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Joe Porter • A Photographic Journey

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Lensbaby
What if you get in a bit of a creative rut and begin to get demotivated? Would you try something different? Something new? Joe Porter tells of the time Lensbaby came into his life and changed everything

My photography journey has been a long one. I bought my first SLR in 1983, on my first big trip to Canada. That Ricoh KR-10 served me well for years and introduced me to the wonderful world of the still image. That was the years after my wedding, setting up home and eventually becoming a father to my four children – but that spark never really went out.

I needed a good job with a reliable income and chose to become a nurse, something I wanted to do since leaving school at sixteen, but finally happened at the grand old age of thirty, when I became a student nurse in Glasgow. During that time of learning I did all the usual parent photography stuff, but I was very much an occasional hobbyist photographer, where the camera came out for birthdays and holidays and not much else.

Strangely, nursing was my route back into photography. I eventually ended up working as a manual-handling instructor, teaching other nurses how to move patients safely and this led to me writing learning modules for the hospital I worked in. As part of the process for making the content I needed good quality images and the easiest way to get them, without infringing copyright legislation, was to take them myself. I persuaded the hospital to buy me a digital camera and a few basic accessories – the fire was lit again. I did realise that the world of digital was far removed from the days of my old film cameras, so I thought that some night-time classes would be a good way to find out how to get the best from my gear and get my head around the editing software. As my understanding and technique improved, my passion grew and I took more and more classes, built up a community of photography friends and the hobby became more and more important in my life.

I eventually retired from nursing at fifty-five and decided to see if I could supplement my pension with my camera. I set up two websites, one for landscapes and one as a wedding photographer. Sales were slow and wedding photography is a very competitive market in Glasgow, so jobs were sparse, which left me lots of time to pursue my real passion of landscape photography. Living within a reasonable range of the Scottish Highlands, I wasn’t stuck for stunning scenery to photograph. Scottish weather is extremely unpredictable and changeable, so the fact I was no longer restricted to weekend trips only, vastly increased my opportunities to photograph Scotland when the light was good. But, as the saying goes, “too much of a good thing is bad for you” and this is where Lensbaby came into my photography life. I was in a bit of a creative rut and was beginning to get demotivated when I came across the Composer range on a YouTube video and I was intrigued. I’m a bit of a gear-hoarder and bought a second-hand Composer Pro II – that was me hooked. Since then I have built up my collection, getting advice from the Lensbaby community and working on my technique. Going back to manual focus is challenging after years of auto and my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but there is something about Lensbaby that you don’t get with modern digital lenses. Controlling the point of focus, or plane of focus, gives you a unique image that can take you to a new level of creativity. Being able to photograph familiar locations in a new way has been a game changer for me and, as the Lensbaby range expands, my options expand with them. My collection is still growing and I converted a Pelicase to keep them safely stored and easily transported.

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A couple of years ago I bought the Lensbaby Velvet 56 and it immediately became my favourite lens. The ability to control the peripheral blur with the aperture makes it very versatile, great for close up, portrait and landscape work. Being able to clearly see the effect of the changing aperture settings through the viewfinder means you are relying on what you see, rather than what the camera meters. The Velvet 56 is named after the velvety textures in the highlights in wider aperture settings and this can help draw the eye to the sharper parts of the image. I have seen a lot of stunning portraits taken with this lens, but my interest is in landscape, so it is always in my bag when I head to the hills.

This is Loch Lomond, not far from Glasgow. This was taken with the Velvet 56 wide open at f/1.6 and demonstrates the appeal as a landscape lens. The scene is reduced to shape and colour, giving a dream-like quality to the image and making the familiar unfamiliar.

The image was taken with a Nikon D810 and a Lee Filters Big Stopper added to smooth out the water. The velvet glow adds so much to what would be a fairly unremarkable image, if taken the same way with a ‘normal’ lens.

Towards the end of 2017, I took a trip to Glencoe with some of my college classmates, taking them to a well-known location where deer hang-around, waiting for tourists to feed them. They have got quite tame and you can get pretty close to them, depending on how hungry they are. This deer seemed to know she was being photographed and posed, while I got in position, so that the mountain framed her in the picture. Again, taken with the Velvet 56, with the lens stopped down a bit more so that the centre of the image is sharp and the edges soft. A combination of the soft edge and added vignette gives the image a 3D-quality and pulls your eye to the sharp parts of the image. The sunlight has given her a rim light, which helps give good separation, adding to the effect. One of my all-time favourite images and testament as to why you should always go back to the same locations.

This image was pivotal in my Lensbaby journey. I posted it to Lensbaby Unplugged, the official Lensbaby Facebook community page and was contacted, asking if I would be interested in beta-testing the newly-developed Burnside 35. Obviously, I said yes.

I am very comfortable with the 35mm focal length for landscape and was intrigued to see Lensbaby’s take on the format. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I have always been keen on adding vignettes to my images as I think it helps focus the viewers eye on the main subject, but the Burnside 35 enables you to dial in that vignette at the time of capture, seeing the effect though the viewfinder and increasing or decreasing to your desired level. That, combined with the edge swirl, gives me more options in the field and getting the shot in-camera is always more satisfying than adding effects when post processing.

My brief was to send some images back to Lensbaby in Portland and I thought Glencoe would be the ideal location for a field test. On that particular day, I think I got the best conditions I have ever had in the Scottish Highlands. The light was great all day and, with snow on the high ground, very little cloud cover and almost no wind, it was a photographer’s paradise.

This is The Black Mount, an ancient, extinct volcano with a collapsed caldera, with Lochan na h-Achlaise (which translates from Gallic to The Small Loch of the Armpit) in the foreground. This image was used in the promotional video for the launch of the Burnside 35.

I recently had a trip to Rome and Venice and as these locations have so much to offer, I took the Burnside 35 with me. I had far-from-ideal conditions in Rome, but the light in Venice was perfect. I like taking long exposures around water, but Venice was very challenging for this. A combination of small footpaths and large crowds made the setting-up of a tripod in popular locations almost impossible, even in low season, so most of my images from Venice were hand held. I had three-nights in Venice and steam was almost coming off my camera. It seemed that every alley, every footpath and every turn had a photograph waiting to be taken. I don’t know if it was because it was my first trip to Venice and I was a bit over-awed by how photogenic the city was, but I feel I could have been there a year and still found new compositions.

The images I took in Venice and Rome were all captured with the Burnside 35. I’m still working my way through processing them and counting the days until I can get back to Italian light.

High Definition Feature • Access it in issue 88

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