Behind the Image: Paul Debois on luck, patience and predicting decisive moments

Pinhole Impressions 3 - Lime tree or Tilia Tomentosa ©Paul Debois

To celebrate the lead up to PhotoLive 2014, we’ll be featuring a different image from each photographer speaking at the event.

Sometimes a spectacular image happens when you least expect it. Paul Debois explains how gale force winds, a Zero 2000 pinhole camera and a photographer’s intuition created one of his favourite images.

Pinhole Impressions 3 - Lime tree or Tilia Tomentosa ©Paul Debois

Pinhole Impressions 3 – Lime tree or Tilia Tomentosa ©Paul Debois

Finding a favourite photograph is one of the most difficult editing processes for a photographer. The decision will change on a daily basis, depending on current projects, work and new ideas that have found space in a notebook. I think this is the closest I can ever get to one of my favourites.

Pinhole Impressions 3 was taken in the winter of 2007. It was part of a series included in the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition in 2008, and was awarded second place in the portfolio category. As this was the inaugural IGPOTY competition, I still have fond memories of taking the photographs and the process leading to the awards.

I always get asked two questions when this image is on display. The first is, “how long did it take in Photoshop to blur the clouds?” the second is, “how long did it take to sweep the leaves into a perfect circle?”

The answer to both questions is no time at all. With any location photography there is always a certain element of luck. With experience, you create your own luck. You can’t always predict what will happen, but you know something special will. So you wait.

Gale force winds hit RHS Wisley on this particular day. I was experimenting with Zero 2000 pinhole camera and was about to give up, as the wind was buffeting the camera and tripod.

With exposure times of 10 to 15 seconds, this was a problem. But the movement of the clouds grabbed my attention, and I knew there was a chance of capturing something interesting.

When I set the camera up, the tree was covered in leaves, but with the severity of the wind, it was stripped in 20 minutes. Instant ‘Land Art’ in the style of Andy Goldsworthy, but completely natural.

As I was shooting film, I had no idea how good (or bad) the image might be, but I had a gut feeling something had happened. In the space of around 90 minutes, I took 5 rolls of film at other locations around Wisley, and this formed a large part the ‘Pinhole Impressions’ series. It’s rare that you have this kind of luck.

Paul is running a session at PhotoLive 2014 London on Garden and Flower Photography. You can follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website to see more of his amazing pictures.

PhotoLive takes place in Leeds (23 Aug), Edinburgh (30 Aug) and London (06 Sep). You can view the full schedule and book tickets at Use code DCAM20 and get 20% off your ticket.


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