Last weekend I happened to be back home in the Dales for my brother’s birthday. In between the celebrations, I managed to get out for a walk in the woods, a place I’ve visited many times and with which I’m sure even you are familiar with now.
I often talk about chance on this blog – the idea that when you are photographing the natural world, you really have very little control over what happens. Sometimes this can ruin what would otherwise be a great shoot – I can’t count the number of times I’ve been disappointed by a sudden rush of cloud – but on very rare occasions it can lead to something more beautiful than the image you already had in your head.
This is one such image. I was photographing the fallen tree anyway, the ice and snow glistening in the morning sun, but I had no idea this beautiful creature was going to come along and pose for me! It’s very easy to have something like this happen, and to simply discard it because it’s not what you previsualised. I feel like that would be a waste. Some of the most beautiful things in our world occur simply by chance.
Work has changed the way I do photography. Having just started a year-long placement, I am working 8 hours a day, leaving me with only the evenings and weekends to shoot and edit my images. This means that I often can’t edit my images straight after shooting them. When taking into account other hobbies and commitments, I often don’t get round to editing an image until at least a few days after it’s been shot – maybe even as long as a week. The strangest thing is, I’m beginning to quite like this pace.
I find that leaving the images for a week or so before editing them makes the process much more enjoyable. I won’t always leave them for this long – sometimes I get so excited about an image that I simply can’t wait to start working on it – but when I do, it makes the editing feel fresh and independent of the shooting. This, in turn, allows me to discover the images in a way that I would never have done had I been blinkered by the lingering thought from the shoot.
That’s exactly what I did with these images from a trip to Skipton a couple of weeks ago. The delay between shooting and processing allowed me to approach the images with a fresh mind, and work with them much more thoughtfully.
Plenty of times I have gone out for a shoot and come away disappointed, before angrily formatting my camera’s SD card. Although I don’t like to admit it, the times when I do come away with nothing are frustrating, and it is hard to think calmly in that state of mind. If I leave the images, however, and come back to them a week or two later, that frustration and anger has melted away, and I can look at the image with a new pair of eyes.
Many people love the excitement of exploring new places. I do too, but what I love most is coming back to a place I have already visited ten, twenty, or a hundred times before. This is obvious from my repeated photographs of the two cairns on Skipton Moor, but that is not the only place in Skipton I keep coming back to. I don’t get to go home too often now that I’m starting a placement, but when I do get the chance I make sure to visit the woods.
At the end of that walk I come to Chapel Hill, and on that hill sits a lonely tree. I first photographed it in December of 2016. Over half a year has passed since then. The tree now bears leaves, but its form remains unchanged.
The tree leans on the landscape, and, like many trees, it has a certain character to it. This image is one of isolation, with the black form of the tree standing alone against a dramatic midday sky. By visiting this tree again and again, I get to know it better and better, and the landscape rewards me for my efforts.
I moved into my new house this week, so as you can imagine, I’ve had a fun time trying to sort everything out. We currently have no broadband, so as I type this my laptop is connected to my phone’s personal hotspot, with 0.7GB of data left. Until I get my internet sorted out, you can expect very little posting, but don’t worry – I’ll still be shooting, so there will be plenty of content once I’m up and running!
That being said, I can just about manage one post for now. I’ve always been fascinated by Holy Trinity Church, the largest church in Skipton, ever since being forced to go for services as a child. I remember being 8 or 9 and looking up at the inside arches in awe. For now, however, I’m limited to the exterior.
I find myself inspired by the Romantic movement, not necessarily in terms of style, but certainly in terms of objective. The focus of Romanticism (bear in mind that I am greatly simplifying here) was emotion, rather than reality. It is interesting to apply this to photography because photography takes reality as its starting point, allowing you to alter it through manipulating various technical aspects to create the image you visualise.
I love being in nature. Even in a world where humanity has taken control of the majority of the environment, pockets of nature remain, albeit altered by our presence. Skipton Woods is one such place, and that is one of the reasons why I love coming here. For me, the experience is more important than the final images, but I wanted to try to combine the two, and come away with an image that described how I felt upon seeing the light filter through the trees onto this small river.
The black, twisted forms of the trees arch over the beck, forming a tunnel through which light filters, reflecting on the water. A slight vignette focuses the eye on the circle of light in the very center of the image. The contrast between the water and the branches creates a haunting image. I very rarely have the confidence to consider one of my images beautiful, but I think this may be one of the few that I believe are, at least to me. You might believe that it’s arrogant to say that, but I don’t. If I don’t believe in my own ability to create beauty, then there is no point to me being an artist.
Trees are to me one of nature’s most beautiful forms. They are used so often as metaphors for the passage of time because they embody that passage. In spring the trees blossom, growing greener as we move into summer, before their leaves wither in autumn, leaving their branches bear and skeletal for winter. This cycle repeats again and again. Most of the trees here have not yet regained their leaves. This means I still have the chance to capture their bare, twisting forms.
This image is slightly more abstract than a lot of my work. Taking inspiration from this tree, I wanted to capture nothing but the form of the branches. Here these black tendrils are captured on the flat white background of fog.
This second image is a bit more conventional. Layers of trees stretch out into the distance, with the fog adding mystery to the scene by obscuring the furthest trees from view. My favourite part about this image is the tree in the foreground, to the right, and the way it leans entirely in one direction. Its branches stretch out over the rest of the scene, almost forming some kind of frame. As you move deeper and deeper into the frame, you have to look harder to distinguish details in the trees.
As I’ve explained in this post, I love fog for the atmosphere it lends to the scene and the way it presents viewers with vague suggestions of form, rather than anything concrete. By doing this, you are forced to really study the images to uncover their true nature. This, combined with the beautiful forms of the trees, makes for a wonderful environment in which to shoot.
Fog is one of my favourite conditions in which to shoot. I’m drawn to the fog because it allows me to hide things from the people who see my images. Parts of the frame are obscured, or missing completely, and so rather than a crystal-clear image you are left with something vague – merely a suggestion of an image.
Here a drystone wall snakes through the frame before disappearing behind a white veil. The fence-posts mark regular intervals that slowly get fainter and fainter, before they vanish altogether. Nothing here presents itself to you, instead hiding away in the fog, and forcing you to chase after it.
This morning I made the hour-long climb up to the top of Skipton Moor in complete darkness. This is the second time I’ve done this, but unlike last time I could not see the lights of the town receding from view as I climbed. Instead there was nothing, because a dense fog had set in. This kind of weather is wonderful for photography, but terrible for navigation. I know my way around this place like the back of my hand, but it took longer than usual for me to spot the familiar trig point.
Isolated from its surroundings by the dense fog, this small stone was like a beacon for me, piercing through the haze to show me the way to the summit. Once up there I was completely encompassed by fog, unable to see further than about 5 meters ahead of me. Eventually some of it cleared, exposing the valley below, still blanketed in cloud.
The fog obscures most of the landscape, but leaves just enough uncovered to give a sense of form. The hills look like giant creatures emerging for air from a sea of white cloud. It is hard to describe how breathtaking this sight was, with the town so familiar to me completely hidden by clouds, and this image can only show a small fragment of that wonder.
Eventually the sun rose, forming a pillar of light that shot up through the sky, while the sleepy landscape below still lay under its blanket of white.
With the sun up it was time for me to pack up and return. This was a truly magical experience that not many people will have had this morning. For an hour, in that fog, it felt like I was the only person in the world, watching an awe-inspiring scene unfold just for me. Creating can be stressful, especially when I have so many other commitments to juggle, but times like these make it all worth it.