Leading By The Hand – How to shoot landscapes without a tripod

By Mark Gilligan

You are out on a day walk with friends and suddenly the view that opens up before you all is fabulous. You really want to photograph it. After all, photography is your hobby and you never turn a good opportunity down. It makes your walks all that more interesting and memorable.

Whilst you enjoy taking pictures of the places you have visited, you are now getting more serious about photography. However, no matter how appreciative your friends are of the landscape, they don’t seem to match your enthusiasm when it comes to photography. Whilst they are content to snap away with their cameras or phones, they bemoan you for ‘holding’ them up as you go to get your tripod out. Of course you will enter into a bit of banter but they will probably just leave you to it and walk ahead.
Sound familiar?

The obvious solution is to have ‘me’ time and go out alone so you can shoot at your pace but before you decide to go solo, there is an answer to your predicament. Shoot hand held. Continue reading Leading By The Hand – How to shoot landscapes without a tripod

A Quest to Capture the Golden Hour: Wild Camping in the Lake District

By Mark Gilligan

Ah, the simple pleasures of life. They invigorate the soul! Changes and new experiences are great but it’s nice to do what you enjoy. It gives us you a lift. Genesis, my favourite band of all time, summed it up nicely when Peter Gabriel lent his unmistakable voice to, “I know what I like” and I am, sure many of you reading this will feel the same.

We are all ‘routined’ to a point and I suppose I fall into that bracket. Whilst I may be laid back I am never complacent. I regularly slip out of the ‘comfort zone’ and push myself, but if there is one thing I do not like to disrupt, it is enjoying a good night’s kip! A comfy bed with clean sheets, bit of a read, lights out and I am off.

I awake, have an invigorating hot shower, get dressed and breakfast. Then it is time to attack the day. I definitely know what I like and I approach my photography in exactly the same way. I love the mountains and great views. I will never tire of them but it would be easy to keep going along to regular haunts never being bored with them and marveling at what they give me. That won’t change. After 40 odd years of shooting professionally, I am still learning my craft and I enjoy exploring new ways to enrich my skillset. It was on one of my, “what can I do now?” days that I thought about wild camping. Continue reading A Quest to Capture the Golden Hour: Wild Camping in the Lake District

A Story of Composition: We don’t take a photograph, we make it

By Mark Gilligan

Whilst out and about on your travels, I am sure you have come across a view that demands your attention and you instantly reach for the camera. “Wow, we were on this ridge and the view? Well you should have seen it. I tried to photograph it but it didn’t come out right. Why could I not do it justice? It just didn’t look the same as I saw it.”

I hear this all too often. Now I have to say here that there isn’t a generic answer, as every location, the available light etc. is different at that time but we can put a process into place that will ensure we do capture it well. A phrase I use regularly is, “a beautiful view doesn’t necessarily make a beautiful photograph”.

The great man Ansel Adams said, “We don’t take a photograph. We make it.” He is absolutely right.

So what does that mean? Putting it simply, it doesn’t just happen. We have to work at it and create the best from what we have in front of us. To explain, I often refer this to the analogy of baking a cake. Stick with me please! If we give six people the ingredients for a fruitcake they will blend them differently. They will present us with a fruitcake and whilst some will taste similarly they will all come out different. Subsequently, if you ask six people to take a photograph of the same view… you can see where this is going.

So, I liken the natural features we see in the landscape as ‘the ingredients’ and how we blend them and present will decide upon the way the photograph looks. Told you we would get there….

We know it as composition.

Understanding how your camera works will always help rather than just putting it on auto and hoping for the best. They are good but they all need controlling by us. No matter how technically competent you are with a camera, your photographs will lose impact if they are compositionally poor. The two factors go hand in hand.

We will assume then that you do have the technical under control. I find that the majority of people who come on my workshops have a basic knowledge of the dials and menus but struggle with composition. I have to say that that is not uncommon with those who are proficient too. A good image will ‘pull you into it’ and make you want to keep looking at it. The beauty of photography is that it is subjective. You only have to look across social media to see a plethora of genres being put out there for us to view. Interest is the key, inviting the viewer to become immersed in the photograph. Once lead into it, their eyes then dance around the frame.

We all have our own perspective on what we see but there are some rules or guides that you can use to enhance your photography. Of course ‘rules can be broken’ and occasionally something that goes against convention can still work. The most common guide that we read about is ‘the rule of thirds’.
Most camera menus now carry the simple grid that you can ‘impose’ in the viewfinder thus helping you ‘balance’ the image by placing interest in all three sections.

Mark Gilligan, Snowdonia – FUJIFILM X-Pro1, f5.6, 1/400th sec, ISO 200, Lee 0.6 soft Grad

This image of a waterfall with the magnificent Tryfan providing the backdrop is a good example of an unbalanced image. Whilst it is a nice memory shot for the photographer, it visually jars with you. Too much sky has made the photograph top heavy.

By changing position, introducing more interest into the frame (those ingredients again) and showing us how the falls integrate with the landscape, creates a much more pleasing photograph.

Mark Gilligan, Snowdonia – FUJIFILM X-Pro1, f13, 1/60th sec, ISO 200, Lee 0.6 soft Grad

Earlier this year I was invited by Granada TV to take Kerry Gosney, one of their weather presenters out for a full day’s workshop. It was to be filmed and inserted into the local news programme, recorded in the Longdendale Valley in Derbyshire. I was delighted to be asked and having produced and directed many programmes over the years, it would be a change for me to be on the other side of the lens!

When we met, Kerry readily admitted that she had no idea about taking ‘real photographs,’ but wanted to be able to. She had a basic understanding of how the camera worked and I talked about ‘the fruitcake’. That’s the analogy not me…

After introducing her to the FUJIFILM X-Pro1, we put on our wellies and stood in a delightful river called Middle Black Clough. The director shouted “Action!” and Kerry said, “So tell me Mark, why here? It is beautiful, such a lovely spot; the trees, the river, its waterfall and lots of rocks but why here?”

I asked her what else she could see. She shook her head. Why did she think I had picked this particular spot when there were a lot of options to explore? She reiterated the features of the scene again and whilst I agreed, I then pointed to the grooves that had been etched into the fault plane right under our noses. They lead the eye to the waterfall she was admiring. You will often hear people quoting leading lines and these were classic. Of course I mentioned the ‘fruitcake’ again and how we now had all the ingredients for a nice photo.

After getting the settings, we then set up the tripod and I showed her how it all looked in camera. Kerry was literally taken aback. “Wow I would never have seen that. Amazing!” I had added more depth to the image, allowing the foreground to dominate and by using a wide XF10-24mmF4 lens that exacerbated the lines, drawing you into the picture. “So, you are telling us that we should open our eyes more?”

I couldn’t have put it any better.

Kerry Gosney, Longdendale Valley – FUJIFILM X-Pro1, XF10-24mm, f13, 6.5 sec, ISO 200

The culmination of the shoot was to be an image that she managed to visualise and capture. As the producer said “We need a show stopper Mark, something that presents the development in a day.” No pressure then…

It was good to see Kerry being more deliberate about her choices and spotting things she felt were ‘good ingredients’ for a picture. After settling on a place by the river with a nice array of natural features, we set up and I liked what she had come up with.

Kerry Gosney, Longdendale Valley – FUJIFILM X-Pro1, f14, 125.0sec, ISO 200, LEE Big Stopper

This shot is thought out with the foreground rocks leading you to the little waterfall. You are taken into the image and then your eyes look around it. To give the photograph a little bit more appeal, I suggested adding a big stopper to create the swirls in the stream.

These are just a couple of examples of ways in which you can tighten up and present your photographs. Whilst you will initially be presented with a view that you come across, looking with your own eyes, it is good to approach the same vista by then looking through a lens. After all, that’s how the finished image will look. That’s the view you will present to people.

Never be afraid to experiment and you will find that different lenses will create different perspectives. Be choosy and only press the shutter when you are happy that you have the best of the scene captured. Just as importantly, enjoy what you do. It’s a great way of presenting the world the way that you see it to other people.


More from Mark Gilligan

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Wide vs Tele: From one extreme to the other

By Mark Gilligan

Everything we do in photography is a matter of perspective. My view is different from yours. We can stand side by side and look at the same thing but we don’t view it in the same way. We might recognise the exact features our eyes see but how we perceive and construct it is never the same.

Aren’t we lucky because if we all saw it exactly as each other surely the world would be a boring place? Continue reading Wide vs Tele: From one extreme to the other

Take A Different View: 14 Variations of the Same Location

By Mark Gilligan

I very rarely know what I am going to have presented to me when I go out to photograph a landscape. I know what I would like but we don’t always get what we want. Not only are we dealing with nature’s finest creations, we are trying to balance it with whatever the ‘greatest lighting man’ throws at us. This can often please or displease in equal measures. Continue reading Take A Different View: 14 Variations of the Same Location

Amour and Provence: X-Pro2

By Mark Gilligan

Amour and Provence

There I was, standing in a crowded Chester street, mesmerised by the beautiful object that was pulling me into the window. All black and shiny with a shape so beguiling. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Other objects did their best to attract me but failed in their attempt.

I stared long and hard and the longer I looked the broader my smile. My wife who stood alongside me said, “so, what has caught your imagination?” I didn’t speak but pointed a finger towards the glass as I introduced her to what would become my ‘other’ love.

The FUJIFILM X-Pro1. I went in, caressed it and along with the XF18mm-55mm, I took it home.

The affair had begun…..
Continue reading Amour and Provence: X-Pro2