Misty Trees, Assynt, 2018 ©
As photographers we are often prone to worrying about having the right kit with us when we head out on our adventures. If you've been following my ramblings for any amount of time you'll know that I'm a huge advocate of keeping things simple. Over the past six or seven months a growing number of images that I've made without a tripod or filters are making their way on to my website, the website is where I display what I believe to be my best work, or that represents my current style, whatever that may be.
With this blog I'm going to attempt to analyse just why this way of working is creeping in to my portfolio, perhaps by writing it down I can further understand my own development and maybe you could feel inspired to free yourself a little too.
If we start at the beginning and ask the question, why am I doing this, why am I out there in all weathers, attempting to make images? For myself, it's firstly a love of the natural world, followed closely by a curiosity which leads me to explore places; to walk, cycle, drive or even canoe to get to locations I've not yet discovered. A feeling of freedom is derived from this exploration, a freedom not just from the daily 9-5 of modern life but more importantly freeing the mind. Of course another very important reason for indulging in this passion for photography is an urge to express oneself creatively, with images often portraying my state of mind at the moment the shutter is pressed. When our mind is free, creative ideas flow more freely too, enabling us to better tune in visually with our surroundings.
One of the most important things for me, which I continue to pass on to workshop participants is keeping things simple when it comes to kit. Find a lens, or focal length that works for you, personally I prefer a prime lens to keep things really simple, additionally I like the image quality that a prime lens gives us. If you find the idea of just one prime a bit daunting, then a good quality zoom, a 24-70mm perhaps, will give you plenty of versatility. Once you have made your simplified lens selection, occasionally I'd recommend also leaving your tripod and filters behind too! *shock - horror*... But don't panic, enjoy the fact that you're now ready to explore, unencumbered by the the usual pack that you carry which weighs half your bodyweight!
Another important thing is to not put ourselves under any kind of pressure to get that masterpiece of a shot. Often our trips are planned months in advance and we can feel disappointed on the day when conditions are nothing like those envisaged at the time of planning. Let none of these factors spoil your day, simply walk further and explore, conditions can change quickly and you just never know what might happen. When conditions are changeable, speed is often of the essence, by simplifying your kit you're ready to react quickly. This way of working couldn't be better exemplified than by the image above (Misty Trees). I'd driven past this location many times over the past couple of years, knowing that there would be a great composition here when the conditions were right. That meant I wanted mist, which would soften the darker background and give us this ethereal mood. On this particular day, such conditions happened to present themselves and speed really was required as the mist was passing through quickly. I leapt out of the car, grabbed my camera from the boot and literally sprinted across the boggy loch side, slipping and tripping over uneven ground. I knew that I'd got the shot I'd wanted for some time, furthermore, had I decided to grab tripod and filters I would have missed these conditions.
Road to Stac, Assynt, 2018 ©
The above image (Road to Stac) was another roadside opportunistic shot when the right conditions presented themselves, not requiring a tripod or filters to enhance the mood and again working quickly, I knew this one would make a suitably moody mono. These two images and a handful more that I'd grabbed on a trip to Assynt whilst working freely with just a camera and one lens, had really planted the seed and heavily influenced my next trip to the Isle of Skye.
Returning to the Isle of Skye back in March, my aim was to walk further, exploring to find a different side to this magical island. Skye is dramatic, atmospheric and a picture presents itself around every corner it would seem. However, we tend to see the same images from here over and over, the Old Man of Storr, Neist Point, Elgol and the usual compositions on the Quiraing. Of course there is nothing wrong with seeking out these classic compositions, I've done them all myself, but to really portray the spirit of a location, or stamp our take on a place, we must go a little further, perhaps look at things a little differently.
Where Ravens Soar, Isle of Skye, 2019 ©
I headed out on a walk down the Quiraing in quite awful conditions, howling wind and sideways rain. I'm a firm believer in the old saying, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing"; so I put on my waterproofs and headed off in to the mountains carrying just my Sigma SDQH with a 40mm Art lens attached. I had an amazing walk and the conditions didn't spoil it at all, I was simply exhilerated being out in the elements and enjoying the mood of this dramatic and rugged landscape. Each image I made had to be quick as I couldn't keep the front element dry for long in the sideways rain. As I looked up I spotted a couple of Ravens soaring above, adding to the foreboding atmosphere, it took several attempts but I finally got a raven in the frame and in focus. I'd recently read a quote in a book suggesting that no photograph can properly portray the mood of the Quiraing, with these simple images however I think I came very close to evoking the mood on this particularly grey day in the mountains.
Where Ravens Soar #2, Isle of Skye, 2019 ©
As I continued to explore Skye, this time most of my favourite images had been made with this quick fire method. The more I walked and drove around, simply waiting for conditions to present themselves, the more frequently I found myself reaching for camera with prime lens and nothing else. I definitely felt free and more in tune with the environment working in this way, it was more organic and exciting.
Atlantic Seascape, Isle of Skye, 2019 ©
Now, before you and worryingly my sponsors think I've abandoned my tripod and filters for good, of course I haven't, I've still made many images on these trips with said items! But I urge you to try the methods discussed here from time to time and see what you can achieve when you simply head out in to the landscape without putting any pressure on yourself. Enjoy the walk and the wonders of nature, at some point when your mind is free and you've relaxed, conditions will present themselves. I think that too often when we head out with filters etc, when we try to create something out of nothing, images can become contrived, devoid of atmosphere and lacking any real connection with the subject.
Possibly something else worth mentioning is the fact that all of these images were made in the middle of the day, when arguably, filtration doesn't become as vital as at sunrise/sunset as we don't have that high contrast between sun and darker areas. Though the same techniques could still apply to those more traditional times of activity for many landscape photographers. I find that I don't need to capture glorious light to give images mood, the right conditions can present themselves at any time and it's good if we can react quickly when that happens.
Starlings, Isle of Skye, 2019 ©
Another fleeting moment above (Starlings), when I definitely wouldn't have had time to set up the tripod.
Free yourself and wander.