Thursday, 7 April 2016

Somewhere New

I thought that at least a few people would be interested in how I approach visiting a new location - with all the planning and ideas that go into it. It's a convenient subject as it's only 2 days since I went through this process - so there are some brand spanking photos to go along with it. 

Usually, when visiting a new location, it's because it's been on your list of places to go for a while and you have a load of ideas in your head of what to do with it, but every now and then you just find yourself with a free evening, some changeable weather and the urge to get out. This trip kinda fits into the latter category. The Yorkshire Wolds have been on the periphery of my radar for some time now, I knew I should explore over that way, but their lack of drama kept me away... I kinda knew what they looked like, what the feel of the place was like and had seen a few beautiful photos before, but had never had a proper explore myself. The only time I'd visited before was when I shot sunset from the very edge of the Wolds having rushed out after some nearby A level physics tuition. 

So I was basically starting from scratch with an hour or two before having to head out. Now, onto the planning...

First things first, check the weather, satellite, radar, everything. Is it worth the trip to head out that way? Is there a cloud bank coming in? How quickly are the showers moving through? The Met Office website is an amazing resource - with imagery updated every 15 minutes, you can get a precise picture of what is heading your way and see if it differs from the forecasts at the very last minute.

The next step is to get onto the maps. Bing have full OS maps and this is endlessly useful - I'll get onto what I look for shortly, but it's important when viewing potential locations to have the angle of the sun in mind, along with the weather which we have already looked at. For this, I use, although there are numerous other tools. So... what do I look for on the map? There are a few things... not all are related to the Yorkshire Wolds, with their lack of crags and rocky outcrops... but still... 

The first thing I look for is obvious dramatic features, and on this occasion I was very close to being tempted out to these crags in the North York Moors... but, having decided they were too far away, had to settle for something closer... hence the Wolds. 

Here's the location I chose...

This is where Google Maps comes into its own. It's always worth having a quick scroll along Streetview to find potential parking places... and in just a few minutes I found a decent spot along that main road through the centre of the image, just below where the reservoir is labelled. 

But why did I pick this location? 

Perhaps this second version of the image will make things clearer...

With the sun setting in a north easterly direction, I had two valleys within a few hundred yards of my parking spot that would benefit from some side light. The contour lines are so clearly perpendicular to the setting sun that out of locations 1 and 2, at least one of them must work... (you'd like to think!). These could be photographed at any point late in the day, the sun being higher in the sky might even be beneficial... so these were clearly worth visiting an hour or two before sunset. 
Luckily, after 45 minutes standing around under cloud, the light did come good about 45 minutes before sunset... so having got my shots, I had a decision to make. 

I decided to rush back to the car, and visit the 3rd location. The sun always softens as it approaches the horizon, the light on the landscape loses its intensity and side lit shots become harder to make something of. The crispness from earlier in the golden hour is lost - so this is where I begin to think about shooting into the sun. It's always nice to have options, and if you can find views both away from and into the sun in a single trip then it baffles me why some folk would not want to do both.

As you can see, from point 3 on the map above, the sun sets right up the valley from where I could be stood. And it's only a 5 minute drive from my first locations... you could almost even walk it given a little extra time. I've gone from shooting at 90 degrees to the light to shooting right into it, all in just 40 minutes... and it was all plan-able (should the clouds behave themselves) from the comfort of my desk before even heading out. If you want to get the most from a couple of hours, with a vast range of images each with a different feel... then this kind of thinking is the way to go. 

Now, backtracking a bit... what other resources do I find useful before heading out? Well... Flickr is the main one. Depending on the location, you'll get endless photos back or just a handful, but so long as you find something it is certainly helpful in getting some sort of idea of the place. You never want to copy what you've seen, but it can help you decide, in conjunction with the maps, if a location is all it's cracked up to be. It may look amazing on the map, as my first North York Moors map shows at the top of the page... but when you get to Flickr you find that those rocky outcrops are nothing more than messy boulder fields - so it's worth checking! Googling the name of crags/rocks/cliffs often throws up some useful results too - with the climbing community having loads of photographs of locations that have otherwise gone unnoticed by photographers. 

Anyway, I think this is the messiest, most incoherent blog post I've ever written - but I suppose that just reflects the messy thought processes that go into choosing a place to go and photograph along with the many strands that go into such a decision. 

Friday, 4 March 2016

Buckden and back

It's been a while since I've written up a walk, but what else is there to do on a Friday night? A couple of weeks ago I popped up to the Dales for sunrise but couldn't resist staying out, despite having plenty do get done before teaching the next day, thanks to the beautiful, endless sunshine. So I decided to come back to York via Wharfedale and stop off in Buckden to finally get to the top of Buckden Pike. It's one of those hills that looks boring and rounded - so it's been on my to do list for years, without getting done - but I couldn't have been more wrong. The views from up top are some of the best in the Dales, which I probably should have guessed what with it being so central! I'll attach the precise route at the bottom of the post - but for now, here's a photo of the sunrise I went out for... 

Ellerkin Scar, Wensleydale.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Facebook groups - antisocial behaviour

As much as many of us like to moan about Facebook and its limitations on organic reach, it's a useful tool for many photographers - whether just starting out or a seasoned professional. The limitations imposed on how your posts to your page are shared amongst the general public can easily be negated by spending 5 minutes manually sharing your beautiful new photo to a number of relevant groups - extending your audience beyond those who have been kind enough to like your page in the past.

Friday, 19 February 2016

A time saver too far?

When out shooting Roseberry Topping from Gribdale Terrace I ended up deciding to do something that I never normally do - and now I'm not sure how I feel about it. I replaced the sky in the image... but there are some qualifying remarks to go with this, which leaves me wondering just how 'okay' it really is.
Original on the left, edit on the right. 

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

An afternoon at Skipwith

Over the last year or so I've seen many a beautiful photo and heard lots of great things about Skipwith Common... so a long overdue visit finally happened after I was down teaching some physics in Selby earlier that afternoon. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was harder to shoot than I'd expected. I spent 2 hours exploring, wandering, meandering, putting my foot into hidden bogs... and felt like I came back with very little - but actually, the more I look, the more I think I maybe did capture a hint of the essence of the place in the few photographs I took. 

You all know how I'm a sucker for the hills, the bright light, the colours... but I do love a good wander and some time on my own in the middle of anywhere - I just rarely share the photos from such trips as they never go down so well on social media. Although I do find it frustrating that I can't seem to see the beauty that is captured so apparently easily by some of the more accomplished woodland photographers - I at least enjoy the walk, if not the photography. So I returned from this wander refreshed but frustrated, despite seeing my 2nd and 3rd ever woodpeckers up close.

So... on with the photos... I hope they give a realistic representation of this place.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015: The Review

2015 has been a mixed year. A year where I've found myself frustrated and in a bit of a rut photographically, a year that I've explored new locations and found my distance from hills difficult to live with and a year that I feel I've finally begun to find my style - whilst, on the other hand, diversifying at the same time. From the endless train journeys and the odd sense of pride I felt in the whole of my portfolio coming about through public transport and lots of walking, I now have a car. The Dales have become my playground once again, since living in York, and more recently, the North York Moors too. I've lost the ease of the grit stone edges of the Peak but gained much more in learning just what I want from a photo. I may not have been as prolific this year, but I feel the quality has gradually increased.

My aims at the start of the year were to double my Facebook following, sell more calendars than last year, begin to get my greetings cards out there and finally push on with the tuition and workshops - all of which have been achieved alongside the relief of completing my PhD... so I really can't complain too much. Now to repeat this for 2016 and hopefully I can make this my proper job with a decent income for 2017... I'm sure you'll all help me along the way, and I could never do it without you lovely people!

For any new viewers - you can find me at the following places:


So... on with the photos! Just a selection of my favourite landscape photos from this year, with a few words explaining why, saving the best until last.

Higger Tor - the smallest of gaps turns a hopeless trip into a perfect evening. 

Monday, 7 December 2015

Photographing people... how?

I have to admit, I have a knack for finding beautiful, unphotographed people to model for me for free - from browsing Instagram and getting past that first, awkward message to stumbling across them in town and asking for their photograph... so I can't complain too much. But with such openness and generosity on their part, comes a sense of responsibility on my part to give them something for their time and therefore, often, a lack of opportunity for experimentation.

I love the photos I have of random, beautiful people and the subsequent shoots we've done - and I'm more than confident in shooting in a number of situations. Give me a setting sun, a pretty face and a reflector and I'm a happy man. Equally, a white wall, a window and a bit of space... all is fine. But neither of these are ever guaranteed. I have no idea where to find white walls and space in York, and the weather is never predictable enough to organise a shoot on it. 

So how can I change this? There are a number of things that I'd love to either own, get to grips with or have the chance to use... but all are limited by expense or practicality. I already own a couple of flashes and softboxes - all very useful, but all somewhat unreliable and certainly unusable outdoors in the slightest of breeze. So what are the other options that intrigue me and problems I currently have?..

  • Continuous lighting 
    • Would be great for learning and knowing exactly what you're about to shoot. Flashes are useful and portable, but when you're a relative newcomer it's always nice to have that extra certainty that comes with a continuous light source. These are more expensive and heavier though... so is it really worth the investment? Where do I even start?
  • Backdrops and stands
    • I already have some cheap stands for my lights - but is it worth investing in a backdrop, and how much should that cost? You can get them for £30-50 on Amazon but reviews are not great, with creases in the backing fabric being a major problem. 
    • So my questions are... what do you look for in a backdrop? Which materials are good? How much do they cost? Is it worth getting the cheap stand and buying a better fabric?
  • Where do I find the space to use this stuff?
    •  I've spent the last week trying to find empty flats, cheap studios or village halls in and around York and they just don't exist. York is a crap place to live as a photographer. So if I were to invest in the studio setups, where could I use them in a cost effective way? I used to have room to shoot in my flat in Sheffield, but that would be very tight here. Even ignoring the space, it's difficult to have control over the light in a regularly sized room - as the light reflects around and ends up ruining any ideas you had - you really need a large room to have full control over this.
  • Even the empty buildings in York seem to be well protected. 
    • Terry's is now being rebuilt as flats, the empty carparks are all very well fenced off (I've checked) and the other abandoned buildings are either well guarded or somewhat dangerous to be exploring. 
    • Where do I find large, empty spaces in a posh city?

So where do I begin? How did any of you learn? Is it worth buying some cheap stuff? I don't need a workshop, I just need some space and/or equipment... but how do you do this without wasting a load of money?