One bag to rule them all

search for the holy grail.

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Hey there, well its been a while since my last post, I have struggled recently with the work life balance in so much its been more work than life! Over the past month I have found it difficult to get out in the great outdoors with the camera other than a couple of extended dog walks. During these times I don’t stop thinking about photography so I turned my attention to my gear and to considered if there was anything I needed (need and want are entirely interchangeable here) to change or add.

At some stage I will post a staple “whats in my bag” update, but until then in brief I shoot Fujifilm (X-T2, X-T1, X70) and can’t be happier with my current camera set-up. I have lenses to cover most eventualities except macro, but I don’t do much in that genre, and they deliver exactly the quality I expect from Fujifilm. Any loss is quality is purely user error not equipment! As a primarily landscape photographer I also carry a host of filters, cable releases and various other accessories. All of which do the job, although I would like to trade up some of my filters in the coming months from Formatt Hitech to Lee, they are just better!

I can’t imagine I am the first photographer to suffer with GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) and certainly not the first to have acquired more camera bags than anyone could ever need over the past couple of years. I have managed to contain my desire for new kit to just acquiring bag which I thought would be the answer to all my prayers. I find it a familiar topic of conversation on workshops and photowalks, “What’s the best camera bag for …….?” Well here’s the cold hard truth, there isn’t one!

In all honestly theres is not one bag which answers everyone’s prayers in one package, in the past 2 years I have tried and got on with 6 or 7 bags but all had compromises, so recently I started looking again for the holy grail. I took the plunge and sold all my old bags which were worth anything and invested in a what I think my be the best bag on the market for my needs. Although I haven’t been out with it yet!! The bag I went for was the Lowepro Whilster 350AW and here’s why.

Before I took the plunge there was a list of 4 requirements which my ideal bag would have, not a long list but they are the bare essentials of the ideal bag and I wasn’t prepared to compromise. so the list is as follows;

  1. Back panel opening – this is a must for any landscape photographer who values a clean dry back on the long hike back to the car after a shoot.
  2. Enough space for camera, lenses & filters – this is surely a given, and with me using a mirrorless system any rucksack really should tick this box
  3. Space for hiking stuff – landscape photography can be tough to pack for, you can go from vigorous exercise to standing still in the wind and rain at any moment so you need to pack for all eventualities, waterproof jacket, insulated gillet, hat, gloves etc are a must.
  4. Tripod mount – less important than the other 3 as I don’t mind carrying my tripod but as I get more adventurous I’ll need my hands free more!

initial searches threw up a few results which looked promising, the Whistler (here), Lowepro’s Flipside Trek series, Mindshift’s Backlight (here) and of course F-stop’s offerings, the Rolls Royce of bags. Straight away the F-stops were discounted for a number of reasons, first price was much more than I wanted to pay, availability and I wasn’t sure F-stop was the kind of company I wanted to give my money to. If you haven’t already read this it makes interesting reading, story. I then got rid of the Flipside Trek, having seen it in person it just wasn’t big enough for me, it wouldn’t fit all my gear in and certainly not all the hiking stuff too. Don’t get me wrong its a good bag and will be great for many but for me its only good as a day bag for a short hike in predictable conditions, not what I look for!

Now down to a shortlist of 2 I then begrudgingly removed the Mindshift, a great bag, light, compact, ticked all the boxes, endorsed by a photographer I respect and admire, Paul Sanders. However availability was inconsistent and once I set my mind to something I want it straight away!! In all seriousness I would really like this bag but compare it to the Whistler and the Whistler pips it in all areas in my view.

So what has the Whistler got that the others I mentioned above and my previous bags haven’t? Well, it will easily fit all my gear in the camera section, 2 bodies, 6 lenses, filter holder, filter rings, filters in my Lee field pouch and my Fujifilm X70. thats a lot of kit, I’m not saying I’ll always have it all in but on some shoots I’ll want it all. It also fits everything else I would ever carry, Gore-Tex jacket & trousers, insulated gillet/jacket, hat, gloves, buff, spare socks and everything else I need to carry. I’m truly astounded about how much i can fit in this bag without it being bulky and cumbersome to carry.

It’s not all smooth sailing though there are some drawbacks, but they aren’t in the big 4 so I can live with them. firstly its heavy, not terribly so but heavier than you’d expect from an outdoor bag. secondly there is no space for water, either a bottle pocket of pace for a bladder, not a show stopper either as Lowepro do a bottle holder attachment which isn’t expensive.

I’m really looking forward to getting out in the mountains with this bag and will do a full review when I have a been using it for a while.

cheers for reading, let me know what bag you use and does it do everything you need.

Jon

Things don’t always work as planned!

Fleetwood Marsh – know your tide times!

With a bit of time today and the weather expected to be fine, albeit a bit flat, I decided to head out and to a new location for me and explore. the spot I chose was inspired by a video I saw on You-Tube by Craig Roberts (Video). I have watched Craig’s videos for a while and was surprised to see him in my neck of the woods and shooting at a place I didn’t know existed!

Fleetwood Marshes are around an hour away from me, so I checked the tide times and decided I was best getting to the location for high tide. having never been to the location before I always feel its best to arrive for the tide retreating rather than coming in. you do not want to find yourself cut off by the tide whilst concentrating on a shot, and by arriving for the tide at its highest you scout the best spots, find the best routes in and most importantly best means of escape. This means when you return in the future you can arrive at any time and be confident you know how to get back when the tide comes in.

When I arrived I couldn’t believe how high the tide was, I walked down to the front and could barely get onto the marsh as the water was so high.  At the point I nearly threw in the towel and went home but thought why not hang about for half and hour and see how quickly it started to recede. So I got the camera out and just took a few shots of the ships which were my planned subject, a quick half hour passed and looked down at the how much the water level had changed. It had only got higher! Feeling a bit dejected I picked up my bag an trudged down the side of the river, thankfully at this moment a very kind man in a kayak floated over and started to talk to me about what I was shooting. I explained that I’d planned to get onto the marsh to get some shots of the Shipwrecks but I was going to have to come back. The Gentleman then explained to me the water was only about 2 feet deep and it would be clear in an hour and I could walk right out to ships easily! You can see below the scene which greeted me when I arrived.

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Who could have believed that within, half an hour I would be stood next to that piece of wood in front of the right hand ship. I certainly didn’t! I decided to retreat to the car wait it out and have some lunch. 40 mins later I grabbed the bag and set off back to the river bank expecting to be greeted with the same scene I left earlier. how wrong could i have been!

When I returned the water had all but gone, I had to work faster than I’d have liked and tried to figure out the way to the end of the water and set up a shot. The photo I had planned was using one of the gullies as a leading line into the ships and the setting a long exposure up to smooth out the water. However there wasn’t quite enough time so I quickly found a suitable alternative composition and got set up.

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With the lack of water flowing through the gully I focused on the structure of the nearest boat and looked to get some movement in the sky. This would only work in mono due to the lack of colour in the scene (largely different shades of brown!). It’s not the best shot I’ve ever taken and not what I planned but it turned out ok, I will definitely return with a better understanding of the location to get the shot I imagined.

I suppose the lesson learnt here is to not be disappointed if things don’t happen as planned, each time you go out and shoot you learn something. Whether that be about your equipment, the way the weather works or the location you are at. The key is to take note of what you learn on that day and build that into the next shoot. I definitely learnt a lot on this shoot, even though it was a quick trip out.

Thanks for reading, speak soon

Jon

RIP 2016 & Hello 2017

A look back at last year and looking forward to the next 12 months

Well that was a tough 12 months, thank god it’s over.

2016 for me was possibly, no definitely, the worst year I could imagine having. On a personal level it started in the worst way and never really recovered! In my real life job I had the first year as far as I can remember where I really found it hard. But on the positive side I came out of the year with my health and still in a job so I can’t complain too much. 2016 also gave me a revitalised view and focus on my biggest passion, Photography.

Through a very dark period at the beginning of the year I turned to photography as a distraction and escape from real life, and as a landscape photographer the escape and solitude thankfully comes relatively easily. I decided early on, in the year to throw myself feet first into developing my abilities and trying to progress, with the ultimate goal being the best I could be.

So I’d made a decision, not something that comes easy to me, but where do I start? Well, the only place any student can start find a teacher or two! I started to look at workshops where I could learn from some truly inspirational photographers and if I could pick up just one or 2 tips from each my photography would quickly start to improve.

However bad 2016 was it did give me the opportunity to spend time with and learn from, in my view, some of the bestsellers photographers in their fields.

Mark Littlejohn Mark’s Website – Mark had the pleasure of hosting a very sickly me for a day in January, he took me to some spots in the Lake District I had never been before despite being a relative regular prior. I can’t recommend enough spending some time with Mark if you can, as an award-winning landscape photographer he has a wealth of advice and experience which anyone can learn from.

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Paul Sanders Paul’s Website – I was able to spend the day with Paul in Wales during July learning long exposure photography from one of the best in the business, the conditions we had were not the best and the midges made standing still waiting for exposures testing to say the least! That said I learnt a lot about a type of photography I had previously considered fairly straight forward, I was very wrong!

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Mart Hart Matt’s Website – Matt is a leading Street Photographer in the UK, so what was a Landscape enthusiast doing taking a street workshop!? Well, other than the fact Matt’s workshops are always entertaining and really informative, learning other techniques and disciplines which push you out of your comfort zone is really good for developing your creativity and how you see the works. Also in my view street photography has a lot of cross over with landscape (possibly the subject of a future post!).

Greg Whitton & Lee Acaster Greg’s Website & Lee’s Website – In october I managed to squeeze onto a workshop with Greg and Lee, I picked up a place due to a cancellation, exploring Snodownia. As part of a small group Greg and Lee spent a lot of time with each of us sharing the experience and knowledge. This workshop gave me some guidance which i will be concentrating on more in 2017, but more to come on that later. A huge thank you to Greg for the time he gave looking over my images and the advice he gave. This workshop and many other run by Greg will happen in 2017, my advice do think just sign up you wont regret it.

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Matt Hart & Paul Sanders – Matt and Paul again had the unfortunate pleasure of trying to teach me in November on a week-long workshop in Glencoe, run by Fujiholics. Quite honestly one of the best weeks of my life, what more could you ask for? Amazing landscapes, great company, plenty of Jaffa Cakes and a fair amount of Ale & Single Malt. No steak and Ale Pie though. On the proviso that Matt lets me I will be attending again this winter to try to better the images I got, if you can try to come along.

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A Special mention also to all the great people I met on each of the workshops I attended who made each of the trips all the more enjoyable.

Along the way on each of the workshops attended I have learnt something new about myself and my photography. I won’t bore you with the finer details but these things will definitely form part of my photography growth moving into 2017.

Well that was 2016 in a nutshell, so what does 2017 hold in store. well I have a few resolutions and goals which I want to work toward but the two keys words are Develop and Grow, both in myself and as a photographer.

 These are a few of my resolutions

  • Get out more – I am hoping to get away for a weekend at least once a month, camping, exploring and taking photos.
  • Print, Print, Print – I’m soon going to be investing in a home printer,  wise man once said you can’t truly judge your work until you see it in print.
  • Intimate Landscapes and Abstract – I really want to develop my photography to see the smaller detail in the landscapes I am in rather than trying to cram every detail in the image.
  • Finally, well you just read it! – I want to use this blog to document the next year and beyond, write down so thoughts and hopefully help and inspire fellow enthusiasts out there.

That’s all for now, hope you read to this point and weren’t disappointed. Please check back next week for another post.

Cheers

Jon