I had to write an artist’s statement recently, about the images you see on this post. I don’t like these things and always struggle to word them. The truth of it is – I notice something that interests me, I photograph it, I take it home, and I play with it on a screen until it looks the way I like it. That’s it. No great thoughts, concepts or ideas lurk in my head to be turned into meaningful words. I make photos purely on instinct even if I have to, or choose to, rationalise about them afterwards.
The statement I had to write this time was for a competition, and my husband Geoff – in the voice of a five-year-old – suggested this:
Here are my pictures. I quite like them. I hope you do too. Love and kisses, Gilly
After I’d stopped laughing, it seemed to me there was a certain sort of honesty in this that couldn’t be denied. It surely is the five-year-old in us that likes to take the pictures and just wants others to like them too. Simple.
Yay! – the last one! It certainly won’t be the last tree picture you’ll see here, as I’ve got several in the pipeline already, but this week marks the end of the 52 Trees project. I was so hoping to be able to come up with something a little different for the last one, but I thought for a while that it just wasn’t going to happen. However, I’ve just spent a few days in Surrey visiting Geoff, as he now works down there, and we went to Winkworth Arboretum for the day.
I was in paradise. The colours were sensational and it was like being a child in a sweet shop. I’d had a bad night’s sleep and I was very tired and a bit cranky, but I was so overwhelmed with delight at this beautiful place that I forgot everything else. It’s difficult for me to play and experiment when I’m with someone else – I can’t switch off enough – but I had taken my ten-stop neutral density filter with the idea of trying out some intentional camera movement and I have Geoff to thank for insisting that I at least gave it a go.
I only took a few shots with it – although it wasn’t sunny, it was still quite bright and I needed to cut out so much light to get a slow shutter speed that I couldn’t actually see what I was taking through the viewfinder. I tried a few shots and then got a bit cross with it all (you don’t want to be around me when I haven’t slept, believe me) and decided just to go with straight shots for the rest of the time we were there.
I almost deleted this one when I saw it on the back of the camera, but then I had a better look at it onscreen and it suddenly seemed to have potential. There was some blown out sky that detracted a bit so I played with some cropping and came up with this version, which I’m rather pleased with. Seeing it bigger revealed the lovely soft purples and blues in the shadows, which contrast so well with the unbelievably vivid yellows and reds of the leaves. I think it captures the feeling of an autumn day, and the glorious colours that we’ve seen this year. Most of all, it’s very ‘me’ and I’m more than happy to finish with this.
I’ve no idea where I’m going from here. I might start another 52 project, but I have some reservations. It’s relatively easy to keep up and it ensures I write a weekly blog post, but at times it’s felt restrictive and sometimes even a little tedious. I’ve posted the occasional image that I’ve thought was just OK, because I needed something and it was all I had, and I don’t like doing that. I’m playing with ideas at the moment, and I think I’ll just coast for a little and trust that the right thing will make itself known to me if I let things simmer. And if you’ve stuck with me all the way through, thank you! – it’s encouragement from you that has kept me going.
Just one more week to go, and I’m finished 52 trees! I can’t say I’ll be sorry, as I’m getting a little tired of it now. Another Lensbaby shot today – I’m longing for a very fast, prime lens, but in the meantime the Lensbaby is my only option if I want that sort of effect. I don’t normally crop these shots, as you lose a lot of the blurred Lensbaby effect, but in this instance it needed it.
It’s been such a pretty autumn this year, with beautiful soft colours everywhere. The garden is littered with leaves, and I know I should sweep them up, but it looks so lovely, albeit in a slightly disheveled way. I’m spending a few days in Surrey this week, and intend to go to Kew gardens, so I’m hoping there’s still some late season colour there – with luck, I might be able to finish off this series with something lovely.
Autumn’s last dance – a brilliant autumn day with a cool breeze that rustled the last of the yellow leaves on this tree. How wonderful that autumn goes out in such a fanfare, giving us these gorgeous colours before the dull greys of winter set in. I’m on the last few weeks of my 52 Trees now and I’m aiming to end on a surge of colour and light.
It’s gone rather quiet on here, lately (is there anybody there??) I often notice that when I feel a little bit removed from my blog and uncertain of how to go forwards, I also lose readers and the comments dry up. I guess people can sense my hesitancy and occasional reluctance to write anything. I’m debating whether or not to start a new weekly project – in some ways it’s been really motivating and has helped to keep me going, but at times it’s felt a bit constraining. I also think I might have written more blog posts on other topics if I wasn’t doing this. I’ve got a little lazy, perhaps, and on many weeks have settled for just the tree post.
I’d like to change the WordPress theme again, too. I’ve never been terribly happy with this one and I know it has a number of glitches that I just haven’t been able to sort out. It’s a free theme, and I’d much rather pay for one and get something better. At the same time, I rather dread trawling through all the themes, getting more and more frustrated as I try to find one that does what I want it to do. An ability to do CSS coding would help a lot, but it’s just one more learning curve for which I feel no enthusiasm.
Life itself is changing rapidly at the moment – I’m going out more, meeting new people, trying new things, making new friends, and finding new opportunities. I’m not sure where it’s all going right now, but I feel as if I’m on the move again and it’s a good feeling. With our life and finances finally having gained some stability, I feel free to explore in a way that I haven’t for years. My blog needs to change to match this, but how? Not sure, but I’ll sit with the uncertainty and sooner or later it will become clear.
I ran my first Street Wisdom session today, and it went very well. We met at the Bandstand in Newark Castle Gardens, and facilitating it meant spending a lot of time sitting on a bench there while the participants were off doing their stuff. I had wondered if I’d get bored, but it was one of those perfect autumn days where the air is fresh and cool and the day is sunny, and the sky is a bright, bright blue, and it was a real joy just to be out in it.
The second part of the session involved the participants going off on a ‘street quest’ by themselves, leaving me about 45 minutes to spend how I liked. I’ve been feeling uninspired again lately, but had brought my camera with me to fill in the time. I think it must have been the sitting doing not very much for so long, but suddenly I was feeling excited about photography again in a way that I’ve felt I’ve lost recently. I spent some time down by the river and in the castle gardens, and I could happily have spent much, much longer.
As I left to go to a cafe to meet up with the others again, I saw this Royal Mail van stopped in traffic and noticed the shadow pattern cast on it by the nearby trees. I liked the combination of the bright red of the van and the dark shadow, and it tied in nicely with my penchant for photographing trees reflected in cars. I’m also on a mission to get more colour into my photography before it inevitably slips back to the blacks and whites of winter. There are only four more posts to go now before I finish this project, and I aim to make them all bright and colourful.
I’m not ‘here’ this week, so have pre-posted this week’s tree. My trip to Canterbury fell through in the end because of accommodation problems, but I decided instead to join Geoff down in Surrey for a few days. He’s working, but I’ll see him in the evenings and I’ll travel into London most days to meet up with friends, see an exhibition or two, and hopefully do some photography. I’ve left one of my trusted Airbnb guests in charge of the pets and the house, in exchange for free accommodation for the week, so a win-win situation all round.
Continuing the tree shadow theme, this magnificent shadow covered the whole road and I had to keep one eye on the viewfinder and one on the approaching traffic to avoid joining it and marring its lovely perfection. I find I’m quite drawn to the intersection between the natural and the man-made, so this satisfies that inclination quite nicely.
I have to admit I’m getting a bit tired of this project and finding it harder and harder to come up with the goods. Feeling a little desperate, I went out for my usual walk today not expecting to see anything other than the kinds of thing I’ve done so many times before But then I spotted this tree shadow, projected onto a wooden fence and I knew this was the one. I love the way that the wood grain shows through the projected shadow, the whole thing combining both the outside and the inside of the tree at once.
Incidentally, I spent some time the other day putting together a gallery of all the tree pictures to date. You can find it here if you want to see them all in one place..
I’ve just upgraded to Photoshop Elements 14, and at the same time have installed a suite of plug-ins called Nik Efex. I’ve wanted these for quite a while, but till fairly recently you had to buy the whole suite of seven plug-ins even if you only wanted one of them, and the price wasn’t low. However, Google are now offering the whole Nik Efex suite completely free, so I jumped at the chance to get it.
Some of the plug-ins cover specific things like sharpening or HDR, but the two that interest me most are Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro – the first does black and white conversions, and the second enables you to play with various different effects on your colour images. The choice is quite bewildering – almost off-putting – but there are loads that I’d be unlikely to use and you can narrow down the choices and place the ones you like in a Favorites folder so that you don’t have to trawl through the entire list every time to find the ones you want.
Around the same time that I downloaded these, I subscribed to KelbyOne, Scott Kelby’s training site for photography and software. There was a series of lessons on how to use Nik Efex that proved worth the subscription money all by itself and helped me a lot in learning how best to use the plug-ins. What I discovered is that you can remove the effect from parts of the images, intensify or reduce the effect, stack several different effects together, and generally fully customise how they’re applied.
Something in me objects to the idea of simply clicking on a thumbnail and having a ready-made effect applied – it feels like cheating, somehow, and too ‘Instagram’ in style – so gaining back this kind of control makes me feel that the final result is of my own making rather than something someone else has come up with. I can see there’s huge potential here to achieve the kind of results I’ve always wanted, but I can also see it’s going to take some time to familiarise myself with the software.
The image above is one of my New Forest, intentional camera movement shots, and I’ve applied two effects to it. One is Neutral Color Balance, which shifted the colour balance in a slightly brighter, fresher, direction, and the other is Color Contrast, which helped intensify and bring out the individual colours, particularly the pink in the foreground. Although I liked this overall, I took the effect off the more dominant tree trunks to bring the contrast down a bit there. The change is quite subtle, but definite – underneath I’ve shown the before (top) and after (bottom). You can see how the software has ‘cleaned up’ the colours quite nicely, giving the image a fresher and more summery look.
You can make much more dramatic conversions than this, and I’m playing with that at the moment, but there’s a danger of it becoming clumsy and too over-the-top, so I’m taking it slowly. It’s nothing that couldn’t be done in Photoshop, of course, but first off you’d have to know how to achieve what you want – which I often don’t – and even if you do this is a much easier way of achieving it.
I’m struggling with the tree project at the moment, hence the lack of a post last week. I feel as if I’m stuck, and not coming up with anything new and I’m not sure how I’m going to break free from that. I’ve got lots of shots I could use, but nothing with which I feel particularly happy and I don’t like posting something that ‘will do’ – I want to feel pleased with it. On the other hand, if I don’t post something this week I’ll lose my momentum and probably end up not coming back to it at all and I don’t want that to happen either.
I guess we all suffer from creative block at times, and we just have to persevere, keep pressing the shutter, and wait for inspiration to come back – it always does, eventually. I’m planning a little trip to Canterbury (where I lived for many years) in the near future and I think that might just spark off some new Ideas. At the very least, it will give me some welcome new subject matter.
This is my favourite shot of the week, although there are aspects of it I’m not happy with. I think the empty area at the right makes it feel slightly unbalanced, and I think there was probably a better composition to be had. I’d also like to be using more colour in my shots, but the weather just hasn’t been conducive to this. This is actually a colour shot, even though it looks black and white – it was taken on one of the grey, overcast days we seem to be having so many of at the moment. But I do like the circular ripple, and the contrast it makes with the softer reflection of the tree foliage.
Another shot from Sconce and Devon park. Obviously, it’s a reflection, but I’ve turned it topsy-turvy to give it a slightly disconcerting, slightly surreal, feel. I never can resist a good reflection and I never get tired of them – I doubt I ever will.
This set me wondering why so many of us like water reflections so much. I did a bit of Googling, with the first result being an academic paper which came to the conclusion that people like reflections in water better than they do in glass, and they like reflective water better than they do clear water, and so it’s probably a good idea to incorporate ponds into garden design. That really didn’t help much.
Maybe I wasn’t using the best search terms, but I couldn’t find anything much on this topic at all. There was quite a lot on mirrors and their symbolism, and lots of stuff on the symbolism of water, but nothing on the psychology of why we’re drawn to reflections in water. Even John Suler’s online book Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche, which is my go-to place for this sort of thing, had very little to say on the subject. However, he did point out that reflections in water span the boundaries between what our brain recognises as real or unreal – perhaps there’s some kind of attraction in that liminal space: a dreaminess, an other-worldliness. It seems strange to me that so little is known about something so widespread.