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Photography has been my life since I was about 14 years old and never has that statement been more true than now. The nature of my job means that imagery and photographic technology is pretty much the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing to occupy my otherwise vacant brain just before I hit the hay.
However the way in which I approach taking photos is different these days, as almost every image I make is for one of my magazine features. I actually don't get to shoot much purely for myself at the moment, so I jumped at the opportunity to look back through my image database and select some of my favourites.
I use a wide variety of cameras and lenses, but I always have that final image in mind - it has never bothered me what I'm using as long as I don't miss out on a picture opportunity. I especially love landscape, travel and macro photography, so I try to keep my online portfolios varied.
I think I look for a painterly style when seeking out images, as I'm inspired by oil paintings - the lighting and colour in images by the likes of Rembrandt and Canaletto have always been appealing. The only problem is, once you admit something like that, it's very easy to get overly analytical about your images. Ultimately I take a picture because it looks nice, but that doesn't sound as expert in a magazine or as a caption in a calendar!
1. Mist glow
Autumn is the favourite season of most landscape photographers and I'm no different. This shoot started out as a bit of a non-event. I got up early to be out for sunrise, with the hope of capturing the light filtering though the woodland canopy in Ousbrough Wood, Beamish, near where I live. Unfortunately the clouds descended and a fairly thick fog layer settled in. The overcast light just wasn't providing the backlighting I was after so I decided to move on. I was making my way back to the car when the sun briefly made an appearance, illuminating this misty path and creating a beautiful glow.
I'd had my eye on doing something photographic with this scene for years but nothing ever really materialised, so I was happy for two reasons - the shoot was not a waste and I'd ticked off a image on my 'wants' list.
2. Dusk in Saddler Street
This is one of the images that ticks most of the boxes for a 'favorite' but which the photographer can't quite commit to considering it representative of their best work! This is by far my best selling image, both in print and digitally. I can see why, but I think there are probably better images in my portfolio. I just can't ignore people's reaction to it.
I've always loved street corners. Ever since I saw that famous Edward Hopper painting Night Hawks hanging in the living room of my piano teacher as a kid, I've been taken with them for some reason. It's no surprise that I was going for a painterly feel for this shot of Saddler Street in Durham, choosing to shoot after sunset so that there would be a nice mix of natural cool light and warm artificial light, from within the buildings.
It was relatively simple to shoot - a bracketed series of 9 exposures which were later blended for a wider dynamic range. The composition greatly benefits from the wet street, which adds a cinematic feel. People seemed to go mad for it, so that makes me happy, but I used to wish some of my other images would get a bigger share of that attention. I guess I shouldn't complain!
3. Renaissance light
Gordale Scar in Yorkshire has to be one of the most dramatic and generally awesome locations for landscape photographers in the UK. While nearby Malham Cove gets the majority of screen time in movies about young wizards, this limestone gorge is truly spectacular in its own right.
This was taken on my first visit and, following in the footsteps of Joe Cornish, I was captivated by the cascading waterfall which is the main feature of the Scar. I shot several wide compositions to include more of the stream in the foreground, but I especially love this tighter framing of the water flowing through the 'window'.
I changed lenses from a 10-20mm to my 70-200mm optic and racked out towards the long end. This allowed me to focus on the way in which the water seems to flow out of nowhere. The cherry on this massive cake however was the short burst of afternoon sunlight, which with careful framing cast a wash of warm colour across the scene.
I love how this contrasty lighting adds a style similar to some of the oil paintings of the old masters. I would have been pleased with the shot anyway but this solidified it as a true favourite portfolio entry.
4. Sunset over the Vatican
Rome is magical city and my first visit was blessed with great weather, despite November being the Italian capital's wettest month. On this evening I waited until the sun had set. Since I was taking multiple flight connections and was unable to bring a tripod, I rested my camera on the side of the Ponte Umberto I for stability. I took a shot at around 1/5sec and while the colours were just as gorgeous, the still water of the River Tiber and static clouds gave the shot a lack of energy.
I waited a until the light levels dropped further and stopped down my lens, lengthening the exposure enough to blur the river and lend some motion to the sky. The glassy reflections of the city were then highly visible on the Tiber's surface and the image came to life.
I love how this image captures the tranquility of that night and the sense of being out on a passeggiata - that lovely Mediterranean tradition of taking a leisurely walk in the evening. On the way back to Fiumicino airport the next morning the rain set in and didn't stop for days, so I consider myself lucky!
5. Bamburgh North Beach
Some shoots stay in your memory for years after they took place and this one was such an occasion. Arriving on Bamburgh Beach an hour or so before dawn, in the near darkness, was an experience in itself. The weather was far from pleasant - the strong wind was driving rain in that irritating way that you know will soak everything you have on you.
I knew there wasn't going to be any golden sunrise this day, but embraced the brooding atmosphere, which perfectly complimented the imposing castle in the distance. The cool blue tones created a moody, Game of Thrones-esque style, with the bright floodlights producing contrast.
I added a neutral density filter to lengthen the shutter speed to around 1 minute. This had the effect of reducing the sea to a silky blur, but also enabled a sharper image. With such a long exposure the short bursts of wind battering the tripod had less of an effect on detail, as they only occurred for a fraction of the total exposure duration.
Having the whole stretch of the Northumberland coast to myself was magical, as it is usually packed with tourists during the day and photographers at dawn/dusk! A tough shoot, but one which yielded images of which I'm really quite proud.
With a background in Biology, macro photography is another favorite genre of mine, especially when insect subjects are featured. The best time to photograph entomological subjects is early in the morning, as winged insects often need to warm their wing muscles before they can achieve flight. This means they are still for longer, allowing us more time to study them and find the best angle.
For this image I positioned the lens slightly below the subject, looking up, to create a less common perspective and shot towards the morning sun, to backlight the petals and wings of the butterfly. Exposure was a little tricky as the contrast was high and either background detail was burned out or the darker sections of the wings became underexposed. Spot metering and a bit of experimentation did the trick, which would likely not have been possible if the insect had been more active.
I really love the color and bright, airy atmosphere of this shot and it is one of the standout images in my closeup portfolio.
7. Dawn fishing, Malta
As photographers we often think we're making a brave sacrifice by hauling ourselves out of bed early in order to catch a sunrise, but it always seems to be that somebody is going one further. Arriving in St George's Bay, in the south of Malta, at around 6am, we found a gathering of people preparing to head out in boats, for an early fishing session. I believe the plan was to be back with a catch in enough time to sell the fruits of the trip to the local sea front restaurants.
Either way I set up a tripod as low down and as close to one of the moored boats as I could, to lend the image the impression of being in the boat itself, heading out into the bay. I liked the opposing curves of the foreground boat and those resting further out, with the rising sun providing a compositional 'full stop'. I haven't seen a huge number of misty mornings in Malta, but felt it added to the tranquil atmosphere in this scene. The tricky part was selecting a White Balance which accurately captured both the warm and cool colours of the sunrise.
Most of the tourism in Malta is focussed up in the North of the island, which is a shame since the undulating coastline from Marsaxlokk round to the village of Birzebbuga is arguably more photogenic in places. A company in Malta ended up picking this image for printing as posters, so overall it was well worth the early start.
8. Piazza del Popolo
As you might be able to tell, Rome is one of my favorite cities for photography. Proving it's all about timing, I found myself in the Piazza del Popolo early in the morning, but after sunrise. I'd already made quite few images of the Piazza and was planning on moving to another location when I noticed this engaging cloud formation.
The famous pair of churches, the Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli and the Basilica di Santa Maria di Montesanto, form an imposing set of landmarks. By shooting from the other side of the Piazza I could compress perspective and include the obelisk in the frame, completing the trifecta of architectural features for which it is most well known. The backlit streak of cloud had a cinematic feel and functioned as a strong leading line, meaning it could add drama without distracting from the building elements.
To combat the swarm of tourists in the foreground I knelt down and framed the shot just above ground level, creating the sensation that the Piazza was empty. This shot is one of my favourites as it's dramatic but took only minimal effort. All of the components came together by themselves - great features, sky detail and wonderful lighting. Bellissimo!
9. Turquoise dawn
It's amazing the difference a change in White Balance can make. Mist, an atmospheric coastline and the dawn are all ingredients in a recipe for dramatic images, so upon arriving at Trow Rocks early one autumn morning I was expecting interesting results. This wave cut platform always makes a great foreground element, with the rock pools left by the receding tide reflecting the color of the sky. I was happy with my first images, some of which emphasized the warmer dawn tones and others which were destined for black and white conversion.
I then decided to experiment with color and changed my White Balance to Tungsten, to make more of the cooler tones in the scene. Suddenly the rich blues and cyans came to life. These contrasted beautifully with the greens of the algae and the magenta in the sky, creating a fuller color palette. The North Sea always looks cold, but I don't think I've ever seen it quite this shade before. The overcast lighting allowed for highly saturated color and I came away with an image which contrasted nicely with any others I had made at this location previously. I shot this with a 10mm lens to stretch perspective as much as possible.
10. Barri Gòtic
Continuing the theme of my images of random streets, this shot of a quiet alleyway in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona has a similar feel to the Durham image above. It's a little more exotic though, so I can understand the reaction to this one a little better. It's a simple scene but has tonnes of atmosphere thanks to the mix of cooler natural light and glowing, warm artificial bulbs.
This area of Barcelona has endless charm and I wanted to capture a single image which brought together its best attributes. Looking at this frame you can almost smell coffee and hear the bells of Barcelona Cathedral a few streets away. By metering from the lights I was able to maintain the darker atmosphere of the shadowy alleyway. It's not fancy or complex, but I love it because looking at it I can pretend I'm still there, which has come in handy over the last few weeks of lockdown.
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