Nothing is Original

The problem is thinking you know enough to think you’re right, but not knowing enough to know that you’re wrong………

What does success look like to you?  Sometimes creativity is easy, and sometimes it’s not. I walk through the days trying to get past photographers block, and trying too hard just makes it worse.

Today is a good day, I’m feeling creative and inspired to get out and take some pictures, not for anyone else, but for me, and me alone.  Today I’m past the block and on a roll. How long will it last?  Who knows, and frankly I’m not worried, it’s about today.

Nettleton Woods

One of the things I’ve learned in the past 18 months or so of Covid, is that I can shoot what I want – not for a camera club, or exhibition, or competition – and there’s been a huge sense of freedom in that.  I realised that it was OK to put down the camera, and walk away for a week or two, to change my subjects and outlook – to get off the club treadmill which I hadn’t even realised I was on. To take a good break from social media.

I found that I am not ‘required’ to be a landscape photographer, or wildlife, or portrait, or creative for that matter – I took time to explore genres, to find out where I fit in with myself, and I’ve come out somewhat surprised.

I explored, went for walks, read art and photography books, remembered that the cameras we all have today (including those on our phones) are much better than the equipment photographers were using well into the 1990’s.  We are blessed with great cameras, lens, and software, and yet I still hear complaints about ‘gear’.  Hey guys, this lens at F1.4 is soooo much better than the same focal length at F2…

Photography is for ‘me’ now, not someone else (I did all that when working full time), and if that sounds selfish – so be it. It’s about feeding my own soul, and I’ve stopped worrying about what other people think of my work.

Running in the Sea

Online, I see images, one in colour, and one in black and white.  The photographer is asking which is better, I can’t decide, help me choose.  Is this the death knell of creativity – why are they letting other people choose for them?   Asking random strangers on the internet to vet your work is always going to be an issue.  About half the people asked liked the colour, and all the rest the mono….. so who was right…. one, the other, both?

Stand up for yourself, be brave and experimental, don’t let the ‘rules’ get in the way of your own vision.  Remember that nothing these days is original.

When I was younger I was a musician. I played in orchestra, military band, dance band, jazz band, and theatre pit.  I loved it.  I played other people’s work as I was learning and after, I was very good at sight reading, better at key transposition, and eventually improvisation.   I learnt the way most do though, I copied others, I read the scores for opera, and symphony, I learnt by rote.  I learnt scales and harmony. I learnt how to use and maintain my instrument.

As photographers we do the same thing – we copy, we learn the rules, and play scales, we learn how to use and maintain our gear, we eventually learn to deviate (or improvise) from the theme, we learn to read the light, to transpose our thoughts and eventually create our own self worth.

Don’t be scared – remember that by trying to please everyone, you ultimately please no-one, and average is born.

Stay away from internet negativity, and don’t worry about what other people think – find your own voice and stick with it…… 

Nettleton Woods

Publish and be Damned

Many years ago, I gave up a pretty good job in the insurance market to become a full time photographer.

Part of my job then was to organise events for the insurance industry in Manchester, and we employed photographers to cover events. At one event, I actually sacked the guy on the spot for being – shall we say – inappropriate with the ladies….. it gave me great pleasure to tell him where to stick his lens……

I digress….. after this, I started to shoot the local events myself, and from there, I expanded what I did, to shoot dinners, presentations, and other events around the area, eventually giving up insurance completely, and started photography freelancing as a job.

I was introduced to agency work, and was sent to all sorts of places to shoot people and ‘things’ – the idea then was to get the images back to the picture desk as quickly as I could for print. I didn’t edit, other than maybe a quick crop. Images for news editorials must not, and should not be altered.

Alfie Boe

The great thing was being able to meet so many people – but it was hard work. Some celebrity folks were wonderful and co-operative. Others not so much, but I enjoyed the challenge.

Standing in the rain, waiting for people (or things) to come and go – waiting in the dark (in the rain) – uploading images whilst sitting on the floor of a shopping centre, or in one case, whilst being driven home.


Would I have changed it? – not for one second. It was a job I loved, and cursed in equal measure….

Which brings me to the purpose of this post…. There’s a lot to be said for being freelance – there’s a lot of joy and excitement – being in the right place at the right time – getting involved in Britain’s Got Talent, and the X-Factor finals.

Lord Sebastian Coe KBE – signs his book “Running my Life”

What I do find frustrating is photographers who think that being freelance is an easy option.

It’s much harder these days to make good money. At one of the last dinners that I shot – one person told me candidly that he would just screenshot my website – and wasn’t bothered about a watermark.

Never mind – let’s let the matter rest, and move on…..

Photography is NOT an art……

Photography is not an art. Neither is painting, nor sculpture, literature or music. They are only different media for the individual to express his aesthetic feelings…. You do not have to be a painter or a sculptor to be an artist. You may be a shoemaker. You may be creative as such. And, if so, you are a greater artist than the majority of the painters whose work is shown in the galleries of today.

-Alfred Stieglitz-

Stieglitz was an American photographer and modern art promoter who was instrumental over his 50-year career in making photography an accepted art form – but I suspect we fail sometimes in our thinking of what art really is.

There have been a number of discussions on various forums over time, which usually seem to devolve into factions – some who believe one thing, and those another. The consensus on one forum though was that photography cannot, and never will be art…. I ask why not?

Which brings me nicely to the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring….. If you have been to my talk on the beginnings of creative photography, you will know that I talk about Henry Peach Robinson (Founder of the Birmingham Photographic Society). The Brotherhood was founded in 1892 and the idea behind it was “a means of bringing together those who are interested in the development of the highest form of Art of which Photography is capable.” Alfred Stieglitz was also a member.

In November 1893, Robinson created the Photographic Salon,  an annual exhibit event in England whose aim was to “exhibit images in which there is distinct evidence of personal feeling and execution.” As a result, interest grew in processes such as gum bi-chromate, oil pigment and transfer, and supported the trend in producing images not for reproduction, but works of high value, as well as creating interest in surface texture, papers, and colour of print. (Thanks Wikipedia)

There is much at stake these days, as photographers critique one another by saying that images have been ‘photoshopped’. All art involves manipulation of material in one way or another, to the pleasure and discretion of the ‘artist’. It is impossible to put together all aspects of photography, and not call any of them art.

Some images are a straightforward representation of the ‘thing’ the photographer was stood in front of – but the vast majority, have something of the creator in them.

At the dawn of the photographic age, photographs were seen as a projection, with no input from the operator, but as usual, the more adventurous amongst them started to experiment, and create things that were impossible in the ‘real’ world.

Take a look at the work of Peach Robinson – some of his images were the result of many different photographs, stacked together, much in the same way that we would use photoshop layers today. The skill of these masters I feel are remarkable given the level of technology that was at their disposal compared to what we have today.

At one talk I gave on ‘composites with negatives’ – a person said at the end, they didn’t know that composites could be done pre photoshop. I find this a sad state of affairs, that someone with a hobby, in which they profess great interest has never looked at the work produced by past masters of the subject, and the skills that they have in turn, passed down to us.

In short, we need to create our own work. Deal with images as we see fit, and use our artistic skills in any way we want. Images can be artistic, aesthetic and creative – they can even represent what was just in front of the camera if that’s what the photographer wants to do.

Let’s not choose to produce what everyone else does – lets get away from the ‘tripod holes’ at the usual places and create our own images, in our own way.

Begone to the nay-sayers………

I’m on my August break from social media – though I have had a quick look once or twice, and I think I’ve made a couple of comments, but not put anything on my own page apart from a link to this blog.

It’s funny though, the less I look at it, the less I’m inclined to – I think the addiction is starting to fade.

The image below is of windows at St Boltophs Church, Saltfleet – in camera multiple exposure, but edited in Photoshop !

Ice Cream at the World Peace Cafe

The other day, a friend and myself headed out – passports in hand – into the depths of South Yorkshire. We were heading for Kilnwick Percy Hall, home of the Madhyamaka Kadampa Meditation Centre. It’s not far from the Yorkshire Wolds Way, and has roughly 50 acres of gardens, woodlands, lake and parkland to explore.

It was incredibly hot. Too hot really for a comfortable walk, but the cafe is accessible, and serves great food and ice cream.

Lynn and I walked round the walled garden, then on to St Helen’s church – and from there along the lakeside under the dappled shade of trees.

It was good to spend time looking, with no pressure to produce anything.

St Helen’s Church, Kilnwick Percy


Sometimes I find that being out with another photographer, or group, can make me feel like I have to come back with ‘something’ – the need to ‘get that shot’ – this trip was nothing like that. I made very few pictures, and spent a lot of time in the quiet of the surroundings just ‘looking’. I felt no real need to socialise either (even though we spent the entire day together), and so, the few images I did make I think are better than the usual.

National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson is famously quoted as saying “If you want to make more interesting pictures, stand in front of more interesting stuff”.. I think I spent time looking for what I thought was ‘interesting stuff’. It makes a difference.

My advice to photographers generally now is this: create for yourself, and not for others (when you can), and many books I have read state the same. The second piece of advice is: Slow down. We rush too much, we rush to upload all the images we took on a day. Take time to sleep on it, think about what you have achieved and if it means you format the card, and save nothing – well, there’s no shame in that.

I’m reading a book by photographer Guy Tal, and here’s a quote from his book that particularly resonated with me…

The greatest conquest is the conquest of fear
The greatest courage is the courage to start over

So maybe format that card, and start over…..

With thanks to Lynn Haith for driving, putting up with my avid ice cream eating, and getting us both home safe……

Shooting in the Round

Results from the Camversation Talk

After the talk with Sally and Glenys the other week, it’s been wonderful to see so many images that have been created by the people who came to the talk (and some from people who didn’t get there live, but have watched the recording.)

I’m now inordinately glad that I said yes to having my bit recorded.  No-one pushed me to say yes, but I’m so pleased that I did. 

The shots taken ‘in the round’ give of course, anything from a 180 degree to 360 degree of combined images which takes pictures to a whole new level.

These are things that have been photographed a million times before, but sometimes not in the way you expected.  Multi shot images create a whole new way of ‘seeing’ things, and the results are usually completely unexpected.

The thing is, that by changing the ‘where’ and the ‘how’, a whole new look and meaning can make themselves visible to you – it can be a revelation.

Dave Balcombe sent me the image below of the Market Cross in Wymondham, he said that he only used 13 individual shots, and didn’t follow any strict rules.   The only critique that I offered (at his request) was to reduce the number of text references to a ‘certain’ bank, that repeated throughout the final picture.  Other than that, the image was lovely.  

He tells me that this is his first attempt at this style of photography and was inspired by my talk though he has seen this style before and admired my RPS A panel, he tells me he will try again, now he has the idea.

With his kind permission – I show it here:- he says that this is not too far from where he lives and so will be able to return easily and shoot it again.

Market Cross, Wymondham by Dave Balcombe – used with his permission

What do we see?  Windows that have their own worlds inside, the patterns of the stonework in the foreground, the balance of the trees either side of the cross.  The whole image is transformed into almost a kaleidoscope of shapes, rather than a single cohesive one – and yet it works.  You can see exactly what the image is about – it’s a totally different take on a subject that I would think has been taken a million times before. 

Dave was open to seeing this, he didn’t look past it, he stayed sensitive to what was literally right in front of him.  

Thing is, he tried something different – and it worked……. remember that as you go about your daily photo life……

So next time you go out and shoot something that everyone else has photographed, make it your own. Find a new point of view, or choose a different time of day, or combine images, or all three. The more you look, the more shots you take, the luckier you will get – but whatever else you do…….

MAKE IT YOUR OWN

‘Freedom Day’, Maybe….

Today is the same as yesterday and the day before – we’ve not quite unlocked fully, but apparently we will do next week.  Maybe I’ll be able to bin the hazmat suit finally, (it was too big for me anyway) and open another bottle of wine, but keep the mask… which actually makes it a bit harder to drink – never mind.

I wonder what my daughter will tell her kids about the last year or so.  Maybe she’ll make it sound like it was fun…..   It’s been a bit like being stuck in an ever repeating sitcom….. without the laughs, or maybe there were a few laughs….….. moving on……. 

I’m pretty sure I’ve spent a lot of time overeating during the pandemic, maybe a bit of over… well over everything really.

I have also apparently lost the concept of time. Can’t remember when I last wore a watch. It’s like we’ve been trapped in an online life, and infinite loop of despair, with no memory of a time before – and suddenly it looks like it’s going to end, and it’s actually a bit scary !

So, after all these months of booking speakers for the camera club, we find we are slowly struggling though the sludge to the end.  I’ve got another three I think before the end of July, and then we’re having a whole month off…. Wonder if I’ll miss it, and wonder what will happen next.  

At the moment though, I don’t fancy sitting in a small club room with folks breathing over each other..  I’m distrustful, I know……

At least the inspiration that has come from other photographers and artists has kept me going, especially in the last few weeks, and the last two speakers to come are both experimental, and artistic at the same time.  So that’s all good then.

Plus for the first time I really felt that I’ve had my fill and monies worth of the RPS – from being a far flung organisation somewhere on the edge of the galaxy, they came full circle and put on loads of events (albeit online) that were brilliant… fingers crossed all that will continue…. 

Of course there’s been the online zoom social meetings, (and a party, that was interesting) as well as the photo meetings….  and I’ve learned a lot of useful stuff…… like how to plait wheat, and make basic corn dollies….. yes really, and I’ve got two hung in the downstairs toilet to prove it.

Soon be time to go outside again, maskless, in the garden, and then the dogs will need a walk.  I tried to take my camera once on a dog walk – didn’t do very well – I spent more time watching them leap around like the demented animals that they are, than taking photographs, oh and avoiding other people who also seem to think they should walk their dogs too, who might just want to TALK to me.

This weekend though, we have guests… it’ll be a bit strange having other people in the house, overnight, who doesn’t normally live with us.  They take photos though, so it’ll be OK.

What’s the point of this?  Well I just thought I’d put it out there that I’m still experimenting, and playing – we adults, we don’t play enough do we?  In my talks, I advocate playtime, but for some grown ups it’s a hard thing to do.  I’ve a couple of friends who are avid gamers, but not photographers… I like playing with software and cameras, and pushing boundaries where I can.

Trouble is, we can get too fixated on the so called rules …. I keep saying, ‘there are no rules’, this isn’t a sport, it’s supposed to be fun (unless of course you’re doing it for a living).  I used to do it for a living…… and what I did, well, no editing was allowed…. 

I got fired once, from a company I didn’t work for – I was out there taking photographs of a building for a business (who will remain nameless).. security (who hadn’t been told I’d be there), thought I was a member of staff sneaking out early…. I got hauled into the office and was actually officially reprimanded, till someone from HR came along and realised I wasn’t actually an employee.  This was a good rule…. ‘Keep your staff in line’.  The other rule they had was that all staff had to wear shoes, not boots, not even in winter – I digress.

I’ve actually forgotten the purpose of this post now… so I reckon I’ll stop…… Here’s a photo for good measure that I took on our first club outing in 18 months…… I might have slipped – waved the camera round a bit, or maybe it was the gin….. who knows……..

Cleethorpes Country Park

Keep shooting, and taking the pills as necessary – normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

A Friday – early July

It’s been an odd week. Hot, humid and not very brilliant for taking photographs, and I am not even inclined to sit in front of a computer editing ‘stuff’.

It’s also been a busy few weeks in terms of talks and judging that I have been asked to do, so actually more computer sitting has been involved – my office seems to get really warm in the evenings but it has been great to either listen to other speakers, or join in and speak myself.

I’ll add a caveat at this point. I really hate listening to myself, so talks that I’ve done, that have been recorded, I tend not to want to hear again – but when it came to a talk last week with Sally Sallett, and Glenys Garnett, and both said they were happy for it to be recorded – I gave in, and had my bit recorded too.

Funnily, although I’m happy to talk photography any time anyone asks me, ad nauseam, this time I was nervous – I’d practiced – I’d sorted out what I was doing, I had everything set up, and ready to roll, and still I felt acutely that what I was about to present wasn’t going to be as good as the other two ladies I was with….. don’t ask me why, I have no idea.

Anyway – to cut a long story short – talk time came, it went, and it was utterly, ridiculously brilliant. Glenys and Sally were consummate professionals, and I think my bit was better than I thought it would be…. The feedback from the attendees was completely positive, and the great thing is that I’ve been sent images that people have created following on from the talk- and they have all been really good.

It’s truly wonderful when you show people how to do things, and they go away, apply those techniques – and then the images they produce are testament to not only how they have been taught, but more importantly, how they reacted to the ideas they were given. To see images that are well produced is a thrill beyond words.

Many years ago, at my first camera club (which will remain unnamed) I asked a photographer how they had done something (no idea even what it was now) – but I remember his reply so clearly. He said “if I tell you, then you’ll know” and he walked away, it was so frustrating and in equal measure, disappointing.

From my point of view, there are no secrets in photography. As an artist, and photography is an art form I believe, you should create what pleases you, but it shouldn’t be a secret how you did it.

So, get out there and create what makes you happy – feel free to experiment, to use colour boldly. Add grain to images if you want to, there’s no rule that says images should be noise free. Make dramatic black and whites, be abstract. Play with your camera, and your software. Make your own dreams come true.

Enjoy your art life.. and remember that photography isn’t a sport – there are no rules, only guidelines.

Things are different now

Those of you who know me well, or even not so well, might know that I had to reformat the hard drive on my main computer. Wiped everything off, and started again…. why this radical thing? Well, the boot up time (which should be around the 20 second or so mark), had got longer and longer, and the computer was taking anything up to 4 minutes to be in a useable state.

I spent ages on the phone with Apple, and in the first instance just re-installed the operating system. It helped, but not a lot – and in the end I bit the bullet, backed it all up (again), and hit the delete button.

Wiping the data was the easy part – I’d even remembered to ‘switch off’ Adobe, so they didn’t think I was trying a reinstall on a third machine. Anyway – it went pretty well. The ‘delete’ didn’t take long, but grief……… getting back all my software….. well, let’s say, I might have said a few rude words.

I ‘thought’ I’d made a note of all the stuff I had, down to plug-in software, actions and brushes. Some I had made, and some I had downloaded (acquired) years ago (it’s amazing what you find when you look hard).

The really frustrating part is that on my old machine, I am still running an older version of On1 software. Version 9 – upgraded sometime ago to version 10.

My new Mac had originally accepted this software, copied over direct from the old one last year. With a clean install of the OS though, I couldn’t find a download from On1. An email to them though helped, and they sent me the correct link, but I found that this older version is now incompatible with ‘Big Sur’ – and On1 have no intention of updating their product (that for them is out of date) so I can use it.

A bit of thought, and I decide that I can probably live without it. I’m certainly not paying for it again – or at least another upgrade…

One or two other bits also don’t work any more – and I decide that the issue is that since getting a MAC back in 2007, I’ve just used the migration tool, to copy one drive onto another. A close inspection of the library showed me rubbish going back to my first machine, but I’ve no idea why On1 worked before the new install….. anyway……

Roll forward 10 days and it’s all finished. Boot up time is back to around the 20 second mark. I’ve got all my Adobe stuff back on, and even the Google free NIk Collection worked albeit in a haphazard way. In a moment of enthusiasm, I upgraded that to the DXO Nik Collection 4. Well, it was on sale at a discount – I didn’t realise they only released this new version this month (June 2021).

The end result is great – well worth the hard work. The moral of the story is to maybe not use the migration tool again going forward.

Anyway, I am back up and running, that’s the important thing. Let’s get some images made now.

Fields near Red Hill Nature Reserve

It’s Thursday

Yesterday, whilst driving, I came across a field of flax.  If it’s a common crop, I’ve not noticed it much before, but this one was stunning.  In amongst the pale blue flax flowers, are poppies.  The red and blue, against the paler blue sky, it’s beautiful.  I’ve only got my mobile, but I do my best – and make a note of where it is, to go back tomorrow and take my camera….. but now, writing this – it IS tomorrow, and it’s raining.  


It’s Thursday and it’s the middle of June.  It’s been so hot and dry lately, but today marched in the way it intended to go on. Wet, and dull.

I’m out with the dogs, getting wet, and then even wetter, as, in a moment of madness, I decide to take the long route through an uncut field.  The grass is long, very long, and wet, and suddenly I’m soaking from the bottom of my coat, to the top of my wellies, and I don’t care. 

The heat of the last few days has been partly washed away, and it’s quiet.  I walk through the morning like I’m the only one alive, and look at the crops in the field, the horses standing, bored in their field, and then watch the dogs, running round, glad to be alive, demented in their morning excitement that it’s cool enough to run, and that the grass is long enough for them to roll in.  

They’re both covered in grass seed when I get home – towelling them off makes me warm – warmer even than when I was walking, and whilst I’m drying them off, I think of things that I love…..

The smell from a happy wet dog, the way they push up against you, trusting.  Long grass, wet cool days after hot dry ones,. Cups of hot tea, the sound of people talking in the distance, catching snippets of conversation.

Two cyclists went by whilst I was out, shouting across the two feet or so that separated them, “it’s the distance that’s the problem”  one shouts, “nah” says the other “it’s the fact that he’s got two left feet”, and I’m left, wondering…..