I've just arrived back in Lochcarron after a long trip back up from the Patchings Art Festival at the weekend. I was invited to talk and exhibit in the Outdoor Photography tent and I'm delighted to say it went well. Thank you to everyone who came along and also for the positive reception; I'm really pleased that what I had to say about the Elemental Landscape resonated with so many people. If you weren't able to come, I'm hoping to put a re-record on the website in the near future so 'watch this space'! For much of the 500 mile return journey I've been turning over some of the thoughts raised in the other talks at the Festival I had the pleasure of attending. Chief amongst these was something that David Ward, Paul Wakefield and Dav Thomas talked about - paraphrased as 'quiet contemplation'.
Many of us spend our time in the field dashing around making photographs. We may take a couple of shots of the same or similar compositions before we move on to to find something new. I think our intention here is to get as many shots in the bag as we can during the session. Even if we tell ourselves we're not trusting to luck we're secretly hoping that there's something worthwhile waiting on the memory card for us when we get home.
I often see this on workshops. Attendees will quickly find a shot, make a couple of variations within the space of a few minutes and then go and look for something else. I myself have fallen victim of this, being pulled up for it by Bruce Percy when I attended one of his workshops a few years ago.
So when I say 'we' of course I mean 'me'. We all need to sloooooow down.
This is the chief advantage of using a tripod I think. When we're setting up and bound to the tripod, our shooting rate is necessarily slowed down.
Further the oft quoted advice of 'work the scene' also caused me to slow down and take my time. Instead of spending minutes with a composition, if I find something that draws me in I will spend 30 minutes, maybe even an hour, slowly and intentionally changing the composition of my shot. 'What works?', 'What doesn't work?', 'How can I make this shot stronger?", 'What if I tried...?', 'What is this shot about?'. I find that this iterative and interrogative approach really helps to make stronger images. Sometimes the first image I make in a series is the best, sometimes it's the last, and sometimes it's one in the middle. Not all of my refinements work, but at least they are made with purpose rather than hope.
But at the weekend, this idea of 'slowing down' was taken to a whole new level. Dav talked about sitting eating sandwiches, just watching and absorbing. David Ward talked about being still and waiting for the scene to 'reveal how it wants to be photographed'. For my sins I can't remember exactly how Paul Wakefield described it, but he keeps diaries of his thoughts and things he collects as he sits and takes in a scene.
I remember Bruce Percy talking about the same, about letting the 'landscape seep into your bones'. I also remember watching a video with David Chalmers in conversation with Joe Cornish (here) where David talked about just relaxing in the landscape, even taking a nap, waking to the landscape afresh.
Much of the work of the artists mentioned here is described as 'contemplative'. We wonder how they do it. We rush around the wood, the seashore or wherever trying to recreate it, trying to work out what the trick is.
But perhaps the trick is exactly that which makes their work so; quiet contemplation. For all their vision, craft and genius these artists would no doubt fail in their intention if they too rushed around the landscape snapping images. It seems absurd to suggest that the way to create quiet, contemplative images is to...be quiet and contemplative. Maybe it's too obvious to point out but it seems to me to have been missed by many - myself most of all.
That time taken to absorb our environment, to be at one with the landscape (hippy sounding or not), to awaken our senses so dulled by our urban and digitised lives, perhaps that's an important part of the equation. Perhaps the key part of the equation.
Let's use 10 to represent how many of us start running around at full speed, taking as many images as possible and being ultimately disappointed with the results (and I still do this when I'm particularly excited by a location).
Maybe a 5 can be used to represent taking some time, slowing down to make a really good job of a few images once we find them.
And maybe a 1 is really slowing down, taking a nap, sitting for an hour or two, enjoying some food and listening to the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. Letting the landscape speak, and taking the time to listen. Maybe that's a 1, and maybe that's the - incredibly obvious - answer for better and more contemplative images. Quality, not quantity.