on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Dipping into the Landscape

Wild Swimming in the Stream of Photography

Andrew Fusek Peters

Andrew Fusek Peters is the author of Wilderland, wildlife & wonder from the Shropshire Borders {Fairacre Press}. His next book is Upland, The Long Mynd & Stiperstone [Graffeg, April 2017]. His photos regularly appear in the national media. Twitter

andrewfusekpeters.com



I came upon landscape via a circuitous route. My main career for 25 years was as an author of young adult and children’s books including an eco-thriller titled Ravenwood with mile high trees and leaves the size of a human. The rights were bought by the publisher who signed J.K.Rowling and sold to 15 countries. I thought I had arrived. However, with each book in the series being 100k words, and with re-writes 250k, the virtual eco-system with its created backdrop slowly fizzled away as depression took its hold, hospitals gripped me, and the outdoors changed from a place of contemplation to one of cruel terror. I hugged radiators rather than leaping into lakes; fresh air, the fox that nipped at my growing fears. But transformation and darkness bring strange gifts. After six months, I slowly started to recover. When the pressure of my career, the endless book pitches and performances began to recede, there was a gap.

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I have always loved different art forms. At school, pottery, art and music were times of glad re-imaginings of the world around until I was reminded that only academic matters mattered. Even today, I get several snarky comments along the lines of how I 'lark round the hills' following my photographic fancy despite appearing in the national papers on a regular basis. So, when I began to get better, I met for the first time a DSLR, courtesy of my son’s interest in stop-frame animation. Here was a plastic and metal investment that hung heavy in my hands. Why not stills as well as animation. Like a first date, we were unsure of each other. Getting to grips meant respecting that an instant infatuation would neither cut the proverbial palette of mustard nor do justice to all relationship possibilities. No, these things take time, though I have to admit the amount of buttons, menus, bits, kits, magazines, upgrades and possible futures were enough to make my gadget head spin.

Of course, head over heels, one makes all those early mistakes of young lovers who are pushing the pictorial boat out. The effect was all. You mean to say I can take a bus accelerating over Westminster Bridge and turn this into tinted streaks of light. {even then it annoyed me that most shots of Big Ben blew out the clock in a crime against highlights}. When I saw the joys of Long Exposure, it was a hook. And there is nothing wrong with that. Other cul-de-sacs beckoned – the kinkiness of HDR, the general sexiness of the saturation slider and let’s not even get started on High Pass layers.

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But love, at first sight, must need be blind. Passion is to be applauded, and these can be steps on a different, more subtle journey whose results, in the end, are even more breath-stealing.

Passion is to be applauded, and these can be steps on a different, more subtle journey whose results, in the end, are even more breath-stealing.
This took me time, with feedback from good friends such as my mentor Ben Osborne who always goes with less-is-more. Perhaps here is the link between my writing career and progress in understanding the landscape within a frame. With endless editors over the 100 or so books I have written, many with my wife Polly, the phrase I would most take to heart is ‘show not tell’. It also applies to photos. And I would honestly say that with a mere four years of photography under my belt, it is only the last 12 months where I have understood this.

Here is my leaping moment. I can work hard, understand that ‘Clarity’ is not the answer to my feeling of ‘less-than’. The work is about pre-visualisation and all credit to Ansel Adams who understood that Nature in her greatness required some help. It was he who worked out angles, framed the shot, spent hours in manual post to dodge and burn by hand, bring out elements he wished the eye to rest on. I try, stumbling, to walk with uncertainty in the footsteps of our forefathers. Here is the point. In the end, the miracle is what lies in front of my eyes. This could be a salmon leaping at Ashford Carbonel, a context shot that shows river, bridge, reflection, trees, sky and the whole envelop in which salmon struggles. A tonne of technique to get there – manual flash, tripod, wide angle, pre-focus, remote cable, relationship with the land owner. The work is done, the response often ‘No way! You must have photoshopped the fish in.’ Then I know I have succeeded in dicing a moment of time, presenting it, capturing it if you will. It’s a long way from HDR land.

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Now the journey has become simple. Light, water, sunset, dawn, moon, stars. Water will always attract me – I wrote a book about wild swimming called Dip, and this is the aim of my photos, to dip deeply into a moment, bring it back and serve it up. Decent bodies and glass are part of it, but they are only tools {that said, I am currently thinking hard about the 5d mark four as I am not sure I need 50 megapixels of the 5dsr}.

I have studied dawn and dusk obsessively and can know see that best light is often the half hour before dawn and the half hour after sunset. I think of heather as a layer, place it in my mind as foreground.
We have only a few weeks of purple heather blooming on the Long Mynd and Stiperstones, and I have image after image burning in my head. I have studied dawn and dusk obsessively and can know see that best light is often the half hour before dawn and the half hour after sunset. I think of heather as a layer, place it in my mind as foreground. The spot is one I have used for dawn before, back in January. In that pre-dawn shoot, I drove like a maniac round the skirts of the Long Mynd, light-chasing, zipping up the steep single-track Burway, grabbing the kit and running to the top of a mini rock outcrop that rears above the Mynd. The sky was red. No, that’s not accurate. It was rich, unashamed, like the colours in a renaissance painting. I just needed to set up fast with decent glass, clean grads, remote cable and right settings. Pre-dawn was best, sunrise a letdown. Here was the promise of day.

I think of Monet, coming back again and again to the view of the bridge, the hay stacks, deepening his knowledge that light, time, season all have the ability to utterly change the same material objects in front of them. There is a pool above Wildmoor on the Long Mynd I have returned to over and over with this same obsession. I have seen it change in the time it takes to adjust a filter or change a horizon line.

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This is the action of light and ever more the core of what I believe in as a landscape photographer. Once I understand the language, read the runes that fall from my BBC weather app, then I can chase dawn as I would the hare: with patience, understanding and finally stillness. For there is my purple heather and also the far dimple of the Wrekin, the Shropshire hills dressed in a light coating of mist. My rule of two-thirds, tweaked, pliable, sometimes to be ignored, now asks me to give all to that wondrous sky that holds inside it the promise of a day unbegun and half-formed. The world is asleep, and I am about my business, revelling in aloneness, almost at one with the world, depression unable to sink its dark thoughts into me, for how can there be doubt with the world ‘… will flame out, like shining from shook foil;’

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Night is a chase all by itself. With a squash injury and advice to rest up, I set out on the tiny farmer’s road through Bridges, ice on the road and crusting the puddles of March. Winter in wait. This is time for hearth and home, not venturing abroad. I have already had one near write-off tackling a snowbound road.

But I can feel the stars in me, asking that they are laid on the water. I make it onto the high heathland, geese in affront disturb the pool. Ripples subside and I cannot contain my frozen excitement for the sky has doubled up, and the constellations now orbit with the trout.
But I can feel the stars in me, asking that they are laid on the water. I make it onto the high heathland, geese in affront disturb the pool. Ripples subside and I cannot contain my frozen excitement for the sky has doubled up, and the constellations now orbit with the trout. I am slipping ‘in between the beauty coming and the beauty gone’ as Wordsworth says, and the moment holds all glory. It helps that four of the nationals buy it, of course, it does, we all want approval. But I must not forget that other impetus of mystery for the moon, the sun, the stars and the hills falling away into a dream.

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Andrew Fusek Peters is the author of "Wilderland, wildlife & wonder from the Shropshire Borders" [Fairacre Press]. His next book is "Upland, The Long Mynd & Stiperstone" [Graffeg, April 2017]



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