Early in the year, my family and I had taken a short break to the countryside to get away from the hustle and bustle for a few days. By the way, January, in my opinion a notoriously uninteresting month for outdoor photography in the Western Cape.
For three days as expected we saw nothing but blue sky, great for holiday, bad for photography. To add to this, the area we stayed in was located in a deep valley, so the first and last light of the day was non existent. After seeing that cloud cover was predicted on the fourth day of our stay, Sam and I headed out before dawn to photograph the mountain peaks of the Winterberg from a vantage point we had scouted the day before. While on the way, I managed to capture this photograph of the two old farm houses that found their way into my Abandoned Collection.
The morning before this, we were scouting for subject matter and possible compositions near to where we were staying. As we approached a rise the view of the mountains opened up before us, I said to Sam, "I have been here!" "Really?!", she replied. I said that I wasn't sure but the scenery felt very familiar. Suddenly, it dawned on me that the scene we were looking at had been recently photographed by Peter Corbett (an artist whom the Art Photography Gallery represents). I quickly got onto the internet using my phone and opened the image in question. "Absolutely!" I said to Sam, and showed her the photograph, "Look here - Peter could not have been more than a kilometer away from where we are now when he took this picture". There is a very important principle in play here, and one that I feel strongly about. The last thing that I will consciously do is photograph a similar composition to that of a fellow colleague, be they professional or amateur. If I am aware of the picture, and I cannot photograph it dramatically differently, then its a no-go area for me. Going ahead borders on copying and more seriously, plagiarism if the composition is exactly the same. In my career and in fact again very recently, I have had a number of my photographs copied by photographers whom I know were aware of what they were doing. Though some may say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the experience of being copied is horrible. Copying someone else's composition point for point, in my opinion, is totally disrespectful.
So, I said to Sam, "Lets turn around and go scouting elsewhere", which we duly did. About ten kilometers away the Wintersberg and the Wittensberg mountain ranges converge. The steeper slopes are difficult to get to as the farms through which one has to gain access are fenced and gated. The light that afternoon was so poor that I felt like I was wasting time. Nevertheless, we parked outside one of the farm entrances where the main gate was locked. We went through a pedestrian / staff entrance and walked up the slopes to get a better view of the area. The hillside was steep, but before long, a magnificent vista opened up in front of us. The light was terrible, but the opportunities endless. Using an app on my phone called PhotoPills I was able to check the path of the sun, using augmented reality, which confirmed that the early morning light would be ideal for this shot. We left for the day and headed home. I liked the potential of the photograph so much that I said to Sam, "If we are unable to photograph the mountain on this trip, I will drive back to do so in winter when the weather is more conducive, if need be. The next morning, as you might remember from my last story, was fantastic. Cloud cover had filled the sky overnight and the light was atmospheric to say the least. After photographing the abandoned farm houses, we quickly headed up into the mountain. To our surprise, the gate to the farm we had earmarked the day before was open. Working on the principle that its easier to ask for forgiveness than to request permission, I drove onto the property and parked the 4x4 just out of sight of the main farmhouse. This time lugging camera gear, it was again a steep climb up mountainside to get to the spot I wanted to shoot from. Sam then headed off on her own, as she and I have an understanding not to shoot a similar composition of the same scene.
The clouds were moving across the landscape really quickly and the sun soon climbed high enough to light the top of the mountain peaks. The intermittent breaks in the clouds dappled the majestic landscape with drifting spots of sun. It felt like a stage performance with spotlights following the actors - although the star in this production was the light itself. At one point I realised that I if don't shoot now, I would miss the opportunity. Then, in a short moment, it all came together, and I knew I had gotten the shot.
While packing up my camera, I looked down onto the gravel road and saw the farmer prowling around my vehicle - obviously wondering who was trespassing on his property. I whistled and waved to him from the mountain side, while preparing my story to beg forgiveness. Like most folk, he turned out to be a really nice person, and when I explained what I was photographing he had one bit of advice for me. He said "Sell the Land Rover and buy a Toyota Land Cruiser". We had a good chuckle.
Before leaving he said that if we wanted to gain access to the upper slopes of the mountain, we were welcome to drive through his farm. He gave us directions and Sam and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. The pathways were difficult to navigate and very steep in places, but a short while later we reached the most spectacular view point. The sheer majesty and absolute beauty of the area was heightened by the quality of the light that morning. I was very fortunate to find a second composition before the rays of sun light entered the valley. I couldn't believe my good fortune. Weather that was reminiscent of winter sky brought with it spectacular light, plus a second shot for my Seraphic landscape collection, and all on the same morning. Thank you Lord!
Driving home later that day we were once again reminded that the quality of light is undoubtable the magic ingredient in photography. With it, even the ordinary can be made to look extraordinary.