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A few days ago I was persuaded by a friend to accompany him on a hike up the Rio Chilar near Nerja in southern Spain. A great day out. The hike is fairly short – about 10km (6 miles) round-trip. The altitude gain is only about 250 feet so not strenuous but it can be difficult. Most of the time you are walking through the river and the river bed can be difficult with stones, boulders and changes in depth. One minute the water is above your ankles and then, if you choose the wrong place for your next step, its above your knees. So an easy hike on the lungs but hard on the feet, knees and leg muscles.
Along the way there are some great opportunities for photography. There are a number of water cascades in the river. They can be difficult to clamber over but they are great locations to stop and explore. Slow shutter speeds work well so a tripod is essential kit along with neutral density filters because the light can be bright. The first photograph was taken at one of those cascades with the camera set at ISO 100, 30sec exposure, f8 aperture and the lens set at 180mm focal length. The long exposure (courtesy of a 10 stop neutral density filter) helping to give a blue tinge to image which I feel fits with the idea of an ethereal, mystical mood.
The next photograph gives an idea of what the cascades look like. Plenty of opportunities to search for details and ideas within the complex mix of rocks, trapped wood and water.
Another great feature of the Rio Chilar trail is the mini-canyons where the river has cut through the rock. Depending on the time of day and the direction of the sun it would be useful to have a flash gun in your bag that can be used off-camera as a fill light for the shadows. I decided not to take my Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites with me but fortunately I was able to get a reasonable shot of the river flowing through a mini-canyon.
There are also plenty of small details in the river bed that provide good material to work on in Photoshop. I’ve used ‘blending’ in this next photograph to show the sort of images that can be created in post-processing. Here’s an example using the ‘vivid light’ blending mode at 85% opacity.
So, a good day out but you need to get to the start-point for about 8:30am to get parked and beat the rush, its a popular walk for the Spanish and for tourists on holiday. Minutes after taking this last photograph the pool below the waterfall was filled with a procession of people all wanting their ‘selfie’ photo-opportunity in the pool with the waterfall behind them. A bit annoying for us landscape photographers but a great way to cool down after the first half of the hike before returning back down the river.
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In the past photography was the preserve of special occasions, darkrooms and chemistry but along came digital technology. Cameras became smaller and ultra-portable. Processing became instant using the technology already there within the camera. Now we carry a camera and processing ‘laboratory’ in our pocket or bag without giving it a second thought. The portability and quality of our phone cameras means we never need to miss an opportunity to make a record of where we are, who we are with and what we are doing. Here’s an example of that technology in use.
The technical quality isn’t great but this photograph records a chance encounter that would have been lost if I hadn’t got my iPhone in my pocket. I would have still seen the shot, admired the artistic combination of colours and shapes, the way the text reinforced an important element of the composition along with the irony that someone probably paid a lot of money for an advertising agency to come up with a brand name for their new blue wine and got ‘Blu’ – which is quite catchy I have to admit – but the image would have only lived on in my head. Not anymore.
The photograph was taken at a beach restaurant at Cabo de Gato in Almeria, Southern Spain.
Wandering around woodland with my camera is a great way to spend time outdoors. One of the reasons I usually explore Padley Woods when I’m in England is because there are so many different photographic opportunities within a relatively small area. There are of course the traditional woodland scenes but you can also find abstract designs within the textures and shapes of the trees and there’s even a stream ‘painting’ a watery path through the woods. Once you’re immersed in the woodland, every turn reveals a silent clamour of landscape scenes, all auditioning for the photographer in the hope they’re chosen to be ‘painted’ onto the camera’s sensor to give them visual immortality. Spending time in Padley Woods is synonymous with the pastoral tradition of landscape photography – picturesque countryside as we like to remember it.
Recently a different type of woodland photographic opportunity presented itself. I was driving across Beeley Moor near Chesterfield in Derbyshire heading towards Chatsworth when unexpectedly I saw a field that obviously used to be a wood. A quick reverse revealed the trees had been felled for timber and most of them were neatly stacked waiting to be taken away to be converted into something ‘useful’. What struck me was the sense of devastation left behind. There were trenches filled with water which was starting to freeze because of the cold and hundreds of broken and discarded branches lay on the cold ground littering the field wherever I looked, inexplicably a few trees had survived and were still standing. The scene triggered thoughts about photographs from the World Wars where the countryside had been flattened by an artillery bombardment or tank battle. The scene also reminded me of pictures I must have seen of elephant ‘cemeteries’ where the carcases had rotted away leaving behind a mass of bones littering the ground. With those thoughts in mind I set about producing a photograph that tries to capture those sorts of associations. ‘Woodland massacre’ is the result – a dark, grainy, monochrome image that makes me think about war, massacre, devastation rather than the picturesque, pastoral images normally conjured up when I think about woodland.
For feline lovers this might be a disappointment, not a cat in sight, but there is a dramatic sky and great light on the sea. Photo taken on a Mijas Photography Group weekend shoot at Cabo de Gata (Cape Cat), Almeria, Southern Spain.
A recent post raised some interesting thoughts about our reliance on visual clues to help make sense of the scale and context of a photograph. I’ve posted two images here that were photographed from the same position and at the same time. The first image, posted recently (click here for that post), resulted in some interesting insights into our reliance on visual clues to help us make sense of ‘abstract’ images. For example, some people didn’t register it was a photograph of the sea, others misinterpreted the scale thinking the photo was a close-up, perhaps taken by someone standing in the sea. I thought it would be interesting therefore to re-post the original photo alongside another from the same location. Including the lifeboat in the photo provides extra visual clues to help clarify the subject, context and size of the image but in doing so it loses the sense of ‘abstraction’/visual uncertainty I tried to create in the first photo.
I’ve commented before that one of the creative challenges I find particularly rewarding is making visual sense of the complexity in Nature’s woodland ‘designs’. Large branches creating a criss-cross of shapes, obscuring the view; thin twigs infiltrating any spare space between their larger brothers, colours that can either blend different parts of the scene together or keep them separate, the complex pattern of light and the layers of detail created as branches are swallowed into background shadows. The woodland photographer’s biggest challenge is to take all those complexities and create an image that is visually simple – something I find easier to say than do but I take some comfort there are photographer’s more experienced than me who agree it is a difficult challenge.
David Ward – one of my favourite photographer’s of ‘intimate landscapes’ – captures the essence of woodland photography in the foreword he wrote to a book called ‘With Trees’. Published in 2013 by Triplekite, the book showcases a series of woodland scenes taken by Dav Thomas – a Sheffield-based photographer and graphic designer. I wouldn’t say it’s a great collection of woodland photographs but there are some very good images. For example, ‘Baslow Dawn’ taken below Baslow Edge in Derbyshire has a ‘Constable-like’ feel to the trees (without the cottage and haywain!) and ‘Fallen’ taken at Yew Tree Tarn in the Lake District is a good example of how a tangle of branches in a fallen tree can be distilled from the complex woodland that surrounds it. Ward’s foreword to the book reveals his understanding of the complexity of woodland photography through a number of statements that will ‘strike a chord’ for many woodland photographers. He says:
… trees don’t easily give up their secrets to the camera. (Woodlands) are incredibly complex and chaotic, both facets that make it very hard to produce a satisfying photograph. Painters have the luxury of being able to bend the space to their will. They can easily omit any aspect of a view that offends them, move objects around the canvas and, perhaps most conveniently, change the way the light falls. No doubt this all requires great technical expertise to achieve convincingly. But a photographer’s task is no easier.
His comments confirm the point that triggered me to write this short post. In woodland photography, ‘making it simple is complicated’. It’s difficult but not impossible. I’m lucky the photograph in this post turned out better than I originally thought it would but to paraphrase the American President, Thomas Jefferson, “I find the harder I work (at woodland photography), the more luck I seem to have”. Still a long way to go on my journey to become a better woodland photographer so with Jefferson’s words ringing in my ears, it’s time to plan another trip to the woods!