For assignment 2, Collecting, I chose the subject of views. This post provides my assignment notes, with my final images in a separate post. I saw a challenge in attempting to relate to the landscape in a way that would show the rugged beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and how it feels for me to be alone in them; away from the noise and crowds of urban areas.
The conventional photographs of the Dales tend to be sharp from front to back with a slightly over-saturated greens and blues, giving the impression of a Mediterranean quality of light. This rarely, if ever, occurs in Yorkshire. It is too disconnected from the reality to resonate. My aim was to capture the feeling isolation in the countryside; small in a vast prehistoric landscape, appreciating the details within the larger frame. I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by front-to-back detail in a photograph, feeling like an outsider looking in on place not known, although previously visited many times.
Influenced by Jem Southam’s work that focuses on a specific route or location (see blog post – lens work in landscape), I chose Malham Dale as a location for my photographic adventure. This is a route well trodden and photographed, with a dedicated website, http://www.malhamdale.com/index.htm (accessed 23.3.15). That it is such a well-known location added to the challenge of approaching the photographs with a fresh-eye, avoiding the temptation to make the same images as other photographers.
To arrive at my overall vision for the series of photographs, I pooled my thoughts in a mind map (see blog post – collecting mind map). I noted:
- Photograph differently to the popular images – deep depth of field/saturation – impression of viewing as outsider, not part of landscape.
- Theme of isolation within a landscape of brutal-beauty ref Fay Godwin.
For the practical aspects of the shoot, I set off from home a 7am on a Saturday morning to at least get sometime at the location before the walkers arrived. I took a backpack with supplies of water-proofs, finger-less gloves, spare camera battery, a tripod (as a precaution), lens pen and cloths, spare SD cards, and drinking water. The camera used was a Fuji X-T1 with a Fujinon XF35mm 1.4 lens (efl 53mm). Even with a light camera, the backpack was a good weight for a 6 mile walk.
Description of approach
My research into landscape photographers is summarised in my blog post on Michael Kenna. As I mentioned in that post, I was particularly inspired by Kenna’s comment, “Photography’s absolute power used to be its tie with reality: what you photographed was real and existed. That has now gone.” It seem to reflect how I felt about many photographs of the Yorkshire Dales. I also liked that he uses only black and white (as with Fay Godwin’s landscape work), which removes colour from the equation and perhaps allows a greater appreciation of the lines and crags of rugged-beauty.
I used a Fuji X-T1 with a a Fujinon XF35mm 1.4 lens (efl 53mm). I chose a standard lens, rather than a wider-angle typically used for landscape. This was to help create the feel of looking at a landscape through one’s own eyes, rather than a exaggerated perspective. For all shots the ISO was set to 200 and the aperture wide at f/2. My aim was to draw the eye to elements of the landscape, through a narrow depth of field, while providing a context through the blurred background. Although my final images use this approach, I did experiment closing the aperture slightly to reduce the extent of background blur (the DOF preview in the Fuji’s electronic viewfinder is extremely effective in viewing the effect). The shutter speed in each image is shown in the caption in the post of the images.
I experienced a near-miss technical issue when the sun eventually came out while I was on the open hillside – I had no ND filter and keeping the aperture open at f/2 was giving a red warning at a shutter speed of 1/4000 (the limit of the mechanical shutter). Fortunately, Fuji’s late 2014 firmware upgrade to provide an electronic shutter with a limit of 1/32,000 saved me.
I found it challenging selecting the final edit from an initial 140 pictures. Below are contact sheets some images I liked but didn’t make the final selection. I think if I had been more rigorous in sticking to the idea of being alone, or isolated, in a wider landscape I would have had fewer images to review. On the other hand, the left-overs may have another use.
Overall, I’m pleased with my final selection of 8 photographs and believe they capture what I set out to achieve. As a whole, the images capture the limestone rock, water, trees and skies of the Dales. Showing rugged-beauty and from an intimate viewpoint that makes me feel part of the landscape, rather than an outsider looking in.
One photography isn’t strictly consistent with the edit of the others – Tree on a Slope, which is shot with the same narrow DOF but at a more distant view-point. However, I left it in as it is an image of isolation and because I perhaps became attached to it while waiting for the small break in the cloud to arrive just behind the tree!
To follow on from this project, I have the idea of approaching the same route with different perspectives. I’d be particularly interested in looking at the human interaction with the ancient landscape – how we are just visitors, while the landscape remains relatively unchanged, watching us come and go, grow and die.