November 17th 2012 by Andrew S Gibson
This article is part of a series of interviews with long exposure photographers to celebrate the release of my ebook Slow. You can keep track of the interviews by clicking on the Long Exposure Photography Interviews link under Categories in the right-hand sidebar.
Doug Chinnery is a professional outdoor photographer from the UK. He writes for photography magazines and websites and leads photography workshops.
I featured Doug’s intentional camera movement work in a case study in Slow. He came up with some superb advice, illustrated by his beautiful photos. If you compare their work you will see that he has a very different style from Chris Friel (interviewed yesterday).
Doug is also a practitioner of long exposure photography, and I thought it would be fun to ask him some questions about this side of his work.
How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?
This is a tricky question to answer, Andrew. While I feel I have made some progress, my vision is still developing and has a long way to go. I am definitely drawn to symmetry in my images, although this is rare in the landscape. I have also developed a strong aversion to sharpness in my personal work.
I find I am happier making images which don’t tell the audience everything. I prefer some blur, some abstractness, some softness. This can lead to images which allow the viewer to make decisions for themselves as to what is happening – what the story in the image is for them.
I am also falling out of love with colour, spending more and more of my time making mono images. I like the simplicity of black and white photography, it is another way to let the viewer make decisions about the image. Colour tends to explain everything, it is ‘in your face’, black and white leaves some things unexplained.
I find myself abandoning the distorted stretched images of wide angle lenses, too, preferring focal lengths which give a more natural, balanced look and feel to my work. I also find myself trying to make simpler images, excluding as much from the frame as possible, rather than cramming more in.
Name three photographers you like and why.
I could name obvious photographers in answer to this question but I would like to encourage your readers to take a look at the work of three photographers who are not so well known, but whose work is a real inspiration to me.
The first, Chris Friel, is one the most exciting and innovative photographers making images in the UK today. He breaks the rules and has a wonderful compositional eye. He deserves to be more well known than he already is.
The second is a large format landscape photographer who lives and works close to me, Dav Thomas. He specialises in images of trees and his photographs have a sublime quality in composition, colour and light. I also love the fact he is ‘arty’ about his work. As he says, “I just like to make pretty pictures”.
My final choice (and limiting me to three makes it very tricky!) is another English photographer, Chris Tancock and in particular his project “Beating the Bounds”. He has walked the same five fields near his home twice a day for five years making the most wonderful, evocative images. His vision and ability to present an image in which we can create a story is superb.
If I could ever come close to making images of the quality of these three photographers, I would be very happy indeed.
Long exposure photography – what’s the attraction and why do you do it?
I love the way long exposures show us our world in a way that they eye cannot perceive, the effects of the passing of time. They have a surreal and minimalist quality that I love. From a practical point of view, they are also a great way of extending my shooting time as successful images can be made in light which might be unsuited to other styles of images.
How do you decide whether to shoot in colour or black and white? Do you make up your mind at the time of shooting or during post-processing?
When working in film on my pinhole camera and with my Hasselblad I make the decision as I go. The Pinhole is almost always loaded with black and white film so my decision is made and I look for subjects suited to this and the soft look of a pinhole camera. I have colour and film backs for the Hasselblad and so can choose according to the subject.
Digitally, if I feel the subject might suit a mono treatment I switch on the mono mode in camera so I can see the image in black and white on the monitor. The Raw file will still come out in colour, but this technique helps me visualise things in black and white in the field.
I usually know before I fire the shutter who the image will be presented based on what I am seeing. Occasionally an image I had visualised in mono shows itself to be better in colour once I get back to the ‘digital darkroom’. In that case, I go with what’s best.
There are a lot seascapes in your portfolio. What is the attraction of the sea for you as a subject? What is your favourite place to take long exposure photos?
The sea as a subject, in a way, is cheating. I find it so easy to make images of the sea. There is a natural simplicity and drama by the sea that for me makes image making easier. I love the power of the ocean and the way, occasionally, it shows a gentle side to its character. The light and mood is in a state of constant change, especially in the waters around our island here in the UK. Perhaps I subconsciously head for the sea to have an easy life!
Photographing the landscape inland is more of a test of skill, especially compositionally. There is so much more going on and placing objects in the frame in a pleasing way can be much harder, especially for me as a lover of simplicity and order. I find woodlands and forests provide the greatest challenge compositionally and am making special efforts at the moment to master this landscape.
For long exposures, my favourite places would be along the Yorkshire coast, from Spurn Point right up to Staithes. A wonderful array of amazing natural locations for the long exposure photographer.
I believe you live in Nottinghamshire, a landlocked part of the UK. How does this affect your approach to long exposure photography? What are your favourite places for long exposure photography?
Nottinghamshire is about as far from the sea as it is possible to get in the UK. It also has no national parks or areas of particular ‘classic’ beauty, so it is a challenging place to photograph. I hunt out small scenes and locations which have a quiet beauty of special attraction.
The great thing about this is most of the places are hidden and not well known. With care and persistence you can make some wonderful images here. To be honest, as a county, Nottinghamshire is not a spot I make many long exposure images. Although, if it was legal, the power stations of the Trent valley make interesting studies for the long exposure photographer, following in the footsteps of the master, Michael Kenna, who photographed the Ratcliffe power station in the 1980’s and made extraordinarily beautiful images of the cooling towers.
How important is light in your imagery? What types of light do you prefer for long exposure photography?
Light. I get asked about this a lot by my workshop students. The current mantra seems to be ‘it’s all about the light’. I have to disagree. Although photography is technically ‘painting with light’, I don’t subscribe to the school that teaches that the only time to make good images is in the golden hours around sunrise and sunset.
I think composition is the most important thing in an image. Great images can be made in poor light but poor images in great light are not good, and there are a lot of them about. I think we can work in almost any light and with care and skill make thought provoking and pleasing images. I make many of my most successful images in light and weather when most photographers would stay indoors.
Thats not to say I don’t love it when the light explodes or takes on a subtle gentleness which is beautiful beyond description. I do. But I think most of us could make wonderful images if we were prepared to work harder on our compositions in difficult light, rather than taking the easy way out in golden light.
Your photos show a mastery of composition. What are the principles behind the way you compose your photos?
I look for simplicity (exclude as much as possible from the frame), I look for symmetry (but rarely find it) and I believe in getting closer to the subject and using focal lengths that don’t distort the scene. I also ignore the so-called ‘rules’ such as the ‘Rule of Thirds’ (it does work, but often breaking it works better). I often place things centrally in the frame and my horizons are often central – all rules we supposed not to break.
How important is visualisation for you when it comes to capturing then processing the image? Do you have a final image in mind when you take the photo, or do you let that happen in post-processing?
I ‘design’ the image in my mind as I shoot. I already know pretty much how it will look before I press the shutter. I then set up the camera to help me realise the image I see in my mind.
How important is post-processing to creating the final image? Briefly, what software and techniques do you use?
My processing time on each image is very short. I get things as close to how I want them in camera. I would say I spend less than ten minutes working on an image in Lightroom and Photoshop and that includes dust spotting. Many images are prepared in five minutes. Occasionally, for more creative images such as those using textures, I will spend half an hour or so on, but this is rare.
My workflow is based around basic adjustments to contrast in Lightroom followed by levels and curves adjustments in Photoshop which is where I also do my dust spotting. Sometimes I dodge and burn, add vignettes and tones and these are also done in Photoshop.
A few more of Doug’s photos:
If you’d like to learn more about long exposure photography, my ebook Slow takes you through the creative possibilities of using slow shutter speeds, from blurring motion with a shutter speed of 1/30 second all the way to long exposure techniques using shutter speeds of five minutes or longer.
All photos in this interview are protected by copyright. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.