Being There, October 2014

Category: Newsletters 13 October 2014

Giant sequoia trees in the mist, Sequoia National Park, California, USA. Canon 5D mkIII, 24-70mm lens.

Last week, on the final evening of the trip in a restaurant in Chinatown the slip of paper encased in my complimentary fortune cookie contained this Oriental pearl of wisdom; keep in mind that it's the journey and not the destination that counts. The next day during the interminable flight back over the Pole from a San Francisco sparkling in early October sunshine to a dreary blustery Heathrow I had plenty of time to dwell on that tip, but try as I might I just wasn't getting it. No disrespect to Confucius if this was indeed a nugget of his philosophy, but, quite frankly I think as a tenet for the world traveller this observation is about as useful as tofu masquerading as meat. I mean, how can spending 12 hours in a tube wedged in between strangers eating re-heated plastic food while watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes on a tiny screen with incomprehensible sound compare to the experience of trekking through the groves of giant sequoia trees in the early morning mist in the company of bears and bobcats high in the Sierra Nevada? Sorry Confucius, but sod the journey; I just want to Be There.

Photo: Wendy Noton

Every morning we'd drive up the mountain in darkness, ready to start the hike as the very first twilight started to permeate through the sky from the east. Later throngs of tourists would crowd the trails winding through one of America's most popular National Parks, but at dawn the woods were empty of people, and just a magic place to be. But not all was still and silent, not by a long chalk. On Day 2 we met a nonchalant black bear in the dim light right on the trail in front of us; deer became common acquaintances, we glanced a fleeting bobcat, every step we took was accompanied by the early warning calls of squirrels and chipmunks, while the resonant knocking of woodpeckers echoing through the trees became one of the defining sounds of the trip. To just stand back from the tripod and listen to the Sequoia soundtrack was a defining experience all in itself, but the knowledge that those huge trees with their gnarled and weathered barks occupying pride of place in the eyepiece of my camera were saplings well before the Romans conquered much of Europe made for a life affirming moment we'll remember until we're well past our sell by date. To crown it all on the fifth morning of working the woods evocative mist wafted ethereally between the massive trunks. It was a Decisive Moment.

Life and death; fresh growth beside the charred trunk of a giant sequoia tree killed by forest fire, Sequoia National Park, California, USA. Canon 5D mkIII, 70-200mm lens.

Such moments come along in life only so often, and rarely happen by chance. In fact 30 years’ experience of roving the world in search of such photographic opportunities has taught the success of whole trips lasting weeks or even months will inevitably boil down to just a few such fleeting moments. My task, my challenge in life, is to make the most of such moments photographically. There's not normally a second chance, but really what I do with my camera at such times seems the easy bit; it's Being There, at the right place at the right time that's the tricky bit; the hardest part, and the one that takes the most time, effort and sheer bloody persistence.

That is of course a message that you may well have heard many times before. It is a core philosophy that underscores my latest book The Vision for example and the central theme of many a talk, such as the presentations I did on the Canon stand at Photokina last month.  If you couldn't make it to Cologne you can watch one of those talks here. Photokina is the biggest photographic trade show in the world; somewhat daunting in terms of its scale, but it was a definite thrill to be part of. I along with a gaggle of other Canon Ambassadors even got to meet and compare notes with the engineers and designers from Japan who produce our cameras, lenses and printers. Maybe our comments and suggestions may play a part in the evolution of future projects; that would be very satisfying. My only regret was I never managed a schnitzel, but it was good to be back in Germany and see so many familiar faces on the stands and in the crowds thronging the concourses of Kolnmesse.

Talking filters with the group on the CPS+ New Forest Landscape Days. Photo: Calvin Chinthaka

The thronging switched to the New Forest soon after returning from California with the two Canon Professional Services Landscape Days. I've staged Shows in an 11th century Minster, at the National Maritime Museum, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal Geographic Society, under a motorway flyover, in Cheltenham's sumptuous Pump Rooms, in an ex-Danish Power Station and countless theatres and halls across the land, but it was the first time I've presented in a Tree House. It was great fun. I, Jon Gooding and the Canon Team mixed up talks and demos with the opportunity for CPS Members to try out some of the impressive array of gear available. There was a scare at the end of the first day as darkness fell in the forest and we realised one guest with a 1Dx & 500mm/f4 on loan was still unaccounted for, but it was our mistake, and incredibly the Canon Crew did manage to get all their bodies and big white lenses back.

Some of the gear available for guests on the CPS+ New Forest Landscape Days. Photo: Jon Gooding.

On the Workshop front next up is our Exmoor Course at the end of the month. That's fully booked, but just 2 weeks later Jon and I will be teaming up again to run the 3 Day Jurassic Coast Capture to Print Workshop. There is still very limited availability on this Digital Workflow Special so if you fancy being taken right through the photographic process from exposing on a cliff top to outputting a Big Beautiful Print this is the course for you. RAW processing, Photoshop shenanigans, printing; we’ll do the lot, as well as tramping along the Coast to some truly gorgeous locations. But if something more extreme appeals this winter there's always our Iceland Adventures. To get a taste of what you could be doing on the black sand beaches, beside glacial lagoons, beneath fosses and under the Northern Lights of Iceland with us next February/March we've put together a video. It's worth a watch, even if tropical beaches appeal more at that time of year.

Join us next month on the Jurassic Coast for our Capture to Print Digital Workflow Workshop.

My apologies; we missed sending out the September News. Time just continues to slip through my fingers. So there are two issues of our Chasing the Light Online Magazine awaiting your perusal, with features and videos from all over the world. My latest Video Blog charts the pleasures and frustrations of shooting on my own home turf over the course of the summer, whilst the last two Low Down features conclude the series on printing. As usual we've two Fundamentals of Post Production Video Tutorials per month for you, and we've Features from our f11 regulars Chris Weston (getting intimate with Grizzlies in Alaska) and Ross Hoddinott (reporting from Cornwall and Slovakia), while Mario Vitalini ventures beneath the waves and Alexander Buisee swings from a rope on the North Face of the Eiger. There's my Behind the Lens Feature from France plus two Stepping Backs to Beijing in the '90s and Thera in the year 1628 BC. Your images are there too in two great f11 Member's Galleries; in fact as always there's way more than I can list here. Of course there's also every single back-issue available for f11 Members too, all 32 of them.

Christmas is on the horizon. So, whether you're buying for a photographer or thinking about your own wish list, we've got a specially priced gift certificate to cover a full year of our f11 membership which is easy to purchase for yourself or another by following this link. With a new edition of our exclusive online magazine published every month, as well as other goodies, this is a gift that will keep giving throughout the year. 

Reynisfjara, Iceland; from this month’s Low Down feature on Printing in the October Edition of the Chasing the Light Online Magazine.

All this is common knowledge to our f11 Members, but we realise there are still many who are confused as to what it's all about, so we've put together a short video with Chasing the Light Online Magazine highlights and spelling out the benefits of f11 membership. It's all there, waiting for you to access wherever, whenever you like.

By the time you read this I'll be loading up for an autumnal trip to the Jura. No, not the Hebridean Isle of Jura, although the whisky from there is very nice, the Jura Mountains which span the French/Swiss border. I've not as much time as I'd like (who does?), as I need to be back for the Open Days at Calumet. If you're in Glasgow or nearby come along for a presentation and a chat on October 30th. If that's not handy I'm doing the same again at Calumet Manchester on November 20th. 

With f11 Member and Your Vision 2014 Category Winner Bruce Alexander on the Big Sur Coast, California. Photo:  Wendy Noton.

At the tail end of our California trip we met up with f11 Member, Bruce Alexander.  Bruce won the Portfolio Category of the Your Vision 2014 f11 Member's Photography Competition and this was his prize. We spent a day with Bruce exposing on the Big Sur Coastline and working through his workflow.

Next year it could be you... The closing date for the Your Vision 2015 f11 Member's Photography Competition is December 31.


Lobos Point, Big Sur, California, USA. An 8 frame stitched panorama, Canon 5D mkIII, 24-70mm lens.

I wish I could agree with Confucius' philosophy. I guess thinking big if life is one long journey than he has a point. For me though looking back at my decades of travel it's always those magic moments behind the lens beholding nature's wonder beside glacial lakes, from lofty hill tops, under the Milky Way or in not so silent woods that remain seared into my DNA. That's what photography is all about for me. It's the stimulus that prompts me to do things I would never in the course of normal life even contemplate, such as hang around in the woods before dawn, and to subsequently witness spectacles few on this planet ever are so lucky to behold. Sorry Confucius; but it's all about Being There.

Keep exposing.


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