“Transitioning” to a higher level.
On the evening of Monday 2nd December it was President’s Night and Wakefield Camera Club welcomed Paul Gallagher, Master of Landscape photography. Paul says that Photography “is simply my life and there is not a day that passes where I do not have some involvement in making photographs. Photography is the very foundation of who I am. To make photographs of the landscape that represent what it means to me is still wonderfully challenging and rewarding.” It is rare to have someone of such standing to speak at a club and all credit to Steve Wood, our President, for bringing him to Wakefield.
There was a full house as you can imagine and there was a definite sense of anticipation in the lead up to the start of Paul’s talk entitled “Transitions”. He started with a short potted history of his photographic history. He came into photography almost by chance whilst doing a graphics course but got hooked and became an assistant to a photographer and was allowed to use some of the large format cameras over the weekend. It was all film then and invariably in black and white and his photographic career continued in the same vein. However digital came along and eventually he thought the quality might be good enough and he started his first ”transition” – from film to digital. The next transition followed fairly rapidly and that was from black and white to colour which was much easier to use in digital that film. He still produced black and white work though and mixes the two freely. His last transition was to infra-red which he uses to create subtly toned images rather than the stark high-contrast images often found with infra-red. Paul explained that he wasn’t really concerned about the equipment and rarely mentioned it. He said that in some senses the result was the most important and how the viewer reacted to it.
Paul then started showing some of his tremendous images and what images they were. He began with trips to Yosemite National Park in the USA, starting with black and white images and then moved to colour. There was lots of commentary, not just where it was taken and how it was taken but he talked a lot about principles such as how we, and the camera, only see reflected light, and understanding that helps to work out how best to capture the image.
He then moved subject location to Iceland and there were lots of tips on how to get the image he and you may want. Paul told us what he was trying to convey and how that affected how he shot the image. Interestingly he explained that the photographer has to decide what the actual primary subject matter should be as any image may contain several possible subjects. Viewpoint, framing and exposure can be used to emphasise the one required. Moving from Iceland, Paul showed images from the Lofoten Islands in Norway where once he experienced the temperature falling from -5 to -17 centigrade in 20 minutes (there seems to be a rather cold theme running through much of the work shown!). He explained that you don’t have to just use “the Golden Hour” – where there’s light you can make photographs. Lots of his landscapes feature snow and ice and they can give all sorts of problems – bleaching out whites or turning delicate shadows black. However the use of filters such as hard grads can be critical and he gave us an example of his use of multiple filters on one shot. He explained how using filters in the right way allows you to bring the dynamic range of the scene to a dynamic range that the camera’s sensor can deal with. In his view simplicity is a discipline – a helpful one.
In the second half he started with Japan – in winter. They were very simple compositions, almost graphical in nature, which fascinated him. Often these scenes included trees, nearly black against the snow, and he explored how different light created different a relationship with the image. This was illustrated with dark clouds, light clouds, snow etc. Paul was keen on the difference between “looking” and “seeing” as the latter really includes interpretation and some response.
Finally Paul “transitioned” on to his infra-red photography. When he first started using it he followed the old ways of film and the images had blue sky turned black and tree leaves turned white. However he didn’t like the results. Eventually he tried a different approach – a more subtle use nearer to normal exposures. What he found was that there was a wonderful shift in tones with a very compressed dynamic range. It looks like black and white in many ways but with very subtle gradation of tones.
What an evening it had been with images from the very top drawer combined with a plethora of useful information. All was conveyed with humour but above all an enthusiasm for the subject that was really infectious. I have seen many speakers showing truly excellent images and it’s left me feeling like throwing my camera away as I would never match them. In Paul’s case his images were even better but such was his enthusiasm that it made me want to pick up my camera and start trying out the knowledge gained from the evening. The audience showed that I wasn’t the only one who appreciated the evening as he received prolonged and loud applause. If you missed it or want to see more of Paul’s images then just go to to his website by clicking here.