It's well known that in the UK, photography has never been held in the same regards as more traditional arts. Perhaps photography is regarded as an easy option, involving less skill? Not so in continental Europe and North America. Interestingly, the phrase "you must have a really good camera" are still occasionally heard in the gallery.
I thought it might be useful to look at what's involved in creating a typical print that you might find hanging in the gallery. I've tried to avoid making it too technical, and have used a recent composition at Sango, Durness as a case study.
Sango Bay - An elusive view
The headland and beaches at Sango Bay offer many fine views, rock stacks, pools, and distant cliffs. However, there's one feature that I've wanted to photograph almost since relocating to Durness and that's the small burn which flows from Loch Caladail, along Sangomore, and eventually down onto the beach. What's so difficult about that? Well, there's often times when there's very little or any water at all flowing in the burn. The small cascade where it falls to the beach is in shade for much of the day and when it isn't, the sun casts a shadow of any budding photographer and their tripod right into the foreground. To be even more particular, I wanted to capture the scene when the sun wasn't too high in the sky and the light therefore not too harsh.
So, the opportunities are few - the right time of day when the light is good, at the right time of year, at least a little drama in the sky (no clear blue sky) and water flowing in the burn . . . little wonder it has taken 12 years! Here's how I finally went about it:
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2. A return visit with a 'real camera'
Next, I'll return on a day when the weather is reasonable along with my camera, lenses, and of course tripod to finalise the composition. I'll be considering what lens I need to use to have the effect I'm looking for, and to 'fine tune positioning of the camera. This image shows some of the considerations I'm making and as you can see the sun is indeed lighting the burn, but also casting my shadow.
3. The final image
This is the final image taken on a return visit when all the requirements were satisfied. The overall idea was that the burn flowing into the scene would 'lead' the viewer into the frame revealing a window onto the beach beyond. Note also what a difference a few clouds make!
Here, the direct light is illuminating the burn nicely without being too harsh. The pool in the foreground is well lit and the colours of the underlying rocks are emphasised. Much of the 'straggly' foreground grass has been removed from the composition by relocating the tripod slightly without introducing unwanted shadows.
Two filters were used, a 'graduated neutral density' filter simply balances the sky with the foreground, in this case also chosen to darken the sky slightly. A polariser removes reflections from the surface of the pool and clarifies the colourful rocks below the water.
Finally, you will see that a suitable combination of shutter speed and aperture has resulted in an image which is acceptably sharp from the grasses in the foreground to the cliffs in the distance. The water is slightly blurred to emphasise the flow of the burn over the rocks to the beach below.
I hope this article has shed some light (sorry) on the the process that I follow and shows that there's a little more involved that just pointing a camera and pressing the button! If you have any queries or comments, I'd love to hear from you.
Did Vincent van Gogh have a really good set of paint brushes? Probably
Durness is not renowned for it's trees. Mountains, beaches, lochs yes. Trees? no.
Well to be fair we do have some trees if you're willing to seek them out and one area of woodland is so special to me that it remains my secret!
So, occasionally I take a photographic road trip to visit forests and areas of woodland with the hope of finding a great composition but if I'm honest, mainly to get my tree fix.
Being amongst trees has always had an attraction to me. The sound of branches and leaves moving gently in a breeze, perhaps the sound of a small burn meandering it's way, all accompanied by a chorus of birdsong, it all makes for the most calming, relaxing feeling of renewal.
I quickly set up the camera on the tripod, quickly checked settings and fired the shutter. The resulting image, 'Gnarly Tree' was my one and only exposure - immediately after reviewing it on the camera's screen the sun disappeared and was absent for the remainder of the day. In actual fact, I did experiment with other compositions regardless but the position of the tree, flowing burn, and the steep bank on which I was positioned made it a difficult scene. I'm actually quite pleased with the result. I love the contrast between the branches illuminated by the sunlight and the deep shadows of the foreground and background. I even like the quirky tall grasses pointing towards the tree (something which many photographers would have 'edited out')
Shooting in woodland can be tricky, with so many visual distractions, compositions can be almost chaotic at times but at risk of using a much overused phrase this one really does 'take me back to the moment'. I hope you like it as much.
"Do you get much snow?" is a question often asked by gallery visitors. Yes and no is the usual response. Due to it's coastal location, Durness often escapes much of the heavy snowfalls but you don't have to travel far for that to change.
With the forecast suggesting that snow will change to rain in the night, I cancelled (or maybe postponed) a winter wild camping trip in favour of a day of photography at somewhat lower levels. This could be the last chance to photograph in the snow before it disappears overnight and I'm reliably informed that the drive towards Tongue is like a winter wonderland.
Sure enough, having driven over the bridge at Hope the landscape changed quite dramatically. Deep unspoiled virgin snow covered the 'Moine' and added perfect highlights to one or two local plantations. An opportunity for my return journey perhaps, but my main objective was to return to the Moine House, a location I visited in the late summer and which I thought would look amazing in the snow.
And so it was to be. The lochan was frozen, and the entire landscape covered in deep, fresh snow. Ben Loyal stood proudly in the distance looking like a scaled down alpine peak.
As I set up the tripod, the sun emerged briefly highlighting features on the distant hills, and added the final touch to an already pleasing composition.
Venturing to the southern side of the house, the larger 'Lochan nam Meur Liath' was also frozen and provided an expanse of frozen foreground with Ben Loyal in the backdrop and emphasising the vast openness of The Moine. I knew how saturated and treacherous walking can be around here and so treaded carefully, hoping not to sink knee high in bog.
As a stopping off point on such a vast open plain, the Moine House must have been a welcome sight to many a traveller in years gone by. In the total silence I stood and imagined what it would be like living here but also wondering what impact the development of a 'Spaceport' will have on the local environment.
With the light decreasing by the minute, and banks of heavy cloud gathering in the distance, I decided to head home. Trees will have to wait for another time.
Location: The Moine House, OS Explorer 447 GR 518.602
Equipment: Canon EOS6D MkII, Canon 25-104 L Series lens
We've had a week and maybe more of incredibly wet and windy weather here in Durness. Extreme weather can offer some great photographic opportunities with dark skies and sudden shaft of light creating amazing drama in such places as Loch Eriboll or the mountains of Assynt. However, when it's almost impossible to stand up against the wind and the rain is horizontal, it's sensible to realise what is and isn't possible.
No excuse then to stay indoors and catch up with some of those outstanding jobs. Reviewing images captured earlier in the year but never published, and filling those gaps on the gallery walls.
The first image I've been working on is a composition I've had in mind for so long but only managed to capture in March. It's no secret that Beinn Spionnaidh is one of my favourite mountains in the area and in late afternoon the winter light, often highlights features on it's slopes with swirling cloud adding to the drama. The remaining snow in this instance adds a little something extra.
In the frame
Gaps on the wall now filled, it only remains now to keep an eye on the weather forecast. There's talk of snow on the hills this weekend so fingers crossed . . .
Needless to say, we had a fantastic adventure and we arrived at Robin Hood's Bay with an incredible sense of achievement.
It seems unbelievable now but back then not many people in our neighbourhood had a family car. Jump nearly forty years and our roads are congested but the car gives us the ability to escape and explore new places.
Enter the North Coast 500™️ (wouldn't want to get sued!) and each year we experience thousands of people exploring the least populated and least spoiled areas in the UK, a long distance route - in a car. Following a prescribed route, the majority drive the same roads, see the same sights, and take the same photographs as everybody else who have travelled the route. That's fine, the consensus is that it's a fantastic holiday and many strike up new friendships and vow to return again.
This is an amazing place to live and work but with the benefit of time, and exploring off the beaten path, the real amazement starts. You don't have to climb mountains or disappear into the wilderness (although that's easy to do!) within a mile or two of the village can be found places which are simply jaw dropping in their beauty. Away from the roads and the traffic, these places can be enjoyed in complete peace and quiet.
I discovered this place just a couple of hundred of metres from the main road in one of the many small areas of woodland between Durness and Tongue. That's a couple of hundred metres off the NC500™️ route. I had no idea what I would find, I was simply wandering, exploring.
What I did discover was a complete joy. A small burn wandered through a birch wood, the gentle sound of running water negotiating and tumbling over rocks, I could have been miles away from civilisation. Following the burn, I unexpectedly came across a series of small waterfalls, each really pleasing in their own way. This one stopped me in my tracks. The water plunged into a pool from a height. A collection of birch leaves swirled around in circles in the current in a never ending journey, each following it's neighbour on a preset path. Accompanied by the gentle sound of the falls, I sat in what would otherwise be complete silence and simply took it all in. I'm not a particularly religious person but this place just seemed special in a spiritual way, this was one of those moments when you wonder if anybody else had ever experienced this place.
It's great to see so many new visitors come and experience the 'Far North' - afterall, for years businesses, Community Councils and various community groups wondered how to attract more visitors. What I would suggest though is that visitors take time to really experience what's beyond the windscreen. Don't be like those birch leaves in the pool, spend a few days in a handful of key places and discover your own secret falls.
Although my 'Pro' camera gear is insured to the hilt, I still like to look after it and make sure it's safe when I'm out and about. Over the years I've searched for a backpack specifically designed for photographers but which would also be as comfortable and robust as possible for my treks in the wilderness in all four seasons. That has proven more difficult than you might think.
Photo enthusiasts are often surprised that I have always restricted myself to one SLR and 3 lenses. This is because I'm often walking a reasonable distance and climbing high. In addition to camera gear, on some winter ventures I'm often carrying crampons, ice axe, and winter survival gear. This is why I decided that what I needed was a 'fit for purpose' mountain grade photo backpack.
I researched all the major manufacturers but found that most backpacks looked like suitcases with shoulder straps.
At last I've come to realise the best solution for my needs.
A backpack which has the most comfortable harness I've ever worn. Simple access to waterproofs etc, snacks, and all my essential photographic kit. Accommodates my 'mid-size' tripod either inside or outside and raincover for additional protection. What product is this? The backpack I already have!
It also means that once on location, I can fit each of these items on an accessory belt for easy access.
Why go to such trouble, afterall I've never had a camera damaged on the hill yet? Well, when carrying £3,000+ of the tools of my trade, I don't like to take chances. After all, I've never been in a serious car accident (thank goodness) but I still wear a seatbelt!
Just incase you were wondering, I have no commercial relationship with either Lowe Alpine or Lowepro. Perhaps I should!
Duniya (The World of) is a community social enterprise based in Muret, just outside Toulouse in South West France. The group’s mission is to promote art, creativity and personal development through contemporary art exhibitions, workshops, science talks, cultural evenings, and a variety of events bringing people together to share and learn.
As part of their monthly international-themed events the group will be organising a Burns’ lunch on Sunday 28 January and I'm really excited to have been invited to exhibit a collection of 20 prints of my landscape photography from NW Sutherland.
The exhibition will open on Sunday 28 January and continue until Sunday 11 February and I'll be visiting Duniya in advance to prepare the exhibition and look forward to seeing the highlights of Muret.
What is Duniya?
Duniya is originally an Arabic word that has passed to many other Asian languages. It derives from the root word “dana” that means to bring near, so duniya is “what is brought near”, more colloquially “in the world of”. The group chose the word as it suggests the idea of sharing and learning – two essential principles of our group. The Panjabi version of this word (as seen in their logo) reflects the background of their co-founder and Chair.
The exhibition space at Duniya (The World of)
I've always framed my own work. Why? Well, the idea of having complete control of my work from pressing the shutter, printing the image, and mounting and framing the final product appeals to me. It allows me to ensure that the work I sell is always presented to a high standard.
I also offer a framing service to individuals and other local artists working to the same high standards. I thought a short article on what to consider when having an item framed, or when buying ready framed artwork might be useful
My frames are made from lengths of wood (moulding) in various finishes from natural timbers to black, silver and more specialised finishes. Wherever possible, I source moulding which is 'Forestry Stewardship Council' ™ certified. The frame should be chosen to compliment the artwork and not distract the viewer away from it. It should be also be of a width which doesn't 'overcrowd' the image.
What to look out for:
The matte (window mount) is a piece of mountboard with a 'window' cut into it which sits on top of the artwork and ensures that the glass isn't in contact with it. This needs to be cut with precision such that the space at the top and sides of the frame are equal, and the space at the bottom of the frame slightly larger. If you see artwork with wider spacing at the sides than the top, then the frame probably wasn't made specifically for that artwork.
There are different grades of mountboard and if the artwork is of value, you may wish to insist on the use of conservation grade materials.
What to look out for:
With the exception of some original work on canvas, to protect the artwork, it should be under glass. Cheaper frames often use acrylic (basically perspex). I exclusively use glass in my framing work. I find that acrylic attracts dust which can make the task of excluding dust in the framing process difficult. Cleaning acrylic is problematic too - the more you wipe it with a cloth, the more static it builds up and the more dust it attracts, a vicious circle. Acrylic is also of course more prone to scratching. Finally (and perhaps surprisingly) acrylic tends to have a higher gloss than glass and so can lead to more reflections interfering with the viewing of the artwork.
What to look out for:
The completed frame should be sealed with tape. This was once done with pre-gummed brown tape but self adhesive tapes are now more popular. This final seal allows the contents of the frame to be protected from the outside atmosphere (dampness in the air, chemical traces from carpets etc) and also stops those annoying little harvest bugs from getting in there.
The frame should be fitted with a hanging arrangement suitable for the size of frame. Cord or wire may be used but this must be capable of carrying the weight of the complete frame.
What to look out for:
A holiday momento
A customer brought a set of three beautiful needlework art cards by Durness artist, Sarah Fuller into the gallery for framing. Together we choose a suitable frame which wouldn't 'over-power' the artwork. A colour for the frame was chosen which complimented some of the materials used. This ensures that the viewer can appreciate the artwork without being distracted by the frame. Finally (although it's difficult to illustrate here) the work is mounted such that it appears to be 'floating' and most importantly, without the glass touching it.
The economics of it all
What does all this cost? Well, the cost of materials often isn't huge, the choice of frame (moulding) will have the greatest influence on cost. However, picture framing is hugely time consuming, particularly if something bespoke (like floating frames, Football shirts etc) is involved. As a guideline, it will usually take me two hours (excluding drying time) to mount and frame artwork in a simple frame.
A typical A3+ double mounted, framed print in the Cairn House Gallery typically costs £80. This is approximately what it would cost for the framing alone in your local city framing shop.
Original artwork, displayed in a bespoke frame which will protect it for a lifetime, I can't help think that's good value?
Interested in learning more?
If you live in Sutherland or Caithness and have something which you might like framing, no matter how unusual, please get in touch. If you are a local artist or craftsperson, I would be happy to discuss wholesale pricing for multiple orders.
Following seemingly weeks of weather more suited to November than June or July, a forecast of still and bright days is enough to tempt me once again off the beaten track. The exertion of getting up high and experiencing some of the most unusual landscape in the UK is like a drug.
During my time registering a community interest in land at Cape Wrath, a comment was made online that there are no areas of true wilderness in the UK. I beg to differ. I planned a short-ish walk to visit Creag Riabhach on the edge of the 'Pharph' and taking in Meall na Mòine on my return. Having negotiated miles of the obligatory bog and peat hags, the sheer expanse of lonely wild land opened up before me. Apart from distant radio towers, there was no sign of human activity as far as the eye could see.
These journeys are to explore prospects for new work, seeking out interesting views of familiar landmarks, or often compositions with their own merit. The above panorama (a combination of a dozen portrait shots) shows Fashven in the far distance and the coast towards Sandwood Bay. You could explore this area for days on end without encountering another soul. If this is not wilderness then what is?
On these trips I tend to travel light with my EOS 100D and a single lens which limits the possibilities somewhat but gives me an idea of what might be possible.
Foinaven shrouded in cloud. This small lochan provided some foreground interest. A possible return visit?
Some interesting outcrops of rock along the summit ridge of Creag Riabhach added a little relief from the dampness underfoot! Views of Sandwood Bay in the distance.
A client on one of my recent 'Learning in the Landscape' courses commented that some of the features we had visited within a couple of miles of the car would have been the highlight of a long days walking in the Lake District or somewhere similar. Whilst I love the Lake District, I can't disagree with that sentiment.
Just when it was starting to look like Spring was with us, we've had 24 hour periods of rain and wind. However, ever optimistic, the days are gradually growing longer, even here at 58 degrees North.
I've been reviewing my list of locations to revisit. Places where I've been but didn't have the right kit with me (shame on you I hear you say), the light wasn't quite right, or perhaps just one of those days when it just didn't come together.
Towards the top of the list is Fyrish Monument. This curious structure can be seen from the A9 high on the skyline above Evanton. I have a monochrome print of this in the gallery and it's a frequent topic of conversation with visitors. The monument was built (or rather commissioned) in 1783 by Sir Hector Munro who had been commander of British Forces in India. On his return to the Highlands the 'Clearances' were underway and many people were starving. He decided that the building a replica of 'The Gates of Negapatam', a relic which he had come across on his travels, would be a good job creation scheme for local people in an effort to help them avoid destitution.
Looking through the files from my last visit, I remember not quite being able to achieve the composition I was wanting and then having to descend before it became dark!
What better time to revisit now that I have a new lens to play with. More Canon 'L' Series glass to my collection, the Canon EF 17-40 mm f/4.0 L USM Ultra-Wide Angle Canon EF Zoom Lens might just do the job.
So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some decent weather and a good day on the hill doing what I enjoy most.