Behind the Image
Returning from a trip, assignment or project I am often asked about the story behind some of my images. Sometimes the story is fleeting as the images come and go in an instant. At other times there is a long build up to an image that perhaps has been in my mind for a while or added to a brief. Here is an ongoing selection of images which I have tried to put into words, either to do with the technical aspects or how I researched, found and recorded the image
Upper Stean Gorge, Nidderdale, Yorkshire Dales, UK
Many photographers have talked about the idea that some of their best images have been discovered within 15 mins walking distance of their back door. This image was a case in point. The Stean Beck runs off the shoulder of Riggs Moor cutting down through a limestone gorge running off the southern slopes of great Whernside. In the 20 years since I have been living here, I have made countless forays along the riverbed as a lunchtime or evening antidote to the copious amounts of screen time which is now a major part of our lives. A week into the New Year, overnight temperatures dropped significantly and the prospect of snow was on the way. This waterfall is only visible in the winter when the surrounding woodland is devoid of leaves. Sunlight is late in reaching this part of the gorge and only shines on the tangle of branches for a short time.
Panasonic GH4 45-200mm lens 1/5 sec f11, ISO 200
Moonset, Oqaatsut, West Greenland
There is something very special about the dark side of what photographers call the ‘Golden Hour’, the pre dawn and twilight revered and fleeting. For much of the 10 days I spent in Greenland on my first visit, temperatures hovered around minus 20. In this Inuit settlement an hour by boat up the coast from Ilulissat (3 hours by dogsled), the off shore wind had picked up and was whipping across granite slabs on the bluff which overlooks the village. This was not a supermoon, but the cold clarity of the air and rising colours gave it a glorified presence. A telephoto lens compressed the landscape and intensified the pinks and blues so much so, I suspected I would have to tone them down in post production.
Panasonic GH4 45-200mm lens - 1/15 sec f13, - ISO 200
Morning Prayers, Lamayuru Monastery, Ladakh, India
The sound of Buddhist monks hit me long before I ever see them and is one of the reasons I have returned to this remote part of India time and again. Lamayuru is completely hidden as I approach the little town from the east along the Indus Valley and the guilded monastery festooned with prayer flags dwarfs the small groups of adobe buildings on the valley floor. Meditation is at the heart of daily life and I have never tired of bearing witness to these atmospheric everyday events. Many of these monasteries are now used to, indeed welcoming to visitors. This particular morning, many more incense sticks and butter lamps are being lit in preparation for a visit by one of the Dalai Lama’s emissaries. Entering from the brightly lit courtyard, I am suddenly plunged into darkness so it takes a while to adjust my eyes to the dense interior.
Monks of all ages are sat on the floor rocking to and fro and turning the pages of prayer tablets. Its important to walk a few turns of the space so I can decide where best to position myself. I notice that the light is moving up down from the courtyard ceiling and is likely to shine in through the door so I pick a spot on the left facing the doorway and just wait. Sure enough rays start to carry across the threshold and to the right one of the monks is deep in meditation, occasionally stopping to catch one of the young monks with instructions to bring more incense or water. With a fast lens, high iso and steadying the camera with both hands and a wooden post, it is a timeless scene rendered.
Panasonic GH3 - 35mm lens - 1/20 sec f2.8 - ISO 1600
Steampunk, Whitby, Yorkshire Coast, UK
I came across the Whitby Goth Festival purely by chance about 10 years ago - shadowy figures floating across the cobbled streets below the abbey. It was only after to chatting to a few of them that I realised that this was more than just a cult gathering and I have returned most years since, initially to build a series of pictures and record the stories behind the costumes but more recently to run a workshop helping photographers to improve their street portraiture. As with a lot of street photography, its important to travel light so most of the time I worked with a one lens. Neil and his wife, Gwyn come to the festival twice a year with at least two changes of Goth and Steampunk costume some of which have taken months to create. On this occasion, the metal work on his hat is all moving parts, topped with a speaker for music !
Nikon D3 24-70mm lens 1/250 sec f3.5, ISO 100
Barrio Alto, Lisbon, Portugal
I hadn’t been to Lisbon for the best part of 30 years and this time I was travelling light - hand luggage only, one camera, one lens. And it drizzled for the whole 4 days over the New Year, which left more time to explore the taverns and bar, listening to the melancholic voices and guitars of Portuguese Fado. In many ways the low light levels worked in my favour and I spent many a happy hour blurring the street trams and using mist and fog to highlight the muted, decaying, urban colours. For this image, I used intentional camera movement and slow shutter speed to enhance the already painterly palette.
Panasonic GH3 14-42mm lens 1/30 sec f7.1, ISO 160
The ice beach, Breiðamerkursandur, South Iceland
There are some countries which go to the heart of our imagination of a primeval landscape and only in the last decade has Iceland revealed itself to a wider audience. The volcano, Eyjafjallajökull blew its top in 2010, shut down air travel in Europe and peaked our curiosity for this island on the edge off the arctic circle. Iceland is now a magnet for photographer and casual visitor alike and despite becoming mainstream to many, images of its dynamic and raw landscape are far from exhausted. Breiðamerkursandur is unique in that it is fed ice from Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. Every day the tide collects new pieces of ice from the lagoon and deposits it on the back sand beaches either side of the estuary. This image was shot a week into my first winter visit and when I was still unaware of the powerful currents and waves. This morning a stunning piece of sculptured ice lay just on the edge of the breaking surf so it required a lot of attention to avoid being hit by waves breaking behind.
Nikon D700 24-70mm lens 1/200 sec f8, ISO 100
Field Barn, Wensleydale, Yorkshire Dales, UK
Although I am not a traditional landscape photographer, one of the aspects of the land that fascinates me is the effect of human impact. I live on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and am commissioned regularly to document local working lives and visitor experience in the dales. These kind of dawns are ones all photographers crave, where the sun is slow to rise and the air temperature is cold enough to create a low lying mist. These scenes are not as easy as they look and I found myself working hard on finding a composition I liked. The wire netting and post leaning along the drystone wall initially felt like a distraction but in the end I felt it added to the composition drawing the eye toward the barn. The Oystercatcher flew in just in time and was vocal enough to let me know he planned to stay a while and not to venture any closer.
Nikon D700 70-200mm lens 1/320 sec f6.3, ISO 400
Galway Hooker race, Carraroe, Co. Galway, Ireland
Tradition abounds on the west coast of Ireland and one summer I was fortunate to meet some of the crusty sailors of Connemara who had been making sure one of Galway’s iconic vessels did not die. Mystery shrouds the origins of the Galway Hooker, but for many years it sailed up and down the Atlantic coast transporting turf to be used as fuel. Nowadays, they compete in local festival races and I joined one of the boats during the Féile an Dóilín Festival in Carraroe. While I had brought with me a telephoto zoom lens for drawing in the nightlines of other boats, the wide angle lens was paramount in creating a sense of tension and intimacy as the crew reacted to the changes in their fortunes.I love the immediacy of this image and remember having to be very quick and careful as the boom swung round and the crew launched themselves at ropes as the race reached its zenith.
Nikon D700 24mm lens 1/500 sec f8, ISO 200