Adventures in Photography Challenge Day One

Today is the first of March and the first day of my new photography challenge.

2020 was a challenging year and one that had its limitations where photography was concerned. The first part of 2021 hasn’t been any better either.  Travel has been restricted, projects have been put on hold and workshops have been cancelled. All this has made the business of landscape photography difficult and I have found myself spending more and more time sitting at my desk and much less time out with the camera.

Over the summer I ran a series of shot photo walks and was interested in peoples motivation for attending them. Many expressed a desire to get outside and a need to reconnect with the natural world after such a turbulent year. Photography provided the opportunity to do both these things and in a completely mindful way also helped restore some balance and joy to peoples lives.

This set me thinking about my own photography experiences and my need to explore new places with my camera. And whilst travel still isn’t possible the desire to turn my photography into something more adventurous has been eating away at me.

Adventure means different things to different people. I have to confess to being bit of a dreamer and I love following the adventures of Alastair Humphreys, Ben Fogle, Sarah Outen, Sean Conway and Steve Backshall but I am not driven by daring feats and dangerous journeys. I like my adventure a little tamer, but that doesn’t mean any the less interesting – well to me anyway.

So while I was dreaming of life after lockdown with a cup of tea and the latest Alastair Humphry’s newsletter I came across thislovely little film by Sean Conway about his quest to fall back in love with running. To be completely honest, I am not at all interested in running but I admire Sean Conway and found the film captivating. It also got me thinking about whether the concept could be applied to photography.

So after a bit off thought I have put together my own 496 photography adventure. For the next month I will be staying local on the Suffolk Coast and will be getting out every day during March to undertake my own photography challenge.

Like Sean’s running journey the rules are simple – I will go out with my camera every day. On day one I will take one photo, on day two, two images and so on until the 31st March when I will take 31 images. That makes a total of 496 images in a month. Each day will have a different location and I will be strict with the rules – 1 image means 1 image.

The idea is to challenge myself creatively. We may think it will be easy to go out on a shoot and take only one photo – but is it really? When do you press the shutter button, when will the light be at its best, what if we mis-focus or choose the wrong settings? And at the other end of the scale how easy is it to capture 31 different and interesting shots from one shoot? Only time will tell. To make things a bit more interesting I am planning to set a challenge for each of my daily adventures – a different theme, a creative way of shooting, a location I haven’t explored or a walk I have never taken.

Day One – Orford. 

After the sunshine yesterday I had in mind a sunrise shoot at Bawdsey but having looked at the forecast last night I knew this wasn’t going to be very productive. The day dawned grey and cold and I felt that I needed to find somewhere a bit more suited to the conditions to take my first image.

Half the fun of landscape photography is working out where to go, often in conjunction with what the weather is doing. Normally on a grey, cold day like today I  wouldn’t have ventured out but that is the beauty of a challenge, it forces you to do something you might not normally do. So having shelved my original plan I looked at the tide tables and opted for a lunch time shoot at Orford. My idea was to photograph the old boat wreck on the salmarsh and use its beautiful colours to brighten up an otherwise dull scene.

As this was my first day, the challenge rules say that I am only allowed one image from this shoot, so having arrived at my location I was keen to work out a compelling composition. I had in mind a long exposure to blur the water and try to keep the colours of the river and the sky looking roughly similar. I wanted the boat to stand out as the only colourful part of the picture.

I set the tripod up fairly low so that the top of the boat broke the horizon – this was necessary to obscure a couple of boats on their moorings a bit further along the river. I used a 24 – 70mm lens and set my composition up so that the edge of the saltmarsh circled the boat. To take the shot I used a polarising filter, a 0.6 ND granulated filter and a 6 stop ND filter to slow the shutter speed to 41 seconds.

The image was processed in Lightroom with a few light adjustments on the boat and some darkening of the edges to focus the eye into the centre. I also desaturated the grass on the saltmarsh and cooled down the temperature of the sky and water a little to take away the yellow muddy hue that is often associated with the East Coast on a grey day.

Restricting yourself to one image is difficult and required a lot of preparation before taking the shot. It took me a long time to settle on a composition that I felt worked. I wanted to capture the coolness of the day and felt that this worked best if the boat was depicted within its surroundings rather than making it too prominent within the frame. I also had to carefully consider my exposure and shutter speed to make sure that I achieved the blurring effect of the water that I was after. Despite the challenges I really felt that this was a mindful experience. It forced me to slow down and focus my thoughts on my photography which I found really immersive.

Despite the fact that it was cold and windy, I enjoyed my lunchtime visit. The saltmarsh was deserted and the estuary was full of the cries of wading birds being chased by the advancing tide.