Airborne Again – maiden flight

One of my guilty pleasures over the last five years has been drone photography. On a recent trip to Eyemouth I was able to fly the drone on each of the four mornings we were there. On the final morning we finally got the conditions I’d hoped for so I headed to the beach before 6am for sunrise at 6:20am.

The pre-visualised image from the final flight of my Mavic Pro

Long story short, I got my previsualised image but as the drone was returning from its short flight it was ambushed by a small number of rather large gulls. It was over very quickly and there was only ever going to be one outcome. Gulls 1, Drone 0. Ironically, I’d seen videos of such occurrences and had cut my flight short due to the increased gull activity since I’d launched my Mavic.

Scouting party?

It ended up on a ledge about twenty feet above sea level. Scrambling over the beach I got to a point about twelve feet below this precarious perch and by some miracle I managed to scramble up and retrieve it, tucking it into my coat in order to have hands free to get back down again. It was pure adrenalin that propelled this sexagenarian with dodgy knees up that cliff face (although any youngsters reading could’ve done it in a flash I’m sure). Back at sea level and still surprised at my rashness I inspected the drone but the dangling motor arm told me all I needed to know. I’d not be flying at Whitehaven the next morning.

My favourite image from that last morning

After three weeks of long and tense negotiations I reached agreement with Senior Management and the Financial Controller and ordered a replacement. Not a like-for-like replacement however. My aged DJI Mavic Pro was to be replaced with a DJI Air 2s, a big improvement especially in terms of the camera and sensor.

On a windy morning with drizzly rain coming and going I set out for my maiden flight with the new drone. Nowhere exotic however, back to the flood plain where my Mavic Pro had its maiden flight almost five years ago.

Maiden flight at the flood plain

So, here are a selection of snaps from that maiden flight. The new drone handles nicely and the updated app used to fly the drone seems reasonably intuitive. I’m pleased with the image quality achieved from this first outing and looking forward to seeing what I can achieve with it in the future.

West Vale in the distance
Woodside Mills lock
I do like a panorama!
You dont always need to fly at four hundred feet

My Smart Week – the software part 2

We saw in an earlier post that the same principles we apply to our “regular” photography also apply to smartphone photography although one area where the differences are more apparent however is with the available software. In the previous instalment I looked at capturing the image and here I look at a few of the post-capture options but again please keep in mind that my review is by no means exhaustive and also that I use iPhones and not Android devices.

The one area I came into this project with some limited knowledge of was post processing, primarily the Snapseed app. In addition to Snapseed however I also came across a few other apps for post processing as part of my research for this challenge and was very surprised at the options available.

Post-capture

SNAPSEED: I will start with Snapseed because even though it’s an app I’ve used for a long while now I still learnt something new about the software whilst watching a YouTube video as part of my pre-challenge research. By default all adjustments are global but I found that it is possible to localise these after they’ve been applied through the View Edits option.

From global to localised adjustments

Clicking on the icon in the top right of the screen (see above left) brings up a drop down menu with the option to View Edits. Click on this and on the right hand of the screen will be a list of these edits, click on the one you want to amend and you get a new menu slide out (above, middle). The middle icon is the masking tool, clicking on this enables you to paint onto the image to determine what parts you want that adjustment applied too (above, right). A useful and powerful tool and one I might not have discovered without this challenge.

Snapseed is also available for Android users, I asked my son-in-law to download it and after a few seconds, with minimal coaching from me he was able to make basic adjustments and cropped some of the numerous images of the kids on his phone. A remarkably powerful and intuitive tool.

iPhone 13 Pro in macro mode – processed in Snapseed and assembled in Diptic

DIPTIC: Another app I’ve used before is Diptic which is a simple app for creating mosaics from the simple diptych to rather more complex arrangements of multiple images through the use of templates. It has a degree of customisation available but I tend to use it for presenting two to four images in simple grids. For something quick and relatively easy to pull together it is very good though especially when travelling without access to my laptop and Photoshop or Lightroom.

LIGHTROOM MOBILE: I use LR on my computer and like it’s interface and workflow. However, until a recent update I rarely used LR Mobile on my tablet as it is less intuitive and I’ve found it a little clunky. However, the new Masking options, including Select Sky and Select Subject, have been a game changer for me and LR has become my go-to for landscape images in particular.

IMAGE SIZE: Especially useful if you want to share images on social media is something to crunch your RAW files down into manageable sizes for the web. I’ve used Image Size for a long while and saw no need to research alternatives for this project.

Captured with iPhone 13 Pro, post-processed with Snapseed and resized for the blog with Image Size. To different images with different treatments

Hybrid apps

There are also apps which combine capture and processing in one and whilst I’m happy with my Lightroom Mobile / Snapseed workflow I did try a couple of these out too.

FOCOS: If you like using the Portrait mode on your iPhone, be it JPEG or RAW, then FOCOS may be of interest. It has a replacement camera module built in but it’s big feature is it’s image editor. Designed for the portrait photographer it enables the plane of focus to be tweaked as well as adding minor adjustments to the shape of bokeh and simulating the results from some vintage lenses. Personally I find the camera element underwhelming but the editing tools are excellent and definitely worth checking out if you regularly use portrait mode.

One unexpected benefit of Focos occurred to me whilst processing a potential “365” image a few days ago. It was a street image, with a large foreground leading to a passer-by in the background who was a small but important element. I’d not noticed that the phone (iPhone 11) was set to Portrait mode so when I looked at the image the background was slightly blurred – I swore gently. On a whim though I imported it into Focos and adjusted the aperture setting to “f20” and bingo! one image saved.

Original image inset … check the railings in the background

PHOTOSHOP CAMERA: Even Adobe have got in on the act with Photoshop Camera with built in filters which will appeal to some. I’ve not spent long with this and my first impression is that it’s a little gimmicky but we are all different and this will I’m sure appeal to many. I have enough tools in the box for my needs though so I doubt this will be something I play with very often.

Photoshop Camera and iPhone 11

So, this has been a quick look at the apps I’ve been using recently. Another app I occasionally play with is DistressedFX+ which enables you to add textures and overlays to your photos.

Selfie with iPhone 11 – processed in Snapseed and finished in Distressed FX+

There are lots more and this challenge has encouraged me to look more closely at some of them. I’ve downloaded Darkroom, another RAW editor, to play with along with a camera-replacement called CameraPixels which is also RAW capable and looks very interesting.

I shall be back soon with part 4 of My Smart Week series of posts where I will draw some conclusions and reflect on my experience.

My Smart Week – the software part 1

We saw in the previous post that the same principles we apply to our “regular” photography also apply to smartphone photography. The need to keep the camera/phone stable is a fundamental requirement however and the one area where you might need an additional piece of kit. One area where the differences are more apparent however is with the available software. For example, it is possible to bypass the phone’s camera module completely and install third party apps with which to control the camera, all of which offer additional functionality. I consider a few of these here but my review is by no means exhaustive and keep in mind I use iPhones and not Android devices.

iPhone 13 Pro – onboard camera app, white balance corrected in Snapseed

Take control

The camera app built into most phones (in my case an iPhone) is designed to be easy to use which is what you’d expect as the majority of users are probably not enthusiast photographers. I’ve always found it worked well enough for my needs and as I carried a camera too the fact that certain functionality was missing was not an issue for me. Recent improvements, of which I’d been blissfully unaware, have given iPhone users RAW capability and a handy raft of manual controls together with a new “night” mode for low light photography. I have happily made use of these but once I started to use the phone as my main camera for this challenge I soon found that I wanted even more control so decided to check out some apps designed as a replacement for the onboard camera module.

REEFLEX: The first app I tried was Reeflex, a freemium app meaning the basic program is free but premium functionality is a paid-for extra.

Tempting … and all in a free app

I paid the £4.50 for the premium features all of which relate to the ability to use long exposures for motion blur or light trails. RAW support is a given and the app certainly delivers what it promises. I enjoyed how intuitive it was, how pretty much everything you need is on-screen rather than hidden in menus and how quickly I got to grips with it. There’s a fair bit on the screen which means some of it is a little small and as I mentioned in my previous post it can be difficult to read everything when the phone is close to the ground. On the whole it worked very well although I did find it froze a few times when I was out using it but I couldn’t pinpoint it to a particular sequence of events.

That said, had I not been challenging myself to explore the smartphone ecosystem, I may well have stuck at this app and not explored further. Indeed, I am still using the app despite the Challenge being officially over and that I am using my film and digital cameras again.

Long exposure with the Reeflex app and iPhone 13 Pro

Given that the app is basically free, and if you don’t need long exposures it is totally free, then it’s an easy app to recommend, especially as it is extremely intuitive and easy to use.

EVEN LONGER: It’s a strange name for sure but this is an extremely powerful tool for the long exposure fans. It’s not free although there are various options including a one-year subscription for £6 or a lifetime purchase option at £18.

I have seen some rave reviews for this app so was keen to try it. The interface (left) is clean and uncluttered with the reassuringly familiar large white shutter button prominent in the usual place. The good news is that it is also very intuitive to use; I managed some test images without bothering to read any instructions!

A small point, but the built-in level is fabulous and probably my favourite feature (I know, little things).

The Even Longer app captures a continuous stream of images that it then blends into one final image.

One useful feature is the ability to save the image incrementally as it builds up. The example above was saved at 45 seconds during a two minute exposure.

I’m looking forward to playing with this app over the coming months mainly due to its ease of use. It does what it says on the tin and makes iPhone exposures even longer.

Even Longer – iPhone 13 Pro – 2 minute exposure (check out the pigeon)

DOUBLE EXPOSURE: This is an app that does what it says on the tin. There’s a useful tutorial built-in and you can create double exposures using existing images, using the inbuilt camera or a mixture of both. I haven’t used it a lot but it’s good fun and at £4.49 for the full version, which offers much more control, it won’t break the bank. There are loads of alternatives however.

Double exposure anyone?

Whilst the iPhone’s inbuilt app is perfectly adequate and indeed I used it for much of this project , I did appreciate the additional functionality from apps like Reeflex especially as I enjoy long exposure photography. There’s no escaping however that you don’t need to invest in alternative apps unless you want ultimate control.

I was mainly interested in exploring ways to create long exposures with the phone but what I’ve learnt has encouraged me to explore further and see what other options there are for gaining more control of the phone camera. I will no doubt be resea4ching further over the coming weeks.

The one area I came into this project with some knowledge of was post processing, primarily the Snapseed app. In addition to Snapseed however I also came across a few other apps for post processing as part of my research for this challenge and was very surprised at the options available. I will consider these in part 2.

My Smart Week – the gear

iPhone 13 Pro – on mini tripod

It seems to me that being able to take, edit and post images on one device is increasingly appealing to very many people. For myself I begrudge time spent on a desktop or laptop computer and over the past eighteen months have gravitated more and more towards using Snapseed on my tablet or even my smartphone for processing the digital copies of my film negatives. However, when I decided on a smartphone challenge I wasn’t really expecting to find the mature and diverse ecosystem dedicated to smartphone photography that I did find and I’ve a sense that I’m only just scratching the surface.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning and talk about the tools I started the challenge with. For this project I have access to both an iPhone 11, which is the smartphone I’ve used for many of my “365” images in the past, and a more modern iPhone 13 Pro which apparently has a much-improved camera module. During my pre-project research I discovered that much of the more serious smartphone photography I found online was taken with the phone supported in some way. In some cases the way the phone was held, with one hand wrapped around the phone and the other supporting everything, was sufficient but in many cases a tripod or even a gimbal of some sort was used. This led me to a couple of pre-project purchases in the form of a basic (cheap) phone holder and a very small tripod. Very small, basically just three short legs with a tripod screw on top. The phone holder fits directly to the mini tripod and can also be used with a full-sized tripod if required. This set up is shown below and it was with this simple configuration that I sallied forth on my quest.

Ready for action!

The holder and tiny tripod combination worked well but with one major caveat; it was impossible to level up the composition on rough or sloping ground and in addition the phone could not be tilted to tweak the composition. The answer is of course a mini tripod with a ball head and my manfrotto pixi mini-tripod, which towers over the tiny legs, fitted the bill admirably. I still carried this tiny set of tripod legs however as they are very small and very light and I quickly found that I made good use of them both. On the day I tried long exposures I discovered that the cheap phone holder wasn’t the most stable as it flexed in the wind when extended to hold the iPhone 13 Pro. At the time of writing this I am researching a replacement and no doubt by the time I publish this I’ll have a new holder on order.

Using the phone on a full-sized tripod, or even my travel version, looked ridiculous but was very usable nonetheless and as with using a full-sized camera the act of using the tripod slowed things down and encouraged a more considered use of the phone. I also found a very useful accessory in the form of the, until now, neglected ear buds supplied with the phone. The volume control on the cable replicates the dedicated buttons on the phone so could be used to “release” the shutter without touching the phone. I also found at the back of a drawer, presumably discarded by one of the grandsons, a dedicated wireless shutter release that connected via Bluetooth. I’ve not used it but would imagine that this could be very useful if you wanted to include yourself in a composition.

iPhone 13 Pro – handheld

Basically however, my set up for the past week or more has been as minimal as I’ve been able to make it. To me this is in keeping with the whole philosophy of smartphone photography. Everything I’ve used, including the phone, has fitted into a small bag the size of my grandson’s pencil case. Indeed, the phone, phone holder and tiny tripod also fit easily in my coat pocket without the need for the small carrying case.

By keeping the gear to a minimum and also taking a little time before heading out to acquaint myself with the relevant app I quickly found I could concentrate on making images. Initially, especially when hand holding, I did find that I was having to think a little more about steadying the phone to help with image sharpness. Unlike a dedicated camera a phone isn’t the most ergonomically designed instrument from a photographer’s perspective. The act of touching the virtual shutter button on the screen is also potential for introducing camera movement. However, this all very quickly became second nature and I found the process of working with the phone actually quite liberating.

As someone whose close-up eyesight is not the best I did also struggle at times to see the controls clearly – and yes, I was wearing my reading glasses! It wasn’t too bad on a tripod at anything from waist height and above but at ground level it was very problematic especially on the tiny tripod legs which hold the phone no more than a few centimetres off the ground.

iPhone 13 Pro – macro mode

It seems that there is no magic about the use of a smartphone for photography. Keeping everything steady is still a fundamental for the most part, there are exceptions of course, and here the camera craft you’ve built up over the years is readily transferable. Apart from a phone holder (£5 to £55) you’ve probably already got all the kit you actually need in your bag already.

So, despite the ergonomically-challenged form factor of the phone, I found using this very minimalist kit very enjoyable. I will no doubt share some more behind the scenes images in a future post. Next time however, I will talk about some of the apps that I have used and that make smartphone photography not only flexible but such a satisfying activity.

My Smart-week starts here!

Apple iPhone 11 – my pre-challenge starting point

The smartphone is no stranger to my 365, I regularly use it for what I have dubbed the insurance image and oft-times the phone is what I have with me for the school run. Anyone familiar with my Flickr account will know that these school-run images regularly appear in my daily post. But what if that was the only camera I was “allowed” to use for my daily picture? That should be do-able, surely? And what if I went away for a few days with only my smartphone for company? Well, perhaps that’s taking things too far!

Sunday 27th March was chosen for the start of my “smartphone week” but for a couple of days prior to that I’d amused myself with some background research to better understand the current smartphone photography scene. Despite using a smartphone to make images for several years I’ve only ever used the inbuilt camera and the basic functionality that it provides.

What I found was an entire ecosystem that I’d previously been totally ignorant of. Online tutorials and courses, social media groups (paid and unpaid), apps, gadgets and gizmos; it was a complete new world. I spent a couple of evenings exploring this world, watching far too many YouTube videos and soaking up the newness of it all. A week with a smartphone hadn’t seemed too bad in the scheme of things and now I realised that I’d also get a chance to try some new apps too. And perhaps an excuse to buy a few more “essential” gadgets!

As I write this prequel I am seven days into the challenge and planning on possibly extending the challenge for at least a few more days as I’ve not yet had the opportunity to try out some of the things I’d planned. Alternatively I will continue the experiments alongside my normal activity as I’m keen to follow through on some of the things I’ve read and watched.

Close and personal with iPhone 13 Pro

So far I’ve tried long exposures, double exposures, intentional camera movement, “normal” photos, selfies, stitched panoramas and macro photography. I’ve played with several apps including post processing apps and replacement camera apps. I’ve changed the depth of field after the event

All being well I hope to start writing up my thoughts over the coming week and I will then be able to share in a short series of posts how I got on with the challenge, what I thought of the various apps I tried (it won’t be an exhaustive list of everything available though) and what I learnt along the way. In the first of these I will also share my set-up, such as it is, because this is something that was requested when I mentioned this challenge on social media. I will close for today though with my 365 image for 3rd April, made with an iPhone 11 mounted on a gimbal and handheld for a long exposure.

Intentional movement by using a long exposure. iPhone 11

Guilty pleasures

Eyemouth – sunrise

I’m sure we all have many guilty pleasures, mine, photographically at least, is drone photography. It’s something I only tend to do whilst away from home and typically only early in the morning. There’s exceptions of course and in fact I bought the drone specifically to photograph a location very close to home.

The drone I use, a DJI Mavic Pro, is the only example in my photographic history where I bought the right tool first time and avoided the pecuniary losses associated with upgrading within a short period (or twice in nine months as happened when I bought my first DSLR). It was top of the range at the time and whilst rather long in the tooth these days still gives me what I need. I’d gone in to the store, which specialised in drones of all types, and was looking at a mid-price model as that fitted my budget nicely. However, after a long and useful chat with the salesman I came to the conclusion that I might as well go for the better model from the outset. Not wanting to rush in I thanked the salesman, drove home and rang the wife. An hour later I was back in store, card in hand and was soon the owner of the Mavic Pro, three batteries and a fast charger.

Woodside Mill lock – inspiration for my drone purchase
Woodside Mill lock – another point of view

As I mentioned above, my interest in a drone was raised by a specific location – the lock at Woodside Mill. I had photographed the lock in all seasons, all weather and from all angles … apart from above. Since then I’ve photographed that section of canal many times from the air as I also used the flood plain alongside the lock to learn how to operate the drone and its camera and also practice flying before venturing further afield.

I don’t use the drone enough to claim to be expert but I do have sufficient proficiency to capture some pleasing results. I usually fly it before breakfast as there are fewer people around but have been known to try sunsets on occasion. Mornings though are best as fewer people tend to be around plus I’m more of a morning person so am often back in the caravan or B&B in time for breakfast with the wife knowing I’ve got something “in the bag” for that day already.

View from above Woodside Mill lock looking along the canal

If I’m totally honest I have been tempted recently to upgrade as some of the newer models have far better cameras on board but have always resisted. If I used it every week I wouldn’t hesitate but it’s a guilty pleasure so not something I do every week.

Mist on the canal
Ringstone reservoir – above low cloud as I turned to see the view across to West Vale
A few moments later, with the sun forcing itself into the frame

One thing that I like to try is putting the drone up through low lying mist or cloud. It needs to be done carefully and for me at least preferably somewhere I’ve flown before so know where the obstacles are. Watching the greyness on the screen suddenly burst into life as you rise above the mist is always a treat.

Ringstone Reservoir – location of the two Misty images above … on a brighter day

The drone is great for creating abstract views or patterns too as the image of Ringstone above demonstrates.

Birthday sunrise at Bamburgh

One of the advantages of buying a better spec’d model was the built-in features that help you fly safely and with confidence. Remove your hands from the controls and it simply hovers where it is – great for us photographers. Some have a “return to home” feature and I found this very useful on at least one occasion early on in my drone journey. When I first bought the drone there were very few restrictions and it was possible to fly the drone well out of sight and pretty much as high as it would go … I avoided doing so for obvious reasons but on one occasion got so absorbed in making images that I completely lost sight of the drone. Slightly concerned I pressed the RTH button and scanned the sky anxiously. Several minutes passed before I heard the buzz of the motor and glancing at the screen realised it was now above my head and starting to descend. Finally I could see the drone by which time the low battery signal was sounding. I was extremely careful after that and indeed legislation since that date has, sensibly, brought in a requirement to always have eye contact with the drone.

Another from the sky above Eyemouth

I’ve finished this post with an image from Scotland that means a lot to me. The image quality isn’t the best but the conditions were not very good for photography that afternoon and after struggling with cameras and tripods for an hour or more we decided to pack up for the day. There was a persistent drizzle, it was blowing a hoolie and we were totally fed up. We dumped our wet gear into the van and sat in the cab with a coffee and biscuit before heading back to our holiday cottage when suddenly the sky lit up. It was still drizzling and the wind was still blowing away but we jumped out of the van. Dave grabbed his camera and for some reason I grabbed the drone.

Above 100 feet the wind was even stronger and we watched as the drone was buffeted and blown but I persisted and managed a couple of quick “snaps” before the rain returned with a vengeance and I brought the drone down for safety’s sake. It had been blown about thirty feet off course and I ended up bringing it down to just a few feet above the loch to fly it back without it being blown even more off course. Hair raising, adrenalin pumping but I felt alive!

Scotland close to sunset

Favourites from the edge – a few images

I’ve written recently* about two topics that crept into my consciousness a few years back and have influenced my urban photography ever since, particularly in the last eighteen months. Fortunately for my legs Elland is a small town and I can walk to any of its edges with ease. So, I thought I’d go back through my archive from these “pandemic” wanders around Elland and pick out a few favourites from the edge.

My exploration of the edges will continue!

* Psychogeography and Edgelands

A Cumbrian interlude

We are taking a short break next week, over to the east coast of the Scottish Borders. Normally when we take a short break in a caravan we come straight home at the end of the trip, with the car full of self-catering paraphernalia, including the indispensable coffee machine. This time is going to be different however as we are detouring to the Cumbrian coast over on the western side of England on the edge of the Lake District before heading south to Yorkshire.

The Jaws of Borrowdale from Friars Crag – where else?

Cumbria and particularly the Lake District was a real favourite holiday destination of ours especially when the girls were younger. Pre-pandemic we enjoyed quieter visits with just the two of u. However the hordes of people begrudgingly taking a “staycation” over the last 18 months have made booking a Lakeland break both problematic, as demand outstrips supply, and also more expensive. But I digress, thoughts of a trip to Whitehaven and hopefully Bassenthwaite too before wandering south through the Lakes on our way home have me thinking back to past Lakeland adventures and searching the archives.

Derwent Water (March 2019): With all the jetties underwater and only accessible by wading out the photographer who chose wellington boots was able to access them for long exposures with no tourists milling around.
The most recent image in my archive – March 2019.
The last of the day’s sun light illuminating the Newlands Valley and glancing off Robinson

I’ve not been to the Lakes for several years and the last time I took a film camera was more than fifteen years so I’m looking forward to some Lakeland pinholes and panoramas. I might even blog “live” from vacation!

Edgelands

Outskirts of Halifax – site of a disused railway track

When I was studying a few years back a couple of concepts really caught my imagination. One was psychogeography which I wrote about HERE. The other was the “edgelands” which is the subject of todays post. The two are for me interconnected as my own exploration of the edgelands concept in the past, and indeed more recently, has been conducted in the manner of the flaneur we discussed briefly in that earlier post.

For the purposes of my studies back then, the discussion about these edgelands was linked primarily to the book EDGELANDS: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts published in 2011. I have just reread the book prior to writing this post and found it as engaging as the first time I read it over five years ago.

Take two steps backwards and you’d fall off the edge

So, to a definition. Farley and Roberts acknowledge that the term “edgelands” is not theirs. It seems that geographer Marion Shoard got there first. She wrote about England’s edgelands and gave them their name. The edgelands too are perhaps not really meant to be seen, no one creates edgelands to attract people to the space. As Farley and Roberts note they are more likely to be seen as a blur from a car window than experienced for their own sake.

For me, when we talk about the edgelands, we are thinking about those places where one urban space meets another or where town meets country. Typically they are untidy, neglected areas where neither town nor country have the ascendancy. And they shift too. Periodically, new development will sweep away the neglected periphery replacing it with something shiny and new. Yet there will always be edges, they don’t get rubbed out but are simply relocated.

If you know those places where overspill housing estates break into scrubland, wasteland; if you know these underdeveloped, unwatched territories, you know that they have ‘edge’.

Farley & Roberts
Halifax – edge of the town centre

Take my home town of Elland. The edges of the town clearly show the effect of the decline in industry, particularly the textiles and allied trades, that has caused Elland to become run down over the decades since textiles ceased to be King in this part of the country. Surprisingly, behind some of these crumbling and dilapidated walls business does go on, albeit in far less skilled trades and far less grand surroundings. But there’s no escaping that the periphery of town is in many ways no-man’s land. Unloved and neglected but still very much there. From time to time a piece of land is repurposed, perhaps a few new houses, but that simply relocates the edge; there is never a neat transition twixt the town and country.

The edgelands then represent a complex landscape, a debatable zone to quote Farley & Roberts. As the economic and social situation changes so too can the fate of these edges. High demand for new housing and the opportunity for a good profit for example can make that derelict plot on the edge of town more attractive to house builders than when the original factory that had been slowly decaying was demolished years before, the land left to its own devices and slowly being reclaimed by nature.

Revisit an edgelands site you haven’t seen for six months, and likely as not there will be a Victorian factory knocked down, a business park newly built, a section of waste ground cleared and landscaped, a pre-war warehouse abandoned and open to the elements. Such are the constantly shifting sands of edgelands that any writing about these landscapes is a snapshot.

Farley and Roberts
Development Opportunity

Photography too can only reveal a snapshot of the edges. A moment in time which few will remember and fewer still care for. As photographers it feels almost incumbent upon us to capture, to celebrate and to remember these fleeting edges.

But there’s the rub.

As photographers we tend to try to make our images as appealing as possible on the whole, especially those of us with a leaning towards the pictorial. Let’s face it unless the images are part of a documentary-style story who wants to see the crummy face of town? However, whilst I am at heart a pictorial photographer I have nevertheless always been drawn to the less-glamourous face of the towns and places I live and work in. I’ve even been known to seek out the grimier side of town when on holiday or visiting somewhere new. It seems I have a natural tendency to gravitate towards the edge.

Literally on the edge of Elland

As I perambulated around the edges of Elland a few weeks back I was musing on how run-down the town is and not for the first time started to wonder how I’d photograph it to attract visitors, say for a tourist information website. But, how much more interesting to document it as it really is. The plain, unvarnished truth rather than the glossy, beautified fiction of a tourist guide. In truth, I have lots of both types of these images already, particularly the less picturesque but these days I’m drawn to the edges even more. The pandemic is of course partly responsible for a change in behaviour as movement was restricted. I have probably walked more of the edgelands of Elland in the last eighteen months than in the previous eighteen years.

One thing that I’ve noticed more recently is that even the cobbled lanes running along the backs of terraced houses seem to constitute an edge. The periphery of a back yard where it abuts the unadopted lane, no one willing to “own” upkeep of either and so the edges creep like tendrils into the town. As an urban photographer there is a seemingly never ending supply of subjects for my lens. That I tend to photograph the edges using a more pictorial rather than documentary style is perhaps how I put my own stamp on edgelands images.

Are you drawn to the edges? Do you lend a pictorial eye to these less-loved spaces? I’d love to know your thoughts on the subject!

Psychogeography

A few years back I completed a diploma in photography. Much to my disappointment at the time virtually all of the course was theoretically based rather than practical and a grounding in art history and appreciation was taken for granted it seems. Without an art foundation course under my belt I struggled if I’m honest. Exploring personal motivation, history, art theory and influences amongst other topics I eventually fell out with my tutor as he wouldn’t (couldn’t?) accept “because I liked it” as a motivation for making an image. When I started inventing motivations to satisfy the academic requirements I knew this wasn’t something for me and so rather than complete the full degree I took my credits and the award of the diploma. However, there were two subjects that did pique my interest and that I have explored further since. These were psychogeography and the idea of exploring the periphery of our towns and living spaces which were given the label “edgelands”. In this post I want to consider psychogeography, hopefully I will return to the edgelands concept in a later post.

I wrote a full, hopefully academic, essay on psychogeography back in 2015 or thereabouts and much to my frustration have been unable to find it despite my best efforts. So, I will need to start afresh. And I might just ditch the academic rigour whilst I’m doing it. 😀

Psychogeography was founded in 1955 by Guy Debordas as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”. It is also a term much associated with photography these days, particularly in the academic environment. As far as I see it, there appear to be two main ways in which photographers approach this genre, although I doubt that there is one “true” way to approach the activity.

For the likes of Pedro Guimares in his project ‘Bluetown’, and Marco Barbieri’s project ‘Our Drinking Habits’, both have set out a code as the basis of their wandering. Guimares’s code determines the location he will stop at to take a photo, with each photo in the series linked by this code. Barbieri’s code is the choice of object (ie evidence of street drinking) before he then wanders to find that evidence.

The alternative approach is to decide on an area to wander to find what catches the photographer’s eye. A series is then bound by the link between place, photographer and choice of subjects chosen in that area. Debra Fabricius’s project ‘Urban Drift’ is a good example of this approach where she wanders along a pre-defined area and photographs what catches her eye. This creates a commentary on that place along with its relationship to the photographer.

Author Will Self in his book “Psychogeography” noted that the psychogeographic fraternity is typically middle-aged males “armed with notebooks and cameras”. Now, I probably resemble that remark, although perhaps a bit older than the typical! He also likened psychogeographers to “local historians with an attitude problem”. Make of that what you will!

The concept of the flaneur is a key one within psychogeography. The French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) described the flaneur as a person who walks their environment in order to experience it. As I was writing that now-lost essay I realised that a lot of my approach to my hobby fits very neatly within psychogeographic principles.

Occasionally I will undertake what I call a “9 in 45” where I will decide on a starting point and then walk, often at random, for 45 minutes, stopping every five minutes, exactly, to make a photograph (within 60 seconds) of my current surroundings. Nine photographs therefore in forty five minutes. I believe that this too fits within the spirit of psychogeography as related to photography. Since the start of the pandemic the majority of my photography has been urban in nature, and almost exclusively the result of random wandering around Elland turning left and right as the whim takes me.

For me a wander with a camera is in a sense a form of therapy. Walking, exercising, looking and seeing, remembering and thinking are all potential attributes of this form of photography to my mind. It’s an opportunity to turn off the noise that constitutes twenty-first century living. A perambulation around the streets of my childhood or any of the towns and cities in which I’ve lived and work will throw up many memories and feelings. Walking along the local stretch of canal however is both familiar and alien. Familiar in that I’ve walked these towpaths countless times in the last few years yet alien as they stir no real memories for me – as yet. I still manage to “lose” myself however, pondering the history of the canal or losing myself in memories of different places and times. The longer I live here however, the more localised my memories are becoming and the canal is slowly but surely becoming less alien and evolving into the familiar.

For those of you wanting a diversion from pure photography I can highly recommend digging into this subject a little deeper. It is possible, if desired, to avoid the overly academic and to relate elements of psychogeography to the photography of many of us so there is something for everyone regardless of whether you like the theoretical, academic or simply the practical.

In particular an account of the flaneur may well strike a chord for some of you!

All three images taken on the day this post was written, within ten minutes as I walked from car park to dentist.