And another thing...
To escape the claustrophobia of lockdown I visited my nearest patch of woodland, Monkwood is a place I have visited many times and know it pretty well. I went with the intention of shooting a few butterfly shots. I got out of the car and headed left for a few steps. Then I heard a cuckoo in the opposite direction. The chance of photo of a cuckoo is always worth taking so I did an about face and set off cuckoowards. As I got closer to the cuckoo I became aware that the density of bluebells was increasing. I never did find the cuckoo. But I did arrive at a junction and head in a direction I had not done before - and I was so glad that I did. The sky was overcast with flat white light, but in the woods the newly green leaves glowed with intensity. Stunning is not a word I use very often but this truly was. Perhaps it was intensified relative to the grey monotonous life that I had come out of, but I am so glad I was there. Serendipity insisted.
Dont let anyone tell you that flat light is bad thing, its all relative. In this case it set everything off with a bright green glow in the tree leaves. It was calming and peaceful. As usual I struggled to make the photography match the imprint on my eyes. I guess many people would be processing this in soft desaturated ways, but I am a believer in letting the natural beauty speak for itself. With a bit of luck I will be back there before too long.
I did also see a few butterflies but the lack of sunshine did not encourage them to come out of hiding.
Sometimes good things happen
I am honest enough to know that I have a rather negative disposition when it comes to how my photography is received, but sometimes good things happen and its important to recognise this. Last year I posted this photo to twitter.
It is a scene familiar to residents of Worcester because you see it at the junction of the M5 motorway - the exit for Worcester - and it is visible from miles away. So when you see it, it's a signpost that you are nearly home. This struck a chord with some local people and one of them - Karen Gregor is a producer for the BBC. She decided to make a radio program about it. You can listen to it here:
It's not everyone that can claim to have inspired a radio program. It has also taught me about how photos connect with people on a personal level. More on that later.
In February 2020, Worcester was underwater for about the 6th time in a year. The river Severn was as high as it has ever been. Whilst we are used to flooding, this was exceptional, with high water preventing normal access over the city bridge. This of course made for some interesting photo opportunities, which I duly posted on twitter. One scene in particular became clear to me and probably wouldn't have appealed to anyone else. With so much water around you get reflections that you would not ordinarily see which, when you know the place makes a picture more impactful (hate that word). I took several such shots but the one below sticks out in my mind. At this point the river is some 6m above its normal level and had overcome the flood protection. This is the main road alongside the river. I think it was the arrangement of cones as well as the reflections that drew my interest. Both the cones and the reflections are not normally there, and it just appealed to me. I spent some processing it, trying to make it more conventionally appealing. But it seems my efforts were fruitless as no one else really got it. Now in other aspects of landscape photography you would write it off and come back tomorrow or whenever and wait for better light. But in this case I couldn't do that. This was the only opportunity as the water level was changing and by the following day it had dropped and this scene was gone. It was a one time thing. And I was just unable to translate the aspects that had caught my interest and attention into a decent photo. Maybe it was not possible, maybe it was just not inherently interesting enough. But this is the fundamental way I take pictures, by identifying those scenes and quirks and patterns that connect my neurons together in the right way. It may not be appealing, but it tells you something about how I see the world.
For the sake of completeness I will add in a few other photos of that flood and expose you to a bit more of how I saw the world during the flood - the Deluvian view, which might have been a better title!
I saw a tweet by Jess Philips asking when this moon thing was happening? She meant the supermoon and it had been in the early hours of the night before. However lots of people sought to belittle her question and score political points about it. I thought, it would be pretty much the same as it was the night before so I went outside and caught it rising. So I went for my camera and started snapping. I quite liked the effect as a thin stream of cloud interrupted the view. As I watched it moving through the viewfinder - and cursed how wobbly my tripod is with a 400mm lens attached - I realised I might be able to show the progression in one pic, and the result is as you see above. I liked the way the colour changed from deep orange as it rose, eventually becoming much lighter. Although I didn't do a good job on timing between shots (I didn't realise I was going to do it until halfway though) I think the thin cloud adds something.
The day before I had seen some amazing lunar shots containing a range of colours and textures. The photographer had mentioned stacking 100 shots. I thought why are you stacking? Then I realised that the atmosphere is causing lots of distortions and aberrations and stacking can improve the situation as these change over time. He had a rotating mount which kept the moon stationary in the frame - I had no such luxury but I still might try that anyway.
Actually after a bit more research I find that stacking is intended to be a noise removal exercise, which it is though I think it is taken to extremes using many hundreds of frames.
Am I the only person that does instagram out of a sense of duty? I know I'm a bit old fashioned but I just don't like interacting with phones for photography. The screens are too small. Instagram is a mobile based app but all my proper photography gets done on a PC. That's where I store, process and interact. For me Instagram is an afterthought, I don't consider it my serious outlet. And yet it is very popular, especially with the high profile photographers. I just don't know how to use it effectively. I cant help but think I am missing out by not utilising it well enough, but it's so hard to know where to start. I have essentially just been posting into the void, hoping to be found, but tbh that's also true of twitter. I suppose I am just not good at this networking stuff.
How did I get here?
I first started taking photography seriously in around 2004. I know it was serious because I sold my beloved headless electric guitar in order to buy a Fuji bridge camera. Over the years I have progressed up through a series of Canon DSLRs, but you know I have a fond spot for those bridge cameras. They were just so easy to use and flexible. Having some inbuilt zoom, not having to carry around all those lenses was just so nice. The photo below was taken on a fuji finepix . Its a photo of my son and one of my all time favourites
However I got into stock photography and a DSLR was essential. Back in around 2007 there were only a million or so photos on stock agencies! Now there are probably hundreds of millions - so you just get lost in the crowd and you only make peanuts. Having the apprenticeship in stock photography coloured my view of what to deliver. They wanted flat, clean lighting, not interesting contrasty lighting. Image sharpness was essential, noise must be non-existent. And subject matter had to be what someone would buy to sell an idea, not something of intrinsic beauty. That mindset has stayed with me and if I'm honest has caused me some problems that took me a while to shake off.
A chance encounter in a bluebell wood with a now sadly departed photographer, pulled me into the world of camera clubs, where I found most people were focused on landscape photography - which I was not. It eventually got under my skin, especially when I went to a talk by Joe Cornish who was, and is, inspirational. As my photography improved, I become more bold with my processing , and colours, I started moving up the rankings in the camera club. However The more 'conventional' I tried to be, the less I found my photography was appreciated - in fact the less it was understood. I became so frustrated with the competitions that I preferred not to be present when judges were assessing. Eventually I gave up with the clubs altogether - it was not helping my mental health. I am grateful to the views of photography that the camera club scene has given me, and for some of the lovely people I met. But I made the realisation that basically people don't get me, and it was not worth my effort persisting in trying to make them. I tried to be something I was not, and that doesn't work.
It is still something I struggle with. I take pictures of things in the world that jump out at me. Things that my particular pattern matching algorithm, deep inside my brain flags up as being unusual or worth capturing. I love photography, it helps keep me sane, but it also frustrates me that I can't get that across to other people. I've never been on to just accept ways of doing things, such as how to compose a picture. I suspect this is something I will come back to again and again. I get very frustrated by the photography by numbers approach, its just so limiting.
The other thing I may well get into is physics. I have this impression that so few people actually understand what is happening, but there is masses of science and understanding behind it all. Do you need to understand it - No. Some people think it spoils the artistic process if you do - but I'm not one of them.
So lets see where we get to!
Well, I have basically become fed up with social media!
Optical physicist and frustrated photographer