Who needs sunshine and expensive gear?

Most recently I held a talk at my old school, Easthampstead Park School in Bracknell to a number of year groups in the art department on my outdoor photography, how I got to where I am now, who influences me amongst other items. This was an interesting talk in that the sixth formers are the next generation to be going to university and joining the scary world of work and finding their own two feet in this already competitive and crowded landscape.
Bracknell is no where special and gets a lot of grief like most places, a lot feel down and struggle to find inspiration or know where they’re going so I opened the talk with how I am just like them.

"I was in your shoes 8 years ago”

I was just like you only eight years ago, although lucky I knew that I wanted to get in to the Creative industry it was only in Sixth form and university did I know which area. This being graphic design, up until then I just focused everything in to being creative and ignored my other areas such as Science, Maths and English… Especially English as I really didn’t enjoy this subject.

Since leaving leaving school I have been to university and now have a degree in Creative Arts and Visual Design, I’ve set up two businesses one of which I’ve sold, worked for several agencies - ‘let go’ from one and made redundant from two more companies, moved three times and now as part of my living I write and travel and design, photograph and produce numerous items for global brands. Let’s not forget the talking and educating with Duke of Edinburgh, Scouts and talks like this.

Now that all sounds fantastic eh? Here’s the catch, did you know that I have dyslexia? So I find writing and reading fairly difficult and often trip up over my own words, especially when writing so why on gods name would I want to write and do this as part of my living? It’s a challenge and in doing this I have learnt a great deal more about myself and learnt to overcome my dyslexia. To this day one of my proudest writing achievements was getting an A* on my Graphic design essay, next was getting a First for my 50,000 word dissertation on setting up a Creative business as a student at university. My reviews I write on equipment and the outdoors typically range from 800 - 3000 words and take me a month to pull together and the brands love what I write and how thorough, consist and how much time I put in to the testing and experience with the products.

So if you have something making life more difficult like Dyslexia don’t let yourself be beaten or let anyone else put you down about it. It’s a minor set back and if you keep pushing and fighting you can overcome these mole hills. I hated English as a subject and very nearly failed it but now the mad thing is I write all these equipment reviews, run a blog and write some marketing copy for clients so anything is achievable.

Now if you had told me eight years ago I would be stood back in my old school holding a talk on my creative work, what I get up to now and some of the brands I work for I would had laughed in your face and would had been in utter disbelief.

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So Why the outdoors?

I was asked why the outdoors and what draws you back to venturing out in to the mountains no matter the weather?

The obvious part to this is my connection and continued work with the Duke of Edinburgh award and Scouts and having been involved all my life it’s easy to see why I love the mountains and hiking but why landscape photography? While studying fine art here I hated. HATED! drawing and painting portraits and as a subject to photograph I find it very boring.

But I’ve only really grown to love landscape photography again in the past few years, post university. Having taken a break at university from Scouts and DofE I found I missed it a great deal and as soon as I left university and returned back to the South East I jumped straight back in to it all.

Years later I now enjoy the outdoors as a means to get away and enjoy my other past time of photography, joining other photographers around the UK as we wild camp and explore new locations. I no longer work with Scouts or Duke of Edinburgh award and have since put more focus in to my own trips and photography. Now I’m incredibly proud to represent Vanguard Photo and Snugpak as a brand ambassador.

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I rarely have good weather

You can’t see it but this photo below was horrible to shoot in. Heavy rain inside an abandoned quarry labrinth, the floor was caped in mud, wet leaves and lethal slabs of slate which were more like sheets of ice. It wasn’t a case of wiping the lens between each shot, you just had to accept everything was going to get soaked and just sit there waiting with the camera cover on.

Out of all my trips this year only one weekend has been a full weekend of sunshine and I found it very difficult to shoot in.

I opened the question to the room “What do you think is more difficult - Shooting in the rain and poor conditions like this or in bright blue skies and sunshine?”

It was a mixed response of answers but most agreed shooting in the sunshine could be more boring but more enjoyable to be out in just not from a photographic perspective. However no one liked the thoughts of standing on a mountain in heavy rain, to be honest I don’t blame them.

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It’s okay to use old or cheap kit - Stop the snobbery and just have fun

You don’t need to use the most expensive kit to get results, you can achieve amazing results both to your bank account and creativity by using old lens for film cameras or even using cheaper lens. Here are three examples of mine using cheap, or old and broken lens all of which have been placed and won in competitions.

From left to right:
“Little Wonders” using an Olympus Pen-F with a 35 year old BROKEN macro lens - I passed this lens around as I still own it and people were shocked by how light it was and how it was even possible to still get anything using it as I explained unscrewing the UV filter on the front would result in the the lens fall apart.

Olympus Pen-F with M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/4-5.6 a cheap £100 lens - This is just a stacked composition of 6 photos to overcome to the extremes in the shadows and highlights.

Nikon D500 with 50-300mm f/4-5.6 telephoto again a cheap £200 telephoto which isn’t designed for macro with a 1.5m min focal distance. I explained for this kind of work actually using a telephoto is better for Butterflies as they are often scared away.

In the end if you get the results you are happy with then who cares what the next elitist or keyboard warrior says. If you enjoyed that day you have achieved something.

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Blue skies are boring

In one of my only completely dry weekends of the year I found this the hardest to shoot in and out of the hundred odd photos I took this is the only one I am really happy with! I took nothing during the day however as it was so hot and bright as we hiked across the Carmarthen Fans on the hottest day of the year.

BUT if it wasn’t raining I doubt we would had hiked all that way and just skipped to the end location to wild camp up here which would had been a shame even if we would had got better photos. It was a great weekend out enjoying the Summer sun and it’s a reminder that you don’t always need to take a photo - Just enjoy the moment.

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It’s okay to make mistakes

Everyone will recognise this building but how did I get the magenta glow to this photo without doing anything in post production?

It happened from a mistake I made in-camera. When using a 10-15 stop neutral density filter you often have to set a custom white balance to ensure you have the correct white balance and no colour hue comes through from the filter. On this occasion I forgot to change the white balance and left it on cloudy and as a result the purple cast was amplified from the ND filter.

Between the two photos I much preferred the purple cast over the “real” sunset. Essentially what I am saying and expanding on my previous note of ignoring comments and having fun - Making mistakes is okay, it’s how we learn and on the odd occasion you can get better results in doing so.

Shortly after taking this photo a group of American tourists walked passed and spotted the photo on the back of my camera and were shocked at how different it was with the purple and asked for my business card and ordered several prints. I should make more mistakes like this.

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Money doesn’t mean everything

Another long exposure but an older photo. This was taken at a place on Anglesey called Penmon point at the height of Storm Brian.
(Many of the kids looked confused so I had to remind them about the memes of Brian you’ve been a very naughty boy” and all of them then remembered).

At this point I started to hand around my tripod I used to take this photo. This being the Vanguard Photo Veo travel tripod, it weights a little over 1.1kg and designed for travel so is very small and slim to make it easy to carry about. What it’s not built for is withstanding 65mph winds and heavy rain in a storm on the coast.

When I said this photo is one exposure at 30 seconds in the midst of these conditions they were shocked how it was possible using such a small and light tripod, surely the tripod and camera should had been swept away. Further to this point I mentioned the tripod was only £100 and compared to the other togs I was shooting with on this week trip in Snowdonia who were using big expensive Gitzo tripods which costed upwards of £600 each and had issues all week with legs falling off and locking up in the rain.

Clearly money doesn’t mean everything when it comes to quality.

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Don’t be a sheep

Anyone recognise this place? Durdledoor that classic over shot location.
Those who had visited said the arch was actually really boring and off putting with so many people there to see this arch.

It’s okay to reshoot these photos of course, do what you like but what you should think about is trying to get something different and don’t just follow the crowds or Instagram for that matter. You can get better results if you venture away from these as I showed here. On the walk down on my first visit the Durdledoor I spotted several others braving the storm to see the arch and as a result with the blue sea and red sands the brightly coloured jackets stood out as they made there way up the beach towards Bats Head.

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An expensive lesson

Both of these are taking in the waterfall country in the Brecon Beacons, both of course it’s raining and in both my equipment - Filters and camera broke or failed.

In the first on the left. A five minute exposure to make the people behind the waterfall disappear. Even weathersealed cameras don’t like the rain and I wasn’t happy with the results I got. Shortly after the photo was taken I noticed water had got inside the OVF and the camera locked up so I rushed back to my car to dry off the camera. Thankfully it was okay just a bit damp and cold.

The second waterfall on the right. I dropped £350 worth of filters in the water and smashed the 10 stop ND and scratched the polariser filter and soft grad.
Was it worth the filter replacements and cost? Yes, it was a good weekend out showing a fellow photographer around the area who gain the confidence to do more of this stuff on his own and venture further.

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Snobbery needs to stop

This doesn’t make much sense when you see the photo and why should it? I recently ventured back up to one of my local spots at Ivinghoe Beacon having seen the chances of an inversion and fog being high. Here at Ivinghoe you are high enough to sit above the clouds that loom in the lower valleys which we call a cloud inversion.

Here you get a few hills popping up with various buildings or trees which are isolated and make a great photo.

However I wasn’t the only photographer who was expecting these brilliant conditions and as I arrived on top of the hill several others shooting with full frame cameras and using big tripods towering over them. Several spotted my little Vanguard Veo tripod and Olympus set up and made the comment of how can you take anything using those?

I chose to ignore the comments and moved further down the hill knowing the location and the better vantage points.

What is the point with this belittling? More importantly when did gear become such a big status to making you a better creative?
The best weapon a photographer or a creative to that matter is there brain, you can have the most expensive camera in the world packed full of all the features but if you don’t know how to use it then what is the point in you using it?

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It’s not all about gear!

My number 1 tip to anyone new to photography or starting out is: Gear doesn’t matter and it’s all about education.
Decided between these two:

A £6000 set up and struggle to take anything and not understand what is going wrong?

OR

Have a £1000 set up and spend another £500 on teaching yourself photography?
Resulting in photos you are proud off and print

Everyone in the room agreed if you know how to use the £6000 set up then go for if its the best for what you need. However if you are new then going for the cheaper set up and learning how to use this first is better and build up and upgrading when you can. I finished this point making most photos will typically end up online for social media and as a result you couldn’t tell what camera or kit they used unless they said.

Now guess what camera I used for these two shots?

These are taken a year apart from each other but can you guess what camera I used looking at them both? One is a £2000 camera, the other £800.

No one in the room could guess what the photos were taken with and why should they?
I explained the one on the right is using a better lens as you can clearly see it is sharper while the one on the right is using a cheap £100 telephoto lens but why should this matter what lens I used? This photo made it as a finalist photo, coming second in it’s category in the International Garden Photographer of the Year.

Shortly after I passed around my Olympus OM-D EM-5 mkII and all were shocked how small it was which is what took the photo on the right.

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Don’t be put of by bad weather

It’s not easy… I’ve debated several times why I do this.

Don't be put off by the weather, if something doesn't happen don't be disheartened that the sun didn't shine or that event didn't happen. There are always other opportunities, nothing only happens once.

Two weeks ago several of us ventured to North Wales, we had nothing but rain for the week but this didn’t stop us and as a result we had some brilliant conditions to match the landscape.

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Composition is king

90% of you will likely have an iPhone in this room which is better than what I used to take these photos. These four all shortlisted in competitions and are taken using a Sony Xperia XA 12mp camera which is a terrible camera so it clearly doesn’t matter what tools you use for photography? Have fun and just get out there.
If you spend some time to educate yourself about the rules of exposure and making a composition/framing then you can achieve a lot with even the most simplest of tools and often in this situations you are forced in to being more creative and can get more enjoyment from these occasions.

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Having shared several of these phone shots the students were more excited about photography and having an easier means to enjoy themselves and not be put down because they didn’t use a DSLR or a “proper” photographic tool.
It doesn’t matter what you use as long as you get the results you pictured and had fun that is the most important thing just make sure you learn from mistakes and don’t be afraid to experiment or go wrong as you often can get some amazing results from them.