As we begin a brand new year I wanted to pause, as I’ve done each year since 2008 and consider where my photographic journey has taken me in 2013. The one stand out feeling for me is simply how central photography and specifically being out in the natural landscape with my camera has become to who I am. It is now infused into my very identity; it resides at the very fabric of my being. That act of careful observation, patient consideration, thoughtful composition and the final crafting of an image both in the field and later in post-production has become a very centring, calming and fulfilling force in my life. I’ve also become increasingly aware of how it permeates throughout my non-photographic life in a very positive way.
I took a forced hiatus from photography in December. I hung up my camera and used the time to consider all of this, and to also fully assess and critique the work I produced across the year. As in previous years part of that process was to select just 10 images from the year that spoke to me at a very emotional level. These are not the images with the most commercial success necessarily, rather they are the images that I consider best represent me… my place in the world… my voice… my vision… my message… my heart. I’ve sprinkled them throughout this article; which will meander relatively aimlessly around the year that was my 2013. But you should be well used to my meanderings by now 🙂
I produced 43 new images in 2013, each and every one a labour of love and each and every one I am very proud of. I may say that every year; that I can see and feel a continued progression both in terms of the execution of my craft and the clarity of my vision, but last year it felt like I turned a corner. Lots of little things snapped into place and I was able to see the bigger picture, my bigger picture with a clarity I’ve never had before.
Part of this clarity came when I finally embraced my Muse, that subject which is my constant and unswerving source of inspiration. The clarity I refer too, rather than an actual discovery was more an acknowledgment of an existing fact that had been lying just at the edge of my mind for a long time. As I looked through my favourite 10 images of each year since I started this activity in 2008 I can see a continuation of a theme, that of refinement. Not of the craft itself but of the subjects that really interest me, those things that truly inspire me. In the early years the steps were big like, after some experimentation, removing entire genre’s that left me cold, such as street photography, or portraiture. Essentially I accepted that it was being out in Nature, and photographing it that was fundamental to my inspiration. With the realisation that Nature was what really inspired me I continued this journey of refinement to better understand what it was about Nature that got my creative juices flowing. That led me, again after some experimentation, to accept that subjects like Wildlife were not the source. To cut a long story slightly shorter, in 2013 I accepted that my Muse is very simply Water, or to be more precise the Sea. It is without question where I feel most at home, most alive, most inspired. As I write this my journey sounds very linear, very precise, ordered and planned but nothing could be further from the truth. I did not sit down one day and write a plan with a starting point A and finishing point E with 5 points to get me between them. I guess though I was simply open enough to listen. To wrap some context around this for you, of the 41 images I produced last year 25 were of the sea and a further 9 included rivers, lakes or waterfalls as a key compositional element. That’s over 80% of the work I produced in 2013. I plan to talk further on the topic of a Muse and dedicate an entire article to it sometime a little later this year so stay tuned.
But just in closing though, this is not to say I am blindly ignoring all other possible subjects and rigidly shoot the sea to the exclusion of all else. Quite the contrary, I continue to explore a diverse range of subjects, just as long as they meet the core criteria I established so many years ago i.e. they take me out into the natural landscape. For instance I did a significant amount of photography in forests and woodlands last year. I absolutely love forests and feel equally alive in them as I do by the sea. However I’ve found them to be an extremely challenging subject to photograph. Very little of the time I spent in woodlands last year yielded images I was happy to publish. But the time invested was worthwhile and I am hopeful of more progress and potentially more success in 2014.
It would seem I continue my love affair with the portrait orientated image, representing over 40% of my work in 2013, while landscape represented 25% and panoramic & square formats took 17% each. I am really happy to see that last number as I’ve felt for a long time that the square format is incredibly powerful and definitely something I tried to explore more last year. If I were to include my Instagram iPhone snaps in this list the square format would take a much larger percentage :p
Staying on a similar topic I wanted to mention aspect ratio’s. I’ve made it no secret that I have fallen out of love with the 3×2 format. This is the typical 35mm format that is adopted by almost all DSLR’s. I’ve been struggling to produce pleasing compositions in this aspect ratio for some time, particularly for portrait orientated images where its proportions almost always feel compromised. 5×4 is now most definitely my favourite aspect ratio and one I used almost exclusively for my portrait orientated images last year. Of the 17 portrait orientated images I created just one was 3×2, three were 4×3 and the remaining thirteen were my now favoured 5×4.
Lastly on this general thread is the topic of colour, or lack of it. I’ve been drawn to Black and White for a number of years but have always struggled to produce compelling images. I feel I’ve managed to turn a corner (same corner, just in case you thought I was in fact walking around in circles!) in 2013 and produced much more compelling monochromatic images. Between B&W, Sepia and some experimentation with Duotone they represented more than half my images in 2013. Furthermore even my colour work was in some way less… colourful. I consciously choose a much more muted palette. I’m told this simply represents my maturity as an artist, for me though it just feels right. If I had to sum-up my work from 2013 I would say it is more reflective, less urgent, more pensive… quieter. It would prefer to whisper it’s message, if you are willing to get close enough to hear…
Unlike 2012 last year was not a year of gear acquisition. I did however purchase a small number of things along the way; each purchase was driven by a desire to do something very specific though. I felt a real and tangible lack of something in my gear bag to achieve a desired result. The first of these was a geared Tripod Head, a Manfrotto 410 Junior to be precise. While I love my little Arca Swiss p0 ballhead I was becoming frustrated with its lack of precision. It’s a perfect head to take traveling but when I could afford to carry a little extra weight I wanted the precision of a geared head. The Manfrotto has been a revelation and an addition to my gear bag that I’ve been hugely happy with. Along the same lines my ongoing desire to improve my craft of photography, specifically with regards to focus and sharpness led me to take the plunge and purchase a Mirex Tilt-Shift Adaptor and an old set of Mamiya Sekor C Medium Format lenses (35mm, 55mm and 80mm) to pair with my Canon 5DII.
These lenses paired with the Mirex Adaptor allowed me to experiment with both tilt and shift and the resulting precision in focusing they offered. While I picked up the 35mm early in the year the 80mm and 55mm did not join it until September and October respectively. As I look back I can see of the 41 images I produced 2013 just 7 were with these lenses, 6 with the 35mm, 1 with the 80mm and none with the 55mm. That’s not to say I did not use them extensively though, it is just a very different way of working and will require a lot more experimentation before they become second nature to me and I can comfortably and consistently produce images with them. The last addition to my gear bag was new Neutral Density Filters. ND filters have been part of my kit bag for years and last year I added a 10 stop filter from Formatt Hitech. This was added with the specific desire to experiment more with Long Exposure. However the filter itself had a horrendous colour-cast and was really impacting my ability to produce satisfactory results. Late in the year I had had enough with it and replaced it with their newer 10 stop IRND filter along with adding a couple more filter densities to my bag. These new filters are so good that I’ve actually begun to produce Colour LE images, very exciting indeed. LE represented over 40% of the images I produced in 2013 which is amazing considering I only started some very tentative experiments in late 2010 by producing just 2 images. Oh and I bought a pair of Hunter Wellies, how could I forget the Wellies!
2013 was also the year that marked the first time my work was published in an international magazine. Photo Professional interviewed me for their February edition, sharing a number of my images with the article. I was delighted to accept an invitation in June to be a guest speaker for the well known European Photography Show where I had the chance to talk about my photography and some of the motivations behind it including the wonderful place I call home, Ireland. It was also the first year I felt my work had reached a level, both in terms of my craft and of my vision for me to submit it for judgement. I submitted a single image “Isolation” into the prestigious International Photography Awards and was delighted to have received an Honourable Mention in the Fine Art – Landscape category.
From a Social Media perspective my following on Facebook continued to expand which was wonderful to witness. I also joined Instagram in May and have been happily sharing iPhone snaps of my travels along with Behind the Scenes shots of work in progress. However it is the power of the Google+ community that is my big Social Media take away from 2013. I am, and have been a member of a great many photographic communities online over the years but none have ever delivered the kind of positive and fulfilling experience that Google+ has. I can’t claim to have 100’s of thousands of followers but those I have are polite, engaged, committed and often challenging in their feedback to me. I can honestly say I am a better photographer due to this experience. Another highlight was that of Photowalks, also down to the Google+ photography community. My first being a day out in Dalkey with some lovely and like-minded people in search of inspiration along the Dublin coast. This was followed in April by a weekend trip to the beautiful Inishowen in Donegal where I again got a chance to spend some time with a motivated and talented group of photographers. Indeed 2 of my favourite images from this year are from that trip. All this culminated in the single biggest photographic highlight of this year, my trip to Dorset. I was hugely grateful to be given the opportunity to co-lead the UK Seaside Photowalk 2013 with two very talented photographers, Athena Carey and Andy Bitterer. Six days spent non-stop shooting along the simply stunning Jurassic coastline was an experience I shall never forget. This on top of the opportunity to spend time with a group of passionate photographers, some of whom I’ve been chatting too via Google+ and following their work with admiration and awe for years was a great privilege indeed. An experience I plan to repeat again and again. Along similar lines I had the great pleasure of finally meeting another person I’ve known only online (for more then 4 years) in person this year. In September Johan Peijnenburg, a Dutch man living in Switzerland travelled to Ireland where we spent a fantastic 2 days shooting. Another experience I most definitely plan to repeat in 2014.
As I developed this article I realised it could just have easily been entitled A Photographic Journey – 7 years in. It began to morph into to as much an exploration of my photographic journey since it all began in 2006 as just this passing year. However that journey deserves much deeper consideration before I put fingers to keyboard. For now I’ll leave this as is; a retrospective on 2013 with a sprinkling of my photographic story so far.
As I bring this retrospective to a close I must now consider what is in store for 2014. While I had certainly some rough ideas of what I wanted out of 2013 I could not have planned for the unexpected and exceptionally positive way it played out. Last year, as I’ve described above, brought far more then I could have ever hoped for. And it is with that in mind that I approach 2014. I shall consider some things I would like to accomplish. I’ll acknowledge some wants, desires and needs. But most of all I shall dream. I’ll be open and patient and see what the year has in store for me.
Original Blog Posts
Ducks Upon the Sea
Sunset at Dunaff Bay
The Last Light of Day
The Stillness after the Storm
Water Abstract #2
Last Light at Sandycove
Come Fly with Me
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and peaceful 2014. May you find little pockets of unplanned and unexpected joy throughout the year. Thank you so much for your company throughout 2013. I am excited to continue my photographic journey and see what 2014 has in store, and I look forward to sharing it all with you as I go. For right now let me leave you with these two thoughts…
“Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of travelling.” ~ Margaret Lee Runbeck
“Whatever you want too much you can’t have, so when you really want something, try to want it a little less.” ~ Joel Rosenberg