We’ve all heard about Work Life Balance. It’s a simple enough concept broadly about keeping things in check, ensuring that one focus doesn’t overtake another. The truth is that life is a lot more complicated than keeping a couple of things in check, a couple of hundred might be more accurate. When you really take a moment to analyse those things, are we really in balance and control? Is control merely an illusion?
I announced a project at the start of the year called “Project Me”. It wasn’t a photography project, it was a re-focussing on myself – quite difficult when you’re married, have two kids (one disabled) and a day job that’s just about as challenging and stressful as they come. A substantial part of that job is managing a very large team of people and the older I get the more I realise how important they all are, how their own lives intertwine and inevitably directly affect mine. I’m not like other managers I’ve known, I can’t switch off those relationships when I get in my car at the end of the day, those experiences shape who I am. The more people you feel like you’re responsible for, the further you place yourself down the pecking order and I had de-prioritised myself for far too long.
At the start of the year I was 47 years old, weighed 19st and was dreading my 48th birthday. That dread had been with me for a long time in truth – it wasn’t really centred on my birthday but was more of a continuous depression, well hidden at times, less so at other times. I hadn’t been happy with myself or in myself for a long time. That manifests itself in ways that create self-defeating ever decreasing circles. Example: if I’m not feeling strong mentally, I might approach my photography somewhat distracted, almost expecting to fail. I feel uninspired and then I fail to deliver. This leads to further dissatisfaction and pointlessness because the output is poor, leaving me questioning the one thing that gets me away from all of the other pressures of life in the first place, the thing that’s meant to be the escape has become the enemy. Again. Thus, ever-decreasing circles and the balance has gone.
I started the year like any other with zero expectations and no particular ambition. I hate the idea of New Year resolutions because if you’re going to do something, then do it, you don’t need a date to pin things to. I’ve always been like this – my belief is tomorrow can be like today, or it can be different to yesterday – the decision is completely in your hands. One week into the New Year I unexpectedly read an article in The Independent about a HGV driver called Adam Moffat who had lost an incredible 12st in weight. Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter how, it’s just that it was possible for someone who performed the job that you’d think this feat would be almost impossible for; a HGV driver who literally sat down all day where there was limited to zero opportunity to do anything but that. It grabbed my attention and I decided it was time to do something for myself, Adam was the living incarnation of self belief and “Project Me” was born. By the way, I’m writing this not out of some self triumph (besides I’m not finished yet by some way) but in case you feel the same, it’s all in your hands – hopefully this might inspire someone just as Adam’s story did for me.
For too long, I’ve worked against myself and I’ve created so many problems for myself. My addictive personality and more than moderate OCD makes me approach things a certain way and that combination can be incredibly destructive or a force for good like you wouldn’t believe. When I’ve turned these characteristics on myself in the past (and it’s not as simple as they way I’ve just made that sound) I was able to stop smoking on a whim (some 18 years ago now) and lately stop drinking alcohol too which has been somewhere over a couple of years. Those same characteristics also drove my photography to improve and has got me to a certain level in my career that doesn’t leave me feeling unfulfilled at least. I decided that a change of lifestyle was the way forward and somehow I’ve channelled that deeply competitive side of me once again. At the time of writing I’ve lost just under 4st in weight since the start of the year and the less than unexpected effects are remarkable. I’m turning my own fitness on its head and its a revelation; I bought a water rower and already have genuine aerobic ability. I also bought a set of free weights and I’m now building power I can’t remember having thanks to an excellent coach I found on YouTube. I used to wake up in pain, I couldn’t climb stairs properly, my joints were knackered but worst of all I didn’t care. Inevitably this was limiting my ability more and more…
Today I bought a North Face fleece that was a size ‘L’, and it fits. I don’t remember buying anything without an ‘X’ or an ‘XX’ on its label for close on 20 years I reckon. Shopping has been as miserable and depressing as anything else, but not today. Today made me feel normal. Today represented genuine progress and that is shaping my mental reality. Once you feel like you’re capable of anything, you’re released from everything holding you back. I now weigh 15st instead of 19 but I want to get to 12 – I’ll let you know once that has happened but it will be months and months yet even from here. So what difference has it made to my photography? ‘Liberating’ I think would be the most accurate word. ‘Confident’ is another. Culminating in some images this week where I was happy with what I’d produced, that I’m seeing things again that are close to somewhere I want to be with an artistic view of the land.
The balance is being restored and it’s a force to be reckoned with. If you’re in a similar position to where I was I highly recommend that you re-think your future. Like Adam, I’m managing to make changes that are only positive but the first thing you have to do is to stop lying to yourself, then stop beating yourself up and after that focus on improving yourself. Drop me a line if you want to hear any of the specifics.
On paper, the Nikon D850 promises much, it’s certainly a camera that I think Nikon have aimed to disrupt the whole market with by seemingly packing in as much as it possibly can. There are one or two other manufacturers out there lately who have fallen into the rather questionable habit of trying to pass off ageing tech in a ‘new’ body but with the D850 Nikon feels like they are going all out to deliver a dynamite combination of speed, resolution and flexibility. Amongst the questions I will attempt to answer here is does that spec sheet deliver real world improved outcomes over what has come before, and how?
Context & Background
It should be obvious from this website that I mainly shoot landscapes, so clearly that will be the main subject focus here as usual. In particular, the 45MP resolution on offer from the D850 lends itself perfectly to this remit, delivering highly detailed files. My experience with Nikon goes back many, many years now and I’ve owned a whole series of their DSLRs and a huge number of lenses. More recently these bodies have included the D800, D800E, D810, Df, D500 and now of course the D850 so I’m fairly well placed to make comparisons of feature sets and image quality. Until recently I retained three of these – the D850, a D500 and a 720nm converted infrared D800 for my day to day shooting but since originally writing this piece, and thanks to the D850, my D500 became surplus to requirements and has now been sold. I should also say in passing that I’ve plenty of experience with the Fuji X Mirrorless system too, though I no longer retain any of it.
Before picking up the D850 soon after its release in 2017, my ‘main’ landscape camera was the Nikon D810. It was in many ways the camera that everyone really wanted the D800 to be when it was originally released back in 2012. The D810 is a highly refined shooting experience compared to the D800, has a nicely dampened shutter release, delivers that wonderful ISO64 setting for ultra clean files, has an improved rear LCD display and is generally a lovely DSLR to use. I suppose until someone puts a pile of improvements in front of you in a new package it is the sort of camera that many people would continue to be highly satisfied with.
But then things inevitably evolve. Nikon definitely disrupted the marketplace with the rather unexpected release of the D500 right at the start of 2016 in which it grabbed some of the top of the line pro level features from the Nikon D5 and created a DX (crop) sensor high-performance 20.9MP 10 FPS beast at an altogether accessible price point, intended for the mass market. As a landscape photographer I always want a secondary body because frankly the risk of damage to gear is elevated given the occasional dangerous environments and outdoor shooting scenarios that you can encounter. Until the D500 was released I had been using the Df in that role but while the Df produced gorgeous files it was also a deeply flawed and frustrating user experience on many levels all at the same time. The D500 looked to have resolved many of those flaws to me (autofocus and handling being particularly significant improvements) and so I traded my Df and I really haven’t looked back.
In fact, the D500 was so good, something unexpected started to happen – the D500 was becoming my DSLR of choice over the D810 because it just did things so much better, despite having a significant resolution disadvantage. The sheer speed capability and zip about the camera with XQD was a huge revelation, the touchscreen provided a much improved shooting experience while big autofocus, white balance and punchy colour output improvements made me genuinely start to wish I could just somehow have those features combined with the greater 36MP resolution of the D810 along with its ISO advantage. If only….
Does the D850 prove dreams come true and you can really have it all? I would have loved to have been in that Nikon design meeting when someone said “Why don’t we try and make a camera that brings the D500 and D810 together in a single package?”. And then someone agreed. When the spec list was initially leaked to the world I don’t think many camera lovers could believe that Nikon were about to do just that – take the power and sheer performance of features drawn from the D5/D500 and combine those with a higher resolution body built on the pedigree of the D810. Could it be we finally had it all, the goldilocks camera; speed, precision, high resolution and handling?
Presence, Handling & Basic Usability
So let’s get down to brass tacks with the D850 and start with the outside and work our way in…. Out of the box, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that first impressions are that the D850 honestly doesn’t look too different to anything Nikon has made before in this series. When sitting alongside my D500 in particular I could barely tell the two apart by sight and it’s definitely more D500 than D810 in its shape and physical presence. There is only a small height and shape difference when you get to the top of the camera where changes are just about apparent, the D850 is more angular with a pinch of extra height in order to facilitate the new pentaprism viewfinder.
As I reported at the start of this piece I’ve used a plethora of Nikon bodies but I also mentioned the Fuji X System. One of the reasons why I didn’t get on with Fuji at all was that I couldn’t get my hand comfortably around them (I used an X-E2 and X-T1); they were just too small and if I added a more substantial lens up front the X System was a very poorly balanced experience in my view. To a degree, the Nikon Df suffers from a similar narrow grip problem too which is where the D500 totally delivers, and yes, the ‘D500 grip experience’ is carried into the D850, and marginally improved upon. It’s a fantastic substantial feel which you can comfortably hold with larger lenses whilst giving the confidence of being very well balanced, a joy in truth.
There are weight differences which are more apparent however. There is a bit of additional heft about the D850 and for comparison I’ve listed the respective weights together below (all include a loaded EN-EL15 battery):
Sony A7RIII – 657g + Metabones Adapter 193g (Nikon F to Sony E Mount) = Total 850g
Now, to anyone other than the most sensitive of people, the D850 won’t feel any different to the D810 weight wise but holding a D500 in one hand and the D850 in the other with my eyes closed, I can just about tell which one is which. I put the 155g difference down to the body make up – the D850 comes with a magnesium alloy shell with advanced weather sealing (similar in construction to the D810) while the D500 definitely has more lighter weight plastics used in its bones. Speaking of bones, I thought I would throw in the weight difference with the Sony A7RIII here too, with an accompanying Metabones adapter (which would be necessary in order to use Nikon glass on it). Much is made of the ‘vast’ weight difference between Mirrorless and DSLR bodies but in truth as Mirrorless has matured, each iteration has gained more and more weight. The Sony is a case in point – once a Metabones adapter is applied the difference is a measly 165g. That is utterly insignificant in a backpack and equalised or obliterated once you start adding Sony’s rather bloated but nonetheless highly rated G Master lenses. The day of reckoning for DSLRs has not arrived yet – indeed there is little to pick between the Sony A7RIII and Nikon D850 from a feature set point of view, though handling and usability are another discussion altogether which Nikon wins hands down in my view. For now if you’re already invested in Nikon’s glass there is still very little that is truly enticing about switching to Sony. If you shoot Canon, that is an altogether different discussion given the relatively mediocre sensor performance and feature set which is well behind the curve of other manufacturers now.
One particular component which is all new in the D850 is its optical viewfinder. It’s technical specification here is that the pentaprism delivers a 0.75x magnification which won’t mean much to most people without a frame of reference. Nikon say that this is the biggest and brightest viewfinder in a Nikon camera yet and from my point of view it is indeed rather gorgeous. I don’t really have anything else to say about this other than from my point of view it remains a key advantage over mirrorless cameras. If you want the ‘mirrorless experience’ you can switch to Live View and Bob’s your Auntie, the best of both worlds.
I’m going to cover the LCD Touchscreen in its own section further below but I should mention the basic accessibility of controls right here. Once again Nikon doesn’t try to do anything too ambitious with its control layout on the D850 and sticks to a very tried and tested button formula which works fantastically well for me. In designing the D850 they pretty much took an identical button layout from the D500 and applied it, including the splendid autofocus point selection joystick which the D810 lacked on the back and the dedicated ISO button on the top near the shutter button which I love. (By the way, you can program the D800 and D810 to change the function of the Movie Record button to do exactly the same). The only thing I continue to take issue with here is the rather confusing application of an ‘i’ button which resides directly next to the ‘info’ button. Even as I write this now I can’t tell you which button does what until you press one. That single nuance aside, all of the main functionality is easily accessible as always and Nikon have a very nicely tuned layout for me.
Another physical feature the D850 inherited from the D500 are buttons which light up on the top and down the back left of the camera (though notably not the buttons to the right of the LCD on the back). Pre-dawn shoots are positively improved here for me – less guesswork and more certainty in very low light improves the shooting experience. Once again, it’s a very useful feature that the D810 didn’t enjoy and another tick for the D850.
The pop-up flash may be gone, but I bought the rather splendid alloy Nikon ASC-01 hotshoe cover to crown my D850
One of the key physical differences I should mention between the D810 and the D850 is the loss of the pop-up flash. It’s true that one or two people will lament this change by Nikon maybe but from most landscape photographer’s point of view I expect it represented a weak point in the D810. It’s sheer presence on the camera compromised weather sealing in my view (I used to regularly mop moisture from under the flash unit after rain or seascape shoots) and so I am very pleased to see it gone. Other opinions will apply here of course(!) but the D500’s design had already done away with it so in my view it also made perfect sense that this particular trend would continue. One or two may find it hard to agree but I genuinely see the removal of the pop-up flash as progress, not a retro-step which downgrades the spec of the D850 in any way.
My verdict on Presence, Handling, & Basic Usability: The D850 definitely has a fantastic grip and all over solid quality feel to it. The design is robust and I see the non-inclusion of the pop-up flash of the D800/D810 as an advantage adding to that strength, but others might see that differently. One or two might find the overall weight unappealing but if so looking at a DSLR in the first place probably isn’t the right choice for you. For those that want the best quality this segment of the camera market has to offer, I challenge you not to be happy with the D850 – it delivers a superb viewfinder experience and all of the right controls are in all of the right places, indeed it improves on everything that has gone before it for me. A big win in this section of the review overall, especially when compared to the D810.
The Touchscreen Experience
More improvements here for the D850. Nikon took the excellent D500 application of the tilting LCD and built on it. This is where some product differentiation starts to show again between models;
The D810 has a fixed LCD screen with no touch controls at all. In itself it was very much a big improvement over the original D800/E in Live View and enjoyed a 3.2” 1,229,000 dot resolution.
The D500 by comparison to the D810 has a nicely robust tilting 3.2” LCD but enjoyed a resolution boost to 2,359,000 dots, almost doubling the look of image sharpness on the back of the camera. Another big introduction here was touch controls but significantly these do not work in menus, something which I think Nikon could potentially address with Firmware (I won’t hold my breath though!). It is only really useful in landscape orientation though, it doesn’t tilt and flip for use in portrait orientation.
Finally, the D850 also enjoys the same predictably strong tilting 3.2” LCD and 2,359,000 super-sharp resolution but now has additional touch controls not only for Live View use but for the camera menus too. Just like the D500 you can touch to focus, touch to release the shutter, pinch and swipe controls (just like your smartphone) in image review etc. It’s still only really best used in landscape orientation but it all adds up to a very predictable and tidy experience – I love it and it was one of my key reasons to buy the camera.
The D850 solution is inevitably the most rounded and usable of all three, so much so I became somewhat irritated that my D500 didn’t have quite the same functionality because it’s definitely the right experience on the D850 and I’d been spoiled by the improvement. It has been said down the years that tilt screens are a point of weakness and could easily break. In my experience Nikon’s implementation couldn’t make this further from the truth – it’s definitely NOT a flimsy execution and I have no concerns whatsoever. There are plenty of videos on YouTube of photographers swinging their Nikon by the flip-out screen (not something I would generally recommend!) but these just go to support what I’m talking about. I should say that I also frequent one or two photography forums and I haven’t seen a single complaint of LCD screen failure or damage at all in the D500 or D850.
Just as a side point, I put a GGS Larmor LCD protector on my touchscreen to add to its general defence (I did this with my D500 too) – I’ve had a situation on a previous camera where I was pleased it had been there. There is no change in touchscreen responsiveness with this additional protection though obviously you add anything like this at your own ‘risk’.
Pinch to zoom, swipe, double tap, the touchscreen is not only beautifully sharp but fully functional
Some might cry foul here based on my scathing assessment of the pop-up flash on the D810 being a weakness but the truth is that the flip out screen closes very securely to the camera back – you wouldn’t necessarily know it was a tilt screen unless someone showed you how to pull it out. The D850 and D500 share the same robustness here and for landscape photographers like me means I can get really low without having to lie in the undergrowth or puddles. It’s a very welcome addition indeed and a massive improvement over the D810 which lacks all of these features.
My verdict on the Touchscreen Experience: Nikon have implemented an excellent solution with its D850 touchscreen. There is little to complain about – resolution is sharp, responsiveness is predictable and accurate and the tilting capability makes for much easier usage (in landscape orientation at least). You can now access menus as well as Live View controls and its touchscreen is as good an implementation as I have in my iPhone which can only be the best possible reference for Nikon here.
A few minutes on Memory Cards
This might seem like a bit of an odd thing to focus in on but all will become clear in a moment. When Nikon decided the spec for the D850, they once again took the D500 model and replicated the memory card choices – two slots for resiliency or overflow (my preference is for resiliency), one being dedicated to the XQD format and one to the latest UHS-II SD card format. The problem here is that at present both slots operate at different maximum speeds and there’s a bit of debate across the internet about Nikon’s continued preference in respect of the use of XQD.
So far, Nikon have very successfully used the XQD card format in the D4s, D5, D500 and now the D850. I see XQD as a super-fast data card format delivering (at the time of writing) a maximum of around 440MBs per second. That’s a whopping 4Gbits/s of data transfer potential and make no mistake that’s HUGE speed and power. All of this muscle is of course needed to facilitate the native 7 frames per second (FPS) bursts of 45MP images, up to 9 FPS with the additional MB-D18 grip and EN-EL18 battery combo.
So what’s the issue? The issue is one of potential supply issues right now. The story goes that Nikon got together with Sony and Sandisk to develop the XQD format, yet Sandisk still don’t make an XQD card for reasons I can’t explain. Lexar did however enter the market and manufacture these cards right up until they closed their retail division recently, leaving Sony, as the sole supplier. Curiously Lexar have re-emerged claiming they will now continue to produce XQD after all, but for how long who knows. Some see the whole situation as problematic and I can understand why, a narrow market is rarely good news for consumers where specialist items are concerned. The rather quizzical situation is confused further by the fact that Sony (despite being one of the key partners in designing this fantastic card) have not implemented XQD in even the recent release of the A7R MkIII, reserving the cards for only a handful of their high-end video cameras. Bottom line – do I really care about all of this? In a word, no, but it’s context worth pointing out I think. Cards look like they are available at reasonably fair prices and are not in short supply. I personally use Lexar cards in my D500 and D850 for both the XQD and UHS-II SD slot and I can highly recommend them while they are still available. A 64GB card has capacity for around 640 lossless compressed RAW files on the D850.
My choice of memory cards was easy – independent tests has Lexar as the top performer
Here’s the rub though: whether you use XQD or UHS-II SD (or both together), the best cards with highest write speeds unlock the full performance of the D850 and turn it into a lightning fast proposition. It’s spectacular. Don’t put slow cards into this camera because you will positively kill its potential – I shoot with a Lexar 2933x (440MB/s) XQD card in slot 1 and the Lexar 2000x (300MB/s) UHS-II SD card in slot 2. Fast cards ensure that the buffer empties quickly so for those who are trigger happy they will get the most out of it by buying the fastest cards possible. Frankly the 7fps (9 with grip) performance of the D850 absolutely trounces the D810, the D810 is not in the same league at all and these card choices enhance the speed of operation in the camera significantly including image review, download, in-camera re-touching and so on.
My verdict on Memory Cards: Yes, I would much rather actually have both slots utilise the same card format but in real world shooting it’s still a very high performance experience regardless, vastly improved over the D810 and nothing at all to complain about. Just perhaps buy enough XQD card capacity to keep you good for a while…
Let’s get into image quality and the shooting experience now, which is absolutely critical.
Sensor Resolution and ISO Performance
Nikon created a brand new 45MP Back-Side Illuminated (BSI) sensor for the D850 and suggested there would be visible improvement that came with that package. Pinning sensor resolution and ISO performance together for this part of the review is therefore important because these aspects of the camera usually trade off fairly heavily against each other.
Anyone investigating this end of the DSLR market should already understand the reason why lower resolution cameras perform better at higher ISO (and if you don’t you had better look it up elsewhere first!) which is why the 16MP Nikon Df, with its hand-me-down D4 sensor performs so beautifully at higher ISO and why the D810 struggles to deliver usable quality images over ISO6400 (my opinion of course). Resolution and High ISO continue to be in contention no matter how good the implementation is, though clearly as time moves on and technology improves every camera company is seeking the holy grail of good quality High ISO with the benefits of higher resolution. The question is, did Nikon really manage to pull this feat off and improve the performance over the D810?
Well, my answer is yes, and no. I’m really not sitting on the fence here, it just depends what your definition of ‘improvement’ is. Some people are looking for the unicorn ‘one stop improvement’ with every camera release which frankly was never likely here and has definitely not been delivered. However, the way I see things is that Nikon took the D810’s excellent class leading 36MP sensor (which Canon shooters would still probably trade a kidney for!) and re-engineered it to deliver a 9MP resolution bump to 45MP. That’s a 25% pixel level boost which I think is pretty significant in its own right. Nikon not only delivered this boost while protecting the lower ISO performance (which would have been a REAL concern to me if they hadn’t) but in addition, from what I can see, also managed a marginal higher ISO improvement (which is subtle, but present). Probably the more significant improvement is Nikon managed to deal with the removal of the magenta cast that is usually present in blacks and is experienced at high ISO..
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!