Stephen Miles ARPS, Landscape Print - Statement of Intent
November 2017 was the first time I experienced the outstanding natural beauty of the northwest coastline of Scotland. Travelling alone and without schedule for 16 days, just letting the weather, mood, location and whatever I found dictate the pace of my photographic and physical journey along the North Coast 500.
I returned in October 2019 to immerse myself in this superb landscape, and yet again became absorbed in the contours, fleeting light, clouds and wildness of this country. I hope that I have achieved my aim of capturing, conveying and sharing the feelings from these wonderful travel experiences in the final prints.
Completing the Scottish North Coast 500 sleeping in the back of a Mercedes Estate may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for Stephen, the journey was the start of a project that would inform his Associate submission. He explains the usefulness of advisory days in forming the final decisions on selecting images for his submission.
My journey to an ‘A’ in Landscape Print
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of putting together an ‘L’ panel in 2014 and, after that, took a few years’ break, with work and motorsport taking priority until, in 2017, I had to take a 6-month contractual break from work between jobs. One of the highlights of this time off was a solo trip to the north of Scotland, taking 16 days to slowly explore the north and west coasts, doing the NC500 road trip. It wasn’t glamorous, with the odd quirky hotel and many a night sleeping (very well, I may add) in the back of a Mercedes C class estate!
The photography freedom of no predefined timetable, and being solo, i.e. not wondering if your wife was getting bored while you ‘wait for the perfect light’, meant that I captured a few images I was really pleased with that made it to my ‘A’ panel. As this was in November, almost every day had wind, rain, sunshine, more rain and sometimes snow. Perfect for us landscape ‘togs!
As an aside that I’m sure you’ll appreciate, after a few nights on the trot in the car, I booked into a top-end country house hotel to dry out and to experience some real luxury. I stayed 3 nights in the end and didn’t hand over any cash, but did a photo barter deal for some images of the hotel, surroundings and detail shots for their marketing – a win-win for everyone!
So, from this trip, I put my first panel of 15 images in colour together for an advisory day with the East Midlands group in the summer of 2018. These are well worth attending, as you learn from other panel discussions as well as from your own. I entered mine into the Fine Art category due to the nature of the images.
Summary of advice: “4 great images, 8 technical rejects, 3 don’t fit panel, suggest putting it in a Travel category, not Fine Art”.
The next step was to understand the technical failures. This was fine and made me realise the high standard that was being sought. I attempted to rework many of these to get to the standard and some were salvageable. I worked on the 16th image, i.e. the Panel as a whole, and went for another advisory day in spring 2019 with high expectations!
In Bath, I saw some stunning ‘A’ panels and again enjoyed the day out. This time the pictures were technically better, fitted together well and I had entered into the travel category.
Summary of advice: “7 great images, 5 technical rejects, 3 don’t fit panel, suggest putting it in a Fine Art category, not Travel”.
So I had exhausted the 3,500 images shot on the trip – time to go back again. By now I had a campervan, hence more luxury and freedom and we had a great 2-week holiday – remember those days when you could travel!! And in 2018 I bagged another 3000 images, albeit not on the best camera but on the backup, as my D810 with a 24-70 f2.8 fell out of my new rucksack on the first day and smashed on to the pavement!
Great news. The RPS perhaps were thinking of photographers like us in this group who enjoy this oldest category of work, Landscape, and are caught between Fine Art and Travel, with the introduction of the new Landscape category for distinctions. When I saw this, I booked for the first real submission in October 2020.
For tonality reasons I decided to go black and white for my third attempt and, with fresh images to supplement the best earlier ones, I put together a new panel and went this time for a 1:1 advisory. This was again very useful and I would highly recommend it.
Summary of advice: “14 great images, 1 doesn’t fit panel, but 13 technical rejects, sort out the processing and submit!”
Again, this advice meant I went back to the RAW files, learnt more, applied the knowledge and corrected what was wrong as a common theme in every photo, swapped a couple of images and then went to print for the big day. Now it was in the hands of the courier and all I had to do was to sit back and wait!
Whilst on another holiday in the camper van in Northumbria (a landscape photographer’s hidden gem by the way!) at 10.30am on the morning of judging, I received an email from the RPS, saying Joe Cornish HonFRPS and his team had approved my work.
This article was first published in the RPS Landscape Magazine, Spring 2021.
All images are © Stephen Miles ARPS