Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019 by Ian Clark

So I decided to write a blog post. I’ve not been doing too well on that recently. A quick look back shows that I kinda abandoned my posts on a trip to Spain after Part I. That’s not the best is it? It begs the question what is the point of having a blog if I don’t ever use it. So, I’m going to use it more. There. Straight off the bat. One New Year’s resolution established and committed to. I will blog more regularly.

This year I have been doing a lot of looking back. With my mother passing away in February, it’s only natural to spend a lot of time reflecting on the past. I don’t want to do that too much here. I’ve spoken about my mother and life and so on elsewhere, but it is important to acknowledge the sheer weight of the loss upon all aspects of my life, and the extent to which it continues to have an impact.

Looking back over the year in terms of my photography and I really feel like I’ve taken some big leaps forwards. Investing in some new gear (like, filters and stuff) has certainly helped to a degree, but the biggest impact has been the various YouTube channels I subscribe to. I’ve learnt so much from Thomas Heaton and Nigel Danson (for starters) that I feel like I have really come on in terms of technique and skills over the course of the year. I’m thinking about my compositions far more than I was in 2017. Now it’s much less a case of pointing and clicking, and far more thought around the composition of images (I still have some way to go obvs).

Samphire How at sunset…with strategically placed sheep. Good work, sheep.

I’ve also pushed myself to try out things that I would never have been comfortable with in the past. Street portraits, for a start, were something I’d never have considered before, either because of the sheer fear of approaching strangers, or because of my concerns around privacy (which is a bit of a thing for me). Ok the results weren’t spectacular, but I was fairly happy with the images I got and I’ve learnt a bit more about taking portraits, something that isn’t something I’m generally that into.

I’ve also been getting my head around using an ultra wide-angle lens and thinking more about how I can put together interesting compositions using it. Alongside investment in some graduated neutral density filters, I feel like my landscape photos are getting better, I’m much happier with the images I’ve produced in 2018. I guess the fact I’ve printed some out, slapped them into framwes and chucked them on a couple of walls in the house says it all. My technique has definitely improved too. Rather than just flicking it onto auto-focus, I’m getting used to manual focus with live view to ensure photos are as sharp as they can be (or sometimes relying on auto-focus but also using live view to get the focus just right).

Reculver Towers at sunrise…one of two slapped in a frame during 2018 and hung in our house.

So, what next…?

I was fortunate to get a 10 stop Cokin filter, which I’m looking forward to chucking in front of my wide-angle lens and capturing some smooth long exposure coastal scenes, as well as a polariser (also for the wide-angle lens) for that glare suppression and blue sky popping.

I’ve also been mulling over more broadly some things I should look into doing in 2019 to take things a step further. Here are a few things floating around my head…

1) Do more video work - I have mixed thoughts about this. I have a (currently dormant) YouTube channel that I’d like to start using more of, but I’m conscious I don’t have the equipment (or confidence!) that many YouTube photographers have at their disposal. So jury is out on whether I will actually do anything on this in 2019. That said, one of the things I was looking forward to once I bagged the new iPhone XR was to play with video. We’ll see…

2) More street photography - I definitely want to do more of this after dipping my toes in the water in 2018. I feel I’ve got a bit more confidence now in tackling this kind of photography, I need to hone my skills quite a bit more, so I guess that means pushing myself out into the streets with a camera in hand…

3) Print more - I have a small Canon Selphy CP1300 at home which I’ve used fairly frequently (mainly for casual family pictures). But I’ve rarely printed and framed. I want to do more printing, chucking stuff in frames, small albums, little scrapbook type things…more physical, not just throwing everything online and being done with it.

4) Blog more - So if the video thing doesn’t happen (SPOILER ALERT: it won’t), the other thing I’ve been intending to do this year is to post more regularly, like…once a week. A weekly blog. On a specific day. A bit like all those great vlogs I watch that are released on a weekly/bi-weekly schedule. I’m going to do the same. I’m going to go out on photo trips at weekends, do a write-up, post it. Job done. I figure it’ll help me learn, bit of reflective writing and all that. And maybe it will be useful to others that are thinking of picking up a camera and start playing around with it. I think I might just do that. BLOGGING. IT’S BACK.

5) Discover new locations - I need to do this. Try out a few new places. Now I have a phone with a GPS thingy that actually works (SAY WHAT NOW?!), I might go out and explore a little more. Go beyond my usual locations. Try something new. Keep it fresh. Because, you know, same locations time after time after time after time after time after time after time after time after time after time…well, you know…

6) Oh yeah, 365 Project type stuff - Ok, normally this kind of thing isn’t really my bag. I’m not hugely into commitments over a long period of time (well, there are exceptions…)…routine gets a bit tiresome for me. But I have been persuaded to the 365 photo project the year. I’m having a crack at it, but don’t hold your breath I’ll last more than a month (tbh a week will be quite something). You can find my half-arsed 365 effort on Instagram at captureyield365 (yeah, imaginative innit).

So yeah, let’s see how this all goes. One thing is for certain, I don’t want to stand still. Well, unless that works for the composition anyway…

Happy 2019!

Photography and mental health by Ian Clark

St Margaret's Bay near Dover. Growing up in Dover, the cliffs become an evocative reminder of home.

St Margaret's Bay near Dover. Growing up in Dover, the cliffs become an evocative reminder of home.

2018 has been a difficult year. Back in February, my mother passed away following years of decline. She was diagnosed with a rare condition known as Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). Once MSA sets in, the body rapidly declines. Within six years my mother went from relatively healthy to being unable to move virtually a single muscle in her body. She went from difficulties walking, to being incapable of getting out of bed unaided to being unable to feed herself to barely being able to speak. My sister and I saw her the weekend before she passed away and it was a very distressing sight. We knew that she didn't have long left.

Our mother passed on to both of us a love of photography. Both my sister and I have a long had an interest in it. I've had cameras for long as I can remember. Mainly point and click auto focus cameras, I have particular fond memories of an Olympus Mju II that I fell in love with many years ago. I was never a "serious" photographer, but I was always interested in experimenting with different composures, trying to get photos that are a little different than the usual. Eventually, after dipping my toes in the water with a couple of digital compact cameras (an Olympus digital followed by a Lumix with a Leica lens), I decided to get an entry level DSLR (which I still use now) - a Nikon D3200

It took me a little while to take full control, sticking rigidly to taking photos in automatic mode, always intending to learn, but never quite finding the time. Then, eventually, a free online course cropped up, a signed up and here I am, still learning, but also confidently taking images in full manual mode. I got there.

I used to play football on a regular basis until I was no longer able to due to change in jobs making it too difficult to get from work to home to football on a week night. Football was a great stress reliever for me. It helped to keep me balanced, to provide an outlet for my frustrations. Since putting the football shoes away, I've lacked that certain something. I threw myself into a lot of things, got involved in way too many things, and didn't have an outlet to release the building pressure. Photography has given me an excuse to go out and about, forcing me to put on a pair of shoes and go out into the countryside for some relaxation and quiet reflection. Never has this been more important than during the past seven months.

These last two weeks I've been signed off from work due to my mental health. And over those two weeks I honestly don't know what I would have done without my camera. There were days I stayed in bed all morning, unable to get up. But there were days where I resolved to get up earlier, go out and enjoy nature at sunrise. In a way the camera gave me the motivation to do something. To go out. To get fresh air. Even to talk to people. Funnily enough, as I was mulling over writing this post, I watched this video by Simon Baxter which really, for me, encapsulates the impact photography has on me (although I'm a long way off going professional - if that's ever even something I'd be interested in doing).

So yeah, photography has been a massive help in terms of my mental health. Regardless of the quality of the photos I take, I certainly feel that going out with my camera, getting out in nature and spending some time alone to reflect, has made a big difference in terms of my mental wellbeing. I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to realise how important that is.