Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography: Blog https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog en-us (C) Stephen Reed. All rights reserved. (Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Fri, 04 Jun 2021 13:43:00 GMT Fri, 04 Jun 2021 13:43:00 GMT https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u334534243-o98700431-50.jpg Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography: Blog https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog 120 120 Photo-book about walking in woodlands. What’s in it for you? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/5/photo-book-about-walking-in-woodlands-what-s-in-it-for-you

The following paragraphs are reproduced from the opening pages of my new photo-book Walking in Woodlands1. I’ve copied the words here because they say exactly what I want to share in this blog: 

 

When was the last time you walked through woodlands? Heard the sound of nature under your feet: the crack of dry twigs or the squelch of soft earth? Watched the sway of the canopy’s branches and leaves in the wind? Inhaled the sweet scents of woodland flora, or even just clean, fresh air?

 

Many of us have become trapped. Imprisoned within walls at work and home. Controlled by earning money at all costs. Managed by mobile apps, social-media and digital must-do lists. Deaf to the countryside’s call, drowned out by tv, internet videos, computer game gun battles and headphones preventing us from even hearing each other. 

 

To re-connect with nature is to break free. Seek an alternative way of fulfilling, refreshing, and soothing our souls. To walk through woodlands is not just to follow a trail. It’s to immerse ourselves in an environment and along a path that can improve, even permanently change our physical and mental wellbeing.

 

In Japan, there’s a national pastime called shinrin-yoku, forest-bathing. When walkers open up all their senses to wooded environments and let their minds become calm and thoughtful, studies reveal positive effects, on stress levels and even blood pressure. Moreover, it has been scientifically shown that woodland air doesn’t just seem better, it is better. Plant-emitted oils and chemicals that we breathe in help, for example, the function of white blood cells, needed to fight viruses, and boost our immune systems to help ward off colds and flu.

 

What else can walking in woodlands give us? Well, if we treat it as more than just obligatory exercise and dare to give our selves over to it, connect with what the Chinese call qi (also known as chi), translated as ‘vital life force’ (believed to be strongly present in trees), then this force can provide us with life changing benefits. Help us realise certain truths that we might decide to incorporate into our daily lives:

  • Woodlands offer well-worn paths but also less trodden routes. In woodlands, as in life, trying the alternative way, taking a risk, requires a little courage, a sense of adventure and a desire to feed our curiosity. It may be that this different way leads to profound thoughts, a new boldness in our step and greater personal outcomes
  • Rewards from walking in woodlands nearly all come while on the journey. What our senses absorb in the present moment – the sights, sounds, smells and textures, are what give us lasting memories and the ultimate feeling of connection with the world
  • Observing and taking in the small details ultimately provide us our biggest joys
  • Allied to the previous benefit, the nature of woodlands means that our senses are both literally and metaphorically closer to these living environments. Such close proximity to organic, breathing, evolving places, encourages us to walk slower – more in pace with them and, if we free our minds just a little, perhaps even tap into their essence and feel at one with them 
  • Nature puts us in our place, teaches us humility. Nature is magnificent, beautiful but can be unforgiving if we don’t show it respect. It’s a greater force than we’ll ever be. Walking in woodlands helps us learn to live with nature, not against it
  • Woodlands surround us on all sides. Walking along a woodland path is like walking through a filter. The noise of traffic, people, television and (if you turn it off for the walk) social-media are all replaced by the sounds of nature, including the sound of silence. When was the last time you heard that? Here’s a place in which we can clear our heads and be free to contemplate how we alone choose.

 

Walking through woodlands can provide us with great personal gifts: stimulate our senses, set us challenges, re-unite us with peace, afford us sanctuary where we can feel a sense of freedom. All we have to do is decide to act. Stand at the start of a trail, look along it and then put one foot in front of the other. Perhaps getting us to do this is the greatest gift of all.

 

I curated Walking in Woodlands for a few reasons. First, while I love exploring all types of outdoor landscape environments, woodlands are my favourite. I wanted to share this love. Second, no other outdoor area, for me, provides quite the same level of peace, tranquillity and you-time. Woodlands are the best place for anyone seeking to find space away from ‘regular life’; to detach themselves from otherwise unavoidable distractions. Third, I wanted to encourage readers to act. Prompt them to stand at the start of a woodland trail near their homes and (re-)discover the benefits of walking in woodlands for themselves. To re-connect with nature and perhaps even let it help them unveil a new alternative path.

 

I hope this book goes a little way towards inspiring action.

 

  1. To see a preview of the book, go to https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/10642923-walking-in-woodlands

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Countryside English-Countryside Healthy-Walking Kent-countryside Kent-Woodlands Nature Outdoor-Photography Photo-Book photography Walking-in-Woodlands Walk-in-Woodlands https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/5/photo-book-about-walking-in-woodlands-what-s-in-it-for-you Thu, 13 May 2021 12:00:04 GMT
Seafront photo-walk weather demands flexibility and a change in focus. https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/4/seafront-photo-walk-weather-demands-flexibility-and-a-change-in-focus A cold north-easterly is whipping off the sea. The chill wastes no time seeping into my bones. Hands numb, ears feeling nipped and I’ve barely got going. I’m grateful for refuge behind the beach huts.

 

I seldom encounter weather too bad for photography. Today isn’t close. But when conditions become challenging, it’s up to me to adapt. Be flexible and capture images that tell the story of the day. Make the weather one of the lead characters.

 

I bend into the breeze and walk on. I must: this is my first planned photography trip driving to a place since England’s lockdown 3 was lifted and travel restrictions eased.1

 

Herne Bay is a seaside town on the Kent side of the Thames estuary. It’s beach huts (and useful windbreaks) are many and multi-coloured. They stand guard, single file, predominantly at the Hampton end of the seafront. The town also has a visitor-friendly choice of street and beach level pathways, a colourful if now short pier2, a modern-furbished, level-paved prom and a Grade II listed clock tower circa. 1837 overlooking a small, sheltered harbour. The coastal view up-river is towards Whitstable, down-river towards Reculver. On clear days Reculver Towers can be seen edging out to sea (see photograph). 

My plan is to walk the beach-level path from Hampton to the start of The Downs. Where the path breaks I’ll walk on the pebble-shingle beach itself. 

 

My photography plan is less defined. I aim to get some images of the vibrant huts and the two parts of Herne Bay’s pier but otherwise want to be free to photograph whatever attracts my attention.

 

The sky is a cool blanket grey with a hint of blue. The light trapped under the cloud conspires with the sea’s surface to give the water a neutral brown hue, similar to much of the stone and shingle along the shoreline. White, choppy, breeze-powered waves bring motion to the scene and ensure the land and sea don’t visually merge into one.

 

 While looking for photographic opportunities I rarely pay attention to people. I prefer to concentrate on places and scenes. In truth, I hope people stay out of my field of view. Today is different. I catch myself looking at what fellow walkers are wearing. Thanks to my unpreparedness - insufficient layers, no gloves, a sunhat instead of a woollen beanie and steady decline from feeling cold to very cold, my focus drifts. I’m now envious of their comfort. Worse, I’m tempted to take photographs with them in my scenes, all looking toasty, snug (and smug) in their chill-wind-repelling wardrobes. I resist at first but am weak. My planned return to outdoor scenic (people-less) photography, specifically seascapes today, has morphed into something else. 

Today has become about an out-of-season English seaside town on a nippy, windy, overcast day on the North Kent coast. And locals on daily exercise walks, alone, in small groups, with prams, pushchairs and dogs. No visible passing ships or small pleasure craft near or far to divert the eye. The dulled but still vibrant colours of the beachfront attractions and the sound and motion of small, angry white waves rolling in on the tide provide the backdrop.

 

Returning to the luxurious warmth of my car, and circulation in my fingers and toes, I feel content with my day’s photography. Okay, not as planned but I look forward to reviewing my alternative collection of images when I get home. 

 

Heading back up the M2, I reflect on my first planned post-lockdown 3 photography drive out. Can I call it a success, or was it a failure? One or two potentially usable photographs despite the wind and grey – success, or weather conditions not as preferred and my inadequate wardrobe woeful – fail? I decide neither. The day was already a success when I began walking and before switching on my camera. I planned a drive out, photography the aim, and that’s what happened. The fact that one, maybe two photographs prove good enough to share on social media is just a bonus.

 

  1. Strictly speaking, restrictions changed from stay-at-home to stay local. Does driving within my own county along the North Kent coast to Herne Bay count as staying local? Researching the question of ‘What constitutes local?’ under the new rules, both online and across social media, it appeared okay to me. Some, it seems, considered ‘local’ as anywhere on the mainland.

 

  1. Herne Bay’s pier was once the second longest in the world. In 1978 the centre of the pier collapsed due to storm damage. A section of pier remains linked to the shore. Another section can be seen isolated out in the estuary.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) english-seaside-town-photography herne-bay-kent kent-landscape kent-seaside landscape-photography nature outdoor-photography photograph photography seascape-photography seaside-town-photography https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/4/seafront-photo-walk-weather-demands-flexibility-and-a-change-in-focus Tue, 13 Apr 2021 10:56:19 GMT
Daily local exercise walk. Bored now? Or finally discovering the beauty under our noses? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/3/daily-local-exercise-walk-bored-now-or-finally-discovering-the-beauty-under-our-noses It’s late morning. Just time today for a short lockdown 3 essential daily exercise walk. Turns out to be 5,548 steps, 3.58km according to my walking app. Overcast and with a slight mist lingering from dawn. A little chilly, 6 degrees, lower in intermittent 10mph (16 kph) gusts. Nonetheless pleasant.

 

My route is a familiar one to me, too familiar now. While not my only option on short walk days, it is my default choice. Why? From my house, it’s the most varied. It comprises a quiet, eerie at times, tree-arched cut-through path between a cemetery and retirement home, quiet roads, louder busier main roads, a fine park offering sports, recreational and maintained quiet garden spaces, a footbridge over one of the main roads, subway tunnels across a large, raised roundabout over another main road, and finally a shrub-lined path leading me onto my home estate. 

 

Varied maybe but, it must be said, from an outdoor landscape photographer’s point-of-view, not that picturesque. Doesn’t matter, it is what it is and I must make the most of it. Head out and dare to adapt. Seek beauty in the hitherto thought plain, delight in the once deemed mundane. And where beauty and delight prove (with the best of wills) elusive, still relish what I see. Furthermore, share some images from today, so that others might consider themselves fortunate, or less so, depending on the nature of their local walks.

 

Following are some photographs from said walk. No award-winners here; nothing that promotes my local area as a rambling mecca. Just pictures from one short route on one grey day in an amiable enough but visually unremarkable part of North Kent. 

You may consider one (or more) photograph agreeable, or not, it’s fine either way. That’s not the point of sharing these images. Instead, it’s about someone, me in this case, finally looking closer at things previously taken for granted in normal times. Also, re-evaluating and seeking out where beauty and delight actually resides in our outdoor world. 

Look hard enough and, certainly from an outdoor photography perspective, it’s clear that beauty isn’t just found in grandiose vistas, great landscapes, majestic ancient woodlands, or epic seascapes. Beauty is hidden in plain sight, all around us. 

In my case, it has taken my walking the same local routes time and again, to (re-)grasp this fact. To appreciate that the essence of beauty is right in front of us, even along what might otherwise feel like an uninspiring urban path.

So, when you next consider your essential daily exercise walk from home and thoughts of ‘same-ol’-boring-route-but-hey-ho’ enter your mind, don’t give into them. Instead, dare to adapt. Try alternative times of day, different weather conditions, or walk the same route in reverse. Whatever you decide, head out and seek that beauty in the hitherto thought plain, that delight in the once deemed mundane.


 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Beauty-in-the-plain Daily-exercise-walk Delight-in-the-mundane English-Countryside Kent-Landscape Landscape-Photography Lockdown-3-walk Outdoor-Photography Photograph Photography https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/3/daily-local-exercise-walk-bored-now-or-finally-discovering-the-beauty-under-our-noses Mon, 22 Mar 2021 13:00:15 GMT
Recent snowfall during lockdown 3 and how photo-stories are best told through photo-series https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/2/recent-snowfall-and-how-photo-stories-are-best-told-through-photo-series Snow is not a regular visitor to North West Kent. When it does grace us with its presence, it rarely settles. Instead, it passes through, teasing us; just rain caught on the breeze briefly colliding with a cold weather front that converts water into sleet and maybe a few tantalising flakes. If snow deigns to loiter and rest at all, it only does so for, at most, a week before melting away as mushy black slush.

 

Still, a week of snow is a week of snow. Not to be scoffed at when all we’d otherwise have to look at is another week of bare winter trees and a limited colour palette of greens, browns and greys. 

 

To be fair, occasional sunny blue skies and red and yellow woodland berries provide rays of brightness and lift our mood. But otherwise NWK winters are visually bland. So, when snow arrives, transforming our local landscape into a white winter wonderland, it’s like the heavens have physically and metaphorically blessed us with a whitewash elixir for our eyes and minds. We moan, of course, that the snow causes chaos for local traffic, public transport and community services but we don’t really care. Our inner child-like spirits soar. And certainly, for me, as I stand looking up at the mesmerising falling flakes of beauty, it feels like a restorative tonic of frozen white nectar has come to revitalise my soul.

 

Maybe as an outdoor photographer I’m more sensitive than most to these gifts of nature. While NWK is fortunate in many ways to have a varied local landscape (as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs), anything that transforms the surroundings in a fresh, positive way is welcome. Add to this the temporary nature of snowfall hereabouts and I’m prompted to react fast. Get out there quickly and find, in essence, historic images and stories about how snow impacts the area. And in these unprecedented times, living through lockdown 3 of the C-19 pandemic here in England, my sensitivity is further magnified.

 

Thus it was - the snow combined with our C-19 circumstances, that led me to show photographs in a different way on my social-media channels. Instead of uploading just individual photographs, I decided to post multi-image photo-series stories, sharing what I captured on my snowy lockdown daily permitted exercise walks. 

 

The photographs shown here are from my first series, when the snow was just arriving and settling. Here, I tried to capture the excitement of the time, the snow blowing in sideways; families out enjoying the conditions; and the result? A hastily built snowman. A great fun time, despite our horrid pandemic situation. (My second and third story-sets can be seen through the social media links on my website.)

 

Sadly, the snow has now melted away and we’re back to our regular colour scheme with accompanying changeable weather. As expected, it only stayed for just under a week. But for me and all children at heart, it was the most welcome of short snowy interludes. One which uplifted our outlooks in more ways than one and got me to try something new. Let's hope for the next downfall much sooner than is anticipated.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) countryside kent-countryside kent-landscape nature outdoor-photography photograph photography photography-stories photo-series photo-stories snow photography snow-photo-stories https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/2/recent-snowfall-and-how-photo-stories-are-best-told-through-photo-series Thu, 18 Feb 2021 15:13:18 GMT
Time to feel uneasy and stray outside of your photography comfort zone? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/2/time-to-feel-uneasy-and-stray-outside-of-your-photography-comfort-zone Showing this photograph strays outside my comfort zone. I feel uneasy sharing something that doesn’t conform to my usual aesthetic. 

The Subject…

 

I walk along the Thames towpath along the river’s edge from Greenhithe to a spot right underneath the QEII Bridge. The sky is clear blue and (almost) cloud free, so it’s a lovely day to be out. The mid-morning temperature is warm for a winter’s day and the sun bright, even glary. 

 

After arriving at my planned spot, I feel a few twinges, symptoms of a home desk-sitting lifestyle looking at a computer screen photo-editing and writing; and not walking enough. Doesn’t matter, I’m here now. A gulp of water and a few squares of choc and my attention shifts to the trellis metalwork design of the bridge’s underside. It stretches away from over me across the river towards Essex, like a giant guitar fretboard. 

 

Thoughts…

 

Hum, now, how do I want to photograph it? What’s this scene all about for me? I could simply capture an image of the bridge over the Thames on a sunny day. But that’s been done hundreds of times. And it won’t focus a viewer’s attention on the bridge’s elegant, simple design, strong lines and concrete and metal textures. Nor its grandeur as a 2 mile (3.2 km) long structure connecting two counties and facilitating journeys for over 130,000 vehicles a day.

 

Time to try something different. I want this to be all about the bridge. It’s a high contrast day, with bright highlights, deep shadows and some intense colours, particularly blue and yellow. But they’re all distractions. I don’t want the viewer’s eye to drift to the sky or the background. 

 

My plan is to mute all colours, not quite to black and white but certainly subdued. Then, enhance the already strong glare to surround the structure in a sort of haze. I’m briefly tempted to merge in the pillars, leaving only the bridge’s underside. But that would change my idea completely, to a pure abstract image. It would also remove some of the textures of the materials, as seen in the concrete base and supports. I don’t want that. I want the picture to retain the core essence of the QEII Bridge.

 

Outcome…

 

The final photograph is nothing like my regular style but it matches my idea and I like it. 

 

Nevertheless, am I right to feel uneasy about sharing the image? Doesn’t it just look odd and out of place in my portfolio? Perhaps I should keep these experimental pieces to myself. Better still, just stay within the parameters of my usual style.

 

No. No experimenting, no failures = no development, progress, or freshness. The photograph may not be an award winner but taking a step outside of the comfort zone is ultimately a step forward, maybe to future work that’s much stronger. Anyway, no one else really cares. So, forget feeling uneasy. 

 

Photograph what you like for yourself and stop worrying about what others think.

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) experimenting-with-your-photography photograph photography step-out-of-your-comfort-zone your-photography-style https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/2/time-to-feel-uneasy-and-stray-outside-of-your-photography-comfort-zone Wed, 03 Feb 2021 15:56:52 GMT
New blog format and a different approach to my photography https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/1/new-blog-format-and-a-different-approach-to-my-photography I’ll get straight to the point: I’ve decided to change the presentation of my blogs. 

 

I feel they are often, though not always, too long. And in my attempt to write in a chatty way, they labour getting to a point. Furthermore, as we start 2021, with England now under a third national lockdown to help stop the spread of Covid-19 (and similar national restrictions applying around the world), even my most ardent reader has got higher priorities than finding time to battle through my verbiage. 

 

So, from now on, while still trying to remain chatty, I’m going to keep my blogs to less than 500 words and ideally shorter than this. I will also stick to one succinct point, tip, or story and get there quicker than has hitherto been the case.

 

As before, the blogs will be accompanied by at least one relevant photograph. My intention, however, is to include two or more in some cases, in order to let the images tell more of the story.

 

I hope this fresh approach proves of interest. 

 

I know I said one succinct point but…

 

Staying with the impact of the pandemic, lockdown 3 continues to prevent me from ‘unnecessary’ travelling. As an outdoor photographer wishing to stay within the spirit as well as the letter of the law, this means I remain unable to scout scenery and find the sort of photographs I love to share. (In my previous blog, 10 December 2020, I was hopeful, even optimistic that circumstances surrounding Covid-19 might improve and that travel would finally be allowed but alas not).

 

There’s no complaint from me: Covid-19 coronavirus (especially the new strain hitting us here in Kent) is dangerous. Restrictions on our ‘freedoms’ are necessary to help save lives and (in the case of the UK) protect our National Health Service (NHS) from being overrun. 

 

This will, though, affect the type of photographs I can share on my social media channels and website. I could decide not to post any pictures at all until life returns to something like normal. Or resort to posting archived images. I don’t, though, have any interest in either option, not least because I want to keep getting out and shooting, even if only as part of my permitted daily essential exercise walk. Okay, the environment around where I live (and can reasonably walk to) isn’t grand, epic scenery. There are no spectacular vistas nearby. But I can adapt my photography to the circumstances and share alternative compositions. In so doing, I will keep my photography and my mindset positive. And who knows, seeking out alternative images might even develop my craft to a higher standard.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) blog-format blogging different-photography-circumstances outdoor-photography photograph photography photography-during-covid19 https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2021/1/new-blog-format-and-a-different-approach-to-my-photography Thu, 14 Jan 2021 11:28:04 GMT
2021. Time to get back out there. Will you be doing the same? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/12/2021-time-to-get-back-out-there-will-you-be-doing-the-same There’s much talk of vaccines. Speculation that Covid-19 coronavirus will be defeated through mass vaccinations. Hope, even expectation, that life will revert (as close as possible) to what we recall as normal. Which means that we can once more dare to imagine and maybe even begin planning a fresh start; perhaps the fresh start many of us pictured at the beginning of 2020 – the start of a new decade and all that. 

It’s no surprise that the fall-out resulting from the pandemic – health fears, travel restrictions, challenging impacts on lives and livelihoods, mental stress – has bred doubt and made us question our life’s assumptions and values. Bringing us all closer to our mortality than we’re used to day-to-day can have that effect. But now seems a good time to turn this negative into a positive: instead of letting fear and doubt hinder us, we should welcome confidence back into our lives. Start believing that what we plan to do in 2021: whether return to what we used to do or start something new, can happen and will prove valuable to us, our loved ones and others.

 

If you’re an outdoor photographer like me you’ll be looking forward to travelling again, beyond the essential journeys only boundaries set by our respective governments during the pandemic. To re-visit favourite venues and discover new possibilities, fingers-crossed in beautiful spring, summer and autumn 2021 weather. In my case, to concentrate again on photographing around south east England. I anticipate driving and walking many miles across Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

 

My 2021 photography plans, however, aren’t just about where my camera and I might wander. They’re also about what I do with the images I’m fortunate enough to capture. How do I best share the stories the south east landscape shares with me? And even more important than where, what and how, is my whyWhy resume looking for more photographs across my home region?

 

This is where confidence comes in. For me, my Why is solid. Firstly, I do what I love. Photography is my way of ‘writing’ about scenes and sharing stories through images. What I lack as a Wordsmith I make up for (a little at least) with an eye for capturing pictures. Secondly, I do it in the region of England I was brought up in and continue to live. It’s like digging for diamonds in my own back garden. While Kent doesn’t have the highest peaks and deepest valleys and lakes, the variety of outdoor photography opportunities, both inland and coastal, is in my opinion unmatched.

 

Thirdly, photography provides me with a way of engaging with others. While it’s fair to say I’m happy in my own company and enjoy photographing on my own, I’m not averse to shooting with others. Maybe during 2021 I’ll reach out even more to other fellow outdoor landscape shooters, to meet up and share locations, ideas and techniques. 

 

When it comes to sharing images, I confess that this is the most troublesome consideration for me going into the new year. While I can see the face-value attraction of social media for connecting with fellow photographers, creatives of all kinds, viewers and friends, it’s not the optimal way to share our work. Ultimately, we are all beholden to ever-changing social media platform policies, image compressions, character and word count limits and what feel like unfathomable, unhelpful algorithms. And to become a slave to feeding social media channels, for what, more Followers and Likes? Well, frankly, this has become increasingly unattractive to me. So, while I’ll continue to upload 2-3 images per week on Instagram and other channels, I’ll be diverting my positive sharing energies elsewhere.

 

I’m going to continue trying to improve my writing and upload more blogs about photography. In addition, I’m going to re-style my website portfolio and encourage viewers to see my images in a bigger, less compressed, more viewer-friendly environment. Most importantly, I’ll work on curating more photo-books, comprising short photo-stories and longer-term projects. I enjoy creating and sharing photographs in printed form. Photo-books are, in my opinion, the best way to preserve photographic stories and image collections in tangible, sharable form. They also hold viewer attention for longer and engage more of our senses. 

 

As we head into 2021 the priority for all of us must, of course, be the health and well-being of ourselves, our loved ones and our wider associations. Let’s hope and pray that the various vaccines being distributed help bring an end to the pandemic and all that followed in its wake. But alongside the vaccines, let’s not forget that to improve our well-being, we must also be positive in our outlook and intentions moving forward. 

 

For my part, I’ve decided to plan with confidence for a positive 2021, improving on what I had in mind at the beginning of this year before Covid-19 struck. To those of you who’ve valiantly read this far, I respectfully encourage you to try and do the same.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) After-Covid Countryside Kent-Countryside Kent-Landscape Landscape-Photography Landscape-South-East-England Nature Outdoor-Photography photograph Photographing-Kent-England Photographing-South-East-England Photography Photography-2021 Post-Covid19-Photography South-East-England-Countryside https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/12/2021-time-to-get-back-out-there-will-you-be-doing-the-same Thu, 10 Dec 2020 11:07:45 GMT
Have I failed if I return home from a photo-walk with nothing? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/11/have-i-failed-if-i-return-home-from-a-photo-walk-with-nothing Is it a failure on my part if, sometimes, I head out for a photo-walk and don’t produce anything from it? Have I wasted my time unless I return with at least one publishable photograph, or an idea for a new blog piece or photo-book?

 

As an outdoor photographer it might be argued that every time I step outside my house, even if only to pop to the local shops, it’s a potential opportunity to capture an image or dream up a blog-book idea. After all, I carry a camera and note app with me almost everywhere I go. In this respect my default position must surely be walk = observe, take notes and photograph.

Something of nothing?Something of nothing?

Frankly, I think it would be unreasonable to expect myself, or any photographer to function in this way 100% of the time. It’s the fast track to burnout. It does, though, trouble me when I go out on planned photography excursions and return with nothing to show for them. Have I let myself and my family down by returning home empty handed? Do you feel the same when you head out for a walk with your camera and don’t capture a single shot? Thinking about it, I’d say we shouldn’t react this way.

 

On one level, we can say that we never return home with nothing. Certainly, wherever I walk, I study the area, its pathways, views, vegetation, wildlife, sounds, also its close-up details and even its smells. (I once read that the more we walk and absorb from the path we’re on, the better photographers we’ll be. I’m not sure this applies in practice in my case but I still believe the sentiment). So, even if I don’t capture a single photograph or write down one note, I have learned things about where I’ve just been in the conditions and time that I was there. I store this information away for future reference and maybe a return visit.

 

But let’s set this easy justification aside. How can a planned photography walk which produces no photographs or related writing ideas not be considered a failure? Well, because this viewpoint pre-supposes that a walk: a photography walk, literary walk, or walk of any kind, must ultimately produce something that has some tangible, measurable value. Something that somehow contributes to our own wealth and the wealth of the nation. 

 

I embark on a walk; therefore, I must create, publish, sell, (hopefully) profit and finally pay tax? And not to do this is a protest march, so to speak, against our commercial and goal-achieving society? That cannot be right. 

 

Nevertheless, many of us are indoctrinated with this view. Why does it carry such weight? Because walking is seen by many as one of the nearest activities we can do to what this super-busy world labels as doing nothing; being lazy, un-productive, useless. Just to stretch the legs, stir the endorphins, quietly meditate: to what end other than our own gratification? Better to sit watching the television or drive our cars. At least we’re using and paying for fuel, power generation and entertainment, thereby contributing to the wealth of society. In other words, it’s better to be consuming stuff than to opt out. 

 

To say that walking has been hijacked by the values of commerce does, of course, sound preposterous. Surely, we can all step out for a walk and produce nothing other than our own thoughts on whatever we like? But there’s that word again, ‘produce’. Is it really possible to enjoy a walk coupled with unfettered mindless thought; to wander out and at an extreme think of nothing; and return home without having achieved anything at all of value? You would think so. 

 

Except, the more aware we become of the creative benefits of walking, of helping us to solve problems, answer tricky questions, calculate responses to challenges and dream up stories for our children, grandchildren and followers, the more unlikely this appears.

 

So, does this mean that as an outdoor photographer I can never go on a photography walk, or indeed any walk on which I happen to be carrying my camera and note app, without bringing back something potentially marketable? Must I always carry in the back of my mind the spectre of commerce and production efficiency? Forget going for walks for walking’s sake? For to come back empty handed is to act selfishly and fail? Absolutely not.

 

Walking benefits us physically and, if we allow it, mentally as well. Walking also provides us with a free means to escape the pressures of life, or if preferred, the demands placed upon us by the systems of a profit-oriented society. It releases us from the ties of television and our cars. Instead, we can walk and experience nature first hand, see it, feel it in our faces, with our hands and under our feet; and hear and smell it up close. To walk is also to explore and even discover new things. All of this re-vitalises us and makes us healthier, happier, more relaxed. Ultimately, walking aids our creativity and productivity. Looked at this way, no walk we undertake is tantamount to us being lazy or un-productive. And walks without photographs or usable blog-book ideas are not failures. In the end, these and every walk provide value.

 

So, if you, like me, have been putting pressure on yourself to make every photography walk pay and not be a fruitless waste of time, it’s time we stopped. From now on, let’s free ourselves from this flawed belief and, as the saying goes, start smelling the roses.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) nature outdoor-photography photograph photographer-challenge photography photography-walk photo-walk-failure https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/11/have-i-failed-if-i-return-home-from-a-photo-walk-with-nothing Thu, 26 Nov 2020 16:27:04 GMT
Why curate a small landscape photo book about Kent, England? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/11/why-curate-a-small-landscape-photo-book-about-kent-england A friend put it to me this way: “You can’t compare Kent with the Lake District or Scottish Highlands you know!” He was questioning my passion for researching and scouting the county for great landscapes and compositions.

 

We (mostly he) went onto to discuss the merits of Kent1continuing to refer to itself as ‘The garden of England’. Surely, no longer the case, what with the high rate of new house building and (so-called) development “destroying” the county’s land. Also, the fact that Kent isn’t exactly known for its majestic peaks, valleys and great lakes. Kent’s highest point is just 255 metres above sea-level. “Let’s be honest, Epic isn’t the word that springs to mind.”

 

Whatever your own opinion on the subject, my friend’s thoughts unwittingly got me thinking about what Kent truly has to offer photographers. That’s not to say they were a key driver for the book. If you’ve read my previous blog pieces about photo books, you’ll know I believe that sharing photographs in printed form is the most valuable thing photographers can do. Sharing printed photographs with viewers is much more tangible and beneficial to the viewer – drawing in their senses beyond just sight, than simply having them scroll through images fleetingly on social media. But his views certainly prompted me to evaluate what was attractive about photographing in Kent. Also, personally, what photography itself really meant to me. This debate within myself was what led me to try to distil my thoughts and related photographs inside a small, accessible photo book.

Without giving away all of the book’s contents, Kent, England A personal view comprises three elements: first and foremost a selection of photographs from across the county, north-to-south, west-to-east. Secondly, a guide on what I believe Kent has to offer visiting photographers. Thirdly, a few words about what photography truly means to me as an outdoor photographer.

 

The book’s 29 photographs show rolling landscapes, ancient woodlands, diverse coastlines and waterways, strategic county bridges and old cobbled streets, captured from sea-level up to (near) the highest point of the North Downs. 

 

Regarding what Kent offers visiting photographers, this can be summed up in one word: diversity and the book’s images illustrate this well. What Kent lacks in high mountains, deep valleys and great glens, it makes up for with beautiful rolling hills, diverse woodlands and a spectacular and varied river, sea and channel coastline. Moreover, Kent is fantastic for other genres of photography, such as architectural and maritime history. And for street shooters, Canterbury, Rochester and Kent’s coastal towns like Faversham, Margate and Broadstairs offer tremendous opportunities. 

 

As for what photography means to me, well, without getting too deep, it’s my way of recording my thoughts and interests where words prove inadequate. As you’ll have read above and in my previous blog pieces, I’m not a good writer. You may not think I’m a good photographer either and that’s fair enough. But I’m better at sharing my interpretations of scenes through my images that I am with words.

If interested, you can preview Kent, England A personal view in full on the printer’s website2

To read my other blog pieces about curating photo books, please go to the links below3.

 

1. Many Kent residents, businesses, local institutions and tourism offices.

 

2. Blurb bookstore: Kent, England A personal view. To preview my other books, go to the printer’s website at Blurb bookstore and search Stephen Reed.  

 

3. 3 Reasons why I created my first photography project book

    Photo book about the local impact of Covid-19

    The world isn’t tidy. Don’t try to make it so with your photographs

 

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) English-Landscape Kent Kent-England Kent-Landscape Landscape-Photography Outdoor-Photography Photography Reasons-for-Photography Why-Photograph-In-Kent https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/11/why-curate-a-small-landscape-photo-book-about-kent-england Fri, 13 Nov 2020 16:09:50 GMT
Has Photography All Been Done? Can Original Images Still Be Made? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/10/has-photography-all-been-done-can-original-images-still-be-made There’s a growing belief about photography, that it has all been done. Whatever genre you can think of, whatever style or technique, every perspective has been covered. What helps fuel this belief, is that almost everyone nowadays has a camera. They may only be built into mobile telephone or tablet devices but as the saying goes, the best camera available is the one we have on us.

 

Thus, whether photographing subjects into the sun or backlit, with studio lights or without, shooting reflections in windows, from behind glass, or in puddles, capturing shadows, highlights, textures, lines and angles, they’ve all been recorded within photographic frames. The scrums of paparazzi photographers shooting politicians and celebrities, or crowds of tourists all snapping famous landmarks; aren’t they all just taking the same pictures? And to take an extreme example, how about the mountain climber who scales Everest and takes a photograph from the summit. Even if this person has become part of an exclusive group of individuals, hundreds of Everest summit images have been captured before, either by other climbers, or by photographers in fly over aircraft, or by technology – drones or satellites. What’s new? Where’s the originality? 

 

There’s nothing left. All that photographers can hope to do now is regurgitate pale imitations of what’s gone before.

 

Well, I for one don’t believe that. In fact, quite the contrary. For me, originality thrives and will always be present in photography, if only because of one thing: nobody takes photographs like you do

 

Whether you’re a casual snapper or experienced professional, in the very moment you press the shutter button, while occupying the space you’re in at the moment of capture, you’re in a unique, never to be repeated set of circumstances to create an original photograph. 

 

At the same time, your uniqueness can’t be matched: no one sees the colours, the light and dark, the shapes and textures quite as you do. And no one appreciates the story in front of you as you see it, nor can anyone else grasp the moment in the scene as you interpret it.

 

Imagine yourself in one of those paparazzi scrums outside 10 Downing Street as the politician of the day steps out. Your standing space, distance from the subject, angle of view, available light, while similar to your fellow shooters, is unique to you. Now add to this your creative, even artistic, choices of how to capture your images: film or digital, colour (or black and white) settings, camera orientation (portrait or landscape), hand-held or tripod mounted, preferred exposure settings (ISO, aperture, shutter speed), focus preference (sharp or soft) and so on. Then, after you’ve captured your shots, what of your editing choices? If unrestricted, how will you ‘improve’ your shots (if you feel you need to)? What software will you use and how will you apply its tools? If shooting for a particular journal, what is its editorial policy and how will that affect your final image edit? Most importantly, how were all of these creative choices influenced by the story angle that unfolded, or which you were specifically there to capture (which may have been slightly different to the other shooters present)? Suddenly, taking photographs of the same politician as everyone else around you, from the same relative location behind the same barrier, becomes ever more unique. No shot now will be identical: every photograph will be original.

 

The same originality argument stands up if you are a landscape photographer. Take a look at the attached photograph of the cliffs along Newhaven beach in East Sussex. These cliffs have been photographed, no doubt, hundreds of times. How can I possibly claim that this is an original photograph of the scene? Well, I could argue that I captured the shot at a specific time on a specific day, which no one else could possibly have done from the spot I was standing in and this alone makes the photograph original. But for purposes of this blog I won’t do that; I’ll set those factors aside. 

What makes this photograph an original, is that while I have the same potential ability as any photographer out there, I used my limited skillset in my way to capture it. I brought my own unique vision to what I saw; my own interpretation based on the story that the landscape in front of me unveiled at the time. This photograph came from my feelings that I got from the scene, which helped me determine how best to capture what the seascape was sharing with me.

 

The cliffs are high, white and bold. They’re layered from millions of years of deposits and also scarred from sea and weather erosion. Fallen lumps of rock show evidence of on-going corrosion. Just before the foot of the cliffs, the stone beach slopes steeply towards the sea, showing how high the English Channel can rise and how fierce it can be. The beach also provides evidence of weather damage to a man-made structure. I chose a 4:5 aspect ratio for the frame to help illustrate the steep angle of the stone beach and the grandeur of the cliffs. This also helped keep the main subject, the cliffs, central to the photograph with no excess of sea to distract the viewer. Perhaps most importantly, I decided to make the image a black and white. It was a very bright, high-contrast scene and this combined with the colour range nullified the epic, historic story of the battle between the land and the elements, so clearly shown in the lines running across the cliff face, the jagged clifftop edge, and the stark contrast between the white of the cliffs highlighted by the day’s strong sun and the threatening darkness of the sea, calm for now but with tiny waves acting as a reminder that the battle will continue as winter approaches.

 

So, whether or not others have been out and shot what you’re thinking of shooting, it doesn’t matter. No one ever photographed your potential subject how you will. Moreover, no one will ever quite feel how you will about the scene when you capture your images. Which means photography hasn’t all been done and needs all of us out there to keep pushing the boundaries of originality. 

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) every-photographer-is-unique My-photographs-are-original originality-in-photography original-photography photograph photography unique-photography https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/10/has-photography-all-been-done-can-original-images-still-be-made Wed, 28 Oct 2020 15:11:40 GMT
The world isn’t tidy. Don’t try to make it so with your photographs. https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/10/the-world-isn-t-tidy-don-t-try-to-make-it-so-with-your-photographs One genre of photography I’ve never formally pursued is Street. I love Street photographs and follow many street shooters on social media. I also read about and study work of the street greats1. For me, Street demands a certain set of skills, technical and personal, particularly a patient, observant eye along with quick reactions to act and capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’. Strict Street photography also demands that you capture human stories, ideally with contextual depth and layers in the shots and not just random street action snaps. 

 

To do Street shooting requires commitment in all weather conditions and no little courage to get those iconic, insightful, timeless images. All genres of photography compel snappers to keep practising but Street most of all. You must hone and then maintain quick reactions to capture often fast unfolding situations and be able to respond intuitively. And you must be persistent but accept that luck (good and bad) will play its role. In my view, Street photography is like trying to dance on a constantly moving carpet.

 

But while all the compositional ‘rules’ (or guidelines if preferred) still hold in Street – rule of thirds, leading lines, frame-within-a-frame, symmetry and so on, it seems what Street shooting doesn’t demand is 100% technical precision. 

 

According to Garry Winogrand2:

            The world isn’t tidy. It’s a mess. I don’t try to make it neat.

 

For Winogrand, the key objective in Street is to tell human stories through images. And to capture photographs that make viewers take a moment longer to peruse them and ask questions. If this means that, with the best will in the world you don’t get a precise exposure, or you capture some (unwanted) motion blur, or a sun flare, or the framing isn’t exact, then so be it. Indeed, far from being wrong, or deemed unusable, such faults can become part of the story. After all, in the circumstances of the moment, it may be how the viewer would have witnessed the scene themselves if there in person.

 

With this in mind, I decided to re-visit my recent (so-called) Street photographs. I then went a step further. I curated and printed a photo book of Street images, called Street life in black & white3.

Book cover (front & back) At this point I make two disclosures:

 

  • I’ve never gone out to specifically do Street photography. My Street images all come from me doing Urban shoots. 

 

Urban photography, for me, means looking at architecture, structures and their lines, shapes, textures and unique constructions, also the relationship between urban landscape materials and their interplay with light and shadows. There may be some element of human presence, for example, vehicles parked or rubbish left uncleared but my Urban pictures don’t require physical human beings as part of their stories. 

 

While out capturing Urban images, however, and thereby in environments also frequented by dedicated Street photographers, where I see a Street-like human story unfolding and think I can get the shot, I’ll go for it. 

 

  • Regarding my small collection of Street photographs, by putting them in a little book I make no exaggerated claim as to their technical quality or merit as human stories. The book also doesn’t mean I’m suddenly going around boasting that I’m a Street photographer. I do, however, like the photographs and believe they capture curious human moments from street environments. Also, if you’ve read some of my previous blogs, you’ll know that I think photographs are best shared printed in some form. So why not a small book?

 

Prior to reading Winogrand’s words and then reading more widely on the subject, I was like most photographers that love the craft. I took (and continue to take) very seriously the business of capturing the best quality photographs I can. Most important is composition and trying to photograph what each scene shares with me. But closely following that, I strive to achieve the highest technical standard possible. As a predominantly landscape and woodland photographer, where I often have time on my side to pontificate over the technical niceties, this makes perfect sense. But Winogrand inspired me to look again at my Street pictures which I’d previously set aside as images I was uneasy about showing, as technically questionable. Forget my technical hang ups and really see the stories as captured. Believe in their value and publish them.

 

I don’t read Winogrand as saying I should be less committed to technical accuracy; or to employing the recognised ‘rules’ (guidelines) of photography where pictures benefit. But I do think he’s saying that whatever genre of photography I pursue, and especially Street, don’t chase technical proficiency at the expense of the story to be told. 

 

One other important take-away? If I want to develop my Street photography and tell more human stories, perhaps in time even emulate a little of the work of the greats, don’t just bolt on Street shooting to my Urban shoots. Research, plan, go out and concentrate on being a committed Street photographer.

 

  1. The word greats is subjective, of course. But in any list of so-called Street photography greats it’s likely some or all of these names will appear: Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), Fan Ho (1931-2016), Garry Winogrand (1928-1984), Vivian Maier (1926-2009), Elliott Erwitt (1928- ), Eugine Smith (1918-1978), Saul Leiter (1923-2013), William Klein (1928-), Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), Lee Friedlander (1934-), Eugene Atget (1857-1927), Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Robert Doisneau (1912-1994)
  2. Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) was an American street photographer who mostly worked in New York. Recognised for documenting American life and social issues, he was best known for capturing spontaneous pictures of people during their everyday lives, particularly in the 1960s.
  3. If interested in seeing a preview of the book, please go to the printer’s website beginning November 2020, at https://www.blurb.co.uk and search Stephen Reed.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Black-and-white-photography Garry-Winogrand Human-stories Human-story-photographs Outdoor-Photography Photograph Photography Street-life-in-black-and-white Street-photography Urban-photography https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/10/the-world-isn-t-tidy-don-t-try-to-make-it-so-with-your-photographs Thu, 08 Oct 2020 10:43:32 GMT
Time to get going again. Re-ignite our motivation. https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/9/time-to-get-going-again-re-ignite-our-motivation To be honest, my enthusiasm for photography has waned in recent weeks. Not de-railed and in pieces but certainly sitting in the sidings. 

Covid-19 has had a big impact. Like the majority of us, I’ve respected government guidelines and restrictions in an attempt to help fight the spread of the virus. This has limited my ability and indeed desire, to travel around South East England to scout locations and find new compositions. 

Now, though1, travel restrictions have been lifted and our freedom to move around in a respectful, responsible way has returned. This means our depleted get-up-and-go batteries should be re-charged. Right?

Except, that mine’s not re-charging. Lack of motivation prevails and I can’t keep pointing an accusatory finger at the pandemic. Time to identify what’s preventing my interest from returning and in particular, what action I need to take to re-ignite the fire.

Enthusiasm; feeling motivated, are tricky concepts to pin down. Before the virus struck I can’t recall worrying about being motivated to go out and photograph outdoor scenes. Even during the height of the pandemic, I carried a camera. Indeed, doing so enabled me to capture local photographs while out on permitted daily exercise walks, which I then curated into a photo book ‘COVID-19 Living on my estate A Visual Record’2. Yet now, while I am still photographing locally, I continue to feel uninspired. The spark that I hoped would restore my pre-Covid photography mindset remains elusive.

What makes it worse is that, as an outdoor photographer, I’ve got even less of an excuse to get back out there. Doing landscape, woodland, seascape and my kind of urban photography, does not involve other people. Outdoor photography is often-times a lonesome business. Unlike portrait and fashion photographers who work with clients and models, or ‘Street’ shooters who desire people in their images, I don’t need other humans around. 

So, what’s the solution? Well, part of the answer lies in appreciating two competing notions: the feeling of not being motivated to do something, of not having the enthusiasm to research, plan and execute an idea; and the memories of doing similar activities in pre-Covid times when motivation wasn’t an issue and (nearly always) never regretting them. 

For example, my least favourite time to shoot is sunset and into the blue hour. Let’s just say, this time of day and I never really got along. Yet, once I’m on my way and I get set up in my planned location ready to capture the light that I hope will unfold, I never regret being there. Even if my hoped-for conditions don’t materialise, there’s no regret. The pleasure of being out ready to photograph, enjoying the location, and noting things for a probable return visit is what really matters. While there, I often think, “Why don’t you get out at this time more often?”

How does this help me get back into my outdoor photography swing? What’s stifling my motivation? The answer is that I’ve let my feelings dictate my actions, not my actions dictate my feelings. 

What I’ve just referred to as my ‘swing’ comprised a series of regular, uninhibited actions all geared towards capturing outdoor photographs from around South East England. By doing these actions, they fuelled my motivation to keep trying to capture new images. The actions led the way and thereby controlled the feelings that followed. During Covid I, unknowingly, allowed this equation to get switched.

It’s a difficult thing to try and control our feelings. Much easier, I think, to control our physical activities, the tasks that we do. The best bit about this is that positive action begets more motivation. And more motivation leads to more positive action. 

Red Sunset Layered SkyRed Sunset Layered SkyThis is a view from just outside Jeskyns Community Woodland, near Cobham, Kent, looking towards Dartford and beyond up to London.

It was as vivid a sunset as I've seen anywhere in the UK.

Which means, I need to start with an action, even just a small one and this will bring about a small feeling of motivation. The feeling will prompt another larger action, leading to another, enhanced feeling of motivation. And this will prompt another still larger action and so on, ultimately leading me back to my pre-Covid swing and a new wave of enthusiasm.

What does this mean in practise? Well, I’m going to slowly re-build my number of shoots per week from the current casual, to one, then two per week. I’ll also gradually increase my travel distances, progressively vary my shooting times, from morning blue hour through to night time and step by step return to my swing. And then, maybe even enhance it.  

If you’ve read this far (thank you for your patience), perhaps because you’ve also fallen into a similar de-motivated malaise in your work, creative, or personal life, why not try it yourself? Start with a small action. Take some small comfort, enthusiasm and motivation from it and use this nudge in momentum to move onto the next slightly bigger action.

Whether in your photography or other aspects of your life, make the switch now. Get your positive actions to dictate your feelings, not the other way around.

 

1. At the time of writing 8 September 2020

2. Preview at: https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/10224469-covid-19-living-on-my-estate-a-visual-record

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Actions-Dictate-Feelings Creative Don't-Let-Feelings-Dictate-Your-Actions Enthusiasm Find-Your-Motivation Motivation Outdoor-Photography Photography https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/9/time-to-get-going-again-re-ignite-our-motivation Tue, 08 Sep 2020 14:08:12 GMT
Look closely, is this photograph Of something or About something? Why should you care? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/8/look-closely-is-this-photograph-of-something-or-about-something-why-should-you-care Before reading any further, please take a closer look at the attached photograph and consider what you’re viewing.

“Appears straightforward”, you might say, “a summer landscape scene. A quintessentially small, historic, English village nestled deep in the countryside1, surrounded by rolling orchard fields.” 

Fair enough. Regardless whether you like the image or not, you’re clear about what it is: a photograph of something, in this instance a place. Right?

Have another look. And when you do, keep this in mind: the photograph isn’t of something (a place), it’s about something. What do you think it’s about? I’ll return to that in a short while.

My real interest here, is whether viewers of landscape photographs automatically assume they are of something. That their default position is to consider the pictures as only records, future historic documentary evidence depicting how a scene once appeared (in this case in July 2020). Moreover, that this default position is exacerbated by our present rapid-information, quick-reaction, social-media swipe-through world, where the vast majority of images may only be glanced at for 1 - 2 seconds at most. Where the desire to stand in front of a printed photograph, say, at a studio, gallery, museum or elsewhere has evaporated. And taking time to determine what the creator is sharing with you, the viewer, has been expunged by electronic viewing convenience, rapid-consumption and the feeling of not ‘wasting’ time.

If you go to this photograph on my Instagram feed @stephen-r-photo, how many of the 118 ‘Likes’2 were from kind viewers who just quickly saw a landscape picture that they thought looked okay and pressed the heart symbol? As opposed to, say, Instagrammers who took their time over the image, travelled through it to arrive at a considered opinion about what the image shared with them, maybe also a view on why it was captured; and why I uploaded it. Finally, whether it withstood a level of technical and aesthetic scrutiny beyond a simple flick-through glance. Of course, I’ll never know. Very few viewers comment about photographs in the ‘Comments’ section provided, unless it’s to use one or a combination of emojis. Most think it sufficient to simply ‘Like’ or not and move on.

You might reasonably argue that if I want viewers to spend more time in front of this (or any of my photographs) and thereby perhaps ‘see’ more in it, realise for themselves that it’s not simply an image of something but about something, then I should share it on more appropriately ‘arty’ platforms. That even though Instagram is the premier photography showing and sharing app, we all know viewer attention span is limited. Better then, to show the image elsewhere. Except that, the same question remains. Even if shown as a large wall print, for example, would viewers still see it as a photograph of a place?

The best counter I’ve heard to this concern of mine, courtesy of a non-photographer friend, is simple; though not easy. It’s for me to not care.

So, I either:

  • 1. Leave it 100% up to the viewer to decide, super-rapidly or by taking their time, their choice. Decide for themselves what the photograph is of, or about, also why it was taken, why I thought it worth sharing, whether it has merit technically, creatively and so on, or
  • 2. Stuff not caring and give the viewer what I think is relevant information. This may be anything from just a title, to a complete accompanying text.

You may think me sad but I choose option 2. 

I don’t like leaving to chance the possibility of viewers mis-interpreting my photographs; thinking I was trying to convey something unintended. Having said that, I do want viewers to arrive at their own, honest, view of my photographs, even if I don’t like it. Ultimately, genuine views of this kind presented courteously but frankly, are the best way for creators like me to improve. 

What does this mean? It means that I’ll nearly always show my photographs along with either a clear title, or as brief a description as possible about the image. By providing these guides, they (hopefully) dispel any potential misunderstandings, leaving the viewer to concentrate on the more critical questions for themselves.

Returning to the attached photograph, what title or brief description did I give it? Well, those readers who checked the image on Instagram earlier will already know:

Unplanted Orchards all around Luddesdown. Hopefully just careful management and resting the land.3

Looked at this way, the photograph is much more about the land, the challenges of farming and countryside management in 2020, and about rural economics, than of an English village in rolling green hills. As such, I like to think it offers greater value.

Maybe when you next view a landscape photograph, super-quickly or otherwise, try and remember to take a moment longer to consider what its about. By moving beyond of, you may well discover a deeper story and a stronger connection with what you see.

 

  1. It’s actually Luddesdown, North Kent.
  2. At the time of writing, mid-August 2020.
  3. For those interested, while walking around the village and orchards, I spoke to some locals. They told me they’d ‘heard’ that the orchards were being left fallow this summer, not to rest the land and manage the fields but because local farmers couldn’t, now, what with Brexit, get enough (predominantly east) European labour to help plant, maintain and harvest the orchards. There was no way I could corroborate that view, so didn’t type it in the photograph’s accompanying text. I preferred to suggest the more positive view. But I suspect it crossed some viewers’ minds. 

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Countryside English-Countryside Kent Kent-Countryside Landscape-Photography Nature Of-or-About Outdoor-Photography Photograph Photography What-do-you-see https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/8/look-closely-is-this-photograph-of-something-or-about-something-why-should-you-care Tue, 18 Aug 2020 11:46:08 GMT
Photo book about the local impact of Covid-19 https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/8/photo-book-about-the-local-impact-of-covid-19 In a previous blog piece in June, I said that I’d confirm when my first book Dartford Town 2020 A Visual Record became available for sale. Strictly speaking, it can now be purchased directly from the printer1. But at the moment I’m not promoting its availability. Instead, I want to bring to your attention my second book which I also mentioned in that blog. This book is, right now, more relevant to the current times in which we live and may therefore be of more immediate interest.

The second book is called COVID-19 Living on my estate A Visual Record. You can preview the book here2. This is a brief synopsis:

It's early-April 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has swept around the world, including onto my estateIt's a frightening time. People are anxious and stressed, fearful for their families and livelihoods. But like many worrying times, some good also emerges. COVID-19 Living on my estate is a collection of photographs and thoughts about this time on Fleet Estate, though they reflect what was probably happening on any estate, anywhere.

ALL profit from the sale of this book in 2020 will go to Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, which manages my local Darent Valley Hospital.

 

COVID-19 is not simply a personal account with no significance to people living elsewhere. In fact, I’d say the opposite is true. While all of the photographs are from my local area, similar scenes appeared across the country and indeed (as we’ve all witnessed on television and online) around the world. Also, while the words in the book come from talking to people living on my estate, they, like me, have family and friends living all over the UK and abroad. Their stories and experiences were, and still are, similar to ours. Consequently, this book shares a worldwide event, just in the form of a local snapshot.

The reason I compiled COVID-19 was because I couldn’t ignore a global pandemic that found its way onto a regular estate like mine. Surely, these events happened elsewhere; never where we live. Also, my feelings towards the virus were heightened by the fact that two members of my family were hospitalized by it, one having to be intubated. 

I appreciate that you might think this short blog is less a story or thoughts about photography and more about plugging a book. To an extent you’d be right. Except that, the book is a book of photographs. Okay, not artistic images but nevertheless photographs that help capture a historic event and, along with some words, share the mood of the time. In this sense, the blog is about photography and how it can contribute in some small way to our collective body of knowledge. Also, while I agree it is a plug of a sort, I will not earn anything from the sale of this book in 2020. All profits are going to my local NHS Trust and so I make no apology.

If you are a regular reader of my blog pieces, I really appreciate that and thank you very much. I especially thank you for your patience with this blog piece. Please rest assured, ‘normal’ non-promotional blogs will resume soon.

  1. https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/10139738-dartford-town-2020-a-visual-record
  2. Anyone reading this that lives on or close to Fleet Estate and who may be interested in purchasing the book, please first contact me directly at stephenreed21@googlemail.com
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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) book covid-19 event global historic history impact local photo photography record urban https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/8/photo-book-about-the-local-impact-of-covid-19 Tue, 04 Aug 2020 10:24:45 GMT
Hard Day's Photography Down by the Thames https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/7/hard-days-photography-down-by-the-thames The Covid-19 ‘lockdown’ guidelines have been eased in the UK, though the majority of people remain wary.  Genuine fear of a second spike lingers. With this in mind, I remain cautious about venturing too far from home for my outdoor photography.

 

One of the consequences of this decision is that, if I want to capture coastal photographs, the nearest major waterside option I have to my home is the North Kent side of the River Thames. In practise, this runs from the Dartford River Crossing along to as far as Gravesend, maybe at a push Rochester.

 

Between Dartford and Gravesend is the Town Council area of Swanscombe and Greenhithe. Here, thousands of new homes have been built along the shoreline but just beyond the furthest of these dwellings is Swanscombe Marsh (also known as Botany Marsh).

I’ll be honest, the area looks and feels more like an abandoned scrubland than a wildlife, nature lovers and dog-walkers sanctuary, though a small part of it is a ‘Nature Reserve’ overseen by the Kent Wildlife Trust. The views are flat and industrial, especially across the Thames towards the Essex side. And when no ships pass, the river itself is as dull as dishwater. Looking inland for views is, on the face of it, no better. There’s just high reeds and haphazard water pools and channels. Beyond this is an old chalk pit facia and a skyline of the top half of several wind turbines and more local industry.

 

In this seemingly uninspiring landscape, however, a few treasures can be found. Okay, no grand vistas or beautiful landscape (riverscape) scenes here, not for me anyway. (Some will, of course, disagree, especially if you like industrial outlooks maybe photographed during golden hour). But for the photographer prepared to do some pre-visit research and then arrive willing to look closer, Swanscombe Marsh offers a few surprises. If your particular photographic interest is riverside and marshland birdlife, flora, fauna and fungi, then this place is certainly for you. The habitat supports many local and migrating species. If not, then I’d say it’s still worth visiting, if only to see something you literally can’t miss.

The most obvious non-natural, man-made sight to discover on the marsh is a 190m (623ft) high pylon. It’s twin can be seen across the Thames in West Thurrock and together they provide a cable span of 1372m (4501ft). Okay, pylons may not be the most attractive structures to photograph but these ones are claimed to be the highest electricity pylons in the UK and the second highest in Europe. They’re also popular with BASE Jumpers, though sadly one was killed in 2006 when his chute failed to open.

 

Sticking with something different and pylons, if you then look closely at the marshland and across the top of the high, swaying reeds, you might find yourself doing a double take. Hiding in the tall vegetation, or perhaps being swallowed up by it, are the upper parts of two rusting towers. They are pylons that formed part of a ropeway that connected part of the Blue Circle Cement Works to its wharf on the Thames. The Swanscombe Works (as known) was the longest operating cement works in Britain, manufacturing Portland cement from 1845 to 1990. The works started to go into decline after the chalk quarries (reference the chalk cliff mentioned earlier) were exhausted in 1982. Rather than dismantle the metalwork and clean up the area, the business simply abandoned them. It makes me wonder what else was left uncleared back then, presumably relying on the environment to absorb the mess. The marshland clearly demonstrates how, if we abandon anything to nature, nature will ultimately claim it for itself.


Full disclosure, as I reflect on my visit to Swanscombe Marsh, I have to say it’s not my kind of place for photography. Yes, it’s outdoors and it’s alongside the Thames. It also has a worthy history and even now is a valuable area for nature, recreation, as well as regional power supply. What’s not to like for a so-called Outdoor Photographer? It’s hard to say. I suppose it’s the fact that it looks and feels like what it currently is, a tatty dumping place. By which I mean an area where a vast amount of building rubble has been dumped and which walkers still have to navigate and tread over with caution. A place where old abandoned roads and factories remain visible. And mostly a landscape where nature, while doing it’s best, has not yet been able to fully mask it and make the place wholly its own. There are, at present, no landscape scenes here which draw me in and challenge me to try and capture its beauty. Perhaps this will change as nature continues its work over the coming decades and maybe also gets help from environmental, wildlife or other greenspace and river protection groups. I hope so. But for now, I’ll seek my type of outdoor photographs elsewhere, leaving Swanscombe Marsh to photographers more understanding and far more talented at capturing such environments than me.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Botany-Marsh Kent Kent-Wildlife-Trust Landscape-Photography Marsh Marshland Nature Nature-Reserve North-Kent-Coast Outdoor-Photography Photograph Photography Pylons Reeds River Riverside-Photography River-Thames Swanscombe-and-Greenhithe Swanscombe-Marsh https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/7/hard-days-photography-down-by-the-thames Mon, 20 Jul 2020 14:12:55 GMT
Can this photograph be both a landscape image and one showing a human story? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/6/can-this-photograph-be-both-a-landscape-image-and-one-showing-a-human-story When does a ‘landscape’ photograph suddenly become a kind of reportage image? By which I mean a documentary photograph that tells an altogether different human story.

Here’s a photograph taken alongside the River Darent, near Farningham, Kent. I captured the image from underneath a road tunnel. Although a busy-ish road overhead, it was a quiet place. All I could hear while setting up my shot was the ripple of the flowing water and an occasional heavy vehicle above. I saw the scene and decided to take a framed (by the arch of the tunnel) view of the river, the footpath and the woodland beyond. 

 

Looking at the picture, there’s some intriguing interplay and transitions between light and dark. There are also lovely reflections in the water and specular highlights, particularly where the water movement flickers on the curved tunnel wall. Even the colours of the graffiti either side, for me, enhance the overall scene as an intriguing rural ‘landscape’, a place enjoyed over decades by walkers and, yes, ‘graffiti-ists’ alike. 

 

Except, as a viewer you might argue that it’s not really a ‘landscape’ image at all. Graffiti on the walls and the footbridge and what looks like a rough-sleeper’s bed and possessions box, transforms the scene into something more sinister. Less an idyllic rural escape; more an edge-of-town, edge-of-life place that the local police and social services might want to keep an eye on.

 

While I concede the graffiti makes the image less idyllic landscape and perhaps more semi-rural (with a nearby thriving youth culture), it doesn’t, of itself, undermine the ‘landscape’ story. It’s still a countryside scene, albeit with an edge, where the viewer can continue to imagine a lovely walk along a river bank, sheltered from the glare and heat of the sun by overhanging, cooling trees, while enjoying the sounds of a gentle breeze rustling through the leaves and the flow of the water along the river bed. It remains a scene of somewhere mindful, where a walker might enjoy nature and some much needed Me Time

 

What, I concede, does really change the photograph to a reportage-type image, is the inclusion of the stowed bedding raised slightly off the ground, along with a storage box. Even including these objects tucked away quietly bottom left of the frame, transforms what the photograph is about. Now, the bed gives a heightened value to the darkness in the scene over the light and to the graffiti on the walls over the river, country path and woodlands. It has become a picture about the darker side of life, of human difficulties, a hand-to-mouth existence, a daily struggle for survival and sheltering from the elements; a vulnerable existence full of peril.

 

When considering this location for a photograph, I saw a few compositions that excluded the bedding and box. I could have captured a pure landscape scene, or otherwise edited out the items in the picture and as a viewer you wouldn’t have been any the wiser (unless you were a local who had seen the objects for yourself). 

 

So, why include the bedding and box, knowing that this would transform what the photograph was about and how it would be viewed? Well, after considering the image over a few days, I decided there was no reason why I couldn’t combine two seemingly unrelated genres. Why not share what looks like a challenging human story, in a place where other more fortunate people go to relax and enjoy a break from challenges? And after all, my assumptions here might be wrong. There may be a different story here. Perhaps the bedding didn’t belong to a victim of life but someone whose positive life choice was to live outdoors. In which case, why can’t our Outdoor Lifer enjoy a night’s rest in a lovely woodland, under a solid shelter, with a gently flowing river for company?

 

With this latter story in mind, romantically I considered calling this photograph ‘Wherever I lay my hat’. Less romantically, however, and going back to my assumed story, I then thought about calling it ‘Rough Country’. In the end, I didn’t give it a title. I just decided to share the image and let viewers make up their own minds. But either way, I think this shows there’s a legitimate place for combining genres and for ‘Landscape Reportage’ photographs.

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Countryside English-Countryside Farningham Kent Human Story Photograph Landscape-Photography Nature Photograph Photography Reportage-Type Photograph River Darent Riverscape Woodland-Photography https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/6/can-this-photograph-be-both-a-landscape-image-and-one-showing-a-human-story Tue, 30 Jun 2020 14:01:11 GMT
3 Reasons why I created my first photography project book https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/6/3-reasons-why-i-created-my-first-photography-project-book Attached are a few pictures of my new photography project book. No, this is not a shameless plug before anyone complains. While the book will become available for sale1, as you can see from the title the potential market is limited. 

“Then why are you showing them to us?” you might ask. Well, I want to tell you why I decided to start creating long form visual narratives and publishing them in book form.  

For me it’s about three things: 

1. the relationship between photographs and the senses

2. creating something tangible with photography other than just prints, and 

3. looking deeper into subjects and sharing a record, comment, or story about them, compiled over time and integrating words with multiple images.

Reasons 1. and 2. are straightforward. Most of the photographs I consider good enough to share with other people are overwhelmingly published in electronic form. They appear on my social media channels and, if arguably slightly better than ‘good’, also on my website. I print relatively few images at home, mainly because while I have a photographic printer, it’s not a professional standard machine. Consequently, I use this just to produce ‘rough copies’ for me to inspect (as closely as the print quality will allow) before dealing with a professional printing company. The images printed by professional companies are then strictly-to-order only, either for customers or (in a few cases) for me. This limited approach to sharing images has come to feel unsatisfactory.

Photographs are not just online, monitor-based visual stimuli. To view a physical photograph, even better hold it while viewing it, is to arouse other senses. The feel of good quality, textured, photographic paper gives photographs a tangible reality. They become authentic things representing real subjects – places, people, animals, occurrences - and stories. The sound of the paper in our possession brings them to life, whether a single image or a number of images in a photographic book. And the smell of the printed work, especially books, draws the holder in further. The more of the senses a photograph stimulates the greater the time someone spends with it, interpreting it’s content, story, meaning and ultimately, it’s value to them as the viewer.

Regarding tangibility, to be frank, this is a more personal reason. In short, I’m afraid that when I stop making images for whatever reason, old age or otherwise, all I’ll have to show for my photography passion are electronic images on my website and social media. And once I’ve passed away and these slide into the ether they’ll be gone too. I can, of course, print more individual images for myself. Or store them on external drives and give them to family to preserve. But for me this feels like only a superficial commitment to the work. Gathering collections of photographs, whether organised in boxes or albums, or just stored loosely in a drawer, seems casual at best. 

Which is where reason 3. comes in. I began to think that I needed to do more than just capture and share individual outdoor scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m committed to continue making singular images and love photographing scenes that tell a story or call out to be documented and shared. This is especially necessary in South East England, where the pace and scale of environmental ‘development’ is so rapid. But as my book illustrates, one or two reference pictures only of my local town wouldn’t be enough to preserve a reasonable historic record, especially at a time when much of Dartford may be subject to ‘re-generation’ over the next decade.

You may say, “That all sounds very laudable but these sorts of books tend to be niche publications and only of interest to a handful of people. Why bother?”

It’s true, this book (and indeed the one I’m working on at present) interrupted my established, relatively efficient photography work flow. And such books are, at times, difficult to work on. Compared to producing single photographs with an accompanying short sentence and maybe some key words, long form photographic projects are like writing novels. Before you capture one image a worthy subject must be imagined and thought through – by which I mean conceived, set aside, re-visited, set aside again, re-visited again and then refined some more. Then it must be researched, a narrative tentatively structured and planned on paper and then the compilation and editing work determined. All of this just to see if the subject justifies the effort.

Yet, long form photography books are much more important than just a collation of related photographs. They’re a way of creating something scripted, curated, real and physical and a means by which I believe I can contribute, in some small but tangible way to our collective body of records, documents, thoughts, stories and maybe even knowledge. 

As valuable to me as my individual photographs are, even those only viewable online, these books are so much more. They feel less fleeting and more essential. Okay, they won’t change the world. And certainly, my first book (probably also my second) is unlikely to be of immediate interest. More likely its worth will (hopefully) emerge in 25 years or more. But here’s the key: I love the idea that these tangible collections of words and images can go beyond a single photograph and capture much more of the essence of a subject within their pages. And thereby preserve more of a moment or story in time.

You may not consider my reasons valid and that’s fair enough. You may also believe long form visual narrative books offer little or no value to potential viewers. Again, fair enough, though I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on why in the comments below. But one thing I’m sure we can all agree upon, given our mutual love of photography, is that anyone trying to pursue a creative passion must be encouraged to share their work in whatever way they think is best for them.

  1. Should you be interested in Dartford Town 2020 A Visual Record when it becomes available for purchase, the ISBN number will be 9781714966677. The book printer is Blurb at https://www.blurb.com/photo-books. I'll advise more about publication in my social media in the next few weeks. 

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) dartford-photography-book dartford-town-2020-a-visual-record long-form-visual-narratives photograph photographs-and-our-senses photographs-in-print photography photography-book photography-project-book photography-project-book-essence-of-a-subject photography-projects https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/6/3-reasons-why-i-created-my-first-photography-project-book Mon, 15 Jun 2020 10:17:03 GMT
Fun Photography Challenge For All - Just Walk 1,000 Steps https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/5/fun-photography-challenge-for-all---just-walk-1-000-steps Whatever camera you use and whatever type of photographs you normally take, I urge you to try this fun task. Maybe include it as part of your social-distancing daily exercise walk. Take the 1,000 Step Photograph Challenge.

Not my idea; I took up the challenge myself after watching a YouTube video by Thomas Heaton1, a superb landscape photographer based in North East England. He, in turn, was given the challenge by a Norwegian photographer, Oddbjørn Austevik2.

The challenge rules are these:

  1. Using a pedometer, phone App, or personal count, take 1,000 steps only and stop. That is your photography spot
  2. You then have 3 minutes to take your photograph
  3. You can only take one exposure. No taking several images and deciding which one’s best
  4. You have a 1 metre radius around your photographic spot, where you can move around your tripod if you choose to set one up, or otherwise shuffle your feet to adjust your photographic position or angle
  5. You can take your photograph at any time of the day, and 
  6. You can use any photographic equipment you wish, for example, filters or a flash. But no drone photography.

I did two walks, each time counting 1,000 steps from the first pace outside my front door to step 1,000. I took up the challenge twice because my estate has two main roads in and out and I didn’t want to choose one route over the other.

Route one took me towards a more urban environment. After walking through my estate to the exit, there’s a path alongside a dual-carriageway section to a major roundabout. This ‘Interchange’ sits over the A282, which is the road to and from the Dartford River Crossing and Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, linking Kent with Essex. Unless you’re into traffic photography, there are no opportunities for images here. Nor immediately across the roundabout, where there’s a large petrol station, a fast-food drive-through and more housing.

Luckily, there’s a pedestrian footbridge over a main junction in this direction, providing an over-street viewpoint. I admit to slightly manipulating my route to achieve 1,000 steps at the photographic position. I ‘scouted’ around the area under the footbridge and then, before walking up the steps to the top, stopped and counted them first. This was to ensure I hadn’t mis-calculated somewhere along the way before walking up to the footbridge’s highest point. I like to think this minor tweaking of my route didn’t infringe the spirit of the rules.

If only my photograph was as good as my counting. I thought I was being clever, biding my time for an interesting scene to unfold. But with just seconds to go I had to take what I could get. As you can see, route one’s photo (straight out of camera, unedited jpeg) turned out to be a dud.

I tried route two the following day. The walk through my estate in this direction leads to a slightly more rural landscape. Once across the pedestrian crossing, straight ahead is some open land. Here I had two options: left-diagonal down and across the field to a view of the River Thames and the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge; or remain on a straight(ish) line to the entrance of the local hospital, Darent Valley (DVH). I paused in the middle of the field and questioned whether I really wanted to walk across the front of DVH, especially during our current challenging times. After all, I wasn’t a photojournalist looking for a story shot; this was just supposed to be a fun challenge. Today, photographing outside the entrance of DVH just felt inappropriate3. So, I chose left-diagonal down and across to a view of the Thames and bridge.

For this shot, I was determined not to try and act clever. I would simply take the appropriate amount of time, within the 3 minutes rule, to survey the scene. I’d identify as good a composition as the 1,000-step spot gave me at the time of shooting, decide upon and set up my preferred exposure, then capture the image.

Success: photograph taken as planned. Which means that, regarding route two’s picture, I’ve got no excuse whatsoever. No extenuating circumstances, no hoped-for action that didn’t happen, just an even more dud (straight out of camera, unedited jpeg) picture.

But no matter. Despite two…let’s call them uninspiring photographs that I managed to bungle, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed doing the 1,000 Step Photograph Challenge and will certainly be doing it again in the near future. 

And if you’re anything like me and get as much joy from the process of capturing images as seeing the final printed, published or social-media shared results, do give this challenge a go yourself. If for no other reason than to bring even more fun into your photography. And why not also share your photographs – if you dare.

 

  1. Thomas Heaton’s video link https://youtu.be/d2Xc7StToxM. Also, his Instagram link https://www.instagram.com/heatonthomas/
  2. Oddbjørn Austevik’s YouTube channel link. And his Instagram link https://www.instagram.com/oddbjornaustevikfoto/
  3. Though, I did do this on another occasion for a more serious photographic project, which I’ll share with readers at a later date.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) 1000-Step-Photography-Challenge 1000-Steps Get-Out-And-Take-Photographs Landscape-Photography Outdoor-Photography Photograph Photography Photography-Challenge Photography-Fun Photography-Walk Street-Photography Urban-Photography https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/5/fun-photography-challenge-for-all---just-walk-1-000-steps Tue, 26 May 2020 12:58:00 GMT
What on earth was I thinking? This isn't reality. https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/5/what-on-earth-was-i-thinking-this-isnt-reality Have you ever pictured something in your mind that you think is a great idea but which you know can’t, of itself, have a physical existence? Put another way, have you ever imagined an image of something that isn’t literal, where the subject is secondary to what you’re seeing?

 

Take a look at the attached photograph. What do you think you’re looking at? Can you identify a subject and thereby know what it’s an image of? Or do you see something else, not an object, more a concept?

The truth is, although I had a specific idea in mind when I captured this image, which I’ll tell you about in a moment, the photograph is exactly what you, the viewer, makes of it. It’s deliberately mysterious and asks you if there’s more to it than initially meets your eye.

 

Abstract photography is risky for a photographer. It allows great freedom to imagine and create a vision. Rules? There aren’t any, in my view. But if beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, then each beholder is likely to have their own interpretation of what they’re looking at, making the image potentially unidentifiable, or worse, an object of ridicule as nothing more than a fuzzy mess.

 

So, what constitutes abstract photography? It’s hard to define. Other names include conceptual, experimental, or non-objective photography. Abstract photographs are most often crafted by particular uses of a camera, or the camera in association with other materials and-or post-editing techniques. The start point of any abstract image is for the picture not to have a connection with a clear subject but maybe just a fragment of a scene, where the fragment is isolated from any related context.

 

Any item can be used as a basis for abstract photography. This is because the item itself is not a subject being photographed. Also, while not a ‘rule’, much abstract photography focuses on three main elements: form, colour and texture. Form is the shape or shapes, line(s), geometry and-or symmetry of the scene fragment. This is generally the main substance of the image. Colour is what draws the viewer in further and (hopefully) keeps them observing for longer. Colours also provide depth and vibrance to the overall photograph. Texture provides intrigue, especially when there are contrasting textures and they appear touchable. Many abstract photographers prioritise textures to heighten image mystery and wonder. All three elements together combine to bend and distort what are otherwise familiar real-world objects.

 

Does abstract photography share any similarities with ‘regular’ photography? Well, as in all photography, an abstract image should engage viewers on an emotional level. In my view, abstract images must provide an element of mystery, intrigue and perhaps even provoke a mood. Also, however abstract the photographs are, they should be engaging. Thus, even if viewers are unsure about the actual subject matter, they never the less appreciate the form, colours and textures in the images. And mostly, the images must stimulate the viewer’s sense of wonder.

 

Regarding the attached photograph, I was interested in whether I could capture an image of falling light, or at least light hanging down. This required me to focus in on a real-world object and, using a slow shutter speed, move the camera downwards during exposure. The object used was a tree in a woodland in Cobham, Kent. The effect, for me at least, is that light is falling through the branches and leaves and then hanging, rather like bright, translucent strings of spaghetti, thereby showing itself, for a fleeting moment, in physical form.

 

You, of course, may not see my vision at all but something completely different. The beauty of this type of image is that whatever you genuinely see yourself in the image, is 100% fine. There is no right or wrong, just your interpretation. (I’d be very interested to know what you initially observed (if anything). Please let me know in the comments below).

 

Abstract photography is a way in which photographers can take viewers outside of realism. Although I don’t do much abstract photography, I’m interested in the notion that not all photography has to literally represent – document, interpret, reflect the real world.  As the philosopher Walter Benjamin stated as far back as 1931 in his Little History of Photography ‘It is another nature which speaks to the camera rather than to the eye.’

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Abstract Abstract-Photography Cobham-Kent Cobham-Woods-Kent Conceptual-Photography Concept-versus-Subject Experimental-photography Falling-Light Form-Colour-Texture Light-Hanging-From-Tree More-to-it-than-meets-the-eye Non-Objective-Photography No-rules-photography Outdoor-Photography Photograph Photography Subject-fragment https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/5/what-on-earth-was-i-thinking-this-isnt-reality Fri, 08 May 2020 12:08:40 GMT
Is Photography a foreign language everyone thinks they can speak? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/4/is-photography-a-foreign-language-everyone-thinks-they-can-speak The next time you look at a photograph, or capture one yourself and review it, think about this comment by American photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia1:

 

Photography is a foreign language everyone thinks he speaks

 

What do you think he meant by this? Is he being a photography snob? Is he baulking against the idea that, since the introduction of the Kodak Brownie (1900) through to, now, when most people in the world have mobile phones with cameras fitted, that everyone believes they’re a photographer? That they all understand what photography is and the meaning of any picture is obvious? 

 

Or, is he trying to help us, get us to look harder, think more clearly about what we’re viewing or capturing, and develop our understanding of this visual art form? Maybe he agrees with the words of Lisette Model2 that I quoted in an earlier blog What Key Elements Must exist in any Photograph, for it to be considered Great?:

 

Photography is the easiest of arts but that, perhaps, this is what makes it the hardest.

 

Take a closer look either at the attached photograph, or one of your preference. What do you see? Just a two-dimensional representation of a scene, people, portrait, ornament, animal, plant, tool, or whatever? Or do you see something else? What about the time of day the picture was taken? What about the place in which it was captured? And the perspective chosen? Also, is there an element of the photographer in what you’re looking at, their style, interpretation, visual voice?

My TimeMy Time

Considerations don’t end there. You may fully appreciate what’s in the frame but what are the implications for what was left out of the frame? By framing the photograph in the way that you see it, has this changed the meaning of what this photograph is about? Is it, in fact, a mis-leading representation of what it purports to represent? 

 

If we accept the subject within the frame is what it is, another set of thoughts arise. What was occurring before the photograph was captured? And what happened after? Would you like to know, in order to further inform your interpretation?

 

Arguably, the most interesting element to consider when you’re looking at the photograph, is you, the viewer. What do you bring to the interpretation of the picture? Does your personal historical, cultural, or educational background impact on the way you view all photographs? And have you allowed your self to skew your thoughts about the image you’re looking at now?

 

Finally, when it comes to the act of capturing photographs, what do you believe a camera knows about how to take a good picture? Does your camera have a say in your pictures? The truth is, whatever camera you use, or have ever used, they know nothing at all about picture taking. A camera is just a tool. The photograph you are looking at was made by a human. Which means that you are interpreting another human’s work.

 

It’s easy for all of us to take pictures. We might even capture what we consider to be good ones worthy of sharing with others on social media. But before you post them out there, have a think about what, precisely, you’re sharing. What are your images saying? How do you think people, from various backgrounds, will interpret your images? Will they care about them or your message? Do you care? 

 

None of this may matter to you. You’ll happily snap away to suit yourself and if others like your pictures, great. If, however, some or all of what’s been said does matter to you, then maybe Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Lisette Model aren’t just photography greats sounding elitist. Instead, perhaps their words can serve to move us all towards a deeper, more meaningful and satisfying photography journey. 

 

  1. Philip-Lorca diCorcia, American photographer, born 1951, known as an academic and for work that moves between documentary photography and planned staged theatrical images
  2. Lisette Model, Austrian-American photographer, 1901-1983, mainly known for getting up close to her human subjects and for capturing city life

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Is-Photography-a-Foreign-Language Language-of-Photography Light-and-Dark Light-and-Shadow Me-Time My-Time My-View Photograph Photography-Language What-is-in-the-frame What-is-outside-the-frame Your-Interpretation https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/4/is-photography-a-foreign-language-everyone-thinks-they-can-speak Thu, 23 Apr 2020 11:57:54 GMT
4 Actions Outdoor Lovers can take to share countryside images while Social-Distancing https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/4/4-actions-outdoor-lovers-can-take-while-still-being-100-committed-to-social-distancing This time last year I visited King’s Wood, Challock, Kent, in my opinion Kent’s grandest woodland. It was Bluebell season, which I love and I managed to get a couple of okay photographs, attached.  Moss and Bluebells in King's WoodMoss and Bluebells in King's WoodKing's Wood, Challock, near Ashford is, arguably, the top woodland area in Kent. Managed by the Forestry Commission and the Kingswood Association it's a diverse country space and in spring the woods are carpeted in bluebells.

But it's not just covered in these beautiful perennial plants/bulbous herbs. Go in closer and you can focus on mosses, wild mushrooms and wild flowers.
Like many UK based outdoor photographers, I follow the country’s annual wild flower blooming calendar, and try to go to the ‘best’ regional flowering places, whether to see Snowdrops, Daffodils, Gorse, Bluebells, Poppies, Honeysuckle, Heather, Sunflowers, or Winter Jasmine. This year, though, visits have, for obvious reasons, had to stop.

Bluebell Trail through King's WoodBluebell Trail through King's WoodKing's Wood, Challock, near Ashford is, arguably, the top woodland area in Kent. Managed by the Forestry Commission and the Kingswood Association it's a diverse country space and in the Spring the woods are carpeted in bluebells.

Woodland trails are my favourite places to walk, explore, see what's round the next turn. King's Wood is the best for this as it's also a peaceful area, well away from background traffic hum.

I am, of course, like the vast majority of us, 100% committed to Social-Distancing and abiding by government guidelines. We must protect each other and our key workers – heroes to a person and work together to combat Covid-19 Coronavirus. Which, rightly, means that I can’t just re-visit King’s Wood as I like for Bluebells 2020. I don’t live within daily exercise walking-running-cycling distance* and can’t claim that the 41-mile (66 km) drive there is an ‘essential journey’.

 

 As the lockdown continues, other wild flowers – certainly the Spring and Summer bloomers, will start appearing in favourable (for them) places around the South East. But few of us will be able to see them in these habitats, unless we live nearby, or the pandemic is defeated sooner than is currently anticipated.

 

Where I live, in North Kent, there’s some lovely countryside that I can walk-run-cycle to for daily exercise: a country park, lakeland area, the rivers Thames and Darent, a few small woodlands. And while there, I can briefly enjoy the fresh air and grab a few hand-held shots before heading home. But alas, none of them are renowned for memorable displays of wild flowers. However, all is not lost. It just means that, during this unprecedented period, those of us interested in the UK’s wild flower timetable 2020, must positively resort to a combination of 4 actions:

 

  1. Accept that our love of the great outdoors is a distant second to our national emergency. Our priority must be the health and welfare of our families, neighbours, key workers and the local community. With this firmly in mind,
  2. Encourage enthusiasts who do live within daily exercise distance of the ‘best’ wild flower habitats, to capture and share photographs on social media. No-one should expect landscape art here, or photographers to put themselves and others at risk by, for example, heading out at what might otherwise be considered ‘optimum’ times, or wait around for just the right light, or set up tripods, use filters and so on (none of which is in the spirit of responsible social-distancing behaviour anyway, in my view). Just enjoy such images as our fellow enthusiasts can capture and share under the circumstances
  3. Visit our own back-catalogues and share favourite images from previous years. These can be compared with the 2020 images (from 2. above) to see how this season compares. This is not in any way setting up some kind of photographic competition. It’s simply about seeing what’s different this season compared to previous years, maybe in the flowers themselves, or in the conditions in which they’re growing. And
  4. When we go out ourselves for daily exercise, take a camera and capture the beauty that is on offer in our respective local areas. Okay, we may not live near the premiere sites that we’d ideally like to visit. But let’s count our blessings that we’re well enough to go out for our daily exercise and photograph and share what we can. Here, we might even surprise ourselves and discover hitherto hidden wonders that we’d otherwise have kept walking past and ignored. Also, for us dedicated photographers, this will, I’m sure, force us to look more closely at things, think more creatively and challenge ourselves to experiment. Dare I say, even improve our skills.

 

As an outdoor photographer, I naturally miss getting out (in my case) across Kent and East Sussex. And what a time to miss, now that Spring is here. But let’s be clear, my loss is trivial. Right now, lives are at risk, heroes are working long, stressful hours, and the population is fearful. So, for me at least, it’s time to count my blessings, do what I can to help my local community and then, where possible, get some photographs to share with others that might, if only for a short moment, take their eyes and thoughts elsewhere into the great UK countryside and provide a welcome smile. 

 

*Any reference to daily exercise allowance is in accordance with the guidelines that apply at the time of writing. These may be subject to change, if tighter lockdown conditions become necessary.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Bluebells Coronavirus Countryside Covid-19 Kent-Countryside Kings-Wood-Challock Landscape-Photography Outdoor-Photography Social-Distancing The-Great-Outdoors UK-Countryside UK-Flower-Blooming-Calendar UK-Flowers Wild-Flower-Photography Wild-Flowers Woodland-Photography https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/4/4-actions-outdoor-lovers-can-take-while-still-being-100-committed-to-social-distancing Wed, 15 Apr 2020 14:54:59 GMT
Photography in Sharp Perspective https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/4/photography-in-sharp-perspective

You don’t need me to tell you these are difficult times. That our overwhelming duty at present is to do the very best we can to protect our families, the vulnerable in our communities and those brave souls who are working tirelessly front and centre to help keep the general population as safe as possible. 

‘Fair enough’ you might think, ‘but what has this got to do with photography? This is a photographer’s blog, right?’

Yes, it is. And on the face of it, there’s no connection. Except, that the world battling Covid-19 puts my passion for photography, and outdoor photography in particular, firmly in its place. It feels trivial to me to talk about photography when Coronavirus is threatening lives, our family’s health, jobs, education and general happiness.

Having said this, I was reminded by a family member that, while we must all do what is required of us to keep each other safe, we need to maintain our physical and mental well-being. This means, trying at least, to continue with what we enjoy in life, albeit in a safe and responsible way.

So, with this in mind, while I’m not going to be travelling around the South East of England in pursuit of new photographs, I will continue to do 3 things in relation to photography:

 

  • During my (currently permitted*) daily outdoor exercise periods, when I’ll walk or cycle in my local area (while strictly adhering to Social Distancing rules and only going reasonable distances in the best interests of my community), I’ll seek out photographs and post them on my social media channels. My aim will be to share positive images, yes, of (very) local woodlands and countryside, but also of people (from a safe distance) doing positive, uplifting activities under the circumstances. This will mean a shift in the general appearance of my social media feeds, more towards urban and ‘street’ type images

 

 

  • Regarding the photo-book I’ve been working on – a project to record my local town centre’s roads and buildings as they appear in 2020, my plan was to compile the photographs and write accompanying words for a first draft by the end of March. While I managed to finalise the images and have written some text, under the circumstances I wasn’t able to finish my writing. So, I’ll resume work on the book during April. 

 

Therefore, if and when your personal circumstances permit, please keep an eye out for new blog stories and thoughts, as well as new images on my Instagram @Stephen_R_Photo, Facebook @stephenrphoto, or Twitter @OutdoorReed feeds (also don’t forget Clickasnap). Also, if you have any queries, would like to know more about any of my photographs, or want to discuss photography in general, if only to take your mind off our current situation for a short while, please don’t hesitate to send me a Facebook message, or an Email.

Most important of all, please keep yourself, your family and the community around you safe. 

*This is very much subject to change as the situation in the U.K. unfolds, preventing all but the most essential, critical outdoor activity. 

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) blogging coronavirus-and-photography covid-19-and-photography keep-our-communities-safe" keep-safe look-after-each-other mental-wellbeing outdoor-photography-in-difficult-times photography photography-and-mental-wellbeing photography-book social-distance social-distancing social-isolation social-media-posts https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/4/photography-in-sharp-perspective Tue, 07 Apr 2020 10:41:32 GMT
What Key Elements Must exist in any Photograph, for it to be considered Great? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/3/what-key-elements-must-exist-in-any-photograph-for-it-to-be-considered-great Whatever your favourite genre of photography, what do you think are the key elements that must exist in any picture, for it to be considered great? Someone actually asked me this. Well, to be exact, they asked me “What makes a good photograph great?” I thought I’d try to write down my answer.

 

But before I do, I just want to clarify what the discussion wasn’t about. Firstly, it wasn’t one prompted by a particular photograph, or series of images. It was more about trying to identify a list of factors that we might see in any great image, regardless whether it was a landscape vista, street scene, reportage, portrait, food item, pet, or even an abstract image. Secondly, it wasn’t about whether some images should have certain features and others not. For example, whether street pictures can only be great if they are monochrome while seascapes only if in colour. Or, whether certain types of photographs must always have bokeh backgrounds (or optimal fall-off) to be great while others must have pin-sharp front-to-back focus. Finally, I just want to be clear that in writing my answer, I’m not in any way claiming that I’ve made truly ‘Great’ images. Or, indeed, that the image accompanying this blog piece matches the bill. (The photograph is just there to, hopefully, help attract viewers’ eyes to this text). 

 

So, what are the key elements that, I think, must be present in every great photograph? That us photographers must strive to optimise in all of our images if we hope to have any of them, one day, labelled great. I propose there are four.

 

1.  Light

Understanding and appreciating the quality of light in our scenes is the most important element in any photograph. 

 

Think about an extreme scenario. If you’re standing deep down in a black cave, where no natural light exists and no artificial light is available to you; no flame, electric light, torch, strobe or flash, nothing, and you take a photograph, what will you see? Of course, nothing. So, unless your subject is Deep Black Cave Darkness, without light there is no photograph.

 

As we all know, photography means drawing with light. Consequently, no light - no photography. It doesn’t matter whether your preference is front- back- or side-lighting, cold, warm, bold and brash or subtle and serene, get this wrong, mis-interpret the light in any way, or be impatient with it (if working in natural light) and you may possibly get away with a good image. But you’ll be extremely fortunate – relying purely on luck to get a great one. 

 

How do we best learn about light, appreciate its qualities, shape it (maybe in a studio environment), or control its influence over what we are trying to say in our images? I’ve read, studied and listened to the greats on the subject and realise that there’s only one way. Get out there, practice, fail, practice some more, fail some more, keep practicing. Train to master the craft. Also, remember: the best photographers don’t waste their time in what they consider, for them, to be unusable light. So, if ‘bad’ light for you is an unshaded midday sun in a cloudless sky, don’t go out then. Instead, use the time to plan your shoot for either later that day or, say, the next morning.

 

To be frank, I’m not sure I’ll ever truly master light. But it’s the one subject area in photography I’ll never stop trying to grasp.

 

 

2.   Composition

Let’s be clear from the outset: composition is our own stamp on things. Our compositional approach and style is unique to us. 

 

We can all read about composition, know the various compositional ‘rules’, study what others consider to be their compositional methodology. But we won’t find this essential element, our own way of composing our images, by always following the rules and trying to make pale imitations of other photographers’ compositions.

 

The way we will find our compositional path, and move closer to being able to create great photographs, is the same as for Light. We must get out there and take pictures every day. Take the same scene from different heights and angles, in different aspect ratios, moving in closer and farther away. And make mistakes. And keep making mistakes. Try to understand them, and work to reduce them, and evolve every day. Eventually, something will feel right.

 

When it comes to compositional style, I’ve recently edged towards trying to include layers beyond fore-, mid-, and back- ground in my photographs, each contributing to the whole. I’ve tried to do this by heightening areas where light and shadow collide. If I manage to achieve the composition I’m after, I get the feeling. But sadly, at the moment it’s not that often. My compositional style needs a lot more refining.

 

Others may get the feeling through minimalism in their compositions, or prominent negative space, or a battle between light and dark, or a close-up glimpse of humanity in the faces of each of their subjects. Whatever your preference, ask yourself: 

What compositional style gives me that feeling that I’m onto something? Start with this and keep shooting.

 

3.   Timing

Timing can’t be forced. As photographers we must be prepared to wait. But not for so long that we watch the fleeting moment when all the stars align and then they’re gone. Instead, we must wait for the precise moment when our shutter must close: when what we anticipated might, will soon happen, is actually taking place. This is what Henri Cartier-Bresson referred to as ‘the decisive moment’. We wait for the ingredients in our photograph’s story to form and then capture them before they disperse, never to reform exactly like that again. 

 

Going back to Light for a moment, I suggested that, in my view, there’s no positive place for luck when it comes to getting the optimal light in our images. Not so with Timing. Timing for the most part should be good timing, based on our research, knowledge, experience and organisation. But it can also embrace a little bit of luck.

 

Consider a wildlife photographer waiting for the decisive moment in respect of a hunter capturing its prey. I think we’d all agree there’s an element of good fortune; that the actions of wild animals actually play out in the way our photographer hoped. 

 

Except, is it really all luck? After all, isn’t luck just the meeting of opportunity with preparation? While we can’t predict what wild animals will do, a good wildlife photographer will research their subjects, the locations they favour for hunting, their known kill-grounds, the times of day for hunts and so on, and then set up in the right place at the right time. In such circumstances, an element of luck is something we can positively include in our calculations.

 

4.   Post-Editing

Although not part of the picture capturing event, post-editing can’t be ignored. The fact is, even the greats of your preferred genre post-edited in the darkroom and the present-day stars use editing software to make their final images. 

 

I say ‘make’ deliberately, because great photographs aren’t just taken. Photographers that shoot raw files must edit the raw data to a greater or lesser extent in order to produce a final image that, for them, captures the moment they sought. Those that shoot jpegs aren’t purists either. They must accept that a high level of editing has been done for them by the software in their camera (and thereby, by their camera manufacturer). Nevertheless, they can and do still further tweak their jpeg images, albeit in a restricted way.

 

I read books and articles written by top photographers and listen to their accounts about how they strive to ‘get it right in camera’. About how they dislike sitting in front of a computer screen (or still, in some cases, work for hours in a darkroom). Yet, most of them shoot in raw, or on film, so that they retain as much control over their photographic process as possible.

 

All of this means that in order to produce great images, we must fully appreciate the value of post-editing in photography, to nudge our almost great (in-camera) images over the line.

 

Final Thought

I once read that photography is the easiest of arts but that, perhaps, this is what makes it the hardest.* It’s fair to say that anyone can take a photograph. Anyone can even take a good photograph. But to become a better photographer, and edge closer to being able to consistently produce great images, well, this, I’m afraid, comes disguised as hard work. 

 

But this hard work will, ultimately, lead us to realise what really defines an image as great. 

 

For me, a great photograph isn’t about having a clear, beautiful subject, or it being in focus, or exposed ‘correctly’. A great photograph is about combining the four key elements above to go beyond a simple recording of something; to get beneath the surface of the scene and illuminate what touches our humanity. When we see that in our images, and feel it inside, maybe then we’ll have made a great photograph.

 

I hope you found this written answer of some small interest. Do, please let me know your thoughts on this subject. Not least because, as I’ve said, I still have much to learn and I’d be grateful for any guidance to move my pictures from generally okay – occasionally good, to great.

 

*I can’t recall where I read or heard this, it just stuck with me. If anyone can reference this for me, I’d be most grateful.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Composition Great-Photograph How-To-Make-Great-Photographs Key-Photographic-Elements Light Photograph Photograph-Editing Photography Post-Editing Timing https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/3/what-key-elements-must-exist-in-any-photograph-for-it-to-be-considered-great Mon, 30 Mar 2020 10:59:02 GMT
What’s this photograph really about? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/3/what-s-this-photograph-really-about You might say it’s obvious. The subject of the photograph is a wooden path laid over a pebble beach. And thanks to either the viewer’s own recognition or by way of the photographer’s narrative, you’d know the path is on Dungeness Beach, Kent. The path is undulating and leads up to a crest, before the beach slopes down to the English Channel. The blue-overcast day with strange lower level mottled clouds provides an unusual shade of light but doesn’t change the core subject. The picture is about the path.

Fair enough. Your literal interpretation of the scene is perfectly valid. And in the absence of any guiding words – a title or accompanying description, what else could it be about?

 

But what if I told you the photograph isn’t about the path? Nor indeed about the pebbles, the sky, or the place? What if I then gave you a title? Symmetry. Have another look. 

 

(I must say at this point that the idea behind the photograph isn’t new or original. I got it from my studies in photography and particularly from appreciating how photographs (and before them paintings and drawings) can reflect a state of mind, mood, or feeling). 

 

When I saw this scene on Dungeness beach, something from my studies must have kicked in. I didn’t see footpath over a beach, or another literal interpretation. I saw symmetry and, related to this, finding balance in life.

 

Sceptically, you might ask: do photographers, honestly, go around seeking scenes that reflect states of mind, moods, or feelings? Well, based on my reading, yes, they do. Indeed, photography writers encourage it. I was given an excellent photo-journal book once* (in which you stick photographs that correspond with a statement – effectively a book of photography tasks). It asks photographers things like:

  • How are you feeling? Communicate this with light.
  • Use shutter speed to capture anger.
  • Use aperture to capture melancholy.
  • Capture someone’s subconscious.

I’ve also seen this task in several places:

  • Take a photograph that reflects your mood right now.

 

I’ll be honest, on the day I took Symmetry in Dungeness, I didn’t set out to capture human mindsets. I went looking for beach, boat, lighthouse and nuclear power station shots. And I did capture these types of images. But while the path was interesting and worth scouting for a possible shot, I’d say my sub-conscious steered me towards looking at the scene in this more abstract way.

 

To start with, the photograph breaks a photography ‘rule’, by having the horizon line in the middle of the frame. But that just plays into the whole feeling of symmetry. There are rules to follow but sometimes we have to bend or break them for some greater good. Then, there’s the path leading in from bottom centre of the frame and creating a ‘T’ with the horizon. This shares out (about) equal share of beach either side. Considering the light, it’s neither bright nor dull. And there are highlights but also some shadows in the clouds and on the ground. Looking at the colours, the blue in the sky compliments it’s opposite colour on the colour wheel, orange. And when it comes to the strangely mottled sky, though a bit more contentious, I would argue that it balances against the pebbles on the beach. Finally, an irony in all of this; for the image to have balance, it requires some small imbalances. This is so that it doesn’t (at least for me) appear too mathematical or sterile. Like life, there are always chinks. Thus, the green beach vegetation isn’t uniform either side of the path. Also, more importantly, the path isn’t a dead straight line but contains a cheeky hump part way along and a slight skew to the right with a guide rail handle at the end.

 

“All moderately interesting”, you might say, “but what’s the take-away from this photograph’s story?” Well, it’s to always take a second glance at photographs that hold your attention for that little moment longer. Because it might be that what held your gaze for that extra split second, isn’t what the image appears to be about but what it’s really about. And that might be something more to do with our, your, state of mind, mood, or feeling, than the literal scene. Which surely gives such photographs more viewer insight and value.

 

*Use This If You Want To Take Great Photographs. A photo journal – Henry Carroll - ISBN 978-1-78067-888-7 www.laurenceking.com

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Abstract Abstract-View Balance Balance-in-Life Boardwalk Breaking-Photography-Rules Dungeness Dungeness-Beach Kent-Coast Pebble-Beach Photograph State-Of-Mind-Photograph Symmetry What-is-this-really-about https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/3/what-s-this-photograph-really-about Fri, 13 Mar 2020 13:19:25 GMT
Do People in Landscape Photographs Diminish Their Value? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/2/do-people-in-landscape-photographs-diminish-their-value Take a look at the two pictures attached. One is a peaceful, morning woodland scene from Kings Wood, Challock, Kent. The other is a quiet, late afternoon, tide-out seascape from Camber Sands, East Sussex. Do you think they would have greater value as landscape images if they didn’t have people in them? Or do you think their respective values are increased with people included?

Before answering, let me tell you what I mean by ‘Value’. 

 

For purposes of this discussion, I mean value in the sense of merit as photographs. (There is also value in the sense of commercial worth. Are photographs of outdoor scenes more or less attractive to buy, say for an office wall, or home, if people are in the scene? But that’s for another time).

 

So, does the inclusion of people enhance the photographs, give them greater impact? Do they help the pictures tell clearer stories, and get you to relate to them better? Do they provide a sense of scale that you think would otherwise be missing? 

 

Or, do the figures undermine the essence of the pictures as landscape scenes? Do the people change their meanings for you? Instead of deriving a sense of the outdoors, and maybe feelings of peace and mindfulness from gazing into them, imagining yourself being there, are you now pre-occupied with the human element? Maybe more interested in what they are doing, or talking about, and why they are there? Do the people dilute the merit of the pictures as scenes in themselves? Reduce their relative power to evoke feelings related to nature and the countryside? And instead, replace them with human intrigue and tension? 

 

It may be argued that, without people in the scenes, the pictures are just soul-less records of places. Simply photographic accounts of outlooks to view dispassionately. If there are stories in them at all, they are only about the conditions of the moment, or their respective environmental appearance as they are now, albeit sculpted over hundreds, maybe thousands of years. Arguably, not the most interesting ‘stories’ for the average viewer. Include people, however, and the scenes come alive. They are now places that you can connect with on a passionate level. You can more clearly see yourself visiting and enjoying the scenes as those in the pictures are doing.

 

I disagree. I believe many of the landscapes I visit and photograph tell their stories best when left to themselves. They generally don’t need people who, after all, just pass through and overlay a selfish, human shadow over their existence. When people visit great landscape scenes, many do their utmost to make it all about them – their place in the space, their pose, look, outlook, attire, physical action, importance. When there’s a photo to be had, particularly for their social media, people attach less value to the place itself.

 

I admit that I positively choose not to include people in most of my landscape photographs. Firstly, I’m not a people photographer. From a photography point-of-view, I’m much more interested in the environment around us than the people who pass through it. Second and more importantly, when I go out to do landscape photography, my objective is to make the landscape itself the subject. I don’t, generally, want other elements drawing attention away from the centre of my interest. By allowing other subjects into the frame, I feel that I’m confusing the picture’s narrative and misleading the viewer. In any case, the stories that landscapes share are much bigger than human stories. Many have evolved over thousands, even millions of years. Thirdly, if viewers nevertheless crave a human element in countryside scenes, if they look close enough, most environments include the hand of man in their make-up. You don’t have to see people in the picture to know that human stories exist there.

 

But if this is the case, how do I explain the two photographs attached?

 

Well, they are exceptions. In both cases, as I arrived at my vantage points, what I observed first were the people, not the scenes. This is unusual for me, as I’m normally very good at by-passing people in my view to determine if the scene itself is giving up a story for me to capture. In these cases, however, the stories in both scenes: ones of peace, the soothing sound of nature, places to forget your tension, relax and breathe, were complimented, reinforced even, by the silhouettes slowly walking along the beach and the horses and riders walking peacefully along the woodland path (with the sound of the horses’ hooves echoing beautifully through the trees). In both instances, the scenes and the people conjoined to tell the same stories better together than apart. I could have waited for the people to pass out of the scenes and then captured the landscapes only. This is what I’d normally do, particularly if the light doesn’t look like it’s going to change quickly. But in these cases, the people, for me, didn’t de-value the stories but enriched them.

 

So, what does this say about the value of landscape images containing people? It says that the value of each landscape image rests in the story the photographer is fortunate enough to be told by the place, the feelings that emanate from appreciating the story, and whether both the story and the feelings are heightened by people present in the scene doing what they are doing.

 

All of this, of course, is for the photographer to contemplate and decide. But there is a twist: when the photographer decides to display landscape photographs that include people, the ultimate say as to whether the images hold their value, or if you prefer merit, isn’t theirs. It rests with you, the viewer.

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) camber-sands countryside east-sussex-coast english-countryside kent-woodlands kings-wood-challock landscape-photographs landscapes mindfulness nature peaceful-landscape people-and-landscapes people-in-landscape-photographs people-in-photographs photograph seascape woodlands https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/2/do-people-in-landscape-photographs-diminish-their-value Tue, 25 Feb 2020 10:43:30 GMT
Keeping a Photograph Real vs Enhancing its Aesthetic – Where’s the Balance? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/2/keeping-a-photograph-real-vs-enhancing-its-aesthetic-where-s-the-balance This is a picture of the front façade of the old Co-operative department store building in my home town. The store has been closed for many years now but before that, “The Co-op” gave Dartford over 50 years of valuable service. Behind the façade, much of the lower level structure has been demolished. However, there are plans to develop the site. These plans include retaining the front, which stands within the town’s conservation area. The image was taken early on a recent cool, clear, sunny Sunday morning. 

When I got the picture home and uploaded it onto my computer, I knew I was going to have a ‘problem’ with it. To overcome this problem, I needed to think back to the moment I was standing in front of the building on Spital Street, on the exact spot from which this shot was taken. I needed to be clear about why, exactly, I took this picture and why from that particular viewpoint? *

 

To answer the easier viewpoint question first: I took the picture from there simply because this spot gave me the best, most defined shadow line across the middle of the building. I chose it after I’d walked up and down the path across the road several times.

 

The more involved question, as to why I wanted this photograph, is answered in two parts. What drew me to the scene initially wasn’t the façade itself but the light and colours. In particular, the relative colours of the light on the building with those of the clear, cool, morning sky and the close-to-matching blue of the building’s street-level shutters. It was like a large blue sponge cake with a golden cream centre, sitting half in shadow, half in sunshine. Simultaneously, the way the light struck the upper half of the building, highlighted the grandeur of the weathered but still strong, proud Art Deco architecture. These two things together made me want to capture an important part of Dartford’s history which, in that moment, looked resplendent.

 

All very ‘arty’ and nice, but herein lies the crux of the problem. If I was initially drawn in by colour and light and yet became captivated by how the architecture appeared, how would I decide between accentuating the picture with a more creative vision versus maintaining the image with an emphasis on the building’s real features? How much did I want this to be a true historical record – of the structure as photographed in January 2020 and how much an artistic-leaning, enhanced tribute to a grand, timeless piece of local architecture caught in beautiful golden light? 

 

The truth is, after looking at the raw image file for a while, walking away from it, giving it a little thought over tea and cake, and having another look at it, the problem wasn’t really that big. I wanted a realistic reflection of what I recalled from standing on my viewpoint. But, I needed my ‘realistic reflection’ to include a little of the ‘wow’ factor that I was lucky enough to enjoy in the moment, which comes from seeing something bathed in such beautiful light.

 

My ‘real’ with a little ‘wow’ interpretation is what you see attached. 

 

To keep the image ‘real’, I retained what many photographers might consider distractions to be removed – too much of the neighbouring buildings; too much sky; the top of the bus shelter in front of the building; the disabled parking sign; the yellow lines parking restriction sign; various building alarm fittings and lights; wires (bottom left) heading across the street; and a neighbouring building security camera. Also, some would even consider removing the pigeons perched proudly on the building (top right). 

 

But then, to help include some of my ‘wow’ factor, I used some moderate-only Lightroom edits, including:

- cropping slightly and straightening the edges (I failed to hold the camera 100% horizontal)

- reducing highlights but lifting shadows

- increasing contrast

- reducing saturation but lifting vibrance

- introducing a tiny level of sharpening in the details

- applying standard lens corrections

- adding a slight vignette in the corners to help draw the viewer’s eye towards the centre.

 

As a final photograph, it shares with the viewer both what I actually saw and, to a degree, what I felt. For me, the picture presents the balance I initially had trouble identifying. 

 

Is my choice of balance in this image ‘correct’? Yes. Well, it is for me at least. But will it be to every viewer’s liking? Almost certainly not. 

 

Some people despise any form of photographic manipulation. What you capture at shutter press is what you get. All subsequent editing makes the truth a lie. Others, though, will argue that shots straight out of camera must be manipulated. If not, the image is simply what the camera manufacturer says the picture should be, not the photographer. Also, the camera can’t ‘see’ how we see and so can’t interpret a scene. Additionally, the camera can’t feel a scene as we can, can’t connect with it emotionally while in the moment, so can’t share a vision.

 

So, where does the balance lie between keeping a photograph real and enhancing its aesthetic? The answer is simple: exactly where you, the photographer, says it is.

 

* I was in Dartford seeking images for my planned photo-book on Dartford town centre, its roads and buildings in 2020. I’ll advise more about this project in a future blog. This building must, of course, be included in the book and I captured other images specifically for that purpose.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) digital-manipulation digital-photograph-editing edit editing-photographs photo-cropping photo-editing photo-enhance photograph photo-manipulation unedited-photograph https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/2/keeping-a-photograph-real-vs-enhancing-its-aesthetic-where-s-the-balance Sat, 15 Feb 2020 10:47:44 GMT
Get more intimate. Move closer and discover the real essence of a place. https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/2/get-more-intimate-move-closer-and-discover-the-real-essence-of-a-place When we visit picturesque countryside, a great woodland, mountains and valleys, or a spectacular coastline, we know how easy it is to break out our cameras and simply take the grand, all-encompassing shot. After all, having made the effort to visit a fantastic viewpoint, it feels like a waste not to capture everything we can see. 

But by including the whole scene in one shot, aren’t we potentially missing out? Could it be that the deeper beauty of the place, or its valuable stories, are being overlooked? Lost in the broadness of our sweeping image? 

Following, are two photographs of the same waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, in Southern Iceland. Seljalandsfoss is a simple, elegant, 60 metre high fall and I captured these images on a freezing cold, windy but bright, sunny morning.

Like much of the landscape in Iceland, Seljalandsfoss is grand and spectacular. It’s one of the must-visit natural attractions. And from a photographic point of view, well, it would simply be rude not to pay homage to the whole of the scene (or at least as much of it as you can get without tourists encroaching into your frame).

I managed to take a few pictures of the ‘whole scene’. One is attached. Although happy with the shot, I have to be honest, it didn’t really capture what I think is the essence of the place. It’s fine as a record, I’m glad I’ve got it, but it just admires from afar. I took the picture from too far away to gain any real insight.

My deeper connection with Seljalandsfoss came when I got up close. Close enough, in fact, to feel the spray, which in hindsight wasn’t very wise in the harsh conditions. Being this close gave me at least a small insight into the fall’s true nature. The sound of the unhindered water falling and its impact at ground level; the colours, crack lines and textures of the layered geology behind the fall and the rock’s endurance in the face of extreme water and weather erosion over thousands of years; and Seljalandsfoss’ simultaneous power and grace. Sitting at the base of this grand monument of nature and feeling its energy, it was like I was absorbing something from it, as though it was sharing part of itself.

The close-in picture, while not epic, gives me much more of Seljalandsfoss. It doesn’t admire from afar. This is a photograph that gets intimate with the environment and, thereby, captures more of it. 

(To get the close-in shot, I needed to be as near as I could and lower to the ground. This wasn’t just for technical reasons but also to keep others out of my frame. Then, while struggling to keep the lens dry, I focused specifically on the centre of the pool).

It’s easy for us to arrive at a great location, admire the view from a distance and allow ourselves to be taken in by the whole scene. I’m the worst for letting myself be absorbed by a grand vista and failing to look closer. But while we should, of course, enjoy the wow-factor of big scenes, a deeper connection with the environment is possible. 

If we allow more time for closer scrutiny, we can get more acquainted with the core nature of a place. We can discover its stories, nurture feelings for it and let the location share some greater meaning with us. 

So, the next time you’re out in picturesque countryside, a great woodland, the mountains and valleys, or on a spectacular coastline, why not take a little more time and focus in. Maybe take binoculars with you, or use a zoom lens to have a closer look. Better still, use the best get-closer tools you have, your legs. Wherever you are and whatever you’re looking at, don’t wait for the true nature of the place to be revealed from afar. Move in and discover what it has to share with you. 

Time to get up close and personal.

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Beauty Big-Picture Close-In Discover-the-Beauty Discover-the-Stories Essence Find-The-Essence-In-A-Photograph Focus Geology Get-Closer Iceland Icelandic-Nature Landscape-Close-Up Long-Lens Look-Closer Meaning-In-Photography Natural-World Nature Photograph Photograph-Details Photography Seljalandsfoss Soulful-Moments South-Iceland Story-In-A-Photograph Telephoto Up-Close-And-Personal Vistas Waterfall Zoom-In https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/2/get-more-intimate-move-closer-and-discover-the-real-essence-of-a-place Tue, 04 Feb 2020 10:41:04 GMT
When you use your camera or mobile phone camera, do you just take photographs, or make them? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/1/when-you-use-your-camera-or-do-you-just-take-photographs-or-make-them What’s your view about photographs that have been staged, cropped, edited, or ‘photoshopped’? Got no problem with photographic manipulation, it’s the end product that counts? Or consider it wrong, falsifying images using editing and processing techniques that mask the ‘truth’ and mis-lead the viewer?

Imagine you’re on holiday, out with your family, or romancing your better half, and suddenly you see a photo opportunity: a memorable scene or something unusual, a chance to capture the whole family together, or your partner looking particularly gorgeous-handsome. What do you do? You reach for your camera-mobile phone (camera), line up the shot and snap away. 

But is that really all you do? Simply see a photo, point and shoot, save copies, look at them later and then maybe share them with family, friends or on social media? 

What if the sun is straight into your eyes and you can’t clearly see who or what you’re shooting? Or, if out in the evening, the available light at your venue is too low? Or what if you want a portrait-type picture of your loved one? Or even a ‘classic’ black and white portrait. 

Well, it’s obvious, you move yourself and/or your subject to find better light. Or you wait for another better time. And in low light situations, you use your camera’s built-in or accompanying flash. If you want a portrait picture, you simply adjust your camera settings to a ‘portrait’ orientation. And if you want a black and white image straight out of your camera, you set your camera to capture your image in black and white. Job done.

Or is it? What happens when you look at the pictures and maybe they’re not quite what you thought you saw when pressing the shutter button? Or, the picture doesn’t quite convey the feeling you felt at the time of shooting? Somehow, what your camera ‘saw’ isn’t what you recall seeing. This last point, of course, is obvious. How can a camera ‘see’ how you see things? They are, after all, just man-made light capturing boxes. Compared to your eyes and brain processing power, they’re primitive at best. 

Well, there is help at hand, of sorts. Whether on our computers or mobiles, we have image editing software. Maybe supplied as part of our devices, or something we’ve chosen to acquire and upload as a program or ‘App’, we have the means to enhance our pictures; edit them in such a way that they reflect, as near as possible, the vision we had when we first decided to use our cameras. Now, we can amend our shots: darken the highlights, brighten the shadows, adjust the contrast, mute or embolden the colours, overlay pre-set ‘looks’, add warmth, cool tones or a tint, introduce some sharpness or noise reduction and so on. All of these tools are there to help us achieve our best images; the ones we really want to share with our friends, family and on our social media channels. And which we might also wish to print, frame and put on our wall at home.

Now, go back to being on holiday, or with your family, or your better half, when you thought “I want to take a picture of [that scene] [my whole family together in this place] [my gorgeous-handsome significant other].” In reality, wouldn’t you do one or more of the following:

  • move yourself around to get better light or a better viewpoint? Or wait?
  • move your family or partner around to suit?
  • choose a particular framing orientation – portrait, landscape, square crop, either at the time of taking the picture or later?
  • decide between colour or black and white?
  • use editing software, whether built-in or acquired, to darken, brighten, saturate colours, add a specific ‘look’, warm up, cool down, sharpen, cut noise…?
  • ‘enhance’ your image further using your preferred social media platform’s tools before publishing?
  • print your pictures on a particular photographic paper, and in a particular size? (Or get them printed for you by a specialist printer?)
  • if shooting on film, choose what film make, type and ISO you prefer? And how you’d get that particular film stock developed? 
  • when looking at your favourite prints in your hands, decide how to display them? Behind a glass frame? Or alternatively, printed on wood, metal, canvass or other material?

If you’d do ANY of these things, you’re manipulating your photography to achieve a desired outcome – a photograph you’d be happy to share with viewers, or even print and frame for show. Put another way, you wouldn’t just be simply taking photographs, you’d be making them.

Let’s re-visit my first paragraph. When you first read it, what was your initial reaction? Have you now changed your mind? Aren’t we all, in fact, the same as any professional photographer who stages, crops, edits, manipulates, ‘photoshops’ and enhances images for maximum impact?

Here’s the thing: this doesn’t make you a bad (photographer) person: someone trying to unscrupulously cloak the truth and mislead your viewers. In fact, I’d say it makes you good in 2 ways:

  1. you are, positively, a maker and not just a taker of photographs, and
  2. that makes you a Creator. Dare I say, even an Artist. You are someone who takes their photographic idea and acts on it to create the best representation of your vision and feeling that you can.

Now, what’s your view about that?

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) colour-grading colour-or-black-and-white-photograph digital-manipulation digital-photograph-editing edit editing-photographs film-photography-editing photo-cropping photo-editing photo-enhance photograph photo-manipulation https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/1/when-you-use-your-camera-or-do-you-just-take-photographs-or-make-them Fri, 24 Jan 2020 12:39:47 GMT
Would you head for Woodlands to find space? And seek ‘some order in the chaos’? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/1/would-you-head-for-woodlands-to-find-space-and-seek-some-order-in-the-chaos I recently shared this photograph on social media along with the words:

Back into my favourite quiet place. Finding peace and (counter-intuitively in a woodland) space

 

Looking back at this, I wondered whether anyone else felt the same about woodlands. Not so much whether they were a favourite place for peace and quiet, more whether anyone else found space in what tend to be, after all, enclosed areas.

Just to clarify my thoughts on the first part: as an outdoor photographer, I love walking, exploring and observing all types of landscapes, seascapes, rivers, lakes, towns and cityscapes. And all of these can offer stress-easing, shoulder-dropping, personal-recharging quiet places. I used to work in the City of London. Despite the bustle and pace of life there, the City had – still has, fantastic parks which provide welcome sanctuary. Yet, if asked to name a favourite among the different types of outdoor locations, I’d have to say woodlands is the one.

If you walk through a woodland or forest yourself, you no doubt appreciate that the trees and canopy act to block out, or at least dampen, neighbouring sounds, whether from local roads, railway lines, nearby towns or industrial units. You probably also appreciate that, while you may share the woodlands with a few other people, it’s seldom with many people and often there is no-one else there at all. In my experience, other outdoor areas don’t provide quite the same level of peace, tranquillity and you-time (though here in the south east of England that may be because of the ever-increasing housebuilding and population). 

Regarding whether woodlands provide you with the feeling of space, let me try to explain. For me, this doesn’t mean swing-your-arms-around-in-a-circle space, it means space away from things that impinge on my senses. Space away from ‘regular life’: traffic, the telephone, computers, household jobs, shopping, television, and yes, other people. Space for the mind to be by itself, away from otherwise unavoidable distractions, some of which run counter to your natural state of wellbeing. Space for your senses to absorb the sights, sounds (including silence), smells, feel and taste in the air of nature. When I’m walking in woodlands, and stop to take stock along a trail, the trees and canopy give me a cocoon in which I can, in a sense, exhale and relax. I don’t get the same feeling of space in the other, more distracting, eye-scanning, noisy, less personal spaces. 

From a photography point-of-view, woodlands also make me concentrate and think harder about what I love to do. Woodlands don’t give up their stories easily. And as many better woodland photographers will tell you, the aim is to find some order in the chaos. This is most likely to be revealed to you when your mind has space and isn’t being distracted by regular life outside of this beautiful world.

 

So, the next time you think you need space and decide to go for a walk to find it, why not head for a nearby woodlands? You may not get more literal space, but I propose that you’ll discover more personal, you-time space. And when you do, why not have your mobile’s camera ready, or dust off that old camera in your cupboard, and see if you can capture your own photograph of some order in the chaos?

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Churchdown-Wood Countryside English-Countryside Fawkham-Kent Find-Order-In-Chaos Forests Kent-Countryside Kent-Woodlands Mindfulness Nature Peace Personal-Space Photograph Woodland-Photography Woodlands Woodland-Trail https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/1/would-you-head-for-woodlands-to-find-space-and-seek-some-order-in-the-chaos Tue, 14 Jan 2020 10:43:05 GMT
Can a landscape photograph really ‘talk’ to you? Make you feel something? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/1/can-a-landscape-photograph-really-talk-to-you-make-you-feel-something I really like this photograph. Not because I took it: I don’t really like many of my images - there’s always something I’d tweak if I could. It’s because … well, let me first ask you this: when you look at the picture, what does it make you feel? Warm, chilly, relaxed, challenged, uplifted, melancholy, wish you was there, glad you’re not, something else?

When I look at it, I feel tension.

At the time of pressing the shutter button I wasn’t tense. In fact, I enjoy shooting in challenging conditions. The opportunities for stronger stories and more interesting images are, for the most part, greater than in nice, dry, sunny, windless, comfortable ones. Also, there are normally less people around, less noise (other than the welcome sounds of nature like wind and rain) and a greater feeling of peace, personal space and mindfulness. But while I didn’t feel tense, I did sense a tension in the scene. 

The leading protagonist is the tree; alone on top of the nearside valley slope, relatively thin, bare at the bottom, yet belying its appearance showing resilience and strength, standing its ground in all weathers. Then there’s the heavy moisture in the air and a strong wind blowing along the valley, conspiring to create the appearance of a deepening mist which veils the background. Above this are the ominous clouds, grey, black, forbidding, yet with a chink in their armour letting a ray of light through to move across the landscape as the wind gusts. The light breaks through to lift the gloom as well as light part of the tree. But the real tension in the picture, for me, comes from the contrasting lines, formed from thousands of years of weathering and environmental change. The tree is the only clear vertical presence. It stands proudly to the left of the frame but it’s branches point to the right, where nothing appears but empty sky. Then there are the conflicting horizontal lines across the land: in the foreground sloping upwards right to left; the mid-ground valley floor relatively straight; and the far side of the valley sloping upwards left to right, conforming to the direction of the pointing tree. Finally, there is the appearance of lines in the clouds, giving the illusion of sloping predominantly upwards right to left, thereby mirroring the foreground lines. These mini-battles and contra-flows all combine to create conflict and a tense narrative.

I didn’t set out on this morning to capture tension. I don’t shoot that way. Instead, (and I suppose here’s the arty-farty bit) I begin walking with an open mind, have a good look around, enjoy where I am, and wait for the environment to ‘talk’ to me. Sometimes, I go out, don’t hear a word and so head home with nothing. But occasionally, I visit places that are chatterboxes and they are happy to tell several stories. 

Regarding this part of Ashdown Forest on the particular bleak, wet, windy day I was there, I was fortunate that the scene wanted to ‘share’ with me its view on tension. I like to think I did its story justice. But perhaps you think not? Did this photograph make you feel anything? If not tension, then something else? I’d be interested to know your view.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Ashdown-Forest Bleak-Heathland Countryside English-Countryside Heathland Hills-And-Dales Landscape Landscape-Photograph Nature Nature-Photograph Photograph Photographs-and-Feelings Sussex Sussex-Landscape Tense-Image Tension-In-Photography Valley Wind-And-Rain https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2020/1/can-a-landscape-photograph-really-talk-to-you-make-you-feel-something Mon, 06 Jan 2020 15:49:59 GMT
How Not to do Landscape Photography https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2019/12/how-not-to-do-landscape-photography I committed the cardinal sin a couple of days ago. I know better; but proceeded anyway. 

All the best landscape photographers say that before you start shooting, do your research. Use the internet and mobile apps to check weather conditions, visibility, cloud patterns and the sun’s path across the sky from dawn to dusk. Where possible, scout the area beforehand. Get to know the best spots, times of day and so on ready for when you arrive. Most importantly, when there, be patient and wait for the optimum light. 

But no!

I was heading for the lovely Kent village of Ide Hill. Ironically, this was in part to do some scouting, to check out woodlands in the area ready for next spring and particularly the views over Kent from behind the village. 

The turning for Ide Hill off the A25 Westerham Road is on a tight-ish downhill bend. Opposite the turning is a grand view over Riverhead, Dunton Green, Sevenoaks and beyond into the rolling Kent hills. I parked up, crossed back over the A25, stood on the verge and grabbed this panoramic shot.

Looking at the picture, while to some small extent I ‘got away with it’, I still feel ‘grabbed’ is the right word. Everything, for me, was wrong. I hadn’t come for this shot and so hadn’t done any research. As you can see, the mid-morning sun was too high and the glare too strong. It’s a hand-held panoramic which, although possible to do, isn’t the best option, especially if you have a tripod in the car, which I’d left behind. I additionally mounted a 6-stop ND filter over my wider lens, as I was still at my car, anticipating that this was the right combination. I hate that I anticipated in this way, adding to my ‘rush and grab’ approach. Finally, in editing, I confess to cropping out much of the blown-out sky, dampening down the highlights a fair bit (especially on the water of the River Darent, upper left) and also using the dehaze slider across the image, though not as much as I feared.

The only plus in the edited image is that the colours in the scene are, in essence, how I remember them. Due to the brightness and haziness of the scene, the foreground grass was relatively flat and unsaturated. The mid-ground trees, hills and dales were dark and misty-looking and the hue of the sky was a red-brown, even light pink hue (though maybe not as vibrant as the picture suggests).

What have I learned from taking this picture? Well, I suppose it could be argued that, occasionally, if a shot presents itself you should always try and capture it in the best way possible at the time. This is especially so if you’re unlikely to pass that way again any time soon. Also, appreciate that you can’t research and be prepared for every opportunity.

Nevertheless, there’s no excuse for rushing and grabbing particularly landscape images. Even if the light is changing fast (which in this case it wasn’t), there’s still time to take a breath, absorb the scene, feel what it is saying to you and then, after checking all the angles, set up accordingly. And this last part might be, don’t set up at all, not now anyway. Instead, come back later today, or pre-dawn tomorrow, or next week, or even in several months for different, ‘better’ seasonal conditions. However, whenever you do set up:

  • Don’t anticipate what gear to use before arriving at your scene, whether this is filters, or even lenses
  • If the shot is best made with your camera on a tripod, use one
  • Keep watch on the light, clouds and environmental conditions and note how they’re changing. It could be worth waiting even just a minute for more favourable shooting conditions to emerge
  • Shoot to achieve as much of the final image as possible in-camera. Minimise the need for excessive cropping and ‘corrective’ editing.

You might ask why, if I’m so disgruntled with this image, I’m showing it along with this story on my website? 

Well, I always intended writing about the not-so-good as well as the better aspects of my photography life. But it’s partly to share with you how landscape photography is at times. Great scenes can over-excite and this, sadly, blocks recall to photographic patience and common sense. It’s also a reminder to me, that I don’t know it all and that learning and developing my photography is a never-ending process. I must keep listening to the photography greats. 

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Hand-Held-Panoramic How-Not-To-Do-Landscape-Photography Impatient-Photography Kent-Landscape Landscape-Photograph Lessons-In-Photography Never-Stop-Learning-Photography Panorama Panoramic-Photograph Patience-In-Phgotography Photograph Photographing-Into-The-Sun Wait-For-The-Light https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2019/12/how-not-to-do-landscape-photography Fri, 20 Dec 2019 15:47:03 GMT
Must Photographs Be Accompanied By Words? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2019/12/must-photographs-be-accompanied-by-words When you have a moment, take a look at this picture. What do you think it’s about? What ‘story’, if any, do you see in it? Does it give you a positive outlook, or feeling? Does it make you feel less positive, more uneasy? 

On the one hand, you might see the image as a good-feeling story of hope: a walk along a leaf-lined pathway surrounded by a cascade of colourful plants, bushes and leaves, through a nicely lit mosaic-patterned entrance leading onto a new, brighter future. Even the empty cans are a symbol of turning your life on its head and leaving a less desirable past behind.

 

Conversely, the image might make you feel wary. Less a story of hope, more one of fear, maybe for the immediate future on this journey, or metaphorically about what’s in store around the corner. The dumped cans, a sloping walk down towards a subway that appears dark beyond the strip-light, and the vegetation, colourful on the surface but closing in around the entrance, all symbols of a path leading to a potentially troublesome outcome.

 

In the absence of any title or accompanying description, the story is whatever you think the image says to you. And that’s fine. But is this satisfactory? Do you think an image should be shared without words, leaving the viewer to decide about what is being portrayed? Or is it incumbent on the photographer to tell you the story? Or at least give you a guide through a title? After all, doesn’t every picture have something, even an essence, of the photographer in it? By not providing words to accompany an image, isn’t the photographer abdicating responsibility for it?

 

For my part, while I always share images with at least a title, I don’t consider it an issue if a photographer decides to publish their work without supporting text. Why not let people make up their own stories, interpret pictures how they choose, take from them what they will? Yes, it potentially leaves the photographer open to misinterpretation and the image to misunderstanding. But maybe that’s okay with the photographer, who wants to leave a minimal ‘footprint’ and let the picture do all the talking. 

 

Regarding the picture attached, it does have a title. I will also say that neither of the above storylines are what I was thinking when making the photograph. My ‘story’ was much simpler. 

 

I saw both positives and negatives in this scene, many mentioned already. The positives: the leaf-lined path, the autumn bloom and colours, the balance of light and shade, the mosaic pattern entrance and the welcome light. The negatives: the dumped, empty cans left on a railing, the concrete facia, a downwards walk to a lonely looking, dark, underpass. While it’s fair to say I found the negatives a little more compelling than the positives, they didn’t over-power them. Instead, they came together as one. 

 

The title? When autumn meets urban. I did say it was simple.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Autumn-Colours" Underpass Do-Photographs-Need-Words" Foot-Tunnel Leafy-Path Photographers-Essence Photographers-Presence-In-The-Picture Photographic-Story Pictures-And-Words Urban-Photo https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2019/12/must-photographs-be-accompanied-by-words Sat, 14 Dec 2019 11:51:58 GMT
Black and White Photographs - How Do You See Them? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2019/12/black-and-white-photographs---how-do-you-see-them Do you like black and white photographs? Do you prefer the colour in a scene to be excluded from a picture, to show only lines, forms, contrast and the balance of light and shadow? Or do you dislike black and white images, perhaps as incomplete, even false representations of a subject? If colour is present at the time of being photographed, then it should be shown so that you can see all the features of a composition.

 

Most of the images I post on my website or social media are colour. I admit that shooting in colour is my default position. But that doesn’t mean I don’t, occasionally, look at a scene and immediately ‘see’ it as a black and white composition.

 

Have a look at the two images following. While I initially photographed them in colour, I instinctively felt from the start that they were both scenes best shot in black and white. Why was this?

 

Well, in short, it was what both scenes ‘said’ to me; the way each one looked and felt as I spent time trying to comprehend them. Sound like nonsense to you? Okay, let me explain further.

Quiet Cove in ReculverQuiet Cove in ReculverJust along from St Mary Church, Reculver and along the Saxon Shore Way is this peaceful cove.
On this misty morning and with waters calm, I decided on a black and white image to emphasise the lines and textures of the cliff and stony beach.

Consider the first image. While standing on the pebble beach at Reculver one early morning, the place was quiet and still. The sea was almost pond-calm and a light-grey mist was gently drifting in from the estuary towards the cliff. The flat water and the mist converged to, if not merge, at least intertwine. This nudged my gaze back to centre and then left, to look closer at the pebble beach and the cliff face. I began to take a greater interest, not in their colours but in their textures. I began to take notice of the light and shadows between the pebbles and undulations. And most importantly, I focused in on the lines in the scene; of the beach with both the water’s edge and the bottom of the cliff, and the jagged edge of the top of the cliff as it drifted away into the mist. These became the subject of the story in this image. The sea and elements on one side: the land and its weathered, jagged, contrasting lines and textures formed over thousands of years on the other. Colour was a distraction and, for me, reduced the impact of the scene.

In the second image, coincidentally another seaside scene, I was standing on Hastings pier. Here, my reasons for ‘seeing’ black and white were different but no less important to me. Firstly, it was the end of the summer season. Hastings was relatively quiet, with many people seemingly back to work and children back to school. The tide was on the way out and the waves lacklustre. And the light kept changing as clouds drifted across the sun, making it very dull at times and adding to the end-of-season mood. As for the scene itself, well, apart from one lone family, the whole beach front was empty. The most noticeable subject on the beach became the row of exposed, dark groins at right angles to the town’s seafront road and buildings, taking my eye up to the tall building dominating the skyline in the distance. Like the first image, the scene became one of mood, lines, angles and, in the changing light, a contrast of whites and dark greys, brightness and shadow. Again, in my opinion, colour distracted from the story of this seaside town exhaling at season’s end.

 

You may not agree with my way of ‘seeing’ these scenes, or my allowing atmospheric mood to influence my preference of black and white over colour in these images, and that’s perfectly fine. All I can say is, that’s how these scenes spoke to me at the time I was there and I felt I owed it to them to tell their stories in those moments in the best way I could.

 

Does this mean I’m moving towards black and white becoming my start point, and only allowing colour into my images if it adds anything? No.

 

I’ll continue to shoot predominantly colour images. I love colour in my pictures and, to be honest, get more pleasure sharing colourful scenes than black and white. But whenever a scene ‘says’ black and white to me I won’t walk by. It deserves its story to be shared like any other.

 

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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) B&W Black-and-White-Photograph Colour-v-Black-and-White Photograph Photographs Seascapes-in-Black-and-White Story-in-Photographs What-Do-You-Think https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2019/12/black-and-white-photographs---how-do-you-see-them Mon, 02 Dec 2019 12:40:56 GMT
Great Photographic Venues - Why Go Back? https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2019/11/great-photographic-venues---why-go-back To visit the enchanting, curious, lonely St Thomas à Becket Church in Fairfield, is to travel back many centuries and deep into Romney Marsh, perhaps the remotest part of Kent.

My most recent journey there (13 November 2019) was on a bright, clear morning with just the occasional wispy high cloud interrupting constant sunshine. When I entered the gate to the field where the church stands proud but very much alone, the wind was still, it was a comfortable 10-11 degrees and there was no sound to be heard other than the squelch of soft soil underfoot.

Compare this to my previous visit (5 December 2018) which was altogether more threatening and bleak. Then, it was dark and cold, with a wind-chill demanding winter layers, a silly-looking but essential woolly hat and hand-warmers inside thick gloves. And while it was quiet in the sense of no passing traffic or other people, it was noisier from the gusting wind – which really made me feel ‘out there’ in the open wilderness, the sound of gripping mud and saturated ground under my wellies, and sheep grazing and ‘baa’ing’ across the field and between the waterways surrounding the church.

You might wonder why I would return to a place I’d already photographed, and especially somewhere so remote, flat and susceptible to changeable, tricky conditions. Well, apart from the history1 and the mindfulness these sort of locations give me, the reason is shown in the two photographs attached.

St Thomas à Becket Church - Winter 2018St Thomas à Becket Church, Fairfield, Romney Marsh, Kent 5 December 2018 on a bleak, cold, windy day

In the first image, I tried to capture the daylight darkness and the wind in the cloud movement and disturbed water. Also, the barren, exposed nature of Romney Marsh when the weather turns against. In the second more recent picture, I wanted to capture the other side of the Marsh; a welcoming place for long walks and a feeling of fresh air and freedom. A less dreary, more romantic English countryside. (I appreciate, of course, that this opposite viewpoint would have probably been better captured on an equivalent bright, sunny, wispy-cloud day in the summer but sadly I didn’t get the opportunity to visit then. I will, though, return again in the summer of 2020).

St Thomas à Becket Church - late Autumn 2019St Thomas à Becket Church, Fairfield, Romney Marsh, Kent 13 November 2019 on a still, bright, sunny day.

I often return to scenes I’ve previously photographed. Capturing alternative, ideally opposing weather and seasonal conditions is my primary reason. Re-connecting with the history, geography and geology of some places is another. Additionally, I enjoy the task of securing a pictorial record of a scene that maybe will prove of some small benefit to viewers many years from now. But perhaps the biggest attraction for me is the peace I enjoy, particularly in landscapes, woodlands, seaside and waterside places that I manage to have to myself. Visiting St Thomas à Becket Church gives me all of these benefits, whatever the conditions.

I’ll be sure to share with you other stories and thoughts about venues across Kent and South East England in coming blogs.

 

  1. I didn’t want to make this short piece on photography, a historic guide about the church, Fairfield, Romney Marsh and the (alleged) lost villages of Kent. So, I’ve respectfully left it to you to do your own research, if interested.
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(Stephen Reed Outdoor Photography) Barren-Land Country Countryside England English-Countryside Fairfield Kent Kent-History Kent-Landscape Landscape-Images Landscape-Photo Landscape-Photography Outdoor-Photography Photography Romney-Marsh St-Thomas-à-Becket-Church https://www.stephenreedoutdoorphotography.com/blog/2019/11/great-photographic-venues---why-go-back Tue, 19 Nov 2019 16:50:53 GMT