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.

Yachts from the Air

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Earlier this month, the annual Round the Island yacht race took place. 1,533 boats set off from Cowes to circumnavigate the Isle of Wight.
Round the Island again again
It’s a spectacular sight, literally a sea of sails. Rather excitingly, I had the opportunity to shoot the race from the air, from a helicopter owned by  Phoenix Helicopters, Goodwood.
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It wasn’t my first time shooting from a helicopter without doors so I wasn’t phased when we took off and headed out over the Solent. I love flying in helicopters!
Round the Island-5
Phoenix had obtained a low fly permit for me so we were able to fly fairly close to the yachts, although there are of course limits and I was glad to have my 70-200mm zoom with me.
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Using two cameras, the other one with my 24-70mm lens, enabled me to capture wider views as well.
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I had particularly wanted to photograph the yachts rounding The Needles, arguably the Island’s most iconic landmark and certainly one that looms large in my memories from a childhood spent sailing the Solent.

In addition to the big ‘race’ shots, I hoped to capture some closer pictures that would work in black and white for a more timeless feel.

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In addition to all the many yachts on the sea, the RNLI lifeboats were kept busy attending to boats struggling in the challenging conditions on the day.

Round the Island again-4

It was an exhilarating experience, and one I hope to repeat. Many thanks to Max from Phoenix for his excellent piloting.

Round the Island-6

Round the Island-12

Tides and Tempests

I had a great time at Patchings Art Festival earlier this month.  I had been asked by Outdoor Photography Magazine to give a talk. The Festival clashed with my prior commitment to Surrey Artists Open Studios so I could only make the last day, but I am glad I made the effort.  It was a lovely event, despite the relentless rain (where has summer gone?). I wasn’t nervous about talking as I am accustomed to giving presentations but I did wonder if anyone would bother to attend. I needn’t have worried – it was standing room only!  I have now published the introductory slideshow from my talk on YouTube and it can be viewed below or here.

I would like to thank Crywolf for giving me permission to use his epic music and Outdoor Photography Magazine for inviting me to talk.

 

 

 

Back to normal

spotlight

After all the excitement of Surrey Artists Open Studios and my talk at Patchings Festival last weekend, it’s been good to get back to the normal business of fulfilling print orders, organising workshops and, last but most definitely not least, a couple of much-needed coastal trips. The light wasn’t especially awesome this week, certainly nothing as dramatic as I had on my last trip before Open Studios (above) but, as I said at my talk on Sunday, even if you come home with nothing very special on your memory card, a day by the sea is never wasted. Psychological batteries recharged.

Below are a couple of pictures of our studio in action.

Open Studio event

It’s been a while since my last blog post, but I haven’t been idle. Among the many projects on the go, this coming week sees me participating in Surrey Artists’ Open Studios for the first time. Together with my friend, Jenifer Bunnett, I am opening my studio to the public. The Open Studios project offers the public access to artists and makers by visiting studios, meeting artists and makers, browsing completed works and learning about their method and work in progress.  Our first open day is tomorrow, Sunday 5th June, and our studio is ready and waiting.  In addition to sharing our printed work, there’s a slideshow of other photographs, a demonstration of the on-camera filter system we both use, and drinks and homemade cake served in my courtyard garden (weather permitting!).  If you are able to make it, you will be very welcome. Dates and opening times in the flyer below.

SAOS flyer

A new year, yet another new start

When I first started this blog, back in April 2012, I had a particular reason.  An injury meant that I was not able to get out with my camera to make new images.  Blogging gave me an outlet for my frustrated creativity and a new lease of life for images I had already taken.  Nearly 4 years later and the injury is still troublesome, but I have learned to live with it.  The brain is amazingly good at learning to live with things, even pain. The problem no longer stops me doing what I want and what I want hasn’t changed – I still love (am obsessed with) photography.

misty minimal picture from Venice

‘Five’: Venice

As I slowly returned to making new images, this blog became more and more sporadic. In the end, I will always choose to go out with my camera rather than spend time at the computer.  That is not going to change, but I would like to see if I can combine the two more effectively.  So I have signed up for Blogging 101 with good intentions.

Norwegian landsape

Still morning, Hamnøya, Lofoten Islands

Perhaps paradoxically, since starting a photography blog, I have obtained a Masters Degree in Victorian Literature and Art from the University of London. Yes, I like to read and write! Accordingly, I never intended Focused Moments to be a picture-of-the-day kind of blog. (Nothing wrong with those, by the way, just not what I intended.) Looking back at the early days, I see the posts that were most enthusiastically received usually had plenty of words as well as images.  A good example is my article about the relationship between photography and mindfulness.  So I plan to make time for more posts like that. I am also interested in exploring how the literature I enjoy and have studied may influence the images I make.

seascape

Tempest

Standard blogging advice is to write about oneself, to ‘make it personal’. I am not so sure about that. I am quite a private person and this is a public blog. The images will always be the heart of Focused Moments; I hope they are more interesting than me! Nonetheless, there are aspects of my photographic life that might merit more exploration. I enjoy exhibiting and have already written about some of my experiences in that area. Some readers want to know more about other things, my role as a camera club judge, for example, or what it is like to lead photography workshops. More on those, and other ‘stories’, will follow.

wey navigation

Frost on the Wey

2015 was an epic year for me photographically. I hope that 2016 will be equally exciting and, if any of you share at least part of the adventure with me here at Focused Moments, this blog will have succeeded. It is up to me, now, to make it worth your time.

norway

Aurora over Skagsanden

 

Chalk and sea

One of the clients on my most recent workshop pointed out to me that it has been a long time since the last post on this blog! Shame on me!  So here’s a little summary of what I have been up to in the last few weeks, and some of my latest images.

desert island

Priory Bay, Isle of Wight

In my last post, I shared some pictures from Birling Gap, and I have been back there, as well as other locations nearby, a few times since.  My eye seems to be particularly drawn to chalk cliffs at the moment. Having been brought up on the south coast, they are very much the landscape of my youth and I now enjoy rediscovering them with my camera.

Seven Sisters evening

Seven sisters at dusk

While beguilingly beautiful, the South coast can also be dangerous, as I was reminded on one of my recent trips to Birling Gap.  I was, fortunately, standing out on the sand at low tide, when a huge chunk of the cliff came crashing down. No-one was hurt although there was a group of very shocked foreign students on the beach at the time. It was a sobering sight and, from now on, I will be more careful about heeding warnings not to stray too close to the cliffs.

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Seven Sisters

Last week, I spent a few days in another chalky place, the Isle of Wight. Although the weather was trying, to say the least, there were some moments of good light and, let’s face it, it’s hard not to get a picture when at the coast.  It will take me a while to get through all the images I took, but here are a few ‘tasters’.

In other news, I was delighted to find out that one of my pictures has been selected for inclusion in the Outdoor Photographer of the Year book.  It is a year since I first submitted work to Outdoor Photography Magazine, easily my favourite photography publication. Since then, the magazine has published several of my images and commissioned a short article.  I have been bowled over by the enthusiasm and support I have received from them.

Fistral 1

Fistral beach – selected for Outdoor Photographer of the Year book

Regular readers will already be familiar with the work of my friend Jenifer Bunnett, who continues to be a great pal and enthusiastic companion on our photographic expeditions.  If you haven’t seen her work before, you can access her website by clicking on her name above.  I have also recently enjoyed outings with two other photographers, Sarah Medway and Lorraine Heaysmon, both committed landscape shooters with impressive portfolios. Photography can be a solitary activity and, while I really enjoy that solitude, it is also nice sometimes to share the adventure.

tog on the shore

A capture of Jen capturing a seascape on the Isle of Wight

My spare time (what spare time?) continues to be filled with judging at Surrey camera clubs and giving talks.  I recently presented a new talk,  ‘From Canal to Coast’ to Guildford Photographic Society which was well-received.  As a judge I am obliged also to compete in camera club competitions, which is fair enough when you think about it.  So, last month, I was pleased to win the Best Image trophy at Surrey Photographic Association’s 2015 Open Print competition.  I have shared the picture here before but I think a second airing is justified.

seascape

Of course, this is also the main season for f11 Workshops and we have had some great days out with our clients.  Our last workshop of the year was in West Sussex and, although the weather seemed determined to be gloomy, our persistence was eventually rewarded with some really special light.  My business partner, Tony Antoniou, and I will not make our own images when leading workshops, so I have no picture to share, but I have seen a few of our clients’ shots and am glad to say they did it justice.

east head sunset 2

The location of our workshop, but taken on another occasion.

Finally, Jen and I have had a couple of productive meetings about our pro bono project with the Basingstoke Canal and there will hopefully be some big developments on that front in the near future.

Phew! What a busy few weeks it has been!  What has been your best photographic adventure so far this winter?  Feel free to share in the comments below. 🙂