on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Don Tiffney

Featured photographer

I had been looking at Don's photography on Flickr for a while now and he regularly posts something a little different to the norm. The images are a mix of film photography and digital but are consistently thought out compositions. Despite being a resident of the Lincolnshire and retired automotive entrepreneur (although he'll just say he ran a garage), Don is more at home in the wilds of Scotland (as many of us are). He is a keen cycler and has covered great swathes of the highlands towing camera and camping equipment. We asked him the usual range of questions and he sent us a range of pictures that I had picked out from his Flickr stream. Over to you Don....

In most photographers lives there are 'epiphanic’ moments where things become clear, or new directions are formed. What were your two main moments and how did they change your photography?

I suppose my first moment came when I was in my very early twenties I worked in the motor trade & won a sales competition, in fact I won several & the manufacturer ‘paid’ me my winnings in ‘Bonus Bonds’ & as I had accumulated a fair few I was able to use these to purchase my first ‘proper’ camera a lovely little 35mm Yashica rangefinder I remember it looking so striking in the brochure, I just had to buy it & from that point on I was hooked. I have always been a lover of the great outdoors & now equipped with my new little camera I would return from hikes in the hills with shots that were clear & sharp giving me super reminders of my forays into the countryside…but there was something lacking & that was technique….they were record shots, clear & sharp maybe but record shots none the less.

My second epiphany came sat in the waiting room at my dentists & doing what we all do to pass the time away I was reading the magazines provided & admiring some superb photographs in National ....Geographic. It was at this moment I realised what was lacking in my photography, sure I had sharp shots that were even possibly story telling but compared with those I had been looking at either the composition was poor, lighting wrong or both, I set out at that point in time to learn more & improve these aspects of my own picture taking skills, in fact that is when I started taking pictures rather than bland records & I am still learning & honing these skills close on forty years later.

What came first, the photography or the landscape?

That’s easy, it has to be the landscape I am & always have been in awe of nature not only the beauty of huge mountain vistas & cascading flows but the associated sounds, smells the endless detail & change…..nothing can compare with the feeling of just being part of this landscape, I feel so privileged just being involved & if I can capture just one small part of the emotion & joy I feel just being there & convey these through my images for others to enjoy I will be a happy man.

You mentioned that you are an avid cycler, how did you mix you photography and cycling? Did you use a trailer or panniers?

As a keen cyclist, passionate photographer & lover of the great outdoors it sort of came naturally to me to combine all of these & so I embarked on cycle touring as a great mode of transport for me & my camera gear enabling me to cover more miles than on foot & yet still feel part of the landscape

In the early days I would carry my gear in panniers, but soon found a single wheel trailer much easier & quicker to pack also capable of carrying more & I found it to be more stable too. I opted for a quick release camera bag on my rear rack whilst my tripod lived strapped to the top of the trailer, the whole lot weighed in at just over 50kgs it was hard work winding it up some of the Scottish mountains, but the 50mph+ down hills were a hoot & the freedom the combo offered was superb & just the tonic after hectic days in the office.

The above combination took me to all parts of Scotland, North, South & the Hebrides plus the north of England too, coming from Lincolnshire I always headed for the hills!

You have a passion for Scotland - where did this start and what is it about the North that appeals so much

The passion for Scotland stems from my childhood, my father is a Scot & he moved to Lincolnshire at the end of the war, married & stayed, as for me I started my northern visits as a babe in arms & have been going back ever since.

Somehow I feel more at home north of the border than I do here & as far as photography goes I just adore the place, its light & endless moods are nirvana for us picture takers & the wild mountainous landscapes cannot get much more jaw dropping.

Another endearing feature of Scotland is it is wet, indeed very wet & I love to include water in my landscapes this dampness also makes for lush greens, massive carpets of moss, lichens, countless waterfalls & feature full skies……I could go on…..

Could you tell us a little about the cameras and lenses you typically take on a trip and how they affect your photography

Unfortunately too many, I normally take both a digital bag & a film bag…plus my odds & sods bag of spare lenses, flash etc. so that all avenues are covered….but that is a trait I have, I will also take two weeks clothes for a one week trip!

However once at the destination (normally a cottage or my caravan) sanity starts to come back & I will tailor the kit accordingly, If I am going to walk miles & miles the digital goes, a Nikon D300, two Nikkors a 12-24 & 16-85VR a set of Lee filters & a Manfrotto 055 carbon tripod in a (new to me & lighter) Hama Daytour 230 backpack ( A plug for Hama here….this is a cracking bit of kit).

My kit of preference if I do not intend to walk all day will revert to film which I enjoy using so much more....this then gets a little heavier & includes Mamiya RZ67 Pro11 Mamiya-Sekor 50mm,110mm & 180mm primes, a couple of backs, WLF & metered prism a 1degree spot meter, a set of Lee or Hi-Tech filters & again the Manfrotto tripod all housed in a Tamrac Expedition 8x backpack.

I am convinced if I had enough battery power & fitted the motordrive I could ‘ride’ the Mamiya to the location such is it’s bulk, the quality is however first class & they are amazingly robust & reliable cameras.

The difference between the two kits is vast, both have their limitations & I will vary the lens choice in the digital bag if I think I will encounter wildlife, with the Mamiya that is off the menu. The main difference working with the film gear over the digital is speed….or rather lack of it, yes I miss the odd shot due to the slow nature of the film gear but on the other hand the whole slowing of the process ensures more time is taken over each shot & the ratio of shots to keepers is much higher, compositionally they are less rushed too which gives better results.

All in all if I think I can carry it without struggling….the film bag goes.

You have a variety of film, and digital photographs and I wondered how you choose which to use and what the different aspects appeal to you.

As I said on the last question my preference leans toward film & as I indicated to you during our chat I think a move up to LF is only a matter of time, with the Mamiya gear I use at present it should save weight too.

It’s not that I don’t like digital the photographs are fine & digital has many great features & to be honest possibly too many for a technophobe like me, the results are as I said fine but the methodology does not sit as well with me. I, like all digital photographers use Photoshop or similar but I would rather the picture taking process create the image & not the post processing….How best can I explain it, it’s like sitting in front of my log burner I can get just as warm with my central heating…..but it lacks that realism, that inner glow the ‘real fire’ gives, using film & ‘old tech’ gives me that glow & is entirely more satisfying, even the wait, the anticipation of the film returning is all part of the fun.

Tell me what your favourite two or three photographs are and a little bit about them. (I’ll include the pictures alongside the text)

Well these are some of the most satisfying but not necessarily my best, the first would have to be a shot of the jetty at Loch Ard in the Trossachs. Five trips over three years took place to get the conditions I envisaged & the location is nearly three hundred miles from home.  The year I took this shot I visited once & stayed a couple of days without luck, went on to Skye for a couple of weeks & stayed one more day on the way home, on the last day the shot came together as I had imagined it.

My second choice is a mono taken with my old YashicaMat TLR a study of a cornfield & tree in late summer taken on the Lincolnshire Wolds at Kirmond le Mire, there is just a little something that gives me a buzz I like both it’s form & texture & it is one of those images albeit a simple composition that I can get lost in , folk seem to like it too as it has sold very well both in the UK & abroad.

My last choice is a very recent one taken on a trip a few weeks ago to Dumfries & Galloway & is of a waterfall on the Tail burn near the ‘Black Loch’ just off the Queen’s Way, the lighting was flattish but the composition is what appeals to me & by using MF & film I think the shot has been ‘lifted’ become almost 3D & has come alive.

What sort of post processing do you do on your digital files (and what raw converter) and also how do you invert your negatives scans (and what scanner)?

The simple answer to the first part is…as little as possible, normally levels/curves/straighten wonky horizons/ sharpen/dodge/burn & save, I use Adobe Camera Raw & for high iso images I use NIK Dfine to get rid of unwanted noise, occasionally I will blend exposures but more often than not I use grads etc. at point of capture…..as stated above the less PP work, the better.

As for scanning, well this is the Achilles heal in my film processing regime, I use a flatbed…an Epson V500 with an American ANR glass height adjustable film holder & either Epson or Silverfast Ai Studio software.

I have developed my own tweaked profiles for my negative scans & the results are really quite pleasing…..but I know the film holds so much more detail than my combination can extract from it, even so prints up to A3+ compare well for sharpness etc. with my digital files & the tonality to my eye is that much better.

As for slide film, well that is fine unless it is a dark image, then the sheer density of emulsions like Velvia etc. are too much for the flatbed Epson to extract good shadow detail from so this is on my list for an upgrade.

Do you print much of your work? If so how have you approached it and if not, why not?

Yes, I think the displaying them on the internet & keeping digital files is great, but ‘real’ photos are the things that count for me, I know so many talented photographers who take superb quality images only to lock them away on a laptop hard drive never to see the light of day in print.

For images up to A3+ I print my own & mount & frame them myself too, for larger images or Acrylic, block prints etc. I outsource them & use commercial print shops.

I have a few alloy gallery frames at home too so that I can swap the images over easily when my mood changes.

One thing that does impress me is the fantastic quality output from today’s latest inkjet printers (mine is an Epson R2880), the IQ is really first class as is the life of the prints.

One camera, one focal length? Which and why?

That’s a difficult one really as I do a bit of portraiture & commercial as well as my landscape work …..well it would be film for the fun factor & would have to be portable & reliable too, so as it would have to be a ‘Jack of all trades’ I would probably plump for a medium format 6x6 something like a Hasselblad 503cw with standard 80mm glass, after all I could always use my feet for zooming in or out. I get on with 6x6 quite well, some find the format awkward for landscape, I find it different, enjoyable & challenging in equal measures but not difficult, I often crop my 6x7 shots to this format anyway, then again I would not mind just keeping the RZ67 & the excellent Sekor 110mm, I think it would be a close call.

Tell me about your own influences and thoughts about composition

This is the hard one to answer for me as so many things influence my photography. Seeing great photographs taken by others whether they are one of the icons of photography or a total unknown whose images stir my soul …..I wouldn’t want to copy them, mirror them in any way…but to strive to create something that might give that feeling to someone else, now that is my goal, my inspiration.

Being in & feeling part of the landscape, especially in my beloved Scotland is all the inspiration I really need though, if I can ‘bottle’ a little of that heady feeling I get just being there & convey it through my images then that will do for me.

As for composition, we all know about the so called ‘rules’ but my feelings are if it looks right to me then it probably is & if the composition doesn’t find favour with some, then so be it. I find on many occasions my images may include these ‘rules’ & have a pretty standard layout but this will happen as a consequence of the shot looking right to me & not me chasing a composition that conforms.

After all is said & done I am capturing light & it’s interaction with the landscape & light never conforms to ‘rules’ that’s why I find this form of photography so exciting & intriguing.

What sorts of things do you think might challenge you in the future or do you have any photographs or styles that you want to investigate? Where do you see your photography going in terms of subject and style?

Well with a possible move to LF in the not too distant future I suppose that will present a challenge albeit one I will relish & really enjoy getting to grips with.

As for photographic styles, I have buzzing about in my head some ideas using long exposures for monochrome landscapes & this is one avenue I would like to tackle in depth along side my more conventional work. My general subject matter will always major on that endless grandeur that starts north of the border, I am sure I will only scratch at the edges during my lifetime.

Who do you think we should feature as our next photographer?

I often browse the net looking at various websites for ideas of locations to place on my very long ‘must visit’ list & I came across Ed Duncan based in Gairloch he has some really inspirational images in his portfolio, so he would be my choice.

Many thanks to Don for his cooperation and inspiration.. If you want to see more of Don Tiffney's images, take a look at his website at http://www.dontiffney.com/ or follow his flickr stream by clicking here.

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