As the father of an avid surfing son I often get dragged out to explore new surf spots. This way I have ventured out to places on the Gower, such as Pete’s Reef, Bluepool and now Oxwich Point, that I would probably not visit otherwise.

Oxwich Point, I am reliably informed by Taylor, only works as a surf break when there is a huge swell, low tide and south – westerly winds. These conditions have been pretty regular over this holiday season, as big swells have piled in on the back of ex hurricanes and Storm Frank.

It is a 10 minute walk out from the Oxwich car park, down to the Point. Most of the way there is a sandy route, only as you get close to the end is rock scrabbling required. The day we went there was a 50 mph wind whipping round the headland, providing a challenge just to stand upright whilst watching Taylor catching clean breaking 5-6ft waves.

It was interesting to be stood almost at 45° to the breaking wave, but unfortunately Taylor was then mainly surfing with his back to me. So I had to wait for a top turn to get a glimpse of his face – generally a desirous effect even for a surf photo! Anyway, here are my favourite few, with a final portrait as requested by his Grandmother.

 

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Would you like to take part in a monthly photo project? All you’ll need is a camera and a Facebook account. It’s just for fun and for the pleasure of having a monthly photo challenge.

I will be posting one word a month that you will then represent in a photograph. There are no rules. Whatever the word suggests to you visually is OK. All you have to do is post the photo each month to the Facebook Group page Twelve Photos.

Feel free to share the group with your friends. Let’s get social! The word for January is Beginning

Looking forward to seeing your photos.

Yesterday Surfing Santas took to the waves for a competition run by Llangennith-based WSF Surf School and Langland Bay Riders Surf Club in aid of Wales Air Ambulance and Waves for Water charity.

I braved the horizontal and torrential rain to collect a few photos at Langland: bringing Christmas to the Gower waves.

 

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I recently won 2 tickets to see Guy Garvey in one of those innumerable subscription email draws. After I adjusted to the surprise that these things did actually lead to a real prize arrangements were made.

The key photography decision was what camera to take. After the recent events in Paris I expected security to be rigorous and that taking the DSLR in might not be possible. I opted to take my Canon G7X, a high end compact with a 1″ sensor. This would be better than my mobile phone camera which really struggles in low light situations.

Once Guy started I took a few test shots to see how the camera performed in the light. I was about 10 metres or more from the stage and the camera has a limited zoom, so holding it high to avoid all those heads in front was a must. I had the camera set up on an average aperture (f4 is equivalent to a mid range setting on this camera) and the ISO on auto, so that I didn’t have to worry about shutter speed. Despite all the stage lighting I was getting ISO ratings at the top end 6400 – 12,800, so I knew that there would be a lot of digital noise in the photos.

The camera struggled to focus sometimes and the split-second shutter lag often meant that getting the shot I was trying for was hit and miss. Generally I watched for the light and the more successful photos are the first two below, where the lighting situation created interest.

I converted all the chosen photos into black and white to handle the digital noise. Generally there were few other adjustments, apart from to remove objects that distracted from the photo’s object (Mr Garvey!).

Creating photos where the conditions and camera impose limitations is a stimulating exercise. In fact, imposing limitations where there are none can often result in the most original and inspired photos. I have used wide apertures, set shutter speeds and de-focus to limit how I can create photos. The practice is invigorating!

What do you think of the photos? The gig was excellent. Guy Garvey’s new album ‘Courting the squall’ is diverse and multi-layered, with trademark poetic lyrics. Give it a go.

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If you should find yourself in London between now and March 2016 I recommend that you visit the Alec Soth Gathered Leaves exhibition in the Media Space at the Science Museum.

This is the first major UK exhibition from this award winning American photographer and surveys a decade of Soth’s work, highlighting his career as one of the world’s top photographers. The exhibition includes four of his signature series, including the UK première of his recent project Songbook.

I particularly found his Broken Manual series inspiring. Soth explores what it is to desire to run away, survive and look into who we are. His work documents several men living unsupported in the wilder parts of America and is melancholic and moving.

The exhibition has a refreshing attitude to photography. You are encouraged to take photographs of the photos and share. The photo above illustrates my desire to capture the relationship between photo and viewer; present, engaged and inspired.

 

Photos have the power to convey emotion. The way we choose to compose the scene and the technical choices we make can combine with the content to represent a feeling, through visual metaphor or symbolism.

Sometimes this is deliberately created at the moment of pressing the shutter. Sometimes it reveals itself later; maybe a happy accident or subconscious guidance. Either way it is a powerful way of communicating with the viewer.

The truth is in the viewing. Of course the emotion or feeling that the photographer intends to convey may not be what the viewer experiences. Cultural background and personal experiences guide our interpretation of visual imagery. That there may be several interpretations is not necessarily a weakness of the photo. Inspiring diverse emotions from one photo may be a strength.

Let’s look at some examples from a recent walk around Langland Bay. Notice the feelings that these photos generate for you before you read the text below.

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Photo 1 suggests uncertainty for me. Through a shallow depth of field I have created the representation of an unclear future, we cannot see where the path may lead. Though if we consider the truth of the scene, we know that Monty can see the way forward.

Photo 2 is in a similar vein to Photo 1. There is a degree of uncertainty and also potential barriers to what is unseen

Photo 3 suggests positive possibility (blue sky, sunshine), but also change (the autumnal leaves). For me these elements combine to imply change, opportunity and a hopeful future outcome.

Photo 4 uses a strong symbol to suggest that there is a clear direction we need to go. However the indistinct background could imply that the journey’s experiences may be uncertain.

What feelings did the photos inspire for you? Post your thoughts below in the comments box.

I have recently spent a few days at Charing Cross Hospital, as part of my ongoing care and investigation into my laryngeal condition. The stay was unplanned and helped to allieviate an acute situation.

Having not planned to stay I was unprepared. Fortunately Beci was able to gather suitable, clothing, food and some reading material for me. But I was without camera.

I have never been impressed by the camera on my mobile phone, but the best camera is the one you have with you! I also found it enlivening to push the boundaries of what was possible with the Sony Xperia phone camera.

Using the manual features of software and careful technique, particularly for longer exposures, I was able to create a few evocative and abstract photos I really liked.

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I lived in Paignton between the ages 11 and 16. It was the early 70s. In fact I have just created a 70s playlist to accompany me as I write this piece. I am currently with The Eagles ‘Take it easy’; Neil Young, The Steve Miller Band, Bob Dylan, Supertramp, Thin Lizzy and the Vapours are all on their way!

So when I visited earlier this week there was a nostalgic video of teenage high (and low) lights playing in my head. In fact, many of the memories of actual events were also jumbled up with memories of more recent dreams of the streets, parks and areas of Paignton I frequented. This fragmented video track was stimulated by my route through the town and down to the seafront. Of course it all appeared a lot smaller than it used to be and a lot less busy.

I parked at the back of the town centre park, close to where I recall the library used to be. As a kid I visited this many times and still check out books in my dreams. But the library was long gone, in place was a new development of retirement flats. I wandered on through the park, remembering the shortcut to the seafront I used to whizz through on my bike. This was all much as it used to be, but with an absence of ducks.

My summer memories of Paignton seafront are of a beach and lawned area rammed with grockles (tourists). Often there was hardly a patch of grass or sand to be had by lunch time. This time I wandered through and found it busy, but with plenty of space. Once down on the front I found the photography flowed. I felt comfortable, at home amongst familiar scenes, and I believe that the photos below carry some of that warmth, as well as a curiosity to capture the British tourist at play.

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My ongoing exploration of creating abstract photos of people promenading around Swansea Bay has recently been illuminated by our summer sunshine. After the last set, taken at a difficult time on a dank day, I thought I would share the latest, more upbeat, examples.

These were taken at a cafe that sits on the promenade near my entrance onto Swansea Bay. The cafe seats are perhaps a little closer to the subjects promenading than in other examples and I had to dial down the aperture a little as it was so bright. Which one is your favourite?

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I was feeling a little dazed this morning. An early rise and ragged breathing left me with a sense of disconnectedness. As I had to take Taylor to work in Mumbles I thought I would change my routine, drop him off and then do a mindful photography practice to ground me.

The ‘Film Style’ practice is a space, time and feature limited photo activity. Its aim is to create 24 photos (a là film) on your digital camera using as many manual features as you feel comfortable using. The key ingredient is that you turn off your review screen so that you cannot see the photos as you take them. This replicates the idea that film photography generates, that by not seeing what you are creating you only have your viewfinder/screen to guide you, and you know you will not be able to see the result. This encourages a slower, more considered pace of photography, allowing you to tune in to your current experience and particularly the visual experience.

If you have a DSLR or CSC with viewfinder you can also tape up or turn off the screen, so you only compose the photo through the viewfinder. Where the lens or camera allows, you can also choose to turn off the auto focus and only manually focus the lens. This further supports an attentiveness to the practice.

The Practice

Choose a small area, no bigger than 100 x 100 metres. When you arrive sit in the space and pay attention to your sensory information. What can you feel, smell, touch, hear and see? When you feel you have completely arrived start to move around your environment following the 4 stage seeing practice.

Create 24 photos. No more, no less. Keeping count in your head is a practice in itself! When you have 24 photos (or think you have) leave your space and return home. Do not look at your photos until you get home.

Editing

When I download and review the photos I initially select in. Rather than excluding the ones I don’t like, I select the ones I do like, often on an instinctive reaction. Out of 24 I would hope to have at least 5 I would like to share. Editing wise I do very little. Some minor cropping and a little light adjustment to replicate how I felt when I originally saw the scene.

Here are my favourite photos from this morning’s practice. Which one is your favourite?

I don’t have any photos of Wasp Fest for you. Shame. Unfortunately, I had to cancel as my breathing became challenging – I have now embarked on a course of steroids for relief and things are beginning to ease.

Instead of driving to Somerset for a groovy festival, I drove to Mumbles to sulk and take gloomy photos. The continual fine rain suited my mood and I instinctively reverted to an ongoing project – The Promenaders. This is inspired by the photographer Isobella Berr and involves the use of my 50mm lens, a f1.4 aperture and manual de-focus.

I love the curved people like shapes created and this was the first time I had experimented on a dull, wet day. What do you think?

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Eric Kim is a passionate street photographer and prolific blogger based in Berkeley, California. I found his blog when looking for photographers who combined photography with a philosophic approach to life. It was probably through some random google search combining photography and zen, and Eric tumbled out.

Eric’s blog is a well of wisdom for the street photographer and is underpinned by his belief in open source photography, which basically means that he believes in sharing, for free, all of his knowledge and resources. His mission is ‘to spread and promote the love of street photography’. And boy does he do that!

In addition to his regular posts he offers a number of free e books, covering topics including: an introduction to street photography, street portraits, overcoming fear of street photography, a social media overview and my particular favourite, Zen in the Art of Street Photography. Eric describes this as “a compilation of all of my favorite articles on Zen, Taoism, Buddhism, gratitude, and other random philosophical musings.” It is an intriguing and thought provoking read.

However, the best starting point is this page which shares: the e book links, a free online introductory course, videos, popular and must read articles, posts on master street photographers, composition, philosophy, equipment, marketing, business, travelling, recommended books, other blogs, collectives, movies, laws, Flickr groups and the Streettogs Academy. That is some list huh?

The last item, Streettogs, is a Facebook group for doing, sharing and commenting on street photography assignments. It also has separate pages for discussion, critique and equipment.

I have always been drawn to the challenges and life of street photography. It is not something I have done enough of and would certainly be something I could develop as a mindful project. Thanks to Eric and his marvelous blog, I will have any question that I might have answered.

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These lilies were collected by Beci from her parent’s garden (at least they get to appreciate them now from the comfort of their Spanish computer). I thought I would try and create some photos that celebrated the lilies flamboyance and delicacy.

For those who are interested in these things: I used a 50mm lens with a reversing ring, which turns it into macro lens with a very shallow depth of field. Great for adding some mystery to the beauty.

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The Activity

This photography activity is inspired by my friend Mel’s ‘Walk/Listen/Respond Project’. I have taken Mel’s base rules and adapted then for my needs!

My rules are: [1] Plan an album length walk. [2] Choose an album to match your mood/weather/walk/whatever. [3] Walk. [4] Respond to the music intuitively. Let it play through you. Create photos that reflect how the music makes you feel. [5] Edit photos whilst listening to same album. [6] Share your favourites.

The Album

I chose to listen to War, Peace and Diplomacy by Tom Hickox and you can listen here.  I love his soothing, deep voice and thought it would be uplifting. I was forgetting the title of the album! Whilst the songs are tales of war, peace and diplomacy and the overall tone is somewhat melancholic, there are also themes of love and hope. Phew.

I didn’t set out to create a photo for each song. More to allow the music to flow through me; the words seeping into my subconscious and the melodies into my bones. from there I simply responded to the visual stimulation.

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I use photography as a practice for mindfulness. As mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, creating a photograph can provide many practices that enable us to connect with what we can see, what the camera can see and what we feel or a feeling that we wish to convey.

Recently, I have not been well and have been living through one of life’s difficult periods. I haven’t felt very creative until the last couple of days, when I have started to carry my little camera around with me again.

The two photos below I was drawn to create as they seemed to speak of how I felt. When we choose to create a photograph that illustrates an emotion the visual connection can be a very personal experience. That is all that is required. If the viewer also experiences particular feelings when the see the photo that is a bonus.

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Here are my favourite photos from a 1 hour mindful photography practice in London last weekend. The anchor I returned to when my mind got busy was ‘seeing colour’.

Looking at the photos today I am reminded of how I felt when I was there. The traffic noise, constant movement and speed, merged with iconic ideas of London: the red buses, black taxis, joggers in the mayhem, tall office blocks, ambulances on alert and people just going about their business. I didn’t find these photos they found me. Sometimes unerringly.

You will have to excuse me I am from the dreary provinces 😉

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The moment you pick up a camera there are decisions to be made. As a photographer you spend minutes, hours and years learning the basics, developing your experience and finding your voice. Throughout this process decision making is central and yet often our favourite photos are taken instinctively, when the decision to press the shutter at the decisive moment, is seemingly taken for us. Let me explain.

The Wedding Photo

I’ll start with a photo. A while back, whilst working as a wedding photographer, I had to complete the formal photos in a hotel bedroom. I had just managed to squeeze in the bride and groom photos after the ceremony before the rains, whipped along by a strong wind, drove us all inside.

The hotel offered us an empty hotel bedroom. A pretty sterile environment, but at least it was dry. I remember opening all the blinds, turning on all the lights and noting that I could bounce flash off the white ceiling to at least get some half decent lighting. This was my least favourite part of the event and it was not quite what I had hoped for.

However, the decision making was straight forward. After having sorted the light I chose a mid range aperture and appropriate ISO to ensure I would get a shutter speed of 1/100. I was ready. Then all I had to do was arrange the guests in their chosen groups and take the photos.

At some stage during the movement from one group to another I took the photo below. I had no recollection of taking the photo, of composing it or changing anything on the camera. When I first saw it after scanning through the photos taken I laughed. ‘When did that happen?’ I thought. I had taken the photo on instinct. You could say, ‘I was in the zone.’

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Getting out of the way

As photographers we are in the zone when we are able to apply everything we know, see all the opportunities and create fantastic photos intuitively. Such moments are rare, but we know that they are the product of both hard work, study and practice, and an ability to relax into the moment. To let go of our attachment to the outcome and to allow ourselves to get out of the way, so that the decisions are taken on an almost sub-conscious level.

Trying to make this happen rarely works. I imagine that masters of their craft experience it more often. However, I have many more hours practice before I reach that position. Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers, suggests that mastery of any skill takes at least 10,000 hours practice. That seems a way off. If I practiced for 2 hours a day, every day it would take nearly 14 years. Ah well, I shall just keep at it, enjoying the journey and maybe along the way such moments will occur with increasing regularity.