I have deliberately entitled this piece 'Travel' rather than Travel Photography, as I wouldn't presume to describe myself as a travel photographer. The serious travel photographer, as I understand it, researches her or his destination carefully, plans visits to the particular aspects of a place she wishes to photograph, waits patiently for the right weather, avoids shooting in the bright glare of the midday sun and instead makes the most of the golden hours at each end of the day. I love to travel to new places and get really excited about the various photographic opportunities as I imagine them, but I almost always travel with other people and however patient and accommodating they are, I have to strike a balance between getting the right shot and being sensitive to the needs and wishes of my travelling companions.
Sometimes the most convenient way to explore a new place is through an organised tour, which limits opportunities still further: you are taken to a particular place at a particular time, regardless of the light and the weather. Sometimes you are in a moving vehicle, which presents its own challenges, not least of which are dirty train or coach windows.
There are occasions on all these trips when I take myself and my camera off and enjoy taking shots from different angles, composing each photo carefully, considering light and aspect, but mostly, for the reasons outlined, I have to take what I can get. Sometimes I have found myself in the right place at the right time - for example alongside the moat at Angkor Wat as the daylight began to fade:
or on a night safari in the Kruger National Park where we encountered lions at the waterhole:
Even shooting through the window of a moving coach need not debar one from getting a shot to be pleased with. This photo was taken in Norway in June this year, when we set out very early from Narvik to travel southwards towards Trondheim. As the coach wound its way through mountains and round fjords we were treated to indescribably beautiful scenes at every turn. I set my camera to a fast shutter speed, held the lens as close to the window as possible, and clicked away. It felt frustrating not being able to stop, not being able to compose each shot. Yet here is what turned out to be probably the best image of the holiday:
Generally, on each of the trips I have taken I have ended up with a set of photos, which, after processing, I am pleased with - and these are uploaded as part of my portfolio. Nevertheless, there are always occasions on which I make compromises and when I take photos even when I know the light is wrong, or conditions are very much less than optimal. On this particular morning, having left Siem Reap early, we disembarked the coach in extremely humid conditions. Immediately the lens on my camera steamed up - but I only had one opportunity to take photos of Angkor Thom, a place I'll probably never have the opportunity to re-visit - and so I took photos nevertheless:
Similarly, when we walked round Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, on the only opportunity to view the Falls, it was raining, so the photos I took there were extremely disappointing. Even so, they provide a visual memory of that trip, and thus were worth taking and keeping.
In Kenya, on a work trip in 2016, I was travelling to a remote area in the west of the country by car. The car was moving fast, and it was particularly frustrating not to be able to record something of what I was seeing. I tried to capture a few scenes, not particularly successfully. In this shot, for example, it would have been better if the bicycle had been in focus - but it wasn't a shot I wanted to delete, and so I tried to process it to make it a more interesting image.
Processing can often help if, when feeling rushed to get a shot (in this instance at Ta Prohm, in less than optimal light, and before another group of tourists stepped into the frame), what initially comes out of the camera looks pretty awful:
Here, adjusting the levels in Lightroom, lightening shadows, decreasing highlights and contrast, and adding a little clarity, made all the difference - and an image which, in the end, wasn't too bad.
Travelling in this way brings its own challenges and occasionally frustrations. I wouldn't claim that it fits into the genre of Travel Photography, but nor would I describe the images I end up with simply as holiday snaps. For the most part, I find the making of my travel photos - both the actual taking and the processing, extremely rewarding - and fun!
The last few months have been tough, with major heart surgery undertaken at the beginning of November last year meaning that for the whole of that month and the first part of December my cameras stayed shut up in their cases. I first took my camera out again in mid December, with a trip to Bury St Edmunds. I took far fewer photos than usual on a day out, only keeping three images, one of is shown which below.
I love joy and colours displayed in this window in St Edmundsbury Cathedral, and have photographed it on several occasions. It's the Birt Memorial Window, described in an adjoining plaque as a celebration of women and music by Pippa Blackall and commemorating Geraldine Birt, a member of the St Edmundsbury Singers who died in 2005. The window depicts the prophetess Miriam from the Book of Exodus. For me at that point it also symbolised hope in a positive future after the dark days.
Apart from a few family photos taken over Christmas I didn't get my camera out again until mid January, with a visit to another local cathedral, Ely, where I enjoyed the play of sunlight through the stained glass windows onto the walls and pillars of the great nave. One of these photos is displayed on the Pattern Shape and Texture part of my portfolio (Colour I). The bright January sun also lit up the outside of that great cathedral:
Later, as the shadows lengthened, the cathedral's image was beautifully reflected in a partially frozen puddle in the field on the south side:
I only took my DSLR (with its macro lens) out again for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Once more I took only a few photos, and was disappointed with most of the results - but this one wasn't too bad and at least I can see spring is on the way:
I've spent time these last few weeks sorting photos and reorganising my website, as well as thinking about where my photography is going. I've missed taking my camera out for days at a time and losing myself in photography, which I've so much enjoyed doing in the past. My health has been slow to improve and I've had a second operation recently. Now I long for the energy to get back to where I was, to immerse myself in what had become a passion and such an important part of my life. It's taken a back seat for a while - but I'm thinking a lot about how much I miss making photos so perhaps that's the first step on a new creative journey.
Four years ago I took up photography seriously, buying my first DSLR, shooting every day and posting online each day at 365project.org. I experimented across a range of genres, from sport to portraits:
from still life to street:
from food to abstracts:
to experimental techniques such as panning:
and even a wedding:
As I look back over four years of photos, however, I see that besides family photos, most of my shots are of landscapes, with photos of the natural world coming a close (allied) second, followed by large sets of photos taken while travelling to Spain, Vietnam and Cambodia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and Canada and the USA.
At the end of the year my website largely reflected the eclectic approach of the last four years. Many of the photos I had chosen to display were of landscapes, often coastal landscapes, and what I considered were 'good' photos - thoughtfully composed, correctly exposed and carefully processed. But as I read more about photography and reflect on which direction I might take at the beginning of 2017, I begin to think more about my personal style of photography, and what really energises and excites me. My photography is a way of seeking space for me, but if I choose to display my photos publicly, then it must also be a way of reflecting 'me', and communicating 'me' in some way.
Online articles on developing a personal style suggest close analysis on one's photos, and here, within many of the different types of photos I have taken, I discern a fascination with pattern, shape and texture. I look for these both within natural environments and through the religious architecture I am drawn to. Many of my photos focus in on the smaller aspects of larger spaces to draw attention to the patterns within. As the new year begins I have therefore reorganised my website to highlight shape, pattern and texture. I want to build on these aspects, though retaining for the moment selections of travel photos.
Is it possible for someone who doesn’t live in a place, who only visits from time to time, to capture its essence? In some ways, being an outsider is an advantage because all we see is fresh and new. In the environments in which we live we often take for granted what exists around us and hardly notice it. As Freeman Patterson notes in his book Photography and the Art of Seeing, there are a number of barriers to seeing: preoccupation with self, the mass of stimuli surrounding us, familiarity, even the camera itself. ‘Seeing’, argues Patterson, ‘means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being’.
I have been fortunate to have been involved in a research and intervention project with the Ministry of Education of Antigua and Barbuda since 2009 and have made eight trips to Antigua (though never to Barbuda!). Whilst work has meant limited opportunities to engage fully with all the island has to offer, my growing interest in photography and the desire and intent to really ‘see’ what is around me have led me to build up a set of images and to reflect on the essence of what is Antigua.
So here, for me, is what seems to capture the island.
History – evident in the number of disused sugar mills dotted around the landscape; reminders of Antigua’s dark past, when black slave labour was used by English plantation owners to produce sugar for European markets.
Betty's Hope sugar mills
Steel pans at Shirley Heights
In St John'sMJ Warrington
In St John'sMJ Warrington
Roadside stall, St John's
Monument in St John'sMJ Warrington
The national stadiumMJ Warrington
St John's Anglican cathedral
A stunning landscape comprising
Sherkerley mountainsMJ Warrington
Devil's BridgeMJ Warrington
Galley BayMJ Warrington
Tourism, the mainstay of the economy
Cruise line, St John'sMJ Warrington
Surfing the waves
Cocktails at dusk
Cows in the road! Fishing boats, St John's
Loading palm leavesMJ Warrington
Shacks outside St John's
Colour – evident in the flora and fauna and in the schools, as well as in in the wooden houses dotted across the island
Mural on a school wall
Colourful house and gardenMJ Warrington
Sun – though it does sometimes rain, and indeed, the country is vulnerable to hurricanes in the autumn, it’s always warm and often hot, and so the sun, too, is part of what defines Antigua.
Sunset, Galley Bay
I’ve had a fascination for photography since I had a Brownie 127 as a child, and watched my father developing his own black-and-white photos in the bathroom. So my journey began early but scarcely progressed for many years. I enjoyed taking photos of family gatherings, or whilst travelling, but although I had a bit of a feel for composition, I knew next to nothing about the technical aspects of photography. I took some good photos, but it was all a bit hit-and-miss. I remember waiting, full of anticipation for the prints from the processed films that came back from the developing lab at the end of a holiday – only to throw half of them away in disappointment. My father gave me my first digital camera in 2005 and this provided an exciting new opportunity to experiment, to see the results straight away. One of my first photos with this Fuji camera is of a poppy field in North Norfolk.
Norfolk poppiesMy first digital photo
My photographic journey received new impetus on 1st January 2013, when I joined 365project.org, an online community of photographers, amateur, professional and all stages in between, who post a photo each day and comment on others’ shots. The first photo I posted was of the grandfather clock as it struck in the New Year at some friends' house.
2013 beginsFirst post on my 365 project
At the time I was using a Sony point-and-shoot camera on auto, with editing limited to simple auto-fixes. Joining that community opened up a whole new world for me, and I’ve learnt a huge amount from the discussion forums on that site and from the comments people have made on my photos. I’ve bought new processing packages and new gear, including speed-lights and a tripod, and now shoot mainly with a Nikon D7100, using a variety of prime and zoom lenses.
My journey has given me a voracious appetite for reading about things photographic, on online photography sites, in magazines and in books. I’ve learnt about the principles of exposure and of composition; I’ve explored macro, black-and-white, low light and portrait photography. Putting what I’ve learnt into practice has been more challenging: I increase the ISO and omit to decrease it again when the light changes, I forget to watch the shutter speed when in aperture priority mode or I overexpose the highlights. I come home excited to see my shots on the computer and still all too frequently that what I thought I’d captured hasn’t come out as I’d envisaged it would. But I’m getting there: I do have photographs I’m proud of, some of which are displayed on this site. I’ve also found I can bring pleasure to others through my photographs, as well as finding a rewarding, absorbing, stimulating and creative way of spending my leisure time.
My inward journey, often expressed now through my photographs, continues.