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The Test Strip Photoblog is the mini-blog for richardflintphoto.com featuring new, archive and experimental photography, comments on photography, reviews, travel and more.

The Glencoe Path

By |2020-05-04T16:21:59+01:00May 4th, 2020|Categories: Blog, The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , , |

looking down Glencoe, Highlands of Scotland
Glencoe, 2015

The importance of staying at home is critical during this COVID-19 situation. You can’t help but think that mother nature has got a slightly cruel sense of humour though. Often Spring in the UK can be cold, wet and rather horrible, but at a time when we all have to stay in, it has so far been wonderfully bright and warm. So be it. Maybe the bright days are better than grey depressing ones during this pandemic. The outdoors can come to me,

Recent events have given me a little time to have a think about my favourite locations and the photographs produced during visits over the past few years. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of my favourite landscape images. I’ll delve into the roots of the photograph, how it was taken and the why the location appealed so much.

The Planned Picture

The A82 curves through Glencoe, Highlands of Scotland
Glencoe photographed in 2014

I start with my 2015 photograph of Glencoe, a landscape image that I’d wanted to make for a long time. Driving along the A82, that runs through Glencoe in the Highlands of Scotland for the first time in 2012, the scenery quite literally blew me away. It’s probably one of the best roads to drive in the UK and the mountain scenery is just stunning.

I really needed a good location for the photograph and some decent weather. Finding the place to shoot the image was relatively easy to find. I eventually came across the location by accident while stretching my legs after a long drive. The weather was always going to be the deciding factor.

Watching the patches of light and darkness quickly dancing across the mountains as the shadows from clouds wept over the mountain tops was just magical. Almost spiritual. I felt at home amongst those mountains. All I needed to do was to do some justice to the landscape with a camera.

Mention Glencoe and the story of the massacre soon comes into the conversation. Over the years the story of billeted British troops killing their hosts the MacDonalds in 1692 have equally horrified and fascinated people. History and myth can, however, become entwined so tightly that fact and fiction start to blur. Part of the fun of reading Scottish history is trying to untangle the actual history from myth. Glencoe continues to feed the imagination of visitors and the massacre just adds to the atmosphere.

An excellent overview of the events can be found via the BBC’s ‘In Our Time’ podcast from 2010 where the massacre was discussed in some detail by a panel of historians. The podcast can be downloaded at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pxrr7

Along the Path

The path seen in the photograph heads up the side of the mountain and is a route I’d like to explore further in future. I liked the idea of having some depth to the image and the pathway was perfect. The viewer feels like they are on the path, walking the route. It also guides the viewer through the picture.

The path is located not far from the main Glencoe ‘viewpoint’ car park but doesn’t seem to attract the anywhere near the numbers of people you’d expect. The reason may be the walk involved rather than getting the easy view from a car. In previous years the visit to Glencoe was just a brief rest stop on the way to Skye so my time was limited as I needed to carry on driving for a further two or three hours.

In 2015 I was staying just down the road for a night in an effort to break the journey up to Skye. I’d found that driving the whole distance up to Skye from Newcastle was perfectly doable but you ended up being worn out for the first couple of days after arrival. An overnight stay along the route made all the difference!

A Gap in the Clouds

The weather was always going to be a factor for getting the photograph. Ironically the day the image was taken the weather on the journey up through the highlands was very wet and dull. The chance to photograph Glencoe looked highly unlikely. However, while crossing Rannoch Moor things initially looked bleak but then started to brighten upl. A gap in the clouds suddenly appeared, the rain stopped and by the time the car had reached the parking place the day was significantly brighter.

iPhone cover available from RedBubble

The picture didn’t need blue skies and fluffy clouds, in fact, I prefer the more dramatic sweep of clouds. There is still a threat of rain in those clouds. A hint of menace. Maybe some of that Glencoe appeal comes from the sense of menace in the landscape. The massacre history just adds an extra layer to that dramatic landscape. There is also an impression that not much has changed in the landscape as the years have gone by. The place is almost timeless – once you get away from the road. Sometimes you do expect to see a party of Redcoats come along the mountain path pursuing MacDonalds through the Glen.

The Glencoe Print

There have been two versions of the print. The current version is a brighter image with better colour saturation than the first print. While the first print did look great, I came to realise that the image was too subdued. It was also too dark in tone. The lush green landscape of Glencoe was being stifled.

One surprising success for the photo is as a phone case. Many people seem to love the depth to the image and the central area of the photograph fitting in neatly on the back of an iPhone or Android phone case. For phone and iPad cases and 63 other Glencoe items including t-shirts, mugs, postcards, throw pillows and framed prints CLICK HERE

Check out the RedBubble store for more prints and items at https://www.redbubble.com/people/richflintphoto/shop

From the Archive: Mud, Rain and Motorsport

By |2020-03-05T14:50:50+00:00February 28th, 2020|Categories: Blog, The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , |

From the archive returns with a photograph taken during the British Rally Championships in the late 1990s. The image has always been a favourite of mine but my relationship with it has always been a little complicated. It was from a project that was challenging, often wet and very muddy at times, and a good series of images of the rally scene during the late 1990s. Having said that, it was removed from the portfolio section ten years ago. Why?

The Photograph

This months photograph was shot in during the rally of Cumbria on a rainy and muddy stage during the 1998 British Rally Championship. Two teams dominated with Renault and SEAT fighting for the drivers and manufacturers championships. In the end, Renault won the drivers and SEAT took home the manufacturers later that year. No one really came close to both of those teams during the stages (apart from VW with two cars but they suffered from reliability issues) in regard to team size as well as performance. Early into the project, I had an idea for a photograph using slow shutter speeds combined with flash via slow sync flash. The camera was set to around 1/15th second and the flash froze some of the action. Blur and detail. Movement and energy. The key elements of motorsport, that’s want I wanted to capture in a photograph. With this photograph, I think I got pretty damn close.

The car was close. The photograph was shot with a 28mm lens on a tight corner where the momentum of the car was heading away from me. The flash came from my classic Vivitar 283, an outstanding flashgun which is still going strong. The circumstances were right for flash photography. The light was poor by this time due to the increasingly poor weather conditions. This was the final project I would shoot with Pentax cameras. The cameras, like me at the time, were starting to become a little worn out and on the rally of Cumbria, I began having intermittent frame advance issues with shots overlapping on the film. Just occasionally, but happening enough to realise that a camera was on its way out. Fortunately, I had a backup or two with me.

British Rally Championship 1998

This archive photograph comes from a photo project shot during two rounds of the 1998 British Rally Championship in Wales and Cumbria. Initially, the idea was to embed with a rally team and photograph the event from their point of view. Getting permission to access a team turned out to be impossible. Numerous phone calls were made but I never got past the secretarial defensive screen or even the chance to talk to a PR officer. Nothing. Totally blocked. I needed to come up with an alternative option. I can see now the reasons for not wanting to give access, after all, I could have been spying for another team, but at the time it felt unfair. It seemed simple at the time but really I went for a very complicated option that required so much work even before the photography started.

Plan B was the only other route. I was to cover the event as part of the media and this was the path I had to go down. There were no other options available. Press accreditation was gained and I was able to get the access to service areas that I needed. There were also other issues to consider. Getting to the rallies would be a logistical juggling act in its own right due to location and the speed at which the rally moved around. The previous motorsport event I’d photographed was speedway – a wonderfully close kind of sport that just requires trackside access. Rallying offers that close proximity to the action too but the geographical issues are huge. Just getting trackside can be difficult as often the locations are remote and spread out over a wide area. Following a rally is not easy!

Mud and Rain

Just reaching a rally location can be an ordeal in itself not to mention the weather. Cumbria delivered classic rallying weather with rain and dark clouds adding to the drama. It was great fun to photograph. Rallying is a colourful and passionately followed sport with fan braving all kinds of hardship just to see the competitors speed through a stage. As a spectator sport, there is probably none better. You just stand next to the track or road they are racing on. No spectator stands or fences in the way. It’s the perfect environment for the photographer wanting to get close to the action. All of the senses can take in the atmosphere too, from the bright colours and energy of the car, the terrific sound of the engines and popping exhausts through to the smell of oil and engine fumes. Petrolhead heaven!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Looking back I would have probably concentrated more of the fans than the event. The fans were as colourful and passionate about the sport as football fans are, though without a lot of the tribalism that goes with supporting a football team. Concentrating on the fans would have been far less challenging than trying to cover two rounds of a rally single-handed! I can see it now. Head and shoulder portraits shot on my Bronica medium format camera capturing the diverse and colourful persona of the late 20th-century rally fan. A great idea… shame it’s twenty-two years too late! Another alternative surfaced during the rally. The British Army had a Land Rover rally team that would have been great to document – especially as it was their last year of racing due to budget cuts. Sadly I only found out after talking to some Army lads in the pit area. All too late.

Tainted Love

Of all the projects I’ve completed the photography shot during in the British Rally Championship remains the one that still doesn’t quite sit right with me. Oddly I don’t really know why. It could be due to my near burnt-out state of the time. Maybe I just still associate the images with that period in my life. Alternatively, there was something about the project that I felt didn’t quite gel. Right from the start compromises had to be made due to a lack of team access. This changed the focus of the project right from the go. Later the sheer logistics of getting from stage to stage would also play its part. Was the subject matter just too broad that I’d had never been able to document it adequately? Maybe. Narrowing down the photography may have improved things. Who knows?

A full gallery of rally images hasn’t been seen on the website in over ten years and wasn’t even considered for addition to the site when I moved over to a WordPress powered website in 2011. I didn’t want anyone to see the photography. I’ve slowly come around to the photographs again though the project itself still doesn’t sit very well with me. In recent years I’ve had similar issues with other photographs but for very different reasons.

The project that got away? A failure? No, not quite, but it didn’t totally succeed either. Maybe that is the issue. You can’t win them all though. It might actually be worth going through the photo edit process again as I have with previous projects. See if I missed anything. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to consider adding at least some of the photographs to the portfolio section again. Time to come to terms with the flaws.

From the Archive: Mist, Music and Memories

By |2019-06-26T11:08:12+01:00June 25th, 2019|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , |

For this month’s From the Archive post, we head back to Norfolk in 2009 where the weather was almost as surprising as the news.

Mist, Music and Memories

Today marks the tenth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death and the memories came flooding back. Where I was and what I was doing all come back to me with it all beginning the news of Jackson’s death. I’m not really a fan but as a child of the eighties, Michael’s music was a big part of my childhood and teenage years.

In June 2009 I was in Norfolk on a rather lovely farm campsite. After a very sticky morning run through the humid air, I remembered a tweet I’d seen before going to bed saying Jackson had been hurt and was in the hospital. It was when I checked the next morning that I found out via Twitter that Michael Jackson had died.

I was relatively new to Twitter in 2009 so that was the first time that social media had informed me of a major news story before the more traditional channels.

New Nokia

The tweet had been viewed on my first smartphone – The Nokia 5800. The phone itself was great with decent features for the time and a Carl Zeiss lens on the camera. Not so great was the Symbian operating system that must count as one of the worst operating systems I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. Smart it was not. It wasn’t that intuitive either.

Nevertheless, the 3.2 Megapixels camera was pretty good and provided a good introduction to smartphone photography. Sadly there wasn’t much in the way of photography apps for Symbian though. I’d have to wait for the iPhone to get my hands on some good photography apps.

[Video] Boats moored at high tide – Blakeney, Norfolk 2009

Weather Cycle

Probably the most memorable aspect from ten years ago was the weather. Norfolk has a very diverse range of weather but the changes followed the same pattern for around ten days. You had absolutely no need to listen to a forecast. The fog coming in and out reminded me of the classic 1978 John Carpenter film ‘The Fog’ where a ghostly fog would roll in from the sea.

The mornings would start off very humid and misty with the sea fret remaining in place until late afternoon. On an evening a storm would arrive that would clear the air and then the cycle would start again with mist arriving back for the morning again. You could almost set your watch to it.

Blakeney Pic

The image at the top of the post was taken in the late evening at Blakeney after a storm had cleared away the mist. The light and moody cloud in the background give an indication that the mist was starting to build up again. The humidity would build overnight and by the morning you felt like you could cut the air with a knife.

Blakeney is a charming village on the north Norfolk coastline that is incredibly popular with tourists. The car park is usually always pretty busy but Blakeney provides plenty of space to unwind. A walk along by the river Glaven always helps to recharge the batteries.

The eerie sea fret at Cromer Pier, Norfolk 2009

Ten Years On

A decade on and the images show their technological age – though not as much as the video does. No High definition. The camera sensor was only 3.2 megapixels and in low light, the results weren’t great. In good light, though the camera produced good results.

The Carl Zeiss lens was superb though and something I missed when I moved onto the iPhone in 2012. The Zeiss lens was as sharp as a tack and it let enough light in to photograph most scenes. Twinned with a good camera sensor I think it would have been a formidable combination.

Back in 2009, I was just starting to use social media. I’d started using Twitter in January of that year and was feeling my way. It was exciting. Ten years later and my social media has grown to include Instagram. Now though I have periods of abstention to avoid burnout.

In 2015 the Norfolk 2009 images were added to Instagram as a way of archiving these early mobile images. The images can be viewed HERE

Border Blue Sky

By |2019-05-17T13:13:59+01:00May 17th, 2019|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , , |

East Coast railway train crossing the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick Upon Tweed in Northumberland.
East Coast railway train crossing the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick Upon Tweed in Northumberland.

It was a quick hop, skip and a jump over the Scottish border last weekend with blue skies high above. The weather couldn’t have been any better. It was far removed from the mist and rain of Edinburgh a few weeks before.

The last time I’d visited the borders was in 1992. That visit was part of a family holiday that achieved legendary status. In 15 days we visited various locations in Northumberland, moved into the border areas of Scotland and then finished the holiday in the Lake District. None of it had been planned.

Some twenty-seven years later I found myself travelling back along that same road heading north.

St Abbs (twinned with New Asgard)

A last minute booking found a rather nice old coach house near St Abbs, a beautiful Scottish fishing village. Just recently the harbour in St Abbs was seen in the Avengers Endgame movie as New Asgard – Thor’s new home. It looks and feels a lot like visiting a Cornish fishing village, especially if the weather is favourable.

St Abbs is a well-known location to divers. A boat full of divers were heading out as we arrived. Suddenly the alarm went for the lifeboat. Men dashed down to the lifeboat station, the doors opened and the lifeboat was lowered down to the water. Everything became clearer a few minutes later. Another diving boat came into shore at speed and it was only as it got closer that you could see someone on the deck performing CPR. Sadly a diver had got into trouble and had to be taken away by ambulance.

St Abbs may have been in a Hollywood movie but top billing had to go to the weather. Blue skies with occasional clouds floating by made the weekend feel more like August rather than May. The light was just perfect and reminded me of the quality of light you get in Cornwall. I was only away for the weekend but it felt more like five or six days. It’s always good to recharge the old batteries.

Bass Rock

Further up the coast is Bass Rock, a huge domineering piece of rock that was a prison at one point in its history. The photograph of the rock was taken from the impressive Tantallon Castle. It took some time for the ship to get into the frame as it made its way to the port at Leith.

At first, I thought there were small marks were debris on the camera sensor. Only later, when I was viewing the image in Photoshop, did I realise it was hundreds of birds in the air around the rock. The rock is home to over 150,000 gannets as well as shags, guillemots, razorbills and seals.

The lighthouse is built on what remains of a castle but the key role that the rock had during the 16th and 17th century was that of a prison. James I of Scotland sent his political enemies to the rock during the 15th century and later covenanter martyrs were sent there after Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland in the 1650s. These days the only residents are the birds.

Bass Rock - a bird colony, a site for a lighthouse and, in the past, a prison.
Bass Rock – a bird colony, a site for a lighthouse and, in the past, a prison.

By the River Tweed

Berwick Upon Tweed is a town I’ve passed through on the train quite often, but my last actual visit was in 1992. Where do the years go?

The River Tweed runs through the town and the three bridges crossing the river are iconic. The Royal Border Bridge is a very impressive piece of architecture dating from the 1840s. The railway bridge is so well engineered and constructed that very little adjustment has been needed for it to handle the heavier, modern trains. The only repair work required by the bridge took place in the mid-1990s. A nice recent addition (2009) is a lighting system that can illuminate the bridge in a variety of colours.

The photograph at the top of the post was taken along the fantastic riverside path running next to the River Tweed. The viewpoint for photographing the bridge and trains crossing was perfect.

Up and Away

With the weekend over it was back to base. The plan is to have more quick weekend visits to other areas close at hand. Spur of the moment type trips. Lindisfarne, Kielder forest and more Scottish border locations are just a short drive away.

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