My heart is in mono….. and in the countryside

In the latter half of last year I made a conscious effort to make images in colour and not in black and white. Monochrome had been my default creative choice for many years, in fact for nearly a decade. Whilst some of the images I made in colour pleased me, I was finding it increasingly hard to motivate myself to make more colour pictures. As a consequence the past few months have proven to be a very lean period. I even had one kind follower asking me if I was okay? Rest assured I am fine, but photographically speaking I can only admit to being in something of a creative rut.

A change of tack was required. In more recent weeks I have been out in the countryside near our home in Dorset with the sole intention of making black and white images. Whether overcast and dull, or bright and sunny, the camera has recorded what has drawn my eye. I had no high expectations. This was not about making prize winning pictures, nor even ones which would be added to one of my galleries at a later date. Quite simply this was an exercise to teach myself to see the world in shades of grey again, and in the process to make a few images which might rekindle my love of photography and in particular the genre which has been the core of this site.

Was it a success? 100% yes. I not only immersed myself in the beauty of the countryside but I made images which in all likelihood had they been in colour would have done nothing for me. In life you have to try new things and although I can still see myself making some colour images, if I am being completely honest with myself, my heart is in monochrome. The creative medium I discovered back in 2011 which has given me so much pleasure ever since.

Why monochrome I ask myself? Is it the timeless quality of mono? Almost certainly. Is it the greater freedom of creative choices? Again yes. The removal of colour instantly renders an image unreal, an abstraction of the world from how we normally see it. Different processing techniques can evoke feelings and expression in a way which may not always be possible in colour. That’s not to say that colour doesn’t have advantages over B&W, it certainly does but for the most part it’s not for me. Colour is a distraction and if I look at two images of the same subject, one in colour the other in black and white, almost invariably I will find the monochrome version more pleasing. It’s all down to personal preference as we all have different tastes. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we all liked the same thing?

What else did this experience teach me? Whilst I have often advocated, but not always practiced, the maxim ‘always carry a camera’, in the hope that something might draw my eye, there is really no substitute for going out with the intention of making photographs. Yes of course some days will be more productive and rewarding than others, but looking isn’t the same as observing and to find strong compositions in good light takes time and concentration. Sherlock Holmes famously said; “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” There is another benefit to this more considered approach to image making – I appreciate the beauty of the countryside so much more. I stop to not only observe, but also to listen and absorb the very nature of my surroundings. I am all too aware that I can miss photo opportunities if always on the move.

There is another advantage to being out and about with a camera to take photographs as opposed to going for a walk and taking a camera. There is clearly a priority of purpose. It might also be deemed to be practicing, which doesn’t always make perfect, but I do strongly believe practice can enhance your good fortune. It has been said many times before, but the saying “The harder I practice, the luckier I get” holds true for many pursuits in life.

Similarly Henri Cartier-Bresson said – “The first 10,000 photographs are your worst”. In this digital age that number could easily be increased 10 fold. Not only will practice increase your chances of a successful outcome but you will become more familiar with your camera, lens choice and other equipment, further enhancing your technical skills. I will freely admit having to re-learn which actions I had assigned to certain function buttons when I went out the other day!

I doubt that Ansel Adams would have gone out for a walk in Yosemite with his view camera and large tripod purely in the hope that a scene worthy of capture might appear in front of him. After all he wanted to make images, to indulge himself in his love of photography and to fully appreciate the majesty of the world around him. I think it entirely appropriate to say that he was a photographer first and not a rambler with a camera!

I have enjoyed writing this entry whilst sharing some of my thoughts and recent images with you.

From now on, it’s back to my first love of monochrome, and images of the countryside which I am very fortunate to experience.

Thanks for reading.

A return to the Beech Avenue

It has been four years since I last visited this location – The Beech Avenue at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. On that occasion it was early morning. Some mist and autumn colour enhanced the splendour of the view and I came away with one of my favourite colour images from a time when I was mainly working in black and white. (See below).

(The image from 2017)

I returned earlier this week, this time after lunch and hoping I hadn’t missed the glorious yellow and russet coloured leaves. Unfortunately I was at least a week too late. Most of the leaves had fallen to the ground and the trees were nearly bare, but I was treated to some glorious late afternoon light. It was exceptional and I found a number of pleasing compositions. In fact the more I looked the more I felt this location has so much potential, and not just at this time of year, so I know it will not be long before I head back there.

As I was using a telephoto lens, I was unable to get all the trees in focus, even with a small aperture opening of f14. For the above composition I wanted a sharp image from front to back, so for the very first time I decided I would focus stack three images and merge them in Photoshop. I focused on the near trees for the first exposure, then the middle group for the second frame, and finally the distant branches in the background. I was surprised how easy the process was in Photoshop. However along the way I discovered that before merging the three exposures, it was better to process one of the RAW files in Capture One, copy those changes to the other two, and after that process was complete take them into Photoshop. I could then make any final adjustments on the TIFF file.

Below is another image from the same visit.

And finally a portrait of some of the trees which were still partially clothed with autumn leaves.

As well as capturing the line of trees, there are I believe endless opportunities for some more abstract compositions. A return visit to the Beech Avenue is already being planned.

Question – How simple can it be?

Answer – Not as simple as the title of this post would suggest.

When composing an image I have often read: ‘It’s not what you include, it’s what you choose to leave out’. Just think about that for a moment. It’s certainly worth having that thought in mind when you are framing your next shot.

I have always been drawn to simple compositions. A complicated image with many elements can be a challenge to appreciate, there can be just too much going on. The emotional reaction to a busy image can be one of excitement or tension, whereas an image with simplicity at its heart can be quite the reverse, being both quiet and restful. But even with a ‘simple’ image there are still choices to be made, so I thought it would be interesting to analyse the four photographs in this post. They all share the same viewpoint and were taken during the blue hour after the sun had set.

The composition of first image which is shown below is split into three broadly equal parts. The upper third being the sky, the middle third the sea, and the lower third the movement of the lapping tide where it meets the shingle shoreline. In essence a very starightforward composition.

In the second image I have stepped back from the shoreline so the bottom section has less detail. The horizon now intersects the midde of the frame revealing more of the sky. And lastly the exposure time was longer than the first image, which has resulted in less texture in the water. In my view this is now a simplified version of an already fairly simple image.

The third image shares much in common with the second. The horizon still splits the frame in two, the exposure time was about the same, but crucially the shoreline has been left out. Instead of three main elements there are now just two; the sky and the sea. A further simplification but as a consequnce you might now ask yourself the question whether this was taken from dry land or out at sea. Not only is this third image simpler than the previous two versions, it evokes a very different feeling.

In the third image you might have also noticed that I did adjust the colour balance, but what happens if all colour is removed and the photograph becomes monochrome? Again it’s a further simplification of the scene. There is little or no detail in the sky and the juxtaposition of warm and cool tones (above) has also been lost.

It is not for me to say which is best or which one I like best, they all have their merits in my opinion. However I hope they illustrate the point I wanted to make in this post. What might at first glance appear to be a simple scene, the photographer is still required to make a number of decisions. What to leave in and what to leave out. How fast or slow should the shutter speed be. Where does the horizon line sit in the frame. What colour balance should be used or should all colour be removed. Some of these choices can be made in post production, others must be made before the shutter is pressed. Undeniably though each of these choices will have an impact on the final image; how it feels and the emotional impact it has on the viewer.

As an aside the last photograph in the series was inspired by the work of the Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. It also just happens to be my most ‘liked’ photograph on my Instagram account.

Arguably it is the most simple composition I have ever posted – so is simple, simply the best?

Autumn mist (Part 2)……… a further selection

This is Part 2 of a short series of posts in which I have tried to capture the light and mood of the landscape when seen through autumn mist. Part 1 can be viewed here.

Mist has the power to simplify a scene and when back lit by the morning sun trying to break through, the light which is cast is really rather special.

Like the first post all three of these images were taken when out walking our dog early in the morning. I never know in these situations what I will see. Sometimes nothing at all, but on other occasions there is a photo opportunity around every corner. It’s a much used cliche……but always carry a camera!

Autumn mist (Part 1)……when warm and cool tones typify this time of year.

I don’t know of any outdoor photographer who doesn’t love shooting at this time of year. The cooler mornings when mist is so often present, coupled with warm autumnal tones, is such a wonderful combination.

In my last post I went out with the deliberate intention of taking photographs. The selection you can see here were all taken a couple of weeks back on an early morning dog walk in a woodland area near my home. A spontanous photographic session which is more my style. If the light and weather are favourable I like to take advantage.

My recently acquired Fuji XT3 and 55-200mm f3.5 to f4.8 lens compressed the field of view which suits this type of subject rather well. Until recently my longest focal length was 90mm in 35mm full frame terms, but given the APSC crop factor of the Fuji, this new set up gives me a range of 83mm to 300mm. A vast difference and I am enjoying being able to compose my landscape images in a very different way. It’s not the fastest lens on the planet, but it does have built in Optical Image Stabalisation (OIS) which for these shots negated the need for a tripod.

Slowly but surely I am becoming more comfortable with colour photography. It provides me with another creative dimension. Another form of expression. It’s very satisfying and rewarding to be persuing a different path and I am particularly looking forward to the weeks ahead as autumn turns to winter. Shorter days but given the right conditions so much potential.

This is the first entry in a short series as I have other similar images which I would like to share with you.

Thanks as always for taking the time to look at my work. It is very much appreciated.