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The Joy Of Travel Photography

While under lock down due to Covid-19 restrictions, I have been spending a lot of time revisiting photos from various different trips I have been on over the last 5 years. It has been a great reminder of how powerful photography is for evoking memories and emotions. I have lucky to get the opportunity to shoot some pretty epic locations in equally epic weather conditions and I get to relive those memories as I view each photograph. Also because of the extra free time I have gone back and re-edited a lot of the photos from those trips. Partly to use new editing techniques I have learned and perfected over the last 2 years of professional work but mainly because I just didn't have the time before now to do these photos justice.

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I have mentioned in previous blogs that one of the reasons I enjoy landscape photography so much is that it makes you much more aware of your surroundings. As I am hiking through a particular location I am constantly on the look out for potential shots. I end up seeing things that I otherwise would miss out on completely. Discovering a new photo opportunity is only half the battle, I then have to figure out how best to capture it allowing for the light and general conditions. I know I am odd but I am not a sun holiday person in the slightest. I much prefer chillier more rugged locations especially when the weather is bad. The resulting photos are always more dramatic. And it also feels like more of an adventure if I have to struggle with harsh weather conditions.

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My favourite trip to date has been to the photographer's paradise that is Iceland. I was there in November 2017. The weather for the first few days was brutal with hurricane forces and a biting wind chill. I was in my element. I went on an organised tour with 4 other photographers and we spent as much time as possible out in these conditions getting as many shots as we could. For some people a golfing trip to Portugal or a shopping trip to a major fashion capital is how they unwind. For me it is standing up to my knees in snow with the wind howling around me trying to keep the camera still while waiting for the conditions to be just right so I can get the shot I am after. I get the same thrill from this as the golfer gets from holing a difficult putt or the shopper gets from finding the bargain they have been searching for.

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On the first day of the trip we visited the town of Vik to photograph one of the black volcanic sand beaches that Iceland is famous for. Due to the severity of the wind we were sandblasted  whilst also being soaked as the tops of the breaking waves were blown all over us. But the light was fantastic so it was worth the discomfort as I got some great shots. As I look back on the images I feel as if I am back on that beach again.

By contrast we went back to same location a few days later when the weather had calmed down dramatically and we were greeted by a far more serene scene. Over the years I have revisited locations at different times of the year to show how much of an effect that weather and seasons can have. On our return I took this shot from a different vantage point. The difference was quite striking.

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Heading back to our cabin on the first night our tour organiser, Bernard, spotted a glimpse of the Northern Lights under the cloud cover. One of the main reasons for heading to Iceland is to see and photograph the Aurora. We pulled over on the side of the road and set up. I got a shot of this amazing phenomenon close to the horizon when the cloud cover had broken. It wasn't a great photograph but I was happy with it as I could cross it off my list. Little did I know that far better was to come.

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Later that night Bernard herded us into our van to bring us about a mile down the road where there would be no light pollution as he reckoned there was going to be a better display than we had seen earlier. He wasn't wrong.

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And the following night was even better again. These are the moments you dream about as a photographer. We spent hours standing in the dark on the side of a deserted road with only the occasional car passing by. The aurora was so strong we could clearly see it billow and snake across the sky. As experiences goes it was one of the better ones I have had. This is the reason I love photography so much. It can freeze these moments like this in time for them to be revisited in times such as these.

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All in all Iceland was everything I could've hoped for. The landscape is vast and spectacular. It is also very diverse. No two locations we visited were the same.

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In fact we visited one location, Vestahorn, three times - at dusk, at midnight and at dawn the following morning. It was amazing how different the same scene looked at these different times of the day. Even more so when the aurora made a surprise appearance in the middle of our night time visit.

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One of the things that I figured out on this trip is that sometimes it can be very hard to capture the vastness of the scene in front of you. By waiting for a person to walk into the frame the viewer immediately has a point of reference that will give them an idea of the scale of that location. As there was a group of 5 of us we would each takes turns standing into the scene for the others to capture it.

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The trip to Iceland was a dream come true. It had far exceeded my expectations. It had been a wonderful present from my wife. To my amazement she surprised me again the following year with another trip. This time to The Isle of Skye. Another of my bucket list locations. It has the rugged beauty of Iceland but on a smaller scale so it was easier to get around. Similar to the Iceland trip we were battered by ferocious winds for the first few days as a storm passed over the area. But as I mentioned above I love extreme weather because of the drama it adds to shots and this was no different. We had ominous clouds, fierce showers and wind swept landscapes. And as a result of the rain each waterfall we came to was in full flow. Perfect.

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I got one of my favourite 'selfies' here at the Old Man of Storr. We had started hiking up to the location at 4.30 in the morning in complete darkness to be there for sunrise which never materialised due to the cloud cover. But it didn't matter. The jutting rocks and gray skies gave the whole area a primordial feel. After setting up the camera on a tripod to compose the shot I climbed up on the rocky outcrop between the towering gigantic rock faces. I don't have a great head for heights and in front of me was a four story drop but it was worth it to get the shot.

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One of the keys to good landscape photography is patience combined with a touch of luck. Sometimes when you arrive at a location the weather and the light might be all wrong but if you wait it out chances are the right conditions will materialise to get the photos you want. A perfect example of this was when we got to Elgol. We arrived in the middle of a torrential downpour that did not let up for hours.

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We set up in driving rain in the hope that if we waited long enough the weather might clear and we would get a nice sunset. Of course we took a lot of shots while waiting. We didn't want to waste the drama of the heaving seas with mysterious rain shrouded mountains as a backdrop. It was like something from The Lord Of The Rings. We were about to give up hope when a glimmer of light lit up the mountains.

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And then the sky lit up. We wandered back to the car soaked but happy.

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After three days of heavy rain and high winds we woke up on our last morning there to beautiful calm conditions with even a hint of blue skies.

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On our journey back to the airport every Loch that we passed was like a mirror. We stopped so many times we almost missed our flights but it was impossible to ignore the scenes we met along the way.

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Like Iceland the Isle of Skye had been everything I had been hoping it would be. If you are a budding landscape photographer looking for a bit of adventure and stunning scenery I would highly recommend it.

At that stage I had visit two out of three of my photography bucket list locations. The last one was Switzerland and by a happy coincidence the following year friends of my wife invited the family to visit them for a week in that very country. Over the course of our time there we traveled from Winterthur in the north down through The Alps to Locarno on the Italian border and finished off with an afternoon in Zurich. It might be a small country but there is a big difference in both the landscape and towns and cities of the various regions. As I was there with the family I didn't get a chance to spend a lot of time in any one location waiting for the right conditions but as a result I got to see a lot more of the country.

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We got to visit 2 glaciers on the trip, the Aletsch Glacier and Rhone Glacier. I had previously been on a glacier in Iceland. It is incredible to get up so close to these natural wonders but in all 3 cases the evidence of climate change was everywhere to be seen. It was clearly visible how much the ice has receded on each glacier. It is said that travel opens the mind. I am not sure how true that is but it hard to visit somewhere like this and not have it make some impact on you.

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After we left the Rhone Glacier we stopped off in the nearby hamlet of Gletsch. It was like taking a step back in time and this was only compounded by the arrival of a steam train just as we were getting ready to leave. I love these old trains as they have a certain majesty about them. And in this setting it was an amazing experience. The noise of the engine and the steam hissing. It was like a scene from a movie.

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Travelling through The Alps was something I had looked forward to since I was a child and it certainly lived up to expectations. It wasn't just the scale of the mountains but all the houses, farms and meadows were exactly how I had imagined they would be.

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After traveling through The Alps we stopped off in the town of Lacarno on the Italian broder. The Italian influence is very obvious and a marked contrast to the area we had just passed through. It was like been in a different country.

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It was here that we had one of the highlights of our trip. When we arrived in the town we met one of the sons of the people we were traveling with who happened to be a helicopter pilot. He offered to bring us on a short trip over the area the next morning. It was amazing to see the town and lake from the air but the best part was we got to fly over the dam that was used in the opening sequence of the James Bond movie, Goldeneye. It is something that will stay in my kid's memory for many years to come. And even longer in mine.

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After a hectic few days of travel we finished of the trip with a chilled afternoon strolling around Zurich. Like the rest of the country it was a beautiful unspoiled city with a great sense of history. We had a great time exploring the narrow back streets and old buildings.

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Switzerland was a world away from the rugged and challenging landscapes of Iceland and Isle of Skye but it had it's own unique charm. Once the pandemic is over I can't wait to get traveling again.  With my cameras. At the moment I have no idea when that is going to be so for now I will just have to live on the memories evoked by the images I have captured on trips gone by.

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