George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography: Blog en-us (C) George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography (George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) Mon, 21 May 2018 11:29:00 GMT Mon, 21 May 2018 11:29:00 GMT George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography: Blog 120 120 Wombats of Bendeela - Kangaroo Valley When we were trying to think of things we'd like to do in Australia, my wife was really keen to see wombats. So we put them on the list, but I didn't honestly expect to see them. They're not all that common, and they're primarily nocturnal. But as we researched other things we'd like to do, and places we'd like to visit, we came across Kangaroo Valley, which was conveniently placed along our route from the Blue Mountains to Jervis Bay & Booderee National Park. At the same time I was looking for somewhere where we might be able to find wombats, and Kangaroo Valley again came up in that search too. So we decided to try our luck, and booked a couple of nights there.

Research suggested that Bendeela Recreation Area was the place to go, as there were references to wombats on their website & TripAdvisor reviews. Prior to arriving, I had very low expectations of seeing a wombat - at least while it was still light enough for photos. But as you can see, the gamble paid off!

Wombat Wide-AngleWombat Wide-AngleWild wombat, grazing on the green grass at Bendeela.
Nature photography, Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

Bendeela is an open camping and picnic area which is owned by the local water company, and open to visitors for free. We arrived shortly before sunset, and saw our first wombat before we'd even parked the car! I couldn't believe my luck.

Side-Lit WombatSide-Lit WombatA wild wombat, photographed during low light, at Bendeela, Kangaroo Valley.
Nature photography, New South Wales, Australia.

Wombats sleep during the day, in underground burrows, and emerge around sunset, to graze through the night. Around the edges of Bendeela, you can see the entrance holes to their burrows. And down by the river, under the trees, you'll find a whole lot more burrows. In fact, if you get there before the wombats come out (which I'd really recommend), it's well worth looking at the extent of the burrows around the camp ground. They're large holes, and there are dozens and dozens of them. You don't need to stake out the burrows though - and for the sake of the wombats I suggest you don't. They're cautious about leaving their burrows, so leave them lots of space and privacy to come as and when they like. If you stick to the main, open areas of the camp grounds, you'll see them when they're ready to be seen. There's clearly a healthy number of wombats in the area, so with this population, you're almost guaranteed multiple sightings.

Wombat at SunsetWombat at SunsetA wild wombat, grazing at sunset.
Nature photography, Bendeela, Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

However, because they don't come out until shortly before sunset, it doesn't leave you very long to get some photos (or simply enjoy watching them snuffle around and forage). 

It does at least mean though, that you get to see them in the best light of the day, as the normally harsh sun is low in the sky. So I tried all my usual favourite techniques for using that low sun, like back-lighting, side-lighting, and rim-lighting.

One thing I noticed in Australia, compared to the UK, was how quickly the sun set. That might sound silly, but the sun took a much more vertical trajectory. So when you see a decent space between the sun and the horizon and think you've got half an hour of light, it would plummet below the horizon in more like 10 minutes. 

Munching WombatMunching WombatA wombat, out for the evening, looking for food.
Wildlife photography, Bendeela, Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

Although the town is called Kangaroo Valley, it's actually named after the Kangaroo River, rather than directly after the bouncy marsupials. The river is a nice focal point for the town, and provides the opportunity for activities and nature watching. We had hoped to rent some canoes and see the valley from the river, but unfortunately it had been 3 months since the last rainfall, and the water levels were too low. But there are other things to do there. There are walks in the area, and the town itself is a characterful place, with a kind of wild-west look about it.

Wombat on Green & GoldWombat on Green & GoldPortrait of a wombat, against the iconic green and gold of the Australian bush at sunset.
Nature photography, Bendeela, Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

It was interesting to see that each wombat had their own personality. They all had a pretty relaxed temperament, and were obviously used to people, due to living on a camp ground. But some were more tolerant than others, while some were more shy. They also varied physically. While all keeping to that classic stocky shape, some were more boxy than others, some with rougher fur, and some smaller and lighter in appearance, like the one above.

Wombat in PortraitWombat in PortraitPortrait-orientated photo of a wombat.
Nature photography, Bendeela, Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

I was expecting them to be much more shy than they were. Though some were sticking to the quieter areas of the park, there were bolder individuals walking right through the camp ground. One of the highlights was seeing a wombat itching itself up against the bumper of a camper van, causing it to shake considerably. They're a lot like miniature bears in many ways, but more dense and compact. And you just have to see the baby wombats! Unfortunately I only saw a couple, and it was too dark for photos by that point. But they were totally adorable.

Foraging WombatForaging WombatA wombat, out for the evening, and looking for food.
Nature photography, Bendeela, Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

And in case you weren't aware of everyone's favourite wombat fact... Wombats do cubed poos!

It's true - and we saw a few around :-)

Scratching WombatScratching WombatA wild wombat, stopping to scratch, in front of his woodland home.
Nature photography, Bendeela, Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

As you can see here, I was keen to use the trees as background. Not only because of the opportunity for back-lighting, but also to use that context, since wombats are typically woodland dwellers.

Scratching Wombat (B&W)Scratching Wombat (B&W)A wombat stops to scratch, shortly after emerging from its burrow for the evening.
Black & white nature photography, Bendeela, Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

Wombats are the real USP of Bendeela and Kangaroo Valley, but there's plenty of other wildlife around. We saw a few kangaroos, wallabies, lizards, kookaburras, etc. One family we met there showed us a photo of an enormous monitor lizard (AKA 'goanna') they'd seen walking past their tent that afternoon, and I couldn't believe the size of it. I'd love to see one of them, but not that close!

All-in-all, I'd really recommend a visit to Bendeela, whether you're into photography or not. We were travelling in a family group of three generations, and everyone enjoyed seeing them in such a relaxed and natural environment. Just a brilliant experience.

As the sun set behind the trees, this was my final opportunity to get a shot of a wombat in the light. 

Wandering WombatWandering WombatA wombat, out for a walk for the evening, shortly after emerging from it's burrow for the evening.
Nature photography, Bendeela, Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

Overall I'm really pleased with the photos I got there. I could happily spend an entire week of evenings photographing the wombats at Bendeela, and there's a real wealth of potential for all kinds of different photos. If I ever get the chance to return, I'm confident I could do even better, but as a pot-luck first-time visit, this has to be considered a success.

If you're thinking of visiting Bendeela Recreation Area, check out their website, and also this PDF which provides some excellent information about the wombats of Bendeela.

For more from this series of Australian nature & landscape photos (including a kangaroo portrait from Bendeela), see these blogs. I'll be adding to this series over the next few months, as I get around to writing up my experiences at the various locations we visited.

If you have any questions or comments, please use the section below.



Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.


(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal australia australia-2017 evening marsupial nature new south wales nsw photography sunset vombatus vombatus ursinus wildlife wombat Mon, 21 May 2018 08:00:00 GMT
Photography from Snowdon A couple of weeks ago I visited Snowdon, in North Wales, having visited for the first time last year. Now, from the two visits, I have a little collection of photos from the area, so I thought I'd share them together.


2017 - The Pyg Track

There are several routes up Snowdon. Last year, we hiked up the Pyg Track, which is the shortest, most direct route to the summit. We left the Pen-Y-Pass youth hostel around an hour before sunrise, in order to catch the best light from halfway up.

This is a 2-shot panorama image, captured just as the sun was between the horizon and the low cloud.

Snowdonia SunriseSnowdonia SunriseSunrise over the peaks of Snowdonia National Park, Wales, UK.


As the light transitioned, I caught another view of this same cliff face which interested me...

Rocky StartRocky StartThe start of another day in the rugged mountains of Snowdonia.


While we photographed the sunrise, the Snowdon summit was still in cloud. So we timed our ascent with the rising of the mist. As we neared the end, the cloud cleared, and we had a perfect view of the top...

Snowdon SummitSnowdon SummitThe peak of Mount Snowdon, in North Wales, just as the low cloud clears to reveal a blue sky above.


2018 - Crib Goch

This year we wanted to try a different route. We liked the look of Crib Goch, and we had decent weather for it, so we decided to give it a go. Crib Goch is a narrow ridge which over-looks the Pyg Track. It's the steepest initial ascent, meaning that it would take us to a higher altitude faster than the other routes. It's also a more dramatic landscape, and provides views of both the Snowdon Horseshoe to the West, and views to the South and East too. So bang-for-buck, it provides significantly better views and more photo opportunities than the Pyg Track.

However - and this is a notable 'however', Crib Goch is also significantly harder than the other routes up Snowdon. It requires a great deal of scrambling as well as, at times, some climbing (up and over 2-3 meter rock faces). These climbs are intersected with careful negotiation of very narrow , steep-sided ridges, and all at a reasonable altitude. On top of that, the route is frequently unclear/unmarked, making navigation challenging at times too. That said, Crib Goch was a very enjoyable route up, and I'd recommend it. But please only attempt it if you are sure that everyone in your group has the experience and capability to manage it safely - and enjoy it.

This first photo shows the Crib Goch ridgeline we'd trekked across (on the left), and the white Pen-Y-Pass youth hostel (in the centre) where the route starts...

Pen-Y-PassPen-Y-PassThe popular Pen-Y-Pass hostel, gets it's first light of the day, at the foot of Mount Snowdon. As you can see from the image above, there wasn't much of a sunrise this time, as the cloud didn't lift until nearly lunchtime. But that low cloud, constantly moving, and rare moments of sunlight can combine to make some dramatic scenes.

One perennial favourite of mountain photographers is looking for layers in distant ridges. Sunrise and sunset generally provide the best opportunities to appreciate these views, and despite the lack of sunlight, the low cloud and hints of light combined well for this shot. Here I decided to embrace the slate-grey hues that typify rugged North Wales, in my mind.

Snowdonia LayersSnowdonia LayersLayers of mountain ridges, photographed from Crib Goch, Snowdonia.


And now we're getting to the nitty-gritty. These last two photos show the rocky ridgeline of Crib Goch, and the scrambling route over the top. They're both framed by dark, brooding clouds. Crib Goch RidgeCrib Goch RidgeThe infamous Crib Goch ridge, a popular, but technical route up / down Snowdon.


I really enjoyed Crib Goch, and the Snowdon Horseshoe in general. There are so many good viewpoints, and the reliably unreliable weather, brings with it endless photographic opportunities. I can't wait to go back again.

This last photo is my favourite from a cold and misty start to the day, on the Crib Goch ridge...
Dark Crib GochDark Crib GochThe infamous rugged peaks of Crib Goch; a ridge route up to the summit of Mount Snowdon.
Fine Art Landscape Photography, Snowdonia, Wales, UK.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.


(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) cloudy crib goch landscape mountain photography pyg snowdon snowdonia uk wales Mon, 07 May 2018 08:00:00 GMT
Pines in Snow When we had snow last month, I posted some photos of the black swan on the icy lake, which I photographed during the afternoon. Earlier that morning, I visited my favourite local woodland; Aspley Woods, in Bedfordshire.

Pine WalkwayPine WalkwayA pathway through the tall pines, on a misty snowy winter's day.
Aspley Woods, Bedfordshire, UK.

If you know me, you'll know how much I like trees. And how much I like snow!

Aspley Woods is mainly populated with tall pine trees. They're so tall and straight, they create an almost abstract canvas of lines and texture.

Snow-Dusted PinesSnow-Dusted PinesTall pines, dusted with snow, on a cold winter day.
Aspley Woods, Bedfordshire, UK.

I was trying to use a wider-angle lens than normal, so I was able to capture a little foreground context here too...

Giant PinesGiant PinesThe pine trees in Aspley Woods are huge. Here they stand, outlasting the seasons, despite the odd fallen branch.

Within the forest of old giants, lurks a few new firs, spreading their branches, and adding colour to the environment.

Forest Firs in SnowForest Firs in SnowA young fir tree growing amongst the surrounding giants.

Right on the edge of the forest, is this grand old oak, which I've previously photographed in autumn colour. Snow OakSnow OakA large old oak tree, with a dusting of snow.
Aspley Woods, Bedfordshire, UK.

And to the west, the silver birch trees creep in, and find their place amongst the pines and the firs.

Birches Among FirsBirches Among FirsA few silver birch trees growing up between the giant pines.
Aspley Woods, Bedfordshire, UK.

Birch SquareBirch SquareSquare-crop of the silver birches, holding fast in the snow.
Aspley Woods, Bedfordshire, UK.

This last shot is my favourite from my morning in the snow. I like the different colours in the tree trunks, and how a few of them seem to be leaning into the scene. And the mist gives it a bit of an other-worldly feel - like you could imagine any kind of creature wandering out from the background, and through the trees.

Birch Forest in SnowBirch Forest in SnowA dusting of snow, in the silver birch woodland.
Aspley Woods, Bedfordshire, UK.

As I write this, it's currently 26°C outside, so I think it's safe to say our winter is over for another year. Looking back, we had a fairly decent one. I got out in the snow a couple of times, both for deer and swans, as well as woodland. Looking forward, as spring progresses, I'll be looking for bluebells and highland cattle, among other things. I also have three or four more sets of photos from Australia to share.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.


(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) bedfordshire birch british cold ice landscape nature oak photography pine snow trees winter Sun, 22 Apr 2018 18:00:00 GMT
Abisko: Arctic Sweden in Winter After last year's trip to Finnish Lapland, I was keen to see more of this part of the world. So this year we thought we'd try Sweden. Abisko is a national park in Northern Sweden, approximately 200km north of the Arctic Circle. It's a rugged and wild national park, best explored with snow shoes or cross-country skis during winter. However, there is a small town on the edge of the park, which is serviced by road and rail, so it's easy enough to get there. The real trick up Abisko's sleeve is it's reputation for the northern lights, AKA 'aurora'. It's guarded by the mountains which surround it in almost every direction. These typically hold back the clouds, and provide Abisko with more clear nights than other arctic destinations. But more of that later.


Snow-Covered Landscapes

First is a photo which will serve as my main memory of daytime in Abisko National Park - looking through trees!

Birches in SnowBirches in SnowEverywhere you go in Abisko you see this sight - birch trees in the foreground, mountains behind, and snow all around.

The image above is a snow-covered lake called Njakajaure (also known as Vuolip Njáhkájávri). I hope you're pronouncing those correctly, because I'm not. In front of the lake is a handful of the several million birch trees in the area, and behind are the glacial mountains which lie to the south east of the park. The circular walk to this lake is accessible on foot during winter, and there aren't many opportunities to get out of the trees and see a view, so this is definitely worth the hike. In fact, getting out of the birch forest, and seeing a view was the single hardest thing about photography in Abisko. In winter, at least.

Step off the path at your peril - the compacted snow on the marked trails is easy enough to walk on, but if you leave the path by just a foot or two, you'll end up in waist-high snow, which is not always easy to get out of, and impossible to walk through.

Below is a classic Swedish cabin. I grabbed this shot out of a train window, as the combination of light and the scenery as just too much to resist.

Swedish LaplandSwedish LaplandA classic Swedish cabin, painted red, surrounded by the rolling hills and birch forest. Photographed in high Arctic Sweden, March 2018.


Another, similar shot below, showing my memory of the vast uninhabited areas of arctic Sweden. In fact this was close to the Norwegian border in the far North West of Sweden.

Arctic SwedenArctic SwedenWinter in the far North of Sweden, as the setting sun illuminates the snow-covered hills.


Lake Torneträsk

Both Abisko National Park and the small town of Abisko sit on the Western shore of the enormous lake Torneträsk, which dominates the view from both locations. The lake itself is frozen, and is safe to walk across in winter. In fact since the wind rips across the lake, and keeps the snow-cover more shallow, it's easier to walk on than the other trails in the national park. Photographically, it's the mountains on the other side which interest me.

Torneträsk PanoramaTorneträsk PanoramaThree-shot panorama of the mountains beyond lake Torneträsk, Abisko, Sweden.


Looking North at sunset, the mountains are side-lit, which creates interesting shadows along the ridge. There was low cloud on this evening, but even the cloud turned a deep blue colour at sunset, until it was actually darker than the sun-lit land below. This always a creates a dramatic effect in photos.  Swedish FellsideSwedish FellsideThe hills at the top of lake Torneträsk, in Abisko, lit by the setting sun.
The Norwegian border lies tantalisingly close beyond this fell.


As the sun sets, the best view is East, towards the mountains enjoying the last rays of sun.
Frozen SunsetFrozen SunsetA frozen lake Torneträsk, in Abisko, Sweden.


The shade of the foreground is blue, while the highlights and the sky transition to pinks and purples. This is an effect we see in the UK sometimes (more often in the winter, I think), but I it's far more common, and far more emphatic in the arctic regions. Pink MountainsPink MountainsThe mountains beyond Lake Torneträsk, painted pink by the setting sun, as the land below sits in shadow.
Just over the other side of these mountains, you'll find the Norwegian border, which stretches over the top of Sweden.



And as day turned to night, Abisko lived up to it's reputation, and duly delivered the famous 'northern lights'. We headed down to lake Torneträsk to enjoy the show. Aurora Over Lake TorneträskAurora Over Lake TorneträskThe northern lights dancing in the night sky, about Lake Torneträsk, in Abisko, Sweden.


This aurora was only a 4 on the Kp scale, so around mid-strength, but it warped and morphed into shapes, and at times it danced and flickered across the sky.

Aurora Sauna CabinAurora Sauna CabinA small Swedish sauna cabin, sitting on the banks of the frozen lake Torneträsk, with the aurora illuminating the night sky. Aurora PortraitAurora PortraitA burst of aurora photographed in portrait-orientation. Lake Torneträsk, in Abisko, Sweden.


I don't think these photos are really adding much to the world of aurora photos out there, but they're a good indication of the sort of thing you can expect if you visit Abisko yourself.

Swirling AuroraSwirling AuroraAurora over lake Torneträsk, Abisko, Sweden.



For reference, we stayed at the STF Abisko Mountain Station, which was a great choice, and I'd stay there again, for sure. It's operated by the Swedish tourist association, and offers both hostel and self-catering-cabin accommodation. We stayed in a cabin, which as well as having aurora and lake views from the windows, we also woke up to find a mother and calf moose on one morning. Top marks from me.

As for the National Park, I found it a struggle in winter. The trail maps were poor (vague, not well described, not well publicised) in comparison to those in Finland last year, and there were very few trails accessible without snow shoes or skis. Even fewer which provided views - such was the density of the birch trees. Of course, that's kind of the point. Abisko is pitched at a slightly different crowd to the more accessible resorts in Finland. In other seasons, it would be easier to get up above the tree line, so I'd like to return in Autumn one year, and see the landscape dressed in red and gold. But for winter, if you prefer snow-capped trees, fells, and hiking trails, try Finland. If your priority is aurora, or cross-country skiing (see the "Kungsleden Trail"), I'd heartily recommend Abisko.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.


(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) abisko arctic aurora cold landscape lapland nature northern lights photography scandinavia sky snow sweden Tue, 10 Apr 2018 16:00:00 GMT
Black Swan on Ice I recently found a lone black swan on a local lake, coinciding with the period of snowfall we had here earlier this month. The combination of black and white was irresistible, so I spent a couple of hours with it looking for interesting photos.

Black Swan & Frozen LakeBlack Swan & Frozen LakeBlack swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.


Black swans are indigenous to Australia but like many exotic species, they've been released in the UK without too much impact on our native ecology. They're a relatively rare sight in the UK, so they make for an interesting find.

Black Swan on WaterBlack Swan on WaterBlack swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.
Black Swan SwimmingBlack Swan SwimmingBlack swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.


At first the swan was sticking to the edge of the lake, where in a patch of unfrozen water, so I took the opportunity to get some close-ups against the ice of the frozen lake behind.

Black Swan Close-UpBlack Swan Close-UpBlack swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.
Black Swan Close-UpBlack Swan Close-UpBlack swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.

Black Swan CurveBlack Swan CurveBlack swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.


But what I was really waiting for was a chance to get some wider shots. After well over an hour, the it finally wandered across the middle of the lake, and I was able to take these something showing a little more of the icy surroundings.

Black Swan Wandering Frozen LakeBlack Swan Wandering Frozen LakeBlack swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.


In 2013, there was a pair of black swans here, who nested and raised cygnets. But I hadn't seen them since. For a while there were was one in nearby Bedford town centre. Five years later, this lone individual has surfaced.

Black Swan on Frozen LakeBlack Swan on Frozen LakeBlack swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.


I think this a female, as their necks are more slender than the males. But it's hard to be sure.

Black Swan PortraitBlack Swan PortraitBlack swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.


Black swans a noticeably smaller than the more common mute swans we have in the UK, especially when you see them side-by-side. I didn't take any photos of them together, but I did take a few photos of the mute swans on the same day. Although far less unusual as sight than black swans, they still look lovely combined with the snow & ice.

Mute Swan in WinterMute Swan in WinterMute Swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.
Mute Swan on IceMute Swan on IceMute Swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.


Mute Swan on Frozen LakeMute Swan on Frozen LakeMute Swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.
Mute Swan Close-UpMute Swan Close-UpBlack swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.


Sadly, I don't expect the mute swans to tolerate the presence of the black swan once nesting season comes around, so I may not get another chance to photograph this individual before she moves on. Even so, I think I've got a good return for this encounter, and I'll always be on the lookout for a repeat opportunity.

Black Swan On IceBlack Swan On IceBlack swan, on a frozen Lake.
March 2018.
Nature photography, Bedfordshire.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.


(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal black swan british cold cygnus atratus ice nature photography snow storm swan uk wildlife winter Sun, 18 Mar 2018 10:00:00 GMT
Advice for a photographer's website The low sun is setting behind the trees and bluebells of a Bedfordshire woodlandLow Sun in the Bluebell WoodThe green trees are painted gold by the setting sun, and the bluebells are illuminated from behind. The sun is placed to one side here, so we see the shadows of the trees stretching out at an angle.
Part of a bluebell landscape project.
Fine Art Landscape Photography, Bedfordshire, UK.
Whether you're a full-time, or a part-time photographer, it's important to have a website that showcases your work. Even if you're not selling anything, it's a great thing to have your own little space on the internet, to share the best of your photographic portfolio.

As a web developer and a photographer myself, I thought I'd share my top tips for anyone with, or planning their own photography website.

This isn't a definitive checklist by any means, and there's nothing here which is an absolute requirement. But I hope it's of use to others out there who aren't sure what they need, or who are weighing up hosting platforms from the various providers out there. Similarly, you might be happy with your current website, but you may find one or two things below which you could implement to improve your site's effectiveness.

Disclaimer: Do as I say, not as I do!  I use the Zenfolio platform to host my website, which reduces the maintenance & work required on my part. It's a good platform, but it doesn't cover everything, and so I don't have the facility to implement all of these items myself. The likelihood is that very few photographers have the ability to implement everything below, due to the restrictions of each platform choice. Just do what you can within the limitations of your website provider.


1. Pick a hosting platform that covers your requirements as best as possible

It generally pays to use an existing platform of some sort, in order to reduce the amount of time you spend developing and maintaining your site, and increase the time you have available to get out camera-in-hand. Here's a list of providers I've looked into, which may act as a good starting point for others. Each has it's pros and cons, but I don't have the time to properly evaluate each one here (maybe in future).


2. Include an 'About' page

Your USP is you, so take the opportunity to introduce yourself, and show people your character. That's an important thread for your entire site, but clearly the 'About' page is the most important place to do this. There are some great blog posts around on photographer's 'About' pages so again, I won't go into too much detail here (this one's a good starter). Mine is undoubtedly too long, but that's better than too short, in my opinion.
One thing I would say - I don't like seeing these pages written in the third-person. I just find it a bit odd, when it's clearly written by the photographer themself. 


3. Include a photo of yourself

I think this is so important. Even if like me, you're shy, and your photo makes you look like an android learning to smile for the first time.
A website is a pretty cold and distant connection from your audience, and you need to do everything you can to bridge that gap. The reality is that as human beings we instinctively respond to faces, and it's a very effective way for a viewer to instantly connect with you. It also helps add authenticity to your website, and reassure clients that there's someone legitimate behind it. There are all sorts of different styles of portrait to go for, and the best choice for you will depend on your photography genre / market. Many outdoor photographers prefer a shot of them out in the field, surrounded by wildlife, or standing on a mountain peak. Just bare in mind that the reduced intimacy of this style, which makes it easier for an introverted photographer to be comfortable with, also reduces the strength of the connection with the viewer.


4. Include a contact page

Make it easy for people to get in touch with enquiries, and have this link visible at all times, from your site menu. I wouldn't recommend sharing your email address or phone number on your website unless they're specific business accounts which include features to filter out the marketing and spam that they'll attract from web bots which crawl every site for contact details. A simple web form is best, with a reCAPTCHA check if spam becomes a problem.


5. Link to all your social media profiles

Ideally more prominently than I do. The footer is a great place to link from, but people generally look for these icons in the header / menu too. Either way, it should be easy for users to follow you on whichever platforms they use.


6. Blog

As I've alluded to, it's important to get your character and individuality across, and a blog is another way to do this. It's also very helpful for SEO. I'm not a great writer, but I try to share my knowledge, travel experiences, and photo shoots. You don't have to be Charles Dickens to share some interesting information or some background information about your latest collection of photos.

It's surprising how few photography platforms provide an integrated blog. It seems to be something which they undervalue - for their users anyway - they all have one for their own site!

Note that blog posts should show the date of publishing at the top. In my opinion, a blog post without a clear date is of little worth. The modern world changes fast, and an out-of-date post can be quite misleading to a reader if they don't know it's out-of-date. If readers know that two posts on a similar subject were written years apart, it allows them to compare the relevance of those posts. If I read an undated post, I tend to give it very little credibility, since it could be 10 years old.



HTTPS is an encrypted form of web traffic. You'll see 'https' in the URL, rather than 'http', and the browser will display a padlock icon, to show that the transmission is secure. It used to be that this was only used for traffic of the highest privacy (eg payments, checkouts, log-ins), but browsers are increasingly flagging standard HTTP web pages as insecure. Starting this year Google (with their Chrome browser and search results) is strongly incentivising websites to use HTTPS for all web traffic. The downside of HTTPS (and the reason it hasn't been used entirely from the start) is that it costs the host more money (as they have to be certified credible/secure), and it slows down websites. This is what concerns a lot of photography platforms about implementing it for all pages, and I can see why. But as web standards evolve it will soon be a requirement for the benefit of user privacy, so you should try to get this in place (or choose a platform who provides it) asap.


8. Page Speed

As alluded to above, a good page speed is crucial for any website, since users simply have no patience with slow sites. For that reason, search engines take page speed into account in their ranking algorithms, as they know users would rather be directed to fast sites. Use tools such as Google Page Speed Insights, Pingdom, GTmetrix, and Varvy to measure this for your site. Waiting for a page to load is one of the most frustrating user interface experiences, so you need to avoid this as much as possible in order to retain the interest of the casual viewer.


9. Optimise your images for the web

If like me, you're using a photography hosting platform, they should take care of this for you. Zenfolio do a remarkable job of image optimisation, and their sites are generally very fast. If you're using Wordpress, try a plugin such as ShortPixel, who have a special 'Glossy' version for photographers.


10. Watermark your images

Watermarking images isn't universally popular. I hate to have to do it, but I think it's a necessary evil. People are otherwise too quick to take your images, and use them as they see fit. To this end, you should also ensure that you have some form of right-click copy protection - which won't prevent image theft, but makes it that little bit less trivial. If people do reuse your watermarked photos, you're ensuring that you get some form of credit for the image. I've had image sales in the past from people who've found me after seeing my watermarked image used elsewhere online.
And while we're on the subject I'll recommend a service called Pixsy to help identify image theft from around the web.


11. Give each photo it's own page (and URL)

By affording a page to each photo, you can give more information to search engines about the content and context of the image. The obvious advantage of this is for SEO and discoverability of your site. Unfortunately it's something that increasingly few photography platforms implement these days. The preference seems to be for a one-page-per-gallery solution - which allows the user to browse through the photos more quickly than going from page-to-page. Though it must be said there are optimisations that can be done to improve page-to-page browsing, such as Prefetching/Prerendering, but these are rarely implemented. I think it's something that's seriously undervalued by photography website providers.
Zenfolio just about implements this, using a few tricks, but the page URLs are meaningless rubbish which is a bit of a let-down.


12. Generate a good site map, and submit it to search engines

Sitemaps are a key tool in your everlasting quest to appeal to the search engines. They list all your pages, so the search bots know where to look. But not all sitemaps are created equal. Some are very basic, whereas some can list all kinds of metadata about your site content such as page importance, image content, and regularity of updates. This is a big advantage of platforms such as Wordpress, since there are plenty of plugins to provide rich and detailed sitemaps.


13. Responsive Layout

Pretty much all websites should be using a responsive layout these days, to provide a slick and consistent user experience on multiple devices. Most of us will design our website using a PC or Mac, but around half of the users who visit your site will be using a mobile device (phone, tablet). So the site has to perform consistently between all those different screen sizes. It's not OK to have a separate desktop and mobile version anymore. Elements of a website should change size and position to best fit the client device. Fortunately most website providers are up to speed on this.


14. An appropriate colour scheme

I'll stop short of saying a 'muted colour scheme', as perhaps that's just my preference. But it is important that as you design your site, you don't get carried away with the idea of developing a striking colour palette. Remember that your photos are the star of the show, so try to avoid a theme which draws the eye from your photography. Let your photos take centre-stage.


15. Consider your galleries carefully

Users don't typically want to see all of your photos, across different genres and subjects in one go. If the images they're shown aren't targeted and predictable, they'll tune out pretty quickly. This means, for example, that nature photographers need to split wildlife and landscape galleries. But more than that; if your landscape photography encompasses multiple genres, you may need a gallery for each of the major genres you cover. This gives some users the opportunity to browse woodland photos, while another may be interested in travel photography. This all might sound rather obvious, but it's all to easy to think you've done a good job with your choice of galleries when, to the user, they appear as either a vague or bewildering array of options.

Of course you may still wish to include a gallery with a wider scope, such as Landscapes (as I do) - but it's then very important that the photos are ordered in such a way that they transition through your subjects and genres in a pleasing manner, rather than switching back-and-forth between styles (if ordered by date/title/random).

Most importantly, your photo galleries have to make sense to a complete outsider, and allow them to find relevant content with ease. The golden rule is that a user should know what to expect before they click through to a new page / gallery. A key part of interaction design is providing predicable browsing routes for your users - i.e. if they're presented with a set of galleries, it should be obvious what kind of images each gallery will contain.
An example of this problem is when a photographer lists a number of projects for users to browse through. The projects are named something like "Sunday Mornings", "Fascination", and "Silence". If each of these is a different collection of flower photography, they need a description to explain to the user how they are different from each other, and what each one focuses on. This enables people to pick which gallery is most relevant to them, and to enjoy the progression from each one to the next. 

This curation of images is something I find difficult, and I'm sure it's a tricky thing for most photographers, as self-editing is a rare skill. But it's one of the most important aspects of your website, so do afford it considerable thought.


I hope this list is of use to people. I could waffle on about websites and UI design for longer, but I think I'll draw the line there. If you have any questions or additional suggestions, do add them to the comments section below.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) about blog galleries hosting https interaction design internet photographer photography platform responsive sitemap tech user interface web website zenfolio Tue, 27 Feb 2018 19:21:31 GMT
Portraits of an Australian Icon: Kangaroo In October 2017 I visited Australia for the first time. I spent three weeks in New South Wales, my time split between family time, holiday time, and photography. It goes without saying that Australia is packed with potential for a nature photographer - for both wildlife and landscape photography. So I'm sure I'll have a few different blog posts from the trip as time goes on. But I wanted to start with the icon of Australian wildlife, the Kangaroo.

Hello Roo


We saw a number of kangaroos around NSW, all Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus Giganteus), with the best photo opportunities in the Jervis Bay National Park, where I took most of these photos.

Eastern Grey Kangaroo


I'm also fond of proper portraits of animals, so I try to approach wildlife from that perspective.

Low-Light Kangaroo


I'm quite stubborn about not taking snap-shots, and repeating the same images of animals that everyone's seen before. So I decided to gamble and try to use the light to make some interesting shots, rather than simply bagging a set of standard images. This is always a gamble, as you can end up coming away with nothing, but I think it paid off here. I wouldn't say these are ground-breaking, but they're not your standard record shot.

Kangaroo Outline (Colour)


The following day I tried some with the wide-angle lens, to show little more of their environment. I loved the gum-trees in Australia, so it was good to capture this shot, with a sprawling gum tree behind the 'roo...

Kangaroo Portrait


Being spring in Australia, there were a few joeys around. I didn't want to approach the females with joeys, and I don't think they're as interesting photographically as the adults - but they came close enough on a couple occasions, so I took my shot to add to the collection...

Eastern Grey Kangaroo Joey


I found this large male in the aptly-named Kangaroo Valley - though it's actually named after the Kangaroo River which runs though it, rather than the wildlife which bounces through it. He didn't come too close to us, but he was leaning into the last rays of sunlight of the evening, which couldn't have been a better lighting condition.

Kangaroo on Black


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal australia australia-2017 kangaroo macropus giganteus marsupial nature new south wales nsw photography travel trip wildlife Sun, 14 Jan 2018 17:15:25 GMT
Snow Deer 2017 We recently had a day of relatively heavy snowfall here. Probably 20 centimetres or so in places - which is a lot for Bedfordshire! It's the most we've had in the last 10 years I think, as snow is a fairly rare occurrence these days. So like anytime it snows, I try to make the most of it and get out with my camera.

Snow not only adds an interesting additional ingredient to nature photos, but all that white really helps with the general aesthetic of the images you can get. It can simplify images, and enable minimalism and high-key opportunities too. So for all those reasons, it's a perennial favourite with nature photographers.

Manchurian Sika Deer in the snow, at Woburn in Bedfordshire.Manchurian Sika DeerManchurian sika deer in the snow

The snow made it difficult to get around as the roads were seemingly untreated, and effectively unusable without a 4x4. So I had to wait until the afternoon before I could get out to Woburn, which left me just a couple of hours there before the light started to fade.

A sika deer, coping in the freezing temperatures and falling snow of a blizzard.Sika in BlizzardA sika deer, coping in the freezing temperatures and falling snow of a blizzard.

Often when it snows, the deer at Woburn tend to stay put in the more sheltered areas, so it can be hard to find them. It's usually a case of trudging through the snow for as many hours as your motivation will allow, and hoping to encounter the odd transitory deer. Unfortunately on this occasion I couldn't find any red deer, which are my favourite species, but I did find a trio of sika deer.

Sika deer in front of a tree, surrounded by snow.Sika Snow PortraitSika deer in front of a tree, surrounded by snow.

Sika deer aren't native to the UK, but there are wild populations descending from a few introduced individuals in the 1800's. Woburn has a few Manchurian Sika Deer roaming their estate, and they're often quite timid, but in this case they were quite bold, and happy to approach me as I crouched in the snow.

Sika deer in falling snow, with trees behind.Sika in SnowfallA sika deer in the falling snow, at Woburn Deer Park in Bedfordshire.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal bedfordshire blizzard cervus nippon cold deer ice manchurian nature photography sika snow uk wildlife winter woburn Thu, 14 Dec 2017 18:11:12 GMT
Landscape Photography in Finnish Lapland - Part 4: Tunturiaapa Mire This is part 4 of a 4-part series from my trip to Lapland in February 2017. I had too many photos to share in one post, so I ended up having to split them into smaller, themed categories.


Tunturiaapa Mire

If there was one location I'd most like to return to in Lapland, it would be Tunturiaapa Mire. It's basically an area of swamp & marshland, to the South of Pyhä, which creates a clearing amongst the vast forest. Within the mire, the trees have died off, leaving what looks like a graveyard of dead tree trunks, surrounded by the living forest. Granted, it sounds bleak. But it's really beautiful, and it was so quiet and peaceful. If you like genuine natural landscape features, and harsh minimalist imagery, this place is a gold mine.

Tunturiaapa PanoramaTunturiaapa PanoramaDead trees of Tunturiaapa Mire, with the fellside behind.
Fine Art Landscape Photography, Finnish Lapland.
Tunturiaapa is marked in this Winter Hiking Trail map, right at the south-eastern tip of Pyhä-Luosto National Park.

Bleak Tunturiaapa MireBleak Tunturiaapa MireTrees in the Tunturiaapa Mire, Finland. There's a wooden boardwalk providing a horseshoe-shaped walking route through middle of the marsh. In summer, the ground around the boardwalk would be wet and boggy. In winter the ground is frozen solid, but is almost inaccessible without snowshoes. This means that there are no footprints to worry about, and the entire mire (aside from the boardwalk) is pristine snow. Not that you can see the boardwalk for the snow, but if you step off it you'll be up to your waist in snow, so you soon get the gist.

Edge of the ForestEdge of the ForestWhere forest meets Mire.
Tunturiaapa Mire, Pyhätunturi, Finland.
All these photos were taken from the middle of the mire, looking out in different directions, either across the mire itself or to the edges where the swamp meets the forest.

Tunturiaapa Mire in SnowTunturiaapa Mire in SnowLandscape photo of Tunturiaapa Mire, during falling snow.
Fine Art Landscape Photography, Finnish Lapland.
Amongst the chaos of the forest and the dead trees, I was also looking for something approaching minimalism, and this was the best I managed. I quite like it...

Mire MinimalismMire MinimalismA spot of minimalism in the Tunturiaapa Mire, Pyhä, Finland. If I were to visit Lapland again, I would hire snowshoes, so I could get a little further off the beaten path. Maybe even reach the top of the higher Fells in the area, which don't have maintained hiking paths in winter. I think the views there would be spectacular, and also quite rare, as the few visitors that do hike during winter, tend to do as I did this time, and stick to the most accessible routes.

Alone In The ColdAlone In The ColdA young fir tree braves the arctic winter.

I don't tend to go for a square crop very often, but I felt like it was the best option for the image above, where I wanted the lone young tree to feature centrally.

Tunturiaapa Mire SceneTunturiaapa Mire In the centre of the mire, there's a raised bird-watching platform, for use in the summer. Given the light on this occasion, I didn't feel that the raised perspective was adding anything, so all of these photos are from ground level. But it's an interesting vantage point to experiment with should I ever manage to revisit the place.

Mire's EdgeMire's EdgeThe edge of Tunturiaapa Mire, as the forest begins.
Lapland, Finland.
The two photos above and below, show some of the few more healthy fir trees which have been able to take hold at the edge of the mire, as the ground begins to transition into firmer soil, and the forest creeps back in.

Fir in BlizzardFir in BlizzardA maturing fir tree stands out from the crowd, at the edge of the Tunturiaapa Mire.
Finnish Lapland.

I'd love the opportunity to be here for sunrise. The pink sky of an arctic sunrise, and the warm light on the trees would be spectacular. You would also get some great lines of shadow on the snow, from the straight trunks of the dead trees.

Tunturiaapa Mire White-OutTunturiaapa Mire White-OutFog, cloud, and falling snow, at Tunturiaapa Mire. Though it's far from remote, Tunturiaapa Mire isn't the most easily accessible photography location in the area, especially for sunrise/sunset. It's around a 45 minute walk through the woods from the nearest road/drop-off point. So to be there at sunrise/sunset you'd have to do one of those legs in the dark. Tunturiaapa Mire BlizzardTunturiaapa Mire BlizzardBlizzard conditions made shooting difficult, but created a wonderful, other-worldly aesthetic to the scene.

There are so many amazing views and locations in Lapland, you're spoilt for choice. Even restricting myself to Pyhä-Luosto National Park, there were views everywhere. I could have driven around the outskirts of the twin resorts, and shot beautiful snow scenes from the car window if I wanted, such is the bounty of views on hand. The purity of the cold and the heavy snow adds a bit of magic to every scene around you. If you're in any doubt about whether you'd enjoy Lapland, just give it a go. You won't regret it. It was like nowhere I've ever been before, and I hope very much I'll be able to return in the future.

See the rest of my Lapland 2017 blog series here.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) arctic cold february finland finnish landscape lapland lapland 2017 luosto marsh mire nature photography pyhä saarisalka scenic snow suomi swamp tunturiaapa winter Sun, 26 Nov 2017 06:00:00 GMT
Landscape Photography in Finnish Lapland - Part 3: Colour This is part 3 of a 4-part series from my trip to Lapland in February 2017. I had too many photos to share in one post, so I ended up having to split them into themed posts.



Until now, these blog posts have contained two colours: blue and white. Well here's a collection of photos I was able to take on the two occasions the sun came out to play :-)


Sunrise in Pyhä

We had one good sunrise during our trip, and I made sure I was out on the side of the fell to capture it.

Lapland SunriseLapland SunriseA lone tree, on the side of Pyhätunturi Hill, as the sun rises behind. Believe me when I say, finding a lone tree in Finland isn't easy. They generally come by the million. I had spotted this tree a few days before I took this photo, and I had kept it in mind for sunrise potential. On the day, I had to run a couple of kilometres to make it from the car to this spot in time to make it before the sun came up, with a heavy rucksack and tripod on my back. Still, nice to feel the cold air in my lungs. It's a hell of a way to wake you up in the morning.

I captured this shot shortly before the sun broke the horizon, as the dawn glow was painting the clouds pink.

Dawn from PyhätunturiDawn from PyhätunturiThe view as I turned my back on the rising sun. Pyhätunturi, Finland. Shortly after sunrise, the light began to hit the trees of the forest below through a cold misty sky.

Frigid Finnish SunriseFrigid Finnish SunriseA beautiful misty morning in Pyhä, Finnish Lapland. I had to walk a fair distance pretty quickly to keep the best light in view, along with the forest, but it was well worth it.

Pyhä Rolling Hills and ForestPyhä Rolling Hills and ForestThe incredible scale of the forests surrounding Pyhätunturi, in Lapland, Finland. Eventually, the sun did disappear behind the cloud, and the light was gone from the forest.

Pyhä ForestPyhä ForestThe forest around Pyhä, as the sun rises behind the cloud. Pyhätunturi, Finnish Lapland.


Sunset in Saariselkä

Though we stayed in Pyhä, we drove North to spend a day in Saariselkä too, and we were treated to quite a sunset there. Photography wasn't as convenient on this occasion, but I took some time out from our holiday to capture some shots.

I shared a photo of the valley below in my previous post, but it was transformed at sunset...

Saariselkä Valley SunsetSaariselkä Valley SunsetSunset over the valley beside Saariselkä, Northern Finland. I hadn't really researched Saariselkä viewpoints much, so I had to find compositions where I was, halfway up Kaunispää Fell.

Saariselkä SunsetSaariselkä SunsetSunset from the side of Kaunispää, beside the toboggan run. My favourite shot from this day was the photo below, looking West towards Iisakkipää...

Saariselkä Fell-Side SunsetSaariselkä Fell-Side SunsetA side-lit fell in Saariselkä, carpeted in trees except for the highest peaks in the distance.
Taken as the sun was setting, in Finnish Lapland. February 2017.



In the last post from this series I'll share the photos from the snow-covered Tunturiaapa Mire; My favourite location of our trip to Lapland.

See the whole Lapland 2017 blog series here.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) arctic cold february finland finnish landscape lapland lapland 2017 luosto nature photography pyhä saarisalka scenic snow suomi winter Sun, 19 Nov 2017 06:00:00 GMT
Landscape Photography in Finnish Lapland - Part 2: Forests This is part 2 of a 4-part series from my trip to Lapland in February 2017. I had too many photos to share in one post, so I ended up having to split them into themed posts.

Lapland itself isn't a country. It's a region of northern Europe stretching across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and into Russia. It's mostly within the Arctic Circle, and it has been home to the indigenous Sami people for thousands of years. If rumours are to be believed, it's also home to the Moomins and Santa. It's a brilliant destination to visit, with a thriving culture and spectacular natural features. It's also easy to pitch your holiday wherever you like on the spectrum of touristy vs independent. 



The extent of the forestry in Finland is extraordinary. Coming from the UK, we just don't do forests or wilderness on this sort of scale. When you are able to get up above the treeline, it's incredible to look out to a horizon where almost the entire landscape is covered in trees. As the land undulates beneath it, the trees carpet almost the whole surface of the land, aside from the lakes, which are entirely frozen and snow-covered during winter.



We were staying in Pyhä, which is a couple of hours south of Saariselkä. But since we had a rental car, we figured we might as well drive up and see a different location. It was well worth it. Saariselkä is a little larger than Pyhä, and more of a ski resort, and like Pyhä, is surrounded by miles of stunning national park and conservation area. Kaunispää PanoramaKaunispää PanoramaA wide-aspect scene from the peak of Kaunispää Hill, in Saariselkä, Finnish Lapland.

These photos were taken from the summit of Kaunispää Hill, in Saariselkä, Finland. Above is a panorama, consisting of several photos stitched together to create a wide-aspect image. Kaunispää HillsKaunispää HillsTrees, snow, and hills, stretch as far as the eye can see. Taken at the top of Kaunispää Hill, Saariselkä.

The image above should have had the moon on the horizon. That was a shot I'd planned meticulously, and timed to perfection. Unfortunately, a thin layer of cloud masked the full moon, which would have really added something spectacular to some of these photos. Such is life.

Saariselka Rolling HillsSaariselka Rolling HillsHillside covered in trees, from the summit of Kaunispää Hill at Saariselka.

You can easily hike up Kaunispää Hill, or you can take the car up. The most fun way to get down is the free toboggan run (the longest in lapland at 1200 metres). And, like many of my favourite places, there's a cafe at the top. I have to recommend the local Finnish doughnuts to be found at this cafe (as well as elsewhere in Finnish Lapland). They're sugared ring doughnuts, flavoured with cardamom, and they're called 'Munkki'. I also had a good salmon soup there, but before this turns into a TripAdvisor review, I'll get back to the photos...

Light and ShadeLight and ShadeTrees in Lapland.

Not sure if the pic above worked, but I like the idea. The near side hill was in sun, and the far side of the valley in shade. Hmm, the jury's still out on that one.

Here's another valley view, where the lighter birch trees have been able to take root, surrounded by the more common fir trees, which dominate the Finnish Taiga.

Saariselkä Valley ViewSaariselkä Valley ViewA valley running through the vast Saariselkä forest, in Northern Finland.

The shot below is a close-up view of some fir and birch trees, creating an almost abstract scene.

Lapland AbstractLapland AbstractTrees on the Lapland Hillside, Saariselkä, Finland.


Pyhä-Luosto National Park Trails

The neatly coloured trails in this leaflet show the area where I took the following forest photos, in the South East corner of the national park.

Lapland Forest TreesLapland Forest TreesA blizzard in the forest created unique and interesting conditions for photography.

The trails are accessible and well-marked, so it's easy to nip into the forest for as long or short amount of time as you like.

Lapland Forest BlizzardLapland Forest BlizzardNice light, in the forest surrounding Pyha, in Finnish Lapland.

This was the warmest day of our trip at just -3°C, but it felt the coldest. It felt damp, it was snowing quite heavily, and I was relying on hand-warmers in my gloves to keep my fingers defrosted.

Lapland Forest LightLapland Forest LightThe forest around Pyhä. Taken during a snow blizzard.

Braving the dampness and cold of the blizzard was well worth it though. I'd visited these woods a couple of times already, but they looks much better in this bleak weather.



In the next post from this series I'll be changing colour scheme to share some sunrise and sunset photos.

See the whole Lapland 2017 blog series here.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) arctic cold february finland finnish landscape lapland lapland 2017 luosto nature photography pyhä saarisalka scenic snow suomi winter Sun, 12 Nov 2017 06:00:00 GMT
Landscape Photography in Finnish Lapland - Part 1: Altitude This is part 1 of a 4-part series from my trip to Lapland in February 2017. I had too many photos to share in one post, so I ended up having to split them into themed posts.



This post contains the photos I took at relative altitude. I say 'relative', because Finland is a very flat country. It has no mountains at all, just 'fells'. In fact the hardest thing about landscape photography in Finland is getting above the trees to see the sprawling forests which surround you for miles. Otherwise, it's hard to see more than a few dozen meters in the forest. But we did get up a few fells while we were there, and these are the photos from those higher viewpoints.



I was visiting Lapland with family, so as usual our location and plans were primarily determined by holiday activities, with a fair amount of leeway/crossover for photography. This is a combination that many photographers are used to these days, and it seems to be something that works better for some than others. Fortunately, my wife is incredibly patient with me, and I think it works well, as my motivation for interesting views and locations often serves as a great excuse to put us in some spectacular places.

We have both fallen in love with the culture and landscapes of Scandinavia, but we'd never visited in winter. We wanted to see some classic snow-covered landscapes, and scenic pine forests, and feel the cold of the arctic in February. After a couple of visits to Iceland in 2013 and 2015, then Norway, Sweden, and Denmark in 2016, it seemed like Finland was the next country to sample. 



After quite a bit of research we chose Pyhä as a base, surrounded by Pyhä-Luosto National Park, and my photos were almost all from the national park and surrounding area. Certainly all those in this post were. It was a great location. A small ski resort inside the Arctic Circle, a couple of hours drive (or bus) from Rovaniemi Airport (cheap flights to/from Gatwick with Norwegian Air). It also appears to be a hot-spot for aurora, but of course like my trips to Iceland, the northern lights were notable by their absence during my visit. Location aside, it also boasts some other conveniences:

  • It's smaller and quieter than the main tourist resorts (Levi, Saariselka, Yllas, Rovaniemi).
  • It has a good choice of accommodation, from hotels to self-catering rentals, as well as conveniences such as small shops, a visitor's centre, etc.
  • There are plenty of the typical 'lapland' activities available such as downhill & cross-country skiing, snowmobile tours, husky & reindeer safaris, etc.
  • Convenient access to well marked hiking and snowshoe trails which criss-cross the national park - which was a real draw for me.


Pyhätunturi Summit Hike

There's a great hike which takes you around and up the main Pyhätunturi peak, which is very easy and accessible, and provides unique views, for relatively little effort. We ambled up and down in an afternoon, taking time to stop at the cafe on the summit for pancakes, naturally. 

Pyhätunturi SummitPyhätunturi SummitFrozen snow-covered trees, at the top of Pyhätunturi, Lapland, Finland.

The photo above was taken at the top of the hill, where the temperature was approximately -18°C to -20°C. Down below, where we started, it was around -12°C. This would regularly be in the 30's & 40's below zero in February, but it was relatively mild during our visit. Don't be put off by the numbers though. It's so dry, the cold isn't as bad as you might think. I've spent plenty of days feeling colder in the UK than I did in Lapland, such is the difference in other factors.

These photos were all taken on the way down the hill, as the sun was setting and the mist was settling in for the evening.

Pyhätunturi TreePyhätunturi TreeA large fir tree, staking a claim to a spot on the hillside, Pyhätunturi, Lapland. If you do this hike, I strongly recommend checking with the guides at the visitors centre first, just to check the weather at the top, and make sure they would recommend it as a good day for it. It's a well marked trail, close to the town centre, but still; this is inside the arctic circle during winter, and conditions can change rapidly, so don't be too casual about it.

Pyhätunturi TreesPyhätunturi TreesTrees on the side of Pyhätunturi Hill, covered in winter snow.
Pyhä, Lapland, Finland.
I had a specific shot in mind here, hoping for a clear blue sky behind the hillside fir trees, but it wasn't to be. Still, the mist is atmospheric in it's own way.

Pyhätunturi HillsidePyhätunturi HillsideTrees on Pyhätunturi Hill, on a foggy afternoon's sunset. Lapland, Finland. These are all views from a well-maintained trail, so access is very easy. It's a great walk, whether you're a photographer or not.

Frozen WorldFrozen WorldFrozen trees, struggling through winter, in Pyhätunturi, Lapland. There are scenes like this for most of the route, and I took so many photos, but these were the ones which I thought best conveyed the feeling of the place. It was so quiet and still.

Frozen TreesFrozen TreesSnow-covered trees on the hillside, at Pyhätunturi, Finnish Lapland.


Lampivaara Hill

Another hill in the area is Lampivaara, where the Amethyst Mine is located. Unfortunately, the top of the hill is private property of the mine, so you can't hike all the way up. But you can take a short hike most of the way up, via a 'circular' route, stopping at a conveniently placed cafe halfway round. From the cafe, you can take a tour of the Amethyst Mine, which includes a tractor/trailer ride up to the summit. This photo is from the summit of Lampivaara Hill, beside the Amethyst Mine.

Lampivaara SummitLampivaara SummitThe snow-covered peak of Lampivaara Hill in
Pyhä-Luosto National Park, Finland.

From the same car park as the Amethyst Mine, you can hike to the peak of Ukko-Luosto, which is a higher hill covered in old growth forest. I wanted to try this hike, but the route is unmaintained during winter, so snow-shoes are required. In the end I decided it was a little more challenging than I was looking for this time around.



In my next post from the series, I'll be sharing images of the vast forests in Finnish Lapland, on both a grand scale from above, and from within the trees themselves.

See the whole Lapland 2017 blog series here.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) arctic cold february finland finnish landscape lapland lapland 2017 luosto nature photography pyhä scenic snow suomi winter Sun, 05 Nov 2017 06:00:00 GMT
Two New Portraits: Swaledale Sheep My two long-running nature photography projects are High-Key portraits on White & Low-Key portraits on Black, and I'm always working on ideas to create new photos to those galleries. If you browse through the two galleries you'll notice that I enjoy photographing animals with horns and antlers. I don't know what that is. I guess there's something quite graphic about them. And when you portray the subject in a human-like way as I try to do, that headgear becomes a real point of interest - one of the most visually striking features that separates those creatures from the human form.

For a long time now, I've wanted to photograph long-horned sheep. I love the stocky wild Bighorn Sheep of the Rockies, and the grand Ibex of the Alps (though they're technically goats), but I haven't been fortunate enough to encounter either of those species while I've been in the area. However I was equally keen to find some domestic sheep with interesting horns, as there are plenty in the UK, and I've been on the lookout for 4-5 years now. I think the most photogenic UK breed is probably the icon of the Yorkshire Dales National Park - the Swaledale. I happened to be in Swaledale, in the Yorkshire Dales this spring, and despite the thousands of sheep there, I didn't manage to find the individual and the conditions I was looking for.

Fast-forward to August, and I was in the Peak District National Park, photographing the flowering purple heather landscapes there. On the way back from our landscape location, on the edge of the moorland, I found this beauty, and couldn't believe my luck.

Swaledale sheep photographed in low-key style, on black.Swaledale on BlackPortrait of a Swaledale sheep, photographed in high-key style.
Fine Art Nature Photography, The Peak District, Derbyshire, UK.

The light wasn't ideal, but I made the best of it, and I shot a few photos for high-key and low-key results. These two are the pick of the bunch, and have made it onto my website portfolio - an honour indeed.

Swaledale sheep portrait, in high-key.Swaledale on WhitePortrait of a Swaledale sheep, photographed in high-key style.
Fine Art Nature Photography, The Peak District, Derbyshire, UK.

Nature photography can sometimes be a fruitless exercise, when you're dependent on weather, seasons, wildlife, etc. It can often mean juggling priorities and keeping several ideas on hold until the conditions for them arise. So it's especially rewarding when these long-term ideas do come to fruition. I love the dark menace of the low-key version, and the texture of the spiraled horns. The high-key version has a very different feel to it, with a more positive reflection of the subject.


For more about these High-Key & Low-Key projects, see my previous blog posts about them.

Or, on a related note, Fstoppers recently published this article about my fine art nature photography...


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal art gw-high-low-key high-key low-key nature peak district photography portrait sheep swaledale uk yorkshire dales Mon, 02 Oct 2017 05:00:00 GMT
Rothko-Inspired Minimalism I was staring out of a train window at a foggy Bedfordshire, wishing I was out with my camera. I was taken by the way the middle-distance faded into the grey. That's a fantastic property of mist, which photographers love to employ as it emphasises the depth in a scene. It occurred to me that if I was able to find a landscape with a flat enough middle-distance, the same tone as the fog, I could use it to achieve the opposite: To obscure the depth in the scene.

Without an obvious horizon, the subject would appear to fade into the sky at some indefinable point. A landscape with a foreground and sky, but no obvious join between the two of them. The problem was it would have to be quite a featureless landscape. But if I were to use a slow exposure, I could get the sea to be that large space of grey - and that would provide the foreground interest too, as the sea meets the beach.

So that was the original brief, but not living anywhere near the sea, this was an idea I would have to put on the back-burner for a while. In fact, how often am I near the beach, and what are the chances of getting a misty day when I am? Slim to none, I'd have thought. 

Well that was two years ago, and to be honest, I found those conditions far sooner than I expected. This summer, I was in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, and as sunset approached, I saw what appeared to be a sea mist on the horizon. Before long I couldn't even see the horizon. I couldn't believe my luck!

I had originally pictured these horizonless-images as being landscape orientation, but in the intervening time, I'd been subconsciously brainwashed. Behind my desk in the office was a Mark Rothko print. Rothko was an abstract painter (examples of his paintings on Google Images). Not the sort of thing I'd normally go for, but what I liked about this particular picture were the shades of blue and grey, which were landscape-like, but open to interpretation. Ironically, those images of his which could be interpreted as seascapes do effectively have a horizon-of-sorts. But what I took from them was the general tone, composition, and the portrait orientation.

I like the individual photos I got, but I think they look best as a collection, so I created this triptych featuring three of them together...

Minimalist Beach TriptychMinimalist Beach TriptychThree minimalist beach photos combined to form a triptych image.
This was an image conceived two years before I was able to find the conditions to take the photos. More
on my blog here.
Fine art landscape photography, Tenby, Pembrokeshire, UK.


For the record, I ended up with 4 photos making the grade in total. So if I've included them separately below. Click the thumbnails to enlarge..

Minimalist beach photoMinimalist Beach #1Minimalist beach photography, inspired by Mark Rothko. Minimalist beach photography, inspired by Mark Rothko.Minimalist Beach #2Minimalist beach photography, inspired by Mark Rothko. Minimalist beach photographyMinimalist Beach #3Minimalist beach photography, inspired by Mark Rothko. Minimalist beach, Tenby.Minimalist Beach #4Minimalist beach photography, inspired by Mark Rothko.

It's immensely satisfying to sit on an idea and one day encounter the conditions required to get the image in your mind's eye, even if that's (as is often the case) a few years after first having the idea.

In addition, it's great to feel like I can take pointers from the masters who've gone before me. I'm a big advocate of learning from classic painters and artists. I'm not particularly well informed on the subject, and I've certainly never studied art to any degree. But to my layman's eye, there's a wealth of experience and understanding to be gained from them. I have old blog posts here on Ansel Adams' landscapes, and inspiration from old Victorian oil paintings.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) fog landscape minimalist mist ocean pembrokeshire photography rothko seascape tenby uk Sun, 10 Sep 2017 16:49:49 GMT
Puffin Photos 2017 This was my third trip to Skomer Island, off the Pembrokeshire coast, for a few days of puffin photography (Here's a link to a post from my first visit).

Generally speaking, I don't like to repeat trips too much (since there's a whole world out there to see!), but Skomer truly seems to be one of the best wildlife experiences in the UK. And more to the point; it's certainly one of the best wildlife photography opportunities - and at a time of year when there's less else around. The harsh light, early sunrise, late sunset, and heat of summer generally combine to make it the most challenging season, photographically. So having a few action-packed days to break up the summer is always welcome.

Square image of a puffin against the pink sunset skyPuffin Sunset (Square)Adult Atlantic Puffin against the sunset sky.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK.

There are benefits to revisiting a location multiple times. I'm familiar with the different areas of the island; where I want to spend my time and at what time of day. And I know the different sections of those areas, which I can use in different ways to create different results, depending on the light.

Puffin at SunsetPuffin at SunsetAn atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica), at sunset, at The Wick, on Skomer Island.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK.

The first time I visited I over-packed food and clothing, but I've been able to be more economical with space on subsequent visits. When it comes down to it, you need surprisingly little for just a couple of days/nights on the island. Similarly, I'm more aware of the lenses I'll need and which ones I can leave behind. The latter as a result of familiarity with the opportunities and the shots I can go for.

Puffin SillhouettePuffin Sunset SillhouetteSilhouette of an atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctic) against the amber sunset sky, and grey-blue ocean.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK.

But there are also drawbacks to returning to the same place several times. It's easy to repeat myself, and spend time trying to get shots which I've taken before. Believe it or not, it's also easy to become blasé at being surrounded by puffins, which was incredible first time around! So I do try to stop taking photos at times to make sure I take the time to enjoy the experience.

Puffins (Fratercula arctica) against pastel skies, after sunset.Puffin and PastelsPuffins (Fratercula arctica) against pastel skies, after sunset.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK.

I guess the only real drawback of Skomer, photographically, is it's popularity. That's great for the prospect of the island wildlife, for the Wildlife Trust, and for anyone who gets to visit. But as a photographer I see so many photos from Skomer these days, that coming back with something that feels like mine is getting more difficult as time goes on.

Puffin (Fratercula arctica) against a green backgroundPuffin On GreenA puffin, against the green background of Skomer Island.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK.

For example, on my previous visit in 2015 I got some wide-angle photos, taking in more of the scene and The Wick as a seabird colony. But since then I've seen plenty of other people doing the same. So although I shot a few this time around, they feel less original than before.

Puffin Colony At SunsetPuffin Colony At SunsetWide-angle photo of a puffin colony at the Wick, on Skomer Island, as the sun sets behind.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK.

So far I think my Skomer photos reflect my style quite well, and don't look too generic. It takes a little more work, but I feel like I'm still able to create something interesting and appealing. And given the opportunity, I'd love to go again. I have plenty more ideas to play with. But realistically, as much as I like Skomer, I might try seeing puffins somewhere else next time, just for a change of scene.

Puffin PortraitPuffin PortraitPortrait of an Atlantic Puffin.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK.

Of course one ongoing project of mine is to remove the context and surroundings altogether, by shooting On Black. I was able to capture these darker portraits by shooting against a dark section of cliff face in various lighting situations.

Puffin On BlackPuffin On BlackPortrait of an Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica), shot low-key on a black background.
I usually choose a relaxed 'pose' for these portraits, but I like the character and tension created by the open mouth here. Although it looks like a rather human 'calling' moment, puffins spend a lot of time opening their mouths, and 'chattering' to one another quite happily.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK.

I shot these last two portraits intending to push the shadows to black (as above), but I later decided that I preferred them with a little of the green background for context.

Classic Puffin PortraitClassic Puffin PortraitPortrait of an atlantic puffin, in the classic style.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) on a cliff top in low light.Low-Light PuffinAn Atlantic Puffin on a cliff top in low light.
Fine art nature photography. Taken on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, off the coast of mainland Wales.

If you've never been to Skomer, I'd highly recommend it. It's popular for good reason. You can book one of many one-day or multi-day photography workshops run there, or you can book directly via the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. They sell out early though, so you'll need to book in the autumn for the next summer. If you're not a photographer and you just want to see the puffins, you can just turn up on the day and get the boat across for a few hours with them. Again though - do get there early to reserve a place on the boat.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal british fratercula arctica nature pembrokeshire. photography puffin skomer trip report uk wales wildlife Wed, 16 Aug 2017 08:00:00 GMT
The Anxiety of Infinite Potential Well there's a pretentious title. Perhaps my most pretentious to date! 

So what am I bleating about this time? The Anxiety of Infinite Potential is a term for my experience as I attempt to narrow the vast scope of photographic possibilities for a trip down to what I'm realistically able to achieve in the time I have, and how that affects my approach during the trip.

But wait - before you rush out and use the catchy hashtag - here's what I mean...


The Travel Photography Experience

I love travel, and travel photography. When I first start thinking about visiting some awe-inspiring part of the world, my imagination will run wild with the amazing pictures I'll get there. As soon as you think of places like Iceland, The Canadian Rockies, or Lapland, spectacular images spring to mind, and the bar is immediately set very high. The difficulty then, is the research & planning stage, where I have to find out which locations interest me, which are my priorities, and how I might manage to combine those locations into a trip. As I do that, I'm narrowing the scope from the original potential; limiting myself to what is practical to achieve in this trip.

Skógafoss waterfall slow exposure, with blurred clouds and water.Skógafoss BlurThis is the mighty Skogafoss waterfall, in Southern Iceland. It's really a sight to behold, and I'm thrilled to capture it in such green surroundings. We were fortunate to have had a week or so of rain shortly before our visit, and that left the grass & moss in great condition for us to find. I have to somehow transition from almost infinite potential to a definitive, restricted scope. This can be exciting as I decide on the locations I'll be visiting, and I become optimistic about the photos I can take there. But it's also stressful and frustrating as I chip away at that original potential, and get down to something more realistic, which is necessarily more limited. I have to accept that some locations / views / photos aren't going to be possible. And so early in the planning stage I've already drastically reduced my options, and the potential for images I can get from the trip.

As the planning stage continues, I have to decide what time of day I'll be at each site, and somehow chain those together. Sometimes I'll have to be somewhere at sunset which would look better at sunrise, but due to the location it's just not possible to get to for sunrise without having to lose another location. So even within the list of places I am able to visit, I have to prioritise and refine my schedule, which further chips away at that potential. There have to be compromises in order to form a practical itinerary. It can be tough to accept that one location will have to be dropped in order to make others possible.

Sometimes the trip is specifically photography-orientated, and other times it's a case of scheduling in some opportunities as part of a regular holiday. So the degree to which photography can dictate my plans will vary from trip to trip. Fortunately, even as holiday-makers we're keen to get out and experience the scenery, so there's very often a large overlap between things we want to do and see, and things I'd like to photograph. But yes, I probably am a nightmare to go on holiday with - unless you enjoy regimental planning, and constant anxiety. 

We enjoy a road trip, so if there are several disparate locations we want to visit then that's always a good option, rather than having one central base. But this is a key decision to be made early in the planning stage.

  • Will one destination provide the views or environments I want, or would I be frustrated to be a few hours drive from somewhere spectacular which will have to wait for another time?
  • Is it better to travel more, and visit more of the big name locations, or to pick an area, and explore a little deeper?

Loughrigg Fell SunsetLoughrigg Fell SunsetThe sun sets over the Lake District hills, brushing the valley with golden light.
Taken from Loughrigg Fell, during an autumn visit to the Lake District.
Landscape photography, Cumbria, UK.
The answers to these questions depend on many factors. For example, In Norway I wanted to see two or three different fjords, and I wanted to enjoy the scenic countryside between them, so a road trip was the obvious choice. In Finnish Lapland the wider landscape doesn't vary so much (it's all very flat!), and I was keen to see the forests on foot, so that lends itself better to a fixed location with access to hiking trails.  However I juggle these preferences, priorities, and compromises, I invariably end up with a plan I'm pretty happy with - despite having to leave out one or two places I would have liked to include. I then do as much research as possible on the sites we'll be visiting, so that I'm well informed prior to arrival; access, parking, sunrise/sunset times, angle of sun at sunrise/sunset, consideration of lenses/focal-length required, etc

As the trip approaches and we get a weather forecast, the options are further reduced. That amazing sky I'd imagined isn't going to happen for most of the sunrises/sunsets we have, so we'll need to revise our plans accordingly; Either stick with the planned location anyway, and see what I get, or give up and use the time in a location that doesn't need dramatic lighting. If this is a road-trip, then there's often very limited wiggle-room, but if we're staying somewhere central I can always sacrifice a lower priority location to maintain the potential of experiencing a high priority location in better conditions. Nevertheless, that potential which existed in my mind to begin with continues to shrink further and further.

The sunlight cloud casting a shadow over the impressive North face of the EigerThe North Face Of The EigerThe Eiger was a really impressive sight close-up.
I struggled to see it through the cloud on my first visit, but I went back a few days later and was treated to the sight of the cloud gradually clearing as the sun burned through. This was my favourite shot of the day, showing the swirling cloud, harsh mountain sunlight, and the imposing Eiger itself.

Landscape Photography, Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland.
During the trip, the light can change quickly. In unfamiliar surroundings, I have to think on my feet, and react to the situation. With Travel Photography, it's rarely possible to achieve the photos I have in mind prior to a trip, simply due to the number of variables involved. Rarely wishing to repeat trips, I'm often in unfamiliar surroundings. It's easy to get caught out, trying to get the best pictures I can, but floundering; not even reaching my own potential, let alone the kind of photos I'd envisioned before the trip.

In the last year I've been to Sweden, Norway, The Lake District, Lapland, and Snowdonia, and I've experienced the same feeling for each trip. Even when I do come home with some photos I like, I still rue the missed opportunities and the locations that didn't work out - whether that was my fault or just bad luck/weather. Whatever happens, I can't possibly reach the potential that was there to begin with.


It's Graph Time

The Anxiety of Infinite Potential - GraphThe Anxiety of Infinite Potential - GraphA graph showing the correlation between potential and anxiety.


  • At the moment the trip is conceived, the potential is huge. There are so many opportunities for amazing photos in these beautiful places.
  • Anxiety starts low.
  • Optimism is good. This will be fun, and I'll get some lovely photos.


  • As we start to plan the trip, we narrow down the wider potential to what's realistic to achieve in the time available.
  • As potential reduces, anxiety increases almost inversely, and I start to pin my hopes on a plan coming together.
  • Optimism peaks here, as I know where I'll be going, and what I'll be doing. I've seen other photos from there, and they're amazing. So it stands to reason I'll get some just as good!


  • During the trip the original potential and opportunity has narrowed to just a small amount of room for manoeuvre. Sure, I can switch some things around, but in the wider scheme of things, there's not much of the plan I can change at this point.
  • Anxiety peaks as I realise all my planning, potential, and opportunities have lead me to this beautiful place which I have to now capture in a photo. But this isn't really the light / weather / conditions I was hoping for. - "Things never work out for me!"
  • Optimism falls as self-doubt creeps in, and I accept the conditions on the day, rather than whatever I'd hoped for.

Post Trip

  • Potential reaches its low-point, but there's still a little wiggle-room available to process the RAW files in a different way.
  • Anxiety is falling as my opportunity is over, but I still can't help but look back at what could have been.
  • Optimism bottoms-out at an all-time low, as I come to terms with not getting the shots I had in mind.

Long Term

  • Potential remains low, but as long as I have the RAW files, I might make something of them in the future.
  • Anxiety returns to base level as I move on.
  • Optimism rises from initial despair on returning home, and I start thinking about a return visit in the future, or my next trip. I always end up thinking I can do better next time.


It's a Trap

Landscape photo of the clouds over the Aurlandsfjord arm of the Sognefjord in NorwaySognefjord LandscapeClounds gather above the Aurlandsfjord section of the enormous Sognefjord.
The imposing low cloud was a real feature of the fjord region of Norway. I like string blue hues in my landscapes, and Norway was great for that, with these dark brooding skies.
Photographed from the Stegastein viewpoint.
Fine art landscape photography, Norway.
It's not spoiling my enjoyment of photography, but I'm sure there has to be a better way of dealing with the inevitability of seeing plans transition from imagination to reality, and not dwelling on what could-have-been.

Take Norway for example; The Norwegian Fjords were utterly spectacular, and I absolutely loved it there. But in many cases my photographic opportunities at pre-planned locations were washed away by day-after-day of heavy rain. The images I wanted to capture just weren't possible. Given the potential ahead of this trip, to come back with very few photos was a huge frustration, and remain a long-term disappointment. That said, I still managed a few nice pictures in Norway, despite not being what I had in mind. At the Sognefjord I had visions of dramatic pink & orange skies, shafts of sunlight, and peaceful still water. Of course the conditions I got were nothing like that. But in it's way, it turned out far more interesting. Although at the time I was cursing the bad weather, those heavy rain clouds add their own form of drama to the scene, and by blocking the direct sunlight, the fjord was painted a beautiful deep blue.

It can be intensely frustrating not to have the opportunity to realise the potential of a location due to factors outside of my control. But that's the reality of the situation. No trip is ever going to be perfect, and I'm never going to get all the shots and the weather that I want. It's important to keep a cool head, and keep looking for something interesting to shoot - despite the voice in my head telling me I'm out of my depth and I don't know what I'm doing!

My gut feeling is that the planning stage is key. If I plan well, and cover ideas for all kinds of weather, giving myself plenty of time in my chosen location(s), then the trip goes much more smoothly. The real skill I think, is sculpting that original infinite potential to a trip schedule that gives me the best opportunity to get the photos I want. 

By contrast, my head is telling me that this is nothing to do with planning. This is about me, and how I cope in the heat of the moment; How I'm able (or not) to roll with the punches, and change my plans - being flexible with the opportunities of the time, rather than being tied to a plan. And about the ability to let it go when things aren't working out. It's about knowing that those perfect conditions I have in mind before hand aren't likely to occur, and that I shouldn't hold myself to unrealistic standards. But that's easier said than done.

Lake Louise MoonriseLake Louise MoonriseIn this photo, you can see the moon rising above the lake, as the first rays of sunrise light hit the mountain tops.
Peaceful looking as this scene appears, it was several degrees below zero. It took some motivation, and several thermal layers to go out before dawn, but it was totally worth it. This is one of my favourite
photos from the Canadian Rockies.

Landscape Photography, Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta, Canada.
I guess one solution would be to take pre-organised tours and guided trips, so that these decisions are taken on my behalf by a local expert, who knows the area well. It also means I'm never in the position of having that infinite potential in the first place. But I'm far too much of a control freak for that! I don't like having no say in what I do. Furthermore, I wouldn't feel I deserved the credit when things worked out. Being led to a location, and shown where to point my camera just doesn't fulfil the creative process for me.

Where I think the solution lies for me is in a combination of change-of-approach, and expectation management.


Rather than rolling up at a popular viewpoint and looking for those post-card classics, I'm increasingly targeting interesting environments and habitats, with no particular images in mind. By targeting what looks like an interesting area, or a particular type of environment (eg forest, mountainlake), I have no definitive shot I feel I must get. I'm planning based on a general feeling for what interests me, and what sort of scenery I want to capture. Of course I'm often still reliant on some interesting weather/light, but that doesn't have to be something specific I had in mind beforehand. I travelled to Lapland hoping for beautiful clear skies and pink sunsets, but my favourite photos turned out to be in the bleakest, blizzard conditions. And I got those by putting myself in an interesting location - whatever the weather, and working the scene as I found it.

Expectation Management

Wherever I visit, there will already be some fantastic photos of that place, from people who not only nailed the execution, but were also in the right place at the right time. The kinds of skies and light which often make these photos so appealing are relatively rare, and the chance of nature putting on that show for me on the day I happen to visit is slim. I guess if I estimated the probability of getting the conditions I want in a location as around 10-20%, that probably reflects an accurate success rate for decent landscape images - at least for me anyway. So objectively, I am getting the kind of return I would expect - it's just in the short term, when I'm there, it's incredibly frustrating for 80-90% of the time! It means that for the average week away, I've done well if I come back with one good shot (or set of similars). Ultimately, the trick is to bear this in mind, and not expect to strike gold at every location I visit when travelling.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

A forest in Finnish Lapland, during a snow blizzard.Finnish Forest BlizzardA forest in Finnish Lapland, during a snow blizzard. It was so cold at this point, but the trees looked fantastic in those conditions, so I persisted, and continued to look for interesting compositions.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) anxiety art photography planning travel trip Mon, 03 Jul 2017 05:00:00 GMT
Woodland Bluebells 2017 In 2015 I made numerous visits to photograph our nearby bluebell woodland, and I wrote this blog post to share my favourites that year.

By contrast, 2016 wasn't a great year for bluebells, and the weather wasn't particularly conducive to the kind of photos I was after either. So after last year's no-show, I was particularly keen to revisit the subject this spring.

Sunset Through the LeavesSunset Through the LeavesAs bluebell season progresses, the leaves start to emerge on the beech trees above, providing a complimentary colour to the purple carpet below.

I started off looking for those sunset scenes I like. The last rays of sun can be very dramatic, and they paint the bluebells a spectacular pinky-purple. 

After getting some sunset scenes in the bank, I started looking for something I haven't done before, to bring something original to my portfolio this year. I decided I'd like to capture more photos when the sun is a little higher in the sky. Despite the drama and saturation of the sunset conditions, I'd rather keep pushing myself to find new angles, new scenes, and to shoot in different conditions.

Sunlight on LeavesSunlight on LeavesSunlight paints the leaves and bluebells in this UK woodland scene.

I used a combination of different times of day, with a variation in focal lengths to look for something different from what I'd done in the past.

Bluebell Woods WideBluebell Woods WideA wide-aspect panorama image of the sun behind a classic bluebell wood, in the British countryside.
Fine Art Landscape Photography, UK.

Bluebell Wood WideBluebell Wood WideA wide-aspect panorama image, of an English bluebell wood, shortly after sunrise, as the light paints the flowers pink.
Part of my 2017 Bluebell collection. Blog post here.
Landscape Photography, UK.

I don't tend to include many man-made features in my photos, but I liked the gate at the edge of the wood, which adds a little context to the images, and marks them out as subtly different from my usual landscape style.

Bluebell SceneBluebell SceneA scene from the edge of the bluebell woods, as the light streams in from the side, and the flowers are painted pink.

Side-Lit Bluebell WoodSide-Lit Bluebell WoodAs the bluebells began to fade away, the trees become evermore green and leafy, allowing just a few precious rays of sun to reach the carpet below.

My favourites from these bluebell photos will make it to my woodland gallery, which is something I'm hoping to add to in the coming year. I love woodland, trees, and forest, so it's a landscape I want to explore more often, and in different seasons.

Bluebell woodland on a sunny spring morningSpring Bluebell WoodlandA beautiful woodland scene, on a fresh spring morning. The woods are an enchanting landscape at any time, but especially so with a carpet of bluebells in bloom.
This is a multi-photo panorama, which I like to use in the woods, to emphasise the feeling of being surrounded by trees.
Fine Art Landscape Photography, Hertfordshire, UK.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) British Hyacinthoides Hyacinthoides non-scripta UK bedfordshire bluebells flowers hertfordshire landscape leaves light local nature photography spring sun sunrise sunset trees woodland woods Fri, 09 Jun 2017 12:00:00 GMT
High-Key Nature Photography I enjoy producing 'high-key' wildlife portraits, including portraits on white. It's been a style I've been working on since 2011, and is the sister project to my On Black series.

I've written posts about 'low-key' nature photography before:

I was recently asked if I could add to those blog posts with a similar tutorial or introduction to high key nature photography. So here we go...



What is High-Key?


High-key is an aesthetic achieved by exposing to create a bright image, such that some elements of the image may even be pure white. Often there are no pure blacks in the image either, as the tonal range is pushed up towards the lighter end of the scale. 

high-key fine art nature photo of a red deer stagRed Deer - Head On - Centred - On WhitePortrait of a red deer stag.
Placed centrally, staring down the camera lens.

British Wildlife Fine Art Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.

high key portrait of a red deer headRed Deer - Angled Portrait On WhiteClose-up portrait of a red deer stag.
Framed to the right of shot.

British Wildlife Fine Art Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.
a red deer stag faces the viewer for a high key portraitRed Deer - Portrait On WhiteClose-up portrait of a red deer stag.

Framed to the right of shot.

British Wildlife Fine Art Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.


Why High-Key?


Like low-key portraits, high-key photography is often used to simplify an image. It can create a more graphic look than conventional photography. It's  also another way of removing context from an image, which I like to do as it leaves room for the viewer to interpret the subject independently. It makes for a great look for wall art, which is the principle target for my photographs. In contrast to low-key images, high-key photography tends to produce more positive and eye-catching results, rather than the dark and moody low-key look. Puffin on WhitePuffin on WhiteAtlantic puffin, photographed high-key.
Black and white nature photography,
Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK.


High-key images don't have to be on white though. This is an example of a portrait where I wanted to retain the colour & tone of the sky. But I still wanted a bright image here, so with the high tonal range, and histogram peaking to the right-hand-side, this is still very much a photo in the traditional high-key style.

Puffin PortraitPuffin PortraitAn Atlantic Puffin, in front of a beautiful blue sky, on a summer day in Skomer Island.
Fine art wildlife photography, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK.



When to use High-Key


Sometimes I go out with an image in mind, and I try to look for the situation to be able to shoot that image. That was the case with the cow portrait below. I wanted a brightly back-lit subject, where the light would pour in to harshly light one side of the subject. It's a slightly dreamy look, which works very well for portraits of people and animals alike. This image is also split-toned to create the coffee/sepia colour palette. Close-up photo of a cow, from Cambridgeshire farmlandCOWCow portrait, toned, with reduced saturation.
I really like cows. I think they're very photogenic.


Other times, I encounter a situation which I think would make an interesting graphic image by combining contrasting dark and bright elements. In Finland, I watched the ravens using these dead trees as perches, and I wanted to frame them against the sky - with no ground-level features/context in shot. I'd have liked a nice pink sunset sky to use here, but that wasn't going to happen. It was a grey day, so rather than shoot the scene as it appears to the eye, I decided to over-expose and make the sky almost white. This is a more interesting result for me. I could have pushed the sky to white, but I thought that would be a little to contrasty and simplistic for this image, so I left it a little short of pure white, so that the cloud is just about visible.

Raven & Dead TreesRaven & Dead TreesI like a graphically simple photo, and this is about as simple as it gets. A raven sits atop an old dead tree, watching time pass around them.
Fine art wildlife photography, from the edge of the Finnish taiga forest.



How to shoot High-Key Nature Photography


Like my low-key images, I shoot my high-key nature images purely with natural light. This means that I don't always have the conditions required. But here are the situations when it's possible:

  • When the subject is in shade, in front of a background which is strongly sun-lit.
  • When the subject is against a bright/clear sky.
  • When there's snow around/behind the subject.

You'll notice that each of those are essentially different ways of achieving a subject which is darker than it's background.

To get the shot, just expose for the subject, and you'll see that the background is bright/white.

For the roaring deer shot below, the stag was under the shade of a tree, and I used spot-metering mode to expose for the subject. They rarely come out perfectly in-camera like you see here, so there's a certain amount of digital processing required in Lightroom (or similar) in order to create the finished image.

Red Deer RoarRed Deer RoarA roaring red deer, in high-key black and white.
Taken during the
2015 red deer rut.
Fine Art nature photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire.



How to process High-Key Nature Photography


I've written before about why processing is required for all photos, and that's especially true for high-key photos. There are often little bits and bobs in the background which didn't hit pure white in the RAW image, and they'll need tidying up. 

I should mention at this point, that I always shoot in RAW format. If you're not sure what that is, just look it up. If it's not your thing then that's fine, but if you're undecided I'd encourage you to give it a go. You will find you get more data in your image file this way, better image quality, and more scope for post-processing.

I've picked a giraffe photo here, to show the original RAW image, the final image, and discuss my processing choices.


Raw File (Straight out of camera)

Giraffe On White - SOOCGiraffe On White - SOOC"Giraffe On White" photo, straight out of camera, in RAW format.


Final Image

A giraffe photographed close-up in high-key style.Giraffe PortraitA giraffe, posing for a portrait, in bright lighting. A favourite style of mine.

Nature photography, captive subject.



Lightroom processing settingsLightroom processing settingsLightroom processing settings for my giraffe on white portrait. You can see from the histogram that most of the image is in the highlights range, but that shadows are present, and the transition between the two is relatively constant. If there were peaks in the shadows and highlights, with low levels between the two (aka 'bathtub' distribution) the image would be too high-contrast, and harsh. I like to keep a decent amount of grey mid-tones in my images, for a smooth transition between pure white and pure black.

So firstly, I converted to black and white. I had wondered if this might work in colour, but I preferred the black and white version.

I increased the Whites to +100 in order to push the background to a clean white canvas.

I then reduced the exposure until only the background was clipped white (use the triangular highlights button on the histogram to visualise this).

I then needed to reduce the overall contrast of the image, to soften the result, so I set the Highlights (-100) Shadows (+100) and then Contrast (-25). Overall Contrast is a powerful tool, so I tend to use the Highlights and Shadows sliders first, to reduce the need for overall Contrast.

Next I set the Blacks to -48. Basically, reducing them until the histogram shows that I'm getting a small amount of pure black in the darkest shadows.

I used the Clarity slider to give the image a little more punch in the mid-tone contrast. This creates a slightly more detailed, graphic look, rather than a purely natural aesthetic. It's worth mentioning here that for many high-key images, a reduction in the Clarity slider will be more appropriate. But this depends on the image in question.

Lastly, I used an Adjustment Brush to lighten the eyeball, so that the viewer gets that eye-contact, which was in shadow originally.



Before / After


I thought I'd include one more before/after shot, to show an example where the background wasn't originally clean in the RAW file. In this instance, I needed to brush in additional exposure to push the background to pure white. Note though, that this would not have been possible without shooting against a bright sky background. For this on-white look, you have to find a situation where the subject is considerably darker than the background, otherwise it's very hard to separate the two in post. You need to get as much right in-camera as possible. I also reduced the shadows here, as I wanted to retain the dark tones in the feathers of the body.



High-Key Griffon VultureHigh-Key Griffon VultureHigh-Key Griffon Vulture High-Key Vulture photoGriffon Vulture on WhiteGriffon Vulture, photographed in high key, on White.
This photo was shortlisted in the Bird Photographer of the Year 2017 competition, and features in the accompanying photo book.





The high-key photography style is a perennial favourite of portrait photographers, and it's something I like to use in my nature portraits. Whether On-White or not, it's an effective tool for creating original, eye-catching photos, which connect with the viewer.

I hope you found this tutorial useful. If so, give it a share on social media, or send it to a friend who'd enjoy it.

If you're not a photographer yourself you've done well to get this far without getting bored, but I hope you enjoyed the photos :-)


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal art black and white bright example gw-high-low-key high-key light nature on white photography photos processing tutorial white wildlife workflow Mon, 20 Mar 2017 07:00:00 GMT
Photographic and Artistic Inspirations After last month's web-hosting grumble, I wanted to write a positive post this time around. I've been thinking for a while about how to go about writing a post like this, with a brief explanation of the people who inspire me, and who I think have had a direct influence on my photography.

I'm not exactly into celebrity culture, but I do take inspiration from all kinds of people in the media, TV, books, and online. Some are photographers, some artists, some household names, and some lesser known, but all have had an effect on the way I see the world, and what I want to spend my time doing.


Sir David Attenborough

David AttenboroughDavid AttenboroughDavid Attenborough, 1960 - (C) BBC - Photographer: BBC It's hard to start anywhere else really. I'm not even sure I need to add anything more either. The name alone conjures a kind of gravity and weight of credibility rare amongst those in the public eye. A couple of years ago, I went back and watched the entirety of his landmark BBC series', starting with 1979's "Life On Earth", which was an absolute masterpiece. Over 13 episodes Attenborough patiently walks the viewer through the history of life on earth; where it began, how it evolved, and how each environment came to be; sculpted and conquered by different animal groups over millions of years. Sadly, I think the pace of the show is such that it would never make it to air these days. But as a complete lesson in the natural world, it's almost unsurpassable. Since then, he's continued his quest to inform and enthrall the public with his later series', and has obviously achieved 'national treasure' status in the UK. He's also made the time for tireless campaigning for the protection of nature and wild places. All his series are carefully designed to make a point, and encourage viewers to become more engaged with nature. He's also a man of science, and his opinions and statements are always very well informed and backed up with evidence. 


Doug Allan

Doug AllanCamera man Doug Allan If you don't know the name, you might know the face. If you don't know the face, you might know the voice. If you don't know the voice, you'll definitely know some of the wildlife sequences he's brought to our screen!
If I was in a band, I'd like to be a drummer; Out of the limelight, but a solid team member. I couldn't be a figurehead like Attenborough. He's front-man material. And for all his qualities, Doug Allan appears to shun the limelight too. But the shots he contributes are truly spectacular. The lengths he goes to in order to film his documentary scenes are quite incredible, and totally enviable. Weeks in a hut in the Canadian arctic, for example, looking for polar bears. Or diving for whales day after day for the sake of a 10 minute feature. When you think of the great Attenborough series', and your favourite moments from them, the chances are Doug Allan was the man who filmed it. He sometimes appears in those 10-minute making-of sections at the end of an episode, with a cheeky grin, a positive outlook, a sense of humour, and always an admirable modesty.


Ray Mears

Ray MearsRay Mears Amongst Mears' qualities, of which there are many, I enjoy his apparent disinterest in modern culture. It's not an overt dislike or a fierce rejection, just a quiet dismissal of modern assumptions. He's clearly drawn to time away from the modern world, and finds peace amongst the some of the remaining areas of wilderness. He's a great advocate for spending time amongst nature as a therapy for mind and body. He completely shuns celebrity culture. When you hear him interviewed he speaks with such considered words, in a clear assured tone, totally free from hyperbole. His Desert Island Discs was a great insight into the man himself. We also share a love for the boreal forest, which covers a vast area of Northern countries such as Canada and Scandinavia. He inspires that sense of adventure in me, to look beyond the obvious destinations, and take the path less travelled. He also shares his interest in ancient native cultures very eloquently, and brings their techniques to life in new and engaging ways.


Bob Ross

Bob RossBob Ross painting I'm a relative newcomer to the phenomenon of Bob Ross, but I was hooked almost instantly. He's so kitchz it's hard to take him seriously at first, but his cult following doesn't purely rely on irony and amusement. It's impossible not to take something from his infectious enthusiasm and positivity. He constantly encourages others to enjoy creating art, speaking directly to viewers with phrases like "I know you can do this". It's madness, as he doesn't know me at all, but I love his keenness to encourage an enjoyment of the artistic process amongst everyday people - not just those who consider themselves artists. Given half a chance I think the art community could well become so insular that it never reaches out to the wider population, but Bob Ross seemed to make it his mission to connect with the mainstream. This chimes with me as, despite having a foot in the so-called 'fine art' community, I want to keep my photography accessible to everyone.
I can't say Bob's paintings are really my kind of style - The colours are pretty OTT for my taste. But one skill that particularly interests me is his knowledge of composition. In my opinion, he's a master of composition; particularly with his use of 'S-curves' leading the eye through the picture, from foreground interest, middle-distance, to background. He then packs points of interest around those curves so that each space on the canvas is used to add content and context to the image. Of course as a painter he has the ability to place these features where he wants, but as a photographer it's still great practice to see these compositions come together, and learn to seek them out for myself when in the field. For example, using trees at either side of a landscape, to frame the content. It's a classic Bob Ross technique, and it's something I can look to use in my landscape photography too.


Chris Packham

Chris PackhamChris Packham - 100 Things That Caught My Eye I'm the generation that grew up with The Really Wild Show and then got to rediscover Packham as an adult, during his more recent renaissance.
I have huge admiration for his steadfast commitment to science and reason, and his obsessive thirst for knowledge. His comments have courted controversy on a few occasions, but they're always rooted in ecological understanding and backed by scientific rigour. He's an excellent communicator of ideas and concepts, and does a great job of explaining the natural world to those watching on. He's also a great ambassador for numerous wildlife charities and good causes, which tie in perfectly to the messages he puts across on screen.
In addition to admiration, I also really identify with the way he seems to think. I see in him the same pursuit of artistic perfectionism, impossibly high standards, and resulting anxiety that I feel myself. Granted, the standards he achieves are far higher than me, but the point is he'll never reach the goals he sets himself. He'll never take that 10/10 photo - and he'll probably never see one either. He's also very literal in his communication. He says what he means, and he means what he says. Even the book title "100 Things That Caught My Eye" is spectacularly literal. I have this book myself, and I just had to share a quote from it, which perfectly conveys my innate feelings towards art and photography...

- "You have to microscope your images and you need to savage them with relentless self-criticism. Only then will you generate the desire to keep on and on trying to improve your photographs, attempting to one day attain that purely mythical perfect picture. It's tough; it's a recipe for a life of brutal dissatisfaction; it makes what for some is a nice hobby or enjoyable profession a frustrating and even miserable arena for self-recrimination. But then think of the alternative - you like your work, you think you've cracked it, get smug and cocky and then lazy. You may as well run a bath and dump all your gear in it. Nothing as disappointing as the attainment of a dream."


Nick Brandt

Nick BrandtA Shadow Falls I encountered Nick Brandt's African wildlife photography 10 years ago, and it was a key trigger to my first steps in photography. It hit that perfect blend of natural history documentary and artistic endeavour, and struck a real chord with me. It was still another couple of years before I invested in my first proper camera, but these images planted the seed in my mind that maybe photography could be the creative and artistic outlet that I needed.
Since then Brandt has managed to extend his on-going project with increasing relevance, darkness, and poignancy. His latest chapter "Inherit The Dust" is a striking continuation of the narrative, and a masterpiece in social commentary. It's hugely inspiring to see someone continuing to create art which is not only visually and aesthetically engrossing, but also politically engaging and thought-provoking.
I have a couple of his books and they're treated like holy manuscripts in my house!


Larry David

Larry DavidComedian Larry David Yes, that's right, it isn't all about nature and wildlife. Despite my own tiresome prose, I'm an avid comedy fan, and I'm definitely influenced and inspired by the writers and comedians I enjoy. As a writer, Larry is continuously innovative. You can see that him & Jerry are learning on the job through the early series' of Seinfeld, which makes his progression all the more relatable. Once they find their feet as writers, the show goes on to pretty much define how the modern sitcom works. But he didn't stop there. After co-creating/writing Seinfeld, Larry doesn't need to continue working, but he obviously still has the drive and the desire to continue creating original work. To still be generating funny, current, and relevant social commentary well into his 60's is great encouragement to never rest on your laurels, and to continuing employing that creative streak.




The main point of this post was to recommend these people to anyone unfamiliar with them. So if there's a name or a face here you weren't previously aware of, do have a search around online for their stuff, and hopefully you'll feel the same enjoyment, inspiration and encouragement from them as I do.

The secondary aim here was to put across a little of what makes me tick, and share where my motivations and inspirations come from.

However, as I've been writing it a third benefit has come to light. It's made me realise that there's a strong theme running through all of these people. Many of them, in subtly different ways, appear to have the same characteristics, foibles, or anxieties that I see in myself, and writing this post has highlighted that that's probably what draws me to them. It's also what makes them more encouraging to me, as I see them making a success of those character traits. Larry David has made a career writing from his own social awkwardness, and Chris Packham's crippling perfectionism is exactly what drives his pursuit of knowledge and photographic quality to such a degree. I guess what I mean is that it's inspiring to see people use the characteristics I relate to, in order to better themselves and reach their potential. - That's aside from Attenborough of course, who is utterly flawless and peerless.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) TV anxiety art hero inspiration nature perfectionist photography Mon, 27 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT
Zenfolio Vs Wordpress for Photographers For the first 5 years this website existed, I used Zenfolio to host it. But after increasing frustration with the service, I decided to build a new site using WordPress. I spent half of last year building it, but after the switch I wasn't happy with the result, so I recently reverted back to my Zenfolio site again.

This post is a brief discussion of the pros and cons of the two respective platforms, which I hope will prove useful to other photographers and developers out there.

I mean I say 'brief'; but you may want to grab a coffee and settle in for a long read...



Why I joined Zenfolio in the first place

Zenfolio logoZenfolioLogo for Zenfolio photography website platform The main reason behind creating a website was, and still is, to have a place for my portfolio to live online. A little corner of the internet that's mine. Somewhere I can direct people to look if they want to see what I'm doing, or people can stumble across themselves.
I also wanted to offer an integrated print-purchasing option, for anyone who likes what they see, and would like a print up at home. In this respect, Zenfolio was a very attractive option. The photo management behind the scenes is excellent. It's clear that this is a platform designed for photographers from the ground up. The basic print-ordering & selling mechanism is very well integrated into the site, and required little intervention/work from me when orders came in. It was also very easy to customise the look and feel of my site. Without wishing to use a word as dirty as 'branding', I was able to easily create a site that felt like mine, within 2 weeks (the free trial period). And when occasional print orders came in, I'd receive an email notification, and I just needed to log in and approve the order. Then it was sent on to the printers, who fulfilled the order. It really is a great setup and workflow for an easy life. As a beginner, it was all I wanted.



My frustrations with Zenfolio - Why I left

It's fair to say I have a love/hate relationship with Zenfolio. It allowed me to concentrate on my photography, and put my time and attention into learning to take better photos, rather than constructing and maintaining a website. And it gave me an opportunity to sell my work with minimal experience and understanding of the process to begin with. I don't think I would be where I am today without Zenfolio. But it's funny how little issues can become increasingly frustrating over a period of 5 years. My photography improved, my requirements grew, and the rest of the web evolved, meanwhile Zenfolio seemed almost glacial in its reaction speed. 

There were so many simple, targeted fixes requested on the forum and UserVoice platform over the years, which could have delivered an improved service for Zenfolio users, but were never addressed. What few updates were delivered were so minor and slow to arrive, it suggests Zenfolio are probably functioning with as few as 1 or 2 developers. It certainly gave the impression of a company top-heavy with marketing to attract new customers, rather than a proactive attitude to serving current users. It was so frustrating to see a good company lack the resources to address key issues, or have those resources directed elsewhere to features which offer little or no value to it's user base.

I'd say the main reasons why Zenfolio were no longer meeting my requirements were...

1. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

I'm increasingly looking to make my site discoverable via search engines. I was using Google Web Master Tools, and as much relevant text as possible on my pages, and I'd reached the limit of what I was able to achieve with SEO myself. Yet my site still rated very poorly on SEO analysis due to the underlying code and structure of the Zenfolio platform.

For example, it's maddening that the URL for each photo page is just a series of random characters, such as
This doesn't give Google any idea about the content or subject matter. 

2. Shopping Cart & Checkout

This process was so convoluted, it needed serious simplification. In addition to that, I don't want my customers to have access to paper choice, cropping, etc. I can do that myself. I just want a simple way of selecting prints at various sizes. And I don't want generic wedding or portrait photos on the example products. It's not a good look for a nature and wildlife photography site.
A related note, and a major reason for looking elsewhere, is the paper and print sizes available for Fine Art Prints are very limited - particularly for One Vision Imaging in the UK. OVI have so many options on their website, but very few through Zenfolio (and they're odd shapes/aspect-ratios). I considered self-fulfilled prints, so I can choose a vendor myself, but it felt like a lot of hard work, and I'd be missing part of what I like about Zen; the ease of the sales workflow. If I'm going to offer self-fulfilled products, I can do that without Zenfolio.

3. Modern Styling & Responsive Design

The look and feel of a Zen site dated since I joined 5 years ago, and other websites have moved on to a more modern long-page, flat UI styling, with a responsive design that works equally well on multiple devices. It would be nice to have a site that looks modern and stylish, as that says a lot about the general approach I want to put across to potential viewers.



The attraction of Wordpress

Ah, the grass was definitely greener on the Wordpress side :-)

Wordpress logo WordPress is a much more open platform than Zenfolio. It wasn’t designed for photographers specifically. Initially a blogging platform, WordPress has evolved for developing and hosting all kinds of websites. The attraction of this is that it’s very open and accessible, offering great freedom to customise all elements of a site. Being built around well-established blogging functionality also provides great opportunities for SEO. It has lots of great features for blogs too, like email list sign-up forms, and 'similar posts' links beneath an article. Being open-source, it’s also free software. You just have to pay for a hosting package from one of the many web hosting companies, which costs around $5 a month. After that, the key feature of Wordpress is the wide selection of plug-ins (pre-written software modules) available, which add specific features such as integrated product sales (eg ‘WooCommerce’ plugin), and SEO helpers (eg ‘Yoast’). Like mobile apps, this market is made up of free, paid, and ‘freemium’ solutions, so you can tailor your choice according to your budget and requirements. Most people choose to pay for a theme, which sets the look and feel of your site as well as the layout of many of the screens. These vary in quality, style, and customisation-potential, and I chose “Bridge”, which cost me around $60 up-front. I chose it because it was a modern-looking theme, with a reputation for good support from its developers.

Aside from the website itself, another advantage of sourcing a hosting company myself was that I'd be able to get an email address using my domain name. For example, something This is a much more professional appearance than using gmail, as I was before.

So off I went; customising my site, adding my photos, and installing plug-ins to add the features I wanted. By the time I’d finished I had a site I really liked the look of. It was very responsive to different browser and device resolutions, and it looked noticeably more slick than my old zenfolio site. I was also able to provide prints from my own choice of fine art printers, rather than the limited options available via Zenfolio.



The frustrations with Wordpress - Why I left

SEO and Page Speed

Well, there was one key reason why left Zenfolio; SEO. And yet, after I’d done everything I could to aid the SEO features of my WordPress site, it still achieved roughly the same rating for SEO as my old Zenfolio site! I’ve been over the specific issues so many times, based on different metrics from different analyses (GTMetrix, Pingdom, Varvy, NeilPatel), and it seemed like my WordPress and Zenfolio sites both similar overall ratings, only with differing pros and cons. I'd addressed the issues which Zenfolio hadn't, but wasn't able to address some of the other issues detailed below, which did work in Zenfolio - mainly page speed. So overall, I hadn’t gained an SEO advantage from my move to WordPress.

SEO and page speed are intertwined, since page loading speed is not only a usability issue, but is also a key part of SEO ranking. In short, I would not recommend the Bridge theme from Qode. It’s massively bloated, and it’s badly structured. One of the key features of efficient page loading times is ‘minification’. This involves shrinking and combining web pages and their associated scripts, to reduce the overhead in data download and individual file requests for each page view. It turns out you can’t minify the Qode scripts, or combine any of the many disparate files required for each page load. So for each load of my Wordpress homepage, the browser had to request and download around 80 separate files! Added to this, the pages were structured such that the page would not begin to display until all the files were downloaded (see Render-Blocking Javascript). I was getting page load times of 7-8 seconds, compared to 1-2 seconds on Zenfolio.

I looked into the idea of faster website hosting packages, or 'WordPress-optimised' hosting packages, to see if that would speed things up. The wordpress-optimised packages were no faster than the package I had. They just included caching and basic CDN, which I'd already setup on my site with a plugin. I was also able to see that the server response times I was getting weren't slow. The delay was coming from needlessly numerous files, and web application processing time. This lead me to try a plugin called 'P3 - Plugin Performance Profiler', which was fascinating. It showed me where the page load time was going - in pie chart format. WooCommerce was responsible for 75% of the load time, requiring nearly 100 database queries to load the average page! There are two solutions to this;

  • The first is to upgrade to a dedicated server (which is very expensive - far exceeding the value of my print sales). 
  • The other is to re-organise my site to get it working with fewer products, to reduce the amount of processing required. But this would be a fairly major re-design, costing more of my time on top of what I already put in last year.

Next we have image optimisation. As a photographer, images are a key feature of my website. But it’s important that the image files are compressed efficiently, to reduce the file-size as much as possible, so they download quickly and provide a positive user experience. I used a plug-in called ‘ShortPixel’, for which I paid to solve this problem. Unfortunately, on page analyses many of my images were still being flagged as not optimised. That was frustrating, but on top of that many of them, especially the smaller thumbnails, suffered a huge degradation in quality. When the entire point of your site is to show your photos, it’s just not acceptable to have them looking so ropey, with compression artefacts and gross loss of detail. Since my experience, ShortPixel have released a new Glossy option specifically for photographers, which does exactly what I wanted. Take a look at that if you're looking for a Wordpress image optimisation plugin.

Zenfolio also optimise their images as part of the service. The low-res images they generate for faster loading are very crisp and sharp. They do a great job there. They also use a CDN, for faster download/page speeds.

A quick detour here, to cover theme options. It's very difficult to choose a WordPress theme, as there doesn't seem to be a facility for 'try-before-you-buy'. If you're in the same boat I was, I'd recommend running SEO analysis tools on the various demo sites out there, and checking the html they put out. This will help, but it's still ultimately a leap into the unknown, as you can't get a sense of what the back end configuration will be like until you've paid for and installed the theme. It's also likely that these demo sites are hosted on expensive, fast, dedicated servers, so any speed analysis is unlikely to resemble the results you get on an affordable single-site WordPress hosting option. I did check the html pumped out by Bridge before I bought it, to make sure it tackled the features missing from Zenfolio, however I didn't run any further analysis or look into minification / file requests-per-page. I naively assumed they would be OK.

One option open to photographers is the likes of Photocrati, or Imagely. These are a combination of Wordpress themes, plugins, and configurations which attempt to provide an all-in-one solution. There were two main reasons I didn't go with one of these:

  • They're expensive. You have the choice of either payment up-front for a solution that will date and not receive ongoing updates, or an annual subscription which ends up far more expensive than the alternatives.
  • They don't create a unique URL/page for each photo. URL's seem to be gallery based, with each photo in the gallery accessed from that one URL. I want each photo to have it's own page & URL. In addition to this, I want some photos to be in more than one gallery (eg, Nature and Black and White).

I'd consider trying one of these in the future, if they introduced an option for a page-per-photo, though I'm still not convinced they would tackle my other concerns with the underlying WordPress platform. Overall, it does still feel like there's a huge gap in the market for an effective Wordpress photography solution.

Image Management

The WordPress photo management is frankly awful. The fact that I had 2-3 new photos to add to my website, which I just hadn't bothered to do, was the nail in the coffin for my WordPress experiment; Proof that the method was too convoluted to maintain. Behind the scenes, the media management facility is so basic and dated it's beyond belief. I guess that's OK for many websites, but with images being so key to a photography website, they have to be easy to manage; collate into galleries, groups, etc. I also missed how easy it was to provide password-protected galleries to clients with Zenfolio. I do take on commissions and commercial projects, and Zenfolio's client galleries are excellent for sharing photos privately.
Note too that each of my photos (over 100 on my website, plus the many other images used around my site for headers, example prints, blogs, etc) was automatically duplicated in the form of thumbnail images, resized for various different uses. The number of thumbnails required depends on the plug-ins you use, which will generate more for their own use. In my case my site was auto-generating 18 thumbnail versions for each of my images. This is clearly OTT, and while I don't have to get involved with these copies directly, it's a bit of an alarm bell, as it's representative of the kind of scrappy inefficiencies inherent in the WordPress platform.

And this leads into the next problem...


Unless you stick with something very basic, your WordPress site requires quite a few different plugins. I was using around 20 in all, to add features such as...

  • SEO
  • Print sales
  • Site security
  • Basic CDN
  • Caching
  • Slideshows ('sliders' in Wordpress speak)
  • 302 redirects
  • Image optimisation
  • Page layout design
  • Improvements to the print selection UI
  • Content sharing
  • And my theme

Now, given that each of the many plugins is maintained by a different company, developer, or open-source user-base, and updates are released completely independently for each, it becomes a risky prospect to accept updates in case any changes negatively affect my site, or weren't compatible with a version of another plugin I was using. So the obvious solution is to stick with the versions I have, and not take further updates. However the WordPress platform itself also receives regular updates (let's say once a month?). And the WordPress updates are automatically rolled out and applied. Plus you do need those updates not only to benefit from new features/usability, but also to address any security issues which have been identified since the previous release. So with a basic platform/API that's constantly evolving, you also have to keep your plugins up-to-date, so they work with the version of WordPress that you have. It's a recipe for maintenance nightmare. I feel like I could improve the speed and SEO issues over time, if I ditched Bridge and tried a more lightweight theme, but the constant updates from disparate plugins is a situation that I'm just not happy with. It again highlights the benefit of Zenfolio's all-encompassing platform; having one source for all features and updates. And as slow as they are to release updates, they are obviously rigorously tested, as they very rarely introduce bugs.


One last issue, is with localisation for print prices. My Zenfolio site would detect where the user was, and display print prices for their location. This means that people in the UK would see prices in GBP, and users in the USA would see prices in USD, etc. This was actually quite a big deal to me, as I sell as many prints overseas as I do within the UK. With WordPress, all my prints were priced in GBP, and anyone from outside the UK would have to convert to their local currency themselves. Although the simplicity of this was initially attractive, it soon became apparent (when I stopped getting print orders from outside the UK!) that this was creating a barrier to sales from overseas. It took this experiment for me to realise that the UK is really an insignificant market compared with the rest of the world. Especially so since the continuing collapse of the UK Pound is effectively making my prices more affordable to those outside the UK. In an increasingly global market, there's no point in giving preference to the UK, just because that's where I live. I'm sure this localisation feature could have been addressed using a plugin of some-sort, but I've already discussed my concern with installing more plugins, and the thought of further complicating an already convoluted WooCommerce price-list was enough to put me off that idea.

The grass wasn't greener

Now don't get me wrong. WordPress is brilliant in many ways, and it enables millions of people to run a low-cost blog or website with very little coding required. I also know lots of other photographers who are very happy with it. It's just not what I had hoped for. It didn't address all of the issues I needed to address, and I didn't feel confident in the disparate collection of software I was using. Overall, despite spending many hours developing my WordPress site, my Zenfolio site still had the edge in the majority of respects, and I felt like Zenfolio's stability and reliability would pay off over Wordpress' customisation options. What it basically comes down to is this;

I want to spend my free time taking photos, not maintaining a website, and Zenfolio is easily the most simple and reliable option of the two. I didn't mind putting a lot of time into building a website, but I don't want a site that will require on-going time and attention for maintenance. It has to be reliable enough that I can move on, and get back to taking photos, and I didn't have that confidence in WordPress.

In time, if Zenfolio remain behind the curve with respect to addressing the basics, I may well end up going back to WordPress. But if that does happen, I'll use a lighter-weight theme, and a massively simplified integration of WooCommerce, with a minimal number of products shared by all photos, to reduce the processing required to serve a page. However, I can't be bothered with that right now. I'm going to give Zenfolio another try first.

The one element of my switch to WordPress that I'm keeping is my self-fulfilled prints. It does mean that I don't get to take advantage of Zen's integrated printing platform, but I'm just not happy with the limited options available there, in terms of papers and print sizes. It's nowhere near flexible enough, so I'd rather order my own with my own choice of fine art printers and papers. So far that's worked out fine.

Once I started looking into leaving WordPress, I also had to decide what to do about my lovely new email address using my domain. Well, thankfully I discovered Zoho mail, which is absolutely brilliant. So now I'm not using my WordPress hosting package, but I'm still able to maintain my email address by using Zoho, and some simple domain settings. If you're looking for custom/company email addresses, and you have a domain, I'd thoroughly recommend Zoho. Their support was also very helpful and responsive during the setup process too.


What you get with a photo-hosting company compared to a generic platform

Thinking more about the two options, this isn't just about Zenfolio vs Wordpress. It's also a question of whether it's worth paying a photo website hosting company (such as Zenfolio, Photoshelter, SmugMug, etc) for their service, rather than a do-it-yourself approach with a generic website (such as Wordpress). Obviously it depends on the pricing of the respective services - but that aside, what do you get for using a service like Zenfolio?

  • Web hosting - All your files, web design, html, blog posts, and images are stored on their server. Clustered redundancy and backups, so data is never lost.
  • Fast access - Optimised / minimised files, using a CDN for maximum page load times.
  • Photo management - Organisation of images, in galleries & groups, etc.
  • Regular updates - For security and bug-fixes, as well as new features. Automatically rolled out and applied with no further action required.
  • Integrated sales - Making selling hassle-free.
  • Localisation - Multi-language / local-currency.
  • Site security & Image protection - SSL certificate for encrypted checkout and secure payments/orders.
  • Economies of scale - By hosting the sites of thousands of photographers, servers and webspace are much cheaper per user. I get better quality (reliability/speed) web hosting by being part of Zenfolio's service, than I would if I pay for my own hosting server independently (as you do with Wordpress).

For me, the pros of using a photography-specific service outweigh those of Wordpress and the like. I think the features above are worth paying for, and companies such as Zenfolio are just what's needed to get the web-development & maintenance off the photographer's to-do list. 

So I'm back on the Zen site again. Despite it's frustrating flaws, it's currently the best option available to me.



Outstanding Issues with Zenfolio

Zenfolio does all of the above, but it's still well short of achieving everything photographers really need. 
And I'm not too proud to beg, so begging I am:

- Please Zenfolio: address these simple issues -

Zenfolio is so close to being a really great platform! Resolving these basic issues would add real value, help users immensely, encourage us to stay, and enable us to recommend the service to friends...

  1. Friendly URLs for photo pages.
    As described above, I should be able to use the URL:
    rather than
    There's a request for this on the UserVoice platform, which was accepted and planned as of August 2012, and still hasn't been done!
    This is important for SEO.
  2. The <title> tag of a photo page should include the title of the photo.
    How complex is that?
    Again, there's a request for this on the UserVoice platform, which this time hasn't even been acknowledged by Zenfolio in nearly 6 years!
    This surely requires a matter of minutes for a developer to implement. It's a staggering oversight.
    Vote for this feature on Uservoice
  3. The sitemap that Zenfolio generates is very basic.
    It was clearly a rushed afterthought, which has never been addressed properly.
    You can see mine here:
    Not only does it not even include the urls for my photo pages, but neither does it include the images on the pages it does list! This one is so simple. How long would this take a developer to fix? A couple of hours maybe? To boost the SEO of every Zenfolio user out there!
    Vote for this feature on Uservoice
  4. The image files used in a Zenfolio website have unfriendly filenames.
    Instead of something like
    I should get
    This tells Google what the photo is of - which is a big help for SEO in photography.
    Vote for this feature on Uservoice
  5. Take advantage of HTML5. Use the <header> and <article> tags, to help search engines determine the page content.
    Vote for this feature on Uservoice
  6. Use the @media feature of CSS3 to adapt layout to whatever device resolution the client is using.
    Modern websites don't have desktop and mobile versions. They are designed to be responsive.
    Vote for this feature on Uservoice
  7. Add some kind of feature to enable HTTP 301 redirects.
    It's annoying that if I remove a gallery, or rename it, all of the links to any of those pages will now route to a 404 error.
    For example, if I remove my 'deer' gallery, the address
    would now lead to a 404 Page-Not-Found.
    I'd like to be able to suggest that any request for this page be (301) redirected to
    instead, where that same photo also exists.
    The same goes for renaming blog posts, or custom pages. Once up, they can't ever be renamed or taken down without introducing 404 errors.
    Vote for this feature on Uservoice

It may seem like a case of wanting to have my cake and eat it; I want to stick with my current service, but I also want them to fix the longstanding problems with their platform. Well as a paying customer, I don't see what's wrong with that. OK, I could just jump ship again and try another alternative (which is probably inevitable if things don't change), but I'd rather see Zen put things right first. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to see a company so nearly nail a concept, yet appear so misguided in their development priorities.



To other Zenfolio users out there

Like me, there are probably many things you love about the service. But whether you were already aware of the issues I've highlighted in this post or not, I'm sure you have your own concerns with the slow pace of progress at Zen compared to increasing competition from the likes of WordPress, SmugMug, Squarespace, Photoshelter, etc. If you haven't already, please vote for some features at You never know, there might be someone at Zenfolio who still looks at that site. And I suggest you get in touch with Zenfolio, and ask them to address some of these SEO issues. I certainly have, but it needs more than just one lone voice.

As I've said, the potential for Zenfolio is massive. It's a great concept, and well executed in many respects. It's a solid base for those making their first website, or who want easy-to-maintain private portrait/event galleries. They've got so much right in the foundations of the service, it would be a great shame to keep losing more experienced users due to the lack of attention to SEO and modern web design.


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.



(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) css design development domain host hosted hosting html layout management page photo photography plugins responsive sitemap web website woocommerce wordpress zen zenfolio Tue, 31 Jan 2017 18:33:00 GMT