagged down the hill very close to a stream (now in spate). There were some lovely deciduous trees on the way down, amongst the pine, which I stopped to try and photograph, but nothing was working for me. I was tired, wet and hungry anyway, and my main mission was over. If there was great light later, I’d watch it from the pub with a beer in my hand. I’ve included a couple of iphone photos below to give you a sense of the environment.

IMG_1713Steep Ground, Very Dark

IMG_1715A Clearing Showing Generally Mossy Woodland Floor

There were some difficulties and the soil was loose but I was using poles and it was fine, I just wanted to get down. After I slipped and slid a few feet I decided to take it easier. I then got a sense of impending doom. I can’t describe it, it was just a feeling. My thoughts changed to the things we discussed on the First Aid course just the day before. I remember thinking this would be a bad place to dislocate a knee or worse. I checked my phone. No signal. I had GPS so double checked my location, I was about 250 metres horizontal distance and 120 metres in altitude from my van. Not far. About 10-15 minutes walk on this terrain. I stopped to look down and could see a clearing with lots of very large downed pine trees which would be difficult to navigate if they had fallen across the path. I must have walked about 10 feet, there was a small step down, about 6 inches. I placed my poles ahead, applied some body weight, put my right foot out and down…and my foot slid forward and down on the mud. WHACK!

A bit dazed by what had just happened, I was on the ground on my left side. My right lower leg was bent back behind me. I thought I had hit my knee on a branch I hadn’t seen as I stepped down. There was no branch. It had felt like someone had swung a baseball bat at my knee. There was a brief moment of nothing and then I could feel it, the pain, sickening pain coming from my right knee. Instantly I thought it was a dislocation. I went into auto-pilot, remembering if I could get it straight, it would ‘pop’ back into place and the pain would go instantly or thereabouts. With my left hand I reached around to my waterproof trousers on my lower right leg, grabbed some material and with my right hand felt my knee…it was lumpy. I could definitely feel it wasn’t right. The kneecap wasn’t quite where it should be with a dislocation, but I couldn’t really tell, the pain was blinding. I took one deep breath and pulled my right leg straight whilst at the same time with my right hand, pushed the lumpy bit on my knee back towards where my kneecap should be. Agony. I had to lay back and get my breath. Nothing felt right…and the agonising pain was still there. Hoping it was just a dislocation, I stood up with my good leg, grabbed my poles to support myself and took a step…bang, down I went again. More pain. I had to take a minute.

On the Mountain Leader course you learn and discuss many things, including what to do in an emergency, how to contact Mountain Rescue, how to pinpoint your location, things you can do and use amongst those in your party to aid others in the group, etc. All of that ran through my mind at lightning speed. I thought about the first aid course. This wasn’t a catastrophic bleed, I was still breathing, I definitely didn’t need a Defibrillator. I did for some reason check my own pulse, haha. All I can tell you is it was strong and fast. Adrenalin had kicked in. I was shaking. I re-arranged my legs in front of me so they were straight out in front and I was sitting in a safe position. I took off my rucksack and checked the time. It was 6.50pm. Sunset was at about 8.30pm. I checked what was in my rucksack and took out my whistle, putting it around my neck. I looked for painkillers. I normally carry Ibuprofen, Paracetamol and Asprin. I had none. They had been with my first aid kit that I had TAKEN OUT of the pack before I left the van. I had wanted to travel as light as possible that day. Serious error of judgement. I thought about what to do and thought I could fashion a splint for my leg with one of the poles. A splint would need 3 lengths of rope, or cord, or tape, or even a bandage to tie around my leg to hold it in place. All I could find that would work was my belt. A splint wasn’t going to work. I checked my phone. No signal. The day before I had downloaded the 3words App. I knew my friend Jake Turner had recommended it the day before on Twitter, and so figured if I could send the three words of my location (the App uses three unique combinations of words per every 3 metre x 3 metre grid on Earth) along with the words “Send help, bad fall, knee broken?” to Jake, he was the one person I absolutely knew would understand and he could alert Mountain Rescue. Texts often work even when it appears you have no signal, much more so than calls. I sent the text. “Message Send Failure”. I tried dialling 999 because maybe there was a signal on another network. An emergency call will work on any available network, whether you are on that network or not. Nothing, “Call Failure”. I was on my own. A mere 250 metres from my van and the road. Fear set in. I could die here. I started to blow on my whistle. Six short blasts followed by one minute and then another six short blasts. Rinse repeat. I also shouted at the top of my lungs for help. The rivers were in spate and were as loud as a jet engine. No-one more than a few metres away was going to hear me. But you have to keep trying. I knew the area I had parked is popular with the odd dog walker. I just hoped one was taking a late evening walk with their dog after the rain. Maybe, just maybe they might hear me. But, I couldn’t just wait and hope. It was going to get dark, I was wet through, I didn’t have my bothy for shelter and warmth, I had no way to signal for help above the noise of the river. Crucially, I hadn’t left a route card in the window of my van, detailing where I was going and when I expected to be back etc. It wouldn’t be until I was a no-show for James at 7.30am the next morning that ANYONE would know I was missing. I hadn’t told anyone where I was (HUGE mistake that I look back on now and think to myself, why?). Even if James alerted anyone, a search probably wouldn’t begin until the afternoon and they certainly wouldn’t find my van until at least Sunday. They’d probably start with the more popular areas and go from there. I was in a not very popular place. So, I was faced with the prospect of being there, in a lot of pain and with god knows what injury for 36-48 hours at least. No food. One bottle of water. I’d almost certainly have become hypothermic over the first night and if I’d managed to last until the following night, starting from a much weaker status of health, I didn’t fancy my prospects of making it to Sunday. I had to get out of there myself. I gathered my things. Arranged my clothing so that all my zips were fastened, put my rucksack back on and began to slide feet first, not easy with a leg that doesn’t work anymore.

After about 10 metres I encountered my first obstacle, a downed tree. I had to go over it. I hauled my bad leg up and over and then my good leg, arched my back and pushed up with my arms, so I was lying over the tree on my back, I let myself slide over. I continued to slide feet first, and then, the path inexplicably turned right and started going back up! I got on my front and crawled with my arms upwards a short distance until the path turned again, this time left and back downhill. I slid on my backside again. Then I encountered the second obstacle, a large tree with big roots. The only way past was through a small gap between the trunk and a mishmash of old wire fence and thorny bush. Great. I squeezed through, trying not to get caught up but catching my hand on the many thorns. The path then head straight downhill alongside a fence, passing close to downed trees. About halfway down I could just see the van and what appeared to be a Land Rover parked next to it! Someone was around. I was continuing to blow my whistle. Eventually the gradient eased and flattened out. I was still about 50 metres from the van. I turned and began to crawl again, but I was getting tired now. I wondered if I could stand as the ground was relatively flat. If I used the poles a bit like crutches, maybe I could hop the rest of the way. I stood bolt upright on my good and bad leg. The bad leg stayed locked out. Eureka! I could at least stand on this flattish ground. From that point I hobbled back to the van, over a few trees, soaking wet, covered in mud, my clothing was a bit shredded. I got alongside the Land Rover and saw movement inside. Someone was there! It was a young couple who were camping in the back of their converted Land Rover. Even better, they were doctors! They lept into action.

It was now after 8pm, it had taken me well over an hour to slide and drag myself those 250 metres. The couple hadn’t heard my cries or whistle at all. I’m not surprised they didn’t, the noise from the water even here was loud. After initially making me comfortable, they quickly checked my knee which was now very swollen and we decided that he would drive me in my van with me in the back, a makeshift ambulance, to the hospital at Bangor, whilst she would follow in their Land Rover. It would take about an hour. After getting me into A&E, they waited with me until I went for triage and then left. I don’t remember their names. I think he was called Ben, but I’m not sure. I wasn’t really thinking straight. Anyway, if they ever read this, I want to thank them, thank them for being there and looking after me until the doctors and nurses at A&E took over. Thank you.

The rest? Well, the rest is a tale of surgery and the prospect of 6-18 months of physio before I can even contemplate adventures in upland areas again. Photography? Well, we’ll see. As I sit here typing this, the thought of running around the countryside with a little black box trying to capture photos only for them to be lost in a sea of mediocrity and ‘likes’ in an artificial online world seems…profoundly quaint. Time is a healer of course.

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Red Dot is approx location of accident

Red Line is approx route travelled back to Van

Green Dot is the Van

LESSONS LEARNED

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from my experience, both practical and theoretical. The obvious have been repeated before, time immemorial, but here are some again:

  • Always, always let someone know where you are going
  • Always leave a route card in your vehicle windscreen detailing your contact details, emergency contact, how many are in your party, your intended route and your expected return time
  • Never walk solo in an unfamiliar area unless you have means to raise alarm (don’t rely on a mobile)
  • Always ensure you have adequate food and water including something extra to cater for unforeseen events
  • If in doubt, turn back, there will be other days, the hills will still be there

Now, I consider myself quite experienced in the outdoors, I was a lover of the mountains a long time before I ever got into Photography. I’ve witnessed incidents of people falling off ridges (the speed at which this happens is frightening…no, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to reach out and stop yourself, you’ll be falling before your brain registers it), and others becoming ‘cragfast’ and terrified. I’ve guided lost souls to safety in atrocious weather, and seen the most beautiful and calm days turn into unexpected stormy nightmares in less than hour. I’ve also experienced the curious sensation of exhaustion myself, when you just want to ‘give up’ physically, and how mental resilience is so important in such circumstances, not only for yourself but also those you are with. Although I’ve never come anywhere close to the tales you hear of people just sitting down near the summit of Everest and allowing themselves to die, I can totally appreciate how that can happen. I’ve taught myself some of the skills necessary to survive falls in winter, and more importantly practiced them whenever I’ve had the chance. I’ve led large groups on a volunteer basis over some of the most exposed terrain in the UK, and I’ve learned from the odd mistake I made when doing so. Most recently I’ve undergone the training necessary to achieve my Mountain Leader qualification (something I should have done many years ago if I’m being honest) and only the day before my accident, completed a 2 day specific Outdoor First Aid qualification. I consider myself extremely cautious with regards to safety, in fact this is one of the reasons I decided to cease doing photography workshops. Despite all of the experience I had gained over the years, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with leading groups without more training and more experience. Yet, despite all of that, on Friday 16th August I made numerous mistakes and bad judgement calls that eventually landed me in hot water…and I was only 250 metres from a road. I may as well have been in the middle of the Sahara.

I mention all of this to emphasise to fellow hillwalkers and most specifically to fellow landscape photographers that disaster can strike at any time and to anyone. In addition, if you are joining a photographer on a workshop or you are unfamiliar with the terrain, it would be worth checking the background of the leader in question, whether they know the area well themselves, what qualifications they hold, do they have appropriate insurances and what is their general level of competence at leading people in potentially hazardous locations. Never join anyone purely on the basis of popularity, because the potential consequences are deadly.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m done with solo exploring. The experience of the accident above has taught me not to take my own mortality for granted. That feeling of necessity to overcome pain and disability to somehow save yourself with virtually no hope of assistance is enough to make me realise that, you know what, the photograph just isn’t worth it. If all goes well I’ll be able to walk in the mountains again in roughly 12 months time, but this time I’ll either be in areas that I know well, or I’ll ensure I am with someone else. However, just in case, I’ll be investing in something like a Garmin InReach Mini that works off the Iridium network of satellites to send a distress signal with GPS co-ordinates and/or text for help…all for an extra 100g’s of weight and a fairly reasonable monthly subscription (think of it as an insurance policy). It may prove to be invaluable one day.

Oh, the photography? I’m still not sure about that, give me a few months and I may get the desire back, but right now, Pete needs to heal and get stronger and I couldn’t care less if I’ve taken my last photograph.

Take care of yourselves, the outdoors can, and occasionally do, bite back.

Kase Wolverine Filters Review

Please Note: During the six (6) months between being asked to review these filters and the publication of this review, Kase appointed me one of their official Brand Ambassadors in the UK. This was due in part to the initial feedback I provided directly prior to completion of the review. However, this review remains as unbiased as I can possibly make it and although the filters were provided to me for on a loan basis, I do have the option to buy back.

Kase logo

The Review

So, who is everyone’s favourite X-Man then? Professor Xavier? Magneto? Mystique? No, it’s Wolverine. It is always Wolverine. Why? Because he’s got metal claws and he kicks ass, that’s why. Oh, and he has a cool haircut and awesome sideburns.

It’s no surprise then that when naming their premium master series of filters, Kase chose to call them, the Wolverine series. The fact that there is a picture of an actual Wolverine moniker (or “Skunk Bear” to some folks), is neither here nor there, we all know that what they were really thinking of was Logan, aka ‘Wolverine’, the X-man from the comic books. And rightly so…

K100 GND Med

Now, before I start, I don’t normally review kit. I’m not set-up to do it nor does it really interest me, the technical jargon that is. When it comes to photography I really don’t care what camera you used. I either like the photo or I don’t, whether you shot it with a Nikon, a Canon, a Sony or a Polaroid. I couldn’t even tell you what it was shot with, or how many megapixels I’m looking at. Who cares? I certainly don’t. And, if I ever get into a discussion about such things, on Social Media, you can bet your bottom dollar/pound/euro my tongue is firmly in my cheek. So, how and why am I reviewing something so dull as filters? Because Kase asked me to? Well, yes. Because they just sent me a whole kit for free? Well, yes (they are on loan ONLY though). Because filters actually make one of the largest impacts to my practical workflow? Pretty much, YES.

Without changing my whole camera system, the next best way to change/develop/affect my photography is by using filters. And, like so many, I was seduced at a young age by the glitz and razzmatazz of the British company, Lee Filters. You see, a few years ago, as I was really starting to take this photography lark seriously, I looked at Cokin and Hitech, who were the only real competition to Lee in the UK, at least from the viewpoint of a beginner, and decided that as Lee were the ones with the premium price-tag, they were clearly the ones to get (yes, it was that easy to decide). What is more, they were also struggling to keep up with demand. People were waiting 6 months to get their hands on a 3 stop soft grad. People were trading kidneys for them on the black market. At one point they were worth more than Gold, pound for pound, ounce for ounce. Ever see someone shifty in a service station handing over something in a brown paper bag to someone who looked nervous and sweaty? Those weren’t full of drugs or laundered money. Those were Lee Filters. And, so the myth, the legend, grew and grew. Lee Filters were the balls. They made you look like a Pro. People stopped you in the street to ask about them. I’m pretty sure, had I not been just married, having those filters stuck to my lens would have been the photographic equivalent of Tinder. I invested.

As my interest in photography expanded, I came to learn about other filter options, such a Singh-Ray, B&W, Progrey and most recently, newer companies such as NiSi from China. There are a whole world of filter options out there, from cheap as chips to almost needing to remortgage for a full set. Kase occupy a mid-range to premium position, it has to be said. These filters are not cheap. The Kit I received, The Master Filter Holder Kit (contents list below) retails in the UK for £775 on their website. They are also not British, being a Chinese company. It would be fair to say, I agreed to review them with some scepticism, though of course I didn’t relay that scepticism to Andrew and Stephen who had established themselves as the distributers for the brand in the UK, I didn’t want them to try to ‘influence’ me. On a cold wet day back in October 2017, there was a knock on the door and a courier dropped off a sizeable and surprisingly weighty package. The filters had arrived for this test.

wolverine master kit (1)

Here is what you get in the Wolverine Master Filter Holder Kit:

  • A nice box (The main box)
  • Inside the nice box is another smaller nice box containing the K100-X K6 Filter Holder itself
  • A pair of 67-82mm and 72-82mm adapter rings
  • A pair of 77-86mm and 82-86mm geared rings
  • An 86mm screw in Slim Circular Polariser
  • The filters you get are:
  • A 100mm 10-Stop ND Filter
  • A 100mm 6-Stop ND Filter
  • A 100x150mm 4-Stop Soft Grad Filter
  • A 100x150mm 3-Stop Soft Grad Filter
  • A 100x150mm 3-Stop Reverse Grad Filter
  • A cleaning cloth, stick on filter gaskets (more on those later)

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And finally, a Tan Leather hard shell carry case.

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Essentially everything the average landscape photographer will ever need.

If the adapter rings do not fit your particular lenses, then you can order your required sizes for a nominal sum.

Ok, so on first impressions you get a lot of kit for your money. But, what of the filters themselves, read on…

– SHATTER RESISTANT –

The filters themselves are made from “Professional High Definition” toughened glass and are claimed to be “Virtually Indestructible” [compared to other filters of the same type by other manufacturers] meaning you can drop these a few times and they are very unlikely to break. They won’t mark or scratch easily either.

They claim to have no issues with colour casting, something other filters, such as the Lee 10-Stopper are notorious for.

They also have a nano coating which it is claimed repels oil and water and also help to control reflections. Essentially, if you get rain droplets on them, they wipe clear, smudge free, without the need to polish.

Exciting stuff!

So, what of these claims? Well, I’ve been testing them for over 6 months now and they still look as good as they did the first day I got them. I’ve also been fortunate to test the strength of the glass too. I’ve dropped my filter holder twice onto bare rock in that time and there isn’t so much as a scratch on the filters that were in the holder. Additionally, I was also fortunate to be handed a piece of ‘test glass’ for drop tests. This was exactly the same material, size and shape as one of the 100mm ND Filters. I dropped it from head height on concrete, onto bare (sharp) rock on a mountain, and in fact dropped it a few other times. Each time, no marks, nothing. However, they are only described as shatter resistant and virtually indestructible…they will eventually break (well, what do you expect?). During some filming I dropped the same piece of test glass down a rocky outcrop. This must have been the 6th or 7th time this particular piece of glass had been dropped onto a hard surface from height. It got lodged in a rock crack about halfway down. After retrieving it, there was a small chip on one corner. The video hadn’t worked so we had to do it again…and on the 2nd attempt, the 7th or 8th time this piece of glass had been dropped, it smashed, probably due to the chip causing a weakness. Although it happened at an unfortunate moment, I have to say I’ve been extremely impressed with the resilience of the glass and fully believe in the claim made by Kase. If any other brand had been dropped that much, well, you’d have had to buy multiple filters. Rest assured, for the accident prone folks out there, these will save you a ton of heartbreak and cash in the long run.

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– OPTICAL PERFORMANCE –

For this review I have decided not to perform a test on the optical quality or the neutrality of these filters. Why? Because I’m not really set up to do it, others have already done it and I have not noted any issues when using them myself. Neither the 6-stop nor the 10-stop appear to create any colour cast. I’ve also seen RAW files test shots of the new 16-Stop filter and again, there did not appear to be any noticeable colour cast, which is quite remarkable. That is all I can really say on the matter. Compared to my experience of working with the Lee Filters, which produce a very noticeable cool colour cast, I’ve not experienced anything of the sort with the Kase filters.

– WORKFLOW –

Beyond the resilience of the filters and their optical performance which is high on everybody’s list of requirements, for me the biggest issue with filters has always been workflow.

I am a creature of habit and as I started using the Lee System quite early on in my own development, so that workflow has become part of me. I don’t use standard lens caps, preferring instead to have Lee adapters on all of my lenses (I only have 4 lenses) with their ‘Haagen Daz’ style plastic lens caps attached. This means I can switch lenses and the filter holder holder to the new lens fairly rapidly. These days I almost always use a polariser in various configurations and so the 105mm Heliopan CPL is almost permanently welded to my Lee Holder. This isn’t so great if I do want to shoot without polarisation though.

When I received the Kase system I just knew that my workflow would have to change…ARRRGH! Being a creature of habit as I’ve already explained, meant that I wasn’t happy. Each lens would need to have a step-up ring attached, then the geared ring, into which the CPL would need to be screwed. You then attach the Kase K-6 Holder to the geared ring with a screw fastening to complete the assembly. The geared ring allows you to turn the polariser with a small wheel on the outside of the unit, whilst you have your filters in the holder. You don’t physically turn the CPL yourself. This means you can set and reset polarisation easily when you are all set up for the shot and have your filters in place…much like the NiSi and the Formatt Hitech systems. In order to put your lens cap back on after use, you have to disassemble the whole thing. If you want to remove the polariser, you have to unscrew it from the assembly, if you want to change lens, you have to disassemble and reassemble, and so on. This was a big issue for me and I could see myself missing shots. I fed this back to Kase immediately…as had other testers.

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The Lee Adapter with ‘Haagen-Daz’ cap

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Normal Lens Cap doesn’t fit on the Kase assembly

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Turn the wheel to turn the CPL

The result is that Kase have rapidly moved to make the workflow more efficient. So, what have they done?

Well, they have quickly developed a similar plastic cap to the Haagen-Daz lid type that fits over the step-up ring and geared ring (with or without CPL attached). This should be hitting the market imminently. I believe they will be a fetching red colour, so will be difficult to lose, even in snow. Good start. This means that should I so wish, I can buy additional step-up rings and geared rings to fit permanently to each lens and use the red Kase plastic caps to protect my lenses. This means I can quickly swap lenses and transfer the Kase Holder between each.

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The prototype ‘Haagen-Daz’ style lens cap

Given that the polariser is attached to those same Geared Rings, I now have two options. I can screw the CPL on and off each one as I need it…which is a workflow headache, or I can buy three (3) more CPL’s at about £58 each and have them permanently on each lens. That may seem a bit OTT, but when you consider that a 105mm CPL is generally about £180-£220, the cost is much the same. Plus, if you drop the 105mm CPL and damage it, then it can be game over shooting that day. At least with Kase you’d have a CPL on another lens you could use. You still need to unscrew it if you don’t want to use it though, which brings me onto…

They have now addressed the CPL issue of having to unscrew the CPL! A rather innovative solution that is now standard if you buy the kits online. The CPL is now MAGNETIC! This means you can remove it and set it without unscrewing anything! So, have multiples of them if you want (like I said above), or just easily install it on each lens with a simple push as you swap your lenses! Perfect.

Another issue that has been addressed is with the K-6 Holder. When you have a square ND fitted (100mmx100mm) AND an ND Grad (150mmx100mm) in front, which is not an untypical set-up for any landscaper, it was almost impossible to remove the ND without first removing the ND Grad. This has been solved with a redesign and the newly launched K-8 Holder with new ergonomics to enable easier removal of the ND when an ND Grad is also attached. For those who have the K-6 Holder the ND’s are now available in 150mmx100mm size so they can be easily removed.

So, the good thing here is that Kase are very interested to listen to you and your experiences, and where you encounter difficulty or are able to suggest an improvement, they will carefully consider it and, more importantly, act on it. This is very refreshing from a consumer point of view.

– OTHER –

Anyone got any more issues???

BUT, I DON’T WANT TO CHANGE MY WORKFLOW AT ALL!

Ok, some of us are stubborn. Some won’t be convinced by the Kase Holder or having the CPL behind the ND’s rather than in front, etc. I get that…and so do Kase. If you’ve already got a Lee Filter Holder system, and just want to try the Kase Filters themselves…or you don’t want to invest in everything all in one go, because the Filters are 100mm, they fit the Lee Filter Holder and other 100mm systems. They are ever so slightly slimmer than Lee’s filters, and so you’ll need new adapter rails so the filters don’t just slip through the Lee Holder. Kase can supply you some. I have some myself, and it’s the perfect stop-gap.

THOSE KASE ND’s HAVE NO GASKET!

The Kase Filter System uses an inbuilt gasket in the Holder, so the ND filters do not have a gasket of their own fitted (unlike the Lee system). However, Kase do supply stick on gaskets with each ND Filter in the event you wish to use the Filter with another system, such as Lee.

THE CPL IS MUCH SMALLER THAN MY 105MM LEE, SURELY IT VIGNETTE’S MORE WITH A UWA LENS?

Yes, the Kase CPL is 86mm which is much smaller than a 105mm CPL. However, the 105mm CPL sits further away from the lens. With the Kase CPL, it rests almost flush with the front element of the lens. On my Lee setup (with two filter rails rather than three, which would be worse), using my widest lens, the Sony G 16-35 f/4, my images begin to vignette at 18mm. At 16mm the effect makes the full frame unusable, you have to crop in significantly. With the Kase, there is no hint of vignette at 16mm. End of discussion.

Conclusion

Of all the pieces of photography gear you can own, filters are perhaps the least sexy. You can shoot without filters, sure. In fact for a long time I completely stopped using filters, relying on bracketing and post-production. Indeed, there are situations when that method of shooting is preferable. However, forcing myself to use the filters for the purposes of this review has actually changed my attitude towards them a little. Sure, there will still be times when the filters will stay in the bag, but more often than not I find myself reaching for them these days. It’s just a bit more fulfilling getting the shot as right as you possibly can in camera before tweaking in post-production. I’ve been really impressed with the quality of the Kase filters, from their strength to their ease of use (once I got the workflow issue sorted). Kase’ support has also been exemplary.

There are other brands out there doing good things, so if you are in the market for a new filter or a new system entirely…then do shop around and try to work out what will work for you in the field, on a cold, blustery, miserable day. Have a think about your workflow. Is it the most efficient it can be? Make life easy for yourself, not harder. You make it harder, chances are you will miss the shot. Maybe the Kase system isn’t for you, that is for you to work out. In my ‘Kase’, they most certainly are.

Pro’s

Optical Clarity

No Colour Cast

Shatter resistant

Screw lock mechanism prevents the holder from accidentally ‘popping off’ like on a spring lock (like the Lee Holder)

Can be used with other 100mm systems

Con’s

A little more expensive compared to some rivals

Not a fan of the screw lock mechanism from a workflow perspective, c’est la vie…

100mm ND’s are hard to remove from the K-6 Holder (solved with the K-8 Holder or 150mm x 100mm version of the ND)

 

Some images shot with Kase Filters over the last 6 months

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What Caught My Eye – 2017

The photography community online is all a flutter at this time of year, photographers burrowing into their archives, looking for their favourite images they’ve taken during the year to share once again. It can be a useful exercise. More often than not we find images that we had forgotten we had taken or simply neglected to process, either entirely or most appropriately.

Viewing images with fresh eyes also reveals to us those that perhaps escaped our notice first time around. It’s generally acknowledged that we don’t always select nor process in the best way, the better images we might shoot on the day, and that often a break serves to allow us to be more objective and less emotional in how we handle our images.

Additionally over time our tastes can change and images we at first love soon lose their appeal, consigned to history in our own archives.  So, what we thought was great in January, by December is nothing more than…meh.

So, with that in mind here are…no, wait. I’ve been sharing a bunch of images over the last seven days in the run up to New Year that are some of my favourites during the last seven years since I first seriously delved into the realm of Digital Photography with my first DSLR. It’s been a nice reminder of where I was and where I am now, and how I got here.  What you don’t need is yet another reminder of images you’ve seen time and again, from me.

To me, special images are those that stick in the mind. An image might be technically perfect, it may possess great beauty, and the conditions may be extraordinary…but if I don’t keep randomly thinking about it, or worse, struggle to remember it after a few days or even hours, then, it isn’t a success…as far as I’m concerned.

I tend to remember other photographers by their work, a key piece here, or a project there. And so, when I look back on 2017 and I think of what has inspired me photographically throughout the year, I think of those photographers I follow on social media, and more importantly, which of their images I remember them for. As such, there is no need to keep a running commentary of images I’ve seen through the year, for those that stand out are foremost in my mind.

As in previous years, what follows are ten images that I keep coming back to from other photographers. No commentary here, I’ll let you make your own mind up about whether these are favourites of yours too, I’ll just let the images do the talking.

In no particular order…

Karl Mortimer  –  Dinorwic  –  www.karlmortimer.com

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Alex Nail  –  Mnweni Pinnacles (Drakensberg)  –  www.alexnail.com

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Scott Robertson  –  Glen Nevis  –  www.facebook.com/ScottRobertsonLandscapePhotography/

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Lizzie Shepherd  –  Ginkgo Shower (South Korea)  –  www.lizzieshepherd.com

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Darren Ciolli-Leach  –  Meander  –  darrenciollileach.com

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Greg Knowles  –  Castell Y Gwynt  –  www.facebook.com/naturallandscapephotographer/

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Mark Littlejohn  –  marklittlejohnphotography.com

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Stuart McGlennon  –  The Birds (The Isle of Skye)  –  lensdistrict.com

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Doug Chinnery  –  With the Wind in Your Face’  –  www.dougchinnery.com

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Mike Curry  –  Metallic Silk  –  www.mikecurryphotography.com

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And with that, may I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2018. I look forward to seeing many more of your inspiring images next year!

Photographing Winter in the Mountains – What is on my back?

I get requests all the time, over social media, the website and email, about what I carry in my rucksack, most notably in Winter. So, as is custom for these types of blog posts, of which there are many, below is a little photo of what I typically carry on a Mountain photoshoot now Winter has arrived. Description of items that I carry on my back below the photo.

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In the photo:

  • F-Stop Sukha Mountain Series Rucksack
  • Petzl Climbing Helmet (usually only used when scrambling or on steep ascents/descents)
  • Petzl Charlet Crampons
  • DMM Cirque Walking Axe
  • Outdoordesigns 2-person Bothy/Mountain Shelter
  • Lifesystems Adventurer First Aid Kit
  • Yaktrax Pro Ice Grippers – useful for when Crampons are unwieldy or unnecessary but traction is difficult
  • Extremities Winter Gauntlets
  • Vallerret Photography Gloves
  • Buff
  • ACR Electronics Light / Marker / Distress Beacon
  • Petzl Neo+ Headtorch
  • Berghaus Light Insulation Smock
  • Gustbuster Compact Umbrella
  • Map (always 1:25K OS Explorer)
  • Compass

Photo Equipment:

  • Gitzo GT2542 Mountaineer Carbon Fibre Tripod with 3″ Spikes
  • Arca Swiss P0 Hybrid Ball/Geared Head
  • Sony a7rII Full Frame Camera
  • Sony A7 720nm IR Converted Camera
  • Sony G 70-200 f/4 Lens
  • Zeiss Loxia 50mm Lens
  • Canon L 24mm TSE Lens with Metabones IV Adapter
  • Lee 100mm Filter System Holder with Heliopan 105mm Circular Polariser (Lee Holder with Kase Slot Adapters)
  • Kase K-100X Wolverine Master Filter Kit (Review coming soon)
  • Rocket Blower (useful for de-fogging lenses)
  • Spare Batteries
  • Matin Magic Cloth

Not Pictured:

  • Avalanche Probes and Shovel (if the snowpack is deep/unstable)
  • Ski Goggles – Essential for potential whiteout/blizzard conditions
  • Food (always carry more food than you think you’ll need)
  • Water and energy drink

 

Of course, what people carry in the mountains in Winter is personal choice, but this is typically the minimum I will carry on a day long adventure. Hope this answers the questions 🙂

There Are No Shortcuts

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence

– Ansel Adams

Before I start I should say this blog post does not contain any photographs, hopefully the words are clear enough.

I recently watched a very well known video blog (vlog) with some interest. I dip into these every now and again when I’m stuck for something to do. Often they are quite enjoyable and informative, most presented in a reasonably professional manner. This particular vlogger is quite clear that like many amateurs and recent professionals, no in fact all photographers,  he is on a journey. I hate the expression, ‘journey’, but it fits and I don’t have a better expression. He is learning, just like the rest of us. How we learn tends to be from making mistakes. That is as true for photography as it is for everything in life. The human race makes mistakes, often big ones. We learn from them, we reflect and refine, and we move on. As individuals and as a race. We get knocked down, we get back up, and we keep moving forward having learned to avoid what it was that knocked us down the last time, mostly.

However, the essence of this particular episode of the vlog was that mistakes, clear as day mistakes, were ok. In fact they enhanced the image. To a certain extent this can be true. Happy accidents occur. Spray and pray ‘can’ render us with something sublime. I emphasise ‘can’. More often than not it doesn’t. The vlog also went on to say that we should shoot for ourselves and not for others, which I agree with wholeheartedly. In the context of shooting for ourselves the mistakes that the vlog shared were ok. We all have images like this in our image libraries, somewhere. Usually with a ‘1 star’ against them.

In my case it tends to be a case of import, look through the images to the one that looked great on the back of the camera…and, oh bugger. “Should have used a faster shutter”. “Needed to use a wider/shallower depth of field”. “Damn, didn’t see that bird fly through the image”. “Gah! Should have wiped my lens”. “Crikey, didn’t see that ugly rock on the edge of the frame”. “Bugger, wasn’t Image Stabilisation on/off?”…or most commonly “What the hell was I thinking?”. I dare say the majority who read this have similar moments of exasperation. That is learning. Each one makes an imprint on our consciousness. Each one reinforces the basics. Each one creates a building block towards perfection. Not the perfect photograph and not the perfect photographer, but perfecting the oh so subjective image in the circumstance.

I began taking pictures in the natural world to be able to show people what I was experiencing when I climbed and explored in Yosemite in the High Sierra.”

– Galen Rowell

In this instance though, the vlog attempted to persuade us (a somewhat hungry audience), and thus inadvertently inhibit those building blocks, by suggesting that such mistakes make the image work. If all things were equal, if the exact same situation occurred, the photographer wouldn’t change anything. The photographer has stopped learning. I quote Galen Rowell above because I think this is what the vlog was attempting to say as justification for the mistakes. It was delivered in such a manner that the mistakes added ‘atmosphere’. The mistakes enhance the images in such a way that enabled the viewer to connect with the experience of being there. The smudges caused by water droplets, the missed focus giving a sense of the strength of the wind, the blurred subject matter emphasising the bumpy ride. There are images that give a sense of atmosphere and there are images that are mistakes. Rarely do the two meet.

If I have any message worth giving to a beginner it is that there are no short cuts in photography

– Edward Weston

Why does this all bother me? Why do I care? Frustration with my own progression perhaps? I had to ask myself these questions before I raised my hand, but raise my hand I have. I’m happy with my answer. The vlog in this instance is a disrupter in the market. Vlogs have ruffled the feathers of the ‘establishment’, for want of a better word. Vlogs have become influential. There are those that have embraced the change and those who are going to be left for dust. Vlogs have given a voice to those who until recently were in the wilderness. They are easily accessible, easy to digest, fun. No longer do we have to refer to books preaching ‘the rules’. Workshops are less relevant and now seen as decidedly expensive. Even the common as garden ‘traditional blog’, such as this one, is relegated to the ‘too much effort’ bin. To a certain extent I welcome it, when the content doesn’t dumb down the art. Ultimately though, Weston (quoted above) is right, there are no short cuts. Mistakes happen and they happen regularly. If every viewer of the vlog in question accepted the things said, verbatim, where do we end up? The mistakes no longer become mistakes. They become the norm for all who follow that narrative. They accept that they need not strive for something better. This I find most troubling. I’m not saying an image needs to be technically perfect, it does not by any stretch, but neither should we just satisfy ourselves with the low hanging fruit either.

A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed

– Ansel Adams

 

 

 

 

Competition or Conspiracy?

Competitions are funny things, they can bring out the very best in people and at times the very worst. That is the way of things really, there are always winners and losers and in between there are those just taking part trying their best. Conspiracies work along similar lines. There is the truth and those that know the truth, there are those that don’t know the truth and spin all sorts of theories, conspiracy or otherwise, and in between there are those just trying to fathom out what is real and what is not.

Earlier this week I had a brief but interesting interaction with someone on Twitter who didn’t believe man had landed on the Moon. He said he wasn’t alive back in 1969 and had no reason to believe the moon landings took place. There was no point trying to argue with him because there was nothing I could really say that would change his mind and similarly I don’t possess any evidence myself beyond articles on the internet or books written by believers and academics and of course the hours of video footage that exists. In this day and age, we are meant to ignore so called experts…apparently. However, I could see his point when I extrapolated the issue. The moon landings were nearly 50 years ago. Mankind has not stretched itself that far into space since, except with probes and rovers. Why should a young man believe these things took place years before he was born? As far as he was concerned the whole thing is a conspiracy. The best I could do was simply tell him to follow Buzz Aldrin on Twitter, the second man to walk on the moon. Perhaps hearing some ‘truths’ from the horses mouth might educate and inform. I left it there.

The other thing that happened on Twitter this week was people were told by Take a View, whether they had been shortlisted in Landscape Photographer of the Year 2017 or not. For the purposes of this blog I am going to assume you already know what this competition is. If you do not, then Google is your friend. Anyway, I was unsuccessful…again. In I think 6 years of trying I’ve managed to get in the book once, last year. Does this make me a bad Landscape Photographer? No it does not. Anyone else? No. Of course I have the small accolade of having won Outdoor Photographer of the Year a few years back to add credence to my belief. Others do not. But, in any case, it matters not.

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We all see the world differently and express what we see in different ways. We each (Landscape Photographers I mean) are at different stages of our development, some further along than others. We are all learning, even the seasoned pro’s. What may appear amateurish to some will have others gazing on with astonishment. A commercial competition that needs to appeal to a broad range of tastes and levels of photographers needs to encompass the full spectrum of talent, within reason. Let’s be clear, the final Landscape Photographer of the Year book does not represent the very best landscape photography out there at a given time. It can’t and I think neither does it try to. What it does do is provide us with an eclectic mix representative of tastes and fashions that are prevalent at the time and a number of winners, at least, that represent those that are at or near the top of their game at that given time.

The competition has always courted controversy, most notably in 2012 when the winner was subsequently disqualified for what was an, apparently, innocuous breach of the rules. Controversy in these circles, albeit unsavoury at times, leads to publicity, which is something the landscape photography community seemingly strives for incessantly. Each year we promise ourselves it will be different, each year ends up feeling like deja vu.

Last year I kept very quiet on the subject. One, because I was shortlisted myself, but two, because I was going through a period of just not being vocal about such things publicly. This year was a bit different and having taken a lot of time to refine my photography I felt I had put together at least some images that might be considered some of the best of their type, at least worthy of consideration in this prestigious competition. They didn’t get shortlisted. I broke my silence with a slow reveal of the images on Twitter. By the time I finished posting my 25 images, over about 5 hours, any misgivings I may have felt had ebbed away and I realised that what I was doing was showing some kind of solidarity with others who were in a similar position. I didn’t feel the need to complain and it gave me time to think about the competition more objectively. Like the guy who didn’t believe in the moon landings, I had no evidence to suggest wrong doing on the part of the judges nor any animosity they may have towards me personally. I just didn’t know, that was all. The way the competition is run, neither does anyone else. And this, this is what leads to conspiracy theories. Social Media has been awash with them. So, let’s be a little objective.

I should mention at this point that I’ve never judged a photography competition and in some respects I admire those that have. The closest I’ve come is sifting through hundreds of images on Photocrowd…which in itself is both frustrating and incredibly dull.

Our assumption is that there are circa 25,000 entries to the competition, I think that number has been mentioned in press releases and the media before, so is probably correct. We also know the final book has in the region of 150 images. So, 25,000 down to 150. All other figures are hearsay and thus meaningless. Whatever they may be, the chances of getting in the book are less than 1%. Those are not great odds.

So, from here on in everything else is an assumption.

I’ve heard that the judges, in the initial sorting, view each image for about 2 to 5 seconds. Again, hearsay. We don’t know how they view the images, in what order, and for how long. However, I think it is safe to say that even if that were true, that would have to be an average figure. Some images they may view intently. Others may able to be dismissed instantly. Any photographer worth his salt…no, anyone actually, can tell if they like an image instantly, within micro seconds probably. Much like we form a view on someone within 10 seconds of meeting them, our instinct is such that we assess the situation rapidly. If we like an image we will dwell on it and explore it, perhaps just looking for flaws, but if we simply don’t like it, we don’t like it and move on. So, the notion that some folk have that they’ve laboured over an image only for it to be dismissed in 2 seconds is perhaps both true but also inevitable. Labouring an image does not necessarily make it a great image to trained eyes.

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A lot is said of the judges in this case, and also the proprietor of the competition, which I think is a little unfair, well, very unfair actually. Their silence is deafening in some respects, but we can probably assume that they are contractually obliged not to weigh in to the various arguments that they can and do see raging online. Knowing some of the judges as I do and given their reputation in the industry, I don’t think for a minute they would partake in a competition such as this unless it was absolutely fair and unbiased. I can’t stress that point enough. Having said that, the decision by Take a View to keep the judging process itself completely confidential does nothing to allay the conspiracy theorists. I’ll admit that I’ve dwelled on the conspiracies myself, and at times added to them, and it is at this point I have to be true to myself and say again that these are nothing but hearsay. Other competitions are indeed more open about how they are judged, which I personally think is a good thing to some extent. To be critical of Take a View, the company, because they choose to keep the process secret is probably fair enough. However, to be critical of the judges and judging, any of them, is simply disrespectful.

Another thing that seems to be misunderstood is the speed of the process. This year the competition deadline was at midnight on 8th July. The competition had been open for entries since the 10th April. Yet still, many people left it to the last minute to enter. Whether you enter early or late possibly has no effect, but why risk that? What if the images are viewed in the order they are uploaded as has been suggested by some? Due to sheer volume your chances are perhaps higher if you are one of the first to upload vs those who are last. Shortlist emails went out on Thursday 20th July. A mere 12 days after the closing date. In that time, at the very least, the pre-judging panel have to make the widest number of selections. Whether the interim panel make the shortlist, or they are first to judge the shortlist after 20th July is another unknown. I suspect though the interim panel do their thing before 20th July too. Final judging takes place a couple of weeks thereafter. The process has to be this quick because of the book, the exhibition and preparation for the press releases and events, but especially the book, which needs to be designed and printed. A process that takes time…and secrecy. This all needs to take place before the reveal of the winner in October and probably to capture the Christmas market.

A quick note on that secrecy aspect. The competition I won, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, is concluded by the judges sending Steve Watkins, the head judge, their final choices separately after judging day. Only Steve and a select few people at Outdoor Photography magazine and the printers of the book, know the result. It’s essential the veil of secrecy is maintained. Given the commercial aspects of Take a View are perhaps even more crucial to the integrity of Landscape Photographer of the Year, then it’s quite probable that a similar process might take place at least. The judges themselves, with the exception of Head Judge, Charlie Waite, probably don’t need to know the outcome, that would just add to the risk that the great reveal will be blown.

Another factor that is perhaps controversial in some folks eyes is the notion that one can become Landscape Photographer of the year through a single image alone. It’s less Landscape Photographer of the Year and more Landscape Photograph of the Year. Many believe that the title should be awarded to a portfolio of images. It’s not hard to do. In Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year that is exactly what is done. Entrants who have 3 or more images shortlisted are put forward for the portfolio award and overall win, based on that set of 3 or more. I see no reason why that cannot happen in the Take a View competition…except that many people struggle to get 3 shortlisted in the first place. It is very rare and overall those that do are not necessarily representative of the best image. It’s a tough call and I am sure Take a View have their reasons for not pursuing this particular change. Perhaps it’s just a case that championing a single image has more impact commercially and in publicity terms?

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Finally, I just want to address an anomaly, or at least an apparent anomaly. Consistently we hear this message after shortlisting, “they didn’t choose my best image, rather the one I threw in at the last minute”. I think I’ve only heard one person say the opposite this year. This is one aspect that I do find perplexing and a bit of a shame, but is the reason why I again think the final results of this competition don’t represent the very best of UK Landscape Photography, rather an eclectic mix of tastes and fashions…which at the end of the day, is no bad thing.

Having said everything above, the competition continues to be a great showcase of talent across the country and it is very humbling that many of my peers believe that some of my work is good enough to be represented therein, in the final book. I hope others too, who have missed out this year, also reflect on this and take solace in it. The competition simply cannot be run in a way that pleases everybody. Not every sprinter who enters the Olympics can win, or even take part in, the 100m final. I just hope none of them cheat to do so. We are in some respects very lucky to have this competition in the first place. Few other competitions are so highly regarded, nationally or internationally, and certainly not with the sole focus being landscape. Given the amount of bile that gets spouted online about it it would be no surprise if Take a View simply closed the competition down…but they don’t, and I think overall we should be thankful that they don’t. I look forward to the results in October.

Oh, the guy who doesn’t believe man landed on the moon? He now follows Buzz Aldrin. Job done.

 

Iceland: The South Coast

It’s been an ‘interesting’ week for blogs. Lot’s of folks came out of their shells and drew lines in the sand. Friendships ended. Battlelines were formed. Bombs were dropped. There was more conflict on Twitter and Facebook than Trump could ever hope to have with DPRK (let’s hope that remains true). But, when all is said an done, we just do all of this for the love of photography, so that is what I’m going back to right now.

Back in February I took a trip with my wife to Iceland, to tour the South Coast along Route One. Possibly the most frequented route by photographers in the World right now. I’ve been to Iceland twice before, but never to the South Coast, to the honeypots. Was it a successful trip? Judge for yourself, I enjoyed it though. Was it expensive….oh by golly yes.

What follows are my pick of the photos from the trip. Some you’ve seen before on Social Media, some you haven’t, but all collated here. One or two are firm favourites, real keepers, others I have yet to make my mind up on. Anyway, I hope you enjoy.

Ice Caves

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Vik (and close by)

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Glaciers

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Jokulsarlon

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Stokksnes

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Random Places

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And finally, you can’t go to Iceland and not shoot Aurora…

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Equipment:

Sony a7rII

Sony 16-35 f/4

Sony 70-200 f/4

Zeiss Loxia 50 f/2

Canon 24 TSE II

Gitzo GT2542

Arca Swiss P0 Hybrid

Selection of Lee Filters

Standards…

Right, what follows is an unapologetic rant. I’ve just seen a comment on Social Media that effectively labels me, and others like me, as insecure and elitist. Let’s talk about some things that are perhaps wrong about the Landscape Photography scene, here in the UK, but this could apply elsewhere too.

Expressing a disdain for anything that isn’t following a trend is now apparently ‘elitist’ and somehow expresses ‘insecurity’. Three topics that are guaranteed to get my blood boiling are, Drones, Over-Saturation and Weekly Competitions on Social Media. Here I offer you my thoughts.

Drones

There was a recent discussion on this subject on Twitter, about how drone photography should not be lumped with more general landscape photography. My friend, Karl Mortimer furthered this with a blog which fleshed out his point of view that there is nothing wrong with drone photography and to counter it, another friend Russ Barnes, expressed his own reservations with another blog. All very good and I tend to agree with both of them to a certain extent.

My problem lies with two fundamental issues.

The first is obvious to me but is I suppose very subjective. It comes down to the technical quality of the image. Now, it doesn’t really matter what you shoot an image with; an iphone, a compact, a DSLR, Medium or Large Format, but clearly the technical quality of the image steps up as you progress up that chain, not least because of physics. Technically the cameras on (most) drones are no better than a compact camera (which we tend to shoot on automatic), though there is the scope for creative control. Another aspect to throw into the mix is flight time. Most drones are limited to about 15 minutes of flight time. That may sound like enough, but when I consider that when shooting from the ground and when I really want to get the absolute best out of a scene/composition, that is roughly how long I will take to set-up and shoot one image, maybe more if I am really refining. Therefore, already I know that a drone image must be rushed. Over time as drone and battery technology improves, then these hurdles will be overcome. I have no problem with that…in time. Right now though, I can’t look past the fact that a drone image can only be regarded as a ‘snap’ by the standards I follow. Yes, I have standards. That is not to be considered as also being ‘elitist’.

The second issue may require some imagination on your part. If I told you to wear a motorcycle helmet for a day (or 15 minutes), strap your phone to the visor so you could see nothing else, and wander off into woodland or upland to take a photo with nothing to guide your way other than the image on the screen of your phone…I wonder how many of you would return with a compelling image on that phone, and even if you do find a scene worth shooting, whether you’ll get the absolute best out of it like you might if you had your regular camera set-up and the freedom granted to you by your human eyes, your binocular and your peripheral vision. I think I can guarantee the answer would be none. Shooting with a drone is absolutely no different to this scenario. There is a disconnect between you and the real world…and this disconnect is evident in the images.

One question posed was how is drone photography any different to shooting handheld from a helicopter? I think the two issues I identify above answer that question.

Now, what I can appreciate is that technology is advancing and maybe in time the disconnect can be overcome, but right now that is not the case. Have I seen great images from drones? Yes, I have. Who can’t fail to be impressed with a Bird’s Eye View, it’s not something we are familiar with. I’d even go as far as to applaud some of those images. Would I therefore say that drone photography should be considered in the same context as ‘traditional’ landscape photography? No, the artistry is still missing.

Over-Saturation

This gets folks blood boiling more than anything I think. If you want to go ahead and create imagery that is a falsity then that is fine, off you trot to the digital art world. Personally I really enjoy digital art. What I don’t enjoy is digital art disguised as photography. This is part of the thinking of Charlie Waite who says “Don’t rely on post-production”. I’ve seen him say this time again, and it’s true, the eye and the brain do indeed form an “amazing double act” and that the “…moment someone feels unsettled by a colour you pumped up on the computer then the relationship between viewer and the image is broken and it can never be retrieved”. If the colour is true, albeit somewhat ‘un-worldly’ and as such you are apprehensive about releasing it to an unsuspecting public, then don’t get all upset in the next breath when someone questions it…publicly. This has nothing to do with elitism, it’s simply questioning the reality of the image.

When I take a photo and release it, my ‘standard’  is to ensure that the image appears real. Sure, I post-process, as do most people. The end product though, to my mind, has to be believable. If it doesn’t then what I am presenting, in my opinion, is digital art. I’ve made mistakes along the way as does everyone, but these days I do try to maintain a standard. If in the eyes of someone else, especially if that someone has proven themselves to have standards, I haven’t lived up to my own standard, then I think I’m big enough and ugly enough to be told, unsolicited or not. There is no insecurity here, I can assure you.

So, over-saturation by it’s very definition, is the presentation of a falsity. Does it make the image more aesthetically pleasing? To some people, no doubt, that comes down to subjectivity. Is it a cop-out to make up for other deficiencies in the image? Almost certainly, otherwise why over-saturate? Unless, of course, you are in the business of producing digital art, or deception was your intent. It’s a line I am not willing to cross, that is my standard. If your standards are different, then go ahead. The fact we probably don’t agree on this has nothing to do with elitism, we just have different standards.

Weekly Competitions

These are fun, yes? Yes, they are fun. It’s at this point I remind you that I used to take part, at least in the main one, WexMondays. In it’s infancy it was indeed fun. In it’s second year I decided to take part to see what all the fuss was about. For about 8 weeks I was going out every week to take a photo to put into the competition. I had a good start and I was leading the competition. I then stopped. “You quit whilst you were ahead, you coward” I hear you cry. No. What actually happened was I realised my whole approach to photography was changing due to the competition. I felt pressured to get out, even when I didn’t want to. It caused stress and anxiety…two fundamental chemical reactions in the brain that do not aid creativity. Look it up, there are numerous articles on the web that evidence this. I’m very much a reactive rather than a proactive photographer. I don’t go out ‘come what may’ generally. I have to feel like I’m in the mood and I have to feel some degree of certainty that the effort will be worth it…mainly influenced by environment and conditions. This is generally why I don’t shoot close to home, I don’t feel the environment where I live is conducive to the type of landscape photography I enjoy. WexMondays was forcing me to do something I was uncomfortable with.

Now, I’m possibly an exception rather than the rule, but I detect other photographers also struggle in a similar vein, but they push themselves because they ‘need an image for Monday’. I don’t think that is healthy nor do I think those photographers are able to concentrate on getting the very best out of their creative selves. That is a personal view of course, but many times I look at entries by some people and I really think they should have done better. I know they are easily capable of better. They have the skills, they have the vision, they generally have the experience. But they didn’t do better. But, they get shortlisted, or they win. And, suddenly, their best isn’t needed anymore. They can get away with something sub-standard. How many times have I seen the lines “Got nothing else, just chucking this in…” or “It was my best from a bad week”? Really? REALLY??? Ok, then, carry on, you’ve clearly lowered your standards when you should be raising them.

That is the fundamental problem I have with these competitions, not the controversy when a photo of a mushroom beats an image of the most incredible sunset your eyes ever did see, or whatever. I really couldn’t care less for that…photography is subjective afterall. Rather, I am against them because I think, in general, they lower the standards rather than raise them.


A final word…

The issues highlighted above have nothing to do with elitism. Sure, I have a preference for a type of photography which some might think is narrow minded. To me, I’m just refining and concentrating on an aspect to get the absolute best out of it. That does not stop me appreciating other types of photography, other genres of landscape photography and other ‘takes’ on those genres. No, this is about standards in a world that is fast losing them. Love the drones, push out the retina burning mountainsides, adorn your images with Monday hashtags, do whatever you want, we are on different journeys you and I…but don’t call me elitist, I have standards.

Embracing the Bluebirds

There was a time, not so long ago, that I thought a good photograph was one adorning one of those postcard stands at well known tourist hotspots. You know the ones, those in bright sunshine in the middle of summer with gorgeous blue sky and white puffy clouds. Those scenes that make us want to bare our white pasty legs in shorts and feast on ice cream. We tend to buy those postcards on days when the weather is anything but that depicted. Typically cold, wet and very miserable. Good old British weather. Our experience of the tourist attraction being somewhat different to the lie we post to our loved ones.

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As my interest in photography developed, my attitude towards these scenes changed, it does for most landscape photographers, as we seek out subtlety in the landscape, drama, or the unusual. In fact the theme of my book, Mountainscape, was essentially meant to be images that were not typical mountain fayre. I’ve spent the last four or five years hunting down light on the edge, the edge of the weather, as the frontal system clears the mountain tops, as the sun breaks through the cloud canopy. I’ve hunted, and failed, on many occasions. Persistence pays off, but even so, restrictions around work mean I miss many opportunities that I clearly see in the many forecast models I follow. I’m not the type of person who sacks off work with a sudden ‘sickness’ to run to the hills when the weather looks spot on. More fool me probably.

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So, roll on into 2017 and with two trips almost back to back to Torridon and then Iceland, two locations known for their changeable weather, my excitement levels were off the scale. Both feature mountainous terrain, both get battered by storms, both receive their fair share of drama. There are T-shirts in Iceland with the motif “If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, wait 5 minutes”. Perfect.

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So, how come, with the exception of two days, the weather in both locations ended up being dominated by high pressure and almost endless blue skies? Damn you Jet Stream, damn you!

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It’s at this point that you need to reset your expectations, something I struggled with in Torridon and came to accept more a couple of weeks later in Iceland. You see, when I was a little down about it in Torridon, one of the guys I was with reminded me that David Ward, someone whom I consider to be the very best out there, makes a high percentage of his images on blue sky days. Indeed, one of my own favourite images from Snowdonia over the last year was shot under clear blue skies. It’s on these days that many landscape photographers just go home, and they are wrong to do so, as I was so kindly reminded.

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We tend to get so obsessed with the need for the ‘wide view’ to convey some dramatic shaft of light. Or that we can only shoot a scene with little to no detail in the sky if we eliminate it entirely. We forget that blue skies offer us an abundance of light and a guaranteed golden hour. We don’t even have to fall back on the old “if it’s shite make it black & white” school of thought, though admittedly, sometimes the light can be so harsh then that is the only option. No, the skill comes in how we use the light, where we search for shadow, how we embrace the richness of colour it can bring. Whether we need to seek out the shadows or wander about in direct light, subject and composition are absolutely key.

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Now, don’t get me wrong, you’ll struggle to make a compelling image at midday with the camera horizontal and set at 16mm in those conditions, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. This is exactly what I faced in Torridon and even more so in Iceland.

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2016 Episode 2 – A Year of Downs and Ups

To counterbalance my earlier blog of Ups and Downs which was very much an exercise in self indulgence and back-slapping (I’m a contortionist, didn’t you know?), I’ve also put together a list of images by other photographers that made me stop and take notice in 2016. Why Downs and Ups? These images both depress me for how good they are and inspire me in equal measure.

These are images that stick in my mind and are typically more than just a point and shoot exercise that I see so much of every day, you know, great light and not much else. Alternatively they may be ICM images that have really captured my imagination or even just the most beautiful of abstracts. Either way, they stand out, at least to me. For the most part, I wish I had taken them, or at least was capable of taking them.

So, in no particular order:


Roj Whitelock – ‘Force of Nature’

WexMondays is a curious beast. It’s a competition which I don’t really agree with. Some see it as a bit of fun, and it is, but it is also a promotion exercise for the retailer. I understand that, there is nothing wrong with it. Doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. As such I don’t go out of my way to promote it and that includes liking and re-tweeting entries week in week out. Of course, that also means I see plenty of images on my Twitter feed that I think are great, but my own (ethical or moral?) position means I can’t engage on them. When something really stands out to me, like this image by Roj or the next by Tony, then I’ll contact the photographer directly and privately to provide some feedback or simply gush at how great I think their image is. I was amazed Roj’s delicate but simple image of a shell and an incoming wave catching the golden light didn’t win the week it was entered. Outrageous.

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www.rojwhitelock.co.uk


 

Tony Sellen – ‘Equaliser’

Tony joined me on one of my workshops back in November, I guess just to experience a new type of shooting environment because he already clearly knew what he was doing with his camera. Known mostly for long exposure black and white photography, this image epitomises Tony’s style. It blew me away when he posted it late in December. Almost ruined my Christmas, I was that jealous.

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www.londonfineartphotography.co.uk


 

‘Overlooking Castle Crag’ – Joe White

Joe is very much ‘one to watch’ in 2017 in my very honest opinion. This image of a tree in the wind overlooking Castle Crag is not Joe’s usual style. It was his panorama’s that first caught my eye and are amongst the best out there. However, it was this image from the Lake District that really stopped me in my tracks. Beautiful light, fabulous composition of what is a very complex scene and some  good processing (though I do think the top is maybe a little bit overcooked), combine to deliver a breathtaking shot.

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Joe’s Flickr


 

‘Forgotten’ – Karl Mortimer

Ok, hands up, I’ve got to know Karl very well over the last year and we have met up several times for trips to North Yorkshire, the Lake District and Snowdonia, amongst others. It’s therefore no surprise that I’ve also become quite familiar with his work over that time. Karl isn’t your typical conventional landscape photographer, at least he is trying very hard not to be (he can turn out a conventional landscape as well as anyone if he needs to).  I think by his own admission, he continues to try to learn from the very best there is, having joined workshops with David Ward, Joe Cornish, Eddie Ephraums, Paul Wakefield and John Blakemore in the last 12 months alone. However, that learning process is helping him to develop into his own photographer, one that doesn’t follow the rules, so to speak. Which is all very interesting considering this image, taken on a ‘colour’ workshop, won Judge’s Choice (Jasmine Teer) in this years Landscape Photographer of the Year.

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www.karlmortimer.com


 

ICM over Loch Morlich – Doug Chinnery

Doug is full of surprises. If he’s not pushing out incredibly vivid still life, he’s writing articles about clouds, shooting abstracts with a smartphone, or in this case, creating beautifully evocative ICM images of my favourite subject. He may not readily shoot mountains from their peaks but here it doesn’t matter. ICM Mountain photography is something I’ve thought about dabbling with for a very long time, and if I do, I don’t think I’ll be sharing any unless it is of a similar standard to this. Sublime.

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www.dougchinnery.com


 

‘The Spokesman’ – Mark Littlejohn

Mark needs very little, if no introduction. Over the last 12 months he’s really become ‘tree man’ if he isn’t taking photos of his two lovable rogues, Barney and Red (Boxer puppies). After the sudden loss of his long term four legged pal, Harvey, earlier in the year and the arrival of the new pups, I think the change that this forced on Mark though very sad at it’s root (no pun intended) was a good one in terms of him being able to concentrate, albeit passively at times, on a single subject. I’m looking forward in 2017 to his pledge to head into the hills more, but for me, in a year when I took a bit of a ribbing about trees on Twitter, the fact that 5 out of these 10 images include trees, says something about how evocative a subject matter they can be. It is this image though, that really stands out in my mind in a conventional landscape sense (well, conventional as far as the subject matter anyway). The hoare frost is to die for.

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markljphotography.co.uk


 

Vestrahorn – David Ward

2016 included a critical turning point for me. For quite a while in 2014 and 2015 I was unhappy with the type of images I was making, essentially grand vistas. Don’t get me wrong, I love a grand vista like most folks do, however they tend to lack a vital element. For want of a better term, they lack ‘connection with the landscape’. This is something that I don’t think anyone, anywhere, has mastered as well as David Ward. I’ve been a great admirer of David’s work for several years and although I had already started the transition process to shooting almost exclusively in portrait, it was on seeing this image, from David back at the start of the year, that solidified that determination. Vestrahorn is fast becoming the most photographed mountain (if you can call it that) in Iceland, but by and large, all images tend to be very similar. This was the first time I’d seen an interpretation in this manner. I’ve not seen anything better since.

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www.into-the-light.com


 

Untitled Image – Claire Zaffin

Claire Zaffin (McConnell and/or Norman, depending on the day and which country she is currently ‘activated’ in…) is a relative newcomer to photography and although she prefers to shoot ‘street’, she can turn her hand to a fine landscape. As with any photographer who is learning the craft, myself included, she still has things to learn, but this image, that was shortlisted in Outdoor Photographer of the Year, really grabbed me like few others did during the year. I don’t know if it’s the subtle combination of Landscape and Wildlife genres that I love or something else, but what I do know is that it’s an image that instantly springs to mind whenever I see her name appear on my Facebook or Twitter feed.

P.S. She’s not really a spy, she got married on the last day of the year. Congratulations again 😉

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www.greeneyedlens.com


 

‘Where New Worlds Are Born’ (Ephemeral Pools) – Matt Botwood

Many photographers can shoot a cohesive project. Few photographers can shoot a cohesive project that consistently delivers the goods. Fewer photographers still, can shoot a cohesive project that consistently delivers the goods and constantly evolves at the same time. There is only one photographer I know that can do all of the above and still blow my mind (and my quite warped imagination) with images like this. Matt Botwood.

It would be unfair for me to isolate a single image from Matt’s Ephemeral Pools project, or even a series of images from that project. However, life isn’t fair, so I will. Sometime around Autumn, Matt pushed out a small series of images from the project that for all intents and purposes could have been photos of celestial bodies on the other side of our Milky-Way. Mind. Instantly. Blown. Reminder, this is an image taken in Wales.

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www.mattbotwood.com


 

‘Westwick Woods’ – Matthew Dartford

You’ve seen Predator, right? Remember Blain, that “Sexual Tyrannosaur” played by Jesse Venturer…the dude with the big Gatling Gun that can flatten a forest in under a minute? Well, that isn’t Matt, sadly. However, place a camera in Matt’s hands and he uses it like Blain does his big gun. It’s incredible to witness, a real ‘duck and cover’ event. I imagine if you placed Matt on Jokulsarlon beach with the 100 or so other photographers who are bound to also be shooting there, it’d look like the D-Day landing scene in Saving Private Ryan, only Matt in his machine gun nest, sorry, standing behind his tripod, would win. Carnage.

However, there is method in his madness, together with more than an ounce of sheer photographic talent. Matt is yet to really settle into any type of ‘Photographer Mould’. He’s a bit of a jack of all trades in terms of style too. But, boy oh boy, he can produce some gorgeous imagery, including this one, which remains a firm favourite of mine almost 12 months after I first saw it.

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Matt’s Flickr


So, there you go. Ten very different photographs from ten very different photographers.

It wouldn’t be fair for me to post this without mentioning other photographers who didn’t quite make the list but whose work I have admired over the last year, any one of which is capable of making me stop and look on in astonishment and wonder. I’ve enjoyed images from the likes of Lee Acaster, Neil Burnell, Lizzie Shepherd, Richard Thomas, Russ Barnes, Darren Ciolli-Leach, Jon Gibbs, Carolyne Barber, Scott Robertson, Richard Fox, Andrew Yu, Colin Bell, Pete Hyde, Rachael Talibart, Nick Livesey, Alex Nail, Dylan Nardini, David Queenan, and Chaitanye Deshpande to name but a few.

I look forward to seeing what this year brings from everyone. Have a great 2017 folks!