Monday, 8 November 2010

'Plants with Personality'

Photographing flowers and other plants should be easy, shouldn't it? After all, they don't move (except when windblown) and so, unlike wildlife, don't require stalking. What's more, they are all around. And yet, if you can't find a plant or composition that stands out in some way, what really is easy is to find yourself accumulating lots of very dull and uninspiring pictures. It may be that you don't have to stalk plants but it is certainly worthwhile spending some time to hunt out really good examples. That very accomplished nature photographer, Niall Benvie coined the perfect phrase to describe what I mean; 'plants with personality'. It is so perfect, I wish I had thought of it first. So, what is a plant with personality?

The photograph above was made during a recent trip to Scotland. I had just spent a very enjoyable hour or so at a large waterfall just outside Callendar and was on my way back to the car when I became distracted the ferns to the side of the path. After searching around for a while I came across a nice specimen which I devoted some time to before seeing this. Of course, what helps this picture is the fact that I was able to almost eliminate the background detail completely but it is the shape of the plant that really makes it stand out; the plant has real character. I never have got round to doing anything with the picture of the first fern that attracted me - it just didn't compare. Come to think of it, I don't even think I have yet got round to processing the waterfall pictures; for me, this became the most important image of the session.

The picture below is another good example. On this occasion, I did set out to photograph plants and had made the short journey to Ness Gardens on the Wirral Peninsula in hope of getting something from the late afternoon light. I was initially attracted by the translucent quality of the bamboo and felt there must be a picture worth making. However, it took me quite some time to find what I was looking for and that turned out to be one of the very few stalks which wasn't perfectly straight - again, the plant that had some 'personality'. All the time I was being savagely attacked by nasty, biting things which had come up from the nearby marshes to find fresh blood: Never let anyone say photographers don't have to suffer for their art!

Of course, just as with people, personality comes in many different forms. I'm gather that the fruit of the Strawberry Tree (below) can get you drunk but I promise I haven't experimented myself.

Friday, 5 November 2010

A Week in the Dales

Last week was half term and the opportunity for a much needed break with the family. Of course it is also an opportunity to explore and photograph a new area and these two things are not entirely compatible. We stayed in a very comfortable and well equipped cottage in the Wharfedale village of Conistone; a wonderful spot for walking and photography and, although the conditions were unexceptional for the most part, it was good to be able to find potential compositions within easy walking distance.

This panorama is the view from a small hill behind the village. It was taken shortly after sunrise and is the view northwards taking in the nearby village of Kilnsey with its dramatic crag.

Talking of drama, there are few more impressive geological sights than Malham Cove. The light is a little harsh on this photograph of the cove, it being early afternoon on a bright October day. Nonetheless, you get some sense of the scale of this natural limestone formation.

Of course, Malham Cove is believed to be the site of a large waterfall, created by a melting glacier. That would have been something to see but there are still some very picturesque falls in the area including those and Aysgarth and (pictured below) West Burton.

I first came across West Burton falls when passing through the area on the way to the opening night of a Joe Cornish exhibition at his gallery in Northallerton. That time it was early spring and the surrounding trees were still bare. Even then it was a lovely scene but I knew it must look even better with foliage on the trees and  determined to revisit later in the year. The image above is the result.

The subject of 'smooth' water is a source of regular debate in photographic magazines. It seems to be one of those things that polarises opinion but I am very much in favour; for me it simply creates an appealing result in many cases. I consider photography to be an art form and art is always going to generate debate based on people's subjective views.

One unexpected treat was the discovery that our visit to Fountains Abbey near Ripon coincided with a special evening which involved the abbey being floodlit. If ever there was an excuse for getting the tripod out, this was it and the family were all very patient as I spent a happy hour and a half competing with the many other camera wielding visitors. Of course, I had to be patient myself, often waiting for quite some time for people to move out of the way.

It was worth waiting for though as a nearly full moon was perfectly placed to add to the atmosphere. When I was setting up to take the photograph below, my father struck up a conversation with one of the guides who said that, in 16 years of working there, she had never before seen this combination of floodlit abbey and alignment of the moon. The only way I can think this scene could be improved would be if it had come together a little earlier when there was still some colour in the sky. You can see the difference that makes from the picture above.

The only downside to a very enjoyable evening was to find myself the apparent and unwitting competitor with another photographer with similar equipment (i.e. tripod and reasonably high end camera). I first thought his partner's continued presence in my composition was accidental but a sly glance round at me and no subsequent movement made me think otherwise. She only moved when I finally gave up, packed up and walked away - watched by the woman and her photographer partner.