My latest book, Wild Philippines, has been out for a little while now, but it has taken me a bit too long to finally getting around to doing this – making a little video talking about the book, and showing off a few of its pages.
First of all, as a quick reminder, below is Wild Philippines‘ front cover. I hope you like it. It shows a Samar Hornbill in rainforest on the Philippine island of Samar. It’s a rare bird, restricted to just a handful of islands in the country’s southeast. So I was very lucky to come across a group of them while motoring along the Ulot River in the heart of the Samar Island Natural Park.
Watching the Wild Philippines video
So anyway, here’s the video. It has been posted on You Tube, but you can see it here, linking through from that site. I hope you like it!
Finding out more about Wild Philippines
You can find out more about Wild Philippines on the website, where you can see sample photos and pages by clicking on this link:
Wild Philippines is on sale worldwide, and you can buy it through most good book shops, even if they don’t have it in stock. It is also available from all Amazon website. In the Philippines, it is available through most branches of National Book Stores, as well as through there online store.
You can also buy it directly from us by clicking on the link below:
have a confession to make: I love to travel. I’ve travelled
professionally for most of my adult life, and I’ve loved every minute
of it – well, almost every minute.
may not seem like much of a confession. But with global warming and
in particular the effects of air travel on the atmosphere such a hot
topic these days, I can’t help but increasingly engage in a certain
amount of guilty navel gazing, fretting about my own personal
contribution to the growing environmental tragedy. I’m sure I’m not
A globe-trotting life
But why should I feel more guilt than anyone else? Well, as a professional travel photographer over the years I have racked up quite a number of air miles, touring around the globe, photographing a host of the world’s great locations, from Mt Everest to Tower Bridge, from the casinos of Las Vegas to the volcanoes of Iceland and the Philippines.
the past 30 years my work has fuelled quite a number of very well
known guide books and magazines, enticing readers to go see for
themselves. It has all been hugely enjoyable and fulfilling, but now
I’m left questioning my own contribution to a developing catastrophe.
It’s not just my own mileage that’s of concern, but my own small part
in enticing all those readers to start travelling.
I’m just paranoid, suffering from an delusional opinion of my own
possible impact. After all, I’m just one of many such photographers
(really very, very many these days), and I have never forced anyone
onto an airplane. At least, that’s how I console myself. Paranoid or
not, in recent years I have taken a few steps to redress my own
perceived imbalance, producing a number of books that showcase the
beauty and interest that is right on our own doorstep here in
southwest England (Wild Southwest, Beautiful Devon and
Beautiful Cornwall), requiring no great travel effort to reach
(at least not by us that live here anyway!), and I shall continue to
make this my contribution to promoting the ‘staycation’.
Travel and broadening the mind
But even if we agree that international travel – at least by air – needs to be curtailed, there is another side to all this that mitigates hugely in favour of travel. It has long been said that travel broadens the mind, and in general it is absolutely true. Admittedly, the type of travel that limits movements to those between restaurant and poolside sunbed are likely to rather restrict the level of cultural experience. However, for anyone willing to throw themselves out into the local streets, cafes, transport and – dare I say it – language, the mind-broadening effects can be massive, meteoric and sometimes both slightly unsettling and spectacularly exciting. I speak from my own experience.
before we all give up travelling, just imagine the possible effects
of us all retreating back into our borders. After all, it’s not that
long ago that our ancestors rather believed that the people of
certain countries had two heads and a forked tail. Travel and
communication have gone a long way to integrating us all, showing us
everyone’s humanity and equality no matter what corner of the globe
we live in. A return to isolationism – by whatever cause – would
be no friend to continuing that process, and could end up having some
very negative consequences for mutual understanding, respect and
then, we should continue travelling, though with more selectiveness
and care, travelling in a way that makes the journey longer and
itself every bit as much a part of the experience, rather than
something to be endured and finished as quickly as possible. Easier
said than done, I appreciate. We can’t all get on a yacht every time
we want to travel abroad, not matter how much more environmentally
friendly it might be.
Travelling into the future
As for myself and my photography, well with travel having been so central to much of my adult life, I suspect that only old age will eventually stop me. I shall continue to develop my local projects to help promote the joys of exploring one’s home area, but by the same token I won’t be giving up entirely on some of those long distance projects. My most recent was to produce a book that showcases the incredible biodiversity of the Philippines and the work that’s going on to protect it (Wild Philippines), a hugely under-reported and yet vital area of conservation.
Hopefully, I’ll get to do a few more of those. Meanwhile, I’m guiltily looking forward to an imminent holiday in …… the Maldives. Ah, yes, one of the countries at most immediate risk from global warming and rising sea levels. I can’t think of any excuses for this one, so I’ll just blame the wife. I’ll console myself with the photography I’ll get to do of the islands’ magnificent marine life, capturing it on my camera’s sensor before it all gets killed off. Someone has to do it. Greta Thunberg is going to have a fit.
To find out more about Nigel’s books click on the link below:
All six of my autumn photography courses have finished, and some of the photos are now on the website. Running from mid-September through to mid-November, they covered a range of subjects and techniques. They were also exposed to quite a range of weather conditions!
To see sample photos from all six courses click on the link below:
A day spent photographing a range of aspects of the Jurassic Coast, in Dorset, on 5th October. Subjects ranged from the huge fossils embedded into the rocks of Monmouth Beach, to boats and fishing gear around Lyme Regis harbour, to the rocky and sandy beach at Charmouth.
Conditions were not wholly ideal, with grey, misty skies, although there was the occasional glimpse of a touch of sunshine. Such soft lighting lent itself to great details, and many of the photos taken during the day reflected this.
A day of landscape photography in a small part of Exmoor, covering the cliffs at the Valley of Rocks, near Lynton, and the stunning woodland and river valley at Watersmeet, close to Lynmouth.
The day’s weather started off rather worryingly with a sharp, heavy shower, but this soon cleared away to leave us with a really quite nice day, as can be seen in the photo above.
We started the day photographing around the rugged rocks and cliffs at the Valley of Rocks, picking out not just the obvious views but also some of the less obvious details, things that a casual observer might miss.
In the afternoon we moved over to Watersmeet, where we concentrated on photography of the river flowing through the beautiful woodland that fills the valley here. Long exposures were used to blur the water, giving the images a sense of dynamism and movement, really creating atmospheric images.
A day of landscape photography, initially shooting in woodland along the River Teign, before moving to open moorland near Chagford, both in the heart of Dartmoor National Park.
Originally scheduled for Saturday 26th Oct, the weather forecast for that day was so awful (storms, heavy rain etc) that we took the decision to postpone for 24 hours. And what a difference a day makes! Instead of wind and rain, we had a day of calm, clear blue skies that gave us some wonderful photography opportunities.
The date of this workshop is timed each year to coincide with the peak of autumn colours in Dartmoor’s woodlands. However, this year’s mild weather had delayed the colour changes, so many of the trees remained stubbornly green. Still, we were able to do some great photography of the woodland along the banks of the Teign. A bonus was the areas of dying bracken, which glowed beautifully orange in the sunlight, as shown in the above photo.
The afternoon was spent on open moorland, where we photographed the prehistoric Scorhill stone circle, before finishing off with wind-gnarled hawthorns on an area of marshy moorland.
This was a course designed to teach photographic techniques in low light conditions and at night, held on 3rd November in Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton.
The course started late in the afternoon, a couple of hours before sunset. Initially, we were subjected to some very flat grey skies, which didn’t go well with the kind of subject matter I was intending to use; Exmouth’s harbour and the apartments around it.
However, at sunset the skies cleared, allowing us to get some moody shots, initially on the low tide shoreline outside the harbour, and then some excellent dusk views around the harbour itself (see photo above).
This was followed, after dark, by some night sky photography beside the mouth of the River Otter at Budleigh Salterton. As earlier, once again we struggled with cloud cover, but eventually this cleared, giving us a beautiful starry sky, which lasted just long enough to get the shots we needed.
The autumn’s season of photography workshops was rounded off by a day of wildlife photography on Exmoor, held on 16th November. We started off in countryside near Dunster, where there was known to be a herd of Red Deer, and finished at Lynmouth, where the plan was to photograph Dippers on the East Lyn River.
The weather was quite kind, with a mix of sunshine and light clouds throughout the day. This certainly made the deer tracking, through a mix of woods and moorland, quite a pleasant stroll. It did take rather some time to find the herd, but we eventually stumbled upon them high up on a moorland hill.
Although as nervous as Red Deer always are, we were able to follow them at a distance for some time, every now and then able to get close enough (thanks to cover from birch scrub) to grab a number of good shots (see photo above). A satisfying morning!
The afternoon session of photographing Dippers, a bird that lives on Exmoor’s fast-flowing streams, was less successful. We initially started at Watersmeet, near the town of Lynmouth, but without success possibly due to high water levels caused by the recent heavy rains.
So we moved down to nearby Lynmouth, where we found a Dipper on the river, right in the middle of the town. He performed beautifully for us, not at all bothered by our presence. However, we weren’t able to get close enough for truly great photography, and by this time light levels were really starting to drop away as sunset approached. All the same, it was great to watch this bird skipping from rock to rock, regularly diving in to the water to hunt for food. And at least we did manage to grab a few photos of its antics.
The next programme of one-day photography courses kicks off at the end of March 2020, starting with a low light and long exposure course, to be held in Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton. Hopefully, everyone coming on this course will be able get night sky photos like the one above.
The programme of courses continues through the spring, takes a break during the height of summer, and then resumes in the autumn, finishing in November.
The full programme is on the website. To see the courses click on the link below.
Wild Philippines is published at last! Yes, this long-awaited book is now in the shops (or at least available from them), so you should all be rushing to snap up your copies over the coming weeks!
A major work
With over 50,000 words and 300 photos, and taking two years to pull together, Wild Philippines is a major work. It represents a much-needed overview of the Philippines’ natural environment and its conservation. Both the information and the photography should appeal equally to the lay person who simply wants something attractive about the Philippine natural environment, and the serious conservation worker involved in research into and protection of the country’s critical habitats and wildlife.
All the text and almost all the photos (bar six, of subjects I couldn’t get myself) are by me.
I know I shouldn’t be immodest, but I think the book looks fantastic!
Where to buy Wild Philippines
In the UK Wild Philippines is available through all good book shops, and in the Philippines through all branches of National Book Stores. Online, it can be found in all the usual places, including every Amazon website.
Seeing some sample material
A few sample photos are shown here, including the cover. However, many more photos, plus sample pages can be seen at:
In the first part of this article about creating the perfect photographic composition I described how you should keep your compositions simple in order to maximise impact. In this article I’ll describe further techniques that help support and enhance that fundamental aim. These techniques will help to achieve such goals as:
direct the viewer’s attention towards the main subject;
help to establish mood/atmosphere;
give the illusion of three-dimensional depth;
add a feeling of drama, dynamism and energy to your images;
give a feeling of movement.
Directing the viewer’s attention to the main subject
In many good photographs the main subject dominates the frame and grabs the viewer’s attention without any help from the rest of the image – the ‘negative space’ as it is sometimes called.
In others, however, and particularly in slightly more complex compositions, that negative space can provide some pointers, literally leading the eye to that subject. Those pointers can take any number of forms, such as diagonal lines in cloud or water patterns (as in the image above), or perhaps the line of a rural wall or hedge, a meandering stream, or even the line of a sweeping and zig-zagging road. All these can reinforce the importance of the main subject, helping it to stand out even further than it already does from the background.
Of course, you can have too much of a good thing. You really don’t want too many such pointers, each one increasing the risk of criss-crossing conflicts that just add to the image’s complexity and confusion. So keep them under control!
Establishing mood is one of the most important steps towards creating a great photo that anyone viewing it can empathise with. The first requirement is usually a simple composition (as outlined in the first article), but this then needs to be accompanied by an appropriate type of light and colour palette.
Strong, angular, low sunlight is of course good for generating some kind of a stormy atmosphere, particularly if accompanied by scudding clouds, but rather useless if a calming, peaceful mood is required. For that you need a scene that at least appears in the photo to be motionless, usually bathed in a soft light that generates a very simple and limited colour range. A simple silhouette in a calm sunset or dusk is a typical example, as in the photo above.
Some of the most effective moody images are created with a very limited, simple colour palette, making them almost monochromatic, not necessarily in the black-and-white sense, but rather in consisting of just one or two colours. An image that consists of multiple, wide-ranging colours is almost inevitably a lot more complex in appearance, and may be enough to defeat any kind of simple composition, ruining any possible mood that you might otherwise want to establish.
The illusion of three dimensions
One of the biggest drawbacks of photography is that the resulting images are simply two-dimensional representations. If only we could create genuinely three dimensional images!
We can of course partially overcome this limitation by creating the illusion of three-dimensional depth in our photographs. This can usually be achieved using diagonal lines that literally lead the viewer’s eye from the ‘front’ of the image into the scene, giving a sense of depth and structure.
In the image above the three-dimensional illusion has been created simply by using tyre tracks in snow. By crouching down low and using a wide-angle lens I’ve been able to create some very strong diagonal lines that head straight into the depths of the scene, giving a strong sense of three dimensions.
Drama, dynamism and energy
A simple straight-on record shot of a stationary scene will generally result in a very dull, static image with limited appeal. Such a scene needs some livening up; the introduction of a bit of dynamism, or energy.
There are a number of ways to do this, but among the most effective are the use of a low-angle view (for a high-up subject at least), coupled with a wide-angle lens, and perhaps a dash of tilting camera. Suddenly a potentially dull image can become quite lively.
The reason for this? All these little techniques help to generate, or exaggerate, diagonal lines in the scene, lines that naturally tend to generate a sense of energy. This is provided they are coordinated diagonals, of course: a mass of criss-crossing lines just results in chaos and a very jumbled photo!
The feeling of movement
Coupled with the addition of a sense of dynamism and energy is the feeling of movement. Photography of even dynamic scenes filled with movement and excitement can result in dull, static images if shot in the wrong way. It is important to be able to really capture and put across the sense of movement in those shots for them to live up to their dynamic potential.
One of the most common solutions is to introduce some deliberate motion blur, in which either the moving subject or the background is partially or even totally blurred. This is achieved not through differential focussing of course, but by the use of a slow shutter speed, something that does not completely freeze the movement.
This is most commonly seen in landscape photography with the blurring of moving water, such as with photography of waterfalls (as above), rivers or shoreline waves. However, it is also frequently used in sport and wildlife photography; indeed just about any kind of photography that involves action.
Wide-angle versus telephoto lenses
In this article I’ve mentioned the use of diagonal lines quite a number of times: in generating an illusion of three-dimensional depth, creating lines that lead the viewer’s eye to the main subject; and to introduce a sense of energy and dynamism in an otherwise static scene.
So clearly, diagonals are pretty useful in greating great photos, and one of the best ways to create diagonals – or at least exaggerate those already present in a scene – is to use a wide-angle lens. And sometimes the wider the better, if you really want to create a lot of drama.
Of course the downside of a wide-angle lens is that it opens up the possibility of allowing move distracting clutter into the image frame, as well as making the subject much smaller. The solution is to step closer to the main subject, something that a lot of photographers fail to do. And sometimes you need to step a lot closer than you might imagine. There are many times, of course, when you simply cannot get as close as would be desirable, in which case you may need to consider shooting in a rather different way, or even change the subject altogether.
For certain kinds of images where you want to introduce drama, telephoto lenses work quite well. Their ability to fore-shorten distances, crowding elements closer together than they actually are can have a powerful effect, enhancing a sense of strength and power, say in vertical walls or cliffs.
The telephoto lens can also be very effective in photography of water, capturing droplets of water in mid-air, and enhancing the apparent size and power of waves. However, for this to work the lens in question has to be quite powerful to allow you to home in on details, and it needs to be used with a very fast shutter speed.
A final word
I hope this article, along with the previously published first part, helps to give some pointers towards how to create impactful images. Needless to say, in this short space it is impossible to cover everything; the ideas given here are generalisations, but they should give you some thoughts on the way forward to improve your photography.
Get out there shooting and enjoy your photography!
Courses, tours and books
If you’d like to come along on any of my photography courses (which teach the principle points outlined in these articles) find out more by clicking on the link below:
I recently made it onto the television news, appearing in the BBC’s Spotlight Southwest programme to discuss my trio of books about southwest England.
Spotlight Southwest is the BBC’s daily evening news programme for the southwest of England, attracting quite a significant regional audience. As a result, this provided me with major exposure for my books.
The three titles in question are Wild Southwest, Beautiful Devon and Beautiful Cornwall, each of them covering different aspects of the the southwest region. The spur to this publicity is the recent publication of the newest of these books, Beautiful Cornwall, which came out at the end of March.
All three books are widely on sale, and you can see more details of all three by clicking on the link below:
For any photographer, finding the perfect photographic composition can be just about the hardest part of any form of photography. Admittedly, a few people have a natural gift for creating great compositions, and hence images, but for most it is a question of practise and hard work.
It is a crucial skill to acquire, of course, because being able to find perfect photographic compositions lies at the very heart of great photography, far more so than any technical knowledge surrounding whatever camera you may be using. For sure, most people who regularly use a camera will stumble upon a great composition by accident from time to time, but what is needed is an ability to keep extracting those great compositions time and again, deliberately and to order. As I’ve already said, it is a skill that lies at the very heart of great photography.
So why is it so darned difficult? This two-part article aims to provide some answers and pointers towards the skill that is so important in finding the perfect photographic composition.
So what’s the problem?
The essential, basic problem is that the photographic image simply doesn’t represent the real world in the way that we see and experience it. When we visit a place we have the real world all around us in 360 degrees and three dimensions, and what we see with our eyes is only a part of the ‘picture’ – our minds are also fed an enormous amount of non-visual stimuli, such as noises, sounds, smells and temperature, that combine with sight to complete our experience of any given scene.
Point a camera at that scene, press the shutter and Hey Presto! We’ve captured a representation that is two-dimensional, covers only a small part of what we could see (and even then restricted within a tight frame), and has thrown away all those non-visual stimuli that were so important in our interpretation of the place. Small wonder, then, that such a photograph frequently fails to convey anything close to what we thought we saw. In fact, it is amazing that anyone ever comes even close to success here!
Working towards the perfect photographic composition
Given that when we press the camera’s shutter button the resulting image contains visual information that is just a fraction of what we experienced, we need to make the best use of what remains in the picture to compensate for everything that has been thrown away. In other words, we need to use a host of photographic techniques that take the surviving visual information and change it from being simply a mundane representation into a fantastic composition with impact, style and some kind of message that elicits a reaction in anyone who looks at your photos.
In the remainder of this first article on photographic composition, I’m going to talk about what I consider to be the most important of these photographic techniques: keeping the compositions simple.
Keep it simple!
One of the biggest mistakes people make when using a camera is to try to fit too much in the frame. Everything looks great to the eye, so they want to try to record it all at once, cramming everything into a single frame. The result, more often than not, is an image with no visual impact, filled with clutter and everything quite small. The eye skips around the image, unsettled, dissatisfied and unable to find anything to home in on.
The solution is always to keep the compositions simple: just have one single subject dominating the frame (though not necessarily filling it). This gives the viewer’s eye something to really latch onto, so instead of skipping aimlessly around the frame it comes to rest on that subject, generally ignoring anything else in the frame. The result then is an image that communicates a message to and has an impact on the viewer. An image that stimulates an emotional reaction in a viewer is a successful image.
Everything else in the frame (the ‘negative space’) should either disappear from conscious view, through being either out of focus or a very simple backdrop, or should in some way support the main subject, helping to guide the viewer’s eye towards it. More on this supporting role in the second article.
What you absolutely don’t want in the negative space is anything that distracts the eye – random clutter or any elements that draw the viewer away from the main subject. As soon as this happens, the image’s impact is weakened.
To get some ideas of what I mean in my photography feel free to take a tour of the image galleries on my website. Click on the link below:
Of course it’s one thing to say that you should aim to produce such simple compositions, but quite another to spot them within the chaos of our world, and yet another to successfully extract them from that chaos and distil them into great photographs.
The search for those simple compositions within our environment has several major implications, which are:
Generally speaking, really wide views of a scene risk both introducing too much clutter into the image frame and making the intended subject too small, and if not handled very carefully will result in weak, chaotic images;
As a result, most of the time the search for the perfect photographic compositions involves picking out little cameos, vignettes from within the wider scene, those elements that we recognize can be arranged through careful choice of lens and perspective into a great, simple compositon;
The previous point leads us to recognize that even when we’re in a scene that all looks beautiful to the eye, most of it just will not work photographically. We need to find those few cameos that happen to do so. Just because something looks fantastic doesn’t mean that it will translate directly into a great photo;
Famous views and sites may or may not translate into great photos. Just because a place is famous doesn’t automatically mean that it is highly photogenic. However, it is also true that a place may become famous simply because it is widely photographed, generating some great images because it does happen to be photogenic;
Many of the greatest photographs can be generated from very mundane scenes, places that most people – including a lot with cameras – would normally just walk past without a second glance;
We all see the world rather differently. As a result, two photographers shooting the same place at the same time will spot and extract great compositions that are surprisingly different. In the courses I run I am constantly surprised by the great compositions that my students come up with, compositions that I myself had not spotted;
The very first point in this list might imply that we don’t, or shouldn’t use wide-angle lenses much for good quality photography. Nothing could be further from the truth – I use wide-angle lenses most of the time – but they have to be used with care and in a certain way. This will be covered in more detail in the second article.
As this article has described, one of the first and biggest steps towards creating great photos is to keep the compositions simple, with a single strong subject, and nothing in the frame to distract the viewer’s eye away from it. It is something easier said than done, of course, but hopefully the few points given in the list will help start you along the road.
The next article
In the next article, to be published in two weeks’ time, I’ll go into rather more detail, explaining – among other things – situations where you might have more than one subject in a frame, how the negative space can be used to support the main subject, the importance of diagonals, and the use of wide-angle lenses.
Yes, my latest book, Beautiful Cornwall, is finally published and available through all good book shops, both high street and online. Coming out on 28th March, it was published bang on time, and since then it has been slowly working its way into bookshops across the southwest of England, as well as to the usual online sites, including Amazon.
What you can find in Beautiful Cornwall
At just 80 pages, this is quite a short book, but it is packed with my photography, showcasing many of Cornwall’s most beautiful locations and some of its most popular annual festivals. It is, in short, a very colourful book, and one that shows off Cornwall to be the truly spectacular region that it is.
Beautiful Cornwall contains five chapters, the first a mix of text and photos that sets the scene, introducing its landscape and wildlife, people and culture, and some aspects of its economy.
The remaining four chapters take a tour around Cornwall, looking at East Cornwall, the North and Bodmin Moor, the South Coast, and the Far West. The last chapter also includes a section on the Scillies.
Beautiful Cornwall makes a stunning memento of the county, both for visitors and residents alike.
Finding out more and buying Beautiful Cornwall
I hope you like the few sample pages shown here, but you can see full details of Beautiful Cornwall online, including sample pages and photos, by clicking on the link below:
In this post we bring you a selection of latest news snippets, namely that finally we have joined up with YouTube, and that both current book projects – Beautiful Cornwall and Wild Philippines – have been sent to the printers.
Yes, after so many years of prevarication, we’ve finally opened our own YouTube channel, kicking off by loading up all the video diaries I shot last year while photographing for the Wild Philippines project. You can find our channel by clicking on the link below:
In loading up all the Wild Philippines video diaries I discovered that I had forgotten to publish the very last of those diaries. So here it is now:
I hope you like it!
Beautiful Cornwall heads to the printer!
Yes, we’ve finished working on the next book, Beautiful Cornwall, and it is now with the printer, in Exeter. The book will be published and available through all book shops, high street and online, at the end of March. So it’s all getting quite exciting!
Sample photos and pages, plus lots of other info about the book, can be seen on the website You can also pre-order your copy there.
Work on this truly mega-project, which totally dominated my life last year, is finally drawing to a close. The files have finally headed to the printer. I know I’m biased, but I think the book is looking quite fantastic!
The book will be published in August, at which time we’re hoping to have a launch event in Manila.
Full details of the book will be posted on the website in due course. In the meantime, you can see a gallery of sample photos.
So here’s something a bit different from my usual, an aspect of my photography that may not seem so glorious but which pays the bills – interiors photography.
For the past couple of months I’ve been doing quite a lot of photography for AirBnB Plus, shooting some of their more upmarket holiday lets in southwest England. This is an ongoing project, and is likely to continue for some time.
As you can see, I’ve included a few shots here, but you can see a much bigger gallery on the website by clicking on the link below: