Inside this issue
Tools of the Trade
Richard Childs discovers some unusual photographic aids
Richard trained as an Orchestral Percussionist in the 1980's but his true love has always been the outdoors and particularly mountain environments. Throwing in his drumsticks to become a full-time photographer in 2004 he continues to work with a large format camera alongside digital equipment and exhibits his work in solo and group exhibitions as well as at his own gallery in the Ironbridge Gorge. Links to Website and Facebook
I have recently been hunting for a Golf trolley. Not that I have any intention of dragging a set of clubs around eighteen holes on a quiet afternoon but because I want to carry enough food, fuel, cooking utensils, bedding and clothing to stay in remote bothies for two or three nights at a time.
Having looked at many options over the past year including bikes with trailers, quad bikes, Rokon two wheel drive motorbikes (with trailer) and all terrain baby buggies (favoured by photographers in the US apparently) I settled on a golf trolley as my best option. It has to be able to take some serious punishment and therefore needs pneumatic tyres and a decent suspension system to survive the average 10km walk in along rocky Landrover tracks here in The Highlands. I got the idea from an American I met a few years ago while walking Alfred Wainwright's 'Coast to coast' walk which covers 189 miles from St Bee's Head in Cumbria to Robin Hood's Bay on the North Yorkshire coast. While climbing out of Kirkby Stephen towards the great stone cairns on Nine Standards Rigg I saw a solitary figure strolling down the track towards me pulling a trolley. He suddenly stopped, pulled a camera out of the top of bag, grabbed a quick shot and was on his way in seconds with none of the usual faffing with getting a rucksac on and off his back first. We talked for a while and I discovered that he had walked a number of long distance trails both in Britain and America and always pulled his gear rather than carried it. In doing so he saved his shoulders, neck and back any strain but also was able to access camera, sandwiches and jacket etc in an instant.
So, having added a golf trolley and bag to my arsenal of equipment (to be used in conjunction with a proper camera ruck sac) I got to thinking about what other non-photographic specific pieces of equipment we employ to help us make images. Some of you will no doubt have visited focus where you will have been exposed to all sorts of expensive paraphernalia to 'improve' your photography but how often is the solution to a problem sourced from outside the photographic world? I have listed a number I have used below and hope that you will comment and add any of your own ideas and solutions too.
The obvious problem facing landscape photographers is weather and most particularly rain. An umbrella is the obvious answer to enable you to continue working but what if you need both hands to work your camera or if it's windy or if the rain is that fine coastal stuff that comes from all directions? Sometimes I'm fortunate enough to have a willing helper but more often than not I'm out in the field alone and need to be self sufficient. On one occasion a few years ago I was set up at Braes on Skye attempting to photograph due North to Beinn Tianavaig across an amazing foreground of Paisley Pattern sand formations. The tide was rising fast and I estimated that I had about twenty minutes before my foreground was obliterated. There followed the most frustrating time spent constantly cleaning and re-cleaning fine misty rain off the lens and filters as a storm front moved in (seen approaching in the illustrating image). Eventually the encroaching waves wiped the foreground clean and I retreated to my car defeated.
I immediately went out and bought a fishermans umbrella system to provide shelter for similar occasions in the future but when it arrived it weighed 10kg and folded down to an enormous 6ft in length, hardly the portable accessory I had hoped for. Now, should I need it I use one of lightweight Terra Nova tents I had already and always have an umbrella handy too. Having seen Roger Longdin sporting a small umbrella mounted onto his tripod last Autumn and tried unsuccessfully to find one of these I looked instead at other users who may need to protect a precious load from the weather and of course discovered that there are plenty of clip on umbrellas available for prams and baby buggies that will easily attach to a tripod. I would advise attaching these to a separate tripod or monopod to avoid any camera shake occurring during an exposure. There is no doubt however that, having seen Joe almost dive into a gorge in Glen Nevis while chasing his umbrella there is definitely a need to tether the thing to the ground.
As well as rain, sun can also be a problem, especially when it suddenly picks out highlights in the scene. Just a couple of weeks ago I stood with a client beside Loch Bad an Scalaig near Gairloch holding a darkcloth between us to shade the foreground of another clients image. When he had set up the lower angle of sunlight had left the foreground shadow but now the top of a lichen covered log was catching the sun and there was no way the highlights could be held without some intervention. I have had to walk away from many scenes in the past when this has happened. Again, an umbrella could provide the solution but on one occasion I was lucky to be able to create a pool a shade using my fleece and two driftwood branches stuck into the ground to shade the dead roots of a pine tree washed ashore on Loch Etive. An 81b warm up filter was then used to neutralise the blue cast coming from the clear skies overhead.
These days if I'm out specifically to photograph in woodland I'm likely to take secateurs, a folding saw and garden twine. I learned to take secateurs out with me when I used to walk extensively in The Chiltern Hills and Leicestershire because many of the stiles I had to cross were overgrown with Brambles, Briar Roses or Hawthorne which snagged and tore my waterproof clothing. As a photographer I often use them to 'tidy' a scene by removing or tieing back intruding branches, especially in forestry where the odd limb or two won't be missed (Please note that one should never do this in a garden or arboretum without permission from the owner).
I'm sure you have all found your own solutions to these and many more problems encountered while out taking photographs. Two problems I have yet to solve but encounter regularly are;
Soft sand on beaches or shifting mud in river beds, especially frustrating for a large format photographer because having set up a carefully composed and focused shot the camera can have moved very slightly but cannot be checked immediately prior to making an exposure because the film holder is loaded and the lens stopped down and shut down. It's only after committing to film that you check again to find that you have taken something slightly different to what you intended.
Midges. Nothing yet can keep these pests at bay. On Arran last year they were being flushed out of the seaweed by a rising tide. The restful image I made at Imacher Point in no way reflects the reality for myself and the three other photographers suffering that evening. In the end we simply had to bail out and head back to Brodick while the chap who had sat patiently in his car watching our frantic Tarantella-esque thrashing stepped calmly out to capture what had to be the best sunset of the week with his digital compact!!