Rainbows and mudslides: January 2021

Scotland’s weather is never predictable, especially once you reach the Highlands. It was one of the first things I marveled at last year after moving here – one minute the sky can be black and the heavens are throwing what seems like all of the year’s annual rainfall at the Scottish earth, and in the next second the clouds part, the sun appears, and the light becomes glorious and perfect for dramatic photography. The following day may be dry and sunny all day, reflecting a night’s heavy snowfall on the mountains. It is basically anyone’s guess what the weather will be from day to day up here on the North West coast of Scotland.

Yesterday, on the first day of the new year of 2021, I went out to shoot the local beach and see if I could find any wildlife to photograph. As I have only one camera body I soon switched to a wider angle lens as there were no birds or mammals around (other than sheep) and I wanted to capture some seascapes. From the beach I took the two hour coastal route across three peaks and back through the mudflats, which eventually returns to the beach.

Views from my local beach.

It was gloriously sunny as I set off walking above the beach and following a muddy path just above the coastline, stopping regularly to try to get some interesting seascapes. I was using a tripod and 16-35mm lens. The sun remained low – as it remains throughout winter up here – but shone nonetheless. Meanwhile various rain fronts passed across the bay in front of me which was often a bizarre and spectacular sight, especially those apparently carrying rainbows with them, from my perspective at least.

The winter sun shining low.

As I reached the second peak, after leaving the path a few times to take shots of the tumultuous sea below while the tide came in, a weather front was making its way towards me. As I gazed out at the sight of an isolated rain cloud heading for me, and listened to the strange sounds of rain pelting the surface of the sea from a distance, a huge rainbow formed directly in front of me. From my perspective it was a full rainbow being rapidly followed by heavy rain or possibly snow.

The sky had turned distinctly white. I pressed the remote shutter, cleaned the lens of rain droplets, pressed the shutter, cleaned the lens, and repeated as the rainbow formed and disintegrated. I got one single clear shot. The others were ruined by droplets all over the lens. I think it was worth the effort though.

A perfect rainbow.

Once it had disappeared, hail began to descend. Light at first, I was being pelted with heavy hail within a minute. All part of the fun, so I raced down to the third peak as it slowed and stopped, and the sun immediately returned.

Third peak on my coastal route, looking out to sea.

I headed around the back of the third peak and followed the path down towards the sea and the mudflats. This was where I took a slide down the hill. Falling over with all your camera kit on your back and in your hands is always one of those heart-in-mouth moments. However, no damage was done other than a lot of mud collected on me and my bag. All part of the fun and adventure.

The sun, now ahead of me instead of behind, was disappearing below the mountains. Consequently the light was beginning to fade as I reached the extensive mudflats. I looked at my phone to realise I’d been out walking for almost four hours. In the gloaming light I realised I might be a bit lost. Panic and swearing ensued. This may have been mixed with some rapidly obtained shots.

There is no obvious route across the flats and the tide comes in very quickly here. I scrabbled around looking for signs of other people’s boot prints and found nothing. There are a couple of isolated houses on the firm ground above the mudflats but they’re quite far away and I didn’t fancy turning up at someone’s door in the dark like an idiot asking where I should go.

Suitably annoyed at my own lack of planning and knowledge of this area, I headed in what I assumed must be the right direction and picked up a muddy path. Angrily stamping through the thick mud after stopping a couple of times for a shot or two, I found the abandoned caravan landmark I recognised and picked my way back to the path.

Gloaming light across a coastal inlet which rapidly fills at high tide.

Back at the beach almost five hours later, I felt I’d had a worthwhile adventure and got one of two ok shots. However, my feet were wet and my body muddy, so home was my final destination. All worth it for the rainbow, at least.

Frozen: December 2020

With temperatures dropping to 0C here in the Highlands and snow resting on the mountains the landscape is looking even more dramatic than it usually does. Which is saying something.

Sometimes it’s worth getting actual exposure standing outside in freezing temperatures taking photos for fours hours… Well, if you have a photography addiction like me it is, evidently.

I’m still practicing getting compositions right, framing, narrative, and playing with multiple exposures and long exposures with water.

I can’t do much post-processing as I don’t have a functioning laptop so it’s a good exercise now in trying to get as much of the drama, light and colour entirely in camera. A very good – and often very frustrating – exercise! I would kill for a MacBook right now, or frankly anything I can edit on. I’m not sure anything can beat good post-processing for pulling out light and drama in a landscape image but it’s always worth trying to do as much of it in camera as possible.

I don’t like overly edited images anyway (over-saturation is the devil’s work and you’re all doing it!); but it would be great to just do some dodge and burn or utilise layers now and then. These images have had the most basic edits on my phone using PS Express.

Unsupported

As a follow up to my previous post about success and failure, I’m just gonna rant. I started as a sole trader selling my photographic work in December last year (2019). I attended Christmas fayres with framed prints and other prints, and found a local café which would stock a few copies of my book and a few of my framed prints on the walls to sell. I sold a few of both at first. It was a nice feeling but also reassuring that maybe I could begin to earn a living from this and produce another book or two.

It was frustrating that I couldn’t get a response from the National Trust to my master’s project nature photography book which was a study of the wildlife at a local NT site. I’d had staff at the site say the book would sell well there. I’d had visitors to the site say they would definitely buy my book if it was for sale. However, no response from NT. Nothing.

The framed prints sold very slowly. Then they stopped selling, as lockdowns took hold around the world. The café closed. No one was ordering from my online sales. I linked to it on social media often. I posted my photographic work every single day, to limited response and still no sales. It was a daily effort and I was committed to it.

Months later I was doing the same things day after day after day with no sales and very little response. Why would anyone continue? They wouldn’t. What’s more, it chipped away at my confidence and self-belief until I decided I must be an utterly shit photographer and should just give up photography. That’s kinda where I am now.

What’s worse is having thousands of followers on various social media sites and yet only THREE people ever buying my work. The support is terrible to non-existent. Yet there’s so much talk of supporting new start-ups. I AM A NEW START UP. Where’s the support? It’s non-existent.

I genuinely give up. If nothing else it proves the point that social media contacts are nothing more than that. Facebook friends are mostly just following for something to do and nothing more. I’m utterly disillusioned with sharing work and getting no support. It’s time to practice photography for myself and nothing more than that. I’m very tempted to just remove most social media completely and it’s probably my next move to limit my stress and unhappiness.

Successes and failures

I’ve decided to stop trying to sell my work. It’s fairly pointless and unrewarding at this stage. Completing a Masters was an amazing experience and very rewarding, yet it does not guarantee anything in terms of employment or success in a field of work. I’ve found it almost impossible to get any work either as a self-employed photographer or applying for work with suitable organisations.

The world of photography is a competitive one and is unbalanced in favour of those with a lot of money for gear, a lot of time on their hands to explore and all the right connections. The latter seems to apply to any field. It has been a depressing realisation. There is also a strong element of cliquey photography groups who share info with each other but aren’t open to newcomers, especially women it seems. A lot of male photographers go out together, share locations, spend hours with each other photographing wildlife and landscapes but aren’t so open to doing the same with female photographers, which means we are badly missing out. I’ve no idea why this is but it leaves a lot of us out in the cold.

While I might have a Masters, I’m still always learning. I want to excel and learn. I’m open to asking anyone else for advice and tips – I don’t care who they are or what qualifications or experience they have. I like to share knowledge. I can’t do that while others seem to guard their knowledge.

There’s only so much you can learn of a subject on your own. YouTube is great but goes only so far, and I clearly have so much to learn. I’ve reached out to other photographers and got nowhere. I’m done looking for help. I’m at a standstill and am certainly not under any illusions about selling my work any longer.

It’s the end of a love affair with photography for me. I’ll still pick up my camera but gone are any illusions of earning a living from it.

News: Associate of the Royal Photographic Society (ARPS)!

In other news, I received an email today informing me that my application to become an Associate of the RPS was successful.

I am now officially A.R.P.S. – Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and can use this in letters and on my website. It is also a responsibility to uphold certain standards.

Aside from the fact that I get to put some more letters after my name – obviously not the main aim (*cough cough*) – I can take some pride in the fact I am deemed suitable to be an Associate of an amazing photography organisation which was founded in 1853 and is a registered charity and one of the oldest photographic societies in the world.

“The RPS exists to educate members of the public by increasing their knowledge and understanding of Photography and in doing so to promote the highest standards of achievement in Photography in order to encourage public appreciation of Photography.

The Royal Photographic Society’s Distinctions are recognised as measures of achievement throughout the world and you should be recognised and congratulated on your work.”

Today is a happy day for me of achievement and some recognition. Thank you to the Royal Photographic Society for awarding me ARPS.

And my mum is well pleased.

Salticidae – Jumping Spider

The other day, on my way out for a ride on the motorbike, a tiny spider appeared on top of the standing air conditioning fan in the bedroom. I spotted its little body running up and down the top of the fan, inspecting the various elements (and dust!), and regularly looking up at me and following my movements around the room. Well, it intrigued me so I got closer and we had a little chat. Ok, I talked to the spider for about 40 minutes. I’m a zoology graduate – it’s allowed.

I grabbed my camera and put the 100mm macro lens on it with extender, and stuck the flash unit on top. I started shooting as the little spider looked up at me and followed me from one end of the fan to the other, watching what I was doing, and occasionally trying to jump onto me or the lens. These spiders in the Salticidae family are a real one-off – they appear to be very much aware of their surroundings and of people/animals, and show a great deal of interest in both, with less obvious fear of the world around them. They are evidently extremely curious and inquiring creatures. They also seem to show a lot of interest in people, especially this particular little jumping spider.

Eventually I put him/her outside, although that cute little spider made a concerted effort to jump back on me and climb up my hoody to get into my hair. I really did miss it the next day. These images are the result of me chatting away to the little spider and the spider following my lens around and regularly looking up at me. Most definitely utterly adorable.

Campo Imperatore, Italy: August-September 2020

After returning to Italy from Scotland it was time to get down to business. Some time spent out in some of the most beautiful landscapes (and I’m comparing to Scotland’s NW Highlands which are also some of the most beautiful landscapes) was exactly what I needed to bring back some sense of positivity to my photographic efforts. Make the effort and you shall be rewarded with great images, or something like that? I was feeling quite down about my photography and general response to it. Getting out for a few days to shoot in perfect light was all that was needed. I recommend it for anyone struggling creatively or in terms of confidence. If nothing else, it offers motivation to keep trying.

Part of going out into Abruzzo’s wilder parts at the moment is to scout locations for photographic sessions and for teaching, and more immediately for my partner’s motorbike touring business, which will commence touring in April 2021. We are biking and driving on every road we can find to discover hidden hilltop towns, amazing roads and landscapes for shooting and riding in.

It sounds like a great life we have here? On one level it is – there is no 9am-5pm work. Instead I have to motivate myself to get out and shoot, along with doing all of the other daily mundane things like shopping, cleaning, gardening, work on the house, learning Italian, maintaining some level of online photography presence, sorting out my rental cottage, exercise, keeping up with friends and family, caring for the pets and walking the dog. In the worst heat here, I have struggled with this. I walk outside and immediately want to hide in a dark, cool corner of a room inside.

It has been so hot here in central Italy this August. 41-42 degrees wasn’t unusual at its worst. Even established native plants were dying off. Of course, searingly hot weather brings high pressure and eventual dramatic and amazing thunderstorms, which I have tried to photograph from a less-than-favourable location (the bathroom window!). Cooler weather appears to have arrived along with September, thank the gods.

Last week we spent some hours at Campo Imperatore which is an alpine grassland plateau up in the Gran Sasso massif on the Apennine ridge in Abruzzo, Italy. Abruzzo is relatively unknown and not particularly busy even in the summer months, which means photography here is still a pleasurable experience without endlessly bumping into other photographers jostling for the same shot. In fact, many of the wilder locations are relatively untouched and often not well-photographed. One of the draws here is the natural landscapes, but also its wildlife including bears and wolves.

For the moment, I am focused on landscapes and achieving some eye-catching shots for my planned second photography book which will be of nature in the region of Abruzzo.

Scotland – Summer 2020

Despite buying my house in Scotland in March right before lockdown, I hadn’t been able to visit it and move my worldly possessions in until July of this year. This involved a flight from Italy (once flights were back up and running), driving from London to stay with my family in Derbyshire and rest, then a nine hour drive up to my house in the Highlands of Scotland. Once there I made new friends, including a dog called Bear.

I spent a good few weeks getting to know the area and walking, taking photographs and settling in. It is my spiritual home, the place I always wanted to be and to spend my days. I love the soft landscapes, the browns and greens, the drizzle, the wildlife, the wild sea and the sun. I despise the midges! Sadly, as my pet animals are all in Italy I had to return to be the responsible animal parent. I will be back up to Scotland in November 2020.

A few images of my time exploring near my new home.

Rocca Calascio Pt. Due

After visiting this magical place the first time (see previous post) and finding I needed to revise my camera settings and pay more attention to the time of day I was shooting and the direction in which I was shooting the castle, we took a second trip into the mountains for a planned second shoot. After meeting some friends for coffee and a look around Castel del Monte (a hilltop town nearby) I headed up to the top of the hill to spend some quiet, alone time with the castle and its surrounding landscapes.

It had just rained and there had been a dramatic thunderstorm, so I was hoping I might catch some lightning bolts in the distance as the storm moved away but, alas, it was not to be. I did however spot a rainbow which can be seen in one of the images. The ground was still wet as I made my way up the mountain and found only one or two people up there with me. I was soon joined by a local tabby cat who mostly entirely ignored me as she prowled about the castle on what I assume is a daily feline survey of the area.

The light was good. It was around two hours from sunset so I spent at least that time shooting and often just relaxing on a rock and enjoying the views. Clouds hung in the sky and the sun pushed its way through and down onto the hills, lighting up the greens and browns of the landscape below and spreading that uniquely Italian rose-pink hue. I had failed to bring a tripod up the hill (stupid mistake) so began shooting with a wide angle lens and attempting to bracket exposures hand-held. I won’t do that again. However, the shoot got me some good results from just single exposures.