#966. The Way We Shoot, part 4: Just Wing It (with preparation)

By Steve Mallett | Art & Creativity

Feb 14

It’s 4:40 a.m. Light from the waning moon turns the bedroom a flickering ivory as scudding clouds open and close their shutter.  My mind is a rat on a wheel thinking about gear.  What to take and what to leave at home.  

Blood Moon

In three days I am off to Australia to visit son and daughter-in-law whom I’ve not seen for two years, stopping in Thailand on the way out to catch up with one of my oldest pals and a few days in Singapore on the return leg.  Assuming international travel doesn’t go into lock-down due to Covid-19.

Sun Comes Up At Bamburgh, Northumberland

My mind races along it’s well beaten track of trying to balance minimum gear with maximum imagined opportunity.  I know it’s a pointless task. I’ve been here dozens of times and there is no right answer and I’ll end up taking a bunch of kit I won’t use but I am too afraid to take a single body and lens or, God forbid, just my phone.

San Quirico Dawn

In an effort to get off this track and come to some happy compromise of choices, and maybe return to sleep, I muse on the Way We Shoot and the previous three offerings from Pascal, Philippe and Paul to see if there is any help in that direction.  But no I’m off down another rabbit hole; the Why Do I Shoot? at all singularity.  This is the full-on black hole of the Night Terrors of why on earth I even bother.  Why do I need to ever take another photograph? Nobody ever sees most of them. It’s not as if I’m lacking a library full of sunrises, sunsets, bicycles chained to lampposts, Tuscan villas, snowy mountains, children playing in the sea, antelope, rabbits, birds, surfers, boats in harbours, full moons, crescent moons, on and on and on. 

Sunset at The Parrog, Pembrokeshire

The Last Paddle, Pembrokeshire

Imagine I still had all the cash I’ve spent on photography over the years I could do, what?  Paint the house, Lord knows it needs it. Go on a world cruise, what horror.  A new car? Nope. Travel?  But then I’m back to wanting to take a camera. And so it goes on, this peculiar addiction that is photography.  My name is Steve and I’m a photographer.  Of sorts.

Green Bike, Monticchiello

Of course this night-time craziness has it’s opposite.  The peaceful meditative time of wandering aimlessly with camera in hand as an aid to seeing.  Slowing down and letting the world in as it is or how it might be, not how I already “know” it is.

Evening Sea Mist rolls in over Dinas Island, Pembrokeshire

Philippe talked about PMPM, Putting Myself in Photo Mode, and it being a discipline.  I’ve never been good at discipline.  I like the idea of it but it just takes so much, well, discipline. My approach is much more JWI.  Just Wing It. Or IBAOTN.  It’ll Be Alright On The Night.  But of course it is only ever alright on the night if you do the prep and all the hard work first.

Sunset, Traeth Mawr, Pembrokeshire

Rather than having a disciplined way to shoot or even a half-ways consistent approach, my photography arc seems to be one of stumbling along a path in cloud, hoping for inspiration, in the knowledge that every now and then I find myself in the mythical uplands with gorgeous light and some combination of kit that works in hand.  That and having the aspiration to become ever better at my craft.  And I long ago learnt the best way to become good at something is to hang out with folk that are better than me.  Which is why I hang around Dear Susan.

Sunrise On Carn Ingli, Pembrokeshire

The Why Do I Shoot question is unanswerable. What started off as taking snaps on holiday over time became a minor hobby and has now become a compulsion. I now have to pick up a camera and create images, the why of it is really irrelevant.

Bailer twine and barbed wire – holding the countryside together!

Having written this middle-of-the-night post it’s too late to return to bed so I open my mail and top of the list, from Wex, is the announcement of the new, shiny, best ever, Olympus E-M1 Mkiii. Apparently it’s got No Limits and I can Break Free.  My Mkii is now officially old and like me will need more regular tlc.  It’s definitely going to Oz!

Stuff you can do with extreme curves

And now, time for coffee.


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  • Patrick says:

    Fascinating shots of….sceneries, mountains and the sea, at dawn, sunrise, sunset, evening and night-time. Really inspiring works ! Thank you, Steve!
    May I ask a weird question…..so did you indeed use just one camera (the EMI MKii) and one lens to get all these ? For sure, none with your phone, I gather.

    • Steve Mallett says:

      Thanks Patrick, always good to be inspiring!

      As for your question, no not one camera and lens but a right old mishmash. The last image The Shadow was taken with a Nikon D600 all the rest were taken with either an E-M1, E-M1 Mkii or E-M5 Mkii. The lenses are all Olympus, 12-40mm f2.8, 40-150mm f2.8, 75mm f1.8 and the lowly 40-150mm f4.0-5.6. This last lens is a plastic, lightweight £100 lens that can produce wonderful results under the right conditions, such as the black and white image of the sea mist above.

  • What a wonderful collection of beautiful images, Steve! Each one is emotive and intriguing, like the first paragraph of a really good book. I’ve seen lots of images of the blood moon, but none of them ever captured the mystery and majesty like yours does. I’m fascinated by the calm beauty of your sunset images, so well timed and composed. Can’t wait to see how you respond to the subtle beauty of Japan.

    • Steve Mallett says:

      Thanks Nancee, it’s good to get a few of them seen and have some feedback. Looking forward to Japan….

  • pascaljappy says:

    Off topic: “Sunrise On Carn Ingli, Pembrokeshire” is one of the most mesmerising photographs I’ve seen.
    On topic: I think that struggle between gear lust and understanding ourselves pretty much sums up the whole hobby/industry and, probably, a fair bit of our lives.
    Wonderful post, thanks.

    • Steve Mallett says:

      Sunrise On Carn Ingli was a lost pic or rather overlooked. It’s amazing what can show up in the middle of the night!

      Olympus shouting that I can Break Free is of course quite the opposite; it’s designed to stoke craving not freedom. I immediately decided I wasn’t going to play and then this evening I see the images of Kuala Lumpur that Robin Wong is posting – nighttime, pin sharp, hand held, 4 seconds! Oh well…

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Brilliant shots, Steve! – thanks for sharing them!

    Where I live now, it’s not that easy to capture decent sunsets because there’s nothing much locally that you can include as a foreground. So you have to do “planning” and “scouting”, before you muck around “shooting”.

    And one of the things that you soon learn is the need to hunt for humidity in the air – because it’s also a rather dry climate here – but humidity does wonders for sunsets (sometimes). Actually it does the same for sunrises, and I think a couple of your photos demonstrate that, very clearly.

    The best sunset I’ve ever seen was over half a century ago, when I first arrived in this city. As I reached the edge of the mountains above the city, and looked down on the plain below, where the city was – looking west, toward the Indian Ocean beyond the city – the entire world was crimson, verging on scarlet in places. The city below me, the sky and the clouds above me, and the ocean beyond it all. And that MUST have been largely the result of humidity in the atmosphere that afternoon!

    Nothing I’ve ever seen, before or after that afternoon, has ever come within a bull’s roar of matching that sunset. Couldn’t capture it, though – on a highway with nowhere to stop, and anyway I only had B&W in the camera.

    It’s still there, for me, in my mind’s eye – but to answer your question, “Why Do I Shoot”, it’s an image I can treasure but I cannot share it – and we take photos so that we CAN share them.

    • Steve Mallett says:

      Thanks Pete. Living here in West Wales I don’t lack for humidity in the air!

      Amazing how we can carry a memory like that forever. I too have one of a sunrise almost half a century ago, that has never been bettered, of a springtime dawn with the world being shades of purple, lilac and lavender just before the sun came over the hills. I didn’t even own a camera in those days!

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Two others – a pigeon asleep, perched on top of the back of a park bench in the children’s playground 50 yards down my street, at 1AM – illuminated by a nearby lamp post. DMAN – no camera – didn’t think to take it with me, when I went to walk the dog at that hour!

        And the other would have been “unethical”, in my mind. A VERY elderly chinese lady, in a rather gloomy restaurant, in Hong Kong – eating her lunch – being forced to abandon chop sticks (arthritis, probably) and eating her meal with a metal spoon, instead. But she had a quiet dignity that was timeless and ethereal. And the light from a nearby window was illuminating her perfectly. Oh bugger – it was quite bad enough sneaking an occasional look – but a photograph would have been an unforgivable intrusion into the privacy of her old age. IMHO anyway. So I didn’t take that shot, either.

        But they’re both cemented in my mind.

  • Jean-Claude Louis says:

    That’s not just color photography, it’s photography OF color, done in a masterful way, in a subtle and varied palette. Wonderful !

  • philberphoto says:

    Ah Steve, I cannot but join the chorus of congratulations…. There are a number of pics here that IMHO would grace any wall, beginning with mine. Just one word about PMPM. As long as it remains a discipline, I have to side with you, rebel that I am. But at some point it becomes a manière d’être, a form of second nature, and then we can be free -and focused! That is what my continued foray, over and over again, into the same site and subjects is doing for me.

    • Steve Mallett says:

      Thanks Philippe. Free and focused – I get it! It’s what I aspire to in life, not just photography.

  • Adrian says:

    Oh Steve… San Quirico Dawn is just sumptuous… I’ve been processing some photographs from Barcelona just before Christmas, including a few scenes out to sea at dusk, when I thought the light was pleasing… but this is just so beautiful I’m not going to bother.

    • Steve Mallett says:

      Thanks Adrian. In fact the image lay dormant for a couple of years before I eventually saw it! I often find looking images long after shooting provides a very different view as the memory of how it “actually” was fades. As for your processing, just get to it!

  • Great words and stunning images, Steve. Inspirational! And I agree with pascaljappy that Sunrise on Carningli is exceptional. It’s why we do it! Creating magic that lasts and can bring new meaning time and time again from a moment that is ephemeral over in a heartbeat. Such moments rarely come without some element of planning, dedication and learning from previous experience so discipline is not entirely absent from the mix.

    • Steve Mallett says:

      David, thanks for the kind words. You’re right of course about the mix of planning, previous experience etc. The sunrise image only came about because I’d stumbled up the mountain on Midsummer’s Day several times before and knew I needed to set off earlier than previous times in order to be there on time! I always get distracted on the ascent and it takes longer than I think.

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