The beginning of a new year is always the perfect launch pad for us to make improvements to our lives. Whilst others will be dieting or giving up alcohol/smoking, I’ve set myself a very easy-to-achieve task for 2016. When I recently sat down and looked through my work diary for 2015, I noticed how few days I’d had available to do my own photography. Most days I was out showing customers how to improve their camera skills in the best photo locations on Skye. When I do this, my focus is on the customer, not on taking my own photos. I also spent a long time off of Skye, on a combination of commercial assignments and hosting overseas photo holidays for Worldwide Explorers. Finally add in to the mix all the days I need to do admin work - organising bookings, printing calendars, postcards and photos, and planning for trips etc, and I had not more than 2 days over the entire year when I went off by myself to take my own photos. This simply isn’t good enough, so next year this will have to change.
One aspect of photography I have always been a great advocate for is getting the shot right at the capture stage. This is due to my foundation in photography being in the film era when it was paramount to get everything perfect before the shutter was pressed. In the digital age however, many people seem to have forgotten this rule, and they snap away without much thought, under the assumption that they will be able to create the image they want afterwards. I even read an article from another professional photographer recently where he suggested it was no longer necessary to get the image right at the capture stage. He went massively down in my estimations. While this line of thought may work for some people, there are a couple of reasons why it doesn’t wash with me.
Firstly, I truly believe that a landscape photograph should accurately represent the scene at the time the image was taken. After all, isn’t that what landscape photography is - a record of the landscape? Once a photographer starts changing all the tones, contrast, saturation, and even cloning things out, they are left with a scene which never existed in reality. If that’s what you want, then why not take up painting? Where’s the challenge in creating an artificial scene with a camera? Anyone can do that.
Secondly it’s no fun to go home with a load of nonsense on your memory card, knowing you then have to spend hours slaving away in front of the computer to make something from nothing. Surely photography is the art of freezing a moment in time - a moment that others will enjoy looking at forever more.
When people first see some of my images, one of the most common questions is “so what did it look like when you took the photo?”. When I explain that it looked exactly like it does in the image, I see their appreciation for the photo increase ten fold. I don’t manipulate my images other than a few seconds of minor adjustments to bring them to their full potential, but I would imagine that if I answered that question with “well it was nothing like this, as the sky was really boring and that beam of light wasn’t actually there, and I added all the drama in post production”, then this is hardly going to amplify anyone’s respect for my work. Not only would I feel I was cheating the viewer, more importantly I would be cheating myself. For this reason I make great efforts to record amazing scenes in amazing light, and for me, this is the challenge and enjoyment of photography.
One of the first questions I tend to ask workshop customers is what they do with their photos? The answer is usually a slightly ashamed mumbled sentence of excuses as to why they haven’t done anything other than keep them on a hard drive somewhere. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this at all, and no excuses are necessary. What it tells us is that most photographers do their photography purely for the love and enjoyment of taking photos. Getting great results is almost of second importance, although naturally, if the final image provides satisfaction then the enjoyment of the process is enhanced. I used to go out for hours with my camera and come home with a handful of images which got deleted before they even left the camera, but this wasn’t a bad day - it was a good day where I enjoyed the process of exploring for subjects, looking for compositions, experimenting with settings, etc. The end image was simply a bonus to the enjoyment of my day of photography. The same could be said for recreational fishing - if a person sits on the river bank all day without catching anything, then they’ve probably still had a good time and enjoyed the day.
So, in 2016 I plan to spend more time out by myself, enjoying the process of my photography. To increase the challenge, I plan to use my old film cameras more, as not being able to see the shot immediately adds to the challenge and focuses my skills. People are often amazed that I can look at a scene and tell them what the exposure will be without turning the camera on or using a light meter. This is because of my years of experience in shooting film, where if I got it wrong, the price was not being able to have the chance to repeat the image. With this kind of pressure you get to train your eye to become an accurate light meter. With digital it’s almost too easy, and anyone can adopt the trial and error approach of taking a shot, looking at it, and then improving on it. Of course, I don’t get my exposure estimations perfect all the time, but I can usually get within half a stop of perfection 90% of the time which is good enough for film, and more than good enough with digital. To lose this ability would be a great shame, so I’ll be going back to basics - just me and my old film cameras. They put the original enjoyment into photography for me, and forced me to climb that mountain to get to the top for sunrise. Together we have travelled around the world many times, and have stood before the most amazing sights on the planet. I am looking forward to spending more time with these loyal friends again in 2016.
I think I’ll also adopt a new slogan which describes perfectly what my photography is ….
Made from real sunlight - real photography for real photography lovers.
Happy New Year.