And so the annual bluebell pilgrimage begins. If previous years are anything to go by, debates will rage over how best to capture the mist cloaked carpets of blue that are abundant in so many woodlands at this time of year. Is there anything left to say that hasn’t already been said so adroitly and so frequently by those with a lot more patience and considerably sturdier tripods than mine?

It just so happens that the beckoning blues coincide with my first workshop for Light and Land (co-leading with bluebell maestro Doug Chinnery). The workshop has been advertised as one to help people see beyond the obvious and embrace -if only for an hour or a day or a week - a different way of image-making. There is clearly quite a lot of interest in an alternative approach as the the first day sold out very quickly and a second, hastily added, also sold out promptly.  And so teaching has been on my mind quite a lot recently. But beyond advice about basic camera settings and a rudimentary rundown of the fundamentals of composition, what else is there to divulge?  Some additional guidance about how best to set up a camera for ICM (intentional camera movement) or a suggestion about where to start when approaching multiple exposures perhaps. A group of people enthusiastic enough to tip themselves out of bed at some precocious hour in order to listen to what I have to say are surely going to be expecting something more.

The infinite variety of settings that can be employed on the back of the camera frustrate and inspire in equal measure and perhaps the most important quality to possess is curiosity and a willingness to experiment. And of course a stubborn commitment to remain until something pleasing is happening on the back of the camera. So much of what I do comes about as a result of trying, failing, trying again and failing better (with apologies to Samuel Beckett). My inspiration/creativity/vision - call it what you will -  is an ad-hoc fusion of photographs I’ve seen, paintings I’ve admired, blogs I’ve read, ideas I’ve half digested and hours and hours of practice. Much of this is very personal and I’m not sure how easy that is to communicate.

The hardest thing to grasp (for me) is the truth that slowly reveals itself - the more I learn the more I realise I don’t know and the more I fall woefully and depressingly short. Minds far greater than mine have made similar observations. As with anything worth doing, progress is ponderous and laboured. I am slowly coming to the realisation that the way forward is not going to expose itself readily. I can only hope that by developing a more proficient visual language and gradually discarding all the ideas and imitations that I don’t care for,  a small nugget of insight will eventually remain.
And maybe that’s the best that any of us can hope for.

This blog is lamentably sporadic; largely because every time I sit down with the germ of a half-formed idea to ponder over, I get about three or four sentences in and I realise that I haven’t even come close to figuring out what it’s all about. Thus, there seems little point in dispatching some half-formed theories into a world already awash with blogs offering every possible variation of debate and opinion.

** In timely fashion, my mother has just posted this on my Facebook timeline Diebenkorn's 10 rules for painting. Lessons in there for most creatives I think.


  1. Russ Barnes on 21/05/2016 at 1:02 pm

    Workshops can be an odd thing. I agree with the sentiment here, you have to somehow enthuse people, give them a passion for the landscape and everything after that sort of falls into place. Like you I’ve spent a lifetime gathering that enthusiasm and inspiration, exactly as you say – i think it’s very reasonable to point that out to people too. Far too many will believe that in a few hours or less they are somehow going to walk away with with the keys to the safe. Reset their objectives and mindset, ask them to think for themselves – the ‘what if’ scenario is the only tool anyone really needs. Good luck with all that!

  2. Lizzie Shepherd on 21/05/2016 at 1:03 pm

    VALDA – I’VE NOT LOOKED AT YOUR MOTHER’S LINK YET BUT I LOVE YOUR LATEST BLOG ENTRY.. I WISH ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS WERE AS ELOQUENT AND SUCCINCT AS YOU (MYSELF INCLUDED!). ENTIRELY EMPATHISE WITH all you say and of course the work ethic involved, to be truly creative, is one that can easily go unrecognised. communicating it is even harder! But you’ve done a jolly good job of trying! 😉 hope the next blog will follow on soon 🙂

  3. John on 21/05/2016 at 1:03 pm

    I suppose in response to this from a different angle is the question I get regularly, what is the latest camera and how is it better than the last one and is it worth buying. How we can purchase a better ability to record when the ability to see is probably the key to it all, and do we ever stop seeing but evolve, mature as creators. My heart sinks when asked is the mkiii better than the mkii, what has your present camera stopped you from seeing and doing is the ultimate question

  4. Andy Holliman on 21/05/2016 at 1:04 pm

    Valda, – I.’m coming on the second workshop., TOO slow to get on the first, so I thought I’d explain why to respond to some of your thoughts above.. the primary reason is a desire to move beyond taking literal photographs, i’ve nothing against traditional beautiful landscape images but, to use a musical analogy, they feel to me like cover versions of someone else’s work not my own. photographers like yourself, doug, chris freil, and others have gone a different way which as you’ve alluded to before could be described as a more painterly approach. which is refreshing and different. there have of course always been long and multiple exposures but its the use of these techniques that is interesting. so what i hope to get from the workshop are three things: firstly to get an insight into the creative process that you and doug use in a scenario like this, taking ‘your’ pictures would be a cover version as much as any landscape but i’m thinking more about how you approach it, what to include, what to leave out, where to start. Secondly simply the opportunity to be in a beautiful place and thirdly some ideas for new techniques around ICM, multiple exposUres etc., looking forward to meeting you both next week.

  5. valdab on 21/05/2016 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you for reading through and leaving feedback

    Thanks for your observations Russ – agree with what you say. I know you’ve been there and know the difficulties involved.
    Beyond the basic requirements for what it is we wish to achieve, the camera equipment is fairly irrelevant. I’m certainly not up to speed on what all the latest kit can do so I’ll have to deflect any such queries (or hope that Doug can answer them). I know how easy it is to think that a new purchase will magically transform our work and of course it’s lovely to get new gear, but it doesn’t really solve anything. Wish it were that easy!

    Thank you for booking Andy, look forward to meeting you. I hope we can help and you find the day rewarding. Certainly all the components seem to be in place – the weather is good and the bluebells are at their peak.

  6. Vanda Ralevska on 21/05/2016 at 1:05 pm

    Great read, Valda, really enjoyed it. It is nice to have a little bit of an insight into the way you create your beautiful images. I can only imagine how hard it is to teach how to be creative. the technical part of it is the easiest one. you can have the latest equipment, but you won’t be able to produce a good image if you can’t see it. i know what you are saying, there is a lot of experimenting involved using the techniques that you are using, but you still need to have the “feel” for an image. you certainly do, you have a great talent to somehow recognise what is worth experimenting with and to create a beautiful piece of art as a result.. not a lot of people have that in them (including me).

  7. Deborah L Hughes on 21/05/2016 at 1:06 pm

    Thanks for the tidbit of inspiration and your own personal truth. maybe that’s all we really have to work with. taking the time to learn what touches us and how to express is far more important than an f stop. Thanks for bringing this to light.

  8. Ray Fidler on 21/05/2016 at 1:06 pm

    Hi Valda, I read your blog post this morning and contemplated it whilst working on my allotment. reading your words is, as usual, thought provoking. I went for a long time searching for the magic button.without success. then you advised me last year to immerse myself in art of all types to ignite my creativity. this is beginning to work, well to my mind maybe not necessarily toothers. my approach, gear and techniques vary from yours but no matter what our individual artistic vision ( credit to doug for that piece of art jargon ) determines what is produced.
    during my sporting heydays success was based on practice and effort and that applies to photography as it does to everything in life,

    Your comments re techie bits reminded of a talk by wildlife photographer Andy rouse in which he prefaced by stating he doesn’t answer techie question. inevitably somebody did ask and was duly shot down in flames.

    your latest work is wonderful and I found myself trying to analyse it in terms what appealed to me and how you achieved. it. not sure i managed it though.

    Take care and enjoy your time on my patch next week.


    ( ps not sure why everything is in caps)

  9. valdab on 21/05/2016 at 1:08 pm

    Thank again to all for reading through.
    So glad to hear you are getting somewhere Ray – allotments are good places to think. I shall remember the Andy Rouse story – my techie knowledge is sketchy at best.
    Thanks for your kind comments about my work – looking forward to venturing into hampshire for a couple of days 🙂

  10. Torrie smith on 21/05/2016 at 1:08 pm

    i share so much of what Andy Holliman has said in his post that I won’t try to repeat it. I love your work Valda and am very much looking forward to meeting, and learning from you, next Tuesday. Magic billets are certainly not expected – been on the planet too long for that! Have been experimenting with ICM for the last couple of months and already discovered that trial and error seems to a key part of the learning, even if you have some idea of the image you are trying to create I have found that actually achieving it in camera can be an entirely different matter.

    • valdab on 21/05/2016 at 1:09 pm

      Thank you Torrie – it was lovely to meet you today. I hope you found it helpful and that it has given you some ideas to push on with

  11. Prue Heron on 26/05/2016 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks for these Blog entries Valda.. loving them and particularly knowing that you go through the same agonies and uncertainties that we beginners do. For me, the Workshops provide the techniques, encouragement and inspiration to stray far off the beaten photographic track. This is such an interesting journey. I know I have asked you the question about whether you visualise the final photo that you want to achieve and then work towards it. This style of photography / art is so hard! There is no formula which there is for more literal photography (though I’m not demeaning that). To me, it is so much more akin to painting where tools and techniques are employed – but even then, the artist probably has a better idea of the final work visualised in their mind. Somehow, with ICME and ICM photography, the end result evolves until at some point it is ‘right’. Or maybe that is just where I am on the journey. I am so excited to be on the way. Anyway, thank you Valda for sharing these musings – please keep them going – even on the days when you are not in the mood as they are really appreciated.

  12. valdab on 26/05/2016 at 2:15 pm

    Hi Prue
    Thanks for reading through and taking the time to comment. I think the day the agonies and uncertainties cease is the day you might as well give up and find another challenge!
    Many people ask me about visualisation (or not); and it exists only in as much as I hope to capture a feeling or an atmosphere or a specific quality of what has attracted me in the landscape. It’s far less specific – has to be, I think – than is possible with more traditional (for want of a better word) photography. And of course the vision and the ideas continue to flourish in post processing.
    I suppose anything can become formulaic but the output invariably suffers. And what is right on a given day, is not necessarily right on another day. I was listening to a program on R4 today about Miles Davis and his paintings and how they were never really finished until one day he just decided not to work on them anymore. I’m sure it is so for many (most?) artists. I didn’t realise that he painted so it was a fascinating insight.
    Keep at it – hard as it may be, it’s a very rewarding and enriching endeavour and you’re making some fabulous images.

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