Some thoughts on winter photography and working with printers………

One of this year’s new postcards – M264 : Dysynni River near Tywyn.

What DO landscape photographers do during the winter? It is sometimes said “……oh, the light is so much better in winter….” but that is  a pretty gross generalisation. “Good” light can occur at any time of the year and for most of the winter the sky is grey, the wind it doth blow and the rain it doth fall. There are exceptions, of course, and in crisp, frosty conditions, preferably with just enough snow on the ground, the landscape looks superb. But honestly – how often does it happen? Here in Wales, anyway, the answer is: not a lot!

Nor do I necessarily dislike cloudy conditions; in fact cloud cover can be excellent for certain subjects, as long as it is not blowing a gale as well. I call it honest light and it seems to suit man-made and industrial landscapes, whenever the intention is to make a document rather than accentuate the attractive. It is great for waterfalls and woodlands as well, where excess contrast can be a problem.

But I digress. One of things this photographer does in winter is prepare next year’s Wild Wales postcards ready to get them into the shops for Easter. There’s quite a bit of planning to do – for example ensuring that popular designs are always in stock in sufficient quantities, and choosing new designs from the previous year’s images. Then there’s the Wild Wales calendar – it seems very strange to be working on a 2014 calendar during December 2012, but that’s how it is.

I consider myself very lucky to have found a good quality printer for the postcards in a small village about six miles from my home. You’d think any printer could produce postcards but that is not the case at all. You should hear about the cock-ups I’ve had to deal with! For many years I mainly used a greetings card specialist in Cumbria, but they suddenly went out of business in May 2011. Panic Stations! I tried “my local printer” and they did a pretty good job at short notice later that month. Since then I have worked with their production manager to get the top quality results I am always looking for and I think we have 99% succeeded this winter. He has been exceptionally helpful; this year he sourced some stiffer board for me so that the postcards now really exude a sense of quality. A delivery of 40,000 postcards arrived last Friday, but shelf space is now at a premium; a pack of 150 new cards fits in the space formerly occupied by 200!

As far as the calendar is concerned the job is now at the printer. Not the same printer,  but another reasonably local one who uses bigger machines which take bigger sheets of paper, and can thus print a larger product more economically. Over a period of eight years now they have done a really good job for me on the calendar. I have OK’d the proofs for the 2014 edition and am waiting to see the results; always with a hint of anxiety, it is true, but I’m reasonably confident.

There was a time when handing a job over to a printer felt like taking a leap into the dark, but I feel that era is now over.  Printing technology has advanced in leaps and bounds during the digital era but that is not all. I’m pretty fastidious about the quality of my products and a good printer will also appreciate this, I think. Building a good relationship with a printer takes time and  understanding on both sides but it is worth it in the long run. So I’m in the very fortunate position of working with two good mid-Wales printers and being  able to support the local economy too.

Having said all that on the photography front I did manage a couple of days in snowy north Wales last week and got some interesting results. Not the iconic winter landscape that I was hoping for for next year’s calendar, unfortunately, but some very icy images indeed.

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But is it landscape?

On a recent trip to Norfolk, I spent a day at the RSPB’s Titchwell reserve. The clouds fully parted that day for the first time in weeks, and I wasn’t the only one who’d had the same idea. The reserve was heaving with birders. I had hoped to do some bird photography but I do sometimes wonder if I’m dedicated enough. Most of the afternoon I stood on the causeway in  the sun with my camera trained on a flock of golden plover on the freshwater pools, waiting for them to take off. I was hoping to catch them at the very moment they took flight, but on the one occasion they did fly, my attention was inev_MG_4071-2itably elsewhere.

But  the sound of perhaps one thousand golden plovers calling mellifluously together was so enchanting, it didn’t really seem to matter whether I came away with photographs of them or not.

Earlier in the day, after a very fine egg and bacon breakfast at the reserve cafe, I found my way to the Fen Hide. In my imagination a bittern would creep out of the reeds and I would come away with some stunning close-ups of a very rarely seen bird. In reality the only pictures I took were of water droplets on the hide window. I got a few strange looks from other birders there! Not that I’m complaining, because I think a couple of them are very good, but the session did lead to a lesson being learned.

I was prepared for bird photography and had only my tripod, Canon 7D and 100-400 zoom lens with me; not really ideal for close-up  photography. The 7D has only moderate ISO performance  (in other words – it’s quite noisy), and the lens is an unwieldy beast. Camera shake, despite bright light, and limited depth of field were both potential problems. To counter the latter I tried to position the camera’s sensor plane parallel to the sloping window –  which was tricky.  I was imposing a set of limitations upon myself by not using the right equipment for the job.  And the stupid thing was,  the rest of my kit was in the van, no more than five minutes walk away! 

Despite that I did come away with some decent results as you can see from the picture. Each water droplet contains an upside-down, left/right ultra-wide image of the world outside  – blue sky, golden reeds and water reflecting the sky. The black outline around many of them I think must be the hide.  It has occurred to me how difficult it would be to categorise these photographs. Even though each one contains a number of “landscapes”  and is taken more or less out in the landscape, could I – for example – enter one in a landscape photography competition? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

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