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.

Portuguese wanderings

Portugal

We are back from our summer travels.  This year we chose Portugal.  We used to holiday in the Algrave often, when the children were small, but hadn’t been back in 11 years.  I was afraid we’d find it much changed.  Certainly, the Algrave is very much discovered.  It already was back in 2002 and the spread of tourism that was marching inexorably West from Faro has reached a little further now.  But the extreme South Western tip, at Sagres, still retains its off-beat, surfing vibe, and the wild West coast beaches are just as glorious as I remembered.   This is one of my favourite sunset spots, Praia do Castelejo.

Moonrise over the monuments

monument valley
I was rummaging around in an old hard drive today and came across this forgotten image from 2009. It reminded me that I have been promising myself a return trip to the American Southwest for a long time. Monument Valley and a full moon; a magical experience. I didn’t really know what I was doing with the camera back then; I’d love to have another go now.

London street workshop

London street photography

Last weekend, Amateur Photographer magazine invited people to apply for places on a street photography workshop in London.  I sent in some images and was delighted on Monday to hear that I had been given a place.

London street photography

The workshop, which took place on Thursday, was being led by Damien Demolder, former editor of AP magazine and an experienced street shooter who regularly runs photography workshops in London.

London street photography

The day began at the Tate Modern.  There I met Damien, Phil from AP magazine and my fellow enthusiasts, Tim, Steve, Gagan, and Nic.  Over coffee, we chatted about our experience in the genre so far and what we hoped to get out of the day.  I mentioned that I would like to get closer to my subjects, not necessarily physically, but to create more of a connection between the viewer of the image and the subject.  I thought I was waffling but Damien seemed to understand what I was on about.

London street photography

As the day had brought us bright light with strong contrasts, Damien set us the task of using shadows in our compositions.  He showed us how to use the transitional space between dark and light, capturing moments when the subject was lit but with darkness behind.

London street photography

Several of us commented that we tended to walk about seeking images so Damien had us find a location with good light and then stay in one spot and wait for the shot. I really enjoyed this approach and will definitely be using it from now on!

London street photography

Damien’s ‘can do’ attitude was so infectious that it wasn’t long before I had plucked up the courage to ask someone if I might take their photo.

London street photography

Once that taboo was broken there was no stopping us! I had a super day thanks to AP magazine and Damien. This photo workshop thing is addictive so it’s a good thing I am booked on another workshop with Damien in April, this time as a birthday present from my husband.

London street photography

London street photography

London street photography

London street photography

Stilt fishing huts of the Gironde

Gironde Estuary

It’s been a busy couple of weeks and this post about my trip to the Gironde Estuary, France with Ocean Capture is long overdue.

Gironde estuary

The tour is called Stilt-fishing huts of the Gironde, so a lot of our time was spent photographing some of the 400 or so carrelets on the estuary’s North shore.

Gironde estuary

These beguilingly delicate structures are so fascinating and so photogenic that Jonathan Critchley, the tour leader and owner of Ocean Capture, sometimes found it difficult to drag us away to do essential things like eat, sleep and, of course, as we were near Bordeaux, drink wine.

Gironde estuary

Jonathan is a great photographer, and I recommend a visit to his website.  He’s also a super host and an all round nice bloke, and he plays a mean game of table football!  We stayed in La Maison du Meunier, a delightful bed and breakfast hotel on the quay in Mortagne sur Gironde, where we were made to feel at home. Even though we were only there for three nights, I missed it after we left.

Gironde Estuary

If you ever fancy a photography adventure in a beautiful, unspoilt region of France, I can thoroughly recommend this one. I liked it so much, I have booked another trip with Ocean Capture for next Spring. Now I just need to save some pennies!

Gironde Estuary

I have many more images of the carrelets and other sights to share and a slideshow in the pipeline, but the next post will be something rather different, the images taken on a street photography day with Amateur Photographer magazine in London.

New York, New York

USA

Central Park from the ‘Top of the Rock’


We have just returned from a visit to New York, city of thronging streets, shadowy tower-canyons and vertiginous perspectives.

USA

View downtown from the ‘Top of the Rock’


As my description above might indicate, there are as many challenges as opportunities for the photographer in this most exciting of cities. We were on holiday, sightseeing and catching up with friends, so photography was near the bottom of the to-do list. I snapped a lot, but had little opportunity to take more considered images. Nonetheless, I can hardly resist sharing a few of my photographs here.

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Balloons over Manhattan


Oh, and in case it isn’t clear, I loved New York. Yes, I know I am not really a city girl, but you’d have to have zero capacity for excitement not to thrill at this amazing, chaotic, adrenaline-fuelled place.

USA

Moongazing buildings


More from the ‘city that never sleeps’ to follow soon.