Lovers’ Bridge at Dunster Castle

After the last photography workshop of the year at Alvecote Wood, I was prompted to think about why I take the images I do, and present them in the way that I do.  The workshops split photography into two halves:  taking the right picture and taking the picture right.  The first deals with artistic and compositional elements, the second with the technical elements, such as exposure, depth of field and shutter speed.  To me, the latter are the easy bit:  it only takes a little bit of learning and practice to become familiar with these, and with your camera, and to take technically good images.  The difficult bit is the first bit.

So, how do you decide what image to take?  In many cases it is reasonably straightforward:  you want a technical record of something or somewhere.  The holiday snap, the picture postcard, the picture of a bird or butterfly showing its identifying features, a simple product photo for the web site.  Again, that is relatively easy.  What is much harder, and what motivates me, is taking an image that conveys a mood, or feeling, or vision that you had when you were in a place, or looking at something or somebody.

A feather pointing the way at Alvecote Wood

These are the images that really speak to the heart, but will rarely be published, or win competitions.  Why?  Because everybody has a different perception:  in the same situation, your brain will concentrate on different elements of what you are seeing, you will see a different pattern of light and shade, different amounts of contrast between colours and light and dark, even a different colour cast.  To some, the colours are important, to others it is the patterns of light and shade that matter – for the first, a colour image is key, for the second, black and white might convey your feelings better.

There is a lot of debate about whether you should manipulate your images using an editing programme such as Photoshop.  In the old days, I used to process my own films and make my own prints in a darkroom.  You used to be able to do lots of the same things:  crop images, burn or dodge (darken or lighten) parts of an individual image, impart a colour cast, create a monochrome image from colour, tone or split-tone a black and white image, combine images, airbrush features out of prints, add a vignette or frame to your image, process to enhance grain or reduce grain…it just used to take a bit longer than it does now.  Why did we do these things?  Usually there were two reasons:  either the image the camera took didn’t correspond, for whatever reason, to the image the eye took, or we deliberately want to make the image into something the eye didn’t see, but that conveys an emotion or feeling your experienced when you were there.

A magical woodland in Devon

It is lovely if you can take an image that is exactly what your eye has seen, and conveys immediately the emotions and feelings that you were experiencing, and thus that needs no processing.  However a camera is not an eye.  It records, literally, the colour and tone of the light coming into the camera on a sensor that converts it into pixels.  However our eye does much more, because we don’t ever see the raw image coming into our eye:  it is processed by our brain well before we can see the image.  And the brain does amazing things.  It adjusts the colour (try looking through yellow sunglasses – you’ll soon see white as white, not yellow), and allows you to see a full dynamic range.  In a woodland scene, you can see the detail in the shadows and the dappled light patches simultaneously in a way that a camera cannot.  The brain can even invert images.  How you see something may be coloured by your previous experience, your mood on the day, what you want to see or expect to see.

So to me, there is no right or wrong way to see a scene, thing or place.  We are all individual, and we all see things in an individual way.  Therefore, I am content to process images to convey either what I have seen, or alternatively, what I was feeling.  This is not “false” or “wrong” – it is simply personal:  many may not like, or “get” some of the images, but as I improve, I hope to help people to experience the world through my eyes, as opposed to my camera.  Many images need little adjustment, but some need a lot.  What I try to do is adjust the images immediately so that I can recall what I was seeing at the time, or alternatively what my pre-visualisation was.

Dunster Beach in the rain

Previsualisation: when you take the picture you see the final print in your mind’s eye.  This helps you to get the technical aspects of your shot right in order to get that final image, and also to think more closely about how you are composing and taking the image.  You will take a very different picture of a tree if you are trying to convey a technical image of tree structure, an abstract pattern of light and shade, or a feeling of “age”, for example.

Photography is personal:  it is a record of the world through your eyes, as well as through your lens.  Getting others to share your creative eye is the challenge for photographers.  I have only just begun on that journey, but I hope I can also inspire others to take up that challenge.

Please note:  only one of the images here was taken at Alvecote Wood – I’ve used others as an example!

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