George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography: Blog https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog en-us (C) George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography (George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) Thu, 26 Jul 2018 15:33:00 GMT Thu, 26 Jul 2018 15:33:00 GMT https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/img/s/v-5/u71228637-o70295702-50.jpg George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography: Blog https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog 120 120 Landscape Photography in the Blue Mountains https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/8/landscape-photography-blue-mountains This is part 3 of a 4-part series sharing the photos from my trip to Australia, in October 2017. I split the wildlife posts between Kangaroos and Wombats, and I've split the landscape photography between classic landscapes (here), and trees (which will follow this post). This one's a slightly different style to the others. As well as showing my favourite landscape photos from the trip, it also will contain plenty of advice and recommendations for anyone else looking for landscape photography locations in the Blue Mountains area. Hopefully it should be a useful reference point for those photographers who were in the position I was in this time last year.

Sunrise from Govett's LeapSunrise from Govett's LeapLooking down the Grose Valley.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

First of all, I should point any photographers in the direction of Gary P Hayes' website, which contains a fabulously detailed and rich write-up of the various viewpoints in the Blue Mountains. I found this very useful when I was researching. However, it's so detailed, and so sprawling, it can be hard navigate if you're not familiar with the area. So I'm pitching this post at people who are new to the Blue Mountains, and would like more of an overview.

I'm going to start with a map, below, which shows the main locations I researched or visited. The basic Geography of the area is you have Sydney on the South East coast of Australia, and then a ridge of land winding West from there, along which are the towns of Glenbrook, Springwood, Lawson, Wentworth Falls, Leura, Katoomba, and Blackheath. And either side of that ridgeline, the land falls away leaving hundreds of square miles of subtropical rainforest below. The further West you go, the higher the altitude. So generally speaking, the views get better and it's cooler in temperature. The locations in this post are also ordered from East to West.

The Blue Mountains Photography LocationsThe Blue Mountains Photography LocationsRecommended landscape photography locations in the Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales, Australia.

 

 

Glenbrook /1

Glenbrook GumGlenbrook GumOne gum tree gets the light, down on the floor of Glenbrook Gorge.
Nature Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.
Glenbrook is a nice little town, with a fantastic walk/clamber alongside a river, through a steep-sided gorge. You can find the route here. Parking is easy, but it costs a couple of dollars. It's a fantastic walk, and one of the highlights of my trip. It was the most Australian-looking place I went to. And by that I mean it was like off of Crocodile Dundee. But I didn't find it very productive for photography. Light is low in the gorge unless the sun is high in the sky, at which point you get very harsh highlights and shadows. We had a few moments where the sun went behind the clouds, and that classic soft-box effect was enough to render the light usable. I got this photo of a Eucalyptus tree which I really like, but it doesn't show anything of what the gorge is really like. You'll just have to visit for yourself. And let's face it, most of the photography locations are best for sunrise or sunset, so you need activities like this to fill the daytime. Along the way, keep an eye out for wildlife. We saw dozens of lizards, a green tree snake, and an Eastern Water Dragon. Best weather for this location would be misty / overcast.

After your walk, if you're a fan of hipster cafes and tea rooms (as I am) pop into the 2773 Cafe for a mason jar of iced coffee, or a basket of waffle fries. 

 

Lincolns Rock /2

Or "Flat Rock", as it's also known, just outside the town of Wentworth Falls, looking West over the Jamison Valley. Since it faces West, it's best for sunset. However, I found the light here very harsh. Filters and HDR ahoy. The sky is very bright, and the ground is very dark. It's a great viewpoint. Just difficult to photograph. It's also very much in need of a good foreground. There's a tiny cave there, but it's a bit of a dodgy climb to get to, and the view isn't any better than from the top of the rock. I wasted a lot of time with a wide-angle lens here, when really I think a medium telephoto is more suitable. My favourite photo from here was a telephoto shot of the layers at blue hour, once the contrast was reduced. This, to me, says "Blue Mountains". Blue Mountain LayersBlue Mountain LayersLayers of blue, from Lincolns Rock.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

One thing to note about Lincolns Rock is that although it's less developed for tourists (no metal railings, no facilities) it's very popular with commercial photographers and millennial Instagrammers. I visited three times (as the location was convenient for me), and encountered wedding and engagement shoots each time. It's not that they're a problem, but I prefer to enjoy my photography somewhere quieter. Overall, the location has a lot of potential, but it wasn't one of my favourites, and I probably wouldn't go back.

 

Wentworth Falls /3

As you get closer to Katoomba, things start to feel a little more touristy, and you start to notice it here. But that said, I think Wentworth Falls still strikes a good balance between catering for tourists, and providing enjoyable hikes and trails. There's a nice big car park, with a handful of viewpoints nearby, and some good hiking trails down into the valley. Of the viewpoints, I think I prefer the higher ones (nearer the car park), but none really grabbed my attention. I think you need some interesting weather, like mist or a cloud inversion, to really make a noteworthy image here. We saw a couple of lyrebirds though, which are the icon of the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.

 

Leura /4

Leura is lovely. Nice independent shops and tea rooms. I don't know the name of the place I got an Iced Chocolate and a slice of cheesecake from, but the memory will stay with me for the rest of time. The best views I found here were through the town, and looking out from the southern tip, from Olympian Rock and Elysian Rock. They're joined by the longer Prince Henry Cliff Walk, which looks like a great route to hike further along. There are lots of viewpoints along that track which I doubt many photographers use, due to the abundance of more easily-accessed lookouts around.

The view is a very wide one, South over the Jamison Valley to Mount Solitary, and the two smaller valleys either side. To the right, you can see the arse-end of the Three Sisters (see Katoomba). The sun rises on the left, and sets to the right. Neither sunrise nor sunset are ideal, due to the mountains each side blocking the first and last light, but I prefer sunrise. However, both are usable, and the view is one of my favourites. Like a lot of the lookouts, it's very hard to find a usable foreground, which is a shame.

These lookouts are very easy and accessible (which is always handy for a sunrise). Parking is free (park on Olympian Parade road), and you're at the lookout within a minute.

I was fortunate to get a cloud inversion on my sunrise visit, which was amazing. I'm not particularly happy with the photos I got that morning, which is a shame, but I've shared these two to give an idea of the potential.

Above The Clouds - Mount Solitary from Olympian RockAbove The Clouds - Mount Solitary from Olympian RockLooking across the Jamison Valley, during a dawn cloud inversion.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

Jamison Valley Cloud InversionJamison Valley Cloud InversionAbove the clouds, looking across the Jamison Valley, from Olympian Rock, Leura.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

Katoomba

Katoomba is the main tourist hub in the Blue Mountains, and it's by far the busiest town. It has several lookout points, so I'll summarise a few of the notable ones here...

 

Echo Point (Three Sisters) /5

This is the main view of the Blue Mountains which all the tourists and coach trips visit. It's a nice view, but in no way better than any other view point, and thus is best avoided, due to it's popularity. Parking costs, and it's not cheap either. The Three Sisters, which are the icon of the National Park, are nothing noteworthy, and it's well documented that they were picked out by the tourism board in an attempt to find a focal point for the area. Let's face it, there are cliffs and rocks everywhere, so why shoot these ones.

 

Cliff View Lookout /6

I liked this one, and I just stumbled on it myself. Park in Maple View Car Park (free, and has some lovely trees around there). Then walk South for approximately 10 minutes, down a signposted path. You'll get good views of the valley layers there at sunrise. I wasn't able to visit during the best light, but this panorama gives you a sense of the views available.

Blue Mountain LayersBlue Mountain LayersTaken from Cliff View Lookout, Katoomba.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

Eagle Hawk Lookout /7

Of the Katoomba lookouts, this was my favourite. It's a nice view which features the Three Sisters, without relying on them for interest. You can get a eucalyptus tree foreground if you really work for it. Parking is free, but there's only space for a couple of cars in a lay-by on a slightly dodgy bend. But still, once you're parked you're 10 seconds from the viewpoint. It's the same enormous Jamison Valley you're looking into from Leura, Wentworth Falls, and Lincolns Rock, which all take a different angle on it. In fact, this lookout faces Lincolns Rock, which is somewhere in the far distance, theoretically. I definitely prefer this one at sunrise, and wouldn't bother with sunset (too much is in shadow). Ideally, you'll have a little mist in the valley too. This photo really shows why they called them the Blue Mountains. The phenomenon comes from the oil in the eucalyptus trees, which mixes with sunlight, dust, and water vapour on a humid day, and creates this blue glow.

Three Sisters and Jamison Valley, from Eagle Hawk LookoutThree Sisters and Jamison Valley, from Eagle Hawk LookoutShowing why they call it the Blue Mountains.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

Narrowneck Plateau Trail

Plenty of good views for a sunrise here, looking left/East towards Katoomba, Mount Solitary, and the Jamison Valley, as you walk South down this trail. Also views to the right/West over the fantastically named Megalong Valley. Whoever got that name rubber-stamped is my kind of guy. I found the views Westwards a little humanised for my taste though, with fields and buildings in view. It lacked the timeless / prehistoric feel of the views elsewhere. You can't drive very far down this trail, so it's a case of parking up and walking the majority of the route. That's fine for a good morning's walk, but not ideal for sunrise, which is when I think this is best photographed. Just a note, but the volume of the cicadas here was quite astounding. There must have been tens of thousands of them there, generating something akin to the volume of a busy dual-carriageway. That will be another lasting experience from this trip.

 

Cahill's Lookout /8

In my mind, this is named after Tim Cahill, though I suspect that's not the case. Like Tim Cahill, it's nice enough but it's not really world class. Worth a stop if you're looking around the area, but very little to warrant taking the camera out.

 

Six-Foot Track /9

This is a hiking route down Megalong Valley (still loving that name - rivalling Flat Rock for literalism). I didn't have time for this, but I'd have liked to walk it. The route takes you down to the valley, and through the eucalyptus forest. You pass a place called Nellies Glen along the way, which looks very photogenic. Unfortunately, it's a one-way path (unless you want a mega-long multi-day hike), so you have to turn around at some point, and come back up the route you went down.

 

Blackheath

Blackheath is the furthest West/North we visited, and marks the end of the main towns in the Blue Mountains area. The town itself is nice. To me, it's a more authentic focal point of the Blue Mountains than Katoomba. A little higher up the mountain, quieter, more traditional, and more appealing. I actually felt quite at home walking around here. Again, there are dozens of lookout points, so I'll split them into the ones I researched or was able to visit.

 

Evans Lookout /10

My second favourite lookout. Looking North East, towards the Grose Valley. Best visited at Sunrise. I didn't manage to visit at sunrise, only around 3-4 hours later; still well before the harshest light, but well after the best. But the light was kind to me, and there was just enough cloud and haze around to get a couple of nice daylight shots.

Evans LookoutEvans LookoutTaken mid-morning, as the mist was clearing.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.
Evans Lookout - PortraitEvans Lookout - PortraitView from Evans Lookout, in portrait orientation.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

Hanging Rock / Baltzer Lookout /15

I didn't get chance to go here, but I'd like to. It looks great. Baltzer Lookout is the main viewpoint, and Hanging Rock is the foreground interest. Take a mate with you to jump out onto the rock itself, for some scale and human interest. Best for sunrise, but I reckon sunset would work too. It's a bit of a walk to get there; around 5km down a fire track from the nearest parking spot. Hence why it wasn't a convenient one for me to work in around other things.

 

Blackheath Lookout /17, Hourn Point /18, Sunset Rock Lookout /19

I didn't get a chance to visit any of these three, but they look good. All West-facing, and best for sunset.

 

Victoria Falls Lookout /16

I got this on good recommendation, but we didn't have the time to go. It's at the far West end of the Blue Mountains, so much further away than other locations. There's a good circular walk here, and good views of the valley and waterfall.

 

Mount Banks /14

Over the valley from Pulpit Rock and Perry's Lookdown. There's a marked hiking trail up to the top, which would be a great walk, and would give very good (and not often photographed) views, especially for sunset. Alas, I simply didn't have enough time to give this a go. If you manage to get there, go ahead a share your photos in the comments below, I'd like to see them.

 

Grand Canyon /10

Canyon Forest TreesCanyon Forest TreesThese trees inhabit the forest floor of the so-called 'Grand Canyon'.
Nature Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.
I can't help but feel that name has already been taken. But still, they seem to be sticking with it. This circular walk starts and ends at Evans Lookout, and takes you down the mountainside, into the valley rainforest, and back up again. We chose this one instead of the Six Foot Track (above), as they both take you down into the forest, but this one's a circular route. It was a good walk, with interesting views; quite different from the cliff-top view points. You're well within the rainforest here, which is genuinely prehistoric, with it's ferns, gum trees, and waterfalls. It's also good for sunny days, as the trees shade you from the sun, and maintain a balanced light for photos. We hiked the loop at a casual pace in 2.5 hours, with a stop for lunch halfway round. Photographically, I struggled, as the forest is so dense (and 'messy'). But for photographers who are good at working those kinds of environments, this is a treasure trove. It would be great on a misty day.

 

Perry's Lookdown Campground /13

Nice place to wander around, or camp, but I found the photography potential quite limited.

 

Pulpit Rock /12

We walked here, along the trail from Govett's Leap. It was a good walk, but the views from Pulpit Rock weren't great for photos. There's no foreground possible at all, due to the metal railings and sheer drop of the cliff. Certainly in the light I had there, it wasn't inspiring. Access is easy enough though; if you don't fancy the walk, there's a car park close to the lookout. There's an interesting wind-erroded cave nearby too, which is also fun to look around, but again not photo-worthy.

 

Govett's Leap /11

Last but not least, this was my favourite photography location. Govett's Leap is a reasonably large viewpoint, with parking, varied hiking trails, and a nice little visitor's centre. The view knocks you back when you first get out of the car, and you really get a sense of the vast scale of the rocky mountains and unending forest.

I visited Govett's Leap during the day first time around, with family, before we walked to Pulpit Rock. But in broad daylight it's tough to find a pleasing photo.

I then went back for sunrise another day, and was excited to find a bit of mist. Unfortunately, the mist was so thick, there was absolutely no view at all. Basically, I was in the cloud. I waited it out, hanging around taking misty tree photos (see the next blog post for those) from 6am until midday, but still the cloud didn't budge. When midday arrived, I decided to leave, knowing I'd probably missed my chance to see Govett's Leap at sunrise.

I was able to make one last visit for sunset at the end of my last day in Australia. The sunset was nice, but it was behind me, and I wasn't that stuck by the light on the rocks ahead. I'd have ultimately been better off going to one of the locations which I knew was good for sunset, rather than trying to force a sunrise location to work at sunset. And that was it; time to pack my suitcase and get ready for a 24 hour flight home. I had to be at the airport for 10am the next morning.

But actually, that left just one definitely last, final chance to visit at sunrise. If I could get there for 6am and leave by 7:30, I could get to the airport for 10am. So I took a chance, and I was finally rewarded with a great sunrise.

Grose Valley DawnGrose Valley DawnEarly light at Govett's Leap, Blackheath.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

This is the view down the Grose Valley, which I think is the most grand and spectacular of the valleys I was able to see in the Blue Mountains.

Flowing CloudFlowing CloudCloud tumbles down through the Grose Valley, from Govetts Leap lookout point.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

There are a few different lookout points at Govett's Leap, and the highest ones aren't necessarily the best. I preferred the one to the left of the main lookout, just a couple of meters lower. This provides the opportunity to use the foreground gum trees as a frame for the view.

Grose Valley - First LightGrose Valley - First LightThe first soft light of dawn, over the Grose Valley, from Govett's Leap, Blackheath.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

As the sun came up, and the light grew stronger, I started to play around with underexposing, to keep the highlights in gamut, and to make the most of the rays which were highlighting different areas of the scene.

Grose Valley Light RaysGrose Valley Light RaysFirst Rays of light, illuminating the misty Grose Valley. From Govett's Leap, Blackheath.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

I took the small path from the left of the main lookout, which leads around to the side, and down the front of the cliff face. A little way down, I was able to find a vantage point with a view back across the cliff, and over towards the Bridal Veil Fall. There was quite a small amount of water flowing during my visit, as there had been so little rain over the last few months. But the strength of this fall fluctuates with the seasons. What struck me most about this view point was the vast wall of moss which covered an enormous area of rock face. The scale doesn't really come across well here, but we're talking several football pitches in size. So it must be a tremendously humid environment, no doubt aided by the spray from the falls.

Bridal Veil Falls - Govett's LeapBridal Veil Falls - Govett's LeapAt sunrise, this whole cliff is illuminated by the sun.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

Following the path further down the front of the cliff, I found this tiny lookout, which again allowed me to frame the view with the iconic Australian eucalyptus trees. 

Govett's Leap CliffsGovett's Leap CliffsThe canyon walls of Grose Valley, from Govett's Leap.
Landscape photography, New South Wales, Australia.

All I needed here was a koala in a cork hat on one of those trees, as this would be the ultimate marketing image for Tourism Australia.

 

When I got back up to the top again, the blue sky of the morning was creeping in, despite the strong rays of the low sun. I took two more photos, one landscape and one portrait. Grose Valley SunriseGrose Valley SunriseView of the sunrise, over Grose Valley, from Govett's Leap lookout, Blackheath.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

I like the colours in these two photos; the blues and yellows combine well, as they jostle for dominance. But as time rolls on, there was only ever going to be one winner. One last shot, and it was off to the airport. Grose Valley PortraitGrose Valley PortraitFrom Govett's Leap, Blackheath.
Landscape Photography, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

 

Reflections on the Blue Mountains

I loved the Blue Mountains. I could happily photograph it every sunrise and sunset for a month without getting bored. It's hugely impressive in its scale, and for someone who likes trees as much as me, it's really a paradise. It's also attractive due to its convenience; having so many lookout points right beside a lay-by or car park. Yet you're not restricted to just those viewpoints. For those looking for something more original and unique, there are lots of hiking trails and quieter locations.

Foregrounds are a problem at a lot of the look-out locations, where the ground drops away steeply. This makes it hard to compose a photo with a foreground, without relying on the distortion of an ultra wide-angle lens - which then reduces the impact of the cliffs and forest in the middle-distance. In addition to that, most of the lookouts are lined with metal rail fencing - the blight of many a tourist spot. That restricts your options even further, as you don't want the railings in your shot. Lincolns Rock was good in that respect, as there were no railings there, and I think someone more skilled with a wide-angle lens than me would be able to find a nice set of wide shots there. But I'm more at home with medium telephoto ranges, which means that the fencing and lack of foreground aren't such a big deal - but it's a shame not to really get anything wider. My photos are a little less varied than they might have otherwise been.

Before I visited The Blue Mountains, I thought a lot of the photos I'd seen of it were a little OTT in the colour department. Coming from the UK, we have a trend for relatively moderate saturation in our landscape photos. It's quite jarring when you see photos from other places, and the colours are turned up to 11. But I discovered in Australia that that's actually what it looks like there. It genuinely is a land of green and gold. And I struggled with the post processing of these photos for a long time, trying to get them to look more 'realistic' to my eye. There was just too much colour there, and when I turned the saturation down, they didn't look right. So despite having taken these photos, they still appear a bit alien to me. They don't really sit well with my back catalogue of muted tones from the UK, Iceland, and Scandinavia. They stand alone, which is why they work better together in a blog post like this, than mingled in with the rest of my landscape photographs.

If you've never been to the Blue Mountains, I heartily recommend it. If you're a photographer, I hope you found this useful. Feel free to get in touch or leave a comment if you have any questions about any of these locations. If you're not a photographer, and you just enjoyed the photos that's great :-)

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

 

 

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) Australia australia-2017 Blackheath Blue Mountains cloud inversion Evans Lookout Govett's Leap Katoomba landscape Landscape Photography Leura lookout National Park New South Wales Olympian Rock sunrise Three Sisters https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/8/landscape-photography-blue-mountains Mon, 06 Aug 2018 08:00:00 GMT
Highland Cattle Portraits https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/7/highland-cattle-portraits Earlier in the year I was considering which animals I'd like to photograph as part of my On Black / On White projects, and I set myself the challenge of getting some more highland cattle portraits. I've got a few cow photos already, but I find highland cattle very appealing, and I felt I could still get something new from the subject.

Fortunately, a friend and photographer Lawrence Smith found some highland cattle and secured permission from the landowner for the pair of us to enter the field and take some photos. So I gave some consideration to the compositions and photos I'd like to aim for, crossed my fingers for the weather, and made an evening of it. The light on the day wasn't perfect, but we were still able to get some original and creative portraits, including a decent handful of high-key photos for my On White project.

 

High-Key In The Cow Parsley

 

We arrived very early, well before the best light of the day; a decision which really paid off. It afforded us plenty of time to get used to the cows, and for them to get used to us. Highland cattle are a relatively placid breed, but they were a little unsure of us at first. It also gave us the opportunity to get used to the geography of the field, how the light was falling, and what features were available to use for our photos. The most obvious natural feature to play with was the aptly-named cow parsley, which the cows enjoyed eating, and which made for interesting photos. Wading through the chest-high cow parsley, I got a few photos in the conventional high-key style.

Highland Cattle in Cow ParsleyHighland Cattle in Cow ParsleyA highland cow, standing in tall cow parsley.
High-key nature photography, Wiltshire, UK.
Highland Cattle in Cow ParsleyHighland Cattle in Cow ParsleyA highland cow, standing in tall cow parsley.
High-key nature photography, Wiltshire, UK.
Highland Cattle in Cow ParsleyHighland Cattle in Cow ParsleyA highland cow, standing in tall cow parsley.
High-key nature photography, Wiltshire, UK.

 

Wide-Angle Portraits

 

I love to use wide-angles lenses for portraits when possible. They distort the scene, increasing the prominence of the subject, and 'shrinking' the background. The enormous highland bull below, was nicknamed "The Mammoth" by the farmer, because of his huge, curvy horns. They made him the perfect subject for a wide-angle portrait, which I took later in the day, just as we were getting a little colour in the sky.

Wide-Angle Highland Cattle BullWide-Angle Highland Cattle BullTaken very close, using a wide-angle lens.

 

The last wide-angle photo I took was right at the end of the day, in the best light of the evening. The herd was moving off into a neighbouring field, and I was able to take this shot by crouching down right beside their path. I'm really pleased with this one, as it tells the story of the herd on the move, led by the large cow at the front, with the super-wide horns.

Until The Cows Come HomeUntil The Cows Come HomeThis was the end of the day, when the cows were moving off to a neighbouring field.
I used a wide-angle lens, to fit the herd in shot, as well as this giant lead cow.

 

Portaits On White

 

With the light on the day, I wasn't able to shoot anything for my low-key On Black project. But as a photographer of natural light, it's important to stay flexible, and make the best of what you have. The flat white sky earlier in the afternoon was the perfect backdrop for my high-key On White project, so I took plenty of photos in the high-key style.

This first photo is unusual for me, as I rarely retain the colour in my On-White portraits. I tend to convert them to black and white. But I liked the complimentary orange and green here, so I reduced the saturation a little, and left it with this pastel colour palette, which I think works nicely.

Highland Cattle - PastelHighland Cattle - PastelI desaturated this photo, so create a pastel colour palette.
This is a rare exception to my "On White" project, in that it's not black and white.

 

Next up, we're going back to the Mammoth, and I risked a trampling for this low-angle portrait. Worth it though. A dull white sky is common in the UK, and it can be the death of a photo, but when you get the right subject and a strong composition, you can make it work.

Highland Cattle Bull - Best Foot ForwardHighland Cattle Bull - Best Foot ForwardCaptured low to the ground, with a wide-angle lens.
Fine art nature photography, Wiltshire, UK.

 

The last two are the ones I like the most, and they've both made it into my On White gallery, available in fine art print.

The first is a simple portrait of the Mammoth himself, centered, on-white...

Highland Cattle Bull - On WhiteHighland Cattle Bull - On WhiteThis bull had the most incredible set of horns. The farmer referred to him as "The Mammoth".
I used another high-key exposure again here, making the most of the sun and the bright sky.
High-key nature photography, Wiltshire, UK.

 

The last photo is again, the large cow with the wide horns. I found that the horns were actually so wide that if I composed wide enough to fit them in fully, they were quite small in the frame. So I tried the classic half-on / half-off composition, and I think it worked a treat. There was enough light around to over-expose the background, whilst still retaining detail in the shadows of the subject.

Half a Highland CattleHalf a Highland CattleThis highland cattle cow was a joy to work with. I don't think I've ever seen such wide horns, and they're a very photogenic element.
I chose a classic half-on composition here, to make the most of that horn as a feature.
High-key nature photography, Wiltshire, UK.

 

Overall, I'm very happy with the photos I got from this day. I got a nice range of photos, including a good set of high quality portraits on white. If only all shoots could be this productive!

I certainly don't think I'm finished with highland cattle as a subject though. There are always more angles, and more characters to capture. But I'm also on the lookout for something new, to expand the species I photograph.

As ever, if you like these photos do me a favour and give them a 'like' or a share, or whatever the kids are doing these days. Feedback and comments are always appreciated too; Putting photos out there can feel pretty one-sided at times, so it's always great to hear which photos connect with people and why.

 

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

 

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal art british cattle cow high-key horns mammal on white photography portrait uk https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/7/highland-cattle-portraits Mon, 02 Jul 2018 08:00:00 GMT
Lessons from the compositions of Bob Ross paintings https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/6/lessons-composition-bob-ross Bob RossBob RossPainter Bob Ross Certainly glad you could join me today. I've mentioned Bob Ross before on this blog. For those unfamiliar, he's an American painter, who spread the joy of painting via his long running series on US public television. Each episode shows him completing a painting, in real-time, in just half an hour. 

On first impressions, he appears to be something of a comic creation. And he's certainly funny; both overtly, and in the subtleties of his expressions and mannerisms. In addition to that, his art is often dismissed as shallow and popularist. But despite those things, his warm and engaging attitude won over millions of viewers, some of whom painted along, but the vast majority watch for the enjoyment and relaxation - myself included. He might be a slightly eccentric oddity, but so am I. And I find his inspirational tone and quiet encouragement to be a positive influence. I admire his will to bring art to a mainstream audience, and to motivate the wider public to indulge their creative interests.

Underneath the kitchz veneer of 'guilty pleasure', Bob Ross is undoubtedly a gifted painter, and skilled pro. As far as his paintings go; the colours are pretty garish, and the scenes are a little over-romanticised - even for my taste. But like any talented artist, there's a lot we can learn from Ross' work. So after watching many hours of Bob, let's have a little fun up in here, and run through a few of my own observations and analysis of Bob Ross compositions.

 


All paintings shown are © Bob Ross Inc, and used here for reference only.


 

 

Naturally Framing the Subject

 

As people read an image, the eye can easily get lost, or accidentally diverted outside the picture. Experienced artists guide the eye towards the subject; drawing you in, whilst at the same time adding context using the surrounding features. Those same compositional tricks and visual ques can also be deployed to block-off the eye's escape routes, and lead the viewer back into the image. Of course, for Bob Ross, these elements are often trees. The beauty of watching him put these little rascals in is that they're often one of the last features to be added (as they're in the foreground). So you already have a scene which doesn't appear to need any further elements added to it. But sure enough, Bob will take the bravery test and block in a tree shape over the top of the scene behind. It can feel a little crazy at the time, but very quickly you see that although it covers some background elements, it does a great job of shaping the image, and engaging the viewer with the scene.

Bob Ross : Mountain SplenderBob Ross : Mountain Splender Bob Ross : Dark WaterfallBob Ross : Dark Waterfall Bob Ross : Misty WaterfallBob Ross : Misty Waterfall

This isn't something which comes naturally to me, but it's a skill I'm learning to incorporate into my landscape photography. The best example I have is of this shot is from Govett's Leap, in New South Wales, Australia. I tried to use the foreground foliage to frame the cliff behind. It's not Bob Ross style, but the concept is similar..

Govett's Leap CliffsGovett's Leap CliffsThe canyon walls of Grose Valley, from Govett's Leap.
Landscape photography, New South Wales, Australia.

 

"Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do" - Bob Ross

 

 

Leading-Lines

 

Bob Ross loves a leading-line. They help draw you into a picture, and direct the eye from front to back, automatically. The vast majority of Ross' paintings feature a leading line of some sort, most often a river or a footpath. Pathways are particularly effective, as they can subconsciously prompt the viewer to put themselves into the scene, and follow the pathway, as we would if we were there. This helps capture the imagination all the more.

Bob Ross : Bubbling StreamBob Ross : Bubbling Stream Bob Ross : Waterside WayBob Ross : Waterside Way Bob Ross : Bubbling BrookBob Ross : Bubbling Brook

In my world, I tried to use the brighter foreground rocks of this ridgeline in Snowdonia to lead the eye to my subject, and further on through the image...

Crib Goch RidgeCrib Goch RidgeThe infamous Crib Goch ridge, a popular, but technical route up / down Snowdon.

 

"I think there's an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us" - Bob Ross

 

 

S-Curves

 

Ross is very adept at using S-Curves in his paintings. A form of complex leading-line, they're extremely effective at leading the viewer through the image, from front-to-back, and vice-versa. Using S-Curves in this way encourages viewers to take in the whole picture, and can often act as a kind of map; highlighting a route between the key features of the image.

Bob Ross builds the curves in the layers he paints, from top to bottom (background to foreground). As he does this, he gives the impression that the image is very much off-the-cuff, but in fact he's planning for these layers and curves the whole time. As he sweeps in the green hues of the middle-distance, he's always careful to create intersecting horizontal lines, which form the basis of the curves, and leave a strong leading line to dissect the image.

Bob Ross : Mountain CabinBob Ross : Mountain Cabin Bob Ross : Northern LightsBob Ross : Northern Lights Bob Ross : Bubbling Mountain BrookBob Ross : Bubbling Mountain Brook

As far as photography goes, obviously I can't build those layers up myself. But I can train myself to recognise them when I see them. Below, the winding curves of Aurlandsfjord, in Norway...

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.

 

"There's nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend" - Bob Ross

 

 

Focal Length

 

Attempting to reverse-engineer the 'focal length' of Bob Ross' paintings, I'd guess they tend to equate to around the 40-50mm mark. Some are a little wider than others, and some a little longer, but for the most part, they seem to me to sit in that sort of range. And that's no surprise, since many people recognise ~45mm as roughly equivalent to the human eye. What's surprising is how few people use this focal length for landscape photography, compared to wide-angles, and to a lesser extent tele-zooms. Personally I struggle with wide-angle landscape photography; rarely finding I get a satisfactory composition with it. I'm more often drawn to picking out subjects within scenes, using a 70-200mm. But maybe I ought to stop leap-frogging this tricky mid-range, take a leaf out of Bob's book, and learn to compose a more natural field of view.

Bob Ross : Mountain WaterfallBob Ross : Mountain Waterfall Bob Ross : Quiet PondBob Ross : Quiet Pond Bob Ross : Barn at SunsetBob Ross : Barn at Sunset

50mm is a focal length that I love, but it's a real skill to learn how to use it for landscape photography. I've been experimenting with it for the last couple of years, and have taken a few successful images. But I'm yet to really use this kind of field-of-view as effectively as Bob does. This is a 50mm photo, taken in Skuleskogen National Park, in Sweden. I like the natural aspect afforded by the medium focal length...

Skuleskogen ForestSkuleskogen ForestA wide-aspect view of the forests of Skuleskogen National Park, in the High Coast (Höga Kusten) region of Sweden.
The Swedish High Coast is a spectacular area of the country, situated around halfway up the East coast of the country. Skuleskogen offers easy hiking trails with views of green forests, granite mountains, big skies, and the many nearby off-shore islands.
Travel photography, Hoga Kusten, Sweden.

 

"People might look at you a bit funny, but it's okay. Artists are allowed to be a bit different" - Bob Ross

 

 

Pack in features from front to back

 

Bob Ross will very often (and time permitting) fill his paintings with points of interest, dotted around throughout the scene. These features are found from the front to the back of the image, and on the left and the right (though rarely down the middle), and vary in size according to their role. I like to think that a classic Bob Ross painting features a mountain in the background. The middle distance is often defined by the indication of distant pine trees. In the foreground, he'll put rocks, shrubs, sticks, and all sorts of little do-ers, under the guise of giving a home to the squirrels and critters that might be living there. And while that might be true, visually they add an important layer of extra interest and context to the scene.

Interestingly, he rarely places two elements on the same vertical plane. By distributing the features evenly from front to back, the eye is lead through the scene in a kind of subconscious join-the-dots exercise. Placing two subjects on the same plane would create a subtle barrier to the rest of the image, so it seems to me that he's always careful to avoid this.

Of course, almost all of the elements Bob puts in his paintings are natural, with the exception being those classic wooden cabins. They perform a special role; they create the context which helps put the viewer in the scene. For a modern Instagram approach, you might replace the hut with a girl in a yellow jacket looking wistfully into the distance. Both approaches are using that key element as a device to help the viewer put themself in the scene. As well as adding an obvious route in, they also add scale to the image. If you look at the paintings throughout this post, you'll notice that the ones with a cabin feel more relatable - more like you're there, as opposed to looking at a painting or out a window.

Bob Ross : Mountain RetreatBob Ross : Mountain Retreat Bob Ross : Autumn GloryBob Ross : Autumn Glory Bob Ross : Distant HillsBob Ross : Distant Hills

This photo shows probably my most Bob Ross photo; mountains, lake, reflections, snow, happy little trees, little fluffy clouds. Though to be true Bob Ross style it could have done with a few foreground trees...

Medicine Lake in light snow cover. Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.Medicine Lake ReflectionsThis is the spectacular Medicine Lake, in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.

We suffered a white-out on our first day in Jasper, but it was worth one cold wet day, as the sun came out the next day, lighting up the freshly fallen snow on the rocks and the pine trees.

Surely one of the finest views in the Canadian Rockies.

Landscape photography, Jasper National Park, Canada.

 

"Go out on a limb; that’s where the fruit is" - Bob Ross

 

 

Summary

 

It goes without saying that painting and photography are very different skills. As a landscape photographer, I am obviously at the mercy of what's in front of my lens, without the luxury of being able to paint in an interesting sky or foreground element. But by learning these compositional concepts, I'm doing my best to train myself to recognise the opportunities in the field, and learning to change my perspective to create a more interesting shot. I'm not sure I'll ever get any photos which look like Bob Ross paintings. I don't generally shoot in the kinds of national parks he painted, and even if I did, I'd need a lot to come together in order to be able to frame it accordingly. But that's not really the point. As he paints, Ross will often reiterate that he's not intending to coach people into copying his painting. Rather, he's teaching us how to use certain components, in order to build up an original image for ourselves. So the key message from Bob Ross, I think, is to learn the lessons, and apply them to our own work, in our own way. I think that taking his techniques on board is helping me evolve and improve my composition making, and hopefully will help you in your world too - whether you're a painter, photographer or any other kind of artist.

There are so many lessons to be learnt from painters and artists, that any photographer would be naive to overlook. And there are countless articles about what can be gleaned from the classic painters in history. Rembrandt has a whole style of lighting named after him, which is still used by portrait photographers today. But I wanted to stand up for a modern painter, who is easily scoffed at. I've made the point on this blog before, that the art community can become quite insular, and inward-looking; ironically missing the bigger picture. Like Bob, I want my art to appeal to the wider public, and there should be nothing wrong with that. So who better to learn from than Bob Ross. His timeless pictures of the great outdoors will endure for years to come, I'm sure. And one day I hope to be able to look back and say I took a photo as compositionally accomplished as a Bob Ross painting.

If this has got you interested in watching the great man for yourself, you can find Bob Ross on Netflix, YouTube (where the Bob Ross channel shares every one of his shows), or you can find the website here.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

 

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) analysis art bob ross composition images lessons nature painting tips https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/6/lessons-composition-bob-ross Mon, 11 Jun 2018 08:00:00 GMT
Wombats of Bendeela - Kangaroo Valley https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/5/wombats-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.

Thanks.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

 

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal australia australia-2017 evening marsupial nature new south wales nsw photography sunset vombatus vombatus ursinus wildlife wombat https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/5/wombats-bendeela-kangaroo-valley Mon, 21 May 2018 08:00:00 GMT
Photography from Snowdon https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/5/photography-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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

 

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) cloudy crib goch landscape mountain photography pyg snowdon snowdonia uk wales https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/5/photography-snowdon Mon, 07 May 2018 08:00:00 GMT
Pines in Snow https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/4/snow-pines-aspley-woods 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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

 

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) bedfordshire birch british cold ice landscape nature oak photography pine snow trees winter https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/4/snow-pines-aspley-woods Sun, 22 Apr 2018 18:00:00 GMT
Abisko: Arctic Sweden in Winter https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/4/abisko-arctic-winter-aurora 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.

 

Aurora

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.

 

Recommendations

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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

 

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) abisko arctic aurora cold landscape lapland nature northern lights photography scandinavia sky snow sweden https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/4/abisko-arctic-winter-aurora Tue, 10 Apr 2018 16:00:00 GMT
Black Swan on Ice https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/3/black-swan-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.
Using the curve of the neck, combined with the contrast of black on white.
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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

 

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal black swan british cold cygnus atratus ice nature photography snow storm swan uk wildlife winter https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/3/black-swan-ice Sun, 18 Mar 2018 10:00:00 GMT
Advice for a photographer's website https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/2/advice-for-a-photographers-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.

 

7. HTTPS

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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) about blog galleries hosting https interaction design internet photographer photography platform responsive sitemap tech user interface web website zenfolio https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/2/advice-for-a-photographers-website Tue, 27 Feb 2018 19:21:31 GMT
Portraits of an Australian Icon: Kangaroo https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/1/portraits-australian-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

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal australia australia-2017 kangaroo macropus giganteus marsupial nature new south wales nsw photography travel trip wildlife https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2018/1/portraits-australian-kangaroo Sun, 14 Jan 2018 17:15:25 GMT
Snow Deer 2017 https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/12/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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal bedfordshire blizzard cervus nippon cold deer ice manchurian nature photography sika snow uk wildlife winter woburn https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/12/snow-deer-2017 Thu, 14 Dec 2017 18:11:12 GMT
Landscape Photography in Finnish Lapland - Part 4: Tunturiaapa Mire https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/11/landscape-photography-in-finnish-lapland-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 Scenewww.GeorgeWheelhouse.com 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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

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(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 https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/11/landscape-photography-in-finnish-lapland-tunturiaapa-mire Sun, 26 Nov 2017 06:00:00 GMT
Landscape Photography in Finnish Lapland - Part 3: Colour https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/11/landscape-photography-in-finnish-lapland-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.

 

Colour

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.

 

Next

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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) arctic cold february finland finnish landscape lapland lapland 2017 luosto nature photography pyhä saarisalka scenic snow suomi winter https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/11/landscape-photography-in-finnish-lapland-colour Sun, 19 Nov 2017 06:00:00 GMT
Landscape Photography in Finnish Lapland - Part 2: Forests https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/11/landscape-photography-in-finnish-lapland-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. 

 

Forests

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.

 

Saariselkä

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.

 

Next

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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) arctic cold february finland finnish landscape lapland lapland 2017 luosto nature photography pyhä saarisalka scenic snow suomi winter https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/11/landscape-photography-in-finnish-lapland-forests Sun, 12 Nov 2017 06:00:00 GMT
Landscape Photography in Finnish Lapland - Part 1: Altitude https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/11/landscape-photography-in-finnish-lapland-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.

 

Altitude

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.

 

Introduction

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. 

 

Pyhä

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.

 

Next

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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) arctic cold february finland finnish landscape lapland lapland 2017 luosto nature photography pyhä scenic snow suomi winter https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/11/landscape-photography-in-finnish-lapland-Altitude Sun, 05 Nov 2017 06:00:00 GMT
Two New Portraits: Swaledale Sheep https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/10/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.

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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...

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

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(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 https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/10/two-new-portraits-swaledale-sheep Mon, 02 Oct 2017 05:00:00 GMT
Rothko-Inspired Minimalism https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/9/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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) fog landscape minimalist mist ocean pembrokeshire photography rothko seascape tenby uk https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/9/rothko-inspired-minimalism Sun, 10 Sep 2017 16:49:49 GMT
Puffin Photos 2017 https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/8/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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) animal british fratercula arctica nature pembrokeshire. photography puffin skomer trip report uk wales wildlife https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/8/puffin-photos-2017 Wed, 16 Aug 2017 08:00:00 GMT
The Anxiety of Infinite Potential https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/7/anxiety-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.

Conception

  • 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.

Planning

  • 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!

Trip

  • 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.

Change-Of-Approach

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.

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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.

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(George Wheelhouse Fine Art Photography) anxiety art photography planning travel trip https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/7/anxiety-infinite-potential Mon, 03 Jul 2017 05:00:00 GMT
Woodland Bluebells 2017 https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/6/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.

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Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.

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(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 https://www.georgewheelhouse.com/blog/2017/6/woodland-bluebells-2017 Fri, 09 Jun 2017 12:00:00 GMT