Why is landscape photography only about winning competitions?

Landscape photography has become big business with many of the competition winners running courses and location based workshops and generally cashing in on their status. It is a small world with only the best known ‘celebs’ getting the attention and the audiences they desire. ‘Doing landscapes’ has been taken over by the need to win, become a celeb and make money.

In previous posts I have asked what contemporary landscape photography is a about. [What is landscape photography?  The wild, wilderness’ and pristine natural landscape  Man altered landscape] 

It has become very formulaic and it seems that people with cameras, I hesitate to call them photographers, have stopped looking at landscape as it is and see only potential competitions winners. They will not engage with their surroundings, see ‘nature’, feel it or connect with it because to them it is just a two-dimensional motif that is acceptable to the judges of competitions.

Popular and club photography is predicated on competitions and winning. Points are applauded, challenges to the accepted norms of what makes a point winning pic are denigrated. The pressure is to conform, to make images like everybody else or be a seen as a failure. Individual creativity is constrained within tightly prescribed rules. I wonder what the enjoyment is in constantly striving to play the game, to please judges, to be accepted and to win?

It is time we engaged fully with our landscape where we live and not run off to one of the ‘honey spots’ so accurately described in magazines. It is time to accept that landscape is not always pristine and natural, that it is made by humans, is sometimes dirty and ugly and that we own the landscape we make. Then we might produce images that say something about landscape rather than conform to a very narrow definition of what landscape photography should be.

The new landscape photography might even have room for the people who live and/or work in/on the land. Most of all photographers might start to enjoy a new kind of image making which is more relaxed, more creative, less competitive and more about their own ideas and feelings.  I live in hope but cannot see the money in such a venture!

Having a passion

You have ideas, thoughts about what to do, what to say but doubts creep in. Then out of the blue you read something, see something, hear something and everything slots into place. Today it was a passage in “The Wild Places” by Robert Macfarlane. His piece about the world of John Baker who tracked falcons and hawks in Essex for decades.

In the 1950s Baker was convinced they would die out because of agricultural pesticides and intensive farming. He was right of course. Baker was a man who some would say was obsessed by the plight of these birds. Obsession is a dirty word these days but we need people who are obsessed about ‘nature’ in all its forms. We need people with the passion to follow their vision, to do what they need to do without thinking of the rewards.

Often, I feel that we, as a society, as humans are on the edge of a precipice. Now is the time for the passions to surface, now is the time to follow gut feelings and do what you need to do. Follow that passion.

Thank you, Robert Macfarlane.

Image and sound

I have been interested in the relationship between still images and sound for many years. A few years back I worked on a “photo film” what would have been known as an audio-visual presentation before digital imaging. In the 1980s audio visual was part of my professional work when AVs were used by organisations instead of videos.

Things have changed a lot in 30 years! No more banks of projectors rippling through 35mm colour slides, you would not believe the noise! And high quality audio recording and editing is so much easier in the digital age.

Recently I have become aware of the mismatch between landscape images and the ‘soundscape’ that accompanies them. Often the image of the beautiful scene is taken amongst the sound of tourism; dogs barking, kids yelling, traffic noise, ice cream vans and the general noise that lots of people make. Play that over the landscape and it kills the tranquillity of the image.

As an offshoot, I have started to hear more, strange really because I guess we all think we can hear what is going on around us. But there is redundancy, the shutting out of ‘noise’. Earlier this week I heard an amazing song from a Blackbird. I have not heard a song like that for 20+ years and never one with such an extended repertoire. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Not being part of the problem

The latest edition of the RPS journal is a travel special. There is a feature about Salgado and a quote on the front page “after the human species disappears the planet will rebuild itself”. This is a relatively common belief but it is flawed. The biggest issue is the artificial distinction between planet and humans. It suggests that we live in a separate world superimposed on the planet. But we are part of the Earth, not separate or above it but part of it. We come from it, live on it and return to it when we die. There is nowhere else for us.

We evolved to become the highest species although some would argue with that; as such we are related to every other living thing. If we die out everything else is likely to die too. It is not just us and them, we are them.

Steven Hawkins recently said that if we do not stop runway climate change there is a huge risk that the whole structure that supports life, all life, will disappear from the Earth. The remains would be another very hot sterile lump of rock like some of our neighbours.

It is time that people with influence stopped spouting stuff about the Earth healing itself when we are gone and got down to doing something positive. We can, repeat can, stop the worst of climate change if we act very quickly. We can turn around our destruction of the Earth if we have the will to do it.

It is also time that photographers took responsibility for their actions and stopped jetting off around the world to exotic locations just to take pics. There is no justification for it. We need a group of photographers who lead by example and fight climate change instead of contributing to it – Photographers Against Climate Change – PACC! Interested?

Skylarks on the marshes

I was in Norfolk photographing an area near the Wash when I came across a field full of Skylarks. Not seen or heard them for many years and their beautiful, endlessly varied song is just magical. Need to go back with a decent mic and blimp as it is always windy!

Micro camper for digital media capture or ADCV

For my next project, I need to be able to travel in the UK to remote locations and stay for several days without access to the usual services. There is a need for somewhere to sleep, cook meals, relax and of course do the work required for safe digital capture including images, sound files and video. The ideal solution would be small camper van with provision for charging batteries and internet access for uploading to a cloud server and social media.

Basic specification for the autonomous digital capture vehicle – ADCV

  1. Room to sleep 1 or 2 people
  2. Be completely self-contained i.e. not reliant on:
    mains electricity
    water supply
    sanitation
  3. Be cost effective
  4. Have the minimum environmental impact possible

With a very limited budget, even a small camper van was out of reach. The answer was an Amdro Boot Jump which is a basically a slide in unit with compartments for a spirit stove on one side and storage boxes on the other. It can be configured in either day mode which provides a small table and bench seating or extended into a bed. I chose the version with the Vaude awning which gives more room on longer trips.

Boot jump hidden behind back seats

The Boot Jump is lifted into the boot area of my Peugeot Partner and clamped in place. There are no modifications to the vehicle and it can be removed in a few minutes. With the rear parcel shelf in place it is impossible to see that there is anything in the car – or ‘the van’ as it is now called.

Next came the requirements for the electrics for the charging batteries in capture equipment, laptop, phone, and other electronics. I decided to use a separate leisure battery to avoid accidental flattening the vehicle battery. The overall design criteria for the project was that there should be no modifications to the vehicle and that everything could be easily removed.

Work mode

Sleep mode

As I need a lot of storage space for extended trips I decided to remove the rear seats when travelling which takes a couple of minutes as they use the Isofix system. I could then use the bed partially unfolded. This gives space under the bed for everything that I need. There is also more storage space behind the front seats.

Battery under the part extended bd

For the power supply, I chose a single 75AH battery for summer use and plan to use two for spring and autumn. This gives more flexibility than a single large battery and reduces the weight when the dual battery is not used. The battery can only be installed in the van when the rear seats are removed.

Battery in anti-spill box and strapped down

It is important to use sealed batteries inside the car to limit spillage of acid. Although not totally spill proof they are better than the old-style version with top up caps. For extra safety, I chose to use standard battery boxes as they are cheap and will keep any minor spillages contained. They also protect the top of the battery from possible short circuits which can easly cause fires. I made a shaped base plate that fitted with the end of the Boot Jump. This helps to keep the battery in place. When I need to add the second battery I plan on making a new base plate that covers the full width of the vehicle and is screwed into the attachment points for the cargo D rings on either side.

 Electrical requirements

  • Battery charging for all devices.
  • Mains power for camera battery charger and small fan heater
  • Laptop charger – 19V DC
  • Lighting
  • Mobile WiFi hotspot and internet connection

Most portable electronics use USB chargers and there are several small 12V to 5V USB converters on the market often with multiple outlets. I chose one with twin outlets and fixed it to the side of the 12V distribution board.

The charger for camera batteries is a mains only switch mode power supply which needed a 300W pure sine wave inverter.  The Inverter is now fixed the rear of the Boot Jump below where the small fan heater on the rear parcel shelf. The inverter is controlled by a relay and switched from the small black box.

Inverter

The solution to getting 19V DC at 3.5A for charging the laptop was a Buck Converter which takes 12V input and converts it to 19V. This is a more efficient system that avoids the use of 12V to 240V inverter.

I have installed two LED strip lights on the roof lining towards the rear of the van. There are independently switched and fed from the distribution box.

Heating is a major energy supply issue. There are several gas powered and some spirit powered heaters around but I did not want an open flame in the van because of the fire risk, carbon monoxide and condensation. That leaves electrical heaters using a ceramic element. The 12V versions have bad reviews in terms of effectiveness. For emergency use I decided on a small 150W/300W, 240V fan heater which can be run off the inverter for short periods. It was more than adequate during tests on a cold spring night.

Charging is via an 80W foldup solar panel. This gives around 4.3A in full sun. It was made in Germany and sourced from a UK supplier. It came with a solar charge controller which is essential.

80W folding solar panels

12V System
The feed from the battery goes through a cheap (ebay) battery monitor which shows voltage and current. If the solar panels are attached the ‘charging’ light on the charge controller comes on and the current readout shows total charge if there is nothing else connected. (The battery monitor has now been changed to slightly better version which shows energy used as well as battery voltage.)

The distribution board, a PowerPole®, Fused DC Connector Box, came from Sotabeams. Each outlet is separately fused which is essential. The two outlet USB charger module is mounted on the side of the distribution board below.

12V distribution board and batter monitor

The feed from the battery to the distribution board has a 30A inline fuse as does the separate feed to the inverter. This is crucial as a short on the battery could easily cause a fire. The potential short circuit current could be above 1000A which is enough to cause the cable to glow red hot and melt.

Precautions need to be taken when charging lead acid batteries. DO NOT OVERCHARGE. Modern chargers switch themselves off when the battery if fully charged. Do not use old chargers without such protection. And remember that charging from any source produces hydrogen gas so vent the space to avoid a build up.  See this page for battery safety advice

The feed from the battery uses 43A twin cable and 80A connectors. If the wires feel warm in normal use it is too thin and you will be getting a voltage drop between the battery and the appliance. Do not use 30A mains wiring as it is not thick enough. Use the correct automotive wire.

The mobile WiFi and internet connection are provided by a TP-Link 4GLite which uses a data only SIM card and connects to the 3G network. With a good connection speeds are higher than a BT fibre broadband. Similar units are available for different networks.

I did make a very small modification to the vehicle by installing a button to open the hatch back from the inside. See this video for instructions

Camping sanitation is not an issue these days, there are a variety of portable flush toilets on the market. I also carry a folding spade just in case!

Overall the van works well and is flexible enough for what I want. I do plan some changes during the summer but they will be minor tweaks.

 

Modifications – May 2017

The night and early mornings are still very cold which means some form of heating is essential.

  • Make a plywood base plate that covers the whole width of the van and can contain a second battery.
  • Wire second battery in parallel with #1 using 60A, 2 pole connectors to allow running on either one or two batteries.
  • Install a new charge/discharge meter that uses a single 60A shunt. This will show total current drawn by everything from either 1 or 2 batteries and give a more accurate indication of remaining charge.

A useful way of assessing battery charge.

 

Update Auguest – 2017

The inverter was moved to the back of the Boot Jump to save space on the floor under the bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new battery monitor was installed that shows total current drawn from either a single battery or two wired in parallel.

New lighting consisting of two LED units which are independently switched.

Next, a micro wind turbine!

After a heavy drain on the battery wait 20-30 minutes before checking the voltage. The battery needs time to recover.

State of Charge Voltage
100% 12.7
75% 12.4
50% 12.2
25% 12.0
Discharged 11.9