For the last few years, I’ve tried to write a blog post about how my experiences matched my hopes for the year, and what my goals might be for the next year. 2015 was a good year, with a more project-based focus than previous years, rather than chasing after different ideas week-by-week. I think it was a year of steady growth, but let’s not get carried away. It’s tough trying to reach the standards I set for myself.
1. Continue to improve my landscape photography
Wye Valley WideThis is the woodland of the Wye Valley, on the English/Welsh border.
It’s part of my “Only Trees” project; to create an image full of texture and colours from trees alone.
This photo was Commended in the Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards 2015, and features in the accompanying book. Well I got a huge pat-on-the-back in that respect this year, having a photo commended in the Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards. This is a prestigious competition, but ultimately I don’t take much more from it than a little encouragement. I still see these awards as quite random, so the excitement isn’t exactly going to my head. In many ways, it just sets me up to fail in 2016 as I’m highly unlikely to place higher next time around! But still, my photo was published in the annual Landscape Photographer of the Year photo book, which many consider a high benchmark.
As for my own feelings on my landscape progress, I do think my style matured this year, and I started working on a couple of projects I’m keen to build on over the coming years. I had been thinking about how to produce photos with a painterly feel for a while, taking inspiration from oil paintings in particular, without really getting out and giving it a go. Also, for the most part, I couldn’t think how to. It’s not easy to reflect a painterly feel in a digital photo.
Oil Painting With WavesInspired by the traditional sea storm oil paintings.
Reynisfjara beach, Iceland. But this year, my Painterly Pictures project was born, and it feels good to have a gotten a few. I think in future this is going to be something I really spend a lot of time and attention on. Similarly, my set of woodland photos from the Wye Valley really triggered an idea in my mind, and spawned my answer to the trope of lonely trees – that being Only Trees: A collection of images where trees are used to fill the entire frame to create an almost abstract wall of colour and detail. I think this project has real legs, and offers something different as the seasons change too. I’m not as happy with the photos I have for this one so far, as I am with Painterly Pictures, but I’m confident of building a good portfolio of them over time.
I couldn’t mention landscapes without touching on Iceland, having visited again this year. This time around the weather wasn’t as kind, but I enjoyed the varied locations we visited, and I did achieve my goal of taking different photos to the ones I got first time around. This time I took the 70-200mm lens, and was also shooting much more at the 35mm end of the 16-35mm too. I think the effect of the ultra-wide-angle, luminous coloured, dramatic look of the 500px landscapes category has had an effect on a lot of landscape photographers (particularly in Britain), prompting a move in the opposite direction; focal lengths of 50mm and above, muted tones, and subtle themes. I wouldn’t put it all down to 500px; styles come and go, but of late I’ve certainly enjoyed more subtle landscape photography, and my style has moved in that direction too.
I also put a lot of time into a bluebell wood photo project this spring, making frequent visits over a two week period, and building up a set of photos showing the wood changing as the sun goes down. Bluebells are a commonly photographed subject, but I think I managed to get something new using slow exposures, and some attractive back-lit images as the sun was low in the sky.
Hmm. I think for the most part, wildlife ended up as a secondary consideration this year, after landscapes. Particularly British wildlife, which I didn’t really make the time to get out for often enough.
If You Go Down To The Woods TodayEye contact from a European brown bear in the woods of the boreal forest.
Wildlife photography, Taiga, Finland. I think I’m suffering from a classic problem whereby my standards have risen to a point where I don’t want to just go out and get fairly average pictures of things. I only want really good photos, and the opportunities to get those are few and far between. Especially in Bedfordshire. So I’m just not going out enough. But that aside, I did get some results in three wildlife projects this year…
In June I spent a week in Finland, photographing brown bears, which was great fun, but I think I’ll always look back and regret the opportunities I missed. These were largely down to elements out of my control like the light and the weather, but also just common frustrations that come from a one-off trip like this. You can’t just drop in somewhere new and get great shots straight away. It takes time and practice, which just isn’t possible on a one-off basis. The biggest frustration of all was not taking a lens wider than 70mm. I never imagined I’d get so close to the bears in the woods, and so when prioritising the kit I could take, I had to leave the wide-angle behind. This bear photo is a nice shot, but I can’t see it without thinking how much better it would have been at 35-50mm.
Red Deer RoarA roaring red deer, in high-key black and white.
Taken during the 2015 red deer rut.
Fine Art nature photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire. For the second year running, I went to Skomer with friends, to see the puffins. We didn’t get sunrise / sunset light like last year, and although I managed to come home with a greater range of photos, nothing really stood out for me.
The red deer rut, by contrast, was much more successful for me. I was determined to keep going out early & late to catch as much of the action as I could, and I ended up with a range of deer photos to be happy with. I had a few ideas for shots to try for. I got one (see image right), and got close to another – but that’s something to work on next year. And I think I did well to seize some other unexpected opportunities, and make shots I wouldn’t have pre-visualised.
Barbary Macaque PortraitI like all my portraits to emphasise the subject's human characteristics, so photographing primates is particularly rewarding. Macaques share around 93% of their DNA sequence with humans, and we share a common ancestor from 25 million years ago.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Monkey Forest, Staffordshire. I just started to get into black and white photography in 2014, and I have to say I loved building on that in 2015. I think black and white nature photography can be a very effective way of communicating personality or story, and it can accommodate either subtlety or a highly stylised look, according to how it’s used. I recently wrote a blog post about black and white nature photography with some of my recent favourites, so I won’t go on too much about it here except to say that I think I did achieve this goal this year.
Last Light Red DeerSometimes everything just comes together perfectly, and on this occasion I had the light, the dark background, and the deer at just the right angle. Deer look majestic most of the time, but lit like this, he appears king of all he surveys.
Taken during the 2015 red deer rut.
Fine art nature photography, Bedfordshire, UK. I think I did well to stay on task this year, and not get too distracted by chasing around after everyday wildlife photos. It’s easy to turn up places and shoot away, only to come home with a heap of photos that don’t really say anything or connect with the viewer. But the downside is that I didn’t really get out often enough, because of that determination only to get something interesting and different. It’s tough when you only want certain types of photos which are hard to get, to go out and come back with consistent hits. But overall I think I have continued to move in the right direction, to concentrate on the subjects and styles that I do best, whilst also experimenting outside of my comfort zone from time to time.
You can follow my photography throughout the year on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Flickr, & 500px. If you’re on any of those sites, do drop by and say hello. Or if you have any suggestions for great ideas for subjects or locations I should visit, then get in touch.
Happy new year, and best of luck for 2016 :-)