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.

 

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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!

 

2016 Episode 1 – A Year of Ups and Downs

Few could fail to have noticed that 2016 was a somewhat turbulent year. If for nothing else, then the year will be remembered as the year the UK voted for Brexit and the US voted for Donald, or Hillary, depending on whether you think the President should be the one who receives the most Public votes or not. It has also been a year when the Grim Reaper seems to have upped his game and taken many talented individuals, some expected and some not. Whether you find them notable or not depends on a number of factors, but for me, household names that I grew up listening to or watching, suddenly meeting their maker has reminded me of my own mortality, the shortness of life and a need to do something worthwhile in the time I have.

At home it’s become quite apparent that photography has taken over somewhat. If I’m not working (in my regular career), I have my nose pressed against the computer screen or the viewfinder. Our puppy Monty is very much my Wife’s companion more than me these days and it is becoming increasing difficult for me to find time to dedicate to anything other than photography. Indeed even that has suffered as I’ve found little time to write even this blog, something I promised myself I would do more.  As many fellow photographers are finding, having two careers/jobs is not easy! So, all I can really say is thanks to Mrs W for putting up with me in 2016 and also to those folks who have been unfortunate in being on the receiving end of the odd moan, you know who you are.

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Right, so this blog is kind of in two parts/episodes. Episode One today (in itself it is in three parts), and Episode Two in a few days. Here goes:

Episode One, Part One – A Quick Round Up of Photographic ‘Achievements’ and Places Visited

If I don’t write this down somewhere, I’ll forget in years to come, what I did and when. So, apologies for a little self indulgence. Things that happened this year:

  • January cover of Outdoor Photography magazine (Wild Mountain)
  • Winner: Live the Adventure category – Outdoor Photographer of the Year
  • Image (Torridon: Valley of the Lost) in Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year book
  • Received Civic Award in Solihull MBC Civic Awards in the Creative Arts category
  • Talks at Patchings Art Festival and OnLandscape Meeting of Minds conference
  • Commended Image (Vertical Limit) in the Landscape Photographer of the Year book

Places visited: Vietnam, French Alps, Crete, Iceland, Snowdonia (multiple times), Isle of Skye, Isle of Arran, North Yorkshire, Lake District, Isle of Lewis & Harris

Episode One, Part Two – My Best Images of the Year

Ok, so over the last few weeks folks have been posting similar blogs or tweeting their best 3 images of 2016. I took part in that and posted 3 images myself. I also posted 3 images that I considered my least favourite and promised to explain why. So, here is an expanded list of my best images including some backstory about them, and also, at the end in Part Three, those 3 least favourite images and why they are.

‘Winterfell’ (Llanberis – Snowdonia)

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This image seems to have been a crowd favourite and is also one of mine. I photographed this tree perhaps a dozen times in 2016, but only on this occasion did the snow fall and the light prove perfect for the type of ghostly image I wanted to create. This image was also auctioned in aid of Marc Elliott to help him recover from his awful motorcycle accident. Two photographers each donated £100 to the event, a total of £200, for a print each. I’m really pleased it helped raise some cash towards to the amazing total of over £6K.

Passaggio (Horgabost – Isle of Harris)

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The Isle of Harris is a seascape photographers dream. Most folks, however, seem to go nutty for Luskentyre and Seilebost beaches. Although they are lovely beaches, it was Horgabost that captured my imagination the most. I could so easily have spent the entire week on that one beach.

Snowdonia’s Autumn Splendour (Llanberis – Snowdonia)

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The result of many months of failed visits, finally I got the light I wanted over the Snowdon Massif together with some glorious colour in the quarry pit. Enough said.

‘The Tempest’ (Elgol – Isle of Skye)

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A scene familiar to those who know the Isle of Skye. This egg-like boulder was made famous by Joe Cornish but I have no doubt others before him had photographed it. There is no other boulder so distinctive on the shoreline at Elgol, though there are many that can be quite photogenic. I have a problem with many images taken of this boulder and that is the wall of rock just to its right that can so often dominate the image. For me the image should be all about the boulder and the brooding Black Cuillin in the background. It’s perhaps the first time I’ve worked a scene in advance of my arrival (pre-visualisation) with the intention of eliminating elements that annoy me. Even so, it took three visits over the course of a bank holiday weekend, to get it just right.

‘Surfacing’ (Tryfan – Snowdonia)

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This image was shot on my last workshop of the year and is quickly becoming my favourite image I’ve taken of what is also my favourite mountain. I probably spent half an hour with my client working on an image beyond the frozen lake and it was only upon returning to my bag on the other side of the lake that I noticed the potential for something quite minimal. One shot, simple but effective.

‘The Buoy’ (Horgabost – Isle of Harris)

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These sand patterns were incredible. Fascinating to photograph, even better to just watch. Every so often a wave would wash up the beach further than the others, cleansing the sands of these patterns, only for them to slowly reform as rivulets of water ran their way back to the sea. This buoy was in the firing line and although the patterns in the sand are strong enough to carry the photo alone, the buoy adds a sense of place for me.

‘Fragments of Time’ (Rhinogs – Snowdonia)

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Another image from my ‘Song for Snowdonia’ project and a first visit for many years to one of the quieter places within Snowdonia. In fact go anywhere in Snowdonia away from the three big ranges and you are almost guaranteed to only see a handful of people all day. Magic. This area is full of Erratics and is a small paradise for landscapers…just don’t tell anyone 😉

‘Fjallabak Flexion’ (Fjallabak Region – Iceland)

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This image was shot on my return to the Laugavegur trail, just under two years since my first visit, a trip that proved quite fruitful. This time however the light never really played ball. On the second day whilst still trekking high and with a blizzard only moments away (it was the beginning of July), I captured this image of the trail heading into the distance, crossing a snow bridge and providing a lovely curve to the composition. One of the few images from the trip that I really liked.

‘Guardian’ (Tryfan – Snowdonia)

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Another image of my favourite mountain and one of those that ends up being a keeper but that started out as nothing more than an opportunistic shot on the way down the mountain. This time a muddy, but partially frozen, puddle winds it’s way towards the edge of the plateau on the descent to the miner’s path. The light, although no longer golden, remains soft enough to avoid harsh contrast. I keep returning to this image.

‘Alien’ (Elgol – Isle of Skye)

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Finally, an image that was only ‘discovered’ in post-process. I wanted to come away from Elgol with a different version of the ‘standard’ view of this infamous boulder. Didn’t realise I’d also find myself worrying about a facehugger getting me…

Episode One, Part Three – My Worst Images of the Year

Technically these aren’t the worst images I’ve taken this year, clearly. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of failures in my Lightroom Catalogue that either have more glaring composition issues, are incorrectly exposed, are out of focus or whatever. However, each of these images could have been so much more or just proved difficult to capture such that they are just missing a certain something. They are untitled.

Image 1

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This image was taken on the morning of one of the coldest wild camps I’ve experienced, back in April. It wasn’t forecast to be so cold and it wasn’t forecast to snow either. Having pulled on my frozen solid boots and trousers at some godawful hour I set about making some photos. At some point, soon after, I changed lenses on the camera without turning the camera off (oops). This reset the aperture to wide open which was f/4 on the new lens. Now, I was shooting standard settings so didn’t bother to check, I just carried on shooting, not realising the aperture and thus the background focussing was way out. I’d spotted this particular scene lit up beautifully in the soft light and having got the best out of the composition, moved on. About 10 minutes later I noticed that the aperture had been reset…I had to go back and reshoot this scene. Unfortunately in those 10 minutes the light had changed and I was so annoyed with myself I didn’t quite get the composition right. This was the best image from that second attempt. At least it’s in focus.

Image 2

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Luskentyre – Isle of Harris. I had been so looking forward to visiting this beach and photographing it. We arrived late afternoon and the tide was coming in…not good. The beach was covered in footprints, right down to the waterline. I set about trying to find something without a million footprints in the scene. Just before I shot this image I’d been trying to take a longer exposure…only for our puppy, Monty (who was 5 months old), to come dashing into the scene from halfway along the beach, pick up the seaweed and ruin it. In the end I had to wait for the water to wash away his paw prints and leave the seaweed in a pleasing shape. However, I couldn’t risk a long exposure now as the tide was coming in closer. It’s an image that I think needs ‘smoothing out’, hence a missed opportunity.

Image 3

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I love this scene. I returned to photograph it at least a dozen times in 2016. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. This was the second visit, which at the time was quite unusual for me. Until 2016 I very rarely returned to the same scenes twice and this is an example of how I’ve changed and developed as a photographer this year. I like the bold colours in the trees and the moody weather but this photo is an example of posting an image prematurely. It wasn’t the image I wanted from here, it could be better (IMO, see above) and so should never have been posted. It’s plainly obvious I wasn’t 100% happy with it as I returned to the scene so frequently in the search of something better. Another thing learned in 2016, have patience with your photography, don’t post/release images until you are 100% happy with them.


So, there you go, the best and worst along with some highlights. In Episode Two of this blog which I’ll post in a few days, I’ll identify those images I seen from others that have really captured my imagination or have stolen my interested. Will your image make the list…?

One Week Two Honours

Ok some shameless self-promotion coming up, apologies in advance…

Last week was a bit of a crazy week in a few ways. The weekend workshops I run are pretty full-on for me and my clients and I’d just run two back-to-back, whilst also carrying a small injury, so by Monday having to get up early for a client meeting for my regular job was tough going. No rest for the wicked as they say. I didn’t go to the gym that day.

Solihull Civic Honours

Well, on Tuesday it was the award ceremony for the Solihull Civic Honours 2016. When I found out I was going to receive the Honour for Creative Arts I was honestly a bit dumbstruck. I still have no idea who nominated me and I would have thought that to receive such an honour would mean I would have to have been known for capturing the beauty of the landscape within and around Solihull. To be fair there are plenty of places within just a few miles of me that are perfect for frosty mornings and misty tree heaven. Even the urban spaces within Solihull itself are ripe for some nice photography, but my heart has always been in the hills. To say I was a bit nervous was an understatement. Although my expectation was that I’d be given my award whilst standing in a broom cupboard, the ceremony was actually in the main council chamber and was being attended by a host of local dignitaries, a rather swish affair, although still sympathetic to these austere times.

My award was presented to me by Guy Dunstan who is General Manager of The Genting Arena, a good man to know if you need box tickets to a major concert no doubt (sadly I didn’t get his number). He gave the audience a run down of my achievements and later it was explained to me that whilst I don’t necessarily promote Solihull directly through being the subject matter of my photography, I promote it indirectly by spreading it’s good name nationally. I received a trophy and certificate and I must say I’m deeply honoured to have been recognised. Thank you to all involved.

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The week didn’t end there though, no…

Landscape Photographer of the Year 2016

On Friday I learned that one of my images shortlisted in the Landscape Photographer of the Year 2016 (LPOTY) had been Commended and would be in the Awards book. Whilst I don’t shoot images for competition success, I have to say it’s a huge achievement for anyone to get that far and it feels great to get some form of recognition in this well established competition. Anyone who does (and plenty have done so numerous times) has some rather big hurdles to get over. To my knowledge it goes something a little like this:

  • Over 18,000 entries are reviewed by a Pre-judging Panel
  • That is reduced to approximately 1000 images for an Interim Panel to Judge.
  • The Interim Panel reduce those to a Shortlist of only 350 images. So, folks who get shortlisted have already done massively well.
  • The final judging reduces the Shortlist to 153 images that are in the book, including the overall winner (who this year is Matthew Cattell ).

18,000 down to 153 is quite some going.

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Today I finally received my copy of the book and I’m really pleased to see my image, Vertical Limit, spread over a double page. It is an image that is best seen fairly large due to the tremendous amount of detail, including 19 stick figures (there may be more, can you find them?)

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The Commended Image in full – Vertical Limit

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Prints

The version of this image that is in the book has been very slightly altered from versions available and shared online, but if anyone is interested in a print, the earlier version is available as a signed limited edition together with another signed limited edition print of the Langdale Pikes and a sign copy of my book, Mountainscape, as part of the Luxury Edition (available to purchase on the Triplekite website). That represents a bargain over a standard print through my website.

 

 

 

Solihull Honours

Crikey, how time flies! My self-imposed six month sabbatical from Social Media image posting is almost at an end, just over one week to go! Of course, come the day, I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about it. It has been hard actually, to not share images that I’m quite proud of, but then it’s also been easier than I thought. I’m not in this game to get feint praise, I’m in it because; 1. I enjoy it, and 2. I want to produce photographs that fill people with a sense of wonder. It’s a long hard process and I’m still on the road to achieving that second point, but every step counts. I’ve got one or two things up my sleeve, and come the end of the sabbatical, I hope to announce one thing in particular that will wrap the last six months, indeed the last year, up quite nicely.

All that being said, it came as quite a shock yesterday to open the post. A lovely surprise it was. I received this…

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Yeah, I know, you are as confused as I am. But, someone out there, don’t know who, nominated me. I’d like to thank them and thank Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council too. Goodness knows, I really don’t feel this is deserved, I’m sure there are others out there doing much vital work in the community, but clearly I must be doing something by sharing my love of photography.

Anyway, really looking forward to the awards next month, I’m sure it will be a fine evening.

Toodle-pip.

 

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.

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? 😉