It has been almost 1 month since my last blog.
I will admit things have slipped in April! Since my return trip to the UK for the photography show I spent two weeks with the family on vacation in North America. I made a deliberate decision to disconnect from social media for that time; no Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter. I needed the mental disconnect and time to reflect.
It has felt like a very long winter and a very wet one. We have not had the cold weather and snow we normally expect, but instead a mild-cold fluctuation which saw unprecedented amounts of rain. I have been feeling very frustrated photography wise due to this constant "monsoon". My last serious outing with the camera was in February at the bird hide. But since then despite all my planning I've not got that window of opportunity weather wise when the time would allow.
This week has been a frustrating one, yet I finally got some rich rewards! Each spring a local woodland located just south of Brussels explodes with an incredible bloom of woodland anemones and bluebells. It lasts from early/mid April to around mid May. There is a 4/5 week window of opportunity to get some spectacular nature images. I'd gotten word on my return from North America that the bluebells had just started to bloom at the beginning of last week. So I checked the weather forecast looking for a dry day with good sun light. We don't get a lot of blue sky days in Belgium so I have to be happy with partly cloudy. Looking at the forecast however was an exercise in frustration itself. Every day the 3 day forward looking forecast was different. Every day predicted to be sunny, the next day it should it would rain. So I just had to go and take a punt...
One of the things I spent time reflecting on when I was on vacation is my focus. For sometime now I've been wanting to move more and more into landscape photography. I have always focused on landscape photography but it has been about 10% of what I do, the rest being wildlife photography. I have all the kit needed since some years; lenses, filters, the lot. So I've decided to try and put more effort into doing this, and by blogging about it, I make the commitment that I'm going to do it! No turning back.
In addition to that I also wanted to explore how I can create content as I make this shift in focus. I'm not stopping wildlife photography. No. I am making a shift that will mean I'll try and get a balance between the two genres. I enjoy watching You Tube videos created by landscape photographers as they create their images. I find the videos not only inspiring but educational in a sense that it shows the planning and commitment in finding the locations and the timing needed to create images. I come from a background in video and filmmaking but I tend to be the one always behind the lens. But if I enjoy watching such content I asked myself "why not create it?".
So time to put a plan into action...
On my first trip to the woodland I decided to make a video about it. The video format is inspired by an extremely talented landscape photographer I follow, so I take no credits for developing anything original in the format, other than me, the location and my thoughts. But I wanted to use a format I enjoy watching. A talented photographer friend of mind always tells me "don't over complicate or reinvent the wheel"!
Over time when I hit my stride I will look at how I can use my video making skills to evolve the format as best I can and try and continue to make videos.
So with that said, here's my first outing this spring time season and my experiences trying to get some decent landscape/nature images.
It has to be said that this woodland is extremely popular. Since making the video I have returned on two occasions; early mid week and very early on a Sunday. The Sunday proved very popular, I counted no fewer than 40 photographers in the small areas I was concentrating on. And it is important I emphasise this "small area". The outing on the Sunday saw the first opportunity to photograph in good sunlight just after the sun had risen. This is where I think you can tell the calibre of a photographer. I walked into the woodland, just far enough from the parking area to obscure that from view, but close enough to the woodland to take advantage of the suns light. There was some cloud cover so it was a question of waiting for the sun to come out to play. This gave me time to compose one or two compositions, with two different focal lengths so when the sun did come out I'd be ready to go. As I was waiting, it was interesting to watch other photographers walk past me, snapping away. Some gave me puzzled looks as I stood there, kit bag open, just waiting and taking no images. Experience has taught me you can only take so many photographs of bluebells! This was a waiting game...
I'd been up at 6am on a Sunday. Sunrise was just before 7am and there was light cloud cover. Around about 8am, the magic happened. I had this composition in my mind all week, and my previous two trips hadn't yielded anything close. I'd ended up playing about in poor light, and using a macro lens doing close ups to at least have something in the bag for my efforts. In photography when you get the light, it changes everything! So as a postscript to the video - here are the four compositions I got in those glorious 2 hours on a Sunday morning surrounded by a score of other photographers.
I've heard a lot of photographers say you should never shoot into the sun. I couldn't disagree more. For sure it isn't the preferred way of shooting, but for the images I wanted to create; a contrast of shadow and light, I had to shoot directly into the sun. My technique was to use the suns rays on the blue bells as a "key" light and exposed for that. One of the challenges I had was eliminating lens flares from the sun in the composition, especially flares close to the centre of the sun. I made a rooky error and at 6am left home without the lens hood for my 24-70mm f2.8 lens. Note to self - always pack your kit bag the night before! These things happen, no point in dwelling on them. I took the lens hood from my 70-200mm f2.8 lens and whilst it doesn't fit I attached it anyway and cobbled together something that would help. The sun didn't show itself for very long so it was important to work very quickly and also change the angle of the lens so that the trees trunks would shelter the sun itself reducing the effect.
This is the 5th year I've been to this woodland to photograph it. Last year I didn't go. I didn't go because I was struggling for inspiration on how I could take an original composition. A year on, with more experience and a clear vision of what I wanted to achieve, I was able to go with a clear plan of how to execute the photograph. I'm very happy with the results and that in planning and executing a creative vision of an image, I've accomplished what I hoped for. It is very satisfying despite the fact I had to preserve with the Belgium weather. Essential lessons in photography; planning and perseverance.
Until next time...