About the PhotographerThe essence of good landscape photography seems to boil down to three things: composition, timing and light and I believe that this final ingredient, light, its colour, quality and strength is the single biggest infuence on the success or otherwise of the final image. Scotland more than any other country I have tackled, challenges the photographer's patience and skill; it toys with you, teases you with amazing light, then laughs at you as you struggle in shrieking wind and rain to record that rapidly fading moment of magic.
I liken it to trying to land a feisty salmon on a fishing line too thin to hold it. In photographic terms if the timing, elements, lighting and subject material are not persuaded into coherency, then, as with fishing, the hook is slipped, the line breaks and the moment of triumph passes.
Transient Light perfectly describes that moment. I search both the wide and intimate landscape for those magical seconds when all the elements align. These extraordinary moments pass all too rapidly and subside back to the mundane.
I invite you to look inside these galleries and witness for yourself the joy of Transient Light.
The sole intent of my landscape photography is simple. I want to recreate the scene that you could have witnessed with your own eyes had you been standing next to me at the moment I fired the camera's shutter. In order for a picture to qualify as a photograph and not something I regard as digital art, the image must be captured in a single frame. That moment can be nearly instantaneous, or it can last several seconds. As long as the end result produces a single well exposed transparency.
It is very rare for me to physically touch or remove any part of the landscape and especially not permanent features. It is also vitally important to me; that you the viewer know, that you can visit these locations and find these scenes for yourself. All the above are simply my own personal opinions and observations as to what makes a legitimate landscape photograph, but ultimately the best landscape photographs and the ones that give me the most lasting pleasure should invigorate all your senses. Atmosphere and mood should be as tangible as the vision and the final image needs to be as transparent as a glassless window - a scene you can step through, touch, taste and smell.
Whether you shoot digital or film there are always a few caveats, no film records light, shade or colour in the same way as the human eye perceives it. You and I can see detail within a ten to 13 stop range. Fuji Velvia can barely record details over five stops, a serious shortcoming that has to be taken into account and addressed, consequently I will use neutral density graduated filters to bring film more into line with what you and I would see. Occasionally I choose to enhance existing colours with very weak filters but I try to use them as honestly as I can. It is never my intention to falsify colours and as previously indicated, It is vitally important to me that anyone viewing these images, knows, that if they had been in that place, at that time and date, they too could have beheld the vision that I was witness too.
There are two brands of filter that for me stand head and shoulders above the others. Both have filters that are rectangular in shape so that you can position the grad line exactly where you want it, both are 100mm wide and are of excellent optical quality. The first and my personal preference is the Hitech 100 system. I would recommend using a two slot filter holder, with standard or wideangle adaptor rings to fit the thread on your preferred lenses. The filters are available both hard and soft edged, they are available in half stop densities as custom versions, and they even have very useful reverse grads. The filters are 125mm long which means they will fit into a very cheap and relatively compact CD case (get one with white lint inserts so you can label them and see the nature of the filter in the wallet). Hitech filters are colour neutral to around four stops after which they have an increasingly magenta cast which can be offset in post processing. Four stops of neutral density is usually more than enough for my needs. The other make I can recommend is Lee filters. The quality of the filters is excellent, arguably better than Hitechs with excellent neutrality to 6 stops, but personally I dislike their holder which seems overly complex compared to that of the Hitech version, the latter being metal instead of plastic. Generally speaking the Lee system is about 1/3 more expensive and availability has proved problematical with waiting times stretching out to in excess of 13 weeks. The filters are 150mm long and 1.5mm thick, so they don't fit in a CD case. Hitech filters fit into the Lee holder but not the other way around.
I use the following Hitech filters.
0.3ND hard edged grads - 1 stop
0.45ND hard edged grads (custom) 1.5 stops
0.6ND hard edged grads - 2 stops
0.9ND hard edged grads - 3 stops
I would also recommend getting a 4 stop ND filter a 6 stop Pro glass filter and a 2 stop reverse grad.
Colour saturation and hue on a transparency are fixed, but Photoshop allows almost infinite change, for better or worse. I always try to maintain the level of contrast and saturation recorded on the original transparency, never-the-less the light I seek and record frequently steps outside the boundaries of what others consider believable, and with the advent of Photoshop and other similar software, that visual honesty is treated with suspicion, a belief that because an image can be "manipulated", it therefore must have been.
I still get asked on a regular basis why on earth I persist on using film when so many have obviously changed to the wonders of digital. Well the admittedly flippant answer is, if it aint broke, why fix it !! Even though film is expensive to buy and develop one tends to shoot less and take that bit more care over the exposures, and it is worth mentioning you can buy an awful lot of film for the price of an all dancing and singing professional digital camera and lenses. Never-the-less I am not averse to change merely reluctant to do so without good reason.
My Photographic Equipment.
Nowadays all my landscape photography is shot with a Pentax 6x7ll and a brace of dedicated lenses including:
Pentax 45mm lens
Pentax 55-100mm zoom lens
Pentax 90-180mm zoom lens.
The camera is perfectly suited to my needs and provides all the quality I could ask for. Not only that it is tough as old boots and intuitively easy to use.
My 35mm film equipment comprises:
Carl Zeiss 28-85mm zoom
Carl Zeiss 80-200mm zoom
Carl Zeiss 100mm macroplanar lens
Carl Zeiss 300mm Tele Tessar lens with associated Carl Zeiss Mutar lll 1.4x converter.
My recently acquired digital camera
18-55mm XT zoom lens
55-200mm XT zoom lens
This is the first digital camera I have owned where I liked the images directly out of camera. It's small, neat, light and precise. I anticipate using it more frequently.
Which ever camera is used it will be bolted securely to a carbon fibre Gitzo 3530LS tripod complete with the superb Really Right Stuff BH-55 QR ballhead with Kirk custom shaped rightangle clamp . This is an amazingly strong and rigid setup which makes challenging landscape photography, even in arduous conditions, a pleasurable experience. To monitor fluctuating light levels I make regular use of a Pentax Digital Spotmeter. Its use ensures a much more accurate exposure.
I scan all my original transparencies using a Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED in conjunction with the frighteningly expensive glass holder (its essential), at 16 bit resolution. The resulting scan is adjusted as accurately as possible to match my original transparency as viewed on a calibrated light box. Please note that all the images should be viewed using a calibrated monitor and it will need regular re-calibration to ensure that your monitor's colour balance doesn't drift.
My Four Top Tips.
1. Enjoy your photography. Take pictures first and foremost for yourself, pictures that give you pleasure NOT pictures you think others might prefer to see. Your photographs are unlikely to please everybody, some regard mine as too saccharin sweet - I like my coffee with milk and sugar, doubtless others prefer theirs strong and black.
2. Don't forsake the aesthetic for the perceived need to be "original". A beautiful picture is just that; beautiful, it doesn't need the window dressing of contrived originality to be admired.
3. Appreciate, photograph and embrace the beauty of the light that is given. It is pointless to harbour regret for the antcipated light that didn't materialise and worse still to try and make up for its perceived inadequacy in post processing.
4. A great many photographers I speak to seem intent on developing their own style. All that I have learned from my years of landscape photography has taught me that a style will find YOU.