A shallow pool

As summer progresses and the snow melts, up high in the Alps, most melt water runs off down to the valley floors, but some remains trapped in shallow pools.

This past summer, on days when there was no busting hurry, I found considerable pleasure in drifting off the path to find pools like this one. Cloudy shallow water, rich in glacial sediment, with rocks that speckled the surface. I spent quite a few minutes here, gently pottering around the edge, searching for nature’s compositions. Enjoying the challenge and feeling totally relaxed.

We all need rewarding days like this.


Posted in Swiss Alps - Summer, Walking in the Alps | Tagged , , | 21 Comments

Interrupting Flow

Our creative thinking – our creative heart –  is never static, it is continuously evolving. It works in partnership with our Eye. One of my favourite quotes is from Joseph Campbell, a US writer, author and mythologist. He wrote: ‘The eyes are the scouts of the heart‘.

Those eight short words distill a profound concept. The eye cannot see without an active beating heart, and an eye that has yet to find its focus can never communicate effectively with its heart.

But when our creative heart is alive and inspired by exposure to the work of fellow artists, and our Eye is sharp, then life gets interesting. No visual journey is ever straightforward, there is never a defined destination and periodically we go ‘off piste’ as a skier might say. We have projects, we explore ideas, we get side-tracked. We change course, temporarily.

I have two projects that are active, and that for the time being are interrupting my usual ‘flow’.

The top image is evidence of one project. My two favourite seasons are Spring and Autumn, and currently in the northern hemisphere it is now Autumn.  For me, the beauty of Autumn exists both in the broad sweep of a forest, and in an individual leaf, and if I had to choose what I prefer to photograph, it would be a single leaf. I agree with John Dunne, an English Poet (1572-1631) who wrote: ‘No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace, As I have seen in one autumnal face‘.

I had an idea to take a fallen leaf and bring it home and photograph it like a botanical specimen. For background I’ve chosen the kitchen floor. Every leaf or small fan of leaves is different. The markings, the colours, the decay are all different. I see the end product as a gallery of small images on an A3 print – maybe nine or so. All the same type of leaf  – Oak as in the two images above. A bit like the way Andy Warhol displayed his prints of Campbell Soups. So far I have about 50 images, mainly of Oak and Sycamore.

The other project is from my archive. As well as belonging to a local camera club, I also belong  to one at the Royal Society of Medicine in London. Recently we had one of our regular members’ meetings to which we bring images to discuss, and one of our members explained how he had ‘photographed’ his collection of transparencies. Not by scanning them, but by projecting them onto a screen (as we all used to do in the past) and photographing the projected images. The results were surprisingly good. I have already successfully photographed all my exhibition-sized B&W prints, and some of those have appeared here on this blog (click on Post by Category and then Print Archive in the Rt Sidebar to view some examples), but I had never thought of doing a somewhat similar thing with transparencies.

I have now dipped a toe in that particular project. I didn’t give myself an easy image to start with – the image below was taken 22 years ago from the summit of Mont Blanc. A day etched into my memory – I climbed it with my son, who was aged 17 at the time. A thrilling but quite daunting experience (we both got back down in one piece), and a very long day – leaving the hut at 0100 hrs and finally back in Chamonix at 1830 hrs. It’s only when you look back at a set of images that you spot the glaring gaps – we never got an image of the two of us on the summit! How stupid was that – I blame the altitude.

The sky is not as smooth as I would like it to be – although I have de-noised it and also added a little gaussian blur.  But I’m pleased enough with the results to want to continue.

Sunrise over the shoulder of Aig du Midi, from high on Mont Blanc.

I did a rough count through my archive – about 6,500 transparencies! No, I won’t be photographing them all, but the project has the potential to breathe new life into images of our children’s childhoods and of events and holidays stretching back to the early ’70s, and before then. And it will be so much faster than scanning them all. This project will be ongoing through this winter and in winters to come.

I’ll let you know how I get on with both these projects.




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Terminal Decline

On my recent holiday in the Swiss Alps I spent a considerable amount of time photographing the glaciers and, on one day, crossing two of them.

This image is a small section of the last 100yds or so of the Fee Glacier (pronounced ‘fay’) above the village of Saas Fee. The glacier, at this point, is in its death throes – fractured, fragmented, collapsing and melting. I descended the length of this glacier for the first time in 1962 and over the course of the last 55 years I  have witnessed glacial retreat – the evidence of irrefutable.

Glaciers are an integral and critical element in the Alpine scenery and I feel quite emotional when I see the changes that are occurring annually.

Today’s image is the first in a series of glacial images that will follow in the next few weeks.  I have several hundred images to work through and a few stories to tell. This is just a taster.

Posted in Swiss Alps - Summer | Tagged , , , , , , | 32 Comments

After Dark

F8 1/20sec ISO 2500. Focal length 87mm

I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have deliberately gone out with a camera to capture images after dark – but when an opportunity arises then I enjoy the challenge.

Last week my local camera club – Horsham Photographic Society – planned an evening of ‘Low Light Photography’ in the centre of Horsham. About 25 of us turned out and after meeting up in the centre of town headed off in ones and twos to look for images.

Low light photography is a broad topic that includes flood lit buildings, funfairs and fireworks, shop windows and street scenes, traffic light trails, and star-gazing, to mention a few key possibilities.

What is possible is dictated by the environment. Shop windows after dark are rewarding in  London’s West End, but not particularly in places like Horsham. There are, however, opportunities to capture diners in restaurants and drinkers in bars –  there are no curtains and the public are viewed as if in a goldfish bowl –  but despite being 99% sure that they can’t see me, the idea of capturing them on camera feels voyeuristic.

F8 1/25sec ISO 2500. Focal length 60mm

What rapidly became clear to me last week was that the images that appealed to me were related to light spilling out from stairwells and windows and for an hour or so I roamed the town in search of inner light spilling out into the night.

On a night like this, one of the key decisions a photographer has to make is this: do I use a tripod, keep the ISO within sensible limits and allow the exposure to last as long as it takes, or, do I continue to hand-hold my camera, and wind the ISO up sufficiently to get sharp images? I chose the latter. (That question is of course a no-brainer if you are shooting the Milky Way or other work that involves prolonged exposures). I don’t like using a tripod if I can possibly avoid it, I feel restricted, and despite my age I can still hold a camera steady at slow shutter speeds. And it’s very often the case that there is a convenient support for your camera – a lamp-post, wall, or tree against which a camera can be firmly held; and De-Noise software is remarkably good at removing noise that is the penalty of shooting at a high ISO.

To give you factual information, I have added the metadata to each image. All images were shot using a 16-85mm (true focal length 24-127.5mm) Nikkor Zoom on a DX Nikon 7000. Processing in Photoshop involved correction in ACR in the standard way, removing noise using Topaz’s excellent De-Noise plug-in, a small adjustment using Topaz Adjust, and then a final clean up with a subtle use of Topaz Clean that helped to ‘smooth’ images a little more, and finally sharpening. In all images I adjusted Levels to ensure deep blacks in the shadow areas.

The top image was re-worked, using the clone tool to lower the vertical light shaft into a closer ‘elbow’ shaped relationship to the horizontal lit element. The final image in the gallery below originally had two small skewed windows to the right of the main tower of lights that I cloned out. What I like about that final image is the way the window lights on an invisible staircase resemble an abstract stack of simple ‘shapes’.

To view the gallery, click on the first image and navigate through.




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Tunnel Vision

You go to the Alps for a two-week holiday, enjoy the scenery and the wide-open spaces, and come back with grabbed images of something entirely different.

That’s how I see the world. My Eye is never closed to an opportunity, and I spot images in the unlikeliest of places. The Swiss are ingenious at creating up-lifts for the ski season, and short tunnels often link the top stations of lifts with the pistes and other facilities. Chair lifts are not usually in use in summer, but most other forms of uphill transport are available for walkers and mountaineers.

We had just stepped off a small gondola at Sunnega and were walking through a tunnel to the restaurant for lunch when I spotted this opportunity. No time to change settings or think – just ‘grab’. It turned out reasonably well. The Lumix Lx100 is proving to be a very capable little camera.

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Rock Strata

On the margins of the Gorner Glacier there are some extraordinary rock formations. Striped rocks, blue-grey alternating with shades of yellow, rippled and twisted – evidence of the colossal forces at work hundreds of millions of years ago that laid down these rocks, layer by layer, and which I assume are sedimentary.

On my walk, this summer, down to the Gorner Glacier from Rotenboden, high above Zermatt (click here to see previous post) I discovered a considerable area – probably more than 2,500 square yards, across which rocks similar to the above were visible.

In 2011 I pursued this trail across the glacier to the Monte Rosa Hut. This summer I elected to stop short of that goal at the top of the ladders shown below.

If you click on the vertical image to enlarge it, you may be able to discern bands of coloured rock to either side of the top section of the ladders. The following two images show what that area looks like close up.

This is an image from 2011 just a few feet above the ladders, and below is a view in the other direction taken this year in the opposite direction towards the Breithorn.

And the next image shows the view down the ladders (taken this year).

When I first saw these rocks six years ago I was unaware of the extent of them, so it was a complete surprise this year, and a thrill, to spend time just exploring and capturing these remarkable colours.

I am not a geologist and I can’t identify the type of rock responsible for the blue-grey stripes. I am hazarding a guess that it might be a relative of Quartz or some kind of Schist. I would be pleased to hear from any geologist reading this who can identify these strata.

Below is a gallery of images to skim through – a small gallery of a much bigger collection of images that I shot three weeks ago. Click on the first image and navigate through.


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This is one of the great views across the Gorner Glacier from the Monte Rosa Hut Trail. The Mountain in the distance is the Breithorn – three miles away with a 1.4 mile summit ridge.

On this particular day I was ‘investigating’. I’ve walked this trail, which includes a glacier crossing, to the new Monte Rosa Hut before; and if you click the link above you can see images from that previous trip including images of the new mountain hut. That was a few years ago, and since then the glacier has shrunk further and on this recent re-visit I was intending to take a look and see how the situation had changed.

The answer is quite a lot. I didn’t actually reach the edge of the glacier. I spoke to mountaineers travelling back from the Hut who confirmed what I suspected: access to the glacier has got more difficult and now requires crampons – something I wasn’t carrying. And getting down to the edge of the glacier involves ladders and gangways – not a problem but a lot of effort. With that question resolved I was able to slow down and allow photography to be the priority.

Photography and mountain walking/climbing do not go easily together. Walking and climbing in the Alps are almost always about reaching an objective: a place, a ridge or a summit and returning to base or occasionally the next base for that night. Inevitably there is a schedule to keep to. Photography requires time – demands time – waiting for the light, that elusive break in the clouds, hunting for the best vantage point and a good composition. At best it slows you down, or it can easily add an hour to the day if repeated stops are made. At worst it is disruptive.

So every time I step out for a day in the Alps I have to make a decision. Is the walk more important than the images – are the images just the narrative (= visual memory) of the day? Or is the day an opportunity to slow down, allowing photography to dictate the pace; having the time to sit and wait for the light? A chance perhaps to hunt down the detail and find the images that, when walking, are missed or ignored.

On this particular day, I remembered from my previous visit, that there was some fascinating rock strata close to the point at which the trail descended sharply to the glacier’s edge. And for an hour or so I enjoyed simply pottering around with the camera, finding an interesting bit of rock, focusing in on a bit of the glacier below, and photographing the alpine flowers. It felt good.

The image above is just a foretaste of the rocks that I found. The next post (now loaded, click here to view) will be rather more dramatic.

PS – the blue and white marking on the foreground boulder is a way-mark arrow. Paths in the Alps are well signposted. Valley walks are usually marked by yellow diamonds; more strenuous walks have red and white stripes; high alpine trails that have sustained difficulties of one sort or another and which should only be attempted by serious walkers are marked with blue and white stripes.






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