Words that Resonate

I have spent some time collecting words whilst taking photographs, or reviewing images made in the past. These are words describing the scene or my mood at the time. I noted them and now I will try to organise them into themes with explanations.

Narrative – I always make a narrative for myself when viewing a scene and I hope my viewers will do the same.

Quirky – I find quirky objects, that is objects that are out of place or unexpected can make the scene enigmatic and so encourage the making of narratives.

Abandoned, Deserted, Isolated, Remote, Vulnerable – are also words that encourage narrative especially when connected to some human construction, something built for human survival away from large communities and a social support.

Calm, Tranquil, Stillness, Windless – these are words I associate with my own sense of peace and relaxation. This is the state I have often experienced (and long for again) in locations that are Remote, Expansive, usually Treeless and almost always including Water.

I include Windless in this set because any noise, and in these locations the wind is the most likely source of noise, is very distracting and likely to prevent me achieving Relaxation and full engagement with the scene.

To achieve real Peace and Relaxation I also have to be alone and, ideally, unable to see any other humans. I need Solitude.

Sombre, Low key, Muted – are all terms that can be applied to the colour palettes of my images and my favoured lighting conditions for photography. This has nothing to do with my own mood. Quite the opposite. It is these conditions where I am most Relaxed and happy because they are so closely related to feelings of Calm and Peacefulness.

Space, Expansive, Treeless, Water – these are all associated with being able to see for great distances. Consequently, locations such as the Scottish Highlands and Islands, the North American Prairies and almost all of Iceland are favourite locations for me. I believe this may be explained by “Savannah Theory” where my need to be able to see any potential threats, from far away, is met. Conversely, I am very uncomfortable in any woodland, becoming claustrophobic and nervous.

Also, considering “Savannah Theory”, one of the reasons I seek out evidence of human construction is for the comfort of knowing my location has been or is habitable, that life is possible here and I am not the first person to try.

This has been a useful exercise in understanding myself, my own reactions to places and why I seek out particular types of location. It also highlights the conditions that suit my “intuitive” photography. If I am to break away from pure intuition towards being able to make meaningful images regardless of prevailing conditions I need to reduce my reliance on some of these conditions.

Probably the most urgent of these to address is the need for Calm, Windless conditions as these are not typical of either Iceland or Scotland. How can I reduce the impact of these distractions and so really engage with the scene, in spite of the weather?

Cramond 5th visit

This was a very windy day which had two effects on my photography. First, a technical one, my tripod was not sturdy enough in the wind to allow me to make the long exposure shots that would eliminate the distracting waves also caused by the wind. Secondly, as mentioned before I find the wind itself to be a big distraction to my thought processes.

On the positive side and for the first time, I decided not to have any music playing and this did have a very positive effect on my ability to engage with the scene and the atmosphere. I spent about half my time in the island’s woods which greatly reduced the problems caused by the wind. Also, for most of the time I was the only person on the island and this gave me an enhanced feeling of the isolation I wanted to achieve.

Finally, following previous researches where I discovered that almost all my images were shot at either 35mm or 28mm, I decided to only use 35mm today.

This first shot has some of the sense of isolation I am aiming for thanks to the distant shore, the tide being in and the narrow causeway. Also the impression that the pillbox is looking towards the mainland helps. I have significantly desaturated the image to enhance the bleakness of the scene, making it more in keeping with the cold, windy weather. However, I am not happy with the composition and think I need to reduce the size and therefore the weight of the pillbox.

This square composition doesn’t work. It is far too compressed on the left side and makes the pillbox look too tall and dominant.

I am happier with this 3rd version but wonder if a slightly higher viewpoint would help by further separating the pillbox from the land as well as making it seem smaller. However, that is not physically possible without ladders.

Now into the woods where there are many traces of human leisure activities. I particularly like this evocative scene of a rope swing and the resulting scuff marks on the ground. The dark, evergreen bush on the right forms a necessary end stop and a balance to the other dark areas.

To be continued.


Comparison of different weather conditions

My last post prompted me to do a comparison of two different weather conditions.

This first was certainly not a rough day but still I did not feel very relaxed when taking the image. There’s too much going on in the background and even those little water ripples are distracting in the contrasty sunlight.

When taking the image below I was far more engaged and relaxed as the weather was so quiet. Perhaps the fog and flat water are a metaphorical bag over my head? Like an animal I become calm when the world is largely excluded from my vision.

Compositionally, the mist and the still water greatly simplify the image so focusing attention on the graphic qualities of the blocks.

The mist has also desaturated the scene, removing most of the blue and perhaps enhancing the yellow a little, again helping simplify the image.


Deconstructing My Image Taking Process

The following is an attempt to map out the various inputs and actions that influence my image taking.

Blue topics are about myself and my influences. These are the features that result in “intuitive” compositions and so are the aspects I need to deconstruct in order to understand and then take control.

Green topics are the environment that I am faced with and the Yellow box shows factors I can and should actively control.

It is only since starting to think deeply about the above processes that I have realised how much more creative I become when the environmental conditions actively simplify the scene for me. For example, a windless day means smooth, wave free water. It is also quiet which helps me think and absorb the location. I am easily distracted (even disturbed) by the movement and noise caused by the wind. Fog and snow also promote my creativity for the same reasons.

I think the most difficult box is the question “Can I articulate my feelings / reactions?” Often the answer, , is “No”. Whilst on location I usually find it very difficult to engage with the place unless something, like the environmental conditions, are actively helping me. If they aren’t helping then I tend to go into “intuitive mode”.

Revisiting the same location after time at home contemplating the first work does help me get better images. I think it is because, at home, in front of the computer, I am quiet and absorbed, not distracted by anything. The trick will be to achieve the same degree of contemplation whilst at one location instead of rushing to the next location.



Iona – St Martin’s Cross

This image is partly about design – the 3 vertical elements – but primarily it is about the juxtaposition of St Martin’s cross (9th century) against the modern, almost hiding, power transformer. There is definitely a feeling of superiority and inferiority between these 2 elements.

The 3rd element, the power pole on the left, is far more about design as it contributes to the balance of the image rather than adding to the meaning.