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.
In this day and age when instant gratification is the order of the day there is a tendency to share our images on social media without a moments hesitation, particularly if you think you have a ‘keeper’ on the memory card. I can be as guilty of this trait as anyone but I am trying to be more patient before uploading to Instagram or indeed this blog.
I have a quiet admiration of photographers who return from a shoot, download their images but then wait several weeks or even months before processing the files. Their reasoning is that as each day passes they become more detached from the actual event of taking the photograph and their memory of what they saw changes with the passage of time. As a consequence when the moment comes to process the images their approach is different to how it might have been if they had processed the photograph almost immediately after the picture had been captured. The final result can be an image which is more likely to reflect what they think they saw and how they feel, not what they actually saw. This is an important difference in the art of picture making.
I believe there are benefits to be had by proceeding more slowly even if waiting weeks or months is outside the realms of possibility for me at the moment. I don’t possess that degree of will power.
Take the image which accompanies this post. A dramatic depiction of Racton Tower, a subject which I have photographed on previous occasions. As I start down this road of making colour images I am already becoming increasingly aware of how subtle and not so subtle changes in colour can influence the look and feel of an image, not to forget of course all the other tools we have at our disposal.
I therefore decided to spend more time than usual on this image. I processed a number of different versions over several days followed by a review a day or two later, I compared one with another believing I would benefit from this approach. What did I like and what did I think worth changing to improve the picture. It hasn’t take weeks but it has been a much slower and more considered process.
I am pleased with the final result. As it happens it’s not so very different to the first version I made but it does include some enhancements which only became evident by giving myself the time to stand back, observe and be more critical. I like to think my patience has been rewarded and not just because I have made an image which pleases me, but because the process itself has been a more enjoyable and enhanced learning experience.
In the past week I have enjoyed watching the barley corn being harvested in the field behind where we live. The straw has been made into bales and as I type these words they are now being moved, so this rather lovely scene will soon be over for another year.
Farmer’s are well known for moaning about the weather. Too wet, too dry, too cold, too hot and so the list goes on. When it comes to harvesting the forecast is critical to the success or otherwise of a crop which has taken months to come to fruition. The moisture content of the crop needs to be below a certain threshold for harvesting and when the conditions look right it is all hands to the deck.
The weather has been very mixed in the last week. We had a mini heat wave with temperatures in the high 80’s for several days on the trot. Ideal for harvesting, but as so often happens in this country a spell of hot weather is often followed by thunderstorms and rain.
Photographers are also know to complain about the weather or the light and I have written before that high summer does not always yield the best light for photography. It’s often far too harsh but there is no point wishing for something different, you have to work with what you are given and make the most of it.
If you read my last post you will know that I am making a concerted effort to create more colour images. For the purposes of this entry I have decided to include some monochrome pictures as well, as they form part of the narrative…..but it’s the colour work which are the feature.
I have tried to capture these changing weather conditions and of course the light. On the day the bale maker arrived the clouds came in, a foretaste of a distinct change in the weather (picture above). That same evening I sat in my chair relaxing, when I noticed some beautiful warm light. I grabbed my camera to capture the golden glow of evening sunshine. Dark clouds were gathering on the horizon, as a thunderstorm moved in from the south.
A couple of days later and once again the blue skies returned and so did the crows to feast on the corn. Having been a committed black and white photographer for many years I couldn’t resist including both mono and colour versions. I will leave it to you to decide if you have a preference.
And finally in this series, a cloudscape looking west across the field as the day came to close. The straw bales play second fiddle to the dramatic sky but they do make for an interesting horizon and of course provide context to the scene.
In summary a very enjoyable and satisfying few days of photography, taking opportunities when they arose. Not waiting for the light but knowing that the waether and the story of harvesting could and probably would change at any time. The bales of straw have all been moved, stacked along the edge of the field. Acquaintances for a while, I shall miss them, but I look forward to making more colour images of another subject very soon.
Earlier this month I posted my first entry on this blog for nearly 5 months. I am pleased this entry hasn’t taken quite so long!
Once again the images are all of scenes which are close to my back door. This isn’t just because the current ‘Covid Lockdown’ prevent anything other than ‘staying local’ for exercise but because I truly enjoy exploring and seeing what can be photographed in my immediate surroundings. Why travel for miles and miles (restrictions allowing of course) if good subjects can be found near to home?
There is another distinct advantage to this approach which I written about before. It allows me to return to a place when I know the lighting will work to my advantage. I will have visted the location previously and then envisaged what the scene might look like at a different time of day and when the weather conditions are more conducive to create a pleasing result.
This approach doesn’t guarantee a good picture but it does improve my chances greatly. Composition, choice of lens etc can all be considered beforehand. The light just has to be right.
All of the images in this entry were taken in this way. It requires a degree of patience and the pre-visualised outcome may not always be as I would hope or expect. Over the years this approach has allowed me to think and plan ahead. When the plan comes together there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had. When it doesn’t, I learn from the experience knowing I can return another day. After all – it’s close to my back door.
My last major project was ‘Still by the Water’ which took the best part of 2 years to photograph and complete, and all the images were captured within a 10 minute drive of home. The photographs you see here are I believe the humble beginnings of another long term project.