Inevitably it’s time for another one of those annual reviews. And if you ask me it’s an exercise which is both worthy and eye-opening. It’s not about self indulgence, it’s about self reflection, to help you see what’s come before and what might just pull your interest next. My view is that writing all of this down helps you to really understand your personal progression, forces you to look both backwards and forwards and hopefully enables you to see that things have indeed moved on, that there is growth in what it is you’re trying to say to the world and even a modicum of improvement in the way it’s being presented.
Evolution, Commercialism & Self Doubt
This time last year I was busy building a programme of landscape workshops and preparing to run events in places like the northern coast of France. It was at least a financially successful period for me and served its purpose, fulfilling something that I probably needed to get out of my system. I don’t regret any of it for a minute. But while it seemed like exciting stuff initially, running my own workshops eventually started to sap me of my passion for photography when it really became about facilitating other people, instead of focussing on what I wanted to say with my photography. Much worse was to come however when I visited the wonderful Masters Of Vision exhibition later in the year, when I started to feel my compositions had become hollow and lacking in a real story or meaning. In particular, seeing the work of David Baker, Antony Spencer, and the wonderful series of tree images from Dav Thomas destroyed what was left of my enthusiasm at that time and the grey cloud of doubt descended on my photography. I didn’t pick up a camera for two months after that. I decided to fold my workshops and return to full time employment. If you’re thinking about running workshops as a full time venture, think carefully, especially if you love the release that landscape photography can bring you. Don’t worry, that’s the end of the gloom in this piece, but it needed to be recorded…
It is certainly interesting to look at exactly what I was shooting a year ago and the techniques I used. I was still shooting a lot of long exposure work as part of my Arcadian series and producing images like Kentish (below) with it’s strong play on line, texture and tone. Of course it was mono too. Many of these feel like very graphical representations of the world to me now and I am losing my relationship with that whole approach in favour of something a little more colourful… Despite this there is still strong interest in my mono long exposure work, as demonstrated recently by Advanced Photographer Magazine who completed an extended feature on my work (see more by clicking here).
Getting over to France in the New Year, a visit which I would eventually repeat several times, inspired a set of photographs I titled Lumière and gained some notoriety and real interest from others too. I couldn’t set up those French workshops quick enough, with many selling out within a few hours. The series eventually gaining interest from The Times and one of the highlights of the year in amongst a fair chunk of other media interest and portfolio pieces was a set of ten images being published by them…
What really started in France though was an unexpected interest in colour. There was something about the tones of the whole place that I connected with. I found the beaches of the Nord-Pas-De-Calais region spectacularly beautiful and they inspired me to produce a series of colour landscapes which was the start of something of a nervous journey for me. These images did however draw some additional interest and Digital Camera Magazine unexpectedly asked to use Carte Postale De La Côte for a composition feature (the colours here are as a result of printing and then scanning etc!)
Gear Of The Year
In addition to a renewed interest in colour, during the Spring I read an article about Infrared. It turned out that it would create a further shift in my photography and after landing a great deal on eBay for a cheap 720nm Hoya 77mm filter and experimenting for a few weeks, I decided I would go all in and convert a digital body to full time infrared use. After taking advantage of another bargain for a Nikon D7000 I sent it off to http://www.protechrepairs.co.uk/ for conversion. After this, it allowed my mono images to take on a new direction, an example of what I’m talking about is A Day Of Contrasts (below), the likes of which just isn’t possible without using infrared.
Another revelation. This opened a whole new world for me, discovery which will certainly continue in 2014. It will go further though – I wrote recently how after shooting with the D800 for 18 months that a 16MP crop sensor just didn’t cut the quality and options I wanted for landscape, words I fully stand by, so after recently investing in a D800E, I will get my existing D800 converted to a 665nm filter in the New Year just as it comes up to its warranty expiry and just in time for Spring when Infrared photography comes into its own again. I can’t believe I’ve owned the Nikon D800 for nearly two years, it’s still as relevant and a market leader for landscape work, just as it was in early 2012 – in case you are still summing up your landscape DSLR options two years after its launch, don’t hesitate; buy a D800E tomorrow if you can afford one, I guarantee you won’t regret it for a minute and it will literally last you for years to come too.
I’ve bought and sold my share of lenses over the last few years and this year was no different. I have developed very high standards for the optics I use, though I’m not precious about where they really come from – I do however seek out the maximum value I can where possible. One lens in particular that falls into that category is the remarkable Sigma 35mm f/1.4 released earlier in 2013. That is some piece of glass. When matched up with the D800E the images render beautiful colour and incredible detail, all at what I would consider to be pretty much a bargain price, at least next to the mainstream manufacturer’s pricing from the likes of Nikon and Canon. Some of you who have followed my ever growing series of tree images might have noticed images like Shards where the Sigma rose to the occasion and helped deliver some of my favourite scenes of the year:
Awards & Rewards
Competitions and awards are certainly not the be all and end all, I go out with my camera to connect with the landscape and to lose myself in concentration, almost meditation. In those moments awards are the furthest things from my mind. On the other hand there is certainly something of a glow that I think everyone gets from knowing that their images are in demand or have been selected for the final round of judging in one of the ‘Photography Majors’ as I call them.
As it turns out, 2013 started and finished on a high – my images Shadow Dance and Dark Water were both Commended in the Sony World Photography Awards and this achievement was followed up later when I enjoyed back to back success with Commended images in Landscape Photographer Of The Year where I’ve now appeared in the Awards Books for 2012 and 2013 with Departure andRebourne respectively. I have the feeling that this sets the bar pretty high for me in 2014 – it’s probably fluke that anyone makes the cut at all for these awards given the huge volume of entries, but to make it a hatrick of success would be amazing and that rooftop view is so very cool to see… I’m not about to start making predictions as to which images I might enter in 2014 but I’m very much enjoying my time making colour images in woodland for the time being and I’m hopeful for where my Infrared photography might take me in 2014.
The Final Five
So here we are, the part of the year where I will choose five images I’m particularly happy with. Having a single favourite is impossible for me this year so instead I’ll put up my top five and why…
The first image I’m selecting is La Vie Sur Le Bord from my Lumière series. This was one of the first colour images I really liked from my French landscape adventures and is an image I have printed up in an A1 frame at home. It was a magical combination of a low morning sun, dramatic stormy skies, unspoiled dunes and simple shapes that made this one for me. Great moments I won’t forget for a while anyway…
Next up is Burst. What an amazing morning in The Cotswolds. I’ve said to a couple of people that I managed to shoot the whole of autumn in four hours and I meant it. We don’t always get the best of weather in Britain but the unpredictability of it makes it all the more magical when it comes together in such spectacular fashion. It turns out mist and fog features strong in my favourites this year…
On a par would also have to be Red Dawn.This scene in Worcestershire was another where almost a near perfect combination of elements finally collided – soft low light, perfect flowers in their prime, a dawn sun rising over a layer of atmospheric mist and a rolling landscape almost custom designed to be photographed – I don’t think it gets to look much better than this and one of those photographs I know I’ll not see the likes of again for possibly many years:
The year wouldn’t be complete without at least one mono favourite and this one has to be White Lines, an infrared image of Cotswold Lavender that was taken with my 665nm converted D7000. This sort of subject matter remains a magnet to me, I have some colour images of the same area I was happy with this year too, but this one was all about the combination of those great verticals, moody cloud and excellent little tree which sits on the top of the hill, an image which just doesn’t look the same when a mono conversion is completed from a colour frame:
Finally I will throw in an image only completed earlier today. It’s not that it happens to be my ‘latest favourite’ but it certainly represents where the year ends up, something of a departure of where it started with its strong focus on mono long exposure work. Born To Fly was taken on Boxing Day 2013 and is the culmination of this years efforts. It’s an image I feel has impact, and as the great Pete Bridgwood remarked it is an image which “has metaphor in abundance”. I agree and it’s exactly what I’m aiming for. Being able to make images like this work in a cluttered forest is not easy. Making images that say something out of that chaos however is what photography is really all about for me. It’s that story that I’m looking for, that message that is all important. Something which talks to you more than being a record of whatever that next location is that so many landscape photographers seem to blindly chase. I love the fact that woodland photography is so anonymous, that location doesn’t really apply, that in effect they are images that could have been taken anywhere. And yet these locations are closely guarded secrets by me because they are so soulful, somewhere that belongs to me. I’m looking forward to see what 2014 will bring… Lastly, thank you to everyone who has provided support and encouragement during 2013, it’s much appreciated, it’s been another great journey and I look forward to seeing many of you again next year.