I am very fortunate. Retired, I no longer have the restrictions of a busy working day. My wife and I have recently moved to a beautiful part of Dorset, and the countryside on my new doorstep inspires me. When the light is right and the weather conditions favourable, there is every chance I can drop what I am doing and within a few minutes be in a place where I know there will be some good compositions.
A few days ago I posted ‘My heart is in mono…..and the countryside’. I wrote about the reasons why I have returned to making images in black and white. I also wrote about going out with photographic intent, and not just to head out for a walk with a camera on the off chance a picture might reveal itself.
If I was to choose the best light for landscape photography a bright and showery day is almost impossible to resist. This is particularly true late in the afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky, casting long shadows and side lighting any subjects in the frame, accentuating form and texture. The passing rain clouds are of course full of texture and interest too. There is nothing very photogenic about a clear blue sky.
Reinvigorated to make black and white images again, I watched the skies yesterday and witnessed potentially ideal conditions taking shape. As the afternoon progressed the skies to the south were clearing, whilst looking in the opposite direction there were shower clouds aplenty. With the sun setting in the west any composition looking north had the makings of a good result. I knew where to go, grabbed my camera and a couple of prime lenses, and took our dog with me too. He’s quite happy to wait for me to compose the shot and press the shutter. Well most of the time anyway!
Growing familiarity with my home patch is a huge advantage. The four photographs you see here are all compositions I have shot before but at different times the year. For me yesterday’s conditions and this light were nigh on perfect. But days like this are not that common and there is always the risk of getting drenched in the pursuit of a few strong images. Definitely worth it though.
This experience has further enhanced my feeling that ‘My heart is in mono…..’ It’s good to be back making images in shades of grey again, sharing them with you and writing about my thoughts and the story behind the pictures.
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.
‘Lockdown’ is far from easy and everyone is concerned about the future and what the ‘new normal’ will look like. None of know how things will pan out or when some of the restrictions will be lifted, allowing us here in the UK a little more freedom of movement.
I have just returned home from an excellent few days in North Pembrokeshire in Wales, as one of four participants on an ‘Andy Beel Black and White Photography Tour’. You expect mixed weather when visiting Wales at any time of year and the past five days have been no exception.
I have already downloaded over 800 images and now the fun begins as I go through the frames, select those with promise and give some considered thought to how they should be processed for later inclusion on this blog.
Inevitably a handful of images stay in the memory at the time of pressing the shutter, so I thought I would quickly post one such image. By way of some background it was late afternoon and I was driving the group from Abereiddy to Porthgain. A heavy but fleeting shower came down and as I looked in my rear view mirror I saw this scene. Had I not done so the opportunity would have been missed, but as it was, I pulled over and we all got out of the car and took a handful of frames. The late sun reflecting off the wet road, the tractor and the gate silhouetted against the brightening sky, and last but not least, the rook flying into the shot all go together to complete an atmospheric image so typical of this beautiful part of the country,
More images and words about the workshop will follow in time, but for the moment always remember to look behind you!