Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015: The Review

2015 has been a mixed year. A year where I've found myself frustrated and in a bit of a rut photographically, a year that I've explored new locations and found my distance from hills difficult to live with and a year that I feel I've finally begun to find my style - whilst, on the other hand, diversifying at the same time. From the endless train journeys and the odd sense of pride I felt in the whole of my portfolio coming about through public transport and lots of walking, I now have a car. The Dales have become my playground once again, since living in York, and more recently, the North York Moors too. I've lost the ease of the grit stone edges of the Peak but gained much more in learning just what I want from a photo. I may not have been as prolific this year, but I feel the quality has gradually increased.

My aims at the start of the year were to double my Facebook following, sell more calendars than last year, begin to get my greetings cards out there and finally push on with the tuition and workshops - all of which have been achieved alongside the relief of completing my PhD... so I really can't complain too much. Now to repeat this for 2016 and hopefully I can make this my proper job with a decent income for 2017... I'm sure you'll all help me along the way, and I could never do it without you lovely people!

For any new viewers - you can find me at the following places:


So... on with the photos! Just a selection of my favourite landscape photos from this year, with a few words explaining why, saving the best until last.

Higger Tor - the smallest of gaps turns a hopeless trip into a perfect evening. 

Monday, 7 December 2015

Photographing people... how?

I have to admit, I have a knack for finding beautiful, unphotographed people to model for me for free - from browsing Instagram and getting past that first, awkward message to stumbling across them in town and asking for their photograph... so I can't complain too much. But with such openness and generosity on their part, comes a sense of responsibility on my part to give them something for their time and therefore, often, a lack of opportunity for experimentation.

I love the photos I have of random, beautiful people and the subsequent shoots we've done - and I'm more than confident in shooting in a number of situations. Give me a setting sun, a pretty face and a reflector and I'm a happy man. Equally, a white wall, a window and a bit of space... all is fine. But neither of these are ever guaranteed. I have no idea where to find white walls and space in York, and the weather is never predictable enough to organise a shoot on it. 

So how can I change this? There are a number of things that I'd love to either own, get to grips with or have the chance to use... but all are limited by expense or practicality. I already own a couple of flashes and softboxes - all very useful, but all somewhat unreliable and certainly unusable outdoors in the slightest of breeze. So what are the other options that intrigue me and problems I currently have?..

  • Continuous lighting 
    • Would be great for learning and knowing exactly what you're about to shoot. Flashes are useful and portable, but when you're a relative newcomer it's always nice to have that extra certainty that comes with a continuous light source. These are more expensive and heavier though... so is it really worth the investment? Where do I even start?
  • Backdrops and stands
    • I already have some cheap stands for my lights - but is it worth investing in a backdrop, and how much should that cost? You can get them for £30-50 on Amazon but reviews are not great, with creases in the backing fabric being a major problem. 
    • So my questions are... what do you look for in a backdrop? Which materials are good? How much do they cost? Is it worth getting the cheap stand and buying a better fabric?
  • Where do I find the space to use this stuff?
    •  I've spent the last week trying to find empty flats, cheap studios or village halls in and around York and they just don't exist. York is a crap place to live as a photographer. So if I were to invest in the studio setups, where could I use them in a cost effective way? I used to have room to shoot in my flat in Sheffield, but that would be very tight here. Even ignoring the space, it's difficult to have control over the light in a regularly sized room - as the light reflects around and ends up ruining any ideas you had - you really need a large room to have full control over this.
  • Even the empty buildings in York seem to be well protected. 
    • Terry's is now being rebuilt as flats, the empty carparks are all very well fenced off (I've checked) and the other abandoned buildings are either well guarded or somewhat dangerous to be exploring. 
    • Where do I find large, empty spaces in a posh city?

So where do I begin? How did any of you learn? Is it worth buying some cheap stuff? I don't need a workshop, I just need some space and/or equipment... but how do you do this without wasting a load of money?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Wasn't Expecting That.

A short and (as usual) somewhat ill thought out post - but bear with me whilst I ramble. I often write these things as the ideas pop into my head... but it's hopefully an interesting one nonetheless. Here I was, sat listening to the generic new releases and on popped a recent number 1 (maybe it still is?) - I Wasn't Expecting That... by someone vaguely linked to Ed Sheeran. Anyway, it's a nice song.

Then, browsing Facebook I came across this wonderful photograph by Mark Rasbeary from Willance' Leap in the Richmond group... of those amazing autumnal bursts from stormy skies. The kinda thing you can take many trips out for on moody looking days and come back with nothing... always unexpected and always spectacular. But is it really unexpected? If it truly was, why would we keep putting ourselves there?

Friday, 9 October 2015

The Mystery Workshop

It's an odd idea - but one I think may have some legs in it, based on the trust of both the general public and all those who know me...

Saturday, 12 September 2015

2016 Calendars - The Northern Landscape, Richmond and York.

It's that time of year again where I've got to try to sell some calendars, they've gone down ever so well for the last few years so it's good to push it and keep expanding them! It's always nice to know that so many people will get to look at my pictures day in day out.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Purple Haze

Year after year, heather blooming seems to be something I look forward to the most (along with the first snow) and year after year it always seems to coincide with a period when I can't get out as much as I'd like - usually falling bang in the middle of holiday weeks where I'm travelling to visit family and things, or going to Edinburgh for the Fringe. But this year, I'm coming to the end of this glorious moorland season and I'm actually content... partly because it came late this year and partly because I had fewer distractions... but it seems I've actually made the most of it for once.

Plenty of images for cards and calendars and some of my most popular photos of the year. So here's a very small selection of what I've got, coming from all three of Yorkshire's National Parks... the Dales, Peak and Moors... having visited Sutton Bank, Beamsley Beacon, Embsay Crag, Grindsbrook and Kinder Scout, Higger Tor and Froggatt Edge.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Haze: Friend or Foe?

So often on these warm summer evenings we are confronted with a thick haze obscuring the distant views - we can often guess when this is going to happen and the forecasts are pretty good when it comes to air clarity, but it wouldn't stop us going out even if it was supposed to be horrific. But I often wonder if it really is a bad thing? When the sun is higher in the sky during the first part of the golden hour then I can only agree with the general consensus that it's a horrible thing... contrast is lost, the colour gets blurred into the general whitewash of the photograph and it's difficult to process back to how you saw it. But is it always bad?

I'll begin with something from a little while before sunset - this view out over lower Wharfedale. The first thing you always wonder, and get told endlessly about, is whether or not a polarising filter will help things. This was especially true on this occasion when I wanted to pull every bit of colour possible out of the late blooming heather... so I tried both to see the difference.

It's a close call... you can hardly even see the difference (not hard to guess which is which!)... and this was after much twisting of the filter to get the optimal effect. So this is my first point, polarisers so often do very little in such situations. Mine hardly ever comes out of the bag unless it's wet and the ground extra reflective, which may be controversial amongst landscape people!

The other main problem I have with haze is knowing just where the sun ends. It's okay to let the centre of the sun blow out entirely, it's so bright it's inevitable, but it's much more difficult to find a smooth transition from blow-out to the surrounding sky and even more difficult to decide just where this transition is. As you'll see in the later photo, this is made much easier as the sun gets lower in the sky, and is often much easier in less hazy conditions - but the haze tends to blur the brightness of the sun to an arbitrary extent. In the end I took a couple of exposures to blend together - but when merging them it's always difficult to know just what weight to give to each layer - our eyes adjust so naturally but the camera simply does not, and cannot.

In the end, I ended up coming up with this final image, which is - to my mind at least -pretty much how it looked at the time. It looks unreal, it looks lacking contrast, but it looks how our eyes could see it. 

Overall though, it was horrible to process and still looks a bit dodgy at the end! In contrast to this, however, the later light was indisputably helped by the thick haze - taking the power out of the sun, increasing its pinkness and helping with the exposure no end. The dynamic range, whilst still being too great for the sensor, was much more workable and resulted in some very lovely photos - with the pink colour helping to enhance the heather. The problem here is that the haze takes out a large portion of the direct light we're all used to, but it's still there, just more diffuse. It won't do much good to show you the breakdown of images in this case, but the end product, with much easier processing, looks like this...
The sun-sky transition is much more natural and much more obvious to locate, the colour the sky holds is greatly enhanced in comparison to a non-hazy blue sky day and lens flare is much easier to deal with. 

So whilst I totally agree that haze is very often a difficult problem to deal with... you have to admit, it can sometimes be lovely too.