Friday, 26 October 2012

Friday October 26

 Welcome to the Stills Environmental photography course.

Why 'Environmental' photography?
Because, with a camera we can explore our environment, wherever and whatever that may be - city, village, industrial sprawl, mountain, forest, sea...
If I say 'Landscape' photography, there are often a set of habits, pictures and assumptions that automatically spring to mind, and you might want to look beyond the scenery.

What we will be doing on the course depends very much on what you want to get out of it - so do let me know. (I have a few ideas of my own, of course.)
I have found that most people like to spend as much time actually out and about, shooting. I use this blog to introduce ideas and show some styles of photography that will be helpful when we are out shooting; and I also use it to keep you informed of meeting arrangements and locations.
I can also be contacted at
My background is in professional editorial and corporate photography, and I have produced landscape photography of some of the wilder parts of Scotland for the land conservation charity, the John Muir Trust.
You can find a examples of that project at: 


and - I try to update this blog and I plan to develop it as a photographic education site, so it might be worth keeping an eye on...

The basic set of considerations for any day out shooting is this:

  • The location
  • The conditions
  • The idea
  • The inspiration
  • The route
Simple enough, and these can vary in detail and complexity, and we will explore them more fully during the next few weeks.

Met office pressure chart - north airflow often means good light

  • The location is Stills and the Old Town
  • The conditions will be (probably) cool, with clouds clearing, and when they do so we may get clear, undiffused, contrasty light. We have the beginning of a northerly air flow that often gives lovely clear light and varied cloudscapes. I think today it may be modified by a little hazy cloud. Towards the end of the afternoon, that light will be low angled, oblique and useful for revealing texture and form. In autumn, winter and early spring, such light also shoots through wynds like a dramatic spotlight.

Ragnar Axelsson - using frames to good effect
  • The idea may be a simple visual one or something with a bit more conceptual content. The visual idea may flow from the conditions - so today we could explore the visual idea of high contrast light, and explore the extremes of brightness and shade. The idea may also be a larger unifying project idea that links your shooting together to create a coherent project theme.
      As a stimulus, we can consider the idea of frames, borders, edges and boundaries, as these touch upon some fundamental characteristics of photography such as: a frame, obviously; the edge of your frame and where you position it, what you exclude and include; a border between contrasting states such as the Old and New town, between sea and land, woodland and mountain, industry and rural, between the past and the present; a visual 'edge' also known as acutance is a defining quality in image making and in light - see Trent Parke; a boundary might be a constraint and a lot of good photography comes out of imposing a constraint or a limit on yourself - Josef Sudek for example. 
Josef Sudek, the poet of Prague, created a powerful body of work
as a result of being constrained

Rangnar Axelsson making bold use of the frame's edge,
and also the 'acutance' or edge definition of  the tones within the image
Trent Parke "light turns to ordinary into the magical"
  • The inspiration - there's a lot of good photography out there to help us. Sometimes this can make us feel that it has all been done before. Paul Hill has remarked in his book, 'Approaching Photography', that "you haven't done it, and it is important to remember that fact."  Jerome Loreau has an eye for light and contrast in his travel photographs that include Edinburgh.
The route - today I suggest leaving Stills, and make for the Greyfriar's Cemetery. It's been described as both a mecca and a holy grail for photographers and its atmospheric grounds were frequently celebrated by Robert Louis Stevenson, who in turn inspired visiting American pictorialist photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn to follow in his footsteps. Since then, almost anyone who can hold a camera has visited the graveyard at somepoint.  We can walk up Cockburn Street, down into the Cowgate and Grassmarket, then up to Greyfriars entrance, opposite the Museum.
Robert Reihhardt, following in Alvin Langdon Coburn's footsteps

Weir's Close - Alvin Langdon Coburn,
inspired by Romantic stories and writing,
especially Robert Louis Stevenson