Chasing rainbows - The story behind Ascension

Chasing rainbows - The story behind Ascension

Welcome to my first blog, something I’ll increasingly start to do now that I’ve got my finger out and sorted the website, I’m not sure how frequently. I’m often constrained, by IGs word count or peoples’ attention spans, I’m not sure what’s worse, I like a digression or life by analogy so if you’ve made it this far then I’ve probably got an audience. For now!

I’ll write about things I’ve discovered, thought about, worked out or come across. Things I understand now and put the time into practicing, proving and disproving. They are the things, wisdom and insights I apply to my own photography, I’m am not saying they are the only way, or that they are more right than whatever your way is, but I am saying they work for me. You can make your own mind up about whether they may work for you. 

The inter-web is sadly now awash with generic peddled content. We’ve all seen it. Sometimes we take it verbatim. Other times we know it to be nonsense. Fishing out the true advice is difficult, especially when you’re starting off. It took me a long time to know for myself that an image from someone with a huge following was still poor, or that another photographer with barely more fans than residents on my road was truly special. Audience and quality do not always correlate. And what I don’t like about that is, not that Joe Bloggs Photography is a charlatan and shouldn’t have so many followers, we all like a bit of praise, no. It’s that the way social media pushes the quick fix, the hype and rewards this behaviour via stardom which can be a hindrance to photographers looking for validation, trying to understand other styles, looking for true inspiration. Anything which holds us back from developing and improving I will call out, there’s nothing personal about what I write.

On the flip-side you have to take your hat off to some of the incredible video production that takes place, or the way some photographers market themselves, or build a business around this approach. Incredibly impressive. As a small business owner myself in another work world, I know all too well how hard it is to achieve critical mass. And if their route to this goal is photography and they are successful, it is a different kind of appreciation and admiration I have. Making money from photography is not easy. I am in the very early stages of understanding it, and there are many who talk with far more eminence than I. I am at the beginning of a life long photography journey, this truly is a craft which takes years of mastery, if the attainment of that eulogy is even possible. And if you're genuinely passionate about producing art from the landscape via digital medium as I am, then a patient appreciation over time is the approach to take, nothing can be accelerated or short cut, not if excellence is your goal anyway. This begs the philosophical questions, does attainment equal fulfilment, but that's another for another time.

But back to photography. Given the above, I will speak unabridged. I won’t sugar coat things. I won’t regurgitate other peoples opinions either, winds me right up that does, almost as bad as appropriating someone else’s ideas and pitching them as yours. It happens. Show someone how to read apps to predict inversions, then one day up pops their article on it and suddenly they're the expert. Whilst it might get whoever does so quick plaudits, it’s obvious when they don’t understand things, they haven’t lived the wisdom after all, and it doesn't lead to good images. So I write in the hope you understand my perspective, my take, my slant, something I’ve experienced, and crucially, something that I know works for my photography. You can be the judge of the congruence between what I say, what I do and what I produce. 

I’m not a huge YouTube watcher. I don’t trawl the web or Flickr or other peoples profiles overly, and I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to name dropping in the photography space. I’ve found my way largely by fumbling around outdoors and putting my time into the landscape, not into watching small videos on small screens, or wading through content that add no value to the world whatsoever. Having said this, there are one or two people who have had a huge influence on me, my work and journey. Brilliant photographers, excellent mentors, true inspirations, sometimes friends and often all four. I will write about these people another time, as credit where credit is due is important and I would not have made it here (wherever here is) without their support. I will come across more on the way I hope. I’m a traditional kind of guy at heart and I like to meet people in person, doing so at this weeks LPOTY awards was lovely, it was nice to look people in the eye and say well done, what incredible work you create and what a fantastic competition image you've produced this year. 

I ought to begin talking about the first topic really now. Rainbow hunting. I mean, everyone knows that if the suns behind you, and there is rain oncoming and the suns angle is below 42 degrees above the horizon then there’s a good chance you’ll see a rainbow appear. So, that’s it, that’s how to hunt rainbows, job done! Really what I’ll be talking about is the confluence of many aspects to my photography, from forecasting, to planning, to practice, to patience, to execution, to post processing, all of which came together when I watched “Ascension” unfold that special afternoon and made my image which won Classic View this year. 

Forecasting. I talk about weather apps ALOT. I use weather apps ALOT. And I curse at weather apps ALOT! But how important are they to us now as photographers? The answer is ALOT.  When I first posted the image on social media, I saw a few interesting comments refuting whether you can predict the location of a rainbow. A couple of people didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory as they did so, I hope they’ve managed to go shoot some rainbows now since our brief debate. My point here is there is substantial data out there now about the weather, and algorithmic capability enhancing the accuracy of prediction models at a pace we cannot comprehend. I’m studying AI at Oxford Said Business School and the innovation is incredible. So use the data, simple! It won’t always be right, but it’s better to have something to go on than nothing. I’ll write about which apps I use, and how another time, but lastly I would say get to know your local context, the accuracy of the local weather station your choice app reads from and make a mental note of which things it forecasts well and how often they are right. My personal favourite are a set of readings, shown on three different apps, which accurately predict a temperature inversion at Chrome Hill, in the Peak District (the location for Ascension). The conditions rarely crop here, even when there are inversions aplenty elsewhere in the Peak District, but when they do, the apps show this, and it is accurate. A second favourite is predicting fog in Padley Gorge. There's one particular app that isn't generous with it's fog reading, but when it says so, it's on. Again, you’ll all have your own ways, these are just mine, and they are the yardsticks I use to achieve the imagery I want to without wasting time on outings where the conditions were dud. I still endure those. Often actually. Probably more than not. And every once in a while nature likes to f**k me up by chucking in a corker when it looked crap but just fancied an outing, meaning I’ll then keep going out despite lame forecasts resulting in much drudgery. But you have to put in the hard yards. And it keeps me fit.

Planning and practice. Again this isn’t rocket science. We all do elements of it. In our own ways. For new areas I use OS maps for basic topography and route finding (although I have found other excellent apps for foreign countries eg. Iceland which show all hiking trails, paths, mountain bike tracks, F-Roads, the lot in the Highlands), google maps in satellite mode for any visual intel and then the normal apps for sun direction (TPE or PhotoPills). I have a 3D modelling app which stores locations offline and this is great for understanding the view you'll see in real time. But we all know nothing beats a reccy. And for areas local to you, or near you, you’ll become so familiar with them you can walk them in white converse and jogging bottoms without a head torch. So I didn’t need to plan much for the Ascension at Chrome Hill. I’d been there so many times chasing the inversion (20, 30, perhaps more, I forget) standing on that hillside that I knew exactly where I wanted to be, where the main tree should be placed, how much of the path to show, how much of the valley on the right to include, etc. No one wants to be faffing around still when the light breaks. My planning had been done long ago. I just needed the forecast to play true. And it did. 

Patience and execution. You cannot rush photography in the landscape. You can’t run around in the woods or bolt up a mountainside dressed like a lumberjack if you want to take a worthwhile shot. Sometimes that’s hard. Busy work lives, impatient other halves, or ants in your pants mean we move about too much when we are making images. Slow down. Pause. There really is no rush. I stood in the same spot for maybe 2 to 3 hours. I saw rain, hail, thunder and lightening, then rainbows in that time, it would have been easy to move on after a couple of early moody shots that were half decent. Don’t try to shoot every perspective, angle, aspect ratio either. From a morning out, if I take one good image, just one, then I’m happy. I don’t expect more than two, and I’m delighted with three. I won’t try four. Because they won’t be there. Not at the optimal moment of light, colour or whatever is unfolding. I caveat this, it applies to shooting your local spots. On dedicated trips it’s slightly different, the pressure is on to maximise, you’d be forgiven for pushing it a bit more. I still try not to. One good image per sunrise or set. If it’s a worldy session then a few maybe. A good foggy morning in great woodland might yield even more, until you reach tree saturation where every foggy tree looks wonderful and you become ‘one with the undergrowth’ in some kind of spiritual hegemony that will get you ripped to shreads when you talk to your mates about it later in the pub.

Post processing. I’m out of steam. This is quite a long first blog. And sometimes we’ll feel like that when you get back home. Sometimes I enjoy processing though. I don’t subscribe to allowing yourself to feel like you want to spend more time outside and little in front of a computer. Sorry, but processing is important. Take the time to learn how. Don’t mask your difficulties with apathy for the computer. You don’t always need to process for hours, one day I’m sure I’ll talk about what I do, my point here is don’t discard it, it’s the final third of the overall process and why spend all that time and effort in the field if you aren’t going to do it justice at the end. And many raw files need processing. I don't subscribe that commonly commented "did it look like that on the original file" rubbish on social media, who doesn't add a bit of spice to a chicken breast in the oven? Troglodytes that's who. Running about whacking chickens on the head with clubs and eating them raw. That's right, raw. Clues in the name. Process your images! I didn’t spend long on Ascension. 15-20 careful minutes maybe. I knew what needed to be done, not much with the raw file at all. But after that I probably spent another hour looking at it. Making sure I’d done it justice. In this time I maybe made one tiny tweak, pushing the highlights a tad to remove a little saturation in the yellows, but importantly bring back that bright energy from the sun as it burst from behind the clouds to produce the wonderful rainbow arc, which mimics the curve of Parkhouse Hill. 


Hope you’re enjoyed the ramble. More to come. Let me know in some way whether you enjoyed the blog.

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