"You don't take a photograph, you make it..." - Ansel Adams
Adams' quote is as true today as it was when he first said it, seventy-odd years ago.
And Robert Capa famously said: "The photographs are already there, you just have to find them..."
That's also as true now as it was when he first said it, seventy-odd years ago...
OK. I'm not in any way suggesting that my snappery's residing in the same exalted higher echelons of "Top Tog Towers" as Adams' or Capa's pioneering, ingenious or bravura work... So what is my point?
Diminutive Dune. That is my point. People have been asking what and when and how and where. So here it is, the evening of October 4th, 2016 that culminated in my unexpected and extraordinary accolade.
There are togs who will arrive at a landscape, clock the place and set up the 'pod and gear where they think the best view or compo is - then simply sit it out in more or less the same spot, as the light changes and the mood evolves in and around the location they have chosen. Nothing wrong with this approach, however, I prefer to wander around and work the scene. I like tramping about in the changing light, searching for forms and textures that might make for an interesting combination, simplification or interpretation in my compositions. That's how it started with Diminutive Dune.
The Tuesday evening was quiet at West Wittering. I was virtually alone the whole time I was there. No people, no dogs, no footprints. No disturbances. Bliss. The sand-forms caught my eye because, well, because that's all there was to catch my eye really. The tide was way-way out and had left its trademark rippling contours in the soft, shifting shelf that forms the ribbon of refuge for the thousands that throng to its sandy sanctuary every weekend. The sky overhead was almost clear of cloud detail but the sun had dipped behind an incoming bank of it around sunset - so the light was soft, diffuse and pastel. Horizon detail was hazy and indistinct after a calm day of very little wind - and all this was encouraging high-key, low-contrast images.
I've said it before and I'll say it again... I love the transition zone. That exquisite tiny moment between day and night. The brief morsel of magical light you get as golden hour morphs into blue hour (and vice-versa at the other end of the day). Work fast in it. You only get about eight minutes when the morsel is at its most juicy. No matter where you are, there's an op waiting in that moment; maybe even a competition winner... So, wherever you are, just shoot the shit out of it... Because, almost always, it's not what you shoot, but when and how you shoot it. And, really, there are no secret places, there are only special moments.
And even when there appears to be not much; not much detail; not much movement; and not even much scenery, there's something to be had in the crepuscule at both ends of the day. That's where I found myself that evening. In Robert Capa's words, I was searching for the shots that were already there - I just had to find them - and in Ansel Adams's words, I had to make them.
I shot the winner on my trusty nifty-fifty. I love it. It really is my desert island lens. I am never without it. And I mean never. Over-looked and under-appreciated by so many togs in pursuit of more extreme optical exotica, the humble little 50 mm is super-versatile, super-fast and super-light. Obviously you can pay a fortune for one if you insist on the ultimate legendary offerings, from Zeiss for example, but it's really not necessary. With a bare minimum of glass elements in front of your film plane or sensor and typically super-wide maximum apertures, the light pours into your camera through a nifty-fifty - even the relatively inexpensive ones perform well in terms of sharpness, colour rendition and contrast (especially if you're comfortable with manual focus and prepared to buy into second-hand legacy glass)... Therefore, last, but not least - it's super-cheap!
When I shoot an assignment for a client I take pretty much everything I own because if someone with high expectations has hired you, it's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it... When I go out to shoot for myself in the landscape however, I make a judgement about the lens that I am most likely to need given the location, the forecasts and the scenery. And it is usually one; either a WA or a tele. Then I pop the 50mm in the bag and the tripod goes over my shoulder. That's it. No cumbersome, inaccessible, zillion-zippered rucksack with the internal density of a collapsed star contorting my poor old skeleton. And with no multiple-choice temptations in the gear bag I find this discipline forces me to think more, to move more, to re-compose more and to repeat that whole process more... I have no option but to find the images with the few bits of kit I have with me.
I'm not saying I'm 100% right in that last opinion paragraph, I'm just saying. It works for me... 99% of the time. You may have an entirely different approach...
Anyway... On the evening of 4th October 2016, I had my 14-24 mm f 2.8 Nikkor super-wide to wide angle zoom - and my trusty, nifty fifty-mill.
Here are some of the shots from that evening and, in common with most landscape excursions, a few are a bit meh, a couple are keepers and one of them, most uncommonly for most landscape excursions, is a competition winner; it's a shot that just so happened, fortuitously for me on this occasion in late 2017, in terms of its essence, its mood and its visual style, to resonate emotionally with some judges... Enough for them to give it a gong.
And, last but not least, this one:
Post script: 2016 - 2017
So... Out of curiosity, with atmospheric conditions and tide times forecast to be not too dissimilar to those on October 4th 2016... I returned to West Wittering on the 4th of November this year to check out the area where I had acquired the winning image. And I shot this - on my nifty fifty:
It was already there. I just had to find it.