As a working photographer these days, my portfolio is pretty varied. Amongst those I shoot for I can number a hospice, several small charities, a large sports organization, and someone who sells industrial heating units. I also do various jobs that can be lumped under the heading of “event photography”. Who needs to do christenings and weddings? Mind you, I’ve even done one of those quite recently too! I’ve also recently shot motorsport, some music gigs and one of the country’s largest gatherings of Morris dancers. Like I said, varied.
The perceptive reader of this blog (hello you!) will note, however, that I’ve not put “landscape photography” on my list. It’s not that I’ve been doing none of it: I have a couple of local walks alongside my local stretch of the River Medway that I photograph sometimes several times a week. However, I tend to leave it off my list because it is the one part of my work that nowadays I do almost exclusively for my own pleasure. That wasn’t always the case, and, I’m happy to say, some of my back-catalogue of mountain landscapes etc is occasionally still quite popular.
And moreover, a part of me is just quietly grateful, a) because landscape photography seems to have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and b) because I’ve had a couple of occasions recently where I’ve been out to take photos “for pleasure” and found, to my horror, that I could not do the scene justice with what I was capturing on the camera.
I shoot an area well known for the extent of its spring bluebells, pretty much every spring. Last year, I got hopelessly lost in it, and quite literally stumbled upon an substantial area of mature beech forest full of bluebells, that previously I knew nothing about. This spring, I made a direct bee-line for it, and it didn’t disappoint.
Under the shade of large, mature trees in early spring leaf, really big swathes of bluebells always, to my eye, look other-worldly. Against the predominantly browns, greys and greens of a woodland scene, the various blues of bluebells take on an almost ethereal quality. “Various blues?” I hear you query. Yes, in changing light, or in shade compared to in the open, dense patches of bluebells can range from an almost royal or cerulean blue through to a quite vivid shade of, oh, what shall we call it? Violet? The old children’s paint-box names for the colours that so often give us our frame of reference (particularly if we are of a certain age) don’t help sometimes. Of course, the individual flowers themselves are all pretty much of the same hue. It’s what the light does with them collectively that tricks the eye into seeing what probably isn’t really there.
The two photos accompanying this blog are both from that day, and both largely un-edited, to give you an indication of the variety I mean.
I read recently that bluebells are devilish hard to shoot with modern digital camera sensors. Well, that’s rather the same comment I clearly recall being discussed endlessly by colour film users, fifteen and more years ago. Those film arguments mostly seemed to end up with an admission that, while the shots might have been well-composed, satisfying landscape studies at one level, they just didn’t do justice to what the photographer thought he or she was actually seeing. That is to say, the developed film when it came back, was a disappointment.
Well, just as digital has taken the waiting out of wanting, and made delayed (photographic) gratification mostly a thing of the past, so too has it made comparable disappointments almost instantaneous.
I sat in my woods, in raptures at the scene spread before me, marveling on my good fortune with the day’s light, the profusion of flowers, the silence, and so on. And simultaneously, I was in pangs of anguish that neither of my two cameras seemed capable of doing any real justice to what I was seeing. Or what I thought I was seeing. I sat for an hour at one point, drinking in the scene, so that at least I’d have vivid memories, even if not vivid photographs to take home.
Sure, I consoled myself, a few simple tweaks in the computer might recreate my reality. Yet I was wrong. I’d gone out that day with brand new specs, so nothing at fault with my eyesight. (Nothing in the short term at least. The longer term story there will await another blog, I think.)
I’m still drawing lessons and conclusions from that day. Never before have I been so conscious of that old adage about “beauty being in the eye of the beholder”. But I definitely came away from the woods grateful that I was not making my living from landscape photography!