solitude and silence
through this lens, my third eye
finally now I see
– Gavin Dunbar –
If you had to describe your overall photographic vision in 25 words or less, what words would you choose??
I’ll do it in three … less is more!
Why are you so drawn to long exposure photography?
Using long exposures helps me to move away from the everyday reality of the landscape, which is not something I’m particularly interested in capturing. I don’t set out to “record” a location– and, for many of my images, the location actually becomes completely irrelevant. Capturing the passing of time through a longer exposure totally changes the look and feel of an image, and I just love the results one can achieve. I also find it very relaxing and therapeutic– especially because it slows everything down for me. I really don’t like the feeling of being under pressure or having a time limit for taking a photograph, and I find that I can spend hours at a spot completely unaware of how much time has passed. In this day and age, where we live our lives with so many time constraints, it’s really nice to be able to let all that go while I am out with the camera and just relax.
Why do you prefer black and white photography?
We see our everyday lives in colour, and sometimes it can be distracting and overwhelming in an image. I love the control and freedom that working in black and white gives you, affording one the opportunity to alter how a photograph looks and feels simply by changing the range of tones. From black to white and every shade of grey in between, you have the control to mould the image to your vision.
Who are three of your favorite photographers, and, more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
(A) Let’s start off with Joel Tjintelaar, whose work inspired me to try long exposure photography in the first place. Iwas going through a bit of a low with my photography a number of years ago, when I was out shooting all the time but feeling completely unfulfilled with the basic landscape images I was producing. Browsing Flickr one day, I saw one of Joel’s minimalist long exposure seascapes, and I was instantly hooked. Right away I knew this was exactly the type of photography I wanted to do: to create something unique, eye-catching, and very different from the everyday location shots I was producing. I started extensively researching long exposure photography and went straight out and bought some ND filters. [Ed. You can read an interview with Joel Tjintjelaar –> here.]
(B) Next up it’s Michael Levin, and I’m sure most readers this will know of his work. I first met Michael on a workshop he was running in Belgium back in 2010, and this was the turning point for my photography, the point when I began creating images rather than just taking images. Michael has been a huge help and inspiration for me since, offering invaluable advice and constructive criticism as I tried to develop my vision and style. One thing he always stressed was to only show what you feel is your best work, so that is advice I am trying to follow more nowadays, spending a lot more time vetting and then working on images than I ever did in the past. I won’t begin to work on images right after a shoot, instead preferring to approach with fresh eyes sometimes weeks or even months after they were actually taken.
Incidentally, Joel was also at the Levin workshop along with Michael Diblicek, Noel Clegg, Maria Stromvik, Giles McGarry and Kees Smans to name a few – basically many of the top long exposure photographers I was following and connecting with on Flickr at the time. The whole week was a fantastic learning experience, during which my whole outlook on photography changed– and I made some good friends in the process.
(C) There are so many other names that I would like to mention here, but I’ll go with Keith Aggett whose work I’ve been following on Flickr for the last few years. Keith has such a distinctive style and creates wonderfully ethereal minimalist images with strong compositions and sublime tones. His processing skills are first class and have been a great inspiration for me as I have been working hard over the last few years trying to improve mine!
[Ed. You can read a spotlight on Keith’s work –> here.]
What artistic influences, outside of photography, have had a significant influence on how you approach your photography (for example, painters, filmmakers, musicians, poets, etc.)?
Sorry that I don’t have an interesting answer for this one but nothing outside of photography inspires me to take pictures.
What are your thoughts about trying to find the best gear possible versus working on making the best possible image with the gear you already have?
As long as your equipment suits your needs and requirements as a photographer, I don’t think anything else matters. At the end of the day, the camera is just a tool that takes the photograph. It’s the person who makes the photograph.
I’m sure we all suffer from lens lust every now and again so it is difficult not to yearn for the next best thing– even if the want is usually greater than the need!
How would you define fine art? Is it just a label?
Art is so subjective and personal that it’s difficult to define. Place two people in front of a photograph and you may find one loves it whilst the other loathes it– as each person’s view of art may be different.
Personally I view fine art photography as the process of creating something different from what the eye sees everyday; it’s something personal to you and goes beyond just clicking the shutter. If you create something unique and personal– surely that could be considered art.
If you had to come up with one very important lesson that you think every photographer needs to learn, what would it be?
Patience! It’s often taken me multiple visits to a location in order to get the shot I was after-– perhaps the weather changed, the light was not right, or you just feel off that day.
Sometimes everything comes together and you get the image you were hoping for. Other days you may come home empty handed perhaps not even having taken the camera out of the bag.
Be patient, don’t force things, and just enjoy your time with the camera.
What are your thoughts about the benefits of online sharing?
If I had not joined Flickr four years ago I might never have discovered long exposure photography in the first place, and certainly would not have connected with all the other photographers I have been lucky enough to meet and shoot with over the last few years. I prefer some sites to others for various reasons, but I’m all for most all of it.
Are there any particular social media or image sharing sites you prefer or do not prefer?
Over the last 6 months or so I’ve been cutting back how long I spend online in genera. It’s amazing how much of your free time is taken keeping up to date on all of these sites. I tend to prefer more sharing-focused sites such as Flickr and Art Limited, rather than the busy social networks of Facebook and Google+. Due to all the promotional posts and general social posts on both those sites, I find my streams cluttered with way too much random information– and, as a result, it’s too easy to miss images.
I’m on most of the usual sites, so here’s what I think about each of them:
- Flickr is where everything started for me, and there’s a great community of photographers there. I’ve made a lot of friends over the last few years through Flickr, so it’s where I enjoy spending the majority of my time and don’t think I’ll ever leave even though I’m not yet convinced by the recent makeover.
- Art Limited is another really nice site and I’m spending more time there these days– especially since the quality of the work is higher than I have seen anywhere else. Very inspirational and definitely recommended!
- Stark Magazine is a site I recently joined, and so far it seems like a nice place with a core base of talented photographers showing quality work.
- I have been using 500px mainly for the portfolio feature whilst my own website is in the works, and although it’s a nice looking site there’s no real community feel there, so I’ll be leaving when my own website is up and running.
- I spend a bit of time on Google+, but as I mentioned before I feel it’s more suited to those looking for a social network and marketing tool rather than a basic photo-sharing site. Perhaps Google can develop a filter that removes everything but photos from your stream, which would convince me to spend more time there.
It’s all ‘horses for courses’ as they say, and I totally understand why many prefer the social aspects and/or promotional reach of Facebook and Google+. However photography is a passion for me, not a business, so sites like Flickr or Art Limited make following a large number of other photographers much easier, and I can consume a lot of images without constant scrolling through very busy Facebook and Google+ streams!
What photographic cliché or common photography question, if any, irritates you the most?
Nothing really irritates me, but I’m often asked what seabirds I’m photographing when I’m down the coast with the camera. The dumbfounded look on many people’s faces when I tell them I’m just shooting some rocks is always quite amusing!
If you were stranded on an island, and you could have one camera, one lens, one filter, one tripod, two books, and ten CDs, what would they be and why?
I’m not much of a reader so would take a couple of photography books for inspiration – Michael Levin’s Zebrato and Nick Brandt’s On this Earth, A Shadow Falls. I never tire of looking through these books – pure photographic eye candy!
For the 10 CD’s I would choose –
- Muse – Origin of Symmetry
- Muse – Black Holes and Revelations
- Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape
- Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
- Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head
- Michael Jackson – Number Ones
- Queen – Greatest Hits
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – By The Way
- U2 – Joshua Tree
- Guns n Roses – Appetite for Destruction
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
I’ve never really set myself any goals with my photography. There are many places both here in the UK and abroad that I would like to visit, but all I really want for the future is to continue to enjoy being out with the camera, producing images that I am happy with. Oh and some nice clouds as well please!
Is there any specific place that you would like to visit to take photos?
Iceland is a place I’d love to visit, and I’m sure it’s high on many people lists as well. I love the look of the landscape and coastline there, and think it would be an inspirational place to travel around with the camera.
I had an amazing time in Japan earlier this year, and I’m already thinking about going back next year to explore more of the country. I spent most of the time in Honshu, but for my last weekend there I flew up to Hokkaido to visit friends. It was late April and most of the snow had melted by the time I arrived, so next time I’ll try to go during winter as we saw so many photographic possibilities– but almost all of them required snow on the ground!
Interestingly, when I was walking through Tokyo’s Haneda airport I saw lots of large poster prints of Michael Kenna’s images up on the airport wall– being used to promote Hokkaido. It was nice to see and had me inspired before I even boarded the plane!
We did pay a visit to Lake Kussharo on our short road trip around Hokkaido, hoping to see the well known tree on the shore that Kenna has photographed many times. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it, and after a bit of searching I read somewhere online that it might have succumbed to the elements and fallen over.
Is there anything else you wish to add?
Only to say thank you, Nathan, for the very kind offer to interview me for your spotlight series!
Spotlight on Three Images
This was my first and, so far, only visit to this location to shoot this very photogenic breakwater– and one of those rare days when everything fell into place: the tide was right, the clouds were perfect, and so was the light. I remember it being extremely windy with a large swell constantly smashing up against the breakwater, so it really shows off the power of longer exposures to change the feel of an image compared to what you actually see at the time.
Processing-wise, I always use Adobe Lightroom to make all my basic adjustments to the RAW files such as slight sharpening, fixing wonky horizons, or any exposure or contrast adjustments etc. The image is then loaded into Silver Efex Pro 2 and converted to black and white, and then into Photoshop CS5. I usually process the original RAW file a couple of times in Silver Efex Pro to give me an overexposed version and an underexposed or neutral version, then I’ll blend various parts from each to get the look I am after for the final image.
This image is of the tidal pool at North Berwick with Bass Rock in the background. It probably took me at least ten visits to finally capture what I wanted, so patience played a big part in that! The tide comes in and goes out very quickly here, so you probably have a window of no more than 10 minutes when it’s at the perfect level so that you can see the wall of the tidal pool, but the rocks that surround it are still submerged and don’t clutter the shot. The rain that day had kept most people off the beach, so I did not have to contend with too many screaming kids running around the pool wall getting in the way or chasing off the local wildlife! The clouds and light that evening were superb, so I setup the tripod and waited for the pool wall to emerge as the tide began to go out. I could not believe my luck when a group of seagulls and ducks swam over and stood on the pool wall just as it broke through the water, so I started shooting and managed one longer exposure before a kid ran down and chased them all away. Luckily one gull flew back once the kid was gone and stood almost completely still for a good part of the next exposure. I felt like buying him or her a fish supper to say thanks!
Again, I initially processed the RAW file in Lightroom, and then converted a couple of times to black and white in Silver Efex Pro 2 before working on it in Photoshop. I never bother to keep a track of how long I spend working on images– and half the time I cannot remember exactly what’s done by the end of it all, but again the final image will have the sky and tidal pool wall from the neutral or underexposed file and the water from the overexposed file. As with all my images I’ll use the unsharp mask on certain areas of the image, and I’ll apply a subtle gradient to the water and sky to finish things off.
This is one of the only images I’ve shot recently that was not a long exposure, but it’s a perfect example of why I prefer black and white photography to colour. Arriving at North Berwick after a large storm had just passed overhead, I was parking the car and noticed the sun was trying to break through the clouds when the most amazing rainbow was forming perfectly over Bass Rock. Cue lots of frantic scrambling to try and get my gear out of the bag before the rainbow faded– but I did manage a few short exposures before trying to take a longer one. Unfortunately the rainbow was fading quickly and was almost gone by the time I had my filters on the camera, so none of my longer exposures came out very well.
I sat looking at the shot for the next few weeks and whilst it looked OK in colour, it just did not do anything for me. I started playing around with it in Silver Efex Pro and straight away the image made sense to me and I knew exactly how I wanted it to look. There wasn’t a huge amount of processing involved, just initial adjustments in Lightroom, then conversion in Silver Efex Pro, and finally some dodging and burning of the sea, clouds and rainbow in Photoshop.
I feel the black and white image has so much more impact over the colour version– which felt, to me, like little more than a snapshot of a rainbow.
It was the only non-long exposure image I entered into the PX3 photography competition this year, and I ended up winning 2nd place in the Fine Art Landscape category.