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Leader Insights - Charlie Waite on The Lake District

Posted on 27th February 2015

Charlie Waite was interviewed recently about our Lake District tour in January - you can read that interview here. During the course of the discussion, some insights and viewpoints came to light which we thought you might be interested in! So here is 'Part 2' of that interview, which touches on some wider subjects.

Is the Lake District a popular tour destination?

Most definitely. We've been doing tours to the Lake District since 1992, and in fact, it was the very first one that Light & Land did, it's where we created ourselves. And we were over-subscribed in a heartbeat! So we ran another one, and another - all within the space of ten days. Three of them, back to back, because we wanted to accommodate everyone - 56 people in total came with us, to engage with landscape photography - and essentially that's where it all began. 

I started Light & Land with a lovely lady called Sue Bishop, who is a brilliant photographer of flowers, and it's to her I need to say thank you. On one of those trips I asked her whether we should give ourselves a name, she replied, "How about Light and Land?" And that was it. It was just superb.

Do you include critique sessions as part of a tour?

Yes and no. We do review images which people have made on the tour, but not on the same day or sometimes even the next, as people need time to process them. So whilst we do have critique sessions for these images at appropriate times, I also encourage our guests to bring images with them, from other trips they have done, that they would like to have critiqued. Then the leaders give constructive criticism, and we also ask other guests to comment as well, and then we ask the photographer what they think about the comments they've received.

The results are often surprising - as it's not unusual that an image they maybe had least confidence in, has been shown to be the most popular amongst the group. And when we are doing critiques like this in the Lake District, or on any other tour, what they are actually saying is, "This is where I am now in my photography, these are the images that I have chosen to select to be judged. In my hand are eight or so images that I have confidence in, and that I feel represent me and what I add up to as a photographer."

You said 'in my hand' - do people bring prints for critiquing rather than digital files?

For this part of the critique yes, we always encourage people to print their images and bring them along. I have always thought that a print is the best finale for all that investment, for all that time. We ask them to bring prints because the relationship between the viewer and the image I think is best achieved and maximised by the viewer holding a print in their hand - and not seeing it from ten feet away on the screen, where it's perhaps going to be a little bit more saturated than it should be. A print is a very tangible and real experience for the viewer.

That's why, when we're planning our print exhibition at The Mall Galleries, we're not talking about selling images, we're talking about individual people coming and looking at the prints on the wall. It's fascinating to see what people say, and how they react to the images. Where they stand and how much time they spend - do they move quickly on to another one, or linger? It can be very revealing for the photographer. And that's the experience we're trying to give people with our Light and Land at The Mall exhibition.

Going back to these critiques, most people have probably just printed them out just for that purpose, and might not otherwise have done so, and we talk about that as well. Were they happy with the print? Did they play a creative role in the printing? Did it have parity with their pre-visualisation? Running the tape all the way back to that day when they stood in that location, are they now actually looking at a print that conveys the experience that they had when they were there? If the image in their hand doesn't evoke with the experience they had when they made it, then something is perhaps broken.

So would you say that the need for a considered approach is a key lesson?

Absolutely, 100%. This is definitely the type of thing that I chat to everyone about while we're making photographs. In the old days, people found it very difficult to regard photography as an art form. Photographers would not help matters by saying, after pressing the shutter, "Oh I hope that comes out!" That suggests it wasn't a very scientific process to start with. Of course, actually we're not saying 'I hope it comes out' literally, as something will - but does it actually carry some of the emotional response that you are getting while you're standing there with the camera? That's what it's about.

Defining the objective and pre-visualising the image in your consciousness is essential. Then producing an image that has parity with the objective that you defined - and hoping it doesn't depart too much from what you saw, and that you are not forced to tolerate too many compromises. If you're standing there, and you accept an also-ran, you'll get back an image that testifies to all of the compromises that you made and it will give you no joy whatsoever. It's actually better to walk away and say, "No, I made a conscious decision not to do that."

I find that whole business really fascinating and intriguing. It's like pre-visualising something that you're going to cook, and not being able to get all of the ingredients. Everybody may say that what you end up with is delicious, but you know it isn't what you set out to achieve. They can all say how lovely it was, but only you know what could have been. So really, the judge is always going to be you. You can't fall back in love with a picture just because other people say that they like it.

Do you think that digital photography has made us all a bit less 'discerning'?

Yes, I do think that digital has made us all a bit reckless. We just shoot away - bang, bang, bang - and we are all guilty of that on occasion, including me! Nothing's changed, why am I doing another one? The light hasn't changed, the wind hasn't got up, absolutely nothing has changed whatsoever - and yet here I am pressing the shutter again, just in case. It's bonkers! But we all do it.

I try to explain to the group that I think photographers need to be very aware of all the bits that go into the creation of a landscape photograph, in the same way that a painter would. So I try to encourage them to ensure that there is sound content within their image, so they've got the structure of the photograph already sorted.

Do filters play a big part on a Light & Land tour?

Yes of course they do. They help you to get a greater grasp of subject brightness range - i.e. contrast, and how to compress it. The use of filters has to be done with integrity and you have to be sure about the effect you are aiming to achieve. Light & Land’s preferred filter provider is Lee filters from Andover in Hampshire, with whom we have worked for 25 years.

To me, the ideal is to produce a photograph that people don't question, in terms of technique or the tools used. And a potential problem with using filters is that their use should not be evident. I really think that the aim is to end up with a creative image, that people think is wonderful - but they don't think about the technique. They just get this marvellous image, and then they don't question the way it was done. 

Post By Charlie Waite

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