There are already so many cliches in landscape photography and unfortunately the end of year review is probably one of them. Out they come, tripping over themselves in threes, the ‘end of year review’, the ‘my best shots of the year’ social media posts. Sure, it gets a little tedious when everyone inevitably comes to that end of year reflection all at the same time but that isn’t to say it doesn’t have its place and value. Reflecting on ‘progress’ can bring benefits and even reset some of our own perceptions – certainly over the years I became my harshest of critics and I probably convinced myself at times my photography had no value at all…
Some things changed this year. I’m not going over the whole OCD diagnosis again (a post you might notice that I eventually deleted) but it turns out that although photography was intended to be an escape, it actually became a bit of a depressing anchor which led to some poor outcomes, so I’ve tried very hard to break that cycle, starting with shooting less and selling some kit. 2017 didn’t yield a high volume of images, mainly because I started to lose all faith in my output and the need to change things up. I entered my last photography competition (Landscape Photographer Of The Year) earlier in the year because the all round behaviour that drives just isn’t desirable – the oneupmanship is almost unbearable looking at it all from the outside in, I’m done with all that. I also stopped posting images to social media for a long time too, with just a handful ending up on Flickr in the end.
Nonetheless I’ve spent the last few days going over my 2017 photography and to my surprise there was more to it than I remembered. There are certainly a huge number of images I’ve not even tried to process, sometimes out of sheer exhaustion, it seems that as a result of all of these changes there are a few photographs that mean the year isn’t a complete write-off. Interestingly some of that has come right at the end of the year with the pretty substantial snowfall we got for the first time in years at lower levels. Of course the problem is always the same – as soon as it snows properly, you can’t get to any of the locations you’d love to visit, so once again I was left to try and take advantage of the local landscape (and thankfully there is at least some local landscape I can always access on foot). This recent stretch of weather delivered probably my favourite image of the year, sometimes you have to wait right until the close of the year to get something you’re truly happy with (it’s not the first year it went like that for me either).
So here they are, proof to myself, if anyone, that 2017 wasn’t a total photographic disaster and that there are images here to be happy with and to use as a platform for 2018. I must return to a more artistic approach though, back to photography which perhaps sets itself apart again…
Yellow Belly – I just love the contrasts and subtle colours in this
Brutal Forecast – Probably my favourite image of the year. Taken with the D850 in a snow storm, it was hard work but incredibly rewarding. It sums up the winter landscape for me and I love the fact it’s an image almost on my doorstep.
Peakland Pinks – A gorgeous summer morning yielded a Peak District image which sums up an English landscape in full bloom for me.
Shimmer – The year actually started in fine style in the Lake District
Whisper – More January 2017 winter conditions in the Lakes
First Leaf #13 – Spring in combination with Infrared was long forgotten until I looked back recently.
First Leaf #15 – The Zeiss 100mm f/2 and Infrared is very desirable
Angel’s Hair – More Lakes in early spring
Tones Of Newgale – Summer in West Wales and some Multiple Exposure
Road To Valhalla – The Yorkshire Limestone Pavements were also a very memorable visit. Infrared again playing a big part.
Cotton Grass On Exmoor – I forgot about my pilgrimage to North Devon too, can’t get enough of the place.
Not bad all in all? Certainly better than I remembered anyway…
I’m losing it again. The passion, the drive, the interest. It’s flowing away from me like a river towards the sea, almost to the point that there’s little left, the river bed is facing a drought and I’m worried that if it doesn’t start raining again soon it will dry up for good. This isn’t new, it’s been going on forever and it’s a battle, but a battle that keeps repeating itself.
That river used to be full of ideas, it had drive and excitement. The thing is this time I’ve recognised the symptoms – it isn’t the first time this has happened to me and actually this is a recurring pattern of so many things in my life. It goes a lot further than that though.
And this is where something remarkable has happened to me recently that started with a random observation by someone that ended up with me in front of my GP asking an awful lot of questions. The answer I got at the end isn’t what I expected or what I wanted, but everything has started to make a huge amount of sense. It might not even surprise some of you reading this who will probably think it’s as plain as day – it turns out I have a more than a moderate case of OCD, that’s right, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Not just that, but it’s been there probably all of my life. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry on being told this, after all it’s all about people who obsessively clean things and flick light switches on or off isn’t it? Well, yes and no.
As with many things in life, people are on whole spectrums of various behaviours and conditions. It’s only when we start to occupy the more extremes on those spectrums that things become noticeable and questions start getting asked by others or by ourselves. Chronic versions of OCD are well documented and well known, they are clearly recognisable and they are debilitating for those with it, fortunately I’m not in that space yet.
I don’t really want to go into all of the definitions of how OCD manifests itself and how it entirely affects me here (because some of it is flat out embarrassing) but let me just say that I’ve always known that there was something not right about my place in the world. It’s basically a very complex set of thoughts and feelings that affect actions I take, but critically they rarely leave me; it’s a constant state of detachment and distance, it’s uncomfortable, I can’t relax, I have a heavy continual sense of paranoia, occasionally that turns into an almost opaque black choking cloud of depression, nothing I do is ever good enough, worse still my standards for others as a manager in my work are probably unattainable to many. It goes on; my mind is often racing and running things over and over, it’s like I can feel the rush of blood through my veins every second and that I can actually hear my central nervous system communicating, especially at night. I’m not going to put it all in print here but there’s plenty more.
Then there’s the collecting of stuff. You haven’t seen my garage (it’s a double too) but I’ve not been able to throw many things away for a long, long time. Until recently it had a sideboard, massive amounts of items from lights to crockery to whatever, two beds, a dining room table, six chairs, a huge glass table, more bedroom furniture, wood, endless bloody boxes from everything that I might need just in case, a box in fact for every electrical item I’ve bought for at least the last 10 years in order that when I sell it again(!) it has the box or when it fails I can send it back to the manufacturer. They don’t get sold though and they don’t get sent back, it’s just stupid rubbish. There are baby toys that should have gone a decade ago too.
At this point you might be thinking it sounds a bit like your own garage to a degree but the difference is I can’t throw it away. Until now anyway. Now I know what’s going on I’ve begun the process of disposing of things in volume because I can’t believe this is who I am in danger of falling fully into. The really funny part (it’s not funny) is that I pulled the dining room table out to get rid of it, took one look at it, decided I could restore it and then took three weeks doing just that. In all fairness it looked fantastic at the end, but now it’s sitting in our kitchen and Mrs B doesn’t entirely understand why it’s now there instead of in the garage. I tried to throw it away and couldn’t do it. I need to try harder.
I hate to quote a movie line in a moment like this but it’s bothered me for years and never escapes me. It’s a line from The Matrix when Morpheus says “it is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” Now I get the concept of the film entirely but to me I’ve always felt like Neo is portrayed – I’m restless, I’ve been searching for an answer, I know something is not right, that either I’m an alien or everyone else is, that things are not real, I’m even facing fatality every time I get into my car, the paranoia can be overwhelming. I’ve told my family this plenty of times, but it was always laughed off and buried again by me. But it’s been real for me and now I have an explanation it’s real for them. There wasn’t any surprise when I told Mrs B, in fact she took it much better than I did.
It also turns out OCD and photography don’t go well together but it’s no surprise I ended up with it because it fits the mould entirely. I started doing it because I tried desperately to connect with the world, to try to empty out all of the noise and almost touch the planet, and there have been plenty of times when it worked too, though when I reflect on that those times have been fleeting rather than continuous.
Some of the issue I have now though is I’ve collected hundreds of thousands of images, 99% of which I don’t even look at, are almost pointless or not even viewable. Deleting any of them remains almost impossible for me. It turns out that photography was just another way that OCD manifested itself: my output has never been good enough, I set myself an impossible to reach bar of perfection even, and yes, inevitably kit played its part too but I don’t want to go into that.
The problem is I think I have managed to get to the point where I’ve actually taken all of the images I can. I’m full up and there is a big part of photography that has not been very healthy for me. I’m working on the basis that it isn’t the end because there are a lot of good things about it too and at least now I finally know what I’m working with I can at least understand and start dealing with it.
I’m sure this isn’t the next blog post you were expecting (or I was expecting for that matter). There’s no need to comment, but for those that know me, perhaps this explains a few things you might recognise.
Well, this should be an entertaining ramble! I had the good fortune to meet up with top landscaper David Speight last weekend for a tour of the quite breath-taking Limestone pavements across North Yorkshire. During the day the subject of “weather shots” came up but the whole subject got right under my skin…
At this point I haven’t really drawn a full conclusion on this topic, but the entire subject niggled me in a way I wasn’t expecting because I’ve genuinely never really thought too much about it before. In fact, all it did was set my mind racing on what turns out to be a pretty long list of questions:
How many of my photographs could actually be defined as ‘weather shots’?
Are many actually ‘landscapes’ at all?
Do images of the weather diminish me as a landscape photographer and I’m kidding myself about what they actually represent?
Would anyone look at half of my photographs without the ‘weather’ they contained?
Is all of the atmosphere of something like mist more of a curtain hiding poor composition and thought processes?
Are my images diminished or enhanced because of weather?
What about light – does say storm light just make an average composition interesting and actually the scene wasn’t really worth shooting?
Who’s out there shooting weather all the time and ‘getting away’ with being called a landscape photographer?
What’s the difference between turning up in interesting weather and bearing witness to it, compared to an image crafted out of the landscape?
How much do I care about any of this?
Blimey. This is worth thinking about though because if shooting the weather is what I’m focussing on, then this is definitely the wrong path.
Have I fallen into a lazy reliance on ‘drama’ handed on a plate to me by the forces of nature and forgotten the foundations of what landscape photography is really about?
After much thought, the only thing I’ve really discounted is pure light in this process. And what I mean by that is using light at different points in a day is clearly part of the magical formula to photography, a pursuit which is after all almost entirely founded and born out of light. However, this gets blurred where the image is of say a sunrise/sunset where it becomes the over-riding factor in an otherwise poorly composed image. Is that then a ‘weather shot’? Probably. Is it worthy? Possibly. Maybe. But after genuine reflection this explains why so many images of lets say ‘weather events’ often lack real or significant artistic impact. Before this slightly controversial piece loses focus with too many words, perhaps moving to some specific examples might be useful. I’ve no intention of using other people’s photography for this process of course, but I’m happy to rip apart some of my own recent images taken over the last few months where there might be some interesting judgements, or not…
Another Place – Exmoor May 2017
Now certainly at least part of my intention along the way is to take photographs of things which can be anonymous, steering away from well known landmarks a lot of the time in an attempt to disconnect the viewer from a place they may be familiar with in order that they may slightly more attention to the image than anything they’ve seen before. As part of that formula I don’t include lots of skies though as soon as there is one that I consider to be ‘worthy’ then I would definitely include it in the frame. The question is to what extent it defines or overpowers the image. Another Place above is an interesting starting point for this analysis. As an infrared image, having a strong sky can certainly add a lot to a photograph and the transitional nature of the sky here added interest to my mind. The image was unquestionably about the two trees, the play of light across the grasses but the sky helped to place it in Another Place. Hence the title. Would I qualify this as a weather shot? No. 1-0 to Landscape Photography.
Brow – North Yorkshire August 2017
This is probably where it all starts to fall apart. Brow is a photograph I took this last weekend with David early in the morning. I admit that the thing that really caught my eye was the line of light in the sky, rather than the line defining the brow of the hill. In may respects it’s an image probably many would not have even taken, and as much as I regard this a collision of components between land and sky, which in some respects almost seem to be in touching distance of each other, I think we could regard this as a ‘weather shot’. Now this definitely does not stop my enjoyment of the scene for a moment, the Infrared once again working well in my view to carve out that moment of utopia which I’ve described before in other blog posts. Without the light, and particularly without the cloud, this shot is nothing. I have to therefore bow to the fact it’s probably Landscape 1-1 Weather however.
Tones Of Newgale – Pembrokeshire August 2017
This particular image really does have very little in it. This was a multiple exposure off my D500 – there are three frames here but I love the final result of diffused ethereal light, the soft waves and toning. There isn’t a great deal of ‘weather’ in the frame though the sky certainly helped to provide a natural soft box for what would have been fairly harsh light. Is it a landscape? I’m voting yes. It’s undefined by the weather in my view, this is an example of direct light playing its part rather than weather helping to really make the image. Landscape 2-1 Weather.
Mimic – North Yorkshire August 2017
I’ll put some colour photography in here shortly, but here’s another very recent infrared example from last weekend. There were epic skies on the Saturday no question, so you take this into account don’t you when you’re out? In this case the photograph is intended to be all about the relationship between the tree at the end of the lane and the hole in cloud just above which to my eye mimicked each other. Obviously this is a classic situation of a chance composition where the sky helps to define the image, but is the photograph ALL about the sky? I don’t think it is, and I took other photographs of this scene before this opportunity presented itself. I would have posted one of those instead had this relationship between cloud and tree not been there, but without the sky this image would have been titled something else. This is a tough one to call but overall is probably a weather shot. Landscape 2-2 Weather.
Peakland Pinks – Peak District August 2017
So this is an example of where if there had been more cloud to help define the sunrise I might have included a greater proportion of the sky in the frame, instead I’ve tried to make best use of the pre-dawn light to bring out the best of the landscape. If there had been an ‘epic’ sunrise then this scene might have created more of a debate but there is no way I’d consider an image like this to be a weather shot. Landscape 3-2 Weather.
Faces Of July – Cotswolds July 2017
You might think this is a silly one to include given there is no real ‘weather’ in this one at all, but without the gorgeous sunrise that I was basking in (and still recall) actually this image would have been a dead loss (you might already think it is!). The angle of light is very low here and had I not been out at 05.30 then this image would have been quite different. So yes, the light unquestionably helps to define it, only possible because of the weather maybe, but I’d never qualify such an images as a weather shot. Landscape 4-2 Weather.
October Birth – Cotswolds October 2016
Hmmm. This is where it perhaps gets a little tricky again. Any photograph where the ‘weather’ is present starts to ask questions. The back light and mist clearly make an otherwise ordinary photograph of a tree into something which in my view has much greater appeal. Other opinions apply. I know the misty tree has become an incredible cliche for many, and while I try not to make it my first objective when setting out, often it does create a pretty magical overall end result. The mist here helps to shape the light, rather than define the image, though without either no one would be looking at it. I’m going to award this one to Landscape though, perhaps if it were a much wider view of the landscape with mist all over it then it becomes a ‘weather shot’ in that instance. Landscape 5-2 Weather.
North of Wastwater – Lake District October 2016
I think I might lose this one. This is one of my favourite images from a long weekend in the Lakes during last autumn. Is this a shot of the weather though? Well we weren’t there to take photographs of the clouds, but once you’re up 2000ft or so then it starts to become more inevitable. The light was breath-taking, Wastwater reflecting the sky back on itself and the cloud pretty dramatic. I’m going to have to concede on this one though because I suppose the features of the landscape lose out to the explosion of light above. Landscape 5-3 Weather.
Angel’s Hair – Lake District March 2017
Now although this scene has quite a hard frost in it, I wonder how I would have felt if it was covered in snow. Clearly the conditions of the weather dramatically alter images but in this case it’s the angle of light, there’s obviously no distraction from the sky, but this is all about the colours in the trees, the golden highlights at the back and the reflections and low-lying mist at the front. This is what the Lakes is all about to me so I’d never give this image up as a ‘weather shot’. Landscape 6-3 Weather. One more…
Cotswold Minimalism – Cotswolds April 2017
An interesting one to finish on – this has had over 100,000 views on Flickr alone. There is no question in my mind why I took this, it’s an obviously minimalistic landscape, soft shapes, pre-dawn soft light, but clearly defined by the mist. Now to my mind you can’t really take a photograph of the mist per se, though this is about as close as it comes. I got the effect I was after in the final result and had driven passed this point hundreds of times previously without take an image so I guess it’s difficult to argue it’s not a weather shot. Landscape 6-4 Weather. Landscape wins overall but it’s not exactly a runaway result just picking these. An interesting exercise to conduct to.
I threw the question out on Twitter a few days ago and some interesting replies and challenges came back…
I think these sort of ideas are detrimental to people enjoying photography in their own way. The question itself implies judgement. Many images are totally reliant on lighting even if the composition holds together without it (Alex Nail)
You’re probably right Alex, though I think this has made me a lot more thoughtful about what and why I shoot it. How much is talent, how much is luck, how much is just standing in front of things. If we’re to grow as a photographer I think it’s important to think and deconstruct what you produce…
I’m not interested in challenging myself. I am a reactive photographer and I ‘m happiest just photographing what interests me on the day. (Mark Littlejohn)
I’m not sure I believe all of that statement Mark! The second part may well be correct, but you didn’t get to where you were without wanting to improve and thinking about what you did along the way. You’ve probably reached a mantle which you’re personally happy with or perhaps feel like you don’t need to think about ‘improvement’ any more but I think all photographers should probably try and continue to challenge themselves.
Great/appropriate weather and a crap comp more often than not equals a mediocre shot and vice versa. In other words I think that a great photo is often dependant on the two working together. (Lee Acaster)
I think the first part of your statement here is exactly the point. My final image above being potentially a prime example – is it an otherwise crap composition, defined by the weather. 600 or so people marked it as a fave, but over 100,000 have looked at it. Flickr’s an interesting barometer for defining of what the masses like the look of and in this case it’s a very low percentage of people who faved it. I’m not surprised, it’s not up to much and supports the argument that weather shots are really not all that exciting or enticing for most people.
Well the weather dictates when I go out so it is what it is, I suppose. (Stu Meech)
Perhaps this is indeed part of the problem. I made a point of shooting every time it rained and I had some time this summer in order to try and get myself away from only being out in certain weather and light. I think it paid dividends but in all truth I’m not sure it entirely changed my approach.
Well Landscape ‘won’ 6-4 for me on some of my images but the jury is still out on whether I entirely care too much about this, but I’d be lying if I said this hadn’t pricked my conscience and made me more thoughtful about my approach. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all but I’m not going to stop shooting strips of light in Infrared when they appear in the sky over my scene. Perhaps we should all be thinking a little more holistically about our approach especially as autumn gathers pace and once again photographers everywhere will turn their attention fully onto trees, woodland and mist… I’ll leave you wish another favourite of mine, weather shot or not, you decide, I’m happy with it regardless:
This post sets two auspicious records on this website in one go – I think it’s the longest title I’ve ever used since starting this blog and it also has the highest number of failed images I’ve ever put together in one place. Yes, all 25 of this year’s Landscape Photographer of the Year entries. That’s right, there’s absolutely nothing at all to see here…
So for the second year running the Take-A-View team have decided that there is not a thing, zilch, nada, zero, nil, sweet FA worthy whatsoever to shortlist from me. Forget any other possible stage, this lot is just low level dross. There’s no imagination or creativity, there’s no consideration for framing, composition, use of light, shadow, there are no textures, no camera craft, no effort, no artistry, no mystery, no sense of moment or mood, nothing abstract, original, remotely interesting or talented at all to show anyone. Just pass over this lot but be sure, absolutely sure, that you make no attempt to replicate any aspect of any of this because it will all just be consigned to the bin, where they belong.
The good news is it’s going to save me a small pile of cash every year because it was my last competition entry – and before you jump on anything you THINK you know, you won’t have seen me in anything else either. Outdoor Photographer Of The Year was first, not least since the selection of the ‘tree’ image as their winner, Amateur Photographer Of The Year quickly followed, a now fully commercial proposition which supports anything but amateur photography any more, and finally LPOTY is last in line, where Charlie thinks my last 75 entries are frankly shite. I’m not stupid, it’s time to stop funding these things, I’m on a total loser and there is clearly nothing at all compelling about what I’ve been spending my time doing. Their prerogative.
So here they are, all 25. Don’t even think for a moment to spend your hours creating anything like these… I have no further comment.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of hours writing articles for Photography Magazines like Outdoor Photography, Amateur Photographer and others but I’ve also spent a huge amount of time building up the articles on this blog. Most of them are not one or two words and I have hoped over time that this provides some help and inspiration to others. So when someone else comes along to drop a gong onto this work in appreciation for some of that effort, I’m not going to hide it away…
The thing about the internet is that the best parts of it expand horizons, help and coax people into positive action. Needless to say it’s a double edged sword with mis-information, plain lies and its much darker side. I’ve used endless resources for help, guidance and plain inspiration down the years and in the same way as I hope a part of my photography inspires others, I also hope this blog is of some genuine use, otherwise well what’s the point?
Like most I don’t write these blogs to get paid, I don’t earn a penny off these pages and I’m strictly small fry in internet terms, so the odd bit of recognition is nice. Which is why out of the blue when I received an email from Feedspot informing me I was considered to be in the top 75 Landscape Photography Blogs, I was very happy indeed to pin their Muttley Medal to my pages. Yeah, why not.
I would like to personally congratulate you as your blog Russ Barnes – Art Of The Landscape Blog has been selected by our panelists as one of the Top 75 Landscape Photography Blogs on the web.
I personally give you a high-five and want to thank you for your contribution to this world. This is the most comprehensive list of Top 75 Landscape Photography Blogs on the internet and I’m honored to have you as part of this!
Since moving to a WordPress website a couple of years ago I’ve not really done much to change the look and feel of the place, so I thought it was time for a bit of refresh…
Not a lot to say on this really other than I hope you like the new design. I’ve tried to make more out of the individual Portfolio pages, bring a greater emphasis on some of the words across the site, create more of a cohesive look and feel and actually I’ve deleted a large number of images in order to try and increase the perception of ‘less is more’.
I just might launch print sales again at some point so I’ve done some work in the background to enable those options should I think it’s worthy. WordPress remains my only recommendation for anyone wanting a more bespoke site, it really is the only option to produce something which others won’t have really seen and therefore bring more of a focus where it should be; on the the photography.
A lot of photographers don’t like talking about gear. I think many would call it a distraction and while it’s all very lovely to consider oneself entirely as an artist, eventually you have to buy a camera and lenses to carry on. In truth, I think it’s become very cool to dismiss such discussion as if all output comes solely from fresh air carried on the wings of divine inspiration or something. We all know that the camera these days accounts for a lot more than that – in fact some of the functions within the modern DSLR would render some of the more ‘artistic’ output today impossible. Like it or not, gear is important.
Discussions sparked up again recently across the web on the arrival of the incredibly predictably crippled feature set of the Canon 6DMKII and the impending arrival of the Nikon D820 due later in July by many accounts. It’s fair to say that Canon and Nikon have become pass-masters of the price gouge these days but you either pay up or let it all pass you by because no one has your arm up your back. You’ be forgiven for thinking neither of these releases are significant and they really aren’t – incremental adjustments in features, modest to tiny changes in resolution, even in Canon’s case the removal of some functionality which makes it all look very unfriendly and highly commercial. Unfortunately we still need them in the market AND we need them to prosper.
So where is the innovation? Well I’m not seeing it. Despite what the Sony club will tell you mirrorless is not going to change the world though it may well represent the future to a greater extent, I don’t deny that. The problem I have with mirrorless is simply the benefits are marginal. When Fuji launched the X Series everyone fell over themselves to declare it the future; small, neat, pretty to look at, retro design, quality lenses, but critically light weight. I had two periods of Fuji ownership and it didn’t work out; I’m not going over all of that again here but I didn’t like what I considered to be incredibly unnatural colours while the output lacked dynamic range and fell apart under a moderate amount of processing. Nope. But Fuji didn’t pursue that lightweight approach enough for me that would have made them a real choice in the market – the best lenses got bigger and the advantages got lost.
Equally Sony’s churn and burn approach to their mirrorless line reminds me of what China has tried to do to the global steel market – dump endless product with lower margin and eventually your competition curls up and dies. Then you can raise prices. Sony might seem like they are providing a compelling proposition and are onto a winner but once again when Sony set about developing their G master lenses to make the most of the various A7 models, it seems like they didn’t care at all what the end weight was. Advantage gone again for me. Fundamentally lens/glass physics simply has to change before we see something truly compelling in innovation. Why would I switch to mirrorless and Sony if performance is compromised by battery life and they ultimately provide me with an option that actually ultimately performs no different at all on almost every level? Where exactly are the benefits? Anyone?
Is Nikon Dying?
Yes but no but yes but no. Possibly. Maybe. Unlikely. Or not. Either way I’m sticking with them because my cameras and lenses are not likely to stop working today, tomorrow or anytime soon. I personally think they will ultimately be OK as a company though and while their finances are not great, they do have some hard choices to make and I definitely have some advice for them…
I saw a headline this morning that said global camera sales in 2010 were 112 million and last year they were 24 million; talk about watching your market fall off a cliff. Who’s buying those cameras still? Well you and I actually but everyone else is using an iPhone now; Apple only sold 200 million of them in 2016. AND YET I still saw a statement from Nikon recently that in this, their 100th anniversary year, and despite those incredibly stark figures that they were working on “a small product to compete with smartphones”. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, ARE THEY NOT GETTING THIS YET? There IS no competing with smartphones, those days departed a decade ago.
So what’s left? Trends come and go, but just take a look at the revival of global vinyl record sales for evidence of what was considered to be a dead proposition. As the globe propels forward with its digital agenda there is still an ‘analogue style’ market for almost anything you can think of. Suddenly everyone is trying to buy up old Atari consoles again, there are car makers trying to produce vehicles that look like they were made in 1965, I could go on a lot more to make this point. For me Nikon need to focus on producing lower volumes, higher quality niche products – real photographic tools people WANT to own, not get sucked into consumer markets that have already moved on. Even consider dropping the entire DX line for me perhaps keeping only the Nikon D500, a spectacular offering that doesn’t need the distraction of the D7200, 7100, 5500, 3300 or whatever they are all called around it. Less product, a smaller company, perhaps even higher prices, but something people really want.
In truth I’d love to see a Nikon product that was as enticing as the Hasselblad X1D. And after everything I’ve said, yes, it’s mirrorless. But make it Nikon, PLEASE.
Long drives to and from work afford me the opportunity to take in a variety of radio these days and I’ve become an occasional listener of BBC Radio 4 because from time to time you hear something a little different. Sure enough a couple of weeks ago I listened to a piece about people who sought out their personal utopia. It was certainly a curious spin on modern life with some interesting conclusions and some of it really struck a chord with me…
I’m sure everyone has a view on what utopia really is or represents to them personally, but one thing I was surprised to learn from the radio show was that the word utopia is actually derived from the Greek words of ‘ou’ (not) and ‘topos’ (place); in other words ‘not a place’, somewhere that doesn’t actually exist, rather than the definition I expected to hear of ‘a perfect place’ or even somewhere to aspire to. This literal definition certainly got me thinking about what utopia represents in a completely different light, indeed my fellow humans are probably chasing an impossible dream if they are trying to build some personal utopia because even the ancient Greeks were smart enough to realise that it was a country that doesn’t exist.
The Radio 4 piece focussed on one man’s relationship with cycling and frankly his escape from a busy life. He sought out the physical rhythm of cycling as an almost meditative state, the natural endorphins he got from the process was like a drug he had to keep coming back to, so much so that when he was out on his bike he said he achieved a slice of personal utopia and it was enough for him to accept that this was as good as it got. The point of all of this reference is that as much as utopia doesn’t exist in a permanent state, it is indeed possible to enter a temporary utopian state for part of any given day, in segments of time, ensuring peace of mind and an essential escape for the mind and body. Not only are these moments achievable but they are necessary.
When I entered my thirties I became one of the seekers – people who occasionally try to escape fast paced living and slow it all down when the opportunity arose. My day job pushed me towards this, it still does, and photography remains a big part of that release but so does the sense of adventure in travelling around the UK, seeking out different aspects of our landscape, geology and fabulous coast lines. I’m never completely sure what I’m trying to achieve when I head out, I rarely have any objectives in mind, all I know is there is nothing like the connection and conversation you can have with the landscape and natural environment when you’re standing quietly behind a camera, carefully and precisely picking out those abstract scenes, views that I consider to be tiny segments of utopia in themselves. Right now I also remain heavily committed to building a print legacy to preserve these utopian moments and to remind my children and later generations of the folly of taking the landscape and environment for granted, but somehow permanently freezing those quiet moments. They serve as memory cards for me too.
Angels Hair – A recent utopian moment at the edge of Rydal Water in the Lake District
At this point I can hear yawning in the back rows on why this particular blog is even necessary. Well it does bring me to one of the central points – the advent of drones in the landscape, remote controlled quadcopter ‘photography’. This is sure to be a subject that divides; Is it photography? (no, not by my definition it isn’t) Is it invasive? (yes, definitely) Is it environmentally friendly? (no it isn’t – I don’t claim it pollutes but I guarantee wildlife are not happy) Is it safe? (I’m very much less than convinced) Should it even be outlawed? Not yet perhaps but it does raise a LOT more questions than it answers though.
When new technologies come along they may well test our existing laws and patience which is no reason to directly ban things outright, at least not immediately, but this is one genre that is not going to get any votes at all from me. Just in the same way that the Star Wars saga requires you to watch the films in a specific order, you may at this juncture wish to read Karl Mortimer’s blog post on this very subject here: http://www.karlmortimer.com/blog/droning-on/, a blog which I promised a reply on, because I am apparently one of the ‘luddites’ who this is aimed at.
For me one of the key aspects of photography is to show the viewer what my eyes have seen, to connect them to the environment in front of me, a field of view that I have physically experienced, to entice someone and challenge them to do the same. Right here this is where photography from a quadcopter falls apart. The field of view isn’t achievable, I hear people bemoaning all of the time that the ‘photography’ delivered from a drone isn’t either compelling or even particularly interesting and that’s because we are not conditioned to connect with the angle of view. Essentially there is nothing at all utopian about it.
My ongoing First Leaf and Backwater projects collide on a Spring morning…not a quadcopter view
But it gets worse. The first time I saw one of these in the landscape I was surprised and equally intrigued, but very quickly became incredibly annoyed by it. Unfortunately it’s the final feeling that stays with me – there may not be the prevalence of drones just yet, but if left unchecked it WILL happen, with any growing popularity manufacturing becomes cheaper by volume and prices tumble, bringing things in reach of mass markets. For me that would be a disaster for photography. There is nothing I would hate more than seeking out a quiet morning at Blea Tarn as I did recently, wait patiently for first light on the Langdale Pikes and have the silence broken by two or three quadcopters as they hovered in my shot in front of me. Hand me a shotgun if that’s the future or kill me now – it’s not cool, it’s not about being a luddite, it’s everything to do with preserving the last ounces of escapism where someone else’s pursuit doesn’t impede on my own. Quadcopters already have a well deserved bad reputation for safety issues and their sheer annoyance factor – the part that I fear is that they are bringing photographers further into disrepute, and that would be a disaster.
Interestingly as much as Karl’s blog post attempts to deride those that don’t welcome this new found freedom of expression he still admits that he “can’t bear the ruddy noise they make if I’m out in the landscape enjoying a bit of peace and quiet” as well as the fact that frankly the vast majority of images are simply not compelling. Well at least we agree on two points. Regardless, it’s not a future I’m going to support any time soon, instead I’m going to focus on what I think photography should be about – delivering people visions they can relate to and getting them to embrace what I consider to be the true meanings of photography.
I’ll leave you with a couple more of recent views, abstracts of the landscape, utopian slices and moments carved out of the environment:
Firestarter – Cotswold woodland, fortunately near impossible to get a drone through here
Late Langdale Light – 720nm infrared, no quadcopter in shot this time
Cotswold Minimalism – the unbroken silence of a Sunday morning, shatter it with your quadcopter and face my wrath!
And finally the alternative viewpoint and utopian quiet contemplation of drone ownership. Enjoy!
Picking favourites from your own work can feel like an almost impossibly difficult task so in true end of year review style, I’ve raided my Flickr favourites from 2016 and come up with a list of images, in no particular order, that made an impact or difference to me during the last year from other photographers.
I have a lot of contacts and photographers that I admire and follow – it’s impossible for me to put up everything here I like so someone’s probably going to feel disappointed, but you really shouldn’t – the point of this selection is to pick out particularly compelling work for 2016 and to give an explanation as to why I’m drawn to it, nothing more. Remember, all images are posted on Flickr too, it’s just easier to review from there as a collective. Anyway, on with the show… click any of the images below to view them on Flickr.
Image #1 – Matthew Dartford “Holme Fell”
I could have picked a pile of images from Matthew, he’s a photographer than can turn his hand to any subject matter, but this one jumped out at me straight away for a composition I would never have shot. The subject is largely in shadow, indeed much of the ‘interest’ in this particular photograph is in shadow, bar the top of the tree of course. It’s like anti-contrast and because of that it’s a scene I would have cursed at for its glory and walked straight by for being ‘wrong’. In truth it’s a triumph to my eye. The shadow of the tree on the right of the frame connects it beautifully too. I can’t remember if Matthew said that was an accidental inclusion or not, but either way I love it. An image that made me think twice about some of my future compositions for sure.
Image #2 – David Baker “Gulls And Snow Shower”
Mr Baker continues to build on his previous mantle as Outdoor Photographer Of The Year by producing some stunning imagery. Although many of David’s images tend to lean towards minimalism or perhaps very effective simplicity, indeed this one is heading in that direction (rock, sea, sky), this one pulls my eye right in just for the tiny white birds. I love the micro-details on this and the toning binds together an awesome visual treat. If there had been a busy sky in this one I’m not sure it would have been so effective and certainly looking at the larger version of this on Flickr the rock keeps your attention where it’s meant to be. This is a masterclass in photographing the obvious, love it.
Image #3 – Terry Gibbins “The Cleat”
Terry might not be the sort of landscape photographer that has the opportunity to pump out large numbers of images, but when he puts one up they are usually really wonderful (he very nearly had two in this list with his Elgol Pebble – I’m not going to link to it, I’ll leave it to you to search for it in his Stream so that you get to see his other work too). I have to tell you, I think this photograph may be my favourite from 2016. For me this is a totally evocative scene from Skye, I know others have done it but I love the soft background, the mossy greens, the lack of pretence in the water, it’s just a beautifully natural frame for me with light to die for. You might visit this place several times and not be as lucky as this, but I personally think Terry has pulled off a totally classic photograph here, and one I wish was attributable to me on my website.
Image #4 – Chris Friel “Winter”
Another year, another Chris Friel inclusion. I don’t even know how Chris makes half of his images and it doesn’t really matter of course – all I know is I love the mystery, I love the artistry, I love the continued use of darkness, all of which basically continues to add up to something magical for me. Chris is the one that keeps me most on my toes, keeps me thinking, keeps me looking for another approach or angle to photography. I may not be anywhere near as successful as he is in his approach, but his inspiration and presence reminds me that I need to think harder, blow off convention and do what I want, all things which are not very easy to do at times. A very gifted artist indeed.
Image #5 – Darren Ciolli-Leach “Golden Falls”
I’ve had the advantage of seeing this particular photograph printed up on A2 and I can tell you it’s mouth-watering. The frame filling colour which links the leaves on the tree and the background is really nice – just when I think that I need to create a contrast difference between foreground and background, this photograph proves that with careful composition it can very much work the other way too. I love the stripe of the flowing water here as well which breaks up the photograph a little so that it has more than one point of interest. Just like Terry’s shot further above, this is a classic landscape photographer’s scene – it’s the sort of image I often have in mind but very rarely deliver and Darren somehow has the eye to produce this type of photograph with ease. When you see work like this mixed in with his other printed output, I can tell you that you’ll leave in absolute awe.
Image #6 – Stephen McGill “Shelter From The Storm”
Stephen may not be a photographer that people talk about a lot or see much from on a regular basis, but this photograph amongst others which he captured during one of his trips to the USA delivers everything I would have looked for. This is an absolute stonker to my eye – the steel greys and toning in the barn, the enigmatic sky, the soft young Barley crop. Just beautiful. I wish we had more scenery like this in the UK because it would be an absolute magnet for me. It’s a reminder that there is beauty in almost anything and not to overlook buildings in the landscape as an intrusion or irritation. Would love to see more like this one…
Image #7 – Dave Fieldhouse “April Showers”
I try not to get too carried away when I see Dave’s photography, but it’s often difficult for me not to get pulled in emotionally. Dave could have had his own gallery in this 2016 lineup and is another photographer that I find myself feeling somewhat inadequate next to. Many of the photographs I’ve picked here in this list, pull me in by wishing I was there in that moment, and this one is no exception. Of course, moments like this are often fleeting but it doesn’t matter, you still have to be there, you still have to be set up pushing that shutter button at the right moment. I have massive respect for the miles that Dave must cover because he’s littered my favourites on Flickr all year but this view from The Roaches (and its partner image he took the same morning) are very strong indeed to my eye. Looking forward to your 2017 set Dave!
Image #8 – Lee Acaster “Victim”
Having met Lee for the first time only recently, he was everything I expected him to be. His passion for photography is difficult to match – every day and every subject is a new opportunity. Despite not having access to the most exciting of landscape in Norfolk (personally I love the minimalistic feel of the East coast) Lee often finds a way to deliver compositions which still make you wish you were there. I immediately loved this particular photograph as soon as I saw it earlier in the year – the tonal range is perfect and the exaggerated angles he often uses reminds me to keep taking my wide angle out, despite the fact I’m often addicted to telephoto focal lengths. I look forward to seeing more from Lee next year.
So that’s it for this year. Eight is a bit of an odd number, two short of ten, three more than five, but it feels right this time. There are so many more images I could easily put up here, but you’ll get bored and I’ll be here all night. I hope you enjoyed the selection – have a great Christmas in the meantime!
Following up from an outstanding workshop in Snowdonia back in April with Greg Whitton (You can read all about that one BY CLICKING HERE), as soon as the batteries were running low again I thought it was time for another go in the Lake District. There’s nothing quite the Lakes in autumn, though it has to be said I really wasn’t coming for the trees and colour, but for the opportunities afforded by the potential for quickly changing light and weather. But after the amazing light of Snowdonia surely I couldn’t be that lucky twice right?
A late cancellation coincided with some very interesting looking weather predictions so I signed up at short notice. I got up to the Lakes for about lunchtime on Friday and took the long slow road over the Hardknott Pass into Wastwater. This is West Lakes country, it’s actually pretty close to the coast but I’d never spent any time over this way beyond Tilberthwaite before. Don’t shoot at midday right? What greeted me was an unbelievable start to the weekend with passing storms, rainbows and breaking light. The weekend hadn’t even started yet and already the character of the Lakes was well and truly in full flight…
Late Light In The Lakes
Life On Mars
Later on I accidentally bumped into Greg at Wastwater for a fantastically moody late light show and if nothing else came off we had already bagged a pile of images which were about as gorgeous as it gets across the region. No complaints here again whatsoever.
On The Shoulders Of Giants
Unbelievably the weather predictions were looking as wonderful as Snowdonia in April, not altogether surprisingly in some respects – April and October are transitional months and weather can be extremely changeable wherever you are but I was trying to contain my expectations because April had been pretty special and getting the ‘right’ weather in the Lake District is a game of chance akin to your luck on a roulette wheel as many will agree.
Saturday morning and all was calm. The light was flat, some rain was forecast and the plan was to walk from the north end of Wastwater up over Wasdale Head under the peak of Scafell and back down again – about 13 miles or so, but with all of the elevation thrown in. It didn’t sound super easy but at least I knew what I was really in for this time after Snowdonia. There was a problem though – only a few days before my knee collapsed. To this day I’ve no idea what I did but I could barely walk three days before the weekend and I was on some heavy duty painkillers. Damn. We went out for a woodland walk at first light and I found a nice spot near a river to get my tree quota in. It was still pretty dark, we had head torches on but the edge of the wood was at least letting some early light in across the gloom…
Unexpectedly disaster struck – I tripped on a cobbled stone path in the wood while walking with my D810 & 70-200mm which was hanging around my neck. I’m not sure what was more painful – my right knee which took a very heavy blow or the crunch of my gear as I went over on it. I’ll write another blog post soon about how I’ve managed to repair most of the superficial damage to my D810 but there is a reason why it’s still worth buying a sturdy and well made DSLR; it’s like a piece of rock itself. Even I was surprised to find that the camera and lens performed perfectly still – the same couldn’t be said for my knee however. I was so angry with my clumsiness but occasionally these things happen, neither my D810 or my knee looked very pretty at all – deep scars in my D810 were also matched by a hole in my hand too. Grrrr.
There was no way I was going to let any injuries beat me though. Not today. You can’t go to the Lakes and not get up there, even with cuts and bruises. That prediction turned out to be right, it was pretty hard going carrying injuries but it was spectacular up there. As before Greg was an immaculate guide, impeccably organised, superbly knowledgable, commanding and conscious of the limits of everyone – particular me now I had managed to add new problems into the mix. Regular stops are a must regardless of whether you think you need them or not, but as the day drew on we started to fill up the memory cards with some incredible breaking light which spread over the landscape below us and across the peaks. Immense.
About 3/4s of the way around we stumbled upon a pool at about 2500ft, right under the shadow of the summit of Scafell Pike. What turned out to be the best shot of the day had initially been written off by me as “a shitty composition” much to the amusement of the group I was with. This was a pretty ridiculous statement looking back on this now because The Mercury Pool was an absolute gift and I’m hopeful others think so too. I absolutely love the contrast of the pool but the strip of light across the face of Great Gable behind was a fleeting moment and absolutely makes it for me. This is the stuff I’d come for and I couldn’t believe that we’d got this lucky again, regardless of the painful physical cost.
The Mercury Pool
Time was against us by this point, my leg hurt a lot and there was a long way down. Last shots of the day were over the top of Wastwater for an incredible dramatic sunset and you can see the sort of elevation we were still at here. The cloud moved in, the light fell away and we had to descend most of the way in the dark. It’s a hideous descent from this point – the path is covered in rock all the way down and every step jarred. I’m not sure how I got to the end because sheer will power took over from the pain I was in despite stuffing pills down me to try and take the edge off. Ridiculous. Some things are worth it though, some things are best done only once, and potentially some things just can’t be bettered. This was one of those days and I’m incredibly grateful to Greg that I was there and got off in one piece. If you get a chance to go on a workshop with Mr Whitton – just don’t hesitate, very few people out there will deliver real experiences like these.
North Of Wastwater
Sunday morning wasn’t exactly gorgeous. The rain had moved in to obscure Wastwater almost completely and worse still my injuries from the pervious day had taken their toll. There was going to be no walking for me today so after a rain drenched spell at the south end of Wastwater I bid the team goodbye and set off on a slow drive home. The very best part of shooting in the Lakes is its infinite beauty and photographic possibilities easily accessible at the roadside so I wasn’t too upset that I was making my way back on my own. Sure enough more incredible light on the way back with some exceptional scenery. I drove back over Hardknott Pass through Coniston and of course you get to see things from a whole new angle. Regardless it was another wonderful spell of weather to finish the weekend, quite exceptional. There’s no way I’ll be this lucky again but Scotland beckons in February so here’s hoping…
West Lakes Storm Light
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