A Few Thoughts About Photography.........

Welcome to my photography blog page. I will be posting random thoughts covering a wide range of photography related subjects as well as some thoughts explaining my approach and thinking behind my photography. As I work mainly work in monochrome, most of my posts will be related to black and white photography.

Please feel free to comment on any of the thoughts or issues posted on this blog. Healthy debate is always welcome!

Less Can Often Be More


Over the past month or so, I have undertaken a few road trips around the north of Scotland. The locations visited are either places I have noticed on previous trips or places identified through research. Whilst these trips include a element of “lets have a look and see”, careful planning and research to identify the best possible locations, time of day to visit etc. are a very important part of ensuring you are in the right place at the right time. Although that is not always true. Sometimes pure chance puts you in the right place at the right time, although you have to also be able to see the potential of the shot. This image of the north ridge of Bruach na Frithe on the Isle of Skye's Cuillin Ridge is just that.
The day was dull, overcast and grey with the Cuillin ridge well "clagged in". We were just having a drive around and with no real thoughts of any photography, and had pulled over to sit for a while, watching the grey, overcast clouds and low mist swirl around the distant mountains. With little or no real expectations I swapped out to the telephoto lens and did a “Thomas Heaton”, that is simply zoom into the distance mountain and capture a small vignette of the scene. Whilst not exactly a portfolio shot, it's a decent image capturing something of the mood and atmosphere of the Scottish Mountains in winter. And a good example of how doing a “Thomas Heaton” can result in some rather unexpected shots, although to be honest I have been employing this technique since before Thomas was born. I always advocate the importance of rather than looking at the whole scene, it is probably sometimes better to just identify those smaller elements that tell the whole story. Often less is more.

And if you are wondering who Thomas Heaton is, check his web site, Thomas Heaton.co.uk

Bruach na Frithe

Excellent Presentation By Scott Kilby On Photography Composition


An excellent presentation by photographer and Lightroom guru Scott Kelby. With so much b@llocks on social media surrounding photography, most of which is little more than a regurgitation of commercial marketing hype from faux-tographers with no real indepth knowledge or understanding of the subject, its great to find an article like this one. Watch & learn.

Scott Kelby: Crush the Composition | B&H Bild Expo

Trust Your Instincts


This is a shot that the vast majority of photographers would have probably missed. I know I nearly did. The shot was taken on the approach walk to a high camp in the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye & the camera equipment was packed away in my rucksack. Five minuets before the shot was taken the peak was fully shrouded in mist and in complete shadow but somehow I felt that things where about to change. I quickly unpacked the camera and swapped out my lens for the long telephoto, (I am over a mile from the peak) and set the camera up on the tripod. And waited. Not for long though. Within a few minutes, as if by magic, the mist cleared and the peak began to reveal itself. Then suddenly for the most fleeting of moments a glimmer of sunshine appeared from nowhere and lit the lower part of the mountain. I litterly had time to fire off one shot before it was gone. Probably one of the most important lessons any photographer should learn is to simply trust their instincts.

Photography Is More Than Just Cameras and Equipment


When learning photography and now whilst teaching photography, I often feel that there is something missing. That there is something beyond the usual technical issues of resolution, exposure settings, white balance etc. That there must be more to photography.
An understanding of this issue may be seen in a book that I am currently reading, “At The Loch Of The Green Corrie” by Andrew Greig.
The book is one of those that can not be simply summed up in a few words. It is a book with numerous layers and hidden depths that map out a wandering narrative covering many issues. It is a book which Billy Connolly says allows you to luxuriate in the most beautiful use of the English language borne along by the love of one gifted poet for a recognised master of the melancholy.
In essence, the book revolves around a promise made to the Scottish Poet Norman MacCaig by Greig to seek out and fish at small secretive lochan that was a favourite haunt of MacCaigs'. The search for the illusive lochan took in days of outdoor living, meetings and fishing with friends in the remote hills of the far North West of Scotland. The search finally leads to the waters of the Green Corrie, which would come to reflect Greig's own life, his thoughts on poetry, geology and land ownership in the Highlands and the ambiguous roles of whisky, love and male friendship.
Early on in the book Greig talks about the idea of “transmission”, the idea of indirect learning, not through practice or development of skills but though absorbing ideas and more importantly values.
“When the young writers of my generation sat, listened, talked and drank with Norman and his peers, we were getting transmission. It was not one of technique so much as values.”
Greig illustrates his point by describing how his two fishing companions fish with a grace and ease, not borne of good technique, but rather of years of watching and observing their farther fishing. Absorbing his values.
Likewise, learning photography must surely be about more than just learning good technique or understanding what and what can not be photographed and how. It needs to be much more than that. It has to involve absorbing and understanding the wider values of those who have gone before, about absorbing “transmission” from those around us and those we respect and with whom we share our passion for photography.
Maybe this was eluded to by Ansel Adams when he said,

“You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

Sutherland 01 24 2002

Photography Intuition


I have just watched an interesting documentary, “InnSaei: The Power in Intuition”. The documentary suggests that the world is changing faster than ever before and new ways of thinking are required. Burn out, distraction and violence are becoming increasingly more of an integral part of our culture, media and entertainment and we are becoming seriously disconnected from the natural world. The documentary explores some of the issues surrounding how this affecting the way we live our lives.
For me, the documentary got me thinking about certain aspects of my photography. In particular, I find when teaching photography it is easy to explain and demonstrate composition, exposure, tonal values etc. But it is much more difficult to explain how and why I choose which subjects to photograph and the way I choose to photograph those subjects in the way I do. I really struggle to explain how I “see” tonal values and relationships in the real world and how these can be replicated in my final image. Watching this documentary took me a long way towards understanding why this might be. I now feel that a lot of my photography is simply down to intuition, that feeling in your gut when you instinctively know that something you are doing is right or wrong.
More precisely, it involves “learned responses that are not the outcomes of deliberate processes”. Sadly I feel that many of today's amateur photographers are more likely to follow the “deliberate processes” route in their photography. This is probably mainly due to the why in which we learn. For many this is through social media, which unfortunately often tends to be awash with articles and blogs which are nothing more that a regurgitation of commercial marketing hype whose aim in not to help us develop our skills but to sell cameras and promote materialistic consumption.
Overthinking camera controls, thinking about how a new camera will help your photography or wondering about how many “likes” your image will generate are all distractions. Spending your time looking at your camera rather than engaging with your subject is a distraction. Learning from others is always good but simply trying to replicate what others have done can again be a distraction, stopping you from actually understanding how they achieved what they did and thus potentially developing your own personal style and producing images that raise above the mere average.
Whilst we can have endless conversations about technical excellence in photography, the simple truth might be if it looks right, it is right. Likewise, if it feels right, it is right. Learn to trust your intuition and to not simply follow the crowd.


Don't Believe the Marketing Hype


Well here we go again. The ad men are hard at work selling you the latest iPhone with all its wonderful features that will turn you instantly into a professional video photographer with the ability to produce superb top quality videos. Of courses years of training and practical experience are not required. Yes, this video was shot using an iPhone and yes it shows the ability of the phone. In the hands of a highly skilled professional cameraman that is. There will also be a full team of highly skilled professionals behind the production which will probably include an army of assistants, lighting and artistic directors, lighting technicians, make artists etc, etc. etc. And of course it is also highly staged and edited by a large team of highly trained and skilled people.

Want to improve your photography and take shots that rise above the mere average? Then forget about wasting your money on the latest tech and take the time and effort to learn your craft. Yes that's right, take your time to learn the art & craft of photography rather than expecting instant results and gratification of the sort promised by the commercial marketing hype.

Shot on iPhone 11 Pro — Snowbrawl.

Thoughts About Photography & Truth


There was an interesting scene in a recent TV drama that got me thinking. In the scene, the main character, a young muslim male, was being interviewed as a potential new tenant in a flat share. He takes an interest in a number of photographs hung on the walls and is amazed to discover that he is actually in one of the photographs. He then notices the title of the photograph, “Young Radicals” and his attitudes changes as he challenges the photographer on her choice of title. He asks what is radical about a homeless muslim man, the main character in the image, and himself, a young muslim simply having a cigarette? The photographer, who describes her work as street photography that “highlights shifting urban environments” defends her choice of title by pointing to an older musilm gentleman in the image, dressed in traditional Kurta pyjamas, handing out “flyers” which are in fact menus for a local restaurant. Obviously, the photographer saw something in the scene, which in reality did not exist but which she created through her choice of title and also through composition and choice of subject.

As well as provoking thoughts about how naming images can have a significant effect on how the viewer perceives the image, the scene also provoked wider thoughts about the “moral ethics” covering photography and how these might be changing.

For many, street photography, as with all forms of documentary photography, should be a true and honest representation of the scene as presented to the photographer. Move away from this, introduce some element of interpretation of any form, then it becomes more art than true documentary. Many generations of photographers learnt this simple truth through formal training and years of experience which often included an “apprentice” period during which they learnt the moral ethics of their work.
Mass commercial marketing and overzealous advertising coupled with increased wealth and leisure time have greatly changed photography in many respects. Now it all to easy to buy an expensive camera and get out there without any proper formal training and call yourself a “real” photographer. Unfortunately, formal training does not just include learning the technical aspects of photography but also covers a whole gamut of issues about the ethics and role of photography in society. Without this formal training, the traditional values and ethics that have kept photography honest over the years may now be being lost. Can we really continue to trust the images we see in newspapers and on-line when an ever-increasing number are taken by “photographers” with little or no formal training and are taken in a world where truth and honesty are increasingly giving way to commercial considerations and narcissistic vanity?

The Rebirth of Photojournalism


There has been much written over the past several years about the demise of photojournalism and the significant decrease in the quality of images used in much of the world's print media. All too often now picture editors will use images already online, regardless of their quality and the days of sending a photographer off to take images have largely gone. If you do need a photographer, you can just use the internet to find one who is already at the required location. And of course, there are lots of wannabe photographers out there willing to work for very little.

Now, of course, we are probably seeing the demise of print media itself as more & more people are getting their news online. Yet could this be an opportunity for a rebirth in photojournalism? In the days of print not all stories carried images and in fact, some newsprint did not use images at all. It is all very different of course online with every story now using images of some form and those images are of course important in attracting the reader's eye. One would, therefore, expect an increase in demand for quality images.

At present, there is not much to suggest this is happening. The trend seems to be towards the use of stock images that simply illustrate the story rather than add to it. Generic stock photos that illustrate the words rather than the story. All too often stories are illustrated with low quality social media images captured on smartphones, probably obtained without payment because the person who took the image is either not aware of their value or probably more interested in the vanity value of their image.

I also believe that the dumbing down of photography, largely due to social media and the widespread use of smartphones, what I call I-phoneography, has a significant part to play. We are simply all too ready to accept low-quality images as being the norm, all too often being wowed by boring, mediocre and average images simply because they are different from the mass of imagery we see every day. Being different does not make it a good photograph.

Yes, a demand for images to illustrate online news may have the potential to drive up image quality, but I for one will not be holding my breath.

Getting It At The Time


Whilst this image has a certain potential, it does have some issues, mainly relating to the image crop. I have been struggling to find a crop that does not include too much foreground, distractive bright white clouds on the frame edge and does not crop through any of the sun rays. The reason for constraining the crop relate mainly to trying to preserve an aspect ratio for printing and mounting for entry into salons and for the above reasons this places some constraints on what I can do. Also, the size of the crop means a significant reduction in the image resolution which will impact upon print quality. Truth be told the mistake was made at the time of shooting. The shot was taken at the end of a walk when I was starting to feel a little tired, the evening was turning chilly & I was 45 min late from the time I said I would be home. So rather than taking the time to get the shot right, which would have involved taking filters off, changing lens, replacing filters and walking to the edge of the hill to get rid of the foreground, I thought chances are in this light I ain't going to get any decent shots so why bother I'll just shoot from here with the wide angle. As a result rather than getting a winning shot I got a pretty good shot. Moral of this tale is you should always take the time to get it right!

The Myth of The Digital Exposure Triangle


I am a traditional photographer and by that, I simply mean that I learned my craft through working with film and developing prints in the darkroom. Working this way instills a strong belief in the importance of engaging with your subject and getting as much right in camera as possible.

I fully understand that digital photography has introduced significant new ways of thinking, particularity with regards to the equipment and tools we use and the way we process our images. Yet the majority of the craft & skill needed to produce good images is still very much grounded in the methods of image capture that can be traced right back to photography's very beginning. Despite this, many of today's amateur photographers seem more willing to follow the marketing and commercial hype that surrounds digital photography with a significant number of today's newbie photographers unfortunately willing to believe anything they are told, particularly when it is regurgitated at infinitum on social media platforms.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the so-called exposure triangle. I am not too sure where this concept as a means of explaining exposure came from and whilst the principles behind it are sound, it has one major flaw. The exposure triangle gives equal parity to using ISO to control exposure alongside shutter speed and aperture. ISO is not used to control exposure, that is achieved by altering the shutter speed and/or aperture settings. Whilst changing ISO can be used to effect exposure, there are very few situations in which you really need to use ISO in this way. More importantly, the exposure triangle goes a long way to causing confusion amongst those who are struggling to get to grips with exposure for the first time. Why struggle to work with three variables and when you only need to work with two?

ISO comes from film photography and is simply a measure of how sensitive the film is to light. The name was carried over into digital simply because its effects are similar in that it appears to make the sensor more “sensitive” to light. In fact, increasing ISO simply amplifies the signal from the sensor, which has the downside of introducing of “noise” which can degrade the quality of the image. So basically the best image quality will be achieved by keeping your ISO at it lowest, or base setting. When first learning photography it is probably best to simply set and forget ISO and come back to it when you are a little more comfortable in understanding basic exposure control using shutter speed and aperture.

These two setting, shutter speed and aperture, work in combination in allowing the required amount of light into the camera for the image you are trying to capture. The only time that you really need to change your ISO is if you are shooting handheld in low light and cannot get a fast enough shutter speed to hold the camera steady. There are possibly some situations where you want to have a specific shutter speed and aperture combination which can only be achieved by changing the ISO setting or switching to Auto ISO and letting the camera decide the setting, although in over thirty years of photography I have never come across a situation where I have needed to do this.

When digital cameras first started to become popular, ISO was there but increasing ISO led to serious image quality issues. Over the years image quality at high ISO settings has significantly improved to the point where quality issues are almost a thing of the past. This increased performance though has been used to sell cameras, often being hailed as some sort of major technological advancement. I believe that it is this hyped-up commercial marketing that has led to the advancement of ISO being used to control exposure which is simply nothing more than an over complication of what is, in fact, a quite simple concept.