Release the Pressure

If you were a student in the 90s you will no doubt remember Leftfield’s seminal reggae fusion EDM track, “Release the Pressure”, the first verse of which goes:

I’ve got to stand and fight in this creation
Vanity I know can’t guide I alone
I’m searching to find a love that lasts all time
I’ve just got to find peace and unity

It’s no surprise then that this was playing in the car whilst I was sitting watching the pouring rain in near zero visibility at the Quiraing on Skye at Easter.

Those on social media may have seen my tweets that weekend, all a mix of humour but the main theme being the poor weather on Skye. Some folks may see that as unfortunate whilst others may joke or even marvel at the apparent lack of expert knowledge of the weather and the Island. All landscape photographers are amateur meteorologists and geographers you see, or at least we like to think we are. Thing is, it would all be true if I described myself as a ‘fair weather photographer’, but as I do not then I should cut myself some slack. Truth is I (and others like me I guess) choose to put myself in situations where the weather is frankly appalling because it’s at the edge of this (and sometimes right in the middle) that the most compelling images can be realised. Transitions all too often happen so quickly, it’s blink and you miss it. What was a great shot once, isn’t any longer by the time you set your camera up. So, I’m often to be found under a dark cloud, often not getting the shot I envisage. Although on occasion…

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Shooting under these conditions relies on a huge amount of luck, for that cloud to break at the right moment, and unfortunately that is what has been lacking for quite some time. Not only have the clouds not broken it seems, they’ve got heavier and heavier. On the whole it’s been a dismal winter.

Some good things have come out of that though, I started my little project, SlateForms…

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That has been a complete departure from the type of landscape photography I most indulge in. I’ve also had to think less about the wider view and concentrate more on the details. I’ve almost abandoned photographing in landscape orientation, preferring portrait to really add power to the composition. I’m finding that orientation compelling. In fact I went back through my catalogue and I’d say that of all the images I have taken over the last 2 years, I could have improved about 25% of them by cropping tighter and shooting in portrait. I’ve also come to love a 4×5 ratio too. Virtually everything I’m shooting now is in this ratio or 1×1, unless I’m doing big panoramas. In fact that combo will do very nicely for the future I think.

So, here I was on Skye, sitting in the rain, in my car, really not fancying getting out. This lasted for two whole days. It wasn’t until the third day that I got my camera out. You don’t need great light to make a compelling photograph, great composition does that. Light helps of course, but for those first two days there wasn’t any. I ‘saw’ lots of potential, but even with what might have been excellent composition, many of the things I was seeing really needed that little extra, that light, at least I thought. This was it, all of this was the pressure.

Iceland: End of Time

Ever since winning OPOTY last year I’ve felt a need to justify it. Although I had to work physically for that winning image (above) and in the end I was the one that composed it, pressed the shutter and processed the image to realise a vision, I wasn’t there off my own back. That was down to Alex Nail who put in the hard work of researching places that ‘might’ under the right circumstances, lend themselves to something epic. We all got a little lucky on that day and it paid off, not least of all for me. Gradually over time I’ve been piling pressure on myself to improve my vision. First of all it was to try to equal, if not beat, the epic nature of the OPOTY image. In some way I think I’ve managed to produce a few images in that time that hold their own from an ‘epic’ feeling standpoint, be they Vertical Limit, The Reckoning, Vertigo, Falling Skies, or one or two others;

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and second of all I started to think about taking shots like that to the next level, to make them mean something more or at least add more context by nailing decent fore and mid-ground composition rather than relying on the vista to do the work, considering the whole of the landscape before me and how each component interacts with the others.

When I visited Vietnam a couple of months ago we visited the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, it was an interesting experience in many ways, but one of the things that struck me was the exhibition detailing the stories of the various war photographers, on both the US and the North Vietnamese sides. One North Vietnamese photographer, Tram Am, was given one roll of film, just 70 frames, for use during the entire war. Just think about that for a moment. In our throwaway society, where memory costs less and less with each passing day, and even for those who might still shoot on film, how many images are just ‘throwaway’? Imagine only being able to take one photo a month? That is effectively what this guy had to play with. You see something incredible unfolding, it’s war after all, and before you press the shutter, you have to stop and think “is this it, is this THE moment?”. Ignoring the obvious horrors for just a second, I simply can’t imagine what that was like from a photographic standpoint.

So, this pressure I talk of has been there for some time and now that I am no longer OPOTY I feel it’s time for a change of pace. Enough is enough. What I was feeling was preventing me from just being creative in Skye, even in the face of the bad weather. I need to release the pressure. Some people in this situation simply put their camera down for a while and walk away. Others choose to refocus on other genres or simply absorb themselves in their main line of work. These days some take a break from social media, it has after-all invaded almost every facet of our daily lives. Given that social media has played such an important part in my photographic development, I can’t simply just walk away. What I can do however, is stop sharing my work to it. That means all online channels; Twitter, this Blog, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and even Behance, anything online essentially. So, that is what I’ve decided to try to do for the next six months. There is an abundance of over-sharing on these sites, I’m equally guilty of this of course, but it does seem that many people, amateur and professional alike, share their images for sharing sake at times. There is an un-talked about competition to get your images out there and get them out there before everyone else. I think this dilutes the quality on occasion and even those whose work I deeply respect and admire hit the odd bum note. Of course, there is actually nothing wrong with it, you guys go ahead. For me however, it’s all part of the pressure I referred to above.

Anyway, I’ll still interact on these sites, talk about photography, write the odd blog. I may even post some old photos again if the conversation goes that way. However, any new work will have to wait, I’m off to find my peace and unity and in the process hopefully start improving the imagery I produce, without feeling the need to post an image (other than iphone holiday snap type things of course), to Twitter, or Facebook or wherever. I want to really study the scenes before me and question them before I’ve even pressed the shutter, really ensure I can’t improve upon the image before I finalise the process, in a similar way Tram Am may have had to do. In fact I’ve already started…

Oh…But before I do have this little break, one last image, this one from Skye (well I guess I need to show I didn’t spend 4 days up there for nothing!), and not my usual fayre either. It may be complete rubbish, but I like it. Simply entitled…

“Alien”

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Snowdonia Winter Workshop

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I expect most who read this will know I’ve been visiting Snowdonia a lot over the last few months. The reason for that is both deliberate and accidental. I had a plan this Winter to start a new project after Mountainscape, a kind of Mountainscape 2.0. This Winter was supposed to be spent capturing images for that in both Snowdonia and the Lake District, moving on to Scotland in the Spring and over the next Winter. Of course I was also running a couple of workshops too, but the essence of this Winter was on development, as a photographer.

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When Autumn finally arrived it brought some weeks of very fine weather to Snowdonia, indeed the rest of the country too. I then ran my first workshop, which you can read about here. Needless to say once the bad weather arrived it never really left. I believe that by mid-January, Capel-Curig had had 60 continuous days of wet weather. Incredible. The storms of course badly affected the Lake District, and although not closed for business, one trip there was cancelled as a direct result and another was re-located to Snowdonia because of the threat of a storm. Any really cold and calm snaps seemed to happen during the week, followed by  a milder and wetter interlude arriving on Thursday/Friday providing yet another wet weekend. Some folks have managed to be flexible and have been lucky with the breaks, not me it seems, not really. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Tiresome.

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It was a great relief therefore a few weeks ago when my Snowdonian Winter Workshop finally landed some good fortune, even if it wasn’t particularly wintery. Both the Saturday and the Sunday remained largely dry. On Saturday the weather was mainly cloudy, but it was dry. We started the day at Llyn Y Dywarchen where there is a boathouse, some fine trees and some ruins, in addition to a small hill from which the views can be incredible. A thin layer of high cloud ensured that Golden Hour never got golden but there were one or two moments of good light. After some breakfast at the Moel Siabod Cafe, we explored a small section of the hillside down Pen Y Pass before making our way to Dinorwic Quarry to explore the mid and upper sections. I’ve gradually fallen in love with the place and it’s becoming my ‘go to’ place on cloudy and miserable days. The weather wasn’t going to improve and there was little point ascending anything for sunset, so we decided to call it a day, stopping briefly at the waterfalls at Llyn Ogwen which were flowing quite nicely thanks to meltwater from the snow high up.

Some images from various quarries in the area from previous visits…

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The following day was forecast to be much better. Sunrise wasn’t really going to happen, but we still made the effort just in case, spending a couple of hours at Llyn Llydaw in the shadow of Snowdon, my clients exploring the lake edge and some of the landscape higher up. After another hearty breakfast, we went to explore Cwm Idwal, ascending through Tin Can Gully into the huge amphitheatre. The cloud was really moving now with patches of bright blue sky. We walked anti-clockwise around Llyn Idwal having left our tripods in the car. This session was about shooting handheld and shooting quickly as we moved rapidly around the lake.

After finishing at Cwm Idwal and grabbing a quick pastry from the onsite cafe, we made a beeline for our sunset target. Our late afternoon ascent of Cnicht was glorious in many ways, and we were treated to an uninterrupted view of sunset. However, as so often happens it ended up being a ‘dirty’ sunset, i.e. no strong light, just a steady drop off into the haze…and then a reasonably long torchlit descent in the dark. All in all we covered something like 17.5 miles on the Sunday, culminating in a dash for the pub for dinner after saying goodbye to some very satisfied clients.

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This was the first of my three Snowdonia workshops this year. The second is now sold out and takes place in just over a week. The next is in October, is being run jointly with Lee Acaster and includes some excellent accommodation. In October I am also running a workshop in The Lake District. Both of these October workshops still have spaces. I’m also running four more one-day photowalks in the Peak District throughout the year, the next is in May. If you are interested then please take a look under ‘Workshops’ on my Website and get in touch.

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

Vallerret Photography Gloves

I’m not big at reviewing things, in fact this is the first blog review I’ve done, so I apologise for the photos, they were done in a bit of a rush on the iPhone.

As a landscape photographer, especially a Mountain photographer, one of the biggest challenges is handling expensive photographic equipment in freezing temperatures and being able to fiddle with small and often recessed buttons. Often it’s a case of taking the gloves fully off which means within a minute or two you’ve lost all circulation due to the cold.

As somebody who started off hillwalking way before I started photography, I’ve had numerous types of gloves over the years and I’ve certainly learned that one type does not suit all conditions. Below are my current selection:

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They are made up a mitts that I generally carry as a back up pair in winter, gauntlets for proper winter conditions (for use with Ice Axe), Sealskinz for wet but generally mild conditions, Winter “I’m not going up a mountain but might throw a snowball” gloves, convertible fleece mitts (my current immediate choice for photography), thin softshell gloves (for photography at higher altitude), Full leather Hestra gloves for full winter but no Ice Axe required…the list goes on.

Despite all of these gloves, I’ve never been content with any of them for photography, they just didn’t work well enough high in the mountains from December to March, always being a compromise. So, I’ve been on the lookout for the ‘ultimate’ glove.

Enter stage right, the Vallerret Photography Gloves. I came across these in the later half of 2015, they were a kickstart project and I immediately saw their potential. Sadly the design and manufacturing schedule meant they wouldn’t drop on our doormats until winter was almost over, but they’ll be ready to go when the snows hit next winter!

With a price of about £45 on Kickstarter, they were a little on the pricey side, but if they keep my hands warm and allow me to keep shooting, then they are worth every penny. Designed by the Swedish pair Stine Lyng Jørgensen and Carl van den Boom who know a bit about shooting in cold climates, the gloves main features are:

  • Flip finger caps for your forefinger and thumb on both gloves.
  • 100% Merino Wool liner, keeping your hands warm and comfortable
  • Non-slip grip (in white or black)
  • Microfibre wipe (so you can wipe your lens if you can’t find your usual microfibre cloth)
  • Memory Card pocket (with zip closure)
  • Wind and Water resistant

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They come in 4 sizes, S, M, L and XL. I chose M (using their sizing chart) and I have to say the size is very good. They are snug but very easy to slide on. The only thing (which you can probably tell from the photos) is the thumb is a little long. I don’t think I have a stubby thumb by any stretch, but in any case, I think this is a minor issue and it doesn’t affect use.

I’m not sure I’d use the pocket for an SD Card, if I was to use it for something like that then a spare battery would be better…and hey, guess what, I can fit either a spare Sony NP-FW50 in there or a Fuji NP-W126. Awesome, keep that spare nice and warm ready for use. It does look and feel a bit weird though if you do that. I doubt you’d get a large Canon or Nikon DSLR battery in there though.

In use they seem very good. I’ve not used them on a mountain yet, but they feel warm and I have enough dexterity to confidently handle my camera. The flip finger caps work well allowing me to operate the more fiddly features on the camera and quickly return my finger-tip into the cosy warmth of the glove. A possible small downside is the opening for the flip top leaves a little gap when in full glove mode, possibly allowing a little cool air in. I’m not sure this will be a problem, but I’ll only know through extended use. I’ve also tried these with my Gauntlets and/or my Down-mitts and being relatively thin, they slip into those without issue, I can use these as liners for those gloves when the going gets tough, and still be able to operate my camera in relative warmth by removing the Gauntlet/Mitt to use the Vallerret glove with the camera.

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Possibly they may get refined over time, but initial impression is that these are a quality glove that most certainly “Extend Your Session” as the tagline goes.

Great job Vallerret!

13/04/2016 UPDATE:

Ok, so I got to test these gloves out properly over last weekend. On the Saturday morning I went to my favourite quarry in Snowdonia to add some more images to my SlateForms project. When I arrived it started to rain which then turned into heavy wet snow. The Gloves didn’t perform so well. The palm, albeit very grippy is not at all water resistant. Any hint of moisture soaks straight through. This isn’t too much of a problem because of the merino wool lining, so my hands didn’t get cold, just uncomfortably wet. In use the gloves are very flexible and you’ll have noted in my earlier review above, that the thumb was a little long. Well, in use the forefinger kind of rides up too. What this means is that the finger caps end up parting, exposing your finger tips if you aren’t careful. A better design would have been to make an overlap between the finger cap and the main glove. It wasn’t too cold so I removed the gloves and continued the shoot without them. Additionally, the microfibre wipe is next to useless in wet conditions, it wetted out within seconds of the gloves being used.

In the afternoon I hiked up onto the Glyderau for an overnight wildcamp. The hike up was boggy and I slipped and fell over several times. The skies were clear but the ground was wet and again the gloves soaked through instantly. That palm really does need some waterproof reinforcement. However, as dusk approached the conditions changed. The temperature dropped dramatically. Overnight I put the damp gloves in my sleeping bag to dry out. Come the morning it was incredibly cold. The tripod (which I’d left out) was covered in frost and ice, it had snowed a little and my boots were frozen solid. However, the Gloves, performed flawlessly. They remained warm and crucially dry in the much colder drier conditions. I was able to work without hindrance from the gloves, holding the frozen tripod and operating it without issue. Handling of the camera was very good. I didn’t bother trying to use the microfiber wipe though. The finger caps stayed were they should and I flipped them on and off as needed.

In conclusion then, these really are winter gloves in the sense that they are great in cold and dry conditions. As soon as they get moist from external factors their usefulness deteriorates rapidly. Of course, they’ll still remain warm, but in those conditions I’d prefer to use something more resistant to the wet.

I’d still recommend them, but think carefully about what conditions you are likely to use these in before you choose to buy.

To Ski To Photograph

Any photographer who has ever had a passing interest in the mountains and who has also had the fortune to go skiing must have marvelled at the stark beauty around them so high up. They probably also noticed just how cluttered and busy the mountains are in winter around a ski resort. Seriously, there is stuff everywhere that just loves to ruin your photo’s, including, but not limited to; Ski lifts, Cable Cars, People, Mountain Restaurants, Piste Signs, Piste Markers, Pistes(!), Piste Bashers, Snow Cannon, Ski/Snowboard Tracks, everywhere you look there is something in the way, it’s a mess….but it’s a wonderful mess. I love to Ski.

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In March 2016 I took my third skiing holiday since I’ve been taking Photography seriously. The first to Austria was ruined photographically when I slipped on some ice on the way to the cable car and I fell on my rucksack smashing my 70-200 lens. The second to Andorra last year was a mixed bag. A few poor days with near zero visibility, and a few very warm  blue sky days that melted the snow quickly. Photographically I just couldn’t get it to work. This year we went to Les Menuires which forms part of the 3 Valleys network of resorts in France. With over 600km of piste to pick from it’s a winter sports enthusiasts delight.

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France has had some good snow over the winter and so when we arrived the slopes were in perfect condition.

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The second day there it snowed for about 24 hours and then the remaining time it was very cold (-18C at night) but with blue sky days. The perfect combination for great skiing and surprisingly great conditions for photography.

Greg_Whitton_Photography_Travel_Web_2016-38Even with 600km of pistes and the odd queue for lifts lasting up to half an hour, I managed to ski further than I have done previously, and it was relatively easy to find interesting subject matter for photos that wasn’t compromised too much by distracting elements.

Greg_Whitton_Photography_Travel_Web_2016-53All in all a great trip and a resort I would highly recommend to anyone.

For more pics take a look at my Behance collection at Ski Alpine

Thank you.