When the weather forecasters talk of snow on the hills, it’s not something that really affects those of us living in East Anglia. We don’t have hills here. Well, we do, but when the rest of the countryside is barely above sea level it doesn’t take an awful lot to earn the description. It’s a shame because it means that we don’t usually get the snow that us landscape photographers crave or even much of a winter at all. A touch of frost is something to get excited about here.
Ironically the images I get asked for most often are winter scenes. I have a wish list of places to photograph looking suitable white and chilly for magazines, greetings cards, calendars, commissions and other projects. So, with the weather forecast predicting a slight chance of the odd flake of snow hitting the region, it seemed a fitting time to write about something which has been whirling around in my head for a while.
At the moment photography is still my second job so I have limited time at my disposal, especially in the winter when days are short. When a rare spell of wintery weather graces us with its presence I find myself looking at the daunting length of my list and wonder where on earth to start. This was the case towards the end of last year when a couple of beautifully crisp, frosty mornings presented me with a great opportunity to start working on ‘the list’.
After poring over weather forecasts, I decided to go to Flatford, an area I am currently photographing for the National Trust. With the trees along the banks of the River Stour twinkling with a sugary coating of frost and a layer of mist hanging over the crisp meadows, conditions were perfect and I couldn’t believe my luck. I should have been enjoying being out in such beautiful countryside but instead, knowing that I wouldn’t get many opportunities like this I found myself feeling the weight of the pressure to make the most of the conditions and as a result, rushing to get as many shots as possible. There’s nothing wrong with working quickly but unless you want a memory card full of average shots rushing isn’t the way to go. To spend so much time waiting for perfect weather conditions only to go to pieces when they arrive is incredibly frustrating, especially as I should know better.
So why, when the temperature drops, I start feeling the heat.
The problem is I like to work slowly, to explore the possibilities on offer at a location, taking several shots of each scene and fine tuning the composition until I’m happy with the image, before moving on. With an imaginary clock ticking it’s hard to focus on – mentally rather than optically – and immerse yourself in the task at hand. Strangely when it comes to writing, I’m completely the opposite. I need an impending deadline to prod me into action. I need the pressure to get the thing finished to spur me into actually starting but that unfortunately, doesn’t work for me when it comes to photography.
I’m not complaining, being paid to take photos of the East Anglian countryside is a dream job and I love (almost) every minute of it. It just comes at a price. Gone are the days of bumbling along taking photos of of whatever takes my fancy, now I have to be more disciplined and go wherever the job takes me, and go there with a plan and a shot list to make the most of my time. I guess this is what it is to be a professional photographer.
I usually try and end my ramblings with some sort of conclusion but I have to admit I’m not sure what it is here, I’m just venting. I either need to learn to work more efficiently, find more time for photography or move to Canada. Of course it’s possible that I build this pressure up in my head and I’m just being hard on myself. Photographers are always striving for perfection and I rarely return from a shoot without thinking of ways I could have done better, but given a few days to let the dust settle I usually find I’ve got a few ‘keepers’ and things aren’t as bad as they first seemed.
Now, where did I put my snow shoes?
Justin is the author and photographer of the forthcoming fotoVUE photo-location guidebook to East Anglia. Find out more about his photography and workshops at www.justinminns.co.uk