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Blogs: Digital Dawn Blog : Richard Ellis

The Photographic Journey by Richard Ellis

The use of the word journey to convey a sense of progression seems to be one of those terms that has crossed from management speak to everyday parlance. It arouses passionate views as to whether, as we develop as photographers, we are on a journey or simply aiming to get better – whatever better means. Journey does imply a destination and photography appears not have a destination but a number of possible final states.

In fishing it is often said that fishermen go from wanting to catch the most fish, to wanting to catch the biggest fish and finally to catching a particular fish. So, what is the landscape photograph equivalent. Possibly it is wanting to capture an image that is technically and artistically competent, to wanting to create a body of work that says something to finally finding your own voice or style.

I think that has been a fair reflection of my own journey as a landscape photographer – a journey that I embarked on around 2014 and one that I am only part way through. I started by wanting to capture something of what I saw before me. I had many technical worries particularly around ensuring the image was sharp – something that no amount of post processing can fix. Sharpening increases contrast at the edges - it does not fix a blurry mountain or an out of focus boulder!

To help me get there on this part of my journey I undertook my licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society (LRPS) receiving it in 2015. The LRPS requires you to produce 10 photographs demonstrating technical mastery and a range of camera techniques – think different shutter speeds, apertures and focal lengths. All must be executed flawlessly with no obvious technical errors. After receiving this award, I took a break from the development journey and just enjoyed being able to photograph the wonderful world around us.

Amateur photographers are in the supremely fortunate position of not having to produce an image, there is no client waiting, no copy deadline, just friends and family to enjoy what you have seen.

I have now returned to my photographic development and am aiming to produce projects. Pieces of work which have a common theme, I have found this really liberating. On my last visit to Scotland I aimed to produce B+W images in 4x3 ratio portrait and 3x2 landscape format. This really gave a focus to my image making, enabled me to quickly discard certain viewpoints and provided a focus for the work I finally produced.

I have used this approach on a number of trips now and it has really helped.

To further assist my development, I have started to work on my associateship of the RPS. This is a significant step up from the LRPS and requires you to produce 15 photographs which fit with a maximum 150-word statement of intent. The statement of intent says what you aimed to produce and the photographs must fit this. The photographs must demonstrate a style of the photographer.

The intent of my project is to capture images which reflect the interaction of the sea and man-made structures. I have aimed in the work produced to slow the movement of the sea down so that the viewer sees something that he/she would not have noticed if they had stood next to me. Those of you who are Digital Dawn regulars will recognise that I have taken one of Garry’s maxims on board – do not show me what I could have seen myself.

It has been great fun but a real challenge to produce the work and one that is definitely not yet complete. The first challenge is to find the structures. I have spent many hours working my way along the south coast on Google satellite views looking for suitable structure, the next challenge is to work out the tide and wind direction that will really make the image sing and then finally to go and try and make the image. Tide and wind are key – if the wind is offshore it flattens a small sea but if there are big breakers then an offshore wind will often give some nice misty effects particularly at slower shutter speeds as it blows water off the top of the waves.

I have visited many interesting locations and places I would not normally go to such as Felixstowe, Hastings and Margate. I tend to photograph at the more classic cliff and beach locations of Cornwall, N Devon or Scotland. This has opened my eyes to different perspectives and allowed my further development as a photographer. One of my favourite locations is Caister-on-Sea where the zig-zag groynes deliver a fantastic journey to the horizon with lots of interest in the foreground and a sense of taking you to infinity.

Undertaking this project has also opened my eyes to the work of other photographers such as Susan Brown, Linda Wevill, Paul Mitchell and Marianthi Lainis. All of these have captured the sea and its interaction with the land in beautiful detail and provided me with great inspiration. Seeing their work on the web also spurred me to go and see it in exhibitions which in turn gives great opportunity for conversation with other photographers – all of this enriches and enlivens the photographic journey.

I am still on route to producing my final images for my ARPS but really enjoying the process, so in many ways, aiming to enjoy slow travel.

I hope that you have enjoyed this article and I have attached a few of my photographs made during my sea and structure project. Enjoy the journey.

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