In my mind’s eye

Monty and Chris are on the road again, this time it’s a journey of rediscovery to reignite a passion. After 20 years of running Travel Photographer of the Year, Chris is now looking to return to a life with much more time for photography. On this trip the objective was to try to realise images which had been in my head for some time.

Capturing the pre-visualised – a works in progress

Monty’s been a bit quiet recently. That’s because he’s been having a bit of a refit with conversion on half the garage space below the bed into a seating area and second double bed. He’s now four berth with a lounge! This has been achieved by installing a bed hoist so that the original bed can be lifted up to the ceiling, creating lots of usable space below for those rainy, waiting for the light days.

We hit the road again in October with the idea of revisiting places from the first trip, but with knowledge of what to expect and time to spend immersed in them. That sort of happened, but not as planned! The extra time in a place meant that we didn’t get further than Yorkshire and nowhere near Scotland.

Heading up the Lincolnshire coast on the east of England we were too early for the seals pupping, so a return to Spurn Points on the Humber estuary seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t! Arriving late afternoon it was perfect for a walk along the causeway towards what would become and island at the highest tides, but heavy black clouds robbed me of the sunset I’d hoped for. It was still lovely though, reconnecting with the big outdoors and watching the birdlife.

The next morning I’d plan a walk to the lighthouse again but I hadn’t planned for the arrival of literally hundreds of twitchers. There’s nothing wrong with twitchers of course, but they filled up the space and solitude which I needed to get back into my photography. That was the main reason for these travels as I look to return fully to my photography career next year.

Photography is a craft which needs immersion. I find when I haven’t been shackled to my camera for some time then I need to get my eye in again… in other words, I take a lot of very ordinary pictures before I start to make better ones again.

Leaving Spurn Point rapidly behinds we headed inland to Yorkshire and the Dales. The autumn colours were coming in, although the weather had been so mild this autumn that the rich reds, brought on by the first cold snap, were noticeably absent.

Autumn colours and light create fascinating opportunities for close up and abstract images

Working the subject

Heading north and west, my route took me passed the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield. For those who haven’t been there, it’s a wonderful place with sculptures of all types, from Henry Moores to the newer contemporary artists, scattered through the rolling landscape. It’s the immersion I needed. Photography and nature with no pressure to press the shutter. I found out that my fellow Eye for the Light editor, Diana, was working in the area so she joined me for a coffee and a walk through the landscape.

I see so many photographers getting their cameras out the moment they arrive somewhere. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but taking the time to look first has got to be a good thing and sparks ideas and images which may not be obvious at first. The sculpture park is a great place to walk and look as nature and art mix together. I only took a few pictures but I started to feel like a photographer again.

I know the northern most Dales, such as Swaledale, quite well but those just north of Leeds have alway been a pass through on route further north. This time was the time to explore them and without a deadline. So from Leeds I headed into Wharfedale, some 20 miles (30km) away. At the lower end of this dale is Bolton Abbey but I headed passed there a little further is Howgill, on a hillside overlooking the Wharfedale valley. I normally wild camp but the campsite there is so well placed and only £12 for the night, that on this occasion I decided to use it as a base to start exploring on foot.

Wharfedale’s stonewall landscape

A short walk down the hill to the River Wharfe and I’m off piste away from the road and along the wooded river bank. It’s beautiful, filled with autumn colours and the rushing sound of the water. I was determined on this trip not to take the obvious picture – the record shots and the pretty views. This time I was looking for something more evocative, something which touches the emotions and makes the viewer feel something more than ‘that’s nice’, whether that be tranquility, excitement, vitality, calmness, excitement or something else – whatever, as that is personal and about your own experiences in life. But first, observation and absorption in nature – feeling, hearing, sensing the world around me and letting it wash over me. 

The walk took me back to the road in a village called Appletreewick with its traditional Yorkshire stone buildings and a couple of pubs, one of which – the Craven Arms – was a real gem. Local beers in barrels along with an also barrelled selection of whiskies, and good food. This first day in Wharfedale was nourishment for the senses and the body – preparation for letting my eye and the camera guide my creativity.

Playing with motion and mood

A return to the River Wharfe, took me to a short section of rapids. The smooth waters burst into song and movement as they tumbled and swirled around and over the shallow rocks. The movement was dramatic and intriguing. My camera was itching for a chance to interpret what I saw. This movement was fast and the water flashed with brown, reflected blue skies and white surf.

Different shutter speeds create different motion effects so experimentation is essential

Camera on tripod, a fast shutter speed gave me jagged flows. The images had a roughness to them and whilst interesting, didn’t really engage. A slower shutters speed turned turbulent waters into dynamic but tranquil ones, patterns and contrasting texture, but how slow should I go? My instinct sent me towards a quarter or half a second. This worked well for soft motion of the flowing water but was to slow to capture the flying foam in frozen or semi-frozen motion. Maybe a slightly faster shutter speed would work better.

High key monochrome and motion

I settled on relatively tight compositions with a shutter speed around a 1/10 of a second, working on compositions which captured both smooth water flow with the shape of the plumes of foam, near frozen, but with enough blur to show they were moving. freezing them completely took the shutter speed too fast and changed the water texture. I was trying to achieve a texture and colour like hair, like a galloping horse’s mane. A shutter speed faster than 1/20 of a second removed the smoothness from the flowing water. Whether these shots work, I’ll leave you to judge.

Finding a shutter speed which captured the water movement like a horse’s mane while nearly freezing the spray

Colour and form

My other main objective from the trip was to capture autumn in abstraction through movement in the trees and/or leaves. At first I tried just letting the leaves move but the lack of wind and the more muted greens and yellows of this milder autumn didn’t really work as I had envisaged.

Introducing movement myself by shaking the branch or tree, with the camera fixed on a tripod, wasn’t successful either as I need more depth and variety in colours to achieve my objectives. So I tried intentional camera movement (ICM). These, I felt had limited success so I’d have to say I have some way to go before I capture what’s in my mind’s eye..

For the rest of the trip I played with abstract ideas, using refections and depth of field to isolate and merge elements in an image. They’re a work in progress and something I shall keep experimenting with on in future shoots. For me, it’s all part of the process of working on and getting to the images I have rattling around in head.

Rather than travels many miles in search of images I stayed in the same area for several more days as the rain rolled in in waves. I had work to do too and used my last two days to travel towards Chester, to take down the TPOTY exhibition in the cathedral, via Keswick and Conistion Water in the Lake District. 

A leaf on Monty’s windscreen shot from inside

When I look at pictures from this trip, there aren’t many and fewer keepers, but I’m comfortable with that. More importantly my passion for photography is fired up again and my feel for an image returning.


By Chris Coe

Chris is a professional photographer, and the founder of Travel Photographer of the Year. He has been working as a professional photographer since 1992, shooting both editorial and advertising photography, and has published over 50 books. He lectures on and teaches photography, mentors and is a competition judge.