No matter how challenging or positive a year has been, I always find value in taking the opportunity to reflect on my photography during that time. The desired outcome is to see progression in my work and fulfilment in creativity. Importantly, I want to understand the reasons behind what’s gone well and what could have been better. Sitting here now, I feel a little awkward about how best to write this blog post. The year has been an emotional rollercoaster so it’s difficult to choose the right words to express my own experience. However, despite all the restrictions and challenges that the world has faced, we can hopefully take some positives from the experience and use them to help carve a way forward in the year ahead.
In February of this year I was stood on a Scottish mountainside with four clients during a fantastic wintry storm. It resulted in me capturing the image above which is one of my favourite prints from the year – ‘Caledonia‘. We were all utterly content – revelling in the joys of photography and beautifully atmospheric weather. The challenges of the cold, the wet, and the snow hitting the lens were inconsequential. The experience of photography that day eclipsed everything else and is a clear memory of the last time I felt relatively unconstrained.
We were fortunate enough to move house shortly after that workshop in Scotland but then everything started to come crashing down as Covid-19 took its grip on the world. Despite the financial strain, we adapted and it seems like we’ve got through the worst of it. Cancelled workshops are looking set to go ahead this year and hopefully new projects are also on the horizon. The year 2020 has been terrible for business but what about happiness in the art of photography?
I found myself with more time to assess my work – to study images that have been successful and recognise patterns in how my interpretation of woodland is evolving. I’ve seen a clear development in how I’ve gravitated towards more complex images within woodland – using shapes and rhythm to bring harmony to complexity. A concept which I began to introduce in a recent video – A Poetic Approach to Woodland Photography. Metaphors and anthropomorphism continue to play a key role in my view of woodland and the characters within them. The image above is one of my favourites from early 2020 which brings together some fabulous gestures and woodland confrontation.
The restriction of lockdowns have likely made us more acutely aware of the value of precious time in the great outdoors. Photography for wellbeing has never been more important – our time with the camera should never be taken for granted. I personally found that a strengthened love and respect for nature helped to positively influence my work when we were awarded more freedom in the springtime. I saw a shift towards capturing some of the positive vibrancy of woodland, dynamic shapes, and very much enjoying soft ambient light as opposed to the atmospherics of mist and fog. No matter what the conditions were, I embraced and appreciated every moment of being present.
It’s quite obvious that the pandemic has brought out the very best and the very worst in people. We’ve seen nature thrive without the touch of man, followed by huge increase in the enjoyment of the outdoors, but unfortunately leading to the ultimate abuse of it. Seeing youngsters connect with nature and adults value their contact with it has been heart warming, but seeing the increase in litter has been soul destroying. It’s the crowds that have driven me to the quietest of woodlands in the most unsociable of hours. Solitude in places that still feel wild is precious and my love for it has been galvanised further this year. Although through necessity, it’s been wonderful to see many other photographers discover or rediscover the enjoyment of their local woodlands. Perhaps some can’t wait to venture back into the big landscape after feeling shackled but I’ve revelled in the opportunity to deepen my relationship with the places and trees that have shaped my photography and view of the world. In terms of using photography as a means of communicating my appreciation for the places I’ve been frequenting for the past 6 years, 2020 has been filled with positives.
What does 2021 hold for the woodland photographer? On a broader scale, it would be great to see the increased popularity of woodland photography translate into an understanding and respect that encourages photographers to actively engage with protection and regeneration. From a creative point of view, perhaps the fact that our vulnerability has been highlighted will be the push that’s needed to make our ambitions a reality – book that workshop you’ve been thinking about, commit to devoting time to your local photographic projects, learn about your subject matter to improve your photography through understanding and empathy, just get out there and enjoy every moment you can get.
Personally, I will continue to work towards visions I have for some of my favoured local woodlands. My never ending quest to improve my work in composition is ongoing and I hope that quest also takes me further afield to discover and explore new locations filled with creative challenges. For now, here’s a few more images that I’ve enjoyed making in 2021.
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Some favourite videos from the year
Spring Woodland Photography On Location
A Tribute to a Special Location
The Photographer’s Story
The Joys and Hazards of Photography
A Poetic Approach to Woodland Photography
Many thanks for reading and for your support through a very challenging year. Wishing you all the best for the year ahead.