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.
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……
It’s Wednesday again already and it’s hot and humid and close. Yesterday we had a huge downpour and I had to run about in bare feet trying to get the washing in. Of course I’d done all the bedding, so it was all big stuff, but the raindrops were bigger.
A neighbour has a digger in his garden today, and just watching it somehow makes me feel even hotter, it’s really been one of those mornings…..
Everything sounded awful, everyone is niggly, the news makes it sound like the world is coming to an end and none of the staff in the local supermarket are wearing masks, even though all the shoppers are.
It’s only shopping, I remind myself, it’s all going to be OK….
Later, I’m at the computer, with a breeze finally coming in through the window and I’m looking at pictures I took with the drone over the last weekend.
We had a friend over to stay, and it was weird having someone who is not a household member in the house – but it did allow us (if we need to be allowed) to have impromptu drinks in the afternoon – sat around a table in the garden for hours and hours chatting about everything, and nothing…
The ridiculously early start on Sunday morning (getting up at 3am) was invigorating. Cool air, gorgeous coloured skies, sand underfoot, and a gentle sea. An amazing number of people about in fact. Kids who hadn’t been home all night – still dressed in skimpy clothing for evening, (asking why I had a helicopter with me!), and other folk who had been for an early morning swim, jog, walk, saunter, bike ride or workout.
Two ladies with a little girl sat on the steps looking out to sea, told me that they had driven for over an hour to get there to watch the sun come up. The youngster having a great time paddling and digging in the soft sand. She didn’t care what time it was (there was a breakfast treat to look forward to). A teenager too, sitting in the car refusing to move. Hair tugging, absorbed in her phone, missing the dawn of a new day.
There they all are in the photo below, right at the bottom, near the middle….. you’ll have to look closely….
Which reminds me of things that I love.
Friends who come to visit, sunrise, early mornings, colours in the sky, drone flying, watching the tide go out, small dogs in coloured jackets, out of the blue text messages, people saying ‘thank you’, and overhearing bits of conversation, like these two walking past me on my way back to the car…. “if it wasn’t for the books” he said, “she’d never be working in that library”… and there the matter rested as they strolled away……
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……..
Keep shooting, and taking the pills as necessary – normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
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…..
Go and shoot they said, the weather will be great they said…… It was lovely when we set out.
In the talk that I give, I discuss the weather, the vagaries of shooting and the stuff you forget to take with you. I also talk about attitude, and what you do at the other end of your drive when things don’t turn out as you anticipated.
It was a fabulous morning, a light mist hanging over the fields – not light yet properly, and the idea of a low mist, a high tide, and the ‘Sound Tower’, one of the Structures on the Edge – down on the coast, kept me moving.
It’s about 30 miles to where we wanted to be – around a 50 minute drive along winding roads, and with the fog getting thicker all the time, there were thoughts about turning around and getting home for a bacon sandwich…
“Carry on”, I said to myself, “Practice what you preach”…. “Wish I’d brought my ‘normal’ camera” I thought, and not the drone….
Still, it looked like it might be OK. We parked up, and wandered onto the beach to be met with a wall of sea fog, but with the sun making a brave effort to poke through. “We’ll launch” we said….. and up we went……
What I didn’t think about was the transmission issues in fog between drone and transmitter…. should have done of course… and at one point it sat in the sky and refused to land – a moment of panic to be sure, but all was well and down she came – I thought better of a second attempt, and only took a couple of images…. here they are…..
The light turned out lovely, and I did get the bacon when I got home…. maybe I will check the forecast in a bit more detail next time before I leave the house……
Sometimes you just see things, and have to take a photo – and sometimes you take something out with you to shoot – just in case – and get something unexpected.
This week, on the last sunny and warm day (I suspect) of summer, I headed out to the local woods with a glass ball in my camera bag.
I spent some time looking at the woodland, and playing around with light and shade….. then remembered I’d got the ball with me….. I jammed it in between a couple of tree branches and was delighted that I could see a view of the wood through it… of course, it’s a lens, and everything was upside down – so I’ve reversed the image…..
The woodland is small, no more than a few hectares, yet I find myself returning again and again. Last winter was when I first discovered it, and I played around with the lines of trees against the stark winter sky – in the summer, the canopy is so thick there’s little light getting through to the ground.
I’m looking forward to seeing it in the autumn.
Always go back to places you’ve visited before, it will be different every time, and there will always be something new to see.
In this small woodland, maintained by the woodland trust – work goes on all year round, and views I saw a few months ago, are just not there any more – but there are new ones to investigate.
Keep going back, keep looking…..
It’s not over till you quit, because you never know where the next picture will come from.
A few weeks ago, a friend told me that another friend was selling his drone, did I fancy getting one? I wasn’t sure……….
We decided in the end that we would buy it between us and give it a go.
What did we know about drones? – absolutely nothing…….
However, once it arrived, we found it easy to set up, and get running. The cables were a bit fiddly till you could sort out where they went, but once the batteries were charged, it can be put it into ‘idot’ mode, which makes for an easier start.
The basics are easy – left control, up and down and rotate, and the right for forwards, backwards, sideways – but getting the knack of using both levers at the same time was a bit more complex. You also have to take into account that the camera lens can be moved up and down through 90 degrees. Lots of permutations here.
The first lot of video was shaky to say the least. Stop start, and too quick rotation meant viewing made your head spin, and getting up the nerve to go to the maximum legal height of 400ft was a bit hairy.
The Boring Bit
To legally use a drone in the UK, over the weight of 250g, it must be registered. It can all be done online and there are two parts to this.
Anyone responsible for a drone needs to register as an operator. This is currently £9 annually.
Anyone flying a drone must take, and pass an online education package. This is free, and renewable every three years.
If you want to fly commercially, a whole raft of other requirements are in place.
So, registration complete, test passed (first time – though in fairness it’s not difficult) – and away we go.
Thinking in three dimensions is not easy for me – yet …. For a start, the thing is moving, and it’s far away from you usually. Taking stills is not too bad as it will hover and the gimbal helps keeps the image steady, plus you can see what the camera sees on your mobile phone app. Video though, for me, is a whole new skill.
So, I’ve got the footage (bad though it may be) and I’ve got some photographs. Processing them is easy – the drone shoots its own version of RAW – in this case DNG files, which I can deal with in Photoshop and Lightroom. The video footage though – well Lightroom can’t handle it – Photoshop is limited, so what else have I got?
I use a MAC, and the free software that comes with that is iMovie – and it actually works pretty well. I’ve got a fairly powerful computer that can handle video, but bear in mind that the files can be huge. I shot in 4K (which is the best quality this drone can handle), and after 40 minutes flying the other day, I came back with 30Gb of footage, which when downloaded and edited made for a bit of a wait whilst the files were exported afterwards.
I’ve also been learning a bit more about how YouTube works. The finished files are a bit too big for me to keep locally, and there’s free space so far on the web, which I can link to. Something else for me to learn….
The other interesting thing I found is that you can take a still image from the video footage, and the quality isn’t bad. (See Below)
So how am I doing? Well, it’s been an experience for sure – and some of the images I can already see potential for.
I was initially a bit disappointed with the quality of the stills. The camera is 12Mp but really does need good light to get the best from it. The sensor of course is tiny – but you can work the files to what I consider an acceptable standard – they can be noisy but software can sort most of that. It’s a bit like flying a medium quality mobile phone. (Though I know that some of the newer drones have much better cameras).
I’m always talking about taking a risk, and experimenting with photography, and this is a whole new way of seeing the world. It’s going to take practice, and although I’m thinking of buying another one (that’s all mine)….. I’m going to wait till I really get to grips with my half of a drone……..
For those of you who know all this already, I’m sorry to ramble on, but it’s an exciting time.
Fingers crossed I can keep up with this, and hopefully get to make some video that is actually worth watching….. till then… fingers crossed.
Sometime during March, my camera club closed down because of Covid19 – there was no big announcement, just a quiet closure, and a sudden end to the programme of events that were scheduled.
One member acquired a Zoom account for the benefit of maybe half a dozen people, so we could keep in touch. It soon expanded though to include the whole of the club, and since then has gone from strength to strength.
What this blog post is about, is the results of that closure, and what happened afterwards.
We had a couple of meetings to see how it would go, and, when it became apparent that most of the membership were keen, it fell to a group of three to work out the programme that would ensue. All the competitions had stopped, and there had been no club committee meetings, so we plodded on.
What happened was one of the best programmes of speakers I have ever had the privilege to watch – ranging from people with little experience, to solid professionals with years of speaking experience, based around the world.
The common denominator was the software called Zoom, which seemed to float to the top at the start of the Covid lockdown.
I certainly had never heard of it before, and I gather a lot more people were in exactly the same situation. At the start, there seemed to be glitches, and some security issues, but the company seemed to get on top of that pretty quickly, and ironed out the problems. Pretty soon I saw that many businesses were using it as a conferencing tool, including our own government.
There is always (for some) a fear of new technology, but under these trying circumstances, I have been pleased to see people I would have considered to be wary of this sort of meeting – happily joining in after a training session. Even some who said they were sure they wouldn’t like it, have been converted.
Of course – it’s not for everyone, and if it’s not a place you would feel comfortable, then that is fine. (But you’re missing such a lot!)
However – the results of the talks, coming as quickly as they have (and still do) has been inspirational.
Not just the club, but the Royal Photographic Society too, has put on a series of events and talks that simply could not be missed…. So what is the result so far….
Well, a cornucopia of ideas from an eclectic mix of photographers and artists.
We started with Art Nude, and nudes in the landscape, reflecting professionalism, and images you would be happy to show your aged mother. Not a genre I was planning on trying any time soon, but the photographs and the expertise was unmistakable.
From here we moved to stories, told by different images, and a whole talk and photographs based entirely on a work of fiction. Some stunning work by a master of wildlife photography, who showed us how he was able to attract birds into his garden, and gave us a tour round with excellent photography.
Based on this talk, the club ran a competition based on ‘birds’ – a fun competition with a very loose theme – images ranged from model kingfishers, to easter chicks in a nest of creme eggs.
So what have I learned?
Well, images can be produced that are interpretations, and not records of events, the subject comes first, and the images second. Planning is key, and if you are creating your own photographs from a work of fiction, then the image must be moved by the story itself.
The differences in attitude and experience of the speakers shows me that creativity is not necessarily something we can just learn. It can require a complete change of mindset, and is something that needs constant practice.
There will be many failures, but these are essential, as are the risks.
For example – Edward Weston produced a startling black and white image of a green pepper – called ‘Pepper Number 30’. What I hadn’t really thought about, was that there must have been at least 29 earlier versions, and who knows how many afterwards. The point is that Weston thought that number 30 was THE image, and the one he was probably most satisfied with.
Photographers must learn (I feel it should be compulsory) to cultivate a willingness to experiment, and think about the question ‘what if I did this?’..
I also learned that watching these excellent people present their work – that what we saw was a carefully cultivated, curated collection of images – and not just a thrown together selection of work. They all saw that there was no ‘one way’ of doing things – there was no wrong way, there was just a multitude of different ways. Some would just work better than others.
The images were not ‘scripted’ – they were born out of imagination, inspiration, and creativity. Even the loveliest landscapes that I saw of Mongolia, were thought through pieces, with the photographer even showing us one or two of his rejects, and explaining the thought process.
Each specialist image maker held true to their passions and convictions, and to a large extent didn’t worry too much about how others reacted to them. There is therefore a true correlation between creation and passion.
The other thing they do is make time for their art. It’s not created in between sandwiches on a Wednesday afternoon. They have spent time and effort looking at other people’s work, and at art. They have attended exhibitions, judged competitions, made work for sale, and importantly, made work for themselves.
So looking back at what I have seen so far – travel, people, factual, experimental, wildlife, landscape, nudes and totally different uses of camera and drones – my mind is racing with ideas.
I look at the programme to come, and see more projects, the Vikings, more wildlife, sports, astrophotography, underwater, street, work with textures, and composite photography.
Lots of things I’ve never tried, not thought about particularly either, but we all need to open our eyes and minds to different mindsets.
Lockdown has been an absolute pain in a lot of ways – there’s been a lot of agony and grief, but there has also been an abundance of creative imagery – some fantastically beautiful and poignant work, reflecting how photographers have responded to being left to their own devices.
Is there still going to be a place for the ‘traditional’ camera club after this? I’d say yes, because you can’t beat the personal interactions that you get when you meet up. Will they be different? I hope so – I hope that more photographers will be willing to experiment, and break the rules.
Is there going to be a place for Zoom, or equivalent? – again, I think yes. How else can you have a presenter from the other side of the world, or even Europe? Speakers from the deep south of the UK, or the north of Scotland.
One thing I do hope, is that clubs continue to have these brilliant speakers – so that we can see the amazing work that might be totally different to our own……
I look forward to hearing your comments, and seeing you let yourselves go….
I’ve spent a bit of time these last weeks, reviewing another photographers portfolio of work. The task of looking at work, both for me, and the photographer, is that we both have to be honest about what we are looking at.
One image, the photographer kept telling me, was really hard to get – the subject matter was hard to find, and even harder to get a good solid photo of. When I looked at it, it was a messy construction and clearly not that good. The photographer though had invested a lot of time and emotion in the image, and would not let it go. He was convinced it was good, and nothing I was going to say would change that point of view, but the fact is that the image is going to be perceived by others on an entirely different level from that of the photographer.
Which takes me on to the question of feedback about your work. What kind of feedback do you REALLY want? and importantly, what is your response to that feedback?
If you really respect the person who is looking at your images – it can be upsetting to hear that they don’t like it. After all, you want them to like what you have produced, that’s why you show it.
So, what should your response be, when someone you know and trust, doesn’t like your work. It’s hard, because maybe the work is bad, and maybe you just need to be told that. Maybe you need to listen to their advice and go away and change something, or even forget that image, and replace it with a new one.
You should remember though, that maybe the person looking at your work just doesn’t like the subject matter. Though in fairness, they should tell you that right from the start. I would hope that the good critique maker, should be able to look past the personal likes and dislikes and see the image for what it is.
So it’s up to the photographer to ask the right questions at this point, and so you need to ask the reviewer what it is they don’t like about the image. This is then hard, as the reviewer might tell you what they would do to make the image better, and that then might make it more their work, than yours. So you have to be careful.
If I show my work to someone I trust, and say that it is to inspire calm, and they say it looks like a battle is about to break out – then I think I can safely say I missed the mark on that one – and if this happens consistently then maybe I’d need to rethink my entire strategy or portfolio.
When I judge competitions – I try hard not to say whether I like it or not – at least not at first – what I try to do is work out how an image makes me feel. Sometimes I will say of a picture (let’s assume of an animal or bird for arguments sake), that by looking at it, I know how it would feel if I could run my fingers through the fur, or feathers, or grass, or whatever. Then I might say what emotion it gives – peace, excitement, confusion and so on.
The title of the piece helps direct too. An image can be confusing till I know what it’s called – then a combination of title and subject matter can bring together a unity of purpose.