2015: A review of my photographic year

08 Jan 2016, Posted by Elliot Hook in Blog, landscapes, trips, wildlife

Around this time of year, I always enjoy looking back over the past year to think about what I achieved photographically and consider what I want to try and accomplish over the coming year.  I didn’t have a chance to pull this together before the end of 2015, but I figured there was no harm thinking about it in early January!

So what happened in 2015:

– On the whole, I feel my photographic output has improved from previous years.  I’m happier with the quality of images that I’m sharing now compared to at this point last year, I just wish I could be creating more.  Before starting to write this, I looked back at my review from last year I read how “months went by” without me getting out with the camera and it felt eerily familiar to portions of the last 12 months.  I just can’t seem to dedicate the time I’d like to being out, making images and that is definitely something I want to address in 2016.

– I took part in #Connected2015, a photography exhibition hosted by the Nottingham Flickr Group at the Patchings Art Centre.  There was a huge amount of imagery on show (both in print and digitally) and two excellent talks given by Mark Littlejohn and Lizzie Shepherd.  The highlight of the day was getting the opportunity to talk to a number of other photographers who I either already follow via social media, or do so now.

– I seem to have inadvertently shifted away from shooting wildlife during 2015, to focus more on my landscape work.   During the course of the year, I’ve become more frustrated with my wildlife photography.  In early 2015 I spent many hours on the road and at previously-reliable locations trying to shoot wildlife and having zero luck.  There were multiple trips when I’d spent over 12 hours outside of the house and not come back with a single usable image.  I totally get that that can be part and parcel of wildlife photography, but coupled with less time to spend out with my camera and a sense of not being able to produce anything vaguely original when I do get the opportunity, I’ve started to drift away from wanting to shoot wildlife.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love high quality, original wildlife photography, I’m just not sure I can offer much in that arena in most cases.  Whether or not this will change in 2016 remains to be seen.

– I had images shortlisted in both Mammal Photographer of the Year and British Wildlife Photography Awards (the irony of me being bored with my own wildlife photography and those two things happening is not lost on me) though no joy in the LPOTY arena!

Anyway, enough waffle and onto sharing some images….

The best way, I find, to think about the last year is too look at the images I’ve produced, so I’ve decided share a number of images from 2015, some of which I have already shared (either on here or on Flickr) and some that have yet to see the light of day.

First up is one of my favourite images from the last year, though technically taken at the tail end of 2014 (but after the ‘2014: year in review’ post I put together). It’s one of my favourite images partly because of the background to how it was taken – mid-morning, leaning out of the bedroom window at my in-laws. It was a really frosty morning and as the sun rose above the hills of the valley, it backlit the heavy frost clinging to the branches of the trees on the edge of the forestry land opposite their house and I just had to capture it. No 5am alarm call, no 2 hour drives to get to a location in darkness, just pop upstairs, lean out of the window and shoot.

Frosted - Landscape Detail

I’ve written before that my in-laws live near Lake Vyrnwy meaning that I regularly get to spend time out in the welsh countryside, however it is only in recent years that I’ve realised how unforgiving the Welsh weather can be.  It’s not unusual to have days of flat grey skies and endless sheets of rain and, when you couple that with the scarred forestry land, it can be a challenging place to shoot.  I think I’ve made some good progress in 2015 however, with a number of my favourite images coming from in and around mid-Wales.

I’ve spent time photographing around Lake Vyrnwy itself, both focussing on the iconic water tower…

Lake Vyrnwy - Infrared Hoya R72 Lake Vyrnwy Straining Tower

… as well as making the most of some (rare) glorious morning light along the edges of the lake.

Trees Lake Vyrnwy

I also finally captured a satisfying image of one of my favourite views from upon the Bwlch y Groes pass, something I have struggled to make the most of numerous times in the past; it was just a case of finding the right combination of viewpoint, focal length and light – but then, what landscape photography isn’t?!

Bwlch y Groes

Staying with Wales for the time being; there were two other notable times for me this year.  Mid summer is ideal for viewing the milky way and the fact that Snowdonia has just been granted ‘Dark Sky’ status illustrates the potential for astro photography.  A small drive on to the edge of the Snowdonia national park, away from the lights of the local villages, affords a fantastic view of the night sky.  Capturing the milky way has been on my photography bucket list for years and I’ve finally come home with images that I’m pleased with (well, they’ll make a good start!).

Snowdonia Milky Way Snowdonia Milky Way

Finally, for Wales, a trip over to Barmouth to photograph the Mawddach Estuary at sunrise – a popular view, but a fantastic one none the less.  The conditions on that September morning were just sublime – a low/thick mist and clear skies created a cloud inversion in the estuary.  I was shooting from a viewpoint on the ‘Panorama Walk’ which is a way up the hill side, giving an elevated position looking down into the estuary in towards Snowdonia.  Some of the best shooting was in the hour leading up to sunrise, when there were the lovely blue/pink hues of twilight, but when the sun finally rose above the mountains it was spectacular.

Mawddach Estuary Inversion Mawddach Estuary Layers

Now, moving on from Wales, and rewinding back to the beginning of the year, and my first trip out in 2015 was with fellow photographer Richard Hurst.  We took a trip out to Herringfleet Mill, in Norfolk, on what turned out to be a beautifully frosty morning.  We had the good fortune of meeting Matthew Dartford also, a photographer I’ve really come to admire after following his photography over the last 12 months, and a productive morning shooting the mill amongst the frosty reeds.

Herringfleet Mill

In late January, I took my first trip to Holme Fen in Cambridgeshire, a small nature reserve that hosts the “largest silver birch woodland in lowland Britain”.  February isn’t the best time to shoot in woodland but I was keen to scope out the reserve ahead of autumn when I knew I’d be searching for local spots of autumn colour.  I wasn’t disappointed, I soon found the silver birch and it was a like something you’d usually associate with places like the Peak District, Lake District or Scotland, not somewhere 45 mins from me!  Experimenting with in-camera multiple exposures allowed me to capture the image below, a double exposure of the dense birch woodland, making the result appear impenetrable.

Holme Fen Birch Woodland

The image below is from an afternoon spend shooting up on Cubar Edge, in the Peak District, with fellow photographers George Wheelhouse and Rob Cain.  I’ve not shared it previously as, whilst I like the idea, I’m not 100% on the execution – the fact that the shadow of the tree gets cut off on the edge of the frame really spoils the order and simplicity of the rest of the scene.  However, I figured if I don’t share it here, it may just languish in my Lightroom Catalogue forever!

Cubar Edge

I didn’t share many wildlife images throughout 2015, however given that a lot of time was dedicated to trying to shoot, say, water voles, I thought I’d share a couple of images anyway.  I think a few years ago I would have been happy with these, and they do perhaps show potential in the locations at which they were captured, but I just started to feel like the time and energy could be better spent on other endeavours.

water-vole-2 Water Vole Swimming

Later in the spring bluebell season arrived so, predictably, I made my way down to Dockey Wood on the Ashridge Estate.  2015 provided a good show of bluebells, and even though I only made one trip, I came away with a few pleasing images:

Muted - Bluebells with a narrow depth of field Bluebells - Narrow depth of field

June 2015 saw a second trip to stay on Skomer Island to photograph the puffins.  I know I had a mini rant about wildlife photography at the start of this post but Skomer is a totally different proposition.  There aren’t many places in the UK where you can photograph iconic British wildlife and said wildlife is totally comfortable in your presence.  The fact that the puffins behave completely naturally around you and are willing to walk right up to (or sometimes over) you allows time for plenty of experimentation and to actually have the opportunity to try and craft something interesting.  Coupled with staying on the island, meaning that there are a maximum of 16 people at The Wick once the boats head back to the mainland, makes it a wildlife photography experience that is difficult to top in the UK.

Atlantic Puffin after sunset, Skomer Rafting Atlantic Puffin, Skomer Atlantic Puffin, Skomer

There are plenty more images that I am pleased with on Flickr, however my favourite image from the trip is probably this double exposure Puffin.  I love the artwork of of Andreas Lie, so I’ve been keen to see if I can achieve something similar in camera.  Using the multiple exposure feature, the intention is to combine a frame of the subject combined with one of the landscape / environment that the subject inhabits to give greater context to the image and, after plenty of failed attempts, I think this one worked pretty well.  Afterall, puffins and daisies are pretty much synonymous when it comes to Skomer in June!

Double Exposure Puffin

Later on in the year, my wife and I took a well earned break up in Northumberland.  It’s a part of the UK that I had not visited before, but I was keen to spend time visiting castles and rugged coastline.  It was September, so the weather is always a gamble, but I was rewarded with one lovely sunrise at Bamburgh Castle.  There can’t be many original views of this castle left, so I embraced the cliche – shooting from the dunes and the sea!

Bamburgh Castle - Infrared Hoya R72 Bamburgh Castle from the Sea

The tail end of the year was looking relatively frustrating in terms of potential opportunities to go out shooting, so I decided to use up some holiday and book a trip up to the Lake District in mid October to try and catch some autumn colour.  Accompanied by George Wheelhouse, we spent 3 days wandering around different locations, mainly centred around Ambleside.  There are so many fantastic lakes, tarns, fells, quarries and woodlands that it is impossible to do them justice in a one 3 day visit.  Highlights for me were Yew Tree Tarn and Blea Tarn – two places I’d never heard of before researching for this trip.  We had timed the colour reasonably well, but the weather was pretty flat and grey for almost the entire three days so the majority of the images are sat on my hard drive still awaiting processing.  Still, here are a couple of my favourites whilst I ponder what to do with the rest:

Autumn Gold The Valley Beyond

My final trip out for the year was in early November (!) when I returned to Holme Fen to try and take advantage of more autumn colour combined with some early morning mist.  These turned out to be some of my favourite images from the entire year and I think I’ve barely cratched the surface of what Holme Fen has to offer.

Holme Fen

Holme Fen

That’s pretty much it for 2015, the rest of Novemeber and December were a write-off, photographically, so I’m chomping at the bit to get out and make some more images.  Saying that, my processing pile from last year is still larger than I’d like it to be, so I’m going to have to make a concerted effort to process/share more in the next few months.

If you managed to get this far, thanks for taking the time to read this and I wish you all the best for 2016!

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