Still Developing

" A lot of my enjoyment of photography comes from learning. This is typically done through talking with others, reading books, magazine articles, blogs, etc. Part of the balance of having so much good information available (especially the writings that people make available for free online) is to contribute back by writing anything that I learn or experience. If you get something out of this great. If you care to comment to correct my many mistakes, I would greatly appreciate it. Landscape photography can be a lonely occupation but the conversations we have more than make up for that. "

Tuesday
1 January 2013
15 Comments

Twelve Significant Photos

Now this is always a difficult one and I’ve spent a good while trying to work out which images represent something about me rather than just about the things I have found or the light that I saw them in. This is a little strange as they aren’t always necessarily my ‘best’ photographs but I’ll add a little text to each one to try to explain why I’ve chosen it.

Ripening

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Although I got a few good images before October of this year, it was after a couple of days out in Scotland that I really got into the swing of things. This combined with some beautiful subject matter gave me the opportunity to be a little more experimental with compositions. This first composition relied on a few features. Firstly the combination of beautiful yellow leaves and abundant red berries. However, like many opportunities that arise when we’re out on location, just one tick in the box isn’t enough. The second featured was the amazing green lichen that was growing on the bare twiggy branches which combined with the bare branches picking up the blue of the sky provided a wonderful colour contrast. The third feature was that they were all in exactly the same plane, which allowed a very thin depth of field and allowed me to drop the background out of focus. The background is the final feature – a great transition from the dark bottom shaded area through the tree trunk and onto the sunlit bracken at the top.

So we’ve got a bunch of ingredients that add up to ‘potential’ – the creative part is now putting these together into a balanced and ‘pleasing’ composition. The blue/green shadow/lichen looked to me like some form of calligraphy so I used it to ‘write’ across the frame and placed the yellow/red leaves/berries in the top right to balance the tree roots in the bottom left. Most of the ‘tweaking’ was about how much of the sun highlights to include/exclude and to make sure the tree root structure in the bottom left had enough clearance around it.

Oh, and the square crop is intentional – I use a plastic mask on my ground glass to compose with. Makes a big difference in fine tuning compositions.

Arches

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A glimpse of light showed me the potential here. However the sun only came out very occasionally so I was sitting waiting to try to figure out what it might reveal. Otherwise I would (and did) end up finding a composition that used diffuse/shaded light only to set up and for the sun to come out, and vice versa. In the end I figured the directional light was showing me more interesting views and once I saw something of interest I set up and waited for it to reoccur. In this case the light brought out some of the highlights on the reaching branch which itself was connected to a quite beautiful set of trunks.

Once I’d noticed this a glance around showed a that the supporting cast worked well, the grass was vibrant and held interesting texture, bright ferns sat in dark hollows, the red bracken provided a contrast to the greens of the grass and branches and finally I could position the trunks against a relatively featureless area of the background. On top of this the two larger trunks on the right leaned in a complementary fashion toward the main trunks.

Of course these thoughts weren’t as verbose as this and some of them occured as I sat behind the ground glass. The last step was to wait for the light to pick out the details again. this time I wanted just a subtle directional light to create a glow around the leaves (at least that was what I wanted at the time, I’m wondering if some stronger light may have helped now..)

Hanging Mosses

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You might get the idea that I’ve had a bit of a thing about lichen this year but in fact these three pictures were all taken within about two hours of each other. They’re just off a small section of woodland called An Cnap near Salem, Ardnamurchan is just wonderful. I’m sure there are more places that have such a proliferation of licens but it’s the way the birches grow in a contorted fashion and a bank of trees on the edge that provide a background of dark areas or a woven screen against the sun. This last picture was caught hand held on my Sony A900. I was using it as a scouting camera but I’ve begun to realise just what wonderful colours it gets and also what a wonderful rendering the Minolta 28-135mm lens has, especially wider open.  The spherical abberations give a subtle glow to the scene that in this case worked incredibly well. The winner here is not just the hanging lichens but the colours graduations through the picture combined with the scattered, yellow birch leaves. The composition was just an instinctive taken on those two central branches/trunks whilst ensuring the edges worked and captured the gradation from dark bottom to beam of light at the top.  I shall be using the A900 in anger more often after seeing these results and comparing some of my digital and velvia captures (suffice it to say that the a900 isn’t quite the same but it’s very close and the differences are complementary ones).

Contrast

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One of my favourite UK photographers is Tristan Campbell. His work was an inspiration when I started and he has consistently created photographs with a beautiful look. Recently his work has played with the use of strong contrasts and backlighting, making the most of colour neg’s incredible ability to deal with the gremlins nemesis. I’ve played with this myself but not in any serious way so far but this year I’ve tried to push things a little harder, trying to capture the backlighting and high contrast. This particular view was the sunset on the copse at the top of An Cnap. Thick clouds were stripping off the hills behind us creating the dark area in the sky but the last beams of light were picking out the yellow leaves. The composition was almost a pin wheel with an anti-clockwise sense of rotation towards the sun almost suggesting that the sun’s rays were working against the trunk and leaves on the right. Even the silhoutted trunks hold detail and texture, nothing is fully silhoutted.

Stobh Coire nan Lochan

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I’ve been fascinated by these big views of the sides of hills since I first visited Glencoe. One of my first large format shots was a panorama of the three sisters. Last year I took the 10×8 (Black Betty) to Glen Nevis and shot the side of Ben Nevis. It’s the textural part of these views that fascinate and it’s the raw capturing horse power of the 8×10 that can capture the very fine colour textures and the quality of film that can either capture the dynamic range or bring out the tones in overcast conditions.  It’s made me realise that there is probably some mileage in continuing to capture some of these views, especially if I can combine it with the sense of sublime conditions like above.

Leaves and Flow

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It can be very tempting as a large format photographer to try to get everything in focus. However, some of the advantages of many large format lenses are revealed when they are used with a narrow depth of field. The simple lens designs of tessar and dialyte lenses give smooth and creamy out of focus areas (Nikkor M and Fujinon A lenses in my case). Used in conditions such as this we can create a layer whose sharpness appears amplified by the softness of the background (This was taken on my 200mm Nikkor M lens). The composition itself relies on a positioning of a band clear of leaves that reveals the river and the hint of light in the river in the top left of the composition. In addition I wanted to place a bunch of leaves over the creamy, turbulent water. You can’t tell here but I was perched on a worryingly small wooden bridge with missing planks and I was terrified of losing things every time I removed a lens or lens cap. The only post processing was to tone down some of the green leaves that were disturbing the overall tonal relationships.

Birches on Ektar

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It’s probably not a surprise to know that I’ve been experiementing with different types of film for the last couple of years and many times over this period I’ve taken the same subject on various film stock (to a ridiculous extent in my film comparison tests). At this point I’m only using a smaller range of films and in most cases either Portra (160 or 400), Velvia 50 or Provia. I’ve got some E100G, Velvia 100F and 100 and also some Astia left that I’ll use now and again. I’ve only just started to look at Ektar again having had some bad experiences in the past with it.

I think the combination of generally over exposing the film (I place the shadows at about -1 to -2) and also a change in scanning technique or just more experience has helped me make the most of this film. In particular I took a photograph of Ingleborough and Southerscale in the latest 2012 gallery that looked better on Ektar than Portra 160. The composition above was taken on Velvia 50, Portra 160 and Ektar 100 and the three images ended up looking very similar indeed with the Ektar looking closer to the Velvia than the Portra 160, in particularly in the greens. The image below shows Ektar then Velvia then Portra 400.

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I’ll be posting a few comparisons over the next month or so..  Here’s the A900 shot in the meantime..

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Sun Through Frosty Birch

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I took a shot last year of the sun through the leaves to the sun and loved the effect. When I had the opportunity to do the same with frost and through the beautiful heart shaped leaves of the downy birch I couldn’t resist. Portra makes getting a result from shots like this a breeze. The main choices were in how bright to represent the sun and possibly I’ve darkened the area around the sun a little too much but it allows your eye to wander the leaves easily. A brighter sun would look more ‘real’ but would also push your eye to the edges of the picture – difficult balance.

Early Frost

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Taken just a few minutes after the previous shot whilst out with Paul Mitchell and Roger Longdin at Burnham Beeches. I’ve always been more concerned with composition than light but I feel I’m at a stage in my development where I can actively combine everything together. In this case it was the raking light in the background that although it wasn’t lighting up the downy birch in the background, it looked as if it might be if I positioned things correctly. I had only been out in one frost before this and it reminded me just how magical these conditions are in simplifying shapes and tonal relationships. This is another case of using the panoramic format in way a little different from ‘Ooh look at the width!’ (I know I’m still guilty of this but I’m trying!). The sense of depth in the stage is reasonably strong through the use of obvious ‘planes’.

Ingleborough and Southerscales

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I’ve been entranced a little with Southerscales since Joe Cornish took me there in the middle of this year and this particular composition came about when I was scouting the area with Paul Arthur. Originally I was trying to find something for Paul because the main area of Southerscales it pretty complicated and something a little more bling was desired. Paul ended up going over to Ribblehead and so I worked the scene a little. As I moved around I started to see the relationships between the horizon from Ingleborough and the stone wall and then the valley shape and the limestone pavement. As the sun  progressed across towards the horizon the clouds began to give me some more complementary shapes. Finally I wanted to capture the raking light across the limestone pavements and the grasses and so there was only a few moments to capture the frame as the light dimmed.

The Pulpit

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David and Angie Unsworth took me to visit their ‘secret’ slate mine in the Lakes for which I’m am extraordinarily grateful. The location was superb and the larches, protected from the inclement Lake District weather by the walls of the quarry, grew tall, lush and feathery and the ground, inhospitable to the usual grasses was covered in mosses and liverworts. Perched on the end of a tongue of this moss was an oak tree looking for all purposes as if it were about to hold a conclave of the larch. Terribly anthropomorphic but I couldn’t help it!

Larches Wide

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I try not to repeat the content of an image but in this case it was too tempting. This was in fact the first image captured and I was trying to capture the reaching larches mentioned earlier in the context of the quarry itself. I was trying again to create a panoramic composition that moved beyond “WIDE!” and I hope it moves your eye across the front from right to left and then back across the rear wall of the quarry. Most of the interest for me is in the 3D levels of the scene and the mossy ground, the beautiful feathery larches and the interest in the rear wall of the quarry. A particular favourite – if you like it, try asking me about the perspective fixes that were made in the production of the image and we can chat about whether they’re ‘legitimate’ or not..

So I hope you get an idea of what excites me and what I’ve been thinking about in my photography over the last 12 months. We’ll see where it takes me in the next year!

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Tuesday
1 January 2013
4 Comments

A 2012 Round Up

So I haven’t blogged much in 2012 but I’ve been busy on a little side project so hopefully you’ll forgive me. I have however been out photographing on the odd accasion. Not so much in the first half of the year where I only really went out making a short film with Joe Cornish about Phase Cameras during which time I took a few photographs (including this one).

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Myself and my sherpa wife Charlotte went out on a few campervan trips where I managed a first composition of the year on the 10×8 Toyo (or “Black Betty” as she’s been christened). We also went on a short walk around Plompton Rocks with Dav Thomas and a stroll on Twistleton with Paul Arthur.

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You’ll probably have noticed that I’m taking less 4×5 crop images. Well the images are still taken on 4×5 aspect ratio film but I’ve made a set of crop masks so that I can work on accurately framing 4×5, 6×12, square and occasionally 6×17. I’m also less religious about not cropping images in post processing. I’ll try to get it right in camera but if I see a composition that has the potential for being more open I’ll go for the wider composition knowing I can crop a little later.

However, apart from these four or five trips out, there was no further photography in 2012 until October. October brought a bit of a bumper crop though. Firstly I had a holiday in Scotland with my wife and we had my parents with us for the first week. Fortunately they walk more than I do and have resigned themselves to the occasional LF pit stop. The highlight of the first week with my parents was taking my dad out to show him a “proper sunset with mountains and stuff” and the weather gods played ball as I set up “Black Betty” again.

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We also had some great fun wandering around Ariundle in Ardnamurchan including the prettiest little abandoned croft house.

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The second week saw proper walking action and the return of the 10×8 yet again for an epic car park shot of the side of Stob Coire nan Lochan.

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You can see a lot more of this week’s crop in the 2012 gallery but here are a couple that missed the cut.

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We came straight back from the holiday to give an opening talk at David and Angie Unsworth’s beautiful exhibition in the Lake District where I managed to take a shot on “Black Betty” again (she’s getting a good outing this year!). I visited David to get an interview about his work and took a couple of pictures up Levers Beck.

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A week to catch up on the magazine and then I was out in the lakes again with David Clapp and Justin Nugent. We had a lovely morning up Loughrigg watching the sun rise and then after a wander by Cat Bells we finished the day on Castle Crag where I captured a composition I’d been thinking about since my last visit. Here’s the morning shot from Loughrigg followed by the evening shot from Castle Crag..

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This was followed by a day out with David and Angie Unsworth including a visit to a stunning slate quarry that I’ve been sworn to secrecy over – really sorry about that! Here’s some pictures that show just what you’re missing..

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A couple of weeks later I was introduced to possibly the best area of woodland I’ve ever come across – Burnham Beeches is only a square mile but it has an amazing variety and every part of it has intruiging aspects. I think I took about 20 shots over a day and a half without looking hard (and only walking about 3/4 mile). Here’s a few that aren’t listed in my 2012 gallery.

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I have to say a big thank you to Paul Mitchell and Roger Longdin for putting me up and introducing me to this fantastic location.

I also spent a great day out with Paul Arthur which resulted in a rather blingy Yorkshire sunset.

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and had my only other frosty morning walk with Charlotte which produced one of my favourite detail shots of the year..

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And that was the end of 2012 – December was spent catching up with magazine work and family matters and the christmas period included quite a bit of scanning in betweem subdued festivities.

And finally I’d like to thank all of the landscape photographers out there who have made running the On Landscape magazine such a pleasurable affair – you know who you are!

And so onto 2013 and as always I’m promising myself to do better in all aspects and to try to get out more regularly.

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Tuesday
30 October 2012
104 Comments

Landscape Photographer of the Year

I told myself I wouldn’t post anything about the landscape photographer of the year competition this year but a few pictures have made me think twice. I’ll ignore the controversy over the winning image (Alex Nail has written well about this already here - however my one major doubt would come from looking at the direction of the god rays) so I’ll move quickly onto a couple of others that need some attention. Firstly we’ll look at Kersten Howard’s ‘Old Tree in Towy Valley’. All I’ll say for this one is flood plugin (and check out the gallery listing where there are other examples. However the particular category this image was in allows these sorts of modifications and Kersten did state her photoshop edits in the book.

The second image that I think deserves a little more attention is another of the original winners. This one is of a tree in front of Rugeley power station. The only problem I have with this image is that I think it’s a montage. However I can’t be sure so I need to do a little bit of detective work.

The main thing that makes me suspicious is that the chimney’s are all different heights. “well”, you might say, “They would be because of perspective!”. Ah yes! But the amount of reduction in height is proportional to the distances involved. For instance if I was 100 yards away from the first chimney and the second chimney was 200 yards away, the second chimney would be 50% shorter. However, if the chinmeys were one kilometer away, the difference between the chiney’s would only be about 10%. So what about the image? Well you take a look. My rough calculations from looking at the map below (confirmed location from Maria’s Tree group on flickr) is that the rear chimney’s should be 5% shorter than the front ones.  However, just look at the alignment of the chimney’s if you were looking directly at the chimney’s – oops! It appears that we should only be able to see two chimneys as the other two should be hidden behind them. Other pictures confirm a lack of power station in the background.

Anyway – the rest of my moans would all be about a bit of genre madness (quite a few I wouldn’t call landscape but that is up to the organiser) and the quality of the images that suffered rejection, etc etc.. you know the score..

As I’ve said elsewhere the issue isn’t the individual photographers it’s that we have two separate issues.

One is that one person has won an award with a very good image. There is nothing wrong with this at all and whether the image passes all of the criteria for the competition is a matter for the judges – they presumably have done their homework. The original winer is a very good photographer and he should be very happy that he has won such a prestigious award.

The main problem for most people is that the competition is billed as “Landscape Photographer of the Year”. If you care about landscape photography in the UK and the way it is perceived around the world this “label” is important. The competition has a huge amount of coverage and influences the whole countries perception of what great landscape photography should be. This is why it creates such high feelings.

If the competition kept it’s original title “take a view” then there would be no real controversy. I hope people can understand this when they start calling people who care about landscape photography and wish to discuss it openly as “bitter wierdos” and “prissy artists”.

UPDATE

Sadly any discussion of the competition ends up being taken personally by the people involved. I didn’t realise that the ‘your view’ section allows composite images and so the chimney’s picture is allowed to be completely made up. However the original winner has denied it is a composite. Having seen this google street map view which is within a hundred yards or so of the tree I can’t believe this personally. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter as, admission or not, the competition allows this – which is one of the things that annoys me; not that the image is manipulated but that the manipulation is allowed without any associated information.

However, the top prize doesn’t allow more than the minimum of manipulation and so I was quite surprised to see that the sky has been composite in on it. It isn’t immediately obvious and it was only when I payed a little more attention that I noticed the ‘god rays’ were converging at a point up above the two boatsheds and the shadows cast from the boats converge way to the right of the picture.

Add this to the composite of the chimney’s picture and the open admission of a composites in the original winner’s flickr stream and I am 99% sure the image doesn’t pass the criteria set in the competition.

Looking more closely, the area to the right of the boats looks a little odd too. I remember an anchor and various lobster pots here but more importantly I remember Budle Bay being over that side. For example if you see this picture from Robbie484 you can see that behind the boat should be the Budle Bay area..

UPDATE #2

A photographer tries to reproduce the ‘Marias Tree & Chimneys’ photograph click here for more

UPDATE #3

A quick look at photographers ephemeris suggests that the sun couldn’t be in this location according to the Exif on the image…

UPDATE #4

I’ve been told that shadow directions are not good evidence and I would agree. Moon landings and Lee Harvey Oswald go to prove that. However if you connect a point on the object casting a shadow with the actual point on the shadow that it is casting, these are a reliable indicator of light source direction. Take two of these and they will converge on the light source. However, in our case we don’t need more than one, we’re only interested in finding a difference between the direction of light source implied by shadows and direction of light source implied by crepuscular rays. A lot less rigorous level of proof is needed for this.

UPDATE #5

I was hoping that this was it for controversy but it appears that the Copse photo, which was in the Living the View which doesn’t allow modifications is also a composite [".. in Classic view, Living the view and Urban view, the integrity of the subject must be maintained and the making of physical changes to the landscape is not permitted (removing fences, moving trees, stripping in sky from another image etc"].

Whilst browsing the talkphotography website for a reference I found this post. It’s fairly obvious that the copse is from the top of the hill in the first and second images. However it’s the repositioning of the gentlemen in these images that gives the game away. Resizing this gentlemen shows a perfect match for the Copse’s walker.

UPDATE #6

Both sadly and correctly, the original winner has been disqualified from the competition. We have no more information than what that means. He states

“I have to inform you after a conversation with Charlie Waite I have been disqualified from the Landscape Photographer of the year awards, unfortunately I didn’t read the regulations and certain editing like adding clouds and cloning out small details are not allowed, while I don’t think what I have done to the photo is wrong in any way, I do understand it’s against the regulations so accept the decision whole heartily.

I have never passed off my photographs as record shots and the only reason this has come about has been due to my openness about how and what I do to my images. The changes I made were not major and if you go to the locations you will see everything is there as presented”

Now regardless of what we think about the level of manipulation admitted to I think we should let the original winner be now – he made a mistake that was allowed to creep all the way through to the finals and he should not be persecuted for that. I left a message on the forum saying.

“Really sorry this has happened and I wanted to reiterate that the blog post I wrote about the competition was not intended to attack you personally but to try to point out that three out of the four images that were entered were not compatible with the terms and conditions.

I do feel truly sorry that you had to suffer for this because all of this could have been avoided if the competition organisers could have checked things thoroughly.

I should add that your images are very strong and whilst I don’t think they are the best landscape photographs I have seen – they are certainly very good and this situation should not make you think differently.

Don’t forget that if the images had been compatible with the terms and conditions they would still have won, they can’t take that away from you.

My personal favourite is the Delamere forest – a very nice, original image.

I really hope this doesn’t stop your enjoyment of photography and I’m sure you’ll get lots of support from the forum here.”

The forum thread has, rightly or wrongly, been deleted.

We should applaud the organisers for making the right decision and also the original winner for accepting it.

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Saturday
13 October 2012
41 Comments

“On Landscape” – A New Photography Magazine

What the hell I’ve been doing for the last couple of months!!!

Well I can finally tell everyone what it is I’ve been doing for the last few months. In short, Joe Cornish and I have set up a company that is creating a Britain oriented, online landscape photography magazine. In long, it’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for the last two years and have been actively researching for the last nine months. It started whilst I was out in the Hebrides with David Ward and we were talking about the direness of much of the photographic press and especially it’s landscape photography coverage. This, and multiple other conversations, convinced me that the photographic press can never have great landscape photography coverage. The reason for this is that they are beholden to their advertisers and this means that they have to create content that attracts users who are buying stuff. This stuff is either new photographers, photographers who are upgrading their equipment or photographers buying gadgets/tours/workshops etc. There is no incentive to cater for photographers who have ‘good enough’ equipment and who maybe have moved on to trying to work on their composition/art. In fact, they know that the majority of photographers only buy photography magazines for a couple of years and so there is no point continuing to create new content, so they just recycle the old content on a two year basis. Oh they might throw in the odd ‘interesting’ sideline (witness David Ward’s articles in Photographer Monthly). Amateur Photographer seems the only magazine that is willing to go out on a limb and throw some real curveballs (a recent treatise on Petzval lens construction for example).

Anyway – I rant. The answer was to plan something myself, something with that uses the advantages that the web has to offer (and that I have enough knowledge to make the most of). The following months saw me getting to know Joe Cornish through a couple of courses and finally being asked by him to develop a new website. The website has taken a while to sort out through no fault on either of our parts but whilst getting to know each other, the idea inevitably got talked about and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Joe saw the potential in the project too. So, we bashed heads and put together a plan where we could both contribute aspects that were of equal value and the company Landscape Media Ltd was registered and the ‘Great British Landscapes’ magazine was conceived. Unfortunately, I had a full time job and an employer that I had a lot of respect for and so the planning went on the back burner, tinkering with approaches and styles, etc.

In the end, I had to make a decision on whether the project was going to proceed and, after a supportive phone call with my wife, we decided to go ahead with things full time (well, almost full time – I’m working for my wife’s company for a couple of days a week and we’re incubating the project). This was three months ago and since then I’ve been clearing out some work (witness the Light and Land website going live for instance) and sorting out the business end of things and for the last two months it’s been full on researching and developing the project. Thing’s came together a couple of weeks ago where we were in a position to organise a launch date. The 18th of October will see free issue as a taster for everybody with content from a location guide of a popular Yorkshire gritstone outcrop through a technical offering on dealing with shooting into the sun and also a couple of screencasts from Joe Cornish with two never before seen pictures.

The website will be subscription based, or more properly, it will be a ‘freemium’ website. For those who haven’t come across this term, it’s seems fairly unique to the internet, it means that some of the content will be free and there will be a subscription fee for ‘premium’ content. The content that will be free won’t all be immediately free. Some of it will be but some other bits will be ‘delayed free’, in other words it will be free after a couple of months but subscribers will be able to see this content immediately. So subscribers will get ‘the full monty’ whereas others will get what will be a large range of well written content but maybe they’ll have a wait for a while for some of it.

So what ‘sort’ of content are we going to be producing? Well, obviously with a name like ‘Great British Landscapes’ it’s going to be British oriented. However, this doesn’t mean that it won’t be relevant for non-brits, a lot of the content will be nationality neutral. There will be an ‘issue’ every two weeks and each issue will include a location guide, an extended article on craft or art, a screencast or interview and a couple of reviews of books/websites or other photographic material. There will also be extracts and highlights from the web, hopefully such that you can pick up GBL and it will provide enough links to get the most out of the internet without taking you away from the real work (photography, if you hadn’t guessed).

Sooo – if you’re interested (I really hope you are) and might possibly be subscribing (I really hope you do!) then hop on over to Great British Landscapes and add your email to the box (and you might win a years subscription!). If you’re the sort of person who does that social media thang, you can also follow what’s happening by like’ing http://www.facebook.com/landscapegb or following @landscapegb (if you want to follow my personal tweets, try @timparkin).

Oh, and if you’re around Bradford on the 16th of October, Joe and I are giving the keynote speech for a photography conference at the National Media Museum and we’d love to have you (although you’ll have to pay and check there are tickets left of course – http://www.exposureleeds.org/photocamp).

Finally – what does this mean for this blog, well I’ll still be writing in it although it will probably become a ‘behind the scenes’ blog and I may be moving the whole website over to www.onlandscape.co.u (something like http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/timparkin). When I write stuff that might make sense to have a wider audience, it will be posted in On Landscape. We’re also including a few extra writers for regular features, including a special guest for the first issue.

We both really want this to reflect what the landscape photography community want and as such we’re really interested in your ideas as well so comment away…

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Monday
24 September 2012
1 Comment

Limestone Pavement

I’ve had a project in the back of my mind for a couple of years now but haven’t had time to get it started but I have been planning it, researching locations, working out the ideas of a theme, etc. The project idea came about when I was trying to find something globally unique to my general location that I felt hadn’t been presented particularly well or where only one aspect of it had really been shown. After a little thought and a scan through my previous pictures I figured that the limestone pavement of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District was probably a good topic and from what I could see the only person I’d seen doing anything particularly ‘different’ was Andy Latham whose work was distinctive and of whom I am a big fan. However I hoped there was enough limestone for the both of us and have spent a few visits looking at potential locations and it was only when visiting Oxenber wood a couple of months ago and Southerscales a week ago that I started to get my head into things a bit more. I thought I’d post a couple of the images I’ve made so far to show where my head is at the moment.

The first image is one made at Oxenber woods where I discovered that limestone pavements aren’t just bare, ‘brain’ like surfaces. Oxenber is particularly overgrown with trees, grasses and mosses and I wanted to capture this by getting low to the ground whilst still giving some context of the overgrown woods creating the cover for all this lush undergrowth to thrive.

And here was a snapshot of the limestone pavement in the Lakes taken on 35mm on a walk with an old school friend.

I took a few more here but they’re just work in progress – trying to get to know how it looks photographed (as Gary Winogrand said).

The next set of three were taken in a short visit to Southerscales with Anna Booth, Joe Cornish and Robin Hudson (not Rob) and it was like something clicked – I could see the way I wanted to portray some of the location. Only one of the images has an overt composition but they all capture some of the impressions I want to give.

I’ve been trying to create a few images that don’t have the obvious external signs of composition, that appear ‘found’ rather than ‘created’ – it sounds like the opposite of what a photographer should do but the idea for me is to compose without looking too composed. The last image above is an example of this. The view doesn’t shout ‘I’ve composed this’ but hopefully it looks engaging anyway. I’d be interested in your opinions.

Finally I couldn’t resist taking a view from the edge of this particular limestone escarpment. This shows some of my particular favourite limestone pavement all in one photo. I have a large format version being developed soon and hopefully will return in November for a little autumnal colour. This particular shot is unbelievably taken on a mobile phone.

The project is still in it’s infancy but at least I think I know where the first steps are.

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Thursday
30 August 2012
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Damn and Counterblast

Rob Hudson’s previous blog post about large format photography and colour velvia has had a response from me and now a counter response from Rob again. It seems that I misunderstood the original intent of the post which wasn’t really targetted at large format or velvia especially. I’ll try to figure out just what it was about and response.

Well – firstly it turns out it wasn’t really about large format nor really about velvia – these were just chosen because people talk about them as being the acme of photography. Well – I’m not sure this is quite right as most people I talk to seem to think that the IQ180 is the acme and we’ve seen a few British photographers breaking the bank to invest in these beasts.

In addition it’s suggested that the large format photographers are at fault because of their “constant reiteration of superiority”. Well I’m not sure but I hear more people say this about every new digital camera that comes out, especially in the medium format back world – you only have to look at older comparisons on Luminous Landscape to see that digital photography has been considered the Acme by the prominent voices in the industry for some time.

But why is this ‘reiteration of superiority’ such a bad thing? Supposedly because people get caught up in the search for ‘maximum quality’ and ignore more thoughtful approaches.

Well I don’t see what the death of Velvia will do to change things. In many ways Velvia and large format were democratising forces because they were available cheaply with good resale values. So people who were ‘magic bullet chasing’ could easily get there and then discover that it doesn’t change their photography that much and then move onto other things.

With the death of LF/Velvia the acme of superiority is now the IQ180 – which is completely inaccessible to the majority of photographers and as such will act as a dangled carrot, continuously goading photographers with the apparent potential for technological improvement. In other words most people will continue on the upgrade mill thinking each iteration will give them something extra whereas at least with LF/Velvia people could try it out to see what difference it would make.

Rob talks about the “edifice (some of which is economic) around LF in terms of sales, teaching, writing, promotion, books. It becomes a self fulfilling fantasy that is difficult to step away from without alienating fans, galleries, magazines etc.” 

I don’t really understand this as most magazines don’t cover large format velvia, galleries and art community hate velvia with a vengeance and the number of ‘fans’ isn’t connected to it’s use (witness the massive reduction is Joe Cornish’s following since moving to the IQ180 – err, perhaps not).

LF/Velvia isn’t just about ‘magic bullet resolution chasing’ – it’s also about a way of working that is more considered; surely a good thing in many ways. Thought about each shot and why you are taking it is something that all photographers can learn from.

Again though, I don’t know many people who start using LF/Velvia who don’t also carry on experimenting with their digital cameras which makes the reduction in experimentation a falsity.

In summary, I don’t think Rob’s article was about LF/Velvia at all. It seems that it was about the issue with magic bullet chasing and it’s effect on creativity. The problem with magic bullet chasing is that it will always be around regardless of any technology. The best situation is where the acme is easily available so people can get past it – a situation that is supported by LF/Velvia, not damaged. In many ways the digital upgrade cycle is more to blame for this than any film platform. The advantage of a good film set up is that you buy it and then use it – you don’t keep waiting for the next camera or new film because they won’t come. At that point you can concentrate on your photography.

The bottom line of Rob’s article is that people should think about the possibilities beyond trying to create the highest technical quality image. This is regardless of the technology of capture and regardless of approach and something I agree with.

Tim

p.s. Rob also says about British photographers use of Velvia “ It does rather make me question if the UK isn’t a bit backward in these things” well I would disagree. US photographers have bee almost as addicted to Velvia although Fuji introduced it later in the US (and US photographers had more of a tendency to use Kodakchrome – same issues though). You have to remember that the US has a LOT more people than UK and that the market for photography is also a lot bigger.

p.p.s. Rob also suggests that mere representation of a subject is shallow and trivial. I would also disagree with this – the act of choosing a subject and composing a view expresses much about a persons connection with the subject. Across multiple pictures this connection becomes more obvious. Just because someone can’t or hasn’t verbalised what that connection is doesn’t mean that they can’t convey it – photography is after all a visual medium.

p.p.p.s Rob’s made a final response and my last comment before beer :-)

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Monday
27 August 2012
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Blastproofing

Rob Hudson has recently posted a ‘counterblast’ to the demise of large format velvia film. In the post he declares that the death of Velvia is actually a boon to landscape photography. And whilst I respect his write not to mourn such a niche product, I thought I’d write a short rebuttal covering a few statements from the article.

“what it looks like should probably be driven by what you are trying to say, rather than because you happen to like strong colours or prefer a particular palette”

Hmm, agree… but this predicates on a dichotomy between saturation/colour and communication/art – surprisingly I think you can have one and other at the same time.

“Until very recently the chosen format for virtually all colour landscape photographers of any degree of seriousness has been a large format camera very probably loaded with Velvia.”

Apart from Stephen Shore, Charlie Waite, Galen Rowell, Art Wolfe, Ernst Haas, Saul Leiter, Jim Brandenburg, Philip Hyde, Paul Wakefield, Neil Armstrong, Christopher Burkett, Shinzo Maeda, Edward Burtynsky etc

“This hegemony has in turn bred an orthodoxy of approach.”

Hegemony is strong word – implying the threat of of some sort and the imposition of a universal world view. Large format may be my particular pleasure but considering I could only find a hundred or so large format landscape photographers online compared with, lets say a few more digital or MF/35mm film users, it’s difficult to say it has been enforced in any way.

Of course in every genre of photography and in every type of equipment or medium there will be good and bad. From wet plate to iphone there are creative genii and derivative idiots. And in large format landscape photography there is sometimes a difficulty getting past the representational and to experiment. However that is why all the large format photographers I know use big and small cameras, film and digital to ‘experiment’ with.

“For the majority (but thankfully not exclusively) of these leaders in our community the illustrative is still their primary aim.”

Again – being representational doesn’t correlate with being merely illustrative. Romantic does not mean lacking in a meaning or metaphor. etc.

“When in fact alternative approaches to the art exist, but as they don’t fit in with the orthodox view, they are dismissed as inferior.”

Oooh! You’d better back this one up Rob!! :-D

“but does it exist as much by default, because of the structural investment in equipment and film itself?”

Ermm… Me and Dav Thomas specced out a full large format system for under 1,000 pound including tripod and bag and two excellent L class lenses. I’d be interested in a digital set up that had just one L class lens that would cost the same. And the cost of film over a year would probably add up to the upgrade cost of most digital photographers (£600-1000 a year?).

I know of quite a few photographers who have recently moved from Canon to digital, selling all of their cameras and lenses (and a few who then went back again!). In comparison with that sort of burn rate large format – amortised – is not significantly costly

“One thing is certain, as the price of colour film is on a seemingly never ending upward spiral, a more haphazard, playful, exploratory approach becomes increasingly inconceivable amongst LF film users.”

This is the one area where most people commenting on large format seem to get wrong. Just because you use large format doesn’t preclude the use of other cameras. In fact I would go as far to say that large format camera users tend to own and use a larger variety of cameras in different ways. They almost always own smaller compacts to ‘experiment’ with as well (sometimes transposing their experiments onto LF – sometimes not)

Yes film costs can be expensive but they can compare with the amount spent on digital camera upgrades, lens collections, etc. LF photographers don’t tend to replace lenses as nearly all of them out resolve the film they use.

A set of four lenses (a typical collection) can be bought for about £200-300 each – making a full collection of lenses add up to less than half the price of a 24mm Canon tilt shift.

And the cost of colour film is a minimal expense with large format photography – the biggest expense is time for each exposure. And large format itself is not a limitation on experimentation – take a look at the work of Brett Weston for example or Frank Gohlke (colour too!).

In summary I think Rob is right – Fuji Velvia exerts a magical influence on people and makes the mere representation of the world enough for many. And large format ends up attractive to magic bullet chasers – however in my experience most of the people who are just after resolution will have migrated back to digital by now – hence curing themselves of the Velvia virus.

However, Rob is also wrong – illustrative/artistic is not an either or. Large format doesn’t preclude experimentation – and large format cameras don’t preclude other cameras.

Fine art photography has a certain level of distast for the vernacular and also has a soft spot for the experimental and ‘alternative’. Sometimes this produces interesting work but on occasion it ignores work that doesn’t fit with preconception. Like all walks of life,  the good and the bad live along side each other in various proportions, but no media or material dictates the message or lack of it.

I know Rob was being a little ‘Devil’s advocate’ so I know he won’t mind the strong response ;-)

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Monday
20 August 2012
2 Comments

Why all the Digital Bashing?

I had a few people yesterday asking me why would anyone want to make digital look like Velvia. Well perhaps people don’t want digital to look like Velvia but they do want to be able to have a digital camera that provides the tonal separation of Velvia in order to have a <strong>different</strong> starting point for their photographic interpretations.

I also got asked by one person ‘why all the digital bashing?’. I thought it would be good to point out why I post these articles – I own seven digital cameras and about eight or nine film cameras and use them for different things. I try to use the right camera for the right job. Obviously this involves knowing what the different cameras are good for. However, although everyone seems to know what digital is good at and over the last decade their have been many, many articles in magazines and online about how digital is better than film there are a hell of a lot less posts about what the current failings of digital cameras versus film are. Hence why if you read this blog out of context you’ll probably coming away with the impression that I think digital is useless.

Far from the case and nearly every trip I go on I take more digital photographs than film ones. If I can however, I do prefer to capture my images on film because of the quality/type of colour it provides – that’s a personal preference and one that has come from spending time comparing the two platforms. My goal is to share and quantify some of that research to inform other people who may be interested.

 

 

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Sunday
19 August 2012
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Why You Can’t Make Digital Look Like Velvia 50

OK – I think I have the best test case yet to demonstrate why you can’t make a digital file look like Velvia 50 (at least with the Canon 5Dmk2 I used for this shot). Take a look at the following image. On the left is the Velvia 50 and on the right is the Canon 5Dmk2. Now look at the colour of the fern and then the colour of the lichen on the tree. When we colour correct the digital file I think you’ll agree it’s impossible to make the lichen and the fern look like Velvia.

This was all done while working on an article on film simulations but I should add that this isn’t to suggest that it’s a good goal to try to make digital to look like film. However, it is dissapointing that some digital cameras can’t differentiate different types of green, especially in vegetation. However, some cameras are better than others and in a future issue of On Landscape we’ll be comparing the Canon, Nikon and Sony (and hopefully a few others) to see which do the best job.

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Monday
30 July 2012
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Is Velvia just Saturation – A Response to ‘Velvia Dissonance’

Yesterday Guy Tal wrote a blog post about the “The Velvia Dissonance” where he says that Velvia is redundant and offers no advantage over digital capture. Along the way he mentions that it is terrible for scanning and is effectively ‘instagram for lazy photographers’.

He also berates the ‘transparency is sacred’ commandment, bemoaning the lack of creativity of a canned colour profile. I sort of agree with the fact that treating the transparency as inviolate seems limiting however if some people wish to concentrate on composition, timing, artistic expression before capture and like the rendering of Velvia – why not. Just as there is nothing wrong with deciding that a transparency needs no improvement, in many cases an artistic hand can improve things massively (I would go as far to say ‘in most cases’ in my opinion).

“Enough of the agreeing already!” I hear you cry. So, s you would expect, I disagree with the premise that ‘better emulsions were introduced more than a decade ago’ as it depends on what you mean by better. Fuji Velvia did something that other films couldn’t and although saturation was part of the puzzle, it wasn’t the whole of it – as anybody who has tried to make a ‘velvia plugin’ would agree (and it seems most Velvia plugins just add saturation and contrast – very simplistic).

Velvia’s trick is to do more with separation of colour tonality than saturation – it has the ability to take a low contrast scene and add pizazz that no end of digital sourced simulation can manage. And in these days of good scans, the sacrosanct transparency can be just a start.

For instance, I just shot this image in the lake district and whilst the composition isn’t particularly interesting, at least it demonstrates how Velvia does this tonal separation. 

Of particular note to me are the neutral highlights in the ice and on the rocks and the way the rocks have a neutral to green tone (green caused by lichens) and the hillside and sky has a beautiful twighlight cast. Now here’s the 5Dmk2 version straight out of the camera

and with the ‘Alien Skin Exposure’ simulator plus some colour tweaking to try to get a similar colour overall without making any individual parts look ‘wierd’

 

Now obviously this is taken with a shorter shutter speed but ignore the water for a bit I for one much prefer the Velvia version. Even with half an hour of tweaks using the Velvia as a reference I get something that works OKish on first glance but still doesn’t have the punch of the Velvia. (if anybody wants to play with the digital original – here’s the raw file. I’ll be happy to publish people’s interpretations)

Guy also makes a point about Velvia being a crap film for scanning. Well, if you don’t have access to a good scanner it is but if you can drum scan or use a Nikon 9000 or Imacon it’s perfect. The tones spread across the whole dynamic range of the scanner, it’s almost like the film is tuned to the best DMax scanners can get. And if you’ve seen some of the post processing videos in ‘On Landscape’ you’ll see just what an expert (Joe Cornish) can do with a colour transparency scan.

It’s no surprise that a lot of people are playing with film again – they see something unique and different in it, not necessarily better but perhaps something that is not possible to capture in any other way. Guy mentions that perhaps it deserves a place in the history of photography alongside glass plates – well, like glass plates, Fuji Velvia will deserve both a place in history and in the hearts of many contemporary photographers who are doing unique things with it. (oh – and as for glass plates – Just check out Sally Mann, France Scully Osterman & Joni Sternbach and various other contemporary photographers whose work is probably irrelevant). It’s a shame we won’t be able to use these colour materials in another few decades unlike the above mentioned.

So – I cannot agree with the premise that Velvia was just about saturation. Perhaps that is all many photographers saw it as but for the majority that I know it’s a unique starting point to express an artistic vision.

Tim

 

 

 

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