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.

Italia: February 2020

A lot has happened since I last posted here. I have moved to Italy to live part-time, as planned. Unfortunately, a global pandemic happened so photographic opportunities for landscape images have been somewhat limited. Happily this is not the case for wildlife and nature photography on my doorstep daily in Italy, and I have more than made up for the lack of landscapes.

On the journey over to Italy from the UK I passed through the French-Swiss alps, and once here had a few trips out to scout around for photographic sites.

The Roaches

A morning misty hike up to the Roaches in Staffordshire, on the edge of the Peak District National Park, was just what was needed for Dan and I. I took my camera because… I take it everywhere, pretty much. The light wasn’t great as the mists were heavy and fairly low, and the clouds were out in force, but adjusting for this and also utilising lower exposures I managed to take a few images which I have edited to reflect the misty, slightly ethereal mood of the morning.

Swanning about

I have recently had reason to go over some past images of mute swans taken at Wollaton Park in Nottingham. I have re-edited them to try to achieve the image I had in mind when taking the photograph. Three such images were enhanced in Photoshop and one I have entered for a competition. Editing photographs can be really time-consuming, it’s true, yet there is so much to learn, in particular when using Photoshop. It is worth many, many hours sitting learning techniques and using new layers and masks to transform an image into the vision you had or now have for a photograph.

For now, while the rain pours in the UK, I will continue to re-visit old wildlife images and re-edit to produce something different to the original edits. Birds seem to be especially good for this task!

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Snowdon: September 2019

Last time I hiked up Snowdon (I say hiked, we took the Miner’s Track, which is fairly easy-going for the most part) the mountain decided to mess with me. It was a lovely sunny day when we set off, and yet in the space of three hours it rained, hailed, and eventually snowed on me. We had to give up and turn back on that occasion as we were utterly drenched and extremely cold. The most recent attempt was no different. I had thought we would be ok – the weather was a bit ‘off’ but not terrible, and we left super early to make the most of a clear morning and the sunshine.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

That didn’t last. I think we probably saw some of Snowdon’s worst weather and conditions on this day in September. Admittedly, we later realised it had been torrential rain throughout the country at the same time, but it didn’t make the defeat any easier to accept. We set off and I managed to get some nice images without tripod and even with intermittent rain (turns out drops landing on your lens every few yards begins to irritate after a while). The weather brought some dramatic skies and crisp, clear greens on the mountains and bright rock formations. I wasn’t too bothered by a bit of rain.

The mountain had other plans. As we made our way to around halfway up Snowdon, while I stopped to capture images in more interesting spots and in between downpours, the weather turned. I could almost hear the mountain laughing at us. Oh, you’ve come back to try again? Hahaha. Think again.

It rained. And rained. And rained. I think I even saw what looked like hail, but may have imagined it. The rain got heavier and heavier until I had packed everything tightly away, frantically pulled on some waterproof trousers and leaned into the kinds of gale force winds and heavy rain I have quite literally never witnessed before. It poured down my face and body, and that delightful squelching sensation began to emanate from my walking boots and from my clothing, although my jacket did a great job of keeping my core dry.

(As an aside, those same walking boots now sit forlornly in the conservatory still covered in mud and are destined for a bin.)

At one stage, my son, who was the most drenched person I’ve ever seen other than myself at that point, turned from his determined walk up the mountain, looked at me and made a cutting motion. Time out. Screw this. We are going back down. I was surprised as I’d been trailing him for some time – he is a determined walker. Nope, he wanted out of the madness. We raged at the mountain and the weather as we slipped and slid back down the path, which had by now turned into a healthily flowing river.

Some way down, I noticed a large boulder tumbling down the mountainside, while the rain lashed and raged around us. I looked at my son. He looked at me. He swore and shouted at me to run. I was genuinely in the middle of taking a photograph in the torrential rain (nothing stops me when I see an image I want), so I just froze. As we turned towards the path, in the direction we needed to go, a landslide took out the entire path in front of us. The lake below us filled with multicoloured sediments which spread across the surface in fascinating patterns while the body of water which had been a stream an hour earlier had become a raging river which flowed over the path and down into the water below.

We panicked. We charged up the mountain onto the grass to avoid falling mud, and at the same time tried to move forwards. As we moved, another landslide occurred directly in front of us and my son ran towards me while I filmed it. (I know I probably should take these things more seriously and put the camera away!) We managed to scrabble over the second rapidly rising landslide which covered the path but I lost my phone in the process. Despite the fact we literally ran some way from the landslide before I’d realised I had lost it, we turned back to try to find the phone and had to re-negotiate the landslides. Further landslides had occurred on the path heading back towards the Miner’s track car park. We both shouted at the mountain, especially as it seemed that as we got closer to the car park, the weather calmed and the sun even dared to show its face.

I have to admit to feeling slightly aggrieved. This mountain does not like me. I will be back to tackle her once again, very soon. On some of these images, you might actually be able to tell that it was raining. You’d never know the full story…