Running a Gallery - first impressions by stuart mcglennon

 Inside the Gallery

Inside the Gallery

Well, as some of you will know a short time ago I gave up my nice, secure job at Sellafield for the 'glamorous' world of full-time photography, and more specifically - running a photographic gallery.

After nearly 4 months of being open I thought I'd take time out and touch base with those of you have an interest in my work - some of the things I've seen and experienced so far have been an eye-opener to say the least!

The general public

One thing that my fiance warned me about, and for the most part I didn't believe, was that people are just flat-out weird. No two ways about it. I've spent most of my working life around generally 'normal' folk (what even is normal?) and not in a customer-facing environment, so my patience and capacity to deal with sheer stupidity hasn't really been tested much.

Until now.

" not a fan, too many landscapes".................. said one guy. Obviously the giant banner outside the shop that can be seen from space advertising 'Lake District Landscape Photography' was worth investing in.

"Yes darling but you've got better ones on your phone"............ said another. This might actually be true, who knows :-)

"That part of the picture has really pixellated badly"........... mused one technically-minded visitor. Yes sir, THE REFLECTION IN THE WATER is pixellated. Obviously not too savvy with the concept that water actually moves.

"They're JUST prints".............. this is a new one to me but i'm now told is definitely a 'thing'. Such snobbery is often displayed by folk who you can just tell looking at them literally don't know the first thing about Art or Photography.

One of the best so far - "Of course I know it's Stonehenge"........... I kid you not i've heard this about 10 times now. Early on I'd gone to the liberty of creating nice wee image description cards which sit on the corner of each image, title is in font size 24 folks.

"Is it Lens District Gallery or LEN'S District Gallery??"..........said one guy to his partner - note the lack of an apostrophe in the name. 

Just to be clear, this is all very entertaining and doesn't bother me in the slightest - but forgetting the pictures, the stupidity of some people really does take the breath away at times. I'm now jotting these little nuggets down as they might make a good book in future!

What sells, what doesn't

So far this element has been really surprising, in a positive way though. When I first took over, I'd envisaged more of the classical, almost postcard content outselling the more personal work - what I've actually found is that they're selling in fairly equal measure. Keswick is an extremely busy tourist town during peak periods, and from a business standpoint you'd be absolutely mad not to cater for a tourist crowd who want something a bit more straightforward from their time in the lakes. However some of the more personal work has had no problem shifting either. Having a printer on-site is a big advantage in being able to 'trial' certain images without having to commit in bulk quantities, thus reducing the risk element also. I'd like to think in the future the gallery would be less reliant on the tourist-style stuff, a fanciful idea however in the short term the focus will be on catering to as wide a range of an audience as possible.

Print your work folks

It's a bit of cliche these days and as photographers we're always encouraged to print our work, but it couldn't be more true. I've in the past produced prints on a one-off basis like most of us however since opening and producing much bigger prints more often, it really does give you a better idea of whether an image stands up or not. I've seen countless examples already where I've been sure an image looks great in Lightroom then once printed at A2 / A1 size it just isn't the case, and also vice-versa. Of course you don't have to print this big but I'd encourage anyone to actively print their work. I've seen countless photographers already come in the gallery and comment that they never print which is a real shame.

 Distressed Oak Frame

Distressed Oak Frame

Framing is extremely important

When I first opened I'd truly underestimated the value of high quality framing, and naively was only working with two types which of course isn't ideal as some images simply can't be framed in a black or oak - cost is of course a factor but from a commercial standpoint I've found as i'm going along that a really striking frame can sell the image as well as the image itself. One thing is for sure though, you can absolutely ruin a great image with the wrong frame, so if I could give anyone any framing advice I'd say give it more thought than you would usually, it's worth it in the end. I work with Scott Richardson at Studio 18 just outside Keswick, we've built a great working relationship already and I know I can take my prints to him and discuss the best look possible for each image. I'd strongly recommend anyone to do the same if you value your work.

A Much More Happy Me

Finally, probably the most important aspect of my career move has been from a personal welfare standpoint - I'd alluded to in previous posts relating to opening the gallery that the overriding driver for this change was to improve our situation in the home. Thankfully this part has been an overwhelming success - regular sleep is fantastic! There's some quite alarming statistics for those who work shifts for prolonged periods of their lives (in my case 7 years, many of my friends will work shifts for the rest of their working lives) such as shortened life expectancy, risk of coronary/cardiovascular diseases as well as stress and poor sleep. In my case I never really understood stress until recently and always felt people used the term a bit too loosely (like when folk say they have the flu when they really don't!) but 'proper' stress is a horrible thing and insidiously invades your thoughts 24/7, and was something I'll openly admit to suffering from and in the end something had to give.

Thankfully since opening the gallery I've been able to spend way more time with my fiance and my son and our relationships are closer than ever. Up until I opened Rory would be classed as 'pre-verbal' (for those who hadn't read any previous vlogs my son is 6 and autistic) but since I've been able to spend more time at home his speech has come on leaps and bounds, and I'd like to think it's been in no small part he's got a much more settled home life now, and spending much more quality time with both his mum and dad at the same time rather than separately which was the case about 80% of the time previously.

So to finish on a positive note, things are going well - long may it continue! If you're reading this and are visiting the Lake District in the near future do pop in and say hello, it's been fantastic to meet so many people I converse with on Social Media and hopefully that will continue :-)

Until next time folks 

Stuart

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking a leap by stuart mcglennon

Well, I never thought I'd be doing this so soon, but as I write this I've made the seemingly manic decision to quit my job, and go full time with the photography.

Bonkers? Probably. Though not as bonkers as you'd think.....

Firstly I'm not impulsive, not in the slightest - I'm pretty methodical by nature and like to explore all avenues thoroughly before making any decisions, certainly when it comes to things like spending money. My fiance will attest to this when labouring over which TV to buy, or what film we're going to watch.................... "just pick one!"...................... is heard often. Although I'm thorough and  I like to have all the facts at hand, I'm not frightened of making big decisions, I just need all the information first. And while this career change certainly isn't buying a new TV,  my method for making the decision hasn't changed. Given the speed at which this has all happened at (about 7 or 8 weeks), a few friends and colleagues have suggested I've made a knee-jerk decision, when the process of getting to this point actually hasn't been impulsive at all, and here's why.

The shop in it's current form as Brave the Skies

My (now previous) job was at times an extremely high pressured job, and both mentally and physically taxing. It involved working a shift pattern which alarmingly had 8 different start times ranging from 4.45am to 1045pm (most shift jobs have 2 or 3 start times max) and involved periods of the month where I'd spend long time periods away from my fiancé and young son. I've mentioned previously that my son is autistic, and also non-verbal which presents its own unique challenges, and at times my work definitely added more pressure on an already strained home life, more than it really should have. For long periods each month me and my partner were passing ships and I'd not see my son for a week at a time which was particularly stressful. We'd often joke I may as well be on an Oil Rig in the North Sea for those periods, but then that was the reality. As he grows older this has become a situation that couldn't go on as it was no good for any of us. This had led to me actively exploring other employment opportunities for the last few months although nothing had come to fruition.

So when the opportunity arose to take on the running of the gallery i currently exhibit work in came around, it was music to my ears if I'm honest. The opportunity to pursue something I'd have probably been building towards in the medium to long term was too good to at least explore in more detail. I'm very fortunate to have had the guidance and advice of my best friend and local entrepreneur John Graham, (owner of Merienda cafes in both Cockermouth and Keswick) who has successfully run two businesses in busy tourist towns for the past 10 years. John is a lifelong friend who I grew up with touring the country as my doubles partner, where we were both fortunate enough to represent England at junior level playing badminton. We've been through a lot together and having him to lean on a bit throughout this process has been invaluable. I trust his advice implicitly as he shares my passion for giving a project or personal interest everything you've got. I sent him away to pour over the figures as I had done, and asked him to find every fault (no matter how small) that he could. After some time he came back and told me what I wanted to hear, that the opportunity was to good to turn down. I'm no spring chicken anymore, at 35 this might not come round again.

So fast forward to today, and as I write this I'm preparing to get started on a bit of a re-fit of the shop before hopefully opening on May 5th, a bank holiday weekend so should prove to be something of a baptism of fire. I'll be honest, I've no idea how to run a business (how can I have, I've been stuck in an office for 15 years!), but it's going to be fun finding out, and I'm determined to make it work. It's a wee bit daunting, but exciting at the same time. The chance to do photography for a living is a dream I think we all share so I'm just really looking forward to getting started and seeing what I can do with it.

 

More than anything else though, I'm looking forward to getting some quality of life back into the time I spend with my family - you can't put a price on that and even though in the short term they'll probably be some bloody long hours, the reward will be all the greater for it. The little things like being able to tuck the wee fella in every night is something I've really missed working shifts.

Lens District Gallery will (hopefully) open on May 5th 2018 and will feature both personal work from myself and also some selected photographers who share my passion for the Lake District. I'd really appreciate it if you're ever in the area to stop by and say hello. The Lake District is something of a hot spot for landscape photography so it would be nice to put faces to names of all the nice people I interact with on social media.

Wish me luck I'll need it!

'The Beast From The East' and the pressure to cash in by stuart mcglennon

Well, that was an interesting few days wasn't it??!!

me.jpg

Last year I think collectively everyone had a bit of a moan about the distinct 'lack' of wintry conditions in the UK (certainly in England anyway) however this time round there can be no such complaints. 'The Beast From The East' and also the snowfall that preceded it a couple of weeks earlier has for the most part delivered something for pretty much everyone, and given us all the opportunity to create some fantastic snow-themed imagery. I must mention though to spare a thought for all those affected by this weather and perhaps don't share our love of the snow, and the strain it puts on emergency services etc - no photo is worth putting your own and others lives at risk. It was certainly at the forefront of my mind when going out and made me turn back from several situations where others less sensible would have carried on.

One thing I wanted to touch on which I think we all feel a bit is something of an underlying pressure to 'get out' in these conditions and milk them for all they're worth, rather than actually enjoying just being out full stop - i'm no different in that sense however I was determined that with only having one full day to shoot these conditions I was going to just embrace and enjoy the day in some fantastic surroundings irrespective of what I produced. It would be easy to fall into the trap of chasing a certain image at a certain place when the snow falls but for me if I'd done that I'd have probably come back with some very average images (you may think the ones I've posted are also lol)

Snow_Day-17.jpg

The only slight downside to shooting the places I like to go (very much off the beaten track usually) was most of the roads to them were impassable, so something more straightforward and reachable was loosely planned. Myself and friend first had a walk around the shores of Derwentwater as the main roads to Keswick were fine, we found some fantastic shapes and textures to be had along the shoreline. Then afterwards we headed towards Ullswater where again roads were pretty treacherous so a meander around Matterdale shooting the desolate, wind-blown landscape was the alternative.  The snow around the Ullswater area is always usually much deeper and plentiful due to where it's situated, it's just a shame we couldn't get down to the lake side explore that area. The plan here was to make a rough track towards Great Mell Fell but the wind was absolutely crazy, making progress across the growing drifts extremely difficult. In the end we got to the foot of the fell and decided it wasn't worth going any further, with visibility down to about 50 yards and a real risk there might have been an issue with where the car was parked if we'd left it there for any longer. 

  Could have been Lapland in that forest!

Could have been Lapland in that forest!

We had a mooch round some trees in the Matterdale area then true to form decided to take a 'shortcut' round and through some forest which once in the middle of could have literally been anywhere - never mind a short drive from home. I knew nothing I'd shot was going to be particularly great but on the walk back it was worth reminding myself that it's just great to be out in such conditions, certainly makes you feel alive and is better that being in front of a TV or a Computer screen! It was a memorable day and for me, that'll do.

I don't want to ramble on as this blog is more about sharing a few images I've pulled together from the day and also from the wintry conditions the past couple of weeks, it's been thoroughly enjoyable seeing my local landscape transformed by the snow, but right now I think I'm ready for spring!

Thanks for looking folks see you on the next one......

2017 - Favourite Images from other Photographers by stuart mcglennon

I've enjoyed immensely looking at other photographers work this year, and I'm sure if I tried to come up with another similar list i'd have another totally different batch of images as there's been so many to choose from this year. However the images below are the ones which I could recall the easiest, so probably had the most impact on me at the time. In no particular order, here's some of my faves from other togs this year:

 

'Stilts' - Neil Burnell

An image which I'm sure is familiar to many, Stilts is typical of Neil's superb approach to clean and minimalistic photography. This image was a worthy category winner in this year's Landscape Photographer Of The Year and is certainly one of my favourites as I'm sure it is for alot of others.

 

'Stowe Pool' - Dave Fieldhouse

Dave's image like Neil's was another winner in LPOTY 2017 and it's easy to see why. A really classical winter landscape with superb tones.

 

'Pale Shelter' - Mark Littlejohn

Mark's image 'Pale Shelter' was another image which I think made everyone stop and stare when he shared it some months back - a wonderfully simple image.

 

Vatnajökull Ice Cave - Greg Whitton

Greg's style of photography is probably a style I most identify with from the images of this list, and certainly produces imagery which are a constant source of inspiration. I'm not too familiar with imagery beyond the usual stuff you see from Iceland, but this image stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it - cracking work.

 

'Frostiest Tree in the Forest' - Chris Dale

004 - Frostiest Tree in the Forest.jpg

This image from Chris was taken right at the end of 2016 though was probably 2017 when I saw it so for the sake of this list I'll include it, and why not? A wonderful wintry image.

 

'Fire Within' - Rachael Talibart

Rachael's image 'Fire Within' won the Classic View category in LPOTY 2017 and is another photographer who continues to produces work of an exceptionally high standard. Her series 'Sirens' is also truly outstanding although it was this image which kept me coming back.

 

'Meander' - Darren Ciolli-Leach

In truth I could have picked any number of Darren's images, although this image 'Meander' is exactly the sort of image I've found myself often trying to (unsuccessfully) capture. A scene most folk would wander straight past, Darren time and again manages to spot the unassuming, hidden scene and make it look beautiful.

 

'Depths Of Winter' Brian Kerr

Brian's approach to Landscapes is something I really relate to  - enjoying seeking out new locations off the beaten track and coming up with really original images. Brian has some fantastic woodland photography, and this one captured during the snowfalls in March really stood out.

 

'Fenced' - Matt Oliver

I've followed Matt's work for quite some time, and really enjoy his muted, restrained processing style which really suits the compositions he shoots. This image 'fenced' works brilliantly, the cold mist giving great separation to the frosty foreground.

 

Isle of Skye – A Lesson Learned by stuart mcglennon

Last week, I made that famous pilgrimage which many photographers make – a trip to the Isle of Skye, where some of you will know, I have unfinished business. Last year, my timing simply couldn’t have been worse. I managed to visit during a week where the Isle experienced some of the heaviest rainfall in the last decade, with weather bad enough to cancel ferries to the Island for nearly a week. Disheartened at having shot two frames in 3 days, I abandoned the trip 2 days early and came home.

It couldn’t be that bad again, surely? Well………………

In a word, nearly. It was marginally better, in that at least this time I could get the camera out! But in all honesty, it was really hard work. And yes, I can already here the howls of derision from here……

“It’s the Isle Of Skye, how can it be hard work?? Blasphemy!!”

Well, it was windy – very windy. Any of you who follow my work will know that I hardly shy away from testing conditions, however I don’t care if you’re stood looking at a most beautiful Scottish Highland scene, or a flat field in Lincolnshire (no offence if you’re from there btw, you get the point though), if it’s 60/70mph winds constantly you’re going to have your work cut out. Just the basics of getting the thing sharp was a real struggle, and no amount of unintentional rainspots were going to save some of these images if they were soft.

I arrived on Tuesday after a night in Glencoe, and true to form it was blowing a gale. We had intermittent showers, OK no probs I thought, I can work with that no issue. Wednesday it poured down non-stop all day with gale force winds, a complete write off. Thursday was much like Tuesday but with even more wind. Conditions were so bad/dark on the Quiraing on Thursday morning that at 10am I was shooting at ISO 1600 just to get enough light/speed to stop the shake, the tripod rendered useless at this point. Moody is a word which is banded around quite freely in photography, often to replace a crappy grey scene or a bad mono, but this was the very definition of mood – a wild landscape in its raw form, no pretty pink sunrises here I’m afraid, just a battle of wills between my stubbornness to have not driven 8 hours in vain and Storm Caroline, which was piling in behind me from the Atlantic. In a perverse kind of way, I enjoyed it. Much of the enjoyment I get from photography is the pursuit and process itself rather than the end result, and the challenge of trying to master and overcome. That morning on the Quiraing was just that – wind so strong it nearly blew the car door off, and had my experienced fell walker friend sat in the car refusing to budge the entire time. Lucky him I thought.

Elgol Slabs.jpg

‘Bugger it, I’m here’ ...... And that was the attitude for the entire week. At times I’d cursed my luck, and it would have been easy to feel sorry for myself, but in the end it’s pointless, we all have bad luck in our photography you’ve just got to make the best of it, which I tried to do. At times I even enjoyed it. I’m sure at some point in the future I’ll return, but for the time being my home life is such that an 8 hour+ drive to be away from family, in a landscape no better than my own is too much of an expensive gamble. I truly believe that in order to create authoritative work which resonates and really means something you have to really absorb yourself into your surroundings and know it intimately. With the best will in the world I’m never going to achieve that in Skye, and if I can’t do that then it really doesn't motivate me. Don't get me wrong, the Isle Of Skye is a fabulous place, it really is, I just can't do it justice in a fleeting visit. The one good thing which came out of this trip which will stay with me into the future is that I better understand what I really want to get out of my photography, and as nice as this sort of photo trip is, that's all it is, nice. I wrote this blog before processing any of my images from the trip - having now seen them it appears I did better than I thought, however I can't shake the nagging feeling that the images I've made feel a bit hollow. That might sound like moaning, but that's just how it is for me. I don't know if you feel the same, let me know in the comments if you do.  

"Why did you go there if you knew that would be the case?" I hear you ask….

Well, most importantly it was a break with friends, so I knew that I’d be very lucky to come home with anything compelling, and in future this is how I’m going to view these trips if I do any, as a holiday and nothing else. Perhaps that's the mistake I was making, focusing too much on the photography. Anyway, if I organise another it’ll probably be somewhere right off the radar, but then as we know that is increasingly difficult to achieve these days. I really don’t wish this blog to appear negative - coming back with a clearer mind about what is at the root of my photography is most certainly a positive, and I got to spend some quality time with my best mate and father in law which is always a good thing.

So, I won’t blather on about the finer details you've heard enough – here’s some mucky weather shots from Scotland, see you on the next one :-)

Stuart

Snowdonia Trip Part 2 by stuart mcglennon

Day 2

So, picking up from where I left off at the woods in Moel Siabod, it was time to go and meet up with the group at the house just outside Betws-y-Coed, on arrival there was only Matt Dartford there so we sat and put the world to rights for an hour or so before the others arrived. The rest of the group (Dani, Matt G, Neil, Shaun and Matt H arrived shortly after although the weather forecast for that evening wasn’t great to say the least. A few of us ventured down to Llyn Padarn to visit another of those lone trees (the standing joke now is that I want to cut them all down, which in fairness isn't far from the truth!) but the weather really was doing nothing plus it was blowing a gale, so we headed back to the cottage to decide what we were going to do for food. Neil has already nailed this shot although I thought I'd post mine up anyway:

The next day we split up into groups, some of us headed to the same set of woods I mentioned earlier near Moel Siabod, the rest took a short hike up a hill recommended by Greg for sunrise – I must admit, a watching brief from the lovely Moel Siabod café (stop in if you’re ever in the area and take a look at Nick Livesey’s work, lovely stuff) as it poured down outside was the wise choice! After ‘umming and ‘ahhing for a while we eventually trotted off to the woods……................and got thoroughly soaked! We knew the forecast was rough but we were determined to make a go of it – I got a couple of half reasonable shots but nothing worth posting up, I was just pleased I'd managed to get something from these woods the day before as this visit proved to be a complete washout, and one which sometimes you just have to write off as a bad job!

Beaten, Matt D, Matt G, Greg and myself wandered back to the café and had a think about the next move. Looking out the window while consuming what felt like the 20th coffee of the day, nothing really seemed appealing! The group reconvened at the cottage and the general consensus was to head to the coast given the high winds of Storm Brian – I’d already visited Penmon Lighthouse in Part One of the blog however I was more than willing to return to see it in stormy conditions. Both groups made the 50 minute drive to the coast to, only to be greeted by somewhat disappointing waves despite the high winds. I think the group were generally quite impressed Neil was still trying to shoot a long exposure in 50mph+ winds (which I think he actually managed! Long Exposure level = expert).

Conditions were testing to say the least and again, no keepers here. I took a couple of long (ish) exposures which got covered in raindrops (which funnily enough DID NOT contribute to the quality of the image) so for those reasons it's merely documentary of my time at this location. I've done my best to clean it up.

Matt Garbutt also tried his hand at some RCM (running camera movement) which was entertaining to say the least, especially on wet rocks - you’ll have to ask him for a more detailed breakdown of this technique! I think Matt got some decent stuff looking back the other way at the Snowdonia range while I rather foolishly continued to shoot the long exposure myself (what was I thinking?)

Battered, we all headed back to the cottage to dry off, then some more food up the road at the pub, which again was lovely (thanks Greg for pointing us in this direction).

Day 3

Finally, the forecast looked more promising, with the chance of sunny outbreaks and some light to work with. Again, splitting up into groups a set of us went up to Dinorwic Quarry, the rest staying closer to the Betws-y-Coed area and the nearby lakes. First off another thanks to Greg and Karl for their help in getting us to the right places at the quarry – I think the plan initially was to have a wander around the quarry to pick out some small scenes. However, on the drive up to Dinorwig it didn’t go unnoticed by everyone in the convoy that the light was rather epic shining down the valley. I’ll admit to swearing a few times while driving while this was going on! Thankfully, when we reached the quarry and made the short walk up to what is something of a viewing platform, the light was still a bit special. The shot below is a 10 shot panoramic with the 70-300mm lens:

After exhausting just about every angle from the viewing area, myself and Matt G decided to head up one of the many paths around this giant quarry in search of more intimate compositions. Almost immediately we managed to get lost, only to be called back and rightly scolded (again, thanks Greg and Karl). Once in the right direction, we ascended maybe 200m or so traversing the many slate paths – at each point along the way being distracted by the epic light behind us which refused go away, proving to be something of a distraction from what was meant to be the task at hand of shooting subjects involving slate!

I must say, I was mightily impressed with Dinorwic. My images don’t really show the sheer scale of the place, and a 3 hour visit really is only scratching the surface, however it’s made me eager to return and given it’s closer than the Scottish Highlands for me, I can definitely see a few return visits on the cards.

On the way back down, as the light continued to shine through the clouds, it proved irresistible to fire off a few more frames at longer focal lengths where light was now dancing around the mountain tops.

But, as time was against me I had to be on my way, there’s only so long it’s acceptable to be on a jolly like this while your ever-patient partner is at home with a toddler! It was a fantastic trip, making new friends and getting some nice images as well. Hopefully this might be an annual thing – I’m guessing those who came along on this one probably won’t need much persuading for next time! I managed a final shot as I exited the Llamberis Pass and headed for home - not a bad wee roadside snap to finish the trip:

Thanks for reading everyone and also don’t forget to check out some of the other guy’s work which I’ve placed links to below, some fantastic togs and nice blokes to boot.

Until the next one folks happy shooting

Stuart

 

 

 

Snowdonia Trip Part 1 by stuart mcglennon

So, I'm just back from a fantastic few days in Snowdonia, where I was in the company of a great set of lads (who happen to also be pretty decent photographers!) in Neil Burnell, Matt Holland, Matt Dartford, Shaun Mills, Dani Colston, Matt Garbutt, Greg Whitton, and Karl Mortimer where we did bit of exploring, a bit of socialising, and a little bit of photography. I'll have to write this up in two parts as there's a lot to get through and also not to bore you all in one go! 

This was my first visit to Snowdonia and I must say, I was very impressed - I'd say it's more akin to the Scottish Highlands than my own patch in the Lake District, in that the roads snake around and underneath the mountains much more closely than they do in the Lake District, and have a unique beauty all of their own. What's more you're only a 40/50 min drive from some fantastic coastline around Anglesey which is a real bonus. It's here where I started my trip:

Day one

An eye-watering 1.30am alarm was set so I could get to Penmon Point for sunrise, which for me is around 3hrs 45mins, not the worst drive in the world by any means and given I was off work for the whole week I thought I'd treat myself to an extra day in the area ahead of the other boys arriving on Friday. I didn't really have any expectations for the weather as it was really a 50/50 shot with the forecast, however after nearly killing myself a couple of times on some death rocks I got set up for a pretty pleasant sunrise which was developing across the sea. I'd looked at Penmon as a potential spot for good long exposure work, something I'm quite selective in doing as I feel it's far more effective when the subject is right, rather than using it simply as tool to smooth out choppy water (I don't mind choppy water). Here's a couple of images from both sunrise and about an hour after once the colour had gone from the sky. Personally I prefer the muted version as it was the sort of shot I had in mind before arriving here, what do you think?

After capturing several long exposures and practically exhausting the lighthouse from every angle I decided at 1100am it was time for food. Luckily there's a somewhat kitsch looking cafe (if you've been here you'll know what I mean) right on the beach front, so I got tucked into a bacon and egg bap, which I'm not going to lie I basically inhaled (I'd not eaten since 2am). After much needed sustenance it was time to find somewhere quiet and get in a bit of nap before making my way to Lighthouse number 2 at Llanddwyn Island.

I've seen many pictures of this famous lighthouse (I think it's the cover of the Fotovue guide book for North Wales) and despite my usual reluctance to head to such heavily shot locations I was pretty stuck for inspiration for a sunset spot, and this was fairly close by. After doing a bit of reading it looked like a really nice area however, after arriving I was surprised to find that you can't actually park very close at all to the lighthouse - if you plan on visiting here bear in mind from the main car park it's about a 30-40min walk along one of the many pleasant coastal trails before you reach the Lighthouse itself. I'll be honest on arrival the scene didn't do much for me (not helped by extremely dull light), it makes for a nice postcard type of shot and in the right light looks really nice, but composition options are pretty limited, you can't really stray too far from the obvious two or three spots to shoot it from, which doesn't really appeal to me much despite it being such a nice vista. After quickly deciding the light was going to do nothing, I fired off a few frames and headed back to the car. My early exit was vindicated as about 10 mins into the walk back the heavens opened and it didn't stop until the next morning. On the walk back I had a listen to the Colin Prior Togcast which I found both a bit grim and fascinating in equal measure. 'Not enough authoritative work' around the Landscape scene, I'd probably agree with that. 

So I made the drive back to Betws y Coed where I managed to once again inhale my food (steak & chips/truffle shavings) and after a well earned early night I slept like an absolute log, I had absolutely no chance for sunrise, which luckily was flat and grey anyway.

Day two

The next day started on quite a funny note, some harmless banter with some rugby lads at breakfast where one of them tried to nick my seat (he must have been the joker) while I was round the corner using one of those uber-annoying toast conveyor belt things. Unfortunately, for him, he'd picked the wrong person to try and mock infront of a room full of people, with it ending up backfiring on him quite spectacularly. I won't say what the lewd joke was but let's just say he came off worse, to the delight of his team mates who seemed to rejoice in this guy being taken down a peg. If you happen to be reading this pal you need better dressing room banter I've seen and done it all before! In fairness it was all taken in good jest and was a nice way to start the day.

I quick thanks to Lee Acaster (needs no introduction I'm sure, fantastic award-winning tog) for tipping me off to head to some woods opposite Moel Siabod cafe. I'd noted that the woodland all along the roadside on the drive to the hotel was rich in autumn colour (much more than back home) so it was nice to find I'd been pointed in the direction of the same set of woods. I literally walked 300 yards and ended up settling at one spot for a good hour, testing various focal lengths before settling on using the old manual focus Nikkor 135mm AIs 2.8, these old primes really are great for woodland work where you can slow down a bit and take your time. I ended up coming away with one of my favourite autumn images (I've not shot many this year mind). I also had Lee's advice in my head about composition, eliminating the sky where possible and distracting highlights which, now I'm aware of them, I see them in woodland shots everywhere, and can't 'unsee' them once I notice them.

After mooching around the woods 'til lunch it was time to go and meet up with the rest of the group at the house, that's where I'll pick up the second part where we attempted to shoot 'Storm Brian' and visited the rather epic Dinorwic Quarry.

Thanks for reading folks stay tuned for the next one

Shooting Local by stuart mcglennon

Thought I'd write a quick blog while I'm having a quiet (ish) time with the camera of late. Just as a side note, where is bloody autumn?? I went into this period full of a hope yet it's rapidly being extinguished by heavy rain and wind, most recently Ophelia which has winged its way into town to blow more leaves off the trees! Ok perhaps that's a little dramatic, i'm a firm believer that you can still make great images in less than perfect conditions, you just have to work a little harder. So those grand vistas with sweeping autumnal colour might require a rethink, to something a bit more subtle which I'm more than willing to do. But hey, a wee break from the rain and gales would be nice!

I've been quite quiet lately with the camera (I've still gone out, just not as much) as I've been having a bit more time thinking about what direction I want to move in with my photography. For the most part I consider myself to be something of a reactionary photographer, i'm quite happy just chasing the conditions around in my car much like a dog with a frisbee would, with only a general idea of what I'd like to shoot on a given day. This in turn has led to some images I've been really pleased with and with which I have a more personal connection to, probably much more so than if i'd gone out to a 'location' on a more structured shoot. I still have a few favourite spots I like to go to now and again like anyone else does, however as much as it's fantastic living in the Lake District for photography, the choices of 'location' can be somewhat overwhelming at times, which seems crazy on the face of it but for me personally if i'm not getting anything out of the wider experience I don't feel I enjoy shooting the images as much. This led me to thinking a bit more deeply about what really drives my photography. In the end I've come to the conclusion that at this stage I really feel like I gain more by shooting locally. 

Anyone who follows my work will know that my 'local' is the Wasdale area - it's not lost on me that it's perhaps easier to come to the conclusion of shooting locally when your local is Wastwater and the Scafells! However after spending so much time in this area I think in the near future the bulk of my work will probably be coming from an area no further than 10 miles or so from my home - there is so much variety here in the landscape (fells, lakes, tarns, woodland, coast) that I don't feel I have to go chasing it around further afield. It also means that my chances of capturing the great conditions I want are greatly improved with living so close. I could of course be talking absolute rubbish and be sitting here in 6 months time thinking 'what have I done' but for the moment I firmly believe the images I make will be improved through a better, deeper understanding of my surroundings.

Also just a quick congratulations to those awarded in Landscape Photographer Of The Year 2017 - I was glad to see a couple of my favourite images from other togs this year do so well and be recognised. I had a shortlisted image but didn't make the final cut, so maybe better luck next year.

Here's a few recent images from the past month which I've shot locally, all within about 15 mins of my home (give or take), it's a bit of mix of Mountain, Coast and Woodland. 

Catch you on the next one :-)

Using Progrey Filters by stuart mcglennon

So, it's been a wee while since I last blogged (blog inspiration has been somewhat thin), although hopefully with Autumn just around the corner that will change - but for now you'll have to be content with something mundane - filter testing!

"Wow, tell me more" ..........................said no-one about filters, ever.

The G-120X Holder which fits my 16-35mm F4 Lens, plus 0.6 Grad pouch and 10 stop ND pouch

I kid of course, but in all seriousness, filters for many Landscape Photographer's are an integral part of their set up. For the past few weeks I've been using some filters from Progrey USA, trying them out in varying different conditions from nuclear sunsets to the rain pelting down sideways. First off I've absolutely no bias one way or another towards filter systems, I'm not a big filter user to start with anyway, preferring to use a mix of filter use and exposure blending in post depending on the conditions in front of me. What my blog will do is simply give you my impressions/results from the use I've given them, under a mixed set of conditions which I felt was the only fair and thorough way to test them. 

Unboxing

Filter Holder with 0.9 Soft Grad fitted

Well, first impressions from the packaging was that these products are of high quality. I own both Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Filters and LEE Filters, when I received both of those it was a bit underwhelming, especially the Hitech ones which come in rather clunky and impractical white plastic boxes, rather than the padded velcro pouches these Progrey ones came in. The holder setup comes in a handy zipped pouch which was good for me as I'm forever dropping things or bits falling out of places they shouldn't.

Feel

First off, these filters are big, much bigger than what I'm used to. The system I was using previously was the NISI V5 holder system, which hold my LEE grads at 120mm x 100mm, and my Firecrest ND's 100mm x 100mm - these Progrey grads are 120mm x 155mm and the ND's 120mm x 120mm. Of course to accommodate this, the holder needs to be bigger. While relatively straightforward to attach to my 16-35mm F4 using the lens adaptor (same setup as the NISI system, adaptor screws into the lens), it looks pretty large once it's on - this may not seem so big to users who are used to the ultra WA adaptors seen on the LEE system. To be clear, the 120mm size system is designed to easily accommodate my wide lens, and with the 120mm system it give photographers an option when using ultra-wide lenses instead of forcing them to go up to the bigger 150mm system (G-150Z), I should mention however that Progrey do sell a smaller 100mm size system should you require this. The main things for me which I look for in a filter holder is how practical it is to get on and off in the field (key), and also it's build quality/sturdiness. I'll talk more about this further on. The grads are resin, and feel very similar to the LEE's, whilst the ND's are glass, similar to my Firecrest's. One thing to note which pleased me was not having to attach the foam gasket to the ND's (this is to ensure it prevents light leak) where as with the Firecrest's the gasket comes separate (or it did on mine anyway) and needed to be applied by the user after purchase. Take note Formatt-Hitech, this is a pain and surely could be sorted at manufacture? Overall impressions initially for both holder and filter are that they feel on a par with their more established counterparts. 

So far so good.

In the field

Test 1: Finished image vs RAW comparison

The first test I decided to head to my local jetty on a rough, grey day - I'm lucky this jetty is some 300yds from my house as it makes a great subject, especially in choppy weather.

The image has been shot using the 7 stop Aurora ND Filter + 0.6 Soft Grad during midday conditions - obviously it's a wee bit underexposed and I've played with the colours a bit in post, but straight out of the can I couldn't really see any colour cast at all, impressive given i'd stacked two filters. The colours on the RAW file are pretty representative of a typical grey day. 

Ok, so far so good - in comparison with my Firecrest ND filters, these are at least on a par with them in terms of colour neutrality. They feel almost identical in the hand other than their size difference owing to the larger holder. They slide in and out of the holder nicely, not jamming in any way. The holder basically slides on to the adaptor and then has a metal clamp at the top which you twist to tighten when the holder is in place. Very straightforward, it feels a little tricky initially which could have been a failing on my part, however once you get the hang of it, it's really no bother at all.

Test 2: A typical fiery sunsey using the 10 Stop ND Filter + 0.9 Hard Grad

The second test I carried out was again at the beach, this time in totally different conditions, the classic nuclear sunset. Now we all love looking at one of these, it's ok to admit! I don't really shoot this sort of scene that much anymore although in fairness lately I've hardly seen one so it wouldn't matter anyway! This shot used the 10 stop Genesis ND + the 0.9 Aurora Hard Grad, again, a rather impressive colour neutral RAW file even with filters stacked, which allowed me to produce a vibrant, yet natural looking finished image.

The third and final test I carried out was at Wastwater a few days ago - the morning produced some rather spectacular stormy weather, however I carried out the test of the ND filters before this arrived as it would have been a bit of a faff carrying it out with rain constantly coming in.

This was done under the same conditions (auto WB, no grads) with the first shot on the left using a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest 6 stop, compared with the Genesis 7 stop ND filter on the right. As you can see from the image, there's been no adjustments made on the right hand panel, just a straight comparison using the 'as shot' white balance. The light in the scene had changed slightly between frames but at first glance I could tell little difference in colour, the Firecrest perhaps was a hair bluer than the Progrey although that could be the light playing tricks. I was expecting more of a difference given one is a 6 stop and the other a 7 but really, the Progrey was equal to the Firecrest in my test. 

Following this the rain really came in, squall after squall - however this was punctuated by some cracking bits of light, which enabled me to capture one of my favourite images of the year so far (below):

Now to be clear, I've absolutely no qualms about the quality of the Firecrest filters or the LEE grads I've been using to this point, all I can say is that from the evidence shown in these RAW files, the Progrey filters are clearly on a par with them (in my opinion).

The Passing

What I will say is that my only slight (if you can call it that) issue was that initially the filter holder proved tricky to attach to the adaptor. However after a few weeks of use I've found this to be no problem at all.

One thing I didn't mention earlier is that the adaptor can also house an integrated Polariser, much like the NISI and Hitech systems, enabling you to move the Polariser independently while attached. I didn't test this however I'll be looking to acquire one of these very soon as it's a vital bit of kit which I use alot, especially around water and rocks which really reflect light.

The system also comes with extra clips which can easily be attached using a supplied allen key should you wish to stack up to 3 filters at a time (I tend only ever use 2 max).

Summary

So, in conclusion, I'd have to say all in all the Progrey System is very impressive - the grads and ND filters produce impressive, colour neutral results which equal the Firecrest and LEE filters I currently own. I've in no way done any sort of scientific, forensic analysis into the neutrality of the filters, only by eye - but to me on-screen they look as good as what I had previously, which is good enough for me. The holder can appear somewhat bulky but this is to accommodate the increased size of filter which I've no experience with, however out in the field I had no problems swapping the filters about despite it being very wet and windy at times. What does this mean for you? Well, I'd certainly have no qualms about recommending them if you're on the look out for a new filter system which is probably better value for money than say, the LEE system. I didn't get a chance to try the polariser which is obviously something I'd like to get hold of down the line given it's a vital piece of kit in a Landscape Photographer's armoury, however based one what I've used so far the Progrey Kit is well worth a look.

Test 3: RAW Comparison - Formatt-Hitech Firecrest 6-stop ND (left) vs Progrey Aurora 7 stop ND (right)

Summer doesn't have to be a drag..... by stuart mcglennon

Hi folks - I've not written a blog piece in a little while, and with the weather seemingly on the turn (August really is the new autumn it seems) I thought this would be a good time to pause and take stock of the past few summer months.

Summer is well known for being a difficult period, many photographers will freely admit to almost drying up during this period, and literally can't wait for the leaves to turn brown again, and get giddy at the thought of the winter ahead. For my part, I actually don't mind it. Yes sunrises are no fun at ungodly hours (i'll happily admit to not doing that many of them this summer) however I don't wholly subscribe to the theory that you can't make images during this period. I got to thinking about this subject through some extremely mundane chat with a work colleague, bemoaning our 'lack' of a proper summer, and also on a recent shoot where I got chatting to a guy from down south who spent the entire 30 mins I was there moaning about the nice weather we happened to be having that day, saying it was no good for his images. I must admit to zoning out from this guy's chatter due to the waft of about 5 BBQ's nearby (have you had a BBQ this summer? I haven't) and had me wondering what on earth I was doing standing on the beach with my tripod like a pillock when I clearly should have been kicking back with a beer in my hand and a hot dog.

At 34, taking my photography hat off for a moment I'm probably old enough now to have a moan about the current summers we get in the UK. As a kid those summers of 6 weeks off were exclusively spent playing football outside from dawn til dusk with the tops off, pausing only to see my mum when:

  • I wanted fed
  • Needed money for 10p Ice Pops
  • To worry her I had heatstroke

It seems a lifetime ago - where this ramble is going is that the weather simply isn't like that anymore. In this country we're lucky if we get a week of settled warm weather, then it usually deteriorates rapidly. What does that mean for us togs? Well, i'd argue the weather is more than contrasting enough to still make images. I've used this time to really work on looking into deeper detail in my images, working harder on composition, and scouting new locations so I'm better prepared for when the really interesting weather arrives. I often find it a bit puzzling when folk simply bin the camera for a few months, but then that's just me. In a few years my enthusiasm might have waned and i'll be in the same boat. But for now I've done my best to embrace the summer conditions and work with them as best I can.

So, as summer appears to be drawing to a bit of a drab close, here's a wee selection of some of my favourite images from the summer months. I'd like to think they demonstrate that you can still create compelling images despite the perception that the light is too harsh or the landscape is too green - you just have to work a little harder. It also demonstrates that the weather is rarely settled, just get out and embrace it a bit - even if it's absolutely pelting down as it is in one of them!

Thanks for looking guys, see you on the next one

Stuart

A bit of waffle about LPOTY by stuart mcglennon

So, it's that time of year again............ you'd never have guessed would you?? 

Yes, Landscape Photographer Of The Year.

This is my second year entering, and it's been quite interesting/amusing hearing people's responses and reactions to the subject on social media. I didn't really get to hear a lot of it last year as I wasn't on Twitter then, but i'll be honest it's provided me with a bit of entertainment this year, so I can only imagine how entertaining it will be come shortlist day! Opinions vary wildly, from (paraphrasing of course)

  1. "It's a load of shite, it's lost its way" (hate it)
  2. "I like it, it focuses me to consider what I've achieved over the year" (like it)
  3. "It's £35, where's the harm it's worth a punt" (somewhere in the middle)

For me, the notion that photography could ever be 'competitive' in any sense is absurd. Coming from a life in competitive sport, the line was usually crystal clear.

You didn't make the shot. You weren't fast enough. You made too many errors. You didn't get the result. It was measurable, quantifiable.

There were no iff's or buts, the result was black and white and not up for debate, this isn't the case in photography. I liked that in some ways, yeah you could bitch and moan about it for a bit if you lost, but when you really drilled down into why you didn't succeed, the answer was there. Rugby World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward (i'd love to go and see a talk from him, a brilliant coach and motivator) wrote a piece in The Mail recently which was fascinating and refreshingly honest. The bit that stood out for me was he said he never lost a game in his entire career due to bad refereeing. Despite all the guff after a game, in the cold light of day analysis would show the fault could be traced back to some failing of your own. Where I'm going with this is that if you assume only the best work is being submitted by entrants to LPOTY (so all the technical aspects of the shot are as good as they're going to be at the time) then the rest of it in terms of trying to pick winners from them in all likelihood comes down to a select few peoples taste, in it's simplest form. That isn't competition, not in my world anyway. How can it be? You did all you could. You got the technical bits right. There is no 'fault' in your image. It's as good as it's going to be.

It's subjective, it's an art. Yes, to a point technical proficiency with a camera can get you so far, but once you get to the stage of trying to judge the top landscape images (or the vast majority minus those who choose not to enter) from any given year there really is no better or worse - images are judged on intangible qualities and their 'impact' that could have been influenced by any number of factors - the conditions on the day, a fleeting moment in time never to be repeated, or hopefully in my case the fact my 4 year old gets me up in the middle of the night so I end up stood by a lake at 4am because I'm wide awake! The point i'm making is people shouldn't get too emotive about this thing - it's no yardstick to measure yourself against and it's not a reflection of you being a poor photographer if your images don't go over well. Just fire in your images and if they happen to be well received then great, if not, no big deal either. My stance on it is somewhere in the middle - I'll put my entries in and if they do ok, great. If not, no big deal. I can rest easy knowing when I look back across the images I've made this year I can see improvement from last year, which is the only real 'competition' I'll probably ever have in photography, with myself. Self-improvement is all you can ever really aim for and if accolades or awards arrive at points along your journey then all the better, but competitions such as LPOTY shouldn't be taking too much of your time up in the space between your ears, it just isn't worth it.

So, for what it's worth, here's the images I entered if you were interested in viewing. Some are probably guff, but hey ho, you never know.

Thanks for reading - if you've entered this year best of luck with your entries - but for god's sake don't take it too seriously!

SAAL Digital - Photobook review by stuart mcglennon

SAAL Digital very kindly invited me to test one of their portfolio/photobooks recently, and given I was already looking to create one of these anyway, naturally I accepted. For some time now I've given thought to having a print portfolio, as although everything these days seems to be done digitally, there is something extra, an intangible quality if you like, to having the print there in front of you, rather than browsing on a web page which at times can seem a bit soulless. My idea is to be able to present this to potential clients/galleries for future work or commissions, to compliment the work I present on my website and other social media streams.

Textured Cover

Firstly I'll address the process - the creation of my portfolio book was straightforward and simple. Coming from a Graphic Design background, the SAAL software with which you use to create the design of the final product is both easy an intuitive. It reminded me of a primitive version of Adobe InDesign, so I was right at home with using the software. I liked the idea of having greater control over the end product rather than having to rely on a somewhat questionable template design which other print companies tend to favour. Having worked previously in desktop publishing this method really was an enjoyable experience. Within the design templates you're pretty much unlimited in terms of the style you wish to create, and after creating 4 or 5 different templates at different sizes I was able to settle on an A4 size 26 page book which was ample space to display my best work. The only slight downside if I had any quibble was the font (to me anyway) appeared on screen slightly lighter than the finished print, and if I could have designed the book again I'd have opted for a lighter text, but that could have simply have been user error more than anything else.

Designing the book

You're able to choose from several different sizes and finishes depending on your needs, I opted for a matte black textured cover with the insides on a gloss finish. I went this way as a lot of my images tend to have a lot of contrast, and on receiving the final book I was very impressed with the quality and colour accuracy in comparison with what I see on my own screen. The cover was also very impressive and really gave a look of quality and finished the product off nicely. The textured covers come at a higher cost however they give the book a sturdy feel which I would definitely recommend.

High Gloss inner pages

Delivery was quick and efficient, my book was delivered to me within a few days of the final artwork being sent over, considering this was being sent from abroad this was also particularly pleasing. All in all I'd highly recommend SAAL Digital, their service was first class and I couldn't fault the final product whatsoever.