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.

The Disingenuous Nature of Instagram

Instagram. We’ve all been there. Some of you are still there. Some of you are excitedly exploring Instagram’s addictive chase for likes. I have been on instagram for a few years now and I too seriously chased those likes for most of that time. I learnt to work the algorithms (when that was a thing and they hadn’t nobbled it) – posting at specific times of day, using specific hashtags, tagging specific accounts, following more and more accounts, playing the like for like game and the follow back game, posting images designed to appeal to a particular follower group, joining specific genre groups, and so on. It required a lot of effort, time, timing, and paying attention to seemingly arbitrary things which bore no relation to the quality of the photographic work posted. That last point was what put me off instagram, in the end.

There was a cut off point – a moment of disillusioned disappointment – where I saw insta for what it is – just another image-driven social media platform, designed to attract quantity not quality, and ultimately designed to attract revenue for the owners (now Facebook Inc).

Of course there are serious photographers on instagram. They are the guys (it’s usually guys) who were there at the beginning, when it was sold as a place for photographers to share images and develop a following designed to help them gain sponsorship and ambassador status and to sell their work. This is the ultimate aim of a pro photographer, after all. It’s not about admiration or appreciation so much – it’s about earning a living! Still there are many pro togs on instagram, mostly ambassadors for Nikon, Canon, Sony etc. with thousands and often over a million followers and extensive feedback and interaction. Their work already sells extensively online and in print. They don’t actually need Instagram anymore.

Occasionally a photographer breaks through via Instagram. This has become less and less likely as the user count increased and the number of images posted exploded. However, quantity does not equal quality and instagram is the perfect example of this.

In my time posting on instagram my follower number slowly increased and my likes followed suit. On its own, that constant scan and fishing for likes became monotonous. What compounded my eventual resentment of the platform was realising that my more technically proficient images, and many amazing images posts by other photographers – images which one would ordinarily be proud to have framed and displayed on a wall and which *could* be printed and framed because they were high resolution images with no banding, pixelation or other common features of a low quality image – were more often ignored in favour of the bright, over-saturated colourful image of a sunset taken on an iPhone. When you see semi-pro photographers’ beautiful landscape work getting 40 likes per post you know you’re on the wrong platform.

As a photographer striving for the high-quality, sharp, well-exposed, balanced, well-cropped and nicely-edited image, instagram is not your friend. If an image doesn’t scream at users, punch them in the face with bright colours or a specific subject, and if it isn’t of interest to the masses, you can forget accruing likes or followers.

It became especially obvious when my images of a scene, overlayed with filters and objects to produce something which bore no resemblance to the original image but which looked colourful, saturated and punchy pulled in many more likes than the more technical images. This was just a likes game. Pointless. To continue in this vain felt disingenuous.

This post is also a good guide to gaining Instagram likes, I now realise. Go ahead, fill your boots by posting over-saturated, overly-edited, unbalanced images which have been poorly sharpened after the fact. Tag every account you can find and follow thousands of accounts. I wish you well. But I don’t want to compete with that. I no longer compete with that.

When I post to Instagram now, my aim is different. I am less concerned with likes, and more concerned with just maintaining a presence on the platform which I can direct people to along with other accounts on other platforms like Twitter and Flickr. It is reassuring to see that my follower numbers at this stage are stable and do not drop over time with less posting regularity, as they used to. As my photography improves I am able to see my development and growth in images posted over time. This is much more valuable to me as an amateur.

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.