Monday, 1 December 2014

Project problems

I don't seem to have any problem dreaming up ideas for projects. Or maybe I do have a problem in that I come up with too many to cope with. If only I didn't have to work I could get on with completing some of them. Instead I make a start on one, arrive to that stage where it's getting tricky to know where to go next with it, become inspired for something new and get distracted

Something I've been photographing for a couple of years or so, in my on and off fashion, are hedges and fences with glimpses of dwellings behind them. I wasn't sure what the pictures were about at first but came to the conclusion it had something to do with privacy and erecting boundaries. I was reminded of the saying that 'An Englishman's home is his castle', and so I had a hook to hang the pictures on. 'An English Man's Home' it is.

I took the chance of posting about this project on a photography forum, expecting to be ridiculed, but I wasn't and the comments made me consider how the final result should be presented. I knew it wouldn't make a book as there's no narrative to it. There's just the one idea - that if people can't have moats and drawbridges they plant hedges and erect fences. I settled on grouping a numbe of pictures together in a grid or panel. Something like this trial mock up. In the best pictures the houses are difficult to spot at first glance. In too many the houses are too obvious, which is one reason I'm continuing to make more.

These pictures have all been made in the village I live in. In a way they are a project within a project as I'm also working on something I think of as 'Home Range' which is all about the area within walking distance of home. I have a very loose idea of what the pictures for Home Range should be like. I want to avoid them becoming a 'spot the location' game while being quite obtuse. If they look a little like Martin Parr meets William Eggleston that's probably no coincidence. Lik all projects pictures drop in and out of favour as a project progresses. Here are a couple of recent ones that may or may not last the course.

If this isn't enough to be going on with I have another village based theme in mind! I've only been playing around making test shots so far. I'll need to get serious with the tripod like I did in the quarry last year as the location is shaded and there's a lot of fine detail in the subjects. I might even use the 'consumer' DSLR I bought to take fishing as it has twice as many pixels as my 'better' cameras and does output more detail. Lenses might be a restriction as there isn't a lot of working distance. I hate making technical choices.

Talking of technical choices I tried using flash for a self-portrait the other afternoon when I had done all my real work and there wasn't enough daylight to go and do anything else.

The idea is okay, I wanted something in the shot to provide a hint of movement which is why I chose to ream out some cork,  and the composition isn't too bad, although I should have put on a lighter sweatshirt! I almost like the way things turned out, but the light on me is too harsh. I have little patience for this sort of thing. I had to fit a polariser to kill the reflections on the window I was shooting through. Then I had to rig up the bulb release to operate with my foot. I had two remotely fired flash guns on stands to fiddle with. Then I had to bugger about with test shots to work out where to stand. I really don't know why so many amateurs seem to find this kind of technical photography so appealing. I'm much happier using whatever light is available. Needless to say I went to all this trouble as I'd thought up an idea for a portrait project and I was the only willing guinea pig. However, I know this isn't a project that won't go any further!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

But once a year

I'd hoped to get into town earlier in the week but waiting for deliveries that weren't delivered kept me tied up and unable to get out anywhere. Saturday afternoon isn't my first choice for hitting the shops, and the crowds put me off searching for anything that wasn't essential. As chance had it I'd taken a camera along and there was something going on. A rather feeble event heralding the switching on of the town's Christmas lights.

In days of yore there would have been lots of cameras in evidence. I think I spotted three DSLRs, one bridge camera and  one mirrorless, today the majority were using their phones or tablets to record the goings on in either still or moving formats. Needless to say I took a fair few photographs. Most turned out to be snaps. Some were reasonable photographs - if a little formulaic. I think I got a couple of pictures. I sued to dismiss any 'street' photograph that had someone looking at the camera. These days it doesn't bother me - pretty much in the same way I don't always fret over a shot that's not quite level. These small 'imperfections' can sometimes make the pictures work.

Something I've found myself doing when photographing people in shifting groups, and I do do it intentionally, is have an out of focus person in the foreground to act as a compositional device. Something else that would probably have annoyed me in the past that I don't worry about any longer.

Wonky angles and blurry faces are two things that it takes a while to get your eye in to shoot well. It's a kind of letting go of the rigidity that the viewfinder tends to impose. That and the (mistaken) culture that stresses level horizons and sharp focus as the measure of a good photograph.

This sort of event is more interesting to photograph than landscapes. People - and animals - make for far more engaging pictures. Things are in a state of flux with new opportunities arising all the while. It's much easier to remain alert for possibilities.

It's a pity I had a rapidly expiring parking ticket cutting my time short or I'd have exposed more than the 123 frames which I whittled down to a still over-long 35 for a slideshow. I've noticed that when I'm taking photographs in a busy situation I rarely 'chimp'. After all there's no going back to get a second try when everything has moved on. You've either got a picture of you haven't!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Shoebox slides

Sometime back I found a shoebox containing a small collection of slides which my late aunt had taken during her year-long trip to America in 1967/8. I was going to post something about them here at the time but forgot!

The slides are Kodachromes in 126 format - the format of Instamatic cameras. Needless to say that accounts for the quality, or lack of it, and I suspect the slightly off framing in some pictures. A fixed focus lens and an off axis viewfinder in a camera aimed at the happy snapper aren't going to produce pinsharp, perfectly composed photos no matter who is using the camera!

Despite the technical flaws the pictures have that Kodachrome appeal, not to mention a touch of nostalgia and exoticism - some of them work for me as pictures. The first picture in the slideshow is the odd one out, being of my aunt and shot on 35mm film.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Old book, new book

At long last I have found, and bought, a copy of Ian Berry's The English to replace my long lost copy. The condition is not great but the price was bearable. If I hadn't owned a copy before I would have been more likely to pay a higher price for a better copy. Not very logical. However I'm not a book collector. It's the pictures I want to have and this 'working copy' is fine for my purposes.

Published in 1978 this was the very first photobook I bought - almost certainly in the year of publication, a couple of years after I was given my first proper camera.

There seems to be a spate of books being published at the moment of photographs made in the UK around the late '70s and into the eighties. I'm still trying to avoid the temptation of buying them because I mistrust the nostalgic effect has on how such pictures are regarded. A new collection of old pictures is a different thing to an old collection of old pictures. That's why I had no compunction about buying The English. Besides, I already own a copy - I just don't know where it is!

Although I had forgotten most of the pictures in the book I soon realised just what an influence it had been on me. At the time it made me want to take photographs. It also introduced me to looking at photographs. Mostly I think it gave me my interest in photographs of British people doing ordinary things in their natural environment.

With a more educated eye than I had back then I can see influences in Berry's photographs - in both directions. There are hints of Tony Ray-Jones in the book, and also pre-hints (if you get my drift) of Martin Parr (who has cited Ray-Jones as an influence). Maybe there is something about British life that provokes a certain kind of photography? Subtle self-mockery combined with affection is part of it. There's also an attraction to tradition. Be that ancient tradition or modern.

In the introduction Berry states that England hadn't changed much in the 15 years between him leaving the country and his making the photographs in 1975. In a lot of ways it hasn't changed much in the 40 years that now have passed. Certainly not in the subjects which a British photographer like Martin Parr chooses to  aim his lens at.

Although I like Parr's garish work it can become tiresome, and I feel that he has also become something of a brand - which I naturally rebel against. He's still a fine photographer though, and having followed his work from the project he was involved with Multistory on-line over the last two or three years the publishing of Black Country Stories tempted me to buy a copy. It wasn't a disappointment.

Although the subject matter of Black Country Stories is the English it is a completely different book to Think of England. The photographs in this book are far more 'straight'. There's very little of the saturated colours and obvious use of flash and close-up. There is, on the other hand, plenty of his wit and acute observation.

While he has been criticised, at times, for cynical, fun poking portrayals of his subjects in this book the view that comes across is more that of the affectionate mockery which I mentioned earlier. It's a much warmer look at the subjects than often comes across in a Parr book. There are a lot of semi-formal portraits (such as the picture on the cover) in Black Country Stories. By which I mean pictures of people stopping what they are doing and looking at the camera. Sort of environmental portraits, but less obviously set up. More like 'street' portraits, but not always in the street! I like them a lot.

While things may have changed on the surface over the last forty years what these two books have shown me is that underneath it all people are still people, doing the things they have always done. Be that racing pigeons or putting out the bunting for a royal occasion - a silver jubilee and a royal wedding in the case of these two books.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


My current preoccupation with the marsh saw me heading back towards it on Sunday. That was until I hit the tailback from the temporary traffic lights on the bridge that had been damaged (for the umpteenth time) on Friday. A hasty change of direction and plan was made. I thought I'd go and take some photographs of the fence surrounding one of the local nature reserves as part of my ongoing critique of the conservation business. The fence serves to keep out both non-paying guests and yer actual wild wildlife. They don't want pesky foxes getting in!

When I parked up by the side of the road my eye was, as it so often is, drawn to a partially harvested potato field. If find it much easier to make landscape pictures of the farmed land with the lines and patterns planted crops provide. The morning's rain pooled on the soil and the clearing sky helped add to the feel of the pictures. Back home on the computer I tried a few different aspect ratios (including square) but  the 3:2 ratio below was the most successful - after a slight crop from the left.

The fence proved to be uninspiring. earlier in the autumn it had been festooned with dying climbing plants and fallen leaves which I had intended to photograph sooner. Now they were gone. The signs warning of the electrification make for too obvious a comment. I shot a couple anyway. If this ever becomes a project they might make fillers. One landscape, one portrait, just in case in the way you might shoot for a magazine article to give the layout artist choices.

Leaving the fence I wandered off down a footpath that runs alongside the reedbeds. Had the light been more favourable I would have tried some shots of the reeds. I often try to make pictures of reeds for the sake of making pictures of reeds. They rarely work out the way I want them to, although some have come close. In this location I want to try to picture them so it shows how they hide nature from the people who are trying to look at it.

You can often hear birds in the reedbeds or the watery channels through them without ever catching a glimpse of them. get up on one of the viewing platforms and you fare no better because the birds tend to avoid those areas. Hardly surprising as the platforms do little to obscure anyone on them.

At the side of this platform was a pile of recently cut willow.being nosey by nature I had a look at it thinking it had been cut from a wind-blown bush to tidy it up. The gap in the reeds suggested otherwise and further inspection showed that three willow bushes had been felled. No doubt to prevent the process of natural succession that reedbeds follow to carr and then woodland. I made two pictures of the scene to illustrate, perhaps not obviously, the managed nature of this unnatural reedbed. Not too many years ago it was farmland like the potato field on the other side of the road.

In a way I suppose this is a sort of subjective or political photography. It's about the artificiality of organised nature conservation - and also about the contradiction of conservatiopn bodies claiming to get people closer to nature while all the time creating barriers and restrictions which prevent that happening in reality. I still try to make photographs that have a formal visual structure though. They have to work for me as pictures and not just as documents.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Rained off

This week saw high tides, high enough to flood the marsh. I had hoped to get down there to have a look, not for photographic reasons so much as to watch the spectacle. It didn't happen as the daylight tides were morning tides and I was stuck waiting in for non-arriving parcels. Late on today when the rain stopped and the sun was shining I ventured forth. Needless to say I was pursued by rain clouds which caught up with me almost as soon as I got he camera on the tripod.

With the rain threatening to get heavier I didn't venture far and tried to make pictures of the fence where it crosses a gutter with what looked like freshly deposited grass clippings washed up against it. The light was flat, but I'm not sure that was a bad thing. Too bright and when it is low and shadows become harsh.

All this green, a supposedly restful colour, is a bit jarring. I keep finding myself converting these marshscapes into black and white. Not making too good a job of it. It's all too easy to overdo the contrast and clarity sliders and end up with something like you see getting rave reviews on Flickr or some other lowest common denominator sharing site.

Wandering down the gutter I was starting to see things hat might make pictures. Framing was difficult and the rain was getting heavier so I was rushing a bit and not concentrating as I should have been.

The wide open space and the almost uniform green makes it difficult to find pictures. Getting in close and concentrating on details without showing the sky seems to be the way my eye is being drawn. If the rain hadn't got so heavy I might have got in closer still. I see the gutters as canyons in miniature. No doubt if I put some Lego figures down in them and shot them with a wide angle lens at their level that would be really 'creative' and I might become a Flickr sensation! Instead I'll probably make some boring pictures of grass, mud and water.

I'm unsure quite why I've cropped all these pictures to the square. You'd think that a wider aspect ratio, even a panoramic one, would suit the broad horizon of the marsh. Concentrating on details seemed to leave too much space around them.

PS The more I look at that first colour picture, the more I'm preferring it to the conversion!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Still struggling on

The marsh continues to interest me. Partly because it's always there, partly because I'm determined to make something from it. When I saw a chance of a sunset on Friday I hastened over there for the last hour or so of light. I was just in time to see a wildfowler heading over the floodbank. As chance had it I'd gone prepared for any eventuality with two cameras and two lenses. A hasty snap of the guy striding across the marsh ended up being the best shot of the evening.

Once more I found a black and white conversion worked better for pictures of the marsh, and in this case a letterbox-crop seemed to suit the scene. I'm much more comfortable making landscape pictures which contain figures. It seems to give them a point of interest beyond looking pretty or atmospheric (which is something I rarely manage). It also feels more truthful to me than the majority of landscape photography that eliminates all signs of human intervention. Beaten by the failure of the sunset to materialise, and by my hopeless eye for a landscape picture, I packed up early.

Saturday was poultry show day. This being my fourth visit it was harder to see new pictures. This often happens with a subject. When it's a new experience you see things freshly. There are all sorts of opportunities to make pictures. At a second visit you work on things you realised you could have done. On a third visit things are becoming familiar but you still have refinements to make. After that it gets harder to avoid repeating yourself (although you can do that in an attempt to make a better picture of something you have shot previously). A few weeks back I put a set of  my poultry show pictures together in a Blurb book. They printed out better than I'd expected, particularly the shots taken with a compact camera.

Undeterred I set out for the poultry show armed with a fisheye lens to try something different. That didn't work! As per the last visit I stuck to the 50mm and 28mm lenses. I guess I could have used a zoom covering the same range and more, but I prefer the two lens approach for some reason. I knew before I got home that I hadn't taken as many photos as on previous visits, and that I wouldn't have as many decent or half decent shots. It turned out I got four good ones. Which isn't too bad for two hours shooting. One I think sums up the whole show. It has a chicken, eggs, and people. Even if the eggs and people are out (deliberately) of focus.

Although presenting the shot on its own makes it appear that all I did was frame and shoot, that's not the way it happened. My biggest photographic failing is a lack of patience. Probably the main reason I'm rubbish at landscapes... However, at the show I took my time waiting for the right frame to materialise. Three out of the four decent shots came about that way. The frame above was number four in a sequence. The first three were similar except the chicken was looking out of the frame to the left. As soon as it turned its head I knew that if the shot was sharp on the bird I'd have he picture. For once I got technical perfection in a good picture.

The show shed is a bit of a nightmare to work in owing to the lighting. It being lit by fluorescent tubes is bad enough ,but no matter what white balance I set it seems to alter depending whereabouts in the shed you go. Drove me nuts.

Sunshine on Sunday tempted me back to the marsh. This time with a plan. Turn right and check out the gutters. Unfortunately my plans went awry. The sunshine was great. The problem was that it was casting my shadow on the scenes I wanted to photograph. Still, it's a lesson learned.

Once over the floodbank I saw a shotgun cartridge and took a low, wide-angle shot (bad pun) of it. It wasn't up to much. Then I did something I never do. Picked the cartridge up with a view to placing it somewhere it would make a better picture.

It's strange that it looks like it just as 'honest' a picture as if the cartridge had been found there. Doesn't feel right to me though.

I struggled on trying to make 'landscape' pictures. The old sweeping vista stuff. That was until I saw some foamy water flowing in a narrow gutter. Somehow that felt more evocative of the marsh. I made a few quick snaps. The light wasn't quite right (harsh shadow at the bottom), and I could have done with getting into a better position, but they might have given me the clue I need. get in close and concentrate on details rather than try to show everything. We'll see.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The same, but different

The ability for photography to record change is something which continues to fascinate me. A few weeks back I noticed that the red box I photographed last year was, miraculously considering it is in a very public place, still in the same place. However it had faded considerably. I didn't take a photo of it, just made a mental note of the fact. Today, for some unknown reason, I did take a photograph of it. Partly this was to see if I'd frame the shot the same - which I didn't (I placed the box pretty much bang in the centre of the frame). It was only when I checked back through the blog to find the first picture that I noticed the date. Almost exactly one year ago!

It's curious how the flat, diffuse light (and the faded red) makes for a completely different picture with a totally different feel.

Recording change is a fine justification for making documentary photographs. As the site of the mill continues to be developed I'm regretting not making an earlier and more concerted effort at recording the process, and particularly making a record of the mill before the demolition was started. I hope someone had more foresight than me.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Landscape Lessons

Still lacking in ideas I thought I'd take that blasted polarising filter to the marsh this morning. As I inferred last time I'm slow on the uptake. Wet mud is not much different to wet sand so I shouldn't have been surprised by the effect the filter had. Whether it's useful is another matter. For colour shots it certainly is as it lightens and warms the mud, and adds brightness to grass. It subtly alters the shadows too, which is interesting

With that experiment out of the way, the tide just starting to ebb and strong sunlight illuminating the other side of the estuary I made some 'sketches' in the flat light on my side of the river. Just playing around with possible compositions in a landscape mode. Wide angle lens, polariser, lines and textures. Standard stuff.

Wandering around I saw some bedraggled wool on a barbed wire fence and was immediately compelled to photograph it. The results were far from brilliant but... I realise that instead of looking for 'landscape' shots to try to evoke the place I ought to be looking for the sort of pictures I usually make. After all they represent the way I look at the world. A picture doesn't have to show the landscape to be about the landscape. As usual I didn't twig what I'd got with the picture below until it was on the computer and too late to make a better job of it.

From a different viewpoint, maybe with a different lens or aperture, these elements could sum up the marsh. Wool tells you there are sheep grazing, mud (just about visible in this shot) and reeds hint at the marshiness, the wire illustrates that it is a partially tamed environment, the level horizon shows how flat it is. Not a great picture, but it's proved to be a jumping off point to find a way into this whole 'landscape' thing. It's got my brain grinding away and given me ideas to try out.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Losing the light

Although I think landscape photography is the refuge of the unimaginative it's often what I try to do when I'm feeling unimaginative myself! Back to the marsh, from a different direction which the map told me would make for a shorter walk. As it turned out the access point opened up onto a more interesting bit of marsh. One with more gutters to add foreground interest.

Walking along the floodbank the sun was warm (as warm as some summer days) and lighting up the hawthorn hedges. It was also pretty windy. Which is why the photos I tried to make of the hedges all turned out blurred. My tripod was where it lives - propped up in a corner at home. The map proved to be correct and I was soon at the sluice which I had tried to photograph almost a month ago. Once more I'd mistimed my visit and the sun was in my face when looking along the gutter to the river channel. I guess this is a time that HDR techniques, or graduated filters, are called for. Neither of which I was equipped for. So I buggered about with one file on the computer. If a big cloud have come along that might have helped - but it waited until I was trying to use the bright, low sun to my advantage photographing textures in the mud...

That is the same stand of trees as in the post from a fortnight ago - now almost bare of leaves. When the light you want deserts you it's time to go all monochromatic. Also time to go overboard with the processing in an attempt to draw out the graphic shapes and increase contrast.

As I was using a wide angle zoom I took the opportunity to make a couple of pictures in 'camera club landscape style' - big thing in foreground and dramatically darkened clouds. The first was a pool shaped like Australia (if you have a vivid imagination).

The second a concrete water trough made in 1930 according to the inscription cast on one side.

As I'm the sort of person who learns their lessons late, one thing I drew from this afternoon's exercise was that a polarising filter might be a good thing to use when photographing mud. That thought also reminded me that such a filter is good for photographing vegetation too. Grass is vegetation, and there's a lot of grass on the marsh. It is also pretty obvious that an earlier start is needed on that side of the river. Perhaps not at the crack of dawn, but certainly before the sun gets over the river.

By far my most satisfying picture of the day was the first one I took, while the sun was shining, as I walked towards the floodbank.It's the mystery of the small piles of builder's sand that intrigued me.

Much more my sort of 'landscape' picture!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Giving up the search

After much messing about I've finally got round to doing what I should have done in the first place. Got myself a one-up from entry level DSLR to use as my fishing/street camera. Although the cameras I tried produced decent images there was something about them I didn't like. I even prefer the files I get from my current compact. Maybe I've just got used to the Nikon look? Although there is no doubting that the small DSLR is bulkier than a mirrorless camera, it feels just as light (with a light lens on it. My conclusion is, having used it a bit now, that the mirrorless fanboys are gear snobs. They'd rather pay the price of a 'prosumer' level DSLR to get the easier handling their mirroreless camera offers than be seen using an entry level DSLR which makes pictures every bit as good, and possibly better.

Downsized for web use only a smidgen of noise reduction was required at ISO6400
Having become used to setting the camera up I reckon I can manage with it well enough for my purposes. I'm damned sure the manufacturers could put all the customisable buttons and easy to use levers on such a small camera body - but then no one would buy up the scale to pro level bodies!

Where my new (actually second hand) camera does score is it's new sensor. Since my first APC DSLR things have leapt forward considerably. The low light performance is not far off that of my older full frame cameras, the dynamic range is much improved (a seemingly blown sky can be pulled back to reveal a wealth of cloud detail) and it has twice as many pixels. Although it might be a step backwards in handling it's a big step ahead in performance. All I need now is for Nikon to make an 18mm pancake lens and I'll be an ecstatic bunny. Can't see that happening though.

One thing new toys do is make you go out and play with them. It's sugar beet time again and there'd been some harvesting going on. One feature that I have missed on my DSLRs has been a flippy out screen. While I'd much prefer a touch screen to position the focus point any flippy screen is better than none for low level shots when your knees ain't what they used to be. In the first shot I was trying to show before and after harvest in one picture.

I wasn't consciously trying to avoid making square-on pictures (in fact I made some of those too), but doing my best to get two or more elements working together to tell a story in a visually interesting way. Although it has just occurred to me that another compositional habit of mine is to place a subject over to one side and have a load of negative space balancing it out - as in the first picture in this post!

Another good thing about having this DSLR as my small camera is that it accepts my existing lenses. Naturally I've been playing with them on it. While I was messing about with a telephoto zoom through an upstairs window a jackdaw flew overhead and I grabbed a frame. It turned out to be in focus, reasonably sharp and with potential to make a graphic image out of it if I did more processing to it than I would normally do. So that's what I did. It would benefit from a border to display on white.

All that remains is to see how the flippy screen performs for self-takes with fish. Catching a fish to photograph might prove to be the hard part.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

British books

My collection of photobooks continues to grow. They do say that if you are going to collect something it's best to have a restriction to it. Don't collect stamps, but collect stamps featuring fish, or aeroplanes. Given that I'm interested in British photography it seems fair to concentrate on books of contemporary British photography. Over the last couple of months I've added three more to the pile.

The latest addition is the oldest work, published in 2012 - Roadside Britain by Sam Mellish which is a pretty straightforward documentary about roadside dining in the UK and a bit of Ireland. The acknowledged influences and inspirations being the road trip works of Robert Frank in America and Paul Graham in Britain. There's accompanying text about the project's making which is interesting in its way. Still a nice book to have and worth returning to.

Somewhat against my better judgement, I had already bought  Stags, Hens and Bunnies by Dougie Wallace. I'd seen enough of this on-line to have an idea what to expect, and my suspicions were confirmed - the now familiar fare of drunken behaviour in a seaside town. There are some good pictures in this book, but not enough of them despite an obvious eye for spotting expressions, moments and behaviour but maybe not for making complex pictures in the way Tony Ray-Jones or Maciej Dakowicz might have managed. One of those books to flick through rather than sit down and contemplatively soak up.

Something like a Nest - Andy Sewell is a book which is getting good reviews, and justifiably so. Where Roadside Britain approaches its subject head on and Stags, Hens and Bunnies takes a vivid look at an aspect of British culture, Something like a Nest comes at a view of Englishness from a quietly contemplative angle. There's not much happening in this book, but the pictures are well considered and there's a loose narrative thread following the seasons through a rural landscape that isn't presented as idealised. A book which will have lasting appeal.

Something like a Nest is undoubtedly the pick of the bunch, but together they illustrate three approaches to documenting aspects of Britain through the medium of photography and all are very British in their different ways. There are still more books I have on my wishlist. Do I clear out my less loved photobooks, or buy more bookshelves?

Saturday, 4 October 2014

"The matter of landscape"

"The matter of landscape" is something Tom Wood has mentioned (when's his landscape book actually going to appear?) and it's something I keep on struggling with. I'm beginning to think that, for me, the way to approach making pictures about landscape is not to try making 'landscape photographs'.

Revisiting the place I photographed cows the other week, a strange area with fenced off reclaimed landfill by the tidal river on the edge of marshland, I floundered around. One benefit of being by the river is the floodbank, which gives valuable elevation in the flat environment. Clouds on a breezy day of passing showers, when shot with a wide angle lens, are a fall-back for landscape photography. It looks dramatic. It also looks like a million other clodscapes. (I was going to correct that typo, but I liked it!)

Out in the flatness that clump of trees provides a focal point. It's a little reminiscent of Wittenham Clumps beloved of Paul Nash, but not quite so redolent of prehistorical connections with the land - it hides a sewage treatment works!

One thing that clouds do, even when not stretched by a wide angle lens, is provide aerial perspective to a scene. This is especially the case when they are well separated against a blue sky as to the right of the shot above. Over a flat landscape they can help produce an illusion of wide open space that a uniform sky, or a mass of cloud doesn't.

I walked upstream a way then retraced my steps with the trees in view. I never let a chance to include some man-made structure in my landscape pictures. The railing over the sluice was irresistible, the bend of the river helps keep the eye in the frame. I even waited for the light to change instead of clicking away immediately. I was still left frustrated by the overall arrangement - particularly the bottom right of the picture. Although I am about as good at painting landscapes as I am at photographing I would at least have been able to manipulate the scene to work within the frame. That is a luxury photographers don't have. Sometimes you can't even physically get the camera to a position you know would make everything fit.

 A simpler composition, which I liked for the shape of the pool being somewhat like that of the trees, failed again because I couldn't get the two main element to line up as I would have liked.

Earlier I had taken another shot which I hadn't considered to be a 'landscape'. I was more interested in the way the mud bank of a drainage ditch outflow, while small in scale, reminded me of a mountainside or canyon. I would have played around more with that idea but it would have required chest waders, and possibly a rope, to get into position to make more intimate pictures of the mud wall.

It was only when I put the picture on the computer that I considered the picture to be a 'landscape' that said more about 'place' than the other efforts. By showing less, or rather concentrating on the particular rather than the general, more has been revealed. The stand of trees and the river are still there, and deliberately so. Although I wasn't following the usual 'rules' of composition you might see demonstrated in populist photography manuals the picture was still carefully composed. A crop from the right to remove that annoying plant top might improve it, though. While far from perfect, I think it may have shown me a way in to deal with "the matter of landscape"