Okehampton Camera Club

On Monday 10th September I had the pleasure of talking with the Okehampton Camera Club; a progressive group of about 25 creative photographers on the edge of Dartmoor.

I used the title ?Constructive Photographs? to present and discuss my work. This title can be used to sum up my working practice since the mid-1990?s. It was never a conscious decision to have such an obscure thread running through my work. But it is apparent in 35mm film triptychs, camera-less daylight processes silver images and through my 21st century digital work. The process is rarely hidden in my work and the photographically literate will make the connection of sprocket holes on the edge of a triptych or the hard, unblended, edge of a frame seen around the outside of a huge cave interior landscape.

The presentation in Okehampton was split into two parts; the first being key images in the progression of my work over the last 15 years. Then, after a tea/coffee break, the technical considerations of making these images was discussed and illustrated.

The animated gif above shows the constructing of an early image made in North Devon. This is named ?Shipload Grotto?, a cave in the difficult to get to Shipload Bay, close to Hartland Point. I should really make an up-to-date animation to illustrate the using of ?photomerge? in Photoshop; this one was made using a 2003 Sony Cyber-shot which served me well at the time but it?s lens was prone to chromatic aberration (the coloured edge seen where the contrast between very dark and very light is at the most extreme, like the entrance of a cave). The finished imaged was made from 51 separate frames.

Prior to my talk at the Club, I got a chance to witness their annual show, held this year at the Museum of Dartmoor Life, in Okehampton. This was a great way of getting to know the photographers by their photographs. I was really encouraged by the overall quality of work and the emphasis the club has for creativity and experiment; members seem to be developing their own styles which enhances the overall experience of the exhibition. The show continues until 29th September.

MS Johanna

My working practice seems to have the construction of an image as an inherent part of it. This picture of the MS Johanna in a gale at high tide wrecked on Hartland Point was constructed from 4 photographic frames taken over a 10 minute period. I made 54 separate RAW images from a fixed camera viewpoint between 09.31 and 09.41 on December 16th 2011. The finished print reflects my memory of the place and of the experience of being there at that time.
The key reason for needing to combine frames for this image has to do with the limitations of the camera. Our eyes instantly focus as we observe a scene so that the foreground, middle and background appear all in focus to us. To achieve this depth of vision I am forced to use a very small aperture in the camera lens and compensate this with a slow shutter speed. But my memory of these terrific waves breaking on the quay is of that frozen moment when they reach their zenith before they come crashing down again. To capture that moment I needed to use a fast shutter speed and compromise that with a wide aperture which made the background, and the all important shipwreck, out-of-focus.
Other reasons for combining frames in this image was the sky which I was able to make more like I saw it by exposing it for less time and making it darker. The aperture in our eyes alters automatically; as we look at something lighter it closes and as I have found in many dark caves the aperture opens and in time the rods in the eye take over from the cones. I also chose a frame where the MS Johanna was both visible and light enough to make out against the background cliffs.
It had always been my intention in the planning of this photograph that it should be a combination of the wind, storm, high tide, waves, the wreck of the Johanna and to include a stretch of the Hartland cliffs as a setting. Although I shot 126 photographs in total within a ? hour period I had done this with the goal of this one image in mind.
As a comparison I?ve included a picture made last summer of the same shipwreck.

Heavy Weather

I?ve been doing a lot of reading about shipwrecks and lifesaving in preparation to my Graveyard of the Atlantic exhibition this April. This title has become an inspiration to me. The North Devon coast has approximately 10 shipwrecks every mile but most of them don?t stay around for too long. One of the oldest still visible is the Sally of Bristol wrecked in 1769 on the beach at Northam Burrows. But you don?t have to photograph a shipwreck to evoke the Graveyard of the Atlantic. So I?ve been out in all weathers (except sunny and fine) trying to show why this coast got its name.
The photograph above was made in the early morning light, high tide in a gale at Hartland Point in December. The MS Johanna, which was wrecked here 400 metres from the lighthouse (which is behind me) can be seen in the far distance. More details about this image can be found on my blog post MS Johanna. This is not the kind of weather you would want to be out at sea and it is easy to imagine how easily a ship could go down especially in the days before modern navigation; once a sail has been torn or a rudder broken you?re totally at the mercy of the sea. 
Heavy Weather, a new set of images to supplement my cave photographs, will be at Schooners Cafe in Appledore from Saturday 11th February.
I have a new series of photographic workshops starting with an Introduction to Digital Photography on Saturday February 11th. The complete list is as follows:
Photographic Workshops in Devon, Winter 2012
Introduction to digital photography 10am – 5pm – ?50

A practical days workshop learning to gain control over your camera, shutter speeds, aperture, ISO, flash etc, setting it up for optimum quality under any given lighting, and making better pictures through composition. Numbers limited to a hand-full.

Saturday 11th February in Bideford
Saturday 25th February in Barnstaple
Thursday 1st March in South Molton
Thursday 8th March in Bideford

Half Day Intro to digital photography 2.00pm – 4.30pm – ?25

A ‘sit around the table’ workshop to get to know your camera better. You’ll learn about shutter speeds, aperture, ISO, flash and setting your camera up for optimum quality.

Wednesday 22nd February in Bideford
Wednesday 14th March in Barnstaple
Painting with Light 6pm – 9.00pm – ?25

An evening workshop celebrating the dark nights of the Winter. You’ll learn how to make ‘long exposure’ photographs using coloured lights, flames, sparklers and hand-held flash.

Wednesday 7th March – Northam Burrows (Westward Ho!)
Photographing your own Artwork 10am – 5pm – ?50

I have a wealth of knowledge and experience of photographing 2D artwork, jewellery and ceramics and I’m willing to pass this on to artists eager to improve their own image making camera skills. Although this workshop is for a small group (max 5) I also offer it on a 1:1 basis for ? a day for the same price.

Wednesday 15th February in Bideford
Introduction to Photoshop 10am ? 5pm – ?50

Opening an image file and adjusting levels, contrast, brightness and colour balance. Rotating, resizing and cropping an image. Placing an image or images into a new file. Using layers and history. Participants will need to be computer literate i.e. use a computer on regular basis and understand the basic controls. Small group (max 4).

Thursday 16th February in Bideford
Intermediate Photoshop 10am ? 5pm – ?50

Using tools, masks and filters to manipulate your image. Tools used in this session are: marquee, move, lasso, magic wand, eraser, paint bucket, eyedropper, hand and zoom. Making a contact sheet and using batch production. Adding type to your image. Participants will need to be computer literate i.e. use a computer on regular basis and understand the basic controls. Small group (max 4).

Thursday 15th March in Bideford

More Workshops in the Summer:

1 day Workshop: Learning to Look – Theory and Practice

10 week Evening Class: Introduction to Digital Photography

I bring these things on myself!

After writing about how things change I was reminded of another current image, which will be in the Ruby Expo, which has changed – through my own mistake!

Atlantic Aperture (collapsed) was shown originally at Trelawney Garden Centre with Atlantic Aperture, shown one super-imposed on the other above. Following is the text that accompanied the two images:

We are living on the frontier of climate change here in North Devon. Our coast is living proof of historical changes through different heights of sea level and the comings and goings of Ice Ages. As the speed of change increases, so does the evidence. In the three years I?ve been photographing the North Devon coast I?ve seen caves disappear as their roofs have collapsed into the sea. This image is a combination of two that are in this exhibition; the original ?Atlantic Aperture? was shot in the spring of 2006 and the other was the same place one year later. This was an eight metre high tunnel, a passage from a small sheltered bay to the roar of the Atlantic, situated just west of Hartland Point and only accessible at low tide. Now, buried under a huge landslip, it?s only entrance is from the sea.

Anyway, I digress. I went to print Atlantic Aperture (collapsed) for the Ruby Expo, as they had accepted the image I had sent them as above, however, search as I might through my computer, external drives, back-up DVDs etc I could not find the image. So I resigned to making it again from scratch. Bizarrely after half a day of concerted Photoshop effort it turned out different, I believe better, than it was.

I?m not sure if there is a moral here. It ought to be ?keep your workspace clean and tidy?, ?file everything away in a methodical fashion?, ?always make a back-up of your files?. But my loss is also my gain as the new construction from the original frames is better than it had been. Perhaps the moral should be all of the above plus ?occasionally re-work your images?!

New version of Atlantic Aperture (collapsed), Hartland, North Devon 2009