SmugMug Buys Flickr. Does This Mean a Bright Future Ahead?

Ah, good ol’ Flickr.

Flickr was the photo-sharing site in the mid-noughties; nothing of this scale had ever existed on the internet before. But perhaps, more important than the ability to freely upload and share photos, was Flickr’s community aspect called Groups. For the first time, photographers across the world could discuss, critique, and collaborate with each other on a global dedicated photography platform.

Arguably, nobody’s quite matched the scale of Flickr’s reach and community since.

Christmas Fog Clears Over Kendal

The Downward Spiral

Flickr’s fallen on some hard times in recent years. The original co-founder of the platform, Daniel Stewart Butterfield, left in 2008 after his company, Ludicorp, was acquired by Yahoo! in 2005. By 2010 Yahoo! started reducing the workforce behind Flickr by 10-20%, and although the site went through a couple of modernising redesigns between 2013 and 2015 (no doubt inspired by the hiring of new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer), it was increasingly apparent that Yahoo! was struggling and taking Flickr along with it.

This culminated in Yahoo! and Flickr being acquired by Verizon under the Oath Inc. umbrella in 2016, a decision that many thought would be the end of Flickr.

A New Hope?

Personally, I feel that Smugmug’s acquisition of Flickr from Oath/Verizon is a positive move. The company has shown sustainable growth, a passion for photography and photographers, and a desire to help photographers grow their business and communities.

By combining SmugMug’s image storage and photo sales core with Flickr’s communities and social sharing, I can see both brands complementing each other very effectively.

Certainly, anything’s better than being owned by the uncaring Verizon.

I look forward to seeing what happens to the two combined platforms with interest.

Incidentally, you should totally follow me on Flickr.

How To Learn Appreciation of All Types of Light

When it comes down to it I think what you’re really shooting in landscape photography is the light. Of course your subject, setting, and composition are important but light can make or break a scene.

I’ve written before about light in the sense of being present and fluid when conditions change, but never specifically about different types of light or conditions that are often viewed as “unfavourable”.

As landscape photographers we are very much creatures of the dark; we head out, and come back, in the darkness to ensure we’re capturing those precious moments during sunrise and/or sunset when the angle, quality, softness, and colour of light creates magical scenes. But I think too often we can be guilty of missing out on exceptional photographs due to entrenched beliefs of what constitutes “good light”.

Here’s a shout out to “unfavourable” light conditions and what can be achieved in them.

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1. Midday, summer, clear skies

The bane of many a landscape photographer: there’s nary a cloud in the sky, it’s summer, direct and harsh sunlight is beaming straight down everywhere… it can definitely be challenging. But such conditions shouldn’t be ignored.

1.1. Gills, Gorges & Caves

Everywhere is illuminated with blazing sunlight and casting strong shadows… well, almost everywhere.

Go trekking up some gills and gorges, or find a cave; you’ll very likely be in deep shadow whilst your subjects will be drenched in light. You’ll be able to use the geology in these places to restrict the amount of blue sky, too.

And, as we’re talking about harsh light in summer, it’s likely that these places will be dryer, making them more navigable.

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1.2. Head to the beach

If there’s a landscape that does look in good in the midday summer sun it’s Beside The Seaside. Everywhere will be bright and filled with light, and the water will glisten. Here is an opportunity to work in the higher register of tones, creating images that are filled with light with only a few key details in the mids and shadows. Don’t fight it. Embrace it.

A good example of working more in the higher register of tones is available in my Sandscale Haws work, shot during the Summer of 2017.

And perhaps a more extreme example would Bruce Percy's body of work shot in Lençóis Maranhenses.

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2. Heavy, relentless rain

It’s understandable that, if you’re looking at your weather apps or even just peeping outside, you might not want to venture out at all when it’s “stottin’ doon”. But you could be missing out on dramatic conditions and atmosphere.

2.1. Get tha’ sen a brolly!

First, a disclaimer: if forecasts are saying torrential rain and/or lightning, do not risk it. Otherwise, if you’re just expecting protracted periods of mizzle (misty drizzle) or light rain, then get yourself a good brolly and head out anyway. Rain obscures details in a landscape, immediately lending a sense of depth and mood in your photos. Even better if you can get an umbrella that clips onto your tripod, freeing up your hands for compositional purposes.

2.2. Wear good waterproofs & be patient

If you’re in rainy conditions sometimes the best advice is to just be patient and watch. The light can change quickly, creating temporary moments of crepuscular rays (sunbeams) for example. Watch the clouds; depending on how heavy the rain is and how fast the weather front is moving, you might be fortunate to capture some incredible cloud formations. But you have to be there in the first place, so keep yourself dry with some good clothing.

3. Endless monotone grey skies

Have you ever been out hiking and looking for compositions only to look at the sky in disgust, shaking your fist at its featureless complexion? No? Just me?

But still, I know there are plenty of photographers who despair of a flat, bland, dull sky, hoping instead for dramatic cloud formations or breaks of crepuscular rays onto the land. However, bland grey skies have their advantages.

3.1. Use the sky as a canvas

What do I mean by this? Simply that flat grey skies can be useful compositional devices. If your photo consists of an interesting foreground, compelling leading lines, inspiring subject, and dramatic skies… well, it can be too much. Instead if your land composition is richly textured and interesting, a flat grey sky can provide “rest” for the eyes, especially if you use a neutral density filter to shoot a long exposure and render the sky completely featureless.

Additionally, flat grey skies are useful editing components; they often sit tonally near the middle greys so can be easily dodged or burned in ways that direct the eye around the frame and aid your final photo composition.

3.2. Level: Beginner

If you’re just starting out in photography, particularly landscape photography, then a dull and bland sky is a boon. The light becomes very soft, with easy transitions between shadows and highlights. So if you’re just starting out with learning to read, meter, and expose a scene then it’s considerably easier to do so on a grey sky day, rather than a striking sunrise. We’ve all gotta start somewhere, haven’t we?

Wrapping Up

So there we go: three weather conditions with qualities of light that are often avoided by landscape photographers. They still nevertheless have their advantages and I encourage you to resist the temptation to skip a “bad” day and instead embrace the conditions for what they are and try something different.

You might learn something about yourself.

Got an experience you want to share? Let me know via the multitude of social channels I use below.

The Inescapable Pull of Scotland, Now To The Mull of Galloway

That’s right. We’re off to Scotland again.

I can’t stay away from the place. It boasts an incredible variety of landscapes, fascinating geology, centuries of history, and of course the friendliest people on earth (ahem—also whisky—ahem).

Around the beginning of November 2017, Lisabet and I enjoyed a long weekend around a particular favourite of mine: Glencoe. And back in October, we spent two weeks in the country checking out the coastal delights of the Scottish Borders, followed by our first time around the incredible Isle of Arran.

This time we’re heading back to the Scottish coast again, but an area we’ve never been to before: the Mull of Galloway. This is the southernmost tip of Scotland and is “one of the last remaining sections of natural coastal habitat” in Galloway.

Forecasts indicate that we may experience blustery and overcast conditions during our stay, but hopefully largely dry, which will be nice given how Cumbria’s been this month.

Here’s to good light!

My Pinspiration

I find Pinterest to be a rather useful tool for organising travel ideas, gadget wishlists, and other cool stuff I find across the interwebs.

Handily, Pinterest now allows you to organise content you Save on a pinboard into Sections. I have now done this for my Photographic Pinspiration board. If you want to know the work of those I admire and follow with great interest (or Pinterest?), now you can.

I also have another board that serves as a UK Travel Wishlist, if you want to know where I plan on visiting for photography tours. I’ve yet to organise it into Sections. Also, it’s probably my most voluminous pinboard. Have fun!

Off to visit an old friend

There’s nothing like a mini-break, right?

Tomorrow, Lisabet and I head 240-ish miles north, a 4.5-hour car ride to Glencoe.

Aahhh, Glencoe… the land of the Three Sisters, the Buckle, the Hidden Valley, and so much more. It’s been three years since we last visited and I am beyond excited.

Forecasts and webcams indicate that the peaks in the area should have a good coating of snow on ’em, too. My portfolio is seriously lacking in quality winter images.

Here’s a few shots below of my previous Glencoe work, back in the “prime” of my HDR days.

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Oofah! Amazing how your eye and taste changes over time, isn’t it? This was once some of my proudest work. These days, well… let’s just say, I can do a lot better now.

Here’s to glorious light. In the meantime, feel free to check out my newest body of work: Isle of Arran, Autumn 2017.

East and West

In a couple of days time, Lisabet and I are heading off to Scotland for a fortnight. Hooray! [insert celebratory emojis here]

Every year we try to visit a different part of Scotland we’ve never explored… with possibly the exception of Skye, where we’ve been a few times now (I mean, who wouldn’t want to?) Our last stay in Scotland saw us spend the first week on Skye, our second visit to the island, and then we stayed in Lochcarron to explore Torridon and Applecross for our final week.

If you’re interested, you can check my older work of Skye and Torridon here.

Another consistent decision of ours is to stay in Scotland during late September/early October. There’s a couple of reasons for this.

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1. Midges

As beautiful as the Scottish people and landscapes are, the main thing that puts us and thousands of others off from visiting Scotland during the Summer is the midges (known in other parts of the world as “no-see-ums”, “punkies”, “sandflies”, and “muffleheads”).

Midges are tiny, flying insects that swarm in clouds of thousands from late Spring to late Summer. They love the soft light of dawn and dusk, humid days, boggy/marshy/wet places, and a lack of wind. Oh, they can also detect the Carbon Dioxide we exhale, and when one of them bites into you they emit pheromones that alert other midges that there’s a bloody good meal to be had, resulting in more bites.

They are bastards.

And in the Highlands of Scotland they are a known problem and nuisance. In fact, the Highland Midge even has its own Wikipedia page, they are that notorious! It’s been estimated they cost the Highland economy £286m per year in deterring tourists from visiting the area.

By the time Autumn arrives, midge numbers are greatly reduced, which means a much happier Lisabet and I!

Speaking of Autumn…

2. Autumn Colours

Autumn in Scotland is glorious; in my experience, it hits its peak from early- to mid-October. We’ll be staying as the colours are changing, which I’m very much looking forward to! Not only that, but sunrise and sunset times are more… sociable, and as the sun is lower in the sky the quality of light is softer, which I very much prefer.

So where are we visiting this year?

Week 1: Cove Harbour, Scottish Borders

We’ve briefly touched on the incredible coast of the Scottish Borders before, notably the St. Abbs Head Nature Reserve. About 10-odd miles north of St. Abbs Head lies a tiny coastal village called Cove.

Once a bustling fishing harbour, the village is now privately owned by Edinburgh architect Ben Tindall. Two main trails pass near the village: the Southern Upland Way and the John Muir Way, so there’ll be plenty of hiking and exploring to do!

I’m looking forward to spending a week right by the coast in a quiet and remote fishing village. Seascapes and fascinating coastal geology here we come!

Week 2: The Isle of Arran

Arran has been on my bucket list for many years now, so I am obviously ecstatic to finally be able to explore this magical island. For a landscape photographer like me, it has it all: pointy peaks, craggy cliffs, castles, unusual coastal geology, caves, lochs, mountains, waterfalls, and so much more.

A particular highlight I’m excited about is Glen Rosa and its view towards A' Chìr Mhòr, a modest but shapely pyramidal peak of (799m/2,621ft).

I’ll be taking the MacBook with me so hopefully there’ll be opportunities to post new work and blog updates whilst I’m in the country. But right now, all I have is giddy, childlike enthusiasm and anticipation.

Being Fluid In Changing Conditions

Yo yo! I’ve just come back yesterday from a week-long later summer jaunt around West Yorkshire and the Nidderdale area. Beautiful part of the country! One of the best things about the transition from later summer into autumn is the blooming of heather, and if you want to see it in abundance then your best bet is in the Yorkshire Moors.

I’m still in the middle of editing all the images I shot from this trip, but one thing has risen in my mind that I wanted to make a point about it: don’t be too stubborn.

Why’s that?

With the shift in seasons from late summer to autumn comes the changeable weather patterns: you could be shooting in glorious sunshine one minute and then totally drenched by a passing cloud burst the next. This can be annoying, of course, but it can also result in spectacular light. And as a landscape photographer, I think it’s important to remember that what you’re really shooting is the light. Quality light conditions can transform a seemingly bland landscape into a magical experience. Conversely, dull light conditions can make an otherwise extraordinary landscape seem boring.

So let the change in light change your subjects, your mood, your colour palette, and your compositions. Remember to stay fluid. Take the following images from this recent trip as an example…

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The two images here were shot only hours apart, but for me they take into account the changing light conditions.

The photo on the left had strong light with a few scattered clouds; all in all a lovely day. And to me, those conditions demanded rich colours and a sense of openness and space.

A few hours later I shot the image on the right. Clouds had moved in and rain was threatening. The softer light and moody skies to me needed muted colours and more dramatic and closed-in compositions. Shooting rich, bubbly colours with a deep, brooding sky would be a mismatch of atmosphere and subject.

I maintain that it’s still important to pre-visualise and research your landscapes so you can plan, as best you can, for such things as weather, light, access, and other variables… but remember to stay flexible and open-minded when conditions change.

Remember Bruce Lee? Be like water, my friend…

Welcome to Ian Cylkowski Photography!

Sometimes, you just have to close the book…

Hello! If you’ve come here from my here from my old site: welcome back! Glad you decided to rejoin me in my next chapter. If you’re new here: how do! This is my new photography website, portfolio, blog, and (one day) shop.

My photography journey started in 2012 when I decided to buy a secondhand Nikon D60 DSLR off a work buddy. I had always enjoyed hanging around in nature, and my recent foray into social networks such as Google+ had led me to the likes of Trey Ratcliff, who proved to be a huge inspiration to the 2012 version of me. It didn’t take long for me to start using every minute of free time to go hiking with my buddies and take shots on this camera, getting to grips with this new-fangled “HDR” thing that I loved looking at.

Not a year later, as my knowledge of camera tech, processing, and the art of photography itself grew, I upgraded to a Nikon D7000 (woohoo, welcome to auto-bracketing!) and also purchased my first ultra wide-angle lens, the Tokina 11–16mm f/2.8. The obsession had rooted itself into every cell of my being. I had finally found my Calling.

A lot has happened since then. I found my soulmate and the love of my life (same person). I moved 40-odd miles north from Preston, Lancashire, to Kendal, Cumbria. I fell head-over-heels in love with the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, and being sandwiched between both in Kendal was a godsend. I scored a dream job. Lisabet and I started exploring lots of places in the UK, and we continue to do so (if you want an idea of where I’m looking to explore next, check my Pinterest).

As my eye and skills developed, so did my tastes. I started moving away from HDR (but thanks, Trey, for kicking things off for me). I developed an appetite for that medium format “filmy” look. I started appreciating getting the image right in-camera as much as possible. And my philosophies of art and of being an artist became more attenuated. I wanted to move away from daily single image photoblogging and more towards finished collections that explored themes, settings, expression, colour palettes, and both the macro and micro worlds of that set.

This new website marks the end of my photo tinkering and the beginning of my photography training.

I hope you enjoy following my artistic journey.

I very much appreciate it.

Love and Beards,

Ian.