Behind the Camera: ‘Into the Distance’

When I started out as a photographer I would take a machine gun approach to shooting, blasting anything and everything in sight. I had a “shoot first, sort out the mess later” approach. Then, over time, I started to learn to calm down. I learned to tell the difference between things I could the photographed, and things that couldn’t, and at the same time got a better sense for what makes a good shot and what, quite frankly, sucks. It wasn’t that I was wasting film — I was shooting digital — it was that I wasting time on things that wouldn’t work, and making the post-process job a lot bigger than it needed to be.

Something else that has developed — no pun intended — is my eye for what makes a good shot. I don’t always get it right — far from it — but my hit to cull ratio is a lot better than it was even a couple of years ago.

Another aspect that has improved is that part of my brain that spots good shots when I’m not actually thinking about it. Quite often that’s when I’m in the car, and that means that I’ve also had to work on perfecting my “pulling over as fast as is safe to do so” part of my brain (also my “turning around for the shot” part has had a workout).

There are a lot of good shots out there waiting to be taken, just begging to be seen.

Like this shot. I was driving along and all of a sudden realized that the clouds and the mountains and the light were all playing nicely together and that there was a shot waiting. What photographer David Noton calls “the decisive moment.” It’s then a matter of whipping the camera out as fast as possible, dialing in what my gut says are the right settings (I might get a chance to tweak later) and make some exposures.

The humble lens cloth

As photographers, it can be hard to know what bits of kit to take with us and which bits to leave at home, but if there’s one bit of kit that I already regret leaving at home, it is the humble lens cloth.

I never deliberately leave my lens cloth at home. No, what happens is that I’ll decide to go out with minimal gear – leaving the main pack either at home or in the car – and the lens cloth gets left behind with it. And then it’ll either start to rain, or I’ll be doing seascapes and get splashed, and then I have to resort to using an item of clothing to wipe the lens or filter.

While I don’t feel that using a t-shirt or sleeve will damage a lens or filter, the results are questionable at best.

I try to keep a cloth in my pocket or car glove box, but they seem to be one of those things that get lost. I don’t know how many lens cloths I’ve bought over the years, but I always only seem to have one that I can find.

I don’t believe in overspending on lens cloths because I seem to go through them. I just search for ‘lens cloths’ or ‘glasses cleaner’ on Amazon and buy a few microfiber cloths.

All hail the humble lens cloth.

‘Blackness and Light’

I’m a big fan of black and white photography. Yes, color is fantastic, but there are times when shifting to a monochrome format helps to focus the eye and draw out detail by removing the distraction of color.

The other day I set myself a challenge – do something different with black and white. A pretty broad remit, but I let this idea rattle around in my head for a bit and came up with this. It’s a shot of a roadside waterfall I took in Scotland. And by ‘roadside’ I mean a waterfall that had just appeared on the side of the road because it had rained heavily. Despite being only about 8 feet tall, I thought it was an amazing – and impromptu – sight.

What I’ve done here is remove a lot of the detail from the rocks and the surroundings and focused instead on the interaction of the water with the rocks and the light, and used this to pull out the details from the surface. This means I can focus in on the interaction between these elemental forms without everything else in the exposure screaming for attention.

What’s really odd is that after I processed the image, something clicked. I realized that this is how my brain had seen this little waterfall in the first place. While the camera catches every little detail – from the sky and the surroundings to the tiny blades of grass – my mind had removed all this. What drew me to this waterfall was the interaction of the water and the rocks and how this affected the light, and this image does something similar.

I’d like to print this out, but I fear that it eat a lot of black ink, so I might get it done professionally.

Behind the Camera: Brushing the Sky

Brushing the Sky

When I take a photograph, it’s all about what my eye is drawn to when I look at a scene. In the mountains, I can’t help but stare in wonder at the strange aesthetic land where landscape and clouds intermingle. If I were standing above that ridgeline, I would of course think I was surrounded by fog. Some distance from the mountain, it is clear that a large cloud is pouring over the hillside, like custard over a christmas pudding.

It’s a little like the first time I flew in a plane as a small child and was amazed to discover that planes could fly, not only through clouds, but above them too! Before this I hadn’t known that clouds had tops to them as well. I’d thought they went all the way up – although I’m not sure where I thought they stopped. When they started bumping into the moon, perhaps?

I often wonder if children raised among these hills express such surprise that clouds and fog are one and the same. To me, fog was a just one kind of weather on a particular kind of day – and no more related to those things in the sky than a puddle is to the rain. To children growing up on the sides of mountains though, it must always always be self evident that a foggy day is just a very cloudy day…