Shooting landscapes. The Isle of Skye
(dramatic orchestra music)
Two of my major projects were the Moroc project and also the Vegas, Las Vegas Project. Now, if you think about that, both of these projects are desert places, the Sahara and then, you know, basically the great deserts of the Southwest of America. So after I'd finished these projects, I was actually looking for something different, completely. And I thought about, you know, water, which there's not a lot of in Morocco and also in Las Vegas. So I'd always wanted to do a project of landscapes in Scotland. And I was familiar as a child of the Island of Skye, which is off the northwest coast of Scotland. And its a magnificent place, a really beautiful, strange, mysterious place. And I had done a project up in Scotland in the Orkney Islands, which is another set of islands, islands off the north coast of Scotland. I'd gone up there with an eight by 10 camera, and it was really, for me, it was a mistake. Because one of the problems up there was that it is continua...
lly high wind. It's almost like gale force winds, nonstop, the entire time. And if you're working with an eight by 10 camera, that really is a problem. And although you say, "Well, can't you use "sandbags on the tripod? "Can't you do this, that, the next thing?" I can't use a wind block. The wind was so gusty and moving around. It was very hard. And, of course, you have an eight by 10 camera. And a 30th of second on an eight by 10 camera can look worse than a half-frame of a 35 millimeter. So it's not ideal. And eventually, I ended up building a tent around the camera, to make sure. And it was really a pain in the neck. So this time, you know, many years later, when I decided to do the Skye project, I decided to approach the project with a digital camera, with a Phase One camera, with 100 megapixels plus. And I was really confident about that. So I planned the project for about six months and then, arrived on the Island of Skye in early winter, which was my choice 'cause I wanted to make sure that I had some difficult weather to work with. And I arrived on the island with two assistants and a Photoshop technician, technical person. And I proceeded to do, basically, six weeks of 12-hour days, getting up at 5:00 a.m. in the morning and arriving at, you know, downstairs with everybody at 5:30 a.m. And then, we set out, and we did 12 to 13 hour days, until the light went. And I did that, continually without stop, rain or shine, in the freezing cold, didn't matter. And we ended up doing that for six solid weeks. And it was definitely a digital project. And I had, basically, planned the project to be that way and for it to really be a computer project. So it was, actually, I approached it the opposite way, to see the purity of, say an Ansel Adams landscape, that I was really interested in and really maximizing what I could get out of a computer. And how could I do, for example, several frames, several 100 megapixel frames, to even increase the megapixel count in sharpness and so on? And, of course, I was able to handle the wind because it's a much smaller camera. So it was, for me, it was, you know, absolutely a successful project. Now, one thing, in the preparation, since I'm always going on about preparation. And my idea was to really. How could I do this and make it different from everybody else? And I was always. One thing I had pinned on the camera case was the word postcard. And I'm always nervous that when you go and do landscape pictures, that they look like postcards. Not that postcards are necessarily bad, but I just didn't want them. And that was always foremost in my mind. And so, I was trying. How can I instill in this, these pictures, some sense of mystery, some sense of strangeness, some different look at the landscape? How can I do this? And I was looking. You know, at the back of my mind was Lord of the Rings or The Game of Thrones, you know, strange movies from hammered that they were using mist in the pictures. How could I create these images to try and make them unusual? And, as I said earlier, that's one of the reasons I went at the end of October, beginning of November, to try and get difficult weather, which we certainly got. And there was no real plan beyond that. But there was a lot of intensity put into what I just described, this idea of something mysterious, Gothic romance, Victorian paintings from Scotland. And all of this research, I'm doing and working on, you know, looking at landscape photography but also looking at landscape painting. And one book I took with me was Degas' book of landscapes and sketches. And the reason I took this with me was, I was always fascinated, the way that painters can approach a rather bland hill or peninsula and do a painting of it. And it becomes masterpiece and something remarkable. Whereas, photographers are usually looking for something dramatic. That's why so many photographers go to Iceland because there's a lot of dramatic geography there. And therefore, the geography is doing all of the work. And, of course, when Degas comes to paint, you know, a peninsula or a hill or a tree, of course, he's putting his personal energy into that. And what you end up with is a Degas painting. So how can you try and steal something from painters and begin to approach it in a way where you look at landscape? Sometimes, not looking for the overly dramatic landscape. By all means, take some of that. But how can you look at just, sometimes, simple things? And fairly early on in the project, I realized. Since, if you remember what said about going there for water, there was this reflection that I saw in one of the lochs, there. It was a really beautiful reflection. And just as I was about to take the picture, from nowhere, there was a wind, came across. And I completely lost the reflection. But as the wind came, I hit the shutter. And then, I looked at it. And then, of course, for me personally, I said, "Wait a minute. "There's something here." I could actually spend a day, here, without moving the camera and just focus the camera on the surface of the water. And as the light changes, which it changes all the time there, as the day goes on and the light becomes warmer, if you're lucky and you get a little bit of sun. The clouds change; the sky is blue. The sky is white. I'd realized that I could get this wonderful kind of mixture of almost abstract expressionist art by not even moving. And, in this case here, the landscape or the environment was doing all of the work for me. So, right there and then, I stayed there for two days, for 12 hours a day, just photographing the wind on the surface of water. So I think the fact that I went in there with, you know, Lord of the Rings on my mind, things like the magic of water and the wind, that was one thing that the pre-planning helped me with. So I was kind of delighted with that. Some of, I did it early on in the project, and it was some of my favorite pieces that I did. (dramatic electronic music) With an expanding of a megapixel count in the pictures, we were doing that in a very simple way that we might set the camera up in a vertical format. But then, take five or six images, scanning across a landscape and then, always doing a slight overlap. So therefore, it's a very easy thing, of course, in a computer, to reassemble them. You end up with massive files 'cause you assemble five megapixel, you know, 100 megapixel images. And you end up with a massive file. So you have to guard against that. But it's one way of, basically, getting to mend the sharpness into the picture. And, of course, it's not only a matter of simply going across the picture. You're able to go across the picture, say with five frames, vertical frames, and then, assembling what's more of panoramic shot. But at the same time, you can, of course, come across there and introduce some sharpness in the foreground, perhaps, if you're using a longer lens. So you can, actually, even increase it to or even 15, 16, 17 frames. And then, with a good Photoshop artist, you re-assemble everything and put it back together. So you end up with a rather strange, panoramic picture that might have been done with a longer lens, but gives you the impression that, in fact, it almost looks slightly wide angle. So therefore, you have to be quite careful in all of this, in the way that you do this. But it's all part of experimentation and what's available, now, with computers. The other things that were done there. I would sometimes shoot, for example, as I said, with the water reflections, I would sometimes go ahead and shoot the water reflections, which were moving images, not as it were, still. The images were moving within the frame. Other images that I took, say of a rock, obviously, weren't moving. Water was moving. However, what I was able to do was to shoot with several different filters. And although the pictures were different, I was able to re-assemble some of those pictures that were almost identical. And then, I was able to get a strange sense of movement into the picture. And also, it gave me a choice of how I blended colors. So the computer became, as I said, a really important device for me. There was one set of pictures that, actually, were not manipulated. I had seen this drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of a grove of trees. And it really is a remarkable drawing. And what he did was, he must have seen this grove of trees in the wind. And he did a drawing that interpreted the movement of the leaves. Now, I knew that this would actually be relatively easy for me to do, if I could find the right trees, which I did. And I found these beautiful birch trees that showed the leaves, which were almost like silver, moving. And when we shot this, I basically locked the camera down and shot at a very slow shutter speed, in the region of eighth of second, 15th of second. And, of course, the leaves blurred. But the trees were pin-sharp. And the environment, the ground, was pin-sharp. So you had this beautiful effect of the leaves moving and the trees stationary. Now, possibly, some of you out there have already done that as an idea of motion and still. I only mention this because it was inspired by a Leonardo drawing. And if always had this in mind and eventually found the right set of trees to do this shot, where I was doing my, you know, the arrogance of being my vision (chuckles) of a Leonardo drawing. But it was just another way of working and trying to maximize technical things that are available to you, now. Which you should, as I've said many times, you should be aware of. Don't let them overpower the image, but be aware of them. (dramatic electronic music) When I got back to New York, I was gung-ho to work with these images with the computer. And, of course, you have to be careful because a computer is an amazing, amazing device. But there's a great danger that the computer, you know, overtakes the picture. So suddenly, the computer is full of amateur special effects. And you have to be very wary of these things. So the idea is, how do you work with a computer, use what you can get out of it, but at the same time, don't betray the original vision? So I think it's. We had all of this in mind, when we got back to New York. And I, basically, after six weeks of working on the Island of Skye, when I got back, I worked on the pictures for seven months. So it was a very long, not tedious at all, I enjoyed it, process. But very painstaking to get to the final 80 images that I wanted. (dramatic orchestra music)