Photo Mojo

Tree Root, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

Like many others, my photography goes through phases. Sometimes I’m prolific while other times I’m less so. Sometimes all I create are black and white images, while other times I make only landscape images, sometimes infrared or long exposure, and still others where I focus solely on macro or woodland, streams or waterfalls.

There are other times, though, when I’m not making landscapes, nor black and white, nor any other styles of image that interest me. My output stops completely and I’m unable to line myself up for some inspiration. I lose my “photo mojo”.

Cygnet, Coppice Pond, St Ives Estate, Bingley

A few months ago, I realised that I’d lost my mojo. It was when I needed to give my car an extended run in order to “clear its throat” – the particulate filter in a modern diesel, doing short journeys all the time, will eventually become clogged and in order to avoid problems it’s necessary to go on a longer journey on a motorway or dual carriageway. Sheryl and I headed for Scarborough on the A64.

We had a very pleasant drive over, had a chip butty and a donut, walked the dog up and down the beach, checked out the harbour and peered in the windows of a few shops on the promenade. Then, on the drive home, we went the way of the beautiful Forge Valley. And beautiful it was.

Although it was cold and the trees were mostly bare of leaves, that road is extraordinarily picturesque at all times of the year. Later, our route home took us to Sutton Bank, which – if you’re not familiar with it – has one of the best and most inspiring views of North Yorkshire. Lots of it, all in one view.

“Leaves No Lasting Impression”

At no point in the day, however, did I feel inspired enough to get my camera out. Not on the drive over, nor while on the seafront, nor on the way home. My mojo had gone, and I began to realise there was nothing I could do to get it back. It’s gone until it comes back and when that happens is outside my control.

Ram Wood, Roundhay, Leeds

Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s the winter, and there’s so often so little light in the winter months, coupled with dead or absent foliage, but I think the primary issue isn’t the environment as much as it is the effect that the environment has on you. It isn’t the view that inspires you to capture an image of it, it’s how you see the view; it’s where you are emotionally when you see the view that inspires the photograph, if you are inspired at all. And if you are not inspired – if your heart isn’t in it – then it won’t happen.

It’s a reminder to me that photography is, itself, a form of expression. Whether it is artistic expression or not is for you to decide, but at least for me it’s that much at least. In order for me to speak through my photography requires me at the very least to believe that I have something to say. Photographically speaking, I think I’ve lost my train of thought for now.

Hoar Frost

Snow Schmow! For a truly magical Winter Wonderland scene, you don’t need snow, you need a hoar frost!

Avenue, Meanwood Valley Trail

Not to say that you don’t want snow too, if it should be available! But the magical fairy dust sprinkled on a Winter Wonderland scene is the crystallisation of tiny shards of ice, on the tips of leaves and on the surfaces of branches, twigs, grass and fences.

The way we whinge about the cold here in Yorkshire, you might be forgiven for thinking we’d get a hoar frost every other day in Winter, but in fact hoar frosts are not all that common. They form in fairly specific conditions and it is not enough for the temperature to be very low, humidity also needs to be very high. When the conditions are right, though, the results can be spectacular. We had such a day yesterday, with high humidity and a temperature overnight that plunged to -6°C. That’s pretty chilly, even for us! Nature’s gift, in recompense, was a beautiful and picturesque hoar frost.

Meadow, Meanwood Valley Trail

Maisie and I started our day later than usual, so we didn’t arrive for our walk until after 9am. The temperature had climbed, by this point, to -3°C. We had no need to fear that the hoar frost would have melted by then, though. Maisie got a good walk, and I got a few photos and a pair of very cold hands. I could swear I never used to feel the cold like I do today. Not even thermal gloves keep my hands warm any more.

The hoar frost remained all day and even overnight, when we were blessed with the addition of a thin layer of snow.  To avoid the inevitable jump in slow-moving traffic that always comes with the slightest hint of snow, we set out earlier this morning. This meant the sun was yet to rise and so the light was less good. And by less good, I mean less present. It was pretty dark. The temperature had graciously climbed to just -1°C for this morning’s walk, though, so I for one was not about to complain.

Woodland, Golden Acre Park

With it being so dark, instead of relying on hand-holding my camera today, I grabbed a monopod. Screwed into the bottom of my camera, though, the monopod meant that I couldn’t have my camera strap attached to the tripod base plate that I usually leave attached to the base of the camera. That meant carrying the camera without being able to put my hands in my pockets. At least, not both hands at the same time. 

Meadow, Golden Acre Park

My Nikon camera is very good at recovering detail in under-exposed photos, and I often shoot extremely under-exposed photos in order to keep my shutter speed up, to avoid motion blur ruining my shot completely. It’s not ideal, but it’s a workaround.

In a darker environment, the obvious solution is to increase ISO in order to capture a properly exposed photo in-camera. However, higher ISOs mean more noise, and with my limited testing it appears that there is fractionally less noise in the image if I recover detail during the post-processing of an under-exposed image than if I increase the ISO to capture a well-exposed image.

Still, this morning I was forced to push things, with a shutter speed of 1/30th. My favourite lens (the Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8) doesn’t have built-in stabilisation, so the chances of introducing blur into the shot is significantly increased. The monopod somewhat mitigates that risk. It’s not a guaranteed solution, but using the monopod certainly increases my chances of getting home with usable photos. And on days like today, with frostbite as well.

In extensive testing I’ve found that anything below 6°C is too cold for my poor exposed hands, these days, and if it’s at all windy things are no better when I’m wearing gloves, so this morning I was close to the point of breaking into a jog in my rush to get the photos of trees that I had in mind at Golden Acre Park. Rest assured, dear reader, that at no point did I actually break into a jog. I just came close. These days I don’t think it’s likely that I’ll ever break into a jog again; I ache too much. I plod instead, and I’m comfortable with plodding.

Meadow, Golden Acre Park