The River – Chapter Two


I said last time that I’d carry my thoughts about photographing my local stretch of the River Medway into a second instalment of this blog. This is it.

These are “interesting times” for me photographically, particularly in relation to what I shoot for pleasure. There is a saying that “the harder you practice, the luckier you get”. There’s a great article about that saying, and its origin here .

Well, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to practice lately, because this is traditionally not a busy time of year for my commercial work, and global warming has (so far at least) given me conditions out on my regular Medway walks that have occasionally bettered those I had in high summer! And of course, with that extra “practice” has come big servings of its accompanying “luck”.

On reflection, though, I actually don’t know why this surprises me as much as it seems to. My regular reader here will know that I’ve been lucky to spend quite a lot of time up mountains in my time. In February 1986 (which it pains me to realise is coming up 30 years ago now!) I and a bunch of my best friends were based near Fort William in Scotland on one of our many adventures. This one just happened to coincide with what is generally acknowledged as probably the best spell of winter mountaineering weather in contemporary record. Expecting typically dreich Scottish February weather, I’d only taken enough for one roll of film per day of our stay,  and just my 28mm lens on my Nikon F3/T camera. Those constraints on me today would be almost unbearable.

On Ben Nevis, February 1986

On Ben Nevis, February 1986

My “luck” extended to dozens of shots every day like this. I was reminded of it in a conversation with Mike, who is the guy in the photo, when we met just a few weeks back. Even I’d have to admit that being in the right place at the right time for eight continuous days is pushing one’s luck!

I’ve come to expect that the frequency of my Medway walks will sometimes reward me with the occasional above-average photo, but you never can tell. As I think I’ve alluded before to another “eternal truth” of photography, which is that occasionally, a photo will find you, rather than you it. Experience tells me that this happens less often than the frequency with which “the ones that got away” appear before you. All too often, I’ve been presented with a view that I’ve not had time, equipment, skill, and occasionally all three of these, to capture. But when it comes and you’re ready for it, it’s a wonderful experience.

And this is exactly the origin of the photo that heads this blog. It’s the River Medway again, but it’s of a piece of it about three kilometres north from the section I photograph regularly. Most Saturdays, I am photographer for Maidstone Parkrun, which follows a 5 kilometre out and back route down the Medway river path. The start is almost right by Allington Lock (beyond which the Medway becomes tidal, by the way). An extra Parkrun was arranged for New Year’s Day, which turned out to be probably the coldest morning of what has so far passed for winter this time around. An air frost was descending just before 9am as, armed with my big Nikon camera and a long lens, I was jogging off to a point on the route through which the 200 or so runners would pass a few minutes later. I turned on to the river path by the Malta Inn, and WOW!

I had time for a dozen or so shots with the Nikon of the mist rising from the river and mingling with chimney smoke from the local houseboats. I don’t usually use a 70-300mm lens for landscape photos, and I shot maybe a dozen more with the trusty iPhone, to take advantage of its wider angle of view. After that I had to sprint off be ready for the runners. The conditions lasted maybe ten minutes, no more.

The genius of the Old Master painters, particularly the likes of Constable and Turner, is that they had the ability either to see and remember images like this and then recreate them through the painstaking application of oil paint to canvas, or were possessed by the transcendent talent to construct the view from scratch, using imagination alone. I am reconciled to the fact that any fleeting resemblance, in whatever form, of any of my own photos to any attribute of an Old Master painting, is always going to be pure coincidence. But who would refuse even a gift borne of pure chance when it invites your attention?


About tomsprints

I am a Masters athlete and freelance photographer living in Kent, in Great Britain. I'm a sprinter. As well as competing, my camera and I work regularly for the British Masters Athletics Federation and the European and World Masters Athletics organisations. For pleasure, I'm (principally) a landscape photographer. I have been blessed with the chance of spending quite a lot of time in the European Alps in the last 30 years. My web site is a vehicle for a my photographic work, and is at I run two blogs. One is about what it's like to be an older athlete ( ) and the other is basically about my photography ( ), although they often overlap.
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