I am delighted to introduce talented British landscape photographer Roy Carr as a new, regular writer for the artistscribbles team. In this, his first article for our site, Roy describes the process behind capturing the perfect shot. As viewers we often see only the finished product – the one photo that made the cut. Here, Roy shows us, in his wonderfully lyrical prose, how much effort, preparation, skill and dedication goes into achieving his art.
Watch, wait – hope for the light. Look closer and then look closer again. What can you see? What pulls you in and invites you to make, not take, a picture.
As I approach the top of Stanage Edge, one March evening, the sky lays flat and hazy. The landscape fades behind it, barely distinct. Perhaps not a night for photography. Still I rise, ever hopeful. The excitement of possibility is there.
Climbers descend, retreating from the wind and weather sculpted rock. And still I rise. That possibility is there. Other photographers are there at the top, lazily click, click, clicking – their memory cards not so slowly filling. They do not stay long. They go as the light and the temperature begin to drop.
I work my way along the Edge hunting for a composition that will pull me into the landscape. Tonight, for once, my walk is not so far – the rocks call after just a few hundred yards.
Out comes my tripod, slowing me down to the speed of meditation, inviting me to consider what I want to capture. No rush here. What goes in? What stays out? I set the tripod close to the ground, lured by the texture of the grit-stone. I mount my camera, carefully levelling it with my spirit level as I work toward a composition. Eye to the viewfinder. Not right. I walk focus my camera and tripod (no zoom lens here), refining the elements and levelling it once again. Better, but not right. Adjust. Change. Level. Better still. Adjust. Change. Level. The composition arrives. The elements fall into place. I mount my filter holder on front of the lens, and gently slide in my graduated filter until its dark upper begins to balance the light sky against the dark foreground of the rocks, helping the camera to make the correct exposure.
And now the wait. I have taken control of the things I can control, but it is time for nature to play her uncontrollable role. Excitement and fear mingle. Will the haze persist and deny me or will the sky clear to make my image. The temperature drops. I put on another layer of clothes. The temperature drops further. I rub my hands vigorously to fend off the cold and pull my hood tighter, watching, waiting, hoping.
And still I wait.
Tonight the weather gods smile at long last. I work to make my picture, adjusting my filters and exposure to balance the light. Tonight I make my image.
The camera hunt for hares has proved hopeless. They lie dead still in their forms, shrouded by the morning mist, oblivious to the gaze of the lens, dissolving my plans.
The mist draws me into her folds. What is it Robert Macfarlane writes? “You need to look for disturbances to the expected, be alert to unforseen interaction” (1) I cast around me, formulating new plans, new ideas, as my camera bag weighs heavy on my hips.
The dry stone walls call. Lichen clad rocks, each one weighed and considered by a human hand, melded together, snaking through the landscape, defining and dividing The Peak District.
Amid the mist, adjacent to the wall, loom the four ancient sentinels, survivors of the Nines Stones, punctuated by an incongruous farm trailer. And on the other side of the wall, a mist laden tree, leafless, almost silhouetted in the low light. Elements for a composition.
Out comes the tripod and I enter into my familiar routine. Mount the camera. Level. Check the composition. Not right. Move. Level the camera. Check the composition. Better but not right. Move. And so it goes on until at last my tripod rests precariously on the wall, the composition pulling together stones, tree, wall and mist.
Out come the filters, balancing the relative light of the sky against the other elements, allowing my camera to retain detail across the scene. Click! Check the exposure, adjust and click again. Check the exposure. Adjust the exposure and click again. At last the image is made.
The scene before me, bleached of colour by the mist, cries out for a monochrome, that deceptively simple, most traditional of photographic forms, which carries its own particular power. Strip an image of colour and there are fewer distractions, emphasising shape and texture, evoking mood. I think often of the distinction between television and radio. Monochrome, like radio, leaves room for the imagination in a way that colour rarely does.
To make a monochrome demands work at home in front of a laptop, where software emulates the processes of the dark room. Dodging and burning (lightening and darkening) parts of an image, leading the viewer’s eye through the composition. Pulling out detail to further emphasise shape and texture whilst trying, as best I can, to remain true to the image in my head when I released the shutter, conveying a sense and mood of place.
- Robert Macfarlane is for me the pre-eminent contemporary writer on the interaction of man and the natural world. He makes acute observations, encouraging us all to stop and look closely and carefully, and weaves it with social history, a fine ear for the spoken language into a poetic prose which speaks to me of landscape. This quote is taken from his book The Old Ways published by Penguin.
Words and Photography: Roy Car
Introduction and layout: Beck @artistscribbles
Categories: Art Diaries