Woodland Photowalk - Ufton Fields Report
On Tuesday 8th January, we held the first of the new monthly woodland photography walks. The idea is simple. Visit a different woodlands on the first Tuesday of every month, in 2019, and spend a couple of hours together on a meetup, exploring the woodlands and taking photos.
I have always had a strong connection and interest in woodlands and take regular walks in the woodlands behind my house. The act of taking time out, away from electronics, domestic and work duties enables us to re-balance our minds and take in exercise and fresh air.
This is the healing way of Shinrin-yoku Forest Therapy, the medicine of simply being in the forest. Shinrin-yoku is a term that means "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing." It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
The woodland walks are aimed to promote our senses and connection to trees/woodland/nature - as we walk, observe and take in our environment we may decide to make a photograph, or not. “Action without Intention”
The idea of making a photograph or not comes from the Taoist philosophy - “Wu-Wei”
If you apply the Taoist philosophy to photography it would be this: the harder you try to make a good photo, the less likely you are to make a good photo. The less you try to make a good photo, the more likely you are to make a good photo, so don’t force it. If you are interested in this Taoist philosophy read my blog post here.
Wu wei is a concept literally meaning non-action, non-doing or non-forcing. It means striving to make our behaviour as spontaneous and inevitable as certain natural processes, and to ensure that we are swimming with rather than against currents. I am not proposing you don’t take photos, rather you take them only when the senses align to compel you to. When the effort required is no effort because the scene or subject you see presents itself, you feel a personal sense of achievement. The key element here is that you have to create the space, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually for the image to create itself. Visual awareness helps, experience helps, patience helps but above all removing the need/desire/pressure to create something is what makes the difference and allows any manifestation.
Workshops are a difficult balance between coaching clients on the aspects of technical and creative execution and trying to balance their expectations and desire to go home with amazing shots. The latter is a pressure created by the transaction of client paying for a workshop in a certain location and therefore, there follows an expectation that they need/want to produce something of value from the event.
The usual measurement, for many, are the image(s) they take home. I have tried varying amounts of input and no input depending on who the clients are; sometimes that works and allows the client to find their own interpretation rather than mine, other times clients have said they couldn’t see anything or get anything from the location. It’s a balance that is hard to get right all the time and sometimes I don’t get it right.
The woodland walk photo workshops are very much based on the Wu-Wei philosophy. I won’t tell you what to shoot but I will help you with the how to shoot anything you ask about. If you attend a photo walk and don’t ask, don’t shoot or connect with anything, that’s ok too. It’s the act of being there that is important and that’s what we should take away and measure against, not how many photos, or what photo’s.
The experience itself on Tuesday was worth more than the photos I made on the day. Gathering 12 people together to explore, connect and meander through these woodlands was ample satisfaction, anything more was truly icing on the cake.
Ufton Fields Nature Reserve
We were blessed with sunny weather conditions on Tuesday so I was delighted when the first workshop sold out and I arrived at the car park at Ufton Fields Nature Reserve to find eleven eager people waiting my arrival.
Ufton Fields Nature Reserve is not large, but the 100 acre site, owned by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has plenty of variety of trees, habitats, wildlife and pools to interest any type of outdoor photographer. Situated in Harbury, between Gaydon and Leamington Spa the reserve is easy to access with a large enough car park and well marked out circular walking route. The parking and reserve is free of charge.
It was my first visit to the reserve and I was keen to explore the many different types of habitat and variety of shots that could be created using the pools left from the limestone quarry pits and abundance of gnarly tree trunks that always draw me to make a “Lord of the Rings” dark and moody woodland portrait.
As it transpired I found when returning home to review the images from the excursion, just about every image i had made was low key and moody. I don’t recall setting out with that intention but clearly my mind was attracted to small window glimpse rather than the wider angle spectacular views, with the exception of one or two towards the end of the photo walk.
Outdoor photography is predominantly impacted by the quality and quantity of light. Bright sunshine in open space can be hard to handle with harsh highlights and shadows. In a woodlands situation those harsh light extremities can be taken advantage of to create something moodier using one extreme against the other (light against dark for example) but contained in a much smaller area and space. For me, it becomes essential to then find and use a strong structural framework to construct the composition. Tree trunks, paths, anything where the light leads the eye through and around the frame.
This shot, “The Edge” was my personal favourite from the day. Shot on a long lens at 160mm f13 using spot metering on the highlights to hold back the shadows to as close to black as possible without clipping and holding the exposure for the sunlit branches of the foreground trees. In fact the majority shots taken by me were taken using that method. Low Key images (low key meaning most of the pixels are shadows/dark) rely on you overriding the camera’s attempt to expose as fully as possible. Whilst exposing to the right is technically correct, it doesn’t mean it is creatively correct to do it for every shot. it pays to experiment and try different techniques to help you realise your creative vision for a shot.
I hope you will be able to join me on the next or any future woodland photo workshop. These are different from my normal photography workshop format in that they are not restricted to six participants with my focus being the tuition and guidance of the participants. Instead these walks are about meeting like-minded people who enjoy photography and woodlands who want to explore, share ideas, chat and enjoy a gentle stroll together. Of course, I am on hand and happy to advise, guide and answer any photography questions along the way.
Twelve Woodland Habitats to explore in 2019
Tue 8th Jan - Ufton Fields - Harbury, Warwickshire
Tue 5th Feb - Rough Hill Wood - Worcestershire
Tue 5th Mar - Moseley Bog - Birmingham
Tue 2nd Apr - Clowes Wood - Earlswood, Solihull
Tue 7th May - Millisons Wood - Meriden
Tue 4th Jun - Snitterfield Wood - Stratford Upon Avon
Tue 2nd Jul - Ryton Wood - Coventry
Tue 6th Aug - Tocil Wood - Coventry
Tue 3rd Sep - Elkin Wood - Coventry
Tue 1st Oct - Piles Coppice & Brandon Wood - Coventry
Tue 5th Nov - Crackley Wood - Kenilworth
Tue 3rd Dec - Hay wood - Solihull
Take a look at what others took on the day
Not everyone sent me photos from the walk but you can see from those who did just how varied the shots made were. Each person, working alone to create an image conveying their connection and vision of their surroundings. Wonderful images from a lovely group of people. Thanks to everyone who attended, it was a special morning and I hope to see you again on another one soon.