My Mistake

A well known landscape photographer once told me to “never admit your mistakes or pick fault with your photographs in public”, and to a point I can see his, err, point. Social Media is absolutely flooded with images daily and with so many photographers pushing out quality work it can seem at times, at least to anyone with even a hint of a confidence issue, that we are flogging a dead horse with regards to our own images, especially when our misses, rather than hits, run into several hundreds or thousands. I could name a number of photographers out there whose work I greatly admire and who can never seem to do any wrong. Virtually everything they publish online or in books is an astonishing artwork.

Seeing these images roll off a never ending high quality production line can both inspire and depress in equal measure. It’s easy to get disheartened when learning for we aspire to be able to create something equal or better and we generally fail or achieve only moderate success at each turn. But we improve. Slowly. Gradually. Along the way we fall over many times and with each fall comes experience and we move a little closer to our goal. I always like to think about a line from a film, Rocky Balboa…I know, I know, Sylvester Stallone was never the greatest actor. But, one pivotal scene is when he is arguing with his son in the street about giving up.

“…when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow. Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

That is great scene, and although just a metaphor, it can be so easily applied to what we go through with photography.

It’s important to remember throughout all of this that these guys who can seemingly do no wrong, especially in this digital age, do get things wrong. We just don’t see them, because they’ve learned not to show us where they’ve gone wrong, and they’ve certainly heeded the advice above. Now, I certainly don’t place myself in the same league as them but considering this image sharing hiatus I am currently undergoing it has allowed me to think about this and what I may post and allow people to see in the future. I think I’ll take the frequency down and improve my game stats by resolving to only post my very best (I hope).

But, before all that, as a learning tool I thought I’d share some fully edited images with you from over the last 6 months that don’t make the grade, at least for me. I’d be interested to hear your feedback.

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Badbury Clump – I don’t ‘do’ Bluebells. So, why did I get up at 4am to drive 90 minutes to shoot some when there are at least 20 locations within 15 minutes of my house? It was a social event! I met up with Damien Davis (one of my past workshop clients) and Jake Turner to just catch up, have a chat and enjoy a lovely sunrise amongst the bluebells. This image was a 7 portrait pano, but I was a little out of my element (and tired) and it needs an extra shot or  two on the left hand side to create an avenue between the trees for the eye to wander up. There is also some distortion on the right and if you could see the full size image you’d easily see the biggest mistake of all…it’s out of focus. Damn.


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View from Elider Fawr – This could have been a really nice pano, I mean really nice at some 200mpx. Shame the wind was a bit frisky, not to say very cold, and I rushed the sequence. Needless to say two of the frames have image shake, and sadly they are the ones that make up the middle part rendering the image useless.


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Twistleton Scar – My first time to Twistleton Scar and in the company that morning of the supremely talented Darren Ciolli-Leach and Matthew Dartford (Karl Mortimer stayed in bed, lol) who both very quickly disappeared around the side of the hill. A lovely sunrise which turned very harsh very quickly, wandering the landscape aimlessly and a slightly foggy head does not make for good photography. If I go back (and I almost certainly will) I’ll know where to go but I struggled that morning. I’m not really in a ‘landscape’ orientation mood of late as I’ve stated before, so it felt strange placing the camera on the tripod this way round. Still, at the time I was more hoping than knowing I’d got a decent composition. If I could have been a few feet higher to get the top branches below the horizon line on the hill this might have turned out ok. I’d possibly move a little to the right and pan left too to get rid of that pile of stones on the right hand edge. Nevermind. Next time.


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Moel Siabod from above Capel-Curig – This image was shot on the Fuji on my last workshop. I was using it as a demonstration to a couple of my clients and is a classic case of ‘focussing’ on one issue while ignoring another. In this case I was demonstrating focus-stacking and completely lost sight of the composition. The main areas of interest are at the top of the frame and right at the bottom. There is a massive gap of ‘nothing’ in the middle, or at least nothing that is of interest. I should have recomposed this to be a little lower off the ground than it is, closing up that boring centre and allowing a little more breathing room at the top and bottom. Shame, but then I wasn’t there for me.


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Cnicht – This was the first time I had climbed Cnicht, which is a a cracker of a little mountain in the Moelwyn’s, Snowdonia. I really wanted this image to work having hiked up ‘the hard way’, but it just doesn’t. The foreground is messy (not helped by the footprints) and there is zero light to add contrast. The passing front wasn’t clear on it’s back edge and so the sun was completely blocked by cloud on the horizon behind. Having since been back in better conditions I have a number of images I’m happy with but a winter one is not one of them.


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Scar Close – Gah, this place was so frustrating. Same weekend as the Twistleton Scar image above. I Found this really interesting ‘Elephant’s Foot’ formation but couldn’t get it to work. It’s orientation meant that there was no hill for background interest, only this twig like tree. The environment around it was quite messy, especially off shot left and the sky was very bright with a blanket silvery sheen of high cloud. The dynamic range was huge and the A7rII couldn’t cope, even when bracketing at two stops. I thought I’d be able to balance it out in Lightroom, and perhaps you can, but the end composition isn’t anything to write home about so I’ve left it…Still, I do love that rock formation.  This is a shot for heavy mist in Autumn.


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Moel Siabod Winter Sunrise – This was taken on the same workshop as the one above. Handheld this time but again trying to look after my clients so not totally focussed on getting a great photo. Still, I thought this would be nice. However, I was shooting manual focus at f/5.6 (the Fujinon 55-200mm is incredibly sharp at f/5.6) and I missed the focus point. I was concentrating on the top of the peak and not taking any notice of the bottom which is considerably closer in reality. Thus, the bottom, especially on the left is completely out of focus.


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Trotternish, Skye – a very famous scene, shot over Easter weekend. I really worked this scene but having forgotten my umbrella, passing showers overhead were playing havoc which was messing with my ‘phojo’. Anyway, I have slightly better compositions but the conditions were perhaps best at this moment. I think the camera needs to be a little lower get that bottom branch above the hillside, I hate how the tree is bisected. You can also just see the road below as well (ignoring the more obvious road on the right). Loads of people have got a shot from here that they are probably happy with. I’m not one of them.


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The Roaches – Not really a mistake as such, but more of a ‘need to go back in the right conditions’. This image was shot just a couple of weeks ago on my Photowalk with clients in tow. I like the comp (it perhaps needs a little refinement) but the light is way too harsh and the lack of cloud puts this in ‘fair weather’ territory. Definitely not me.


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Muker – Another from Yorkshire. Some nice (ish) lighting but again another landscape ‘bisection’ issue. I needed/need a higher tripod!


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Marsco Pano – Gosh, what a bad day to choose to walk up Marsco on Skye. Only 15 minutes before I reached the top a couple of walkers coming down told me about the magnificent views they had just had across to the Black Cuillin…well, those views went before I got to the top. At one point I stood in a blizzard for about an hour. I was up there for over three hours and in that time never saw the Black Cuillin. This view appeared for all of about 30 seconds, just enough time to run off a quick pano of nothing great before I was plunged back into the cloud. My mistake here was trusting the forecast a bit too much.


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Moel Siabod East Ridge Sunrise – Finally, I shot this a few weeks ago while camping by the lake you see in the image. A very quick scramble up the east ridge in horrible wet weather didn’t inspire me. This image was taken about 10 minutes before sunrise and was very hastily put together. Again I was bracketing but I didn’t check my histogram and assumed that bracketing 3 shots at one stop each would be enough for the highlight. It clearly wasn’t. I came away with another shot I’m really pleased with, but I’d have liked to make this one work.


Right, so there you go, a fair amount of shots that don’t do anything for me. On most of these shoots I came away with at least one image I’m happy with, but for every one there are about five hundred more I’m not happy with. Back in the days of film this kind of wilful abandonment of restraint would have had severe financial consequences, but these days every image shot digitally is a cheap one. In each situation, if I had only had one sheet of film, I would have really taken my time to ensure the shot was absolutely right. Of course I didn’t and I doubt I will in the future either, but with each shoot I learn a little more, remember to check a little more and learn to perfect the image a little more. There are just a heck of a lot of failures to get over along the way. The skill comes with recognising what they are and only posting the good ones.

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You know, it’s ok to shoot iconic locations

I recently had a little break from Facebook, I was getting bogged down in arguing against very opinionated people and I realised that I was at risk of becoming too opinionated too. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you can tolerate and empathise with those whose opinions differ. Anyway, I’m very guilty of having expressed certain opinions in the past around certain photographic subject matter (Misty Trees or Bluebells anyone?), certain much photographed locations (Ooh, another shot of [Insert Castle Name Here]) and certain processing techniques (Eye bleeding saturation anyone?). You know what, I’m guilty of doing all that too (well, hopefully not the eye bleeding saturation bit) and it’s cool, it’s all cool man.

Recently I visited the Isle of Skye, a trip I’ve already mentioned in my blog before, but to revisit the subject serves a purpose here. Most of the time I like to head off into the wild to seek out new viewpoints, or at least ‘hard to get at’ ones. On the whole I try to ignore getting bogged down in the ‘iconic’ locations trying to get the same view a million others have already succeeded in getting. Why? Because I can, it’s what I enjoy. Skye was a little different because the weather was so bad it simply wasn’t worth the effort to get anywhere other than the obvious roadside locations. This gave me the opportunity to revisit a perennial favourite, or should I say nemesis…Elgol. I have a vision of the image I want from here and in four or five previous visits I’ve never had conditions that come anywhere close.

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First visit to Elgol back in 2011, shot on a Canon 40D…woo, saturation!

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And again in 2013, this time with the 5DMkII

Well, over Easter I happened to visit that little fishing village no less than three times over one weekend in search of the perfect conditions. They didn’t quite happen. What was good about that though was it gave me time to hunt down a certain boulder that a certain exemplary landscape photographer made famous. For some reason I’d never noticed it before. Visiting three times over a weekend also meant I could gauge what tidal conditions were required to achieve what I wanted to do…and at which point during the tidal cycle the sea was at the right level.

Now, I’ll come out and say it right now, I have a problem with virtually every shot of that boulder. Whilst trying not to be too opinionated about it, everyone is different in their vision afterall, the problem I have with it is the domineering lump (for want of a better word) of sea carved rock to the right of it. Whilst not being in that particular shot, the headland to the right of Elgol also presents the same problem for wider views of the Cuillin. Whether shooting the boulder or a wider view of the Cuillin, that rock or the headland unbalance each and every composition that they are in as far as I’m concerned. My mission here was to even things out.

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iPhone pic of ‘That Boulder’ at Easter on the first day

On the third visit the tidal conditions were perfect. The sky was stormy but the sea was calmer than I had hoped, despite the tide. I set to work trying to get the (my) perfect composition, thinking I could always return, when conditions were really as I had envisioned…having already tried for five years. If it ever happened I’d then go straight to a pre-determined composition and ‘click’, that would be that. Done. What ensued was about an hour of micro-adjusting my position, focal length, angle, everything really, to achieve the composition I wanted. Persistence pays off. I kind of got the shot. In that time the stormy skies began to break over the distant mountains, dousing parts of them in dreamy storm light, there was even the hint of a rainbow amongst the peaks. The waves were crashing over the boulder and lapping at my feet. I captured what I wanted…almost. There is still room for improvement, a stronger shaft of light, a stronger rainbow, more violent seas, etc. I think the shot actually requires a tilt shift lens, but for now I have to work with what I already have. Overall though, I’m finally happy with a shot from Elgol.

The point of this is as the internet becomes saturated with millions more images each day, people are going to greater extremes to get something unique or set themselves apart from ‘the competition’, be that hunting down more and more remote vantage points/landscapes, employing more and more extreme processing, seeking to use more cutting edge genres of photography (Dronography, Timelapse, etc), which unfortunately, I think, in turn is sacrificing the quality in this art.

In the last few days a timelapse popped up on my timeline, many people retweeted or shared it, shot in 8K, about Patagonia. Folks proclaiming it ‘breathtaking’. I watched it, curious (as I’d love to visit Patagonia myself), and was distinctly underwhelmed. The music was great, the scenery was great, most of the editing was great. The image quality was great, and the photographer got some wonderful conditions. However, in his quest to produce a compelling short film of a fantastic place, all shot at 8K on a Medium Format camera, the photographer forgot one vital thing. Even with timelapse your images need to be well composed. I know that is not easy, and I wouldn’t expect every scene to be a masterpiece, but sequence after sequence after sequence kind of bored me. Sorry. I guess the same can be said for the majority of Dronography. Just because you can now shoot from 500ft above the cliff wall, through the rainbow and next to the exploding firework and between the wings of an Eagle, doesn’t make it a great shot. Likewise, just because you trekked for 50 miles with 30kg on your back and were nearly eaten by a dinosaur in a long lost valley, doesn’t mean your shot is great, albeit perhaps unique.

There seems to be a growing community of photographers out there who openly chastise those who don’t want to, or don’t have the confidence, or who are simply unable for one reason or another to explore beyond those iconic locations, whether new or old. It may be because of time, or health or a number of reasons. It smacks of a superiority complex, some kind of ‘worthiness hierarchy’, and it’s a bit much to take when they should really concentrate on making their own work better than it already is (yes you, you should). You don’t need to be shooting somewhere new to do that. Of course, do what you enjoy, but don’t have a go at others for taking the ‘easy’ shot, the easy shot isn’t always easy as I’ve found in Elgol.

And so, I come full circle to why it’s ok to shoot iconic locations. Why it’s ok to shoot repetitive subject matter.  Why it’s ok to walk no further than three steps from your car.  Why you need not explore if you don’t want to. As landscape photographers we have absolute control over what our camera sees and we have almost no control of what mother nature chooses to show it. For that reason alone, every shot will be different. But even what we can control can always be bettered. If we want to set up in somebody else’s tripod holes we can, the shot will still be different because the weather and the light is never exactly the same. Our processing differs too and if that is what you enjoy, then do it. Smash the hell out of it if you want to, ramp that bad boy slider to 100. Though if you do, remember that art is fickle and the herd are generally intolerant of those who stray too far. All up to you, but work to make your shot, however similar to another, better than what you have shot before, what others have shot before. For example I’d prefer to see a  dozen fantastic compositions of Corfe Castle in mist, than a single mediocre composition of a previously un-photographed Himalayan peak (if such a thing still exists).

Oh, the shot from Elgol? You’ll have to wait, I’m on a sharing hiatus. Didn’t you read the last blog? 😉