No pictures please, this is Iceland

I spent 4 weeks of the last year in Iceland. I love it there. That’s hardly surprising for a photographer who shoots the coast – Iceland’s coast is … well … no superlative is adequate. But it’s so very much photographed. And there lies a potential problem. I find it hard to dim in my mind’s eye the beautiful images of others. Chips of ice on black sand – done, and done, and done. Mini icebergs floating in still water on the edge of a glacier… also done. Aerial views of colourful deltas that look like the most beautiful abstract art – so very done. Moody, misty receding mountains – well, you can guess what comes next. So, it’s not surprising that relatively few images from my trips to Iceland, so far, have made it to my website. Still, I’ll go back, probably more than once, even if I bring home no keepers at all, and here’s why.

In September, I spent a week in the WestFjords area. It’s relatively quiet, compared with the south coast, and we rarely encountered other photographers. But it’s also a frustrating place because, while the coast is stunning, and there’s lots of it with all those inlets, it’s hard to find anywhere to pull over. Time and time again we drove through the most incredible scenery without being able to stop. There was this one drive, however, along the shore towards Patreksfjord, that has stayed with me.  It was pouring with rain and there was nowhere to pull over on our sliver of road, sandwiched between mountain and ocean. But I was listening to some great tunes and looking out of the window at mountains soaring straight from the sea, shore grass billowing in the wind and foam-topped waves silvering the curves of the strand. It was an ineffably wild place, so very different from anywhere closer to home. Uncompromising and uncompromised. Then, as we swung round a corner, something magical happened; a hawk shot out of nowhere, no doubt surprised by our van, and sailed above us before melting into the mist. An ordinary enough thing, I suppose, but that moment has lodged itself in my mind’s eye.  When we got to our motel and my companions sensibly had a rest before dinner, I walked along the shore for an hour in the pouring rain. I had to – I didn’t want the magic to end. I made no photographs at that place, not one. But it has informed every picture I’ve made since, in Iceland or closer to home.

So this is why I travel. I often say that the secret to making strong images lies in shooting close to home, in going to places to which we can return, again and again. We relax in the knowledge that we’ll be back and this means we’re not afraid to spend time taking risks, trying new compositions that might not work at all. We can move on from the obvious and seek difference, the things that mean something to us as individuals. That’s what art should communicate, in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean I dismiss the value of travel. Far from it. I will continue to travel, even if my hit rate of images is lower than when I’m at home. I will continue to do it, with enthusiasm, as often as I can afford. For moments like this.

Time spent developing our own connection with the landscape, on nurturing that spark inside us that makes us want to make beautiful photographs, is just as valuable as time spent actually making them. I think it’s fair to say that most landscape photographers do it because they love the landscape; there’s not enough money in it these days to make it a pragmatic career choice. Time spent feeding that love is time well spent. Put most simply, that fleeting encounter with a wild thing on a dismal day in Iceland made me happy.

Worth it.

fairy falls

Not a picture from the journey in this blog, because I didn’t make one (that’s the point), but Iceland nonetheless.

Birling Gap

birling gap pastels
I have spent the last two Tuesdays at Birling Gap in the South Downs National Park.
Gentle shore
Although I love discovering new locations, there is also a joy in revisiting known places.incoming tideThe light is always different, the seasons and weather change and, at the coast there is always the added variable of tides. chalk and pastels_The first Tuesday, a low tide revealed sand that reflected the cliffs and interesting sky:jen at birling gapOn my return this week, the tide was shallow, never uncovering the sand.  This created a very different mood:
Birling Gap 2I grew up in this part of the country so photography trips to the South Downs National Park always feel like a coming home.  seascape
The chalk-based landscape is really quite special and, at Birling Gap, I love the way grey rocks sit on the chalky base below the white cliffs…
chalky sea 2 …and the chalk makes the sea bright against a stormy sky.  chalky seaI am heading down to Sussex again tomorrow.  As always, I hope for interesting light.  But I know that I will enjoy this beautiful place no matter what the weather brings.

Dungeness, finally

Dungeness, Kent

16mm, f/11, 1/6, ISo 100, .9 soft grad.

Having holidayed in the mountains this year, I have been feeling in need of a coast ‘fix’.  So, on Thursday, Jen and I made an evening dash south. We chose Dungeness, honeypot location for landscape photographers.  Having lived in the south of England for most of my life, I am not sure how I managed never to go to Dungeness before!

hut detail

102mm, f/7.1, 1.6″, ISO 400

The forecast predicted changeable weather and dramatic skies so we had high expectations. We should have known better. There was a small amount of texture in the sky on our arrival and the promise of some lightning, but in the end the rain washed in and the sky smoothed over.

dungeness

200mm, f/8, 0.8″, ISO 400

I took all the usual shots anyway.  The scene below is particularly oft-captured, as I know only too well from my evenings judging at camera clubs.  But, hey, I’d never been there before!  Had to take The Shot.  Would have been rude not to.

dungeness

58mm, f/11, 2″, ISO 100

When the sky gets boring, the long lens comes out for some detail work.  Dungeness certainly offers lots of potential there.  It’s not my usual style but I enjoyed capturing some images of the netting against the hut.

dungeness

200mm, f/11, 1.6″, ISO 400

I am thinking these two might make a nice diptych.

200mm, f/11, 5", ISO 100

200mm, f/11, 5″, ISO 100

I liked the texture of the partially burnt hut wall.

dungeness

200mm, f/7.1, 3.2″, ISO 400

I can finally see what everyone else has known for ages: Dungeness is cool – weird, but definitely cool.  I will be back.

dungeness

blend of 5 exposures, 200mm, f/2.8, 1/4, ISO 800

Mountain weather

Canadian landscape Last month we were in the Canadian Rockies, one of my very favourite places.   While we were in Banff we had changeable weather.  This was great news for the locals as it helped fight several serious wildfires. It was also great news for me for a less serious reason, as it added drama to my photos. Canadian landscapeThey say that if you don’t like the weather in the Rockies you only need wait 15 minutes and it will have changed.  Makes sense to me.

Aurora over Lofoten

northern lights
I am just back from an exciting trip to the Lofoten Islands, where we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights on two evenings. Before I went, I was ambivalent about seeing aurora. There are so many pictures of them on the internet these days, and I had seen them before, in Canada decades ago. My purpose in going to Norway was, rather, to capture the beautiful, snow-covered landscape.Lofoten
However, when green ribbons ripped across the sky that first night on Skagsanden beach, I was as excited as anyone. I was unprepared for the raw power of the spectacle, and for how fast the lights can move. Shutter speeds as fast as 1.3″ were required and even then the lights were occasionally burnt out. It seems incredible that all this drama is silent, apart from whoops of exhilaration from onlookers. I fear photographing aurora may be addictive.
norway

Perros-Guirec

Brittany

I am just back from an excellent adventure photographing lighthouses along the rugged coast of Brittany, France. The trip was organised by Jonathan Critchley of Ocean Capture. Some may remember that I had a few days in France with Ocean Capture this time last year.  There will be more from Brittany soon, but this picture might be my favourite.