As improvements continue to be made in-camera image stablilisation (IBIS), photographs that could only be made using a tripod become possible hand-held. Particularly when the camera stabilisation is complemented with lens stabilisation, hand holding a camera at near-impossible shutter speeds becomes a reality. The above image was made using a Lee filters IRND 10 stop, which has no colour cast, and a handheld 2 second exposure.
Aurora borealis, Skagsanden beach, Lofoten, Norway. 2014.
The saying "the difference between night and day" is commonly used to express how opposite things are. This struck me as I was reorganising the archive of my processed images and came across these two photographs, taken at Skagsanden beach in Lofoten, Norway, a few years back.
This group of islands in northern Norway is well known among photographers for its incredible winter landscapes. The contrast between the dramatic, snow-covered mountains reaching all the way into the sea and long sandy beaches is both fascinating and stunningly beautiful.
Becoming familiar with a location by day certainly makes it easier to move around and set up at night, for the occasions when the aurora borealis –Northern lights – are looking like they will be active. These two images are taken on opposite ends of the same beach – the drama of the frozen sands contrasting with this simply incredible night-time light show.
Limited Edition framed print 500 x 500mm box frame.
This has been one of my most admired images of Kinsale and it is hard for me to believe that it was made twenty years ago now. Like most strong images, the moment that it was made it clearly imprinted in my mind. For younger photographers who have not experienced making photographs with medium or large format film-based equipment, the will seem like something quaint from a century gone by.
My primary camera system at the time was a Hassleblad 503CX. This was slightly more refined version of a workhorse camera for a generation of photographers, both professional and enthusiast, the square format 500. It took either 120 or 220 roll film, a larger format than 35mm, and along with wonderful Zeiss lenses, created superb images. It had no electronics, had a waist-level viewfinder and was really at its best on a sturdy tripod.
The evening that this image was made was one of those rare, perfectly still early summer days when high tide coincided with warm evening light. I had seen this coming and was setting up for a nice composition near where the mast and monuments are today, with tripod just where I wanted it and I settled to watch the light bathe the harbour at the end of the day. From the corner of my eye, I spotted a couple of swans swim under the Kinsale Yacht Club marina walkway and only then saw four more a short distance behind. There was no time to move the tripod, so I quickly released the camera and lens and ran down the Pier Road and managed two exposures before the line of six broke up and wondered on, oblivious to the art being made above them!
Transparency film was a tough medium to work in – it was extremely intolerant of incorrect exposure and it was very much a case of the colour, shadow and highlight detail either being right or completely wrong. I'm sure there are many film-era photographers will relate to this as they recall chucking transparencies that they thought were going to be perfect in the bin. In the case of this shot, I had already read the exposure for the film using a handheld light meter (Fujichrome Velvia 50) and had no time to re-think or calculate this as the moment passed. And while the composition of the photograph still pleases me today, the slow shutter speed (probably 1/30 of a second) renders some movement blur in the swans. The finished image, when printed, is a moment – not a spectacular instant of light or anything – but unique and unrepeatable.
I have asked my colleagues in Strand Framing in Clonakilty to produce a special frame for this limited edition print, the overall size being 500x500mm (20"x20") and I have printed the scanned image on Permajet Fine Art Royal, heavyweight archival paper. I take great pleasure in individually finishing and signing each one.
I hope you enjoy this moment as much as I treasure it.
Sunset over Paine Grande, Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia.The sun sets behind the peaks of Paine Grande as water rushes through Salto Grande falls joining Lago Nordenskjold and Lago Pehoe, Torres del Paine national park, Patagonia, Chile.
One of the great photographic pioneers of the nineteenth century was Irish born Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Often referred to as America’s forgotten photographer, this private man created a remarkable and varied body of work, from the brutal battlefields of the American Civil War to the arid landscapes of the western wilderness. As such, he was one of the earliest landscape photographers, his technical and artistic achievements establishing a justified reputation as pioneering artist in the new medium of photography.
The remarkable fact that so much of O’Sullivan’s work survives and is held in the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institute in the United States, contrasts with the sparse details of his short life. A great effort to learn more about him was undertaken when the Smithsonian and Library of Congress joined forces to put together a collection of O’Sullivan’s work on the American west. It seemed that the harder the researchers looked the less they found and the more questions they had.
What is certain is that O’Sullivan was born to Jeremiah and Anne O’Sullivan in 1840 and went to the United States two years later on an emigrant famine ship. The young family settled in Staten Island in New York, where Timothy grew up. As a teenager, he was taken on as an apprentice to Matthew Brady, a fellow Irishman, who had a successful gallery and studio in the emerging art and science of photography. When the American Civil war broke out in 1861, Brady had just expanded his venture to Washington and was perfectly placed to send photographers to document the unfolding events in and around the battlefields of Virginia and Maryland. The 21-year-old O’Sullivan and a Scot named Alexander Gardner loaded their cameras and darkroom on to horse-drawn wagons and headed west. In July of that year, an overconfident Union Army received a bloody baptism of fire at Manassas, Virginia and O’Sullivan recorded the aftermath of a stunning Confederate victory. Years later, he lamented his failure to fully capture the Battle of Bull Run “close up” – a rebel artillery shell, O’Sullivan explained, had blown away one of his cameras.
O’Sullivan and Gardner were to become the first war photographers, bringing the horror of the battlefield to the front pages of a shocked American public. If anything, Timothy O’Sullivan is best known for this work and several of his plates are most iconic images of this grim time in U.S. history. In particular, the image of bodies strewn across a battlefield, titled ‘A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 1863’ remains a stark and grim record of the reality of war. From a photographic perspective, this work was not merely documentary, O’Sullivan demonstrating a rare compositional talent in constructing his images and leading the viewer on a journey. In the above image, both the foreground and background elements are out of focus, concentrating the eye on the uncomfortable reality of the war dead. It was this honesty of vision coupled with technical expertise and an ability to work in extremely challenging environments that would lead to his later work in expeditions to explore the west.
Gardner and O’Sullivan had a falling out with Brady, not for business or money reasons, but because Brady insisted on crediting the work collectively to his studio and not to the photographers individually. Given that they were literally putting their lives on the line, it is understandable this was a reason for them to part company. Gardner set up his own studio and O’Sullivan continued his work on the civil war in the employ of his colleague. Their co-operation yielded a remarkable and now rare book of images, ‘Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War’, and it is this work that shows the photographers individual images, all of which are individually captioned and credited. O’Sullivan is credited with 44 of the 100 works published in this two volume work.
After the war, where O’Sullivan obviously proved himself in the field, an opportunity to join two survey expeditions to the American west was a welcome reprieve from the horrors of the Civil War. The first of these surveys was undertaken between 1867 and 1869 and was led by Clarence King. The expedition explored a swath of wilderness 100 miles wide, stretching along the 40th Parallel between the Sierra and the Rocky Mountains. The second survey expedition under George Wheeler, covered a vast area of the American Southwest between 1871 and 1874.
It is the landscape images from these expeditions that have endured and are remarkable to view, even today. The collaboration between the Smithsonian and Library of Congress brought together both their individual catalogues to create a remarkable portfolio. This project culminated in an exhibition of the curated work and the publication a book, ‘Framing the West’, in 2010. Given that he was the first photographer to visit most of these wild places and had no previous work to draw from – the resulting catalogue of images are wonderfully crafted and testament to great talent.
O’Sullivan once again shows a superb eye for composition and detail in capturing the deserts and mountains of the American southwest. The images have a haunting reality in capturing the light, land and native people of the largely empty wide open spaces of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. That the work has survived and is in such good condition is something that will pass down the generations as an enduring record and artistic representation of the wild west. It is all the more remarkable to have survived, given that the work was largely forgotten until its rediscovery by the great landscape photographer Ansel Adams in the 1930’s. Adams credits O’Sullivan as one of his earliest and greatest influences, a fine testament indeed from one of the most respected photographic artists of the 20th century.
His personal life is a different story, however. Having survived being a front-line war photographer – including the aforementioned occasion when his camera and wagon were struck by an artillery shell – his life outside of this and the survey expeditions was perilous. This is where so little is known of his life, only that is was unsettled and carried its own tale of tragedy. On leave from the West in 1873, O’Sullivan married Laura Virginia Pywell, the daughter of an English-born livery stable operator in Washington, D.C. Timothy likely met his future wife through her brother William R. Pywell, also a Civil War photographer whose work was also represented in Gardner’s ‘Photographic Sketch Book of the War’. In addition to marrying outside his ethnic background, O’Sullivan was also abandoning whatever bonds remained to his Catholic upbringing – the marriage being officiated by Reverend David Jutten, a Protestant Minister in Washington, D.C.’s East Street Baptist Church.
After his final return from the West, in late 1874, O’Sullivan was employed printing the negatives from his survey work. His brief career at the Treasury Department, from 1880-1881, was abruptly terminated in March 1881 by the onset tuberculosis. While Timothy was convalescing at his parents’ home on Staten Island, his wife Laura succumbed to the same disease on October 18th, 1881 in Washington, D.C. She was 31.
Timothy returned to Washington for the funeral and buried his wife alongside the couple’s only child, a son stillborn in 1876, in the Pywell family plot in Rock Creek Cemetery. In late December, he returned to Staten Island and was placed under a doctor’s care. Timothy died at his parents’ home, aged 42, on January 14th, 1882.
The legacy of Timothy H. O’Sullivan’s work, both of the American civil war and of the wide open landscapes of the southwest is enduring. His body of work and life story were very much on my mind during a trip to photograph the American Southwest in early 2017. Given the iconic work of O’Sullivan and Adams and the many photographers since then, I had longed to see these landscapes for many years. As I set up for a sunrise shot in the Navajo lands after an early hike, my small backpack of equipment a far cry from O’Sullivan’s darkroom wagon, pulled by four mules, 150 years before.
Summer sea pinks at SandycoveSummer sea pinks at Sandycove
Kinsale Community Hospital is a modern long-stay facility for Kinsale's older residents. The main hospital building has a long history, being over 200 years old but has been continuously developed over recent years and is now a bright, airy residential home to 40 people. During the recent phase of development, the Director of the hospital made contact with a view to incorporating Kinsale images in key areas of the hospital.
The first area we looked at was the main reception hall. The entrance to the hospital had recently been transformed into a modern, glass-walled doorway and this lead to the traditionally used hallway which is crossroads for residents, staff and visitors alike.
Kinsale Community Hospital, entrance.
Kinsale Community Hospital, main hallway.
The theme here was to bring elements of the town to the residents, to retain their sense of place and enjoy seeing Kinsale on a daily basis. After some discussion, we decided that the harbour area is one of the defining visual aspects that everybody relates to. A three piece set going from the inner harbour, marina and outer harbour has worked really well and has become a great talking point. All three images were from film originals in my archive of 30 years, which were scanned to high resolution, then printed and framed.
Kinsale Community Hospital, main entrance hallway.
The next area was the downstairs corridor, which has a nice entrance and foyer – for this we chose a seascape of Sandycove:
Summer sea pinks at Sandycove
Other areas were the main stairway, which had a small, square-shaped wall at the landing. Here, I used a fleeting moment of six swans in the inner harbour on a sunny evening at high tide.
Kinsale Community Hospital, first floor stairway landing.
Kinsale Community Hospital, Six swans in Kinsale harbour.
The staff room, where the hard-working nursing and support staff take their rest breaks has a panoramic canvas:
Harbour panorama, Kinsale
And upstairs, in the long corridor, there is an aerial image of the Old Head of Kinsale, shot from a helicopter in the days before drones..
Old Head of Kinsale, from the air.
It has been a great privilege to work on these images and to hear back how much the residents enjoy them. I deliberately omitted captioning the year or dates that the photographs were made, as it is a great source of conversation to debate among the residents themselves, their families and indeed, the staff. The great thing about film originals is that even I cannot be sure as to the exact dates that these images were made! It was also an enjoyable project for me personally, as I have had a long association with the hospital, having been part-time pharmacist here in the early 1990's. It has been wonderful to see how this valuable resource has been so tastefully developed for the people of Kinsale.
The highly anticipated 7-14mmF2.8Pro M4/3 wide-angle zoom from Olympus is now available – I've just been checking the lens out and how it might fit in a Nauticam housing. There have been expressions of concern on Wetpixel and other forums as to the physical size of the lens and the fact that it might not fit in a housing at all. I am happy to report that it does – and while Nauticam have yet to confirm optimum port options, I reckon the 180mm dome with the correct adapter/spacer will work, just as it does for the Panasonic 7-14mm. Looking forward to testing this underwater...
Olympus 7-14mmF2.8 Pro Lens & Nauticam underwater housing - Vimeo
Most 'serious' underwater photographers aspire to using a large sensor camera like a modern DSLR or Mirrorless interchangeable lens (MILC). The image quality and lens choices are significantly better than with a small sensor compact camera. If you have built up dedicated underwater compact system, however, there is one significant advantage with a compact – you can change lenses underwater.
The recent introduction of a high quality wet wide angle lens from housing manufacturer Nauticam opens this versatility to systems other than compacts. This is seriously compelling for mirrorless users, so I decided to put it to the test on a recent trip to Lanzarote. I bought adapters and port fittings for my existing Inon wet lenses that I use on a compact Canon S110 outfit. The images in this blog post were all shot on a single dive with Safari Diving Lanzarote and show that the versatility of being able to change lenses during a dive opens up a world of possibilities...
Dive 2015 – the Birmingham dive show is the largest and longest established scuba diving event in the UK. For more than 20 years, Diver magazine has organised both this event and a spring event in London. These shows are a great way to see new products, innovations, destinations and have great speakers. My interest is obviously in the underwater photography and video side of the show and this year I brought along a small video and microphone setup to share some of the new products and ideas from the show.