Branding in Landscape Photography

•May 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Solitude - Explored

From the lowly beginner to the semi-professional, it seems that the majority of photographers are doing it these days. What am I talking about? Watermarks on digital images of course, which usually take the form of a stylised logo. The reasons behind this are at least twofold.

Firstly, there is the fear of image theft, or unauthorised use. A reasonable fear because it does happen…a lot. Secondly, many landscape photographers like to build an identifiable ‘brand’ to make them appear more professional to the general public. Have they really thought it through or just used the reasoning that “That’s what professional photographers do isn’t it”? I can understand why wedding or event photographers would want to build their ‘brand’, they are, after all, almost entirely commercial ventures, but isn’t landscape photography art? It is viewed as such in America but not so much here in Britain. I think many of my British counterparts also feel that their work is art, but if they don’t approach their photography as such then it’s little wonder that in this country we lag behind our transatlantic cousins. If we don’t value our work for what it is then is it not unreasonable to expect anyone else to either?

Yes, I really can’t stand the idea of branding in Landscape photography, but in its defence I will say this; in an age where the art is awash with folk taking the same photographs of the same places, using the same processing methods it enables viewers, at a glance, to see who actually took the shot! Food for thought, but a different subject for a different day maybe!

It’s true that there are some god awful photographs out there replete with logos. They are so bad that the likelihood of them being stolen is woefully small, but there are also some very accomplished people cheapening their work in this way. As with most ‘artists’, ego plays a part. Whether consciously or not, photographers like to feel special (I’m no different in that respect), and a groovy logo helps…or so they would like to think.

I refuse to put a logo on my images. Let me tell you why you will never see a logo adorning my work. I am not in the least bit bothered by the thought of someone making unauthorised use of them. They do it often, and if I find out about it a strongly worded request to desist usually works. If it doesn’t then where possible I send them a bill. However, image security is the least of my worries.

The biggest issue for me is my motivation for taking photographs. At the risk of repeating myself, the overriding reason for my photographic endeavours is to express my love and respect for my subject. The landscape is the star, not me. The landscapes I operate in are (in every way) much more impressive and interesting than I am and have taught me a modicum of humility. They inspire me; they move me. The branding in my photography is there for all to see, but it doesn’t take the form of a corporate logo; it is unthinkable for me to brand my work as if it were a packet of biscuits or a bottle of toilet cleaner. My aim has always been to develop a recognisable style so that anyone seeing one of my images can say “Yes, that’s a Livesey” without the need for any extraneous cues. I am not so naive to think that art and commerce are mutually exclusive, but I find it wholly distasteful to so blatantly marry the two. Think about it for a moment…

Before I go (the pub is sounding a clarion call) I’d like to say that this post has been written in an effort to encourage some thought and consideration from my fellow landscape photographers. I would urge those just starting out, who think that branding is an essential part of the process because everyone else seems to be doing it, to look at the online presence of some of the leading lights of the British scene, Joe Cornish, Colin Prior and Charlie Waite to name but three.

Tell me what you see…
Late Light on Llewelyn - Explored

The Rhyd Ddu Effect

•May 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

My heart leaps up - Moel Hebog from across Llyn Cwellyn
I have often wondered how certain places can inspire particular emotions in me, especially here in Snowdonia where every valley has its own atmosphere, every mountain its own personality. I’m almost certain these emotions are mental constructs; born out of the conditioning I have been subject to from the time I was conscious enough to form memories. Or is it that there is something inherent in these places that inspires something within me that I don’t understand? Is there a deep rooted connection that generations of modernity has tried, but failed, to breed out of me? Either way, the result is the same and regardless of the atmospheric conditions, which also play a large part in how a place feels, every mountain range I walk or climb on speaks to me in a very different way.

In Ogwen and on its mountains I feel primeval, like a caveman fuelled by instinct, bereft of reason, and in the wild Rhinogydd even more so, positively troglodytic in fact!

Conversely, in Nant Gwynant I become kind, tender and romantic, in much the same way I do when in certain Lakeland valleys. I imagine a little homestead and a simple life of tending the land and my flock with an earthy, beautiful woman and our children, wishing nothing more than to spend my forever there.

On Snowdon, in her cwms or on her sky-slung ridges I bear witness to supreme majesty, knowing humility and exaltation all at once. No other mountain in Britain –and I have climbed one or two- has come close to giving me a similar experience, that which borders on the religious.

Above are just a few examples of what I‘m on about, but there are many more.

Lately, and with a baffling frequency, I have been drawn to an area so unique in ‘feel’ that to me it has become almost drug-like. I just can’t keep away. Its epicentre is Rhyd Ddu, a sleepy village nestling beneath Snowdon’s quiet western defences. There is a duality in the dimensions of this place, or more correctly the feeling it engenders in me. In the valley, this feeling, which I will describe anon, extends in a narrower compass than it does when on the mountains which surround it. As long as I can see Rhyd Ddu I can maintain an emotion peculiar to this ‘place’.

For instance, I don’t feel this particular way in Betws Garmon, Beddgelert or beyond the pass of Drws y Coed, but I do on Moel Eilio, Moel Hebog, Mynydd Mawr or even Snowdon herself. It’s a bit of a ‘head scratcher’ but rather than ponder too much I just immerse myself in the landscape, listen intently and enjoy the places it unlocks within me.

So how does the ‘Rhyd Ddu Effect’ manifest itself? Well, for a start it makes me feel very peaceful and remote from worldly woes, or on a bad day it at very least dulls their effect on my psyche. Rhyd Ddu feels remote; forgotten but enchanted, it is redolent of magic and a folklore that is rich beyond almost any other area of Britain. And indeed magic is the prevalent law there, or so it seems to me. Sit beside Llyn y Dywarchen of an evening as the last rays illuminate Snowdon and tell me it’s not so, or ride the wild wind on Mynydd Drws y Coed one stormy day. In some places, spirits have flown…here, they are flying still. They are playful but not malicious, and with a keen ear and open mind you might hear them too. They like to inspire.

For those of you with more earthbound sensibilities, stately mountains, relative solitude and scenery that makes even the coldest heart ache should be enough reason to encourage you to sample the ‘Rhyd Ddu Effect’…just don’t tell everyone about it!
The Nantlle Ridge

Llyn Dywarchen

On Heartbreak Ridge

The coming of a Snowdonian Summer

Weather - Snowdonia

Stormbringer

Wish you were here...

On Mynydd Drws y Coed

One year on – Remembering the Welland Valley

•May 6, 2014 • 2 Comments

Summer's last gasp?
Today marks an anniversary for me, though not a celebratory one, for it is a year to the day that I bade farewell to Rockingham in my beloved Welland Valley. Saying goodbye to friends, my job and a woman that I still adore was one of most traumatic experiences of my life. Leaving was extremely painful, I was numb but knew that if I let the grass grow under my feet I would get stuck in a rut and fester in Peterborough, a town I had long since fallen out of love with. It took me four days from leaving my home in Rockingham to arriving in Snowdonia, alone, shell-shocked and disbelieving to begin a new chapter in my life.

For over a decade it had been an impossible dream for me to come and live in these mountains, but a year later, here I am with lots of wonderful new friends and a photography career going from strength to strength…I only wish I hadn’t had to follow this dream alone. It wasn’t meant to be like this, but nothing lasts forever and life sometimes moves in surprising and unpredictable ways.

So yes, today I have been thinking about people I may never see again and the place itself which, love it as I do, I’m not sure I could return to, the memories are excruciating and as vivid now as they were the day I left. Though it was my home for three amazing years, I suppose I just don’t belong there anymore. People move on with their lives; if only I could too.

I grew up in Peterborough, a city endowed with many superb green-spaces but I always envied those who lived in villages. When I got the opportunity to move to Rockingham I had to pinch myself. That move coincided with a burgeoning interest in landscape photography. I’d always carried a camera in the mountains but back in Peterborough there wasn’t that much to inspire me to develop my photography; in Rockingham, however, I quickly realised that although there were no mountains, there was beautiful landscapes in abundance, and the gateway to these places was my own back door.

I lost no time in exploring the surrounding countryside and as I didn’t then drive my explorations were on foot and soon I began to develop an intimate knowledge of the valley. In a rough triangle formed by the Langtons in the west, Harringworth in the east and north to Uppingham I walked countless miles acquainting myself with my ‘new’ home.

There was so much to discover; country roads led me through quaint villages, miles of public footpaths guided me to secret places hidden from view and the Jurassic Way had me eyeing a limestone escarpment which in turn, via remnants of the ancient Rockingham Forest, delivered me onto my favourite hill which I named ‘Livesey Pike’.

And then there was the man made contributions to the scene; the magnificent Welland Viaduct, Eyebrook Reservoir and the Rockingham Castle Estate, almost literally my back garden on which I regularly trespassed during the golden hours of dawn and dusk.

As my wanderings progressed and my photography improved it became clear while looking at other local photographer’s work that I had tapped into something they had missed. It took a while to figure it out but when I did it revealed to me the secret of landscape photography, the thing that magazines and online tutorials never tell you.

I worked in Corby, a tough ex steel-town which in recent years has started to find its feet after decades of degeneration. Every day, while walking home I would eagerly await a special moment, the moment when upon reaching the top of Rockingham Hill I would in front of me, see a vast panorama of the Welland Valley; Home. Without fail, that view (which haunts me still) filled me with joy, knowing that in ten minutes I would be down there with the love of my life and all thoughts of the bustling town I had left behind completely forgotten. The penny had dropped…I was taking memorable photographs of home because I profoundly loved the place. It spoke to me and I listened; I opened my heart to it, embraced it as my own and felt its pulse through the 12 seasons I was lucky enough to spend there. It is a wonderful and still largely undiscovered place which will remain sacred to me, if tainted, for the rest of my life. It is there that I learned the true meaning of love and the heartbreak that is the price we sometimes pay. It is also where I became a photographer and learned another lesson which, for landscape photographers is the most important of all…if you don’t love the landscape, move on until you find a landscape that moves you to that most beautiful of emotions.
Tracks

 

 

 

Welland Viaduct from Seaton

 

 

 

Decisions decisions

 

 

 

Beast

 

 

 

Rockingham Castle

 

 

 

Path

 

 

 

The Plantation

 

 

 

Thoughts of Hitchcock

 

 

 

Take me home

 

 

 

The Harringworth Poppies

 

 

 

Standing Alone

 

 

 

Stoke Dry, soon to become Stoke wet!

 

 

 

Logs

 

 

 

Christmas Floods - The Welland Viaduct

 

 

 

Bailey

 

 

 

Home Sweet Home

 

 

 

Rockingham Ice

 

 

 

Rush Hour in Rockngham

 

 

 

Rockingham Forest

 

 

 

Time to take cover - Explored

 

 

 

Winter Mist - In full colour!

 

 

 

A winter evening at The Castle

 

 

 

Rockingham Sunset

 

 

 

The forest floor

 

 

 

Rockingham Pony - Explored

 

 

 

Simplicity

 

 

 

A touch of frost

 

 

 

Early Autumn

 

 

 

Ynys bach

 

 

 

The Valley aglow

 

 

 

The Willows

 

 

 

Welland Valley Winter

 

 

 

The gathering storm

 

 

 

Nature's vast pallete

 

 

 

Morning breaks in the Welland Valley

 

 

 

Four of a kind

 

 

 

Light Trail - Rockingham Forest

 

 

 

After the rain

 

 

 

Harringworth Dawn

 

A sense of place

•April 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Golden Memories Cwm Bochlwyd
For me, there can be few more pleasurable ways to spend a day than climbing sun-kissed mountain rock under a blue sky with soothing zephyrs caressing your skin. It’s a return to childhood where grown men and women play just for the sake of playing; a legitimate excuse to be who we really are with no one there to laugh or look disapprovingly through the jaundiced eye of conformity. Yesterday was one of those days. Georg and I went to the Idwal Buttress and solo climbed on rough, grippy rock before wandering across to the Cneifion Arête, surely one of the most beautiful climbs in Britain. It’s a route I always wanted to do with someone I used to know. Sadly, we never got around to doing it and for the third time in four days I found myself walking down the Gribin Ridge thinking about them.

I adore the Gribin and have been up and down it umpteen times over the years but, strangely, it had been four years since my last visit. On that day I was introducing that certain someone to the narrow arêtes of Snowdonia. We had a wonderful day and photographs show us sitting together on a ledge in the first flush of love. When I came upon that ledge it shook me to my core. I’m not ashamed to say that I sat and wept as I recalled some of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Later, I climbed up onto the summit of Glyder Fawr and then came down the same way hoping to catch some light on Tryfan which lies across Cwm Bochlwyd. It didn’t happen but one of my mini obsessions had started and the very next evening I returned, repeating my ascent of the False Gribin and once again spending an hour on ’that’ ledge.

Most of my time spent in the mountains is spent alone and usually at times or in places where it is rare to see other people. These special places, loved by many, feel completely different when you are alone in them, especially at dawn or dusk. People give me funny looks when I’m going up as they’re coming down but coming from a mountaineering background I never feel in any danger while up there during the quiet hours. What I do feel is a very strong connection to the landscape as my thoughts, emotions and the mountains themselves coalesce to take me to a state of being which transcends the more mundane parts of my life. My consciousness is expanded in a way that years of drug abuse never managed to achieve and my worldly woes, though still present, are seen in a truer perspective. On our ledge I sat on a rock which has probably not moved for 10,000 years. Countless others will have sat there and many more will in the future. It’s a tiny plot of land in a huge arena of rock, insignificant to most but sacred to me.

I sometimes wonder if we who spend time in the mountains leave a part of ourselves there, or some of our energy which remains after we’ve gone home. Could it be that on that joyous day of four years ago a little of who we were then remains in situ, waiting to be felt by others? Sitting there with tears in my eyes it was difficult, if not impossible to tap into that energy, if it was ever there at all.

I would love to believe that we do leave something of our passage through the wild places but over the years I have spent climbing the mountains of Snowdonia I have increasingly come to believe the opposite to be true. Rather than us adding something to these ancient landscapes, it is the landscapes that add something to us; we leave nothing, but take away a lot which we carry with us even when the mountains are distant. That’s how it was with me and now that I live in those mountains I feel it even more keenly.

Could you be thinking, “What has this got to do with photography”? If you are, then let me assure you that it has everything to do with photography, or at the very least, my approach to it. The places I photograph mean something to me; they are a large part of who I am. I don’t see them as beautiful but random acts of geology, or objects to add to my photographic collection. They have inspired in me almost every human emotion imaginable. On the hills I’ve experienced sadness, exaltation, pride, fear, relief, gratitude, love, humility and a very real insight into my own mortality.

 

Although it would be nice to visit all the amazing places the world has to offer and photograph them, I know that I could never do them justice because as wonderful as they undoubtedly are, they mean nothing to me; they have nothing to do with what makes me who I am, they are not a part of my story. Through my photography I am trying to tell my story, the story of a lost soul who found salvation in nature. My relationship with the mountains is not a passing fancy and the mountains are not just an interesting subject to point my camera at. No, for over a decade they have been the one constant in my life and whether I am happy or sad they are my first ports of call, giving their all but asking nothing in return, only that I spend time with them.

On returning to the first paragraph of this piece, it was wonderful to spend time with my friend Georg and share the camaraderie of the rope, but come late afternoon I needed some quiet time to commune alone with my muse and once again sit on a summit, scanning every horizon reliving happy days spent in the Welsh highlands of Eryri. For those of you who reside in towns or cities, imagine floating on high surveying the place where you spent your formative years, tracing your comings and goings as if on a map and the memories those tracings would evoke. A solitary vigil on Yr Aran that evening was a similar exercise.

Landscape photography must surely be about the relationship between the photographer and the landscape and the emotional response that one inspires in the other. If it isn’t then I am doing it wrong…
My Life

March Muse

•March 31, 2014 • 4 Comments

Gloywlyn
Many years ago, in another life, I was a musician. Music consumed my entire being and looking back I now know that music, and especially song writing was my way of communicating something of my real self to the outside world, an expression of things I could never quite articulate with words alone. Strangely, I was always most productive when I’d been hurt or was feeling lost and dissatisfied with life.
20 years on, I still need a way of channelling my emotional responses to life’s ups and downs, only now, I do it through photographing the mountains of Snowdonia. The past 11 months since I upped sticks and moved to Snowdonia have been in turn incredibly difficult and very rewarding. In February I was probably the happiest I have been in a very long time and everything was going right for me. In most areas of my life it still is, but at the beginning of March I received some news that really upset me and threatened to drown me in a pool of despair. It still hurts and will continue to do so but I need to fight back and the past month has reminded me of those dark days of many years ago when I would pour myself into songs.
Rather than let my sadness cripple me, I have taken to the mountains and coast obsessively in an attempt to find solace and perspective. Upon reviewing my work from the last few weeks I have noticed that my mood and emotional state is palpable in the images I have captured. They talk of the bitter-sweet contradiction of beautiful, peaceful moments spent alone in amazing places and the dull, gnawing ache that comes with yearning for a certain someone to share them with.
The mountains and sea are timeless. They remind me of how little time we have on this planet and the massive conflict I feel between seizing today and the bitter regret of missed opportunities and broken dreams.
Unless you are emotionally numb or unwilling to listen, the landscapes of North Wales will tell you everything there is to know about the human condition even if their message is sometimes a hard one to swallow.
Yesterday I was on Rhinog Fawr, looking over to Y Llethr where almost a year ago this chapter of my life began. I couldn’t look for long as I was with a friend and in me it generated a sorrow that shook me to the core.
Tomorrow, I will go back there alone and let the landscape, my inner turmoil and my hopes for the future fight it out. When the dust settles I hope to come home with an image that is symbolic of closing the circle, an exorcism that for me, only the mountains can perform.
Reflecting on Solitude - The Padarn Tree

 

 

 

Shivering Dawn - Winter returns to Snowdonia

 

 

 

Where mountains meet the sea - The Rivals from Dinas Dinlle

 

 

 

Llyn Dywarchen

 

 

 

Wish you were here...

 

 

 

Winter's retreat

 

 

 

On Heartbreak Ridge

 

 

 

On the Beach

 

 

 

Contemplation - Llyn y Cwn

 

 

 

Snowdon Glow

The ‘real’ secret of successful landscape photography

•February 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

New Beginnings

In this blog post I am going to share with you the most important ingredient of successful landscape photography. I can tell you now that it isn’t what camera you own, what lens or which software you use to process your images. Nor is it particularly about understanding the ‘exposure triangle’ of shutter speed, aperture and ISO, though in the long term the technical aspects should become second nature. Before I go on, allow me to add a little context.

Anyone who knows me personally will tell you that I have lots to say if asked about photography and photographers. Many would say I am opinionated and they would of course be right, although I prefer the word passionate. Yes, I am passionate, extremely so, but not particularly about photography. I find photography itself a rather boring subject and I shake my head in despair sometimes when I look at photographic forums or groups on facebook.

If you have a look you’ll find the gear freaks and maybe see a picture of a beer bottle, festooned with condensation and captioned “Bokeh test with my f/1.8 lens”. You’ll also come across the collectors (the photographic equivalent of train spotters) with their endless photos of Buachaille Etive Mor, the view of Snowdon from Llynau Mymbyr or that jetty on Derwent Water, replete with 10 stop filtering. Worst of all are the ‘Turd Polishers’, with their psychedelic, tone-mapped monstrosities which elicit gasps from friends and worse still, fellow ‘togs’ who seem to have an endless supply of banal comments, my personal favourite being “Amazing capture”!
Like many folk who share the same interest or hobby, photographers tend to flock together and enjoy sharing their enthusiasm. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact it’s rather nice, but often, when in the company of other ‘togs’, I soon glaze over and realise that I’m no more a part of their world than I am a member of the Society of Tea-Totalitarians!
Take the other day for instance; I was on duty at the ‘Soul of Snowdonia’ Gallery and in walks two lads. After a few minutes we get talking and the first question one of them asks me is “What set up do you use”? Of course I told him and we chatted until they left. “What set up do you use”? Do you think that is in any way a relevant question? I certainly don’t, or to put it another way; if you were an artist and was able to travel back in time to meet Salvador Dali would you ask him “What brushes do you use”? Of course you wouldn’t…
Some of you may be thinking “Each to his own” or “As long as they enjoy it…” etc. To that I would say a hearty “Amen brother” (or sister should I be getting too gender specific)! But the point of this post is to give you, in my humble opinion, the secret of great landscape photography. I’m not talking about enjoying a nice hobby, I’m talking about creating landscape photographs which not only stand out from the crowd but stand the test of time. If you’d rather not know then look away now. First, ask yourself this question…why am I taking landscape photographs? If your answer is anything to do with photography then you’re barking up the wrong tree.
In Britain it’s unfashionable to regard landscape photography as art, but I am firmly of the opinion that it is most definitely an art form. Any art, and all good art in particular is (or should be) an expression of emotion, be it painting, sculpture, music or whatever. Successful art is that which inspires an emotional response in the viewer or listener. How can an artist expect their work to achieve this if, in the first instance, it is not emotion that drives them to create?
If you were to talk to any of the top landscape photographers (and I am not one of them I hasten to add), you will find one thing that they all have in common, which is an abiding love for the landscape itself and a very real need to communicate that love. You won’t hear them banging on about lenses or photoshop; what you will hear is people talking passionately about how their subject matter makes them feel. Love for your subject can’t be learned but is essential if you are to make great photographs. It is the foundation, the prime motivation and the thing that must be felt before you even think about picking up a camera. Without love, you are taking part in a technical exercise and that is not art…good landscape photography however, is.

On Mynydd Drws y Coed

The Carneddau Ponies

•December 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Friends in high places
On a bleak and desolate range of mountains in what came to be known as Eryri, can be found a herd of wild ponies which, are genetically unique and said to be Britain’s oldest breed. These hardy creatures have roamed the Carneddau for two and a half thousand years, enduring extremes of temperature that no human being could survive without recourse to some form of weather-proof shelter. Many times I have seen them on the high Carneddau, stoically bearing the brunt of a storm in which my friends and I could barely stand. While scurrying off the mountain, shielding our eyes from the onslaught, there, they remained, impassive and unconcerned.

Last winter however, was a harsh one and Mother Nature dealt a cruel blow with around one hundred ponies succumbing to arctic conditions. This was more than a ‘mighty’ king could achieve when, in Tudor times, Henry the VIII ordered their extermination; their diminutive size meant they were incapable of carrying a knight in full armour, rendering them useless in the eyes of the king.

I consider myself very fortunate to see them regularly on my walks in the Eastern Carneddau and familiarity, rather than breeding contempt, has fostered in me an abiding affection for these beautiful animals. Surely, all who love these ponies hope that this coming winter will be kinder to them than the last one.
Shadowfax - Eryri Enchanted

 

 

High Horses - Explored

 

 

The Horse Whisperer