I’ll finish as I started with another gloomy one, taken hand-held at too slow a shutter
speed through the glass. ½ second at 105 mm. It is beginning to feel as though my
most personally-pleasing work is created by accident where chance intervenes to put
It is not easy finding a focus these days. I deliberately avoid forums and internet
how-tos. I have zero interest in photographic competitions or exhibitions of natural
history photography. It seems to me that there are two ways to plough one’s own furrow
in one’s work.
You can, in fact it is inevitable to some degree, steal ideas from other people’s
work. The smarter one’s among us steal bits and pieces, and re-assemble them to make
‘original’ art that says something to us and hopefully others. The fool merely tries
to reproduce it in an effort to be ‘as good’ as the originator.
The other way is to avoid all contact with our contemporary’s output in an effort
to be unaffected by what is going on elsewhere. The assumption being that the result
will be original.
You may have heard of a theory about infinity which suggests that if infinity exists,
then a monkey, given a typewriter, will eventually re-write all the works of Shakespeare
by randomly hammering the keys (if it could live long enough). In fact if you believe
in the laws of chance, it could actually do it at the first attempt. An infinite
number of monkeys could do it very quickly.
Well photography feels a bit like that to me at the moment. There are so many photographers
out there producing so many images that one’s chances of coming up with something
that hasn’t been seen before are almost nil. There are so many monkeys taking so
many pictures that it is inevitable that the pictures we take have already been taken,
that some other monkey has already had the same idea as you or me.
Having said that I have no interest in photographic competitions, I have to admit
to seeing the results of one on the Guardian website today and was surprised to see
that several of them were so close to images I have taken, that they could easily
have been my work. My plan of avoiding looking at other people’s work has failed
under the sheer weight of proverbial monkey’s.
And now I find that five minutes on the internet has just thrown up an endless supply
of images like mine and youtube videos showing how to take them. And I thought that
doing my own thing would make me different. Maybe that is why photography in itself
cannot be an art. Because it is a mechanical process its output is finite, unlike
painting for example, where it is extremely difficult not to be original at least
in execution if not in subject matter.
Hey ho, I can’t paint, but I can take photographs so I fall back on my previous idea
that it is the body of my work that defines my efforts, not individual pictures.
I’ve just come back after spending two weeks on Mull. Two wet and windy weeks during
which I did little photography but caught plenty of dogfish. The wildlife was out
in force as ever, but at the moment I would rather watch it than photograph it, so
what little photography I did was crammed into a couple of short spur of the moment
efforts. In retrospect I am happy with the results and now wish I had put in more
The overriding theme appears to have been breaking the rules, or should I call them
taboos? I took photos when it was too dark, and deliberately under-exposed them,
when it was very bright and over-exposed them. I hand held long lenses at slow speeds
and ISOs way too high to guarantee image quality. Some of my exposures were as much
as ten minutes long.
I had to buy a new compact camera recently and settled on a Canon G1x mk2. It has
plenty of annoying habits, but does allow me to work the way I like to. Many of my
favourites from the trip were taken with it and I do think that SLRs are rapidly
becoming ‘special use only’ tools as I have long believed they would and should.
Hopefully the lens will last longer than the one on my much missed G12, an easier
to use camera with a crap design flaw that allowed the lens cover to scratch the
lens every time it was switched on or off.
So here we go, the top shot was a long exposure out of the cottage window. I like
the way that you have to study it closely to catch the reflection in the loch and
the aurora-esque appearance of the early pre-dawn light.
The silhouette theme of the next two works nicely particularly in the second with
the soft brown background. The colours are pleasing as is the fine detailing in the
birch branches. In the one below, it is the blown highlights that please me. I tried
cropping them off but kept coming back to this original version. Blown highlights
are ‘wrong’ but to me, in this instance, they offer something of the godly shining
down on the beautiful.
It is amazing how I consistently come up with ideas once it is too late to capitalise
on them. Herons, I like very much and if I had simply put the words herons and trees
together in my mind before I set off my output might well have been different and
larger. Mull has plenty of both. ISO 6400 for both of these and, if I remember rightly
1/50 second. If shutter speeds are too low, I always shoot bursts. Chances are one
or two will come sharp between shakes.
Trees again, I expect you have noticed, anyway I love the complex detail in the top
one and the noise-induced graininess adds something to my mind. I know not what but
maybe it just feels harder earned. And so on to some long exposure images taken using
an 8 stop neutral density filter and the lowest iso possible, 50 on one body and
100 on the other.
My idea is that the subject will colour itself in as the wind moves the elements
within it. In the same way that an artist colours in an outline. The results are
unpredictable and that is one step in the direction of making the picture unique
if not actually original in conception.
Long exposures do something to the colours and appearance of the image as well which
I quite like but can’t explain at the moment. What I do know is that I enjoy the
feeling of creating the picture which comes with a long exposure. It feels as though
each shot is being worked on rather than just snapped.
Dawn above, dusk below and the blurring adds a feeling of movement to the trees,
water and sky, especially noticeable in the wind lanes on the surface of the loch.
I couldn’t resist doing the milky water thing on some of the beautiful waterfalls
that are found all over the island, especially when they have as much rain as they
had when we were there. I would say that rainfall actually defines Mull. It cops
for the lot and even the nice days are simply preludes to more and all the finer
Given that this one was taken on a dismal, cold, and wet day, I decided to desaturate
the colours in lightroom to get the feel that I wanted and it makes the image more
expressive to me. It suggests how the weather made me feel; rather than how the scene
actually appeared with a far richer, more saturated colour palette. Left like that
the picture seems more run of the mill and the eye is drawn to the perfectly ordinary
bracken and grass. This treatment makes the rocks the main feature. If only I had
realised that at the time, as I am really pleased with the textures and shapes of
the rocks. Blurring the water and desaturating the vegetation has removed all the
distractions and I should have composed the picture around the rocks, rather than
the view. We live and learn I guess.