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After glow

Andrew Sanderson explains how he finds beauty in the most ordinary of landscapes and why a medium-format camera is the best tool for giving his images a timeless glow

THESE days, my landscape work is something that I tend to do in bits, here and there. With the exception of an annual visit to the west coast of Scotland, I just don't seem to have the time any more to spend a whole day out on a photographic expedition. However, I make a point of not letting my time constraints stand in the way of my photography and try to create time for myself each day to think about pictures. With an understanding of light and a keen eye for composition, you'd be surprised to discover how many great pictures lie just outside your doorstep.

It's a misconception that great landscape images need to have towering peaks or windswept beaches to make them dramatic. Landscapes come in every shape and size, and most of my landscape photography these days occurs when I'm on the way to, or returning from, a job, and often I'm nowhere near a mountain or beach. Yet there is often profound beauty in the ordinary scenes you pass by every day -you just have to learn to see it.

What makes a scene special for me is mainly the light, but also elements such as patterns and shape, symmetry and movement. When I 'see' pictures, a signal goes off in my head. It's hard to quantify, but often it's something small that grabs my attention, such as an isolated ray of light or swaying branches in a stand of trees.

When I've spotted it, there are various approaches for translating what I'm seeing into a print. Will it be a vertical or horizontal composition (I don't use the confusing terms 'landscape' and 'portrait' format), square or, occasionally, circular? I consider how much depth of field to include, whether it should be sharp or soft, whether to use a wideangle, standard or telephoto lens and, finally, how I want it to look as a print.

To know what you want in a picture, you need to know what you definitely don't want, so it is important to nurture a highly developed sense of the naff. The difference often comes down to light. I made it my business to learn about light a long time ago. I tried to see what it was that made some images work and others fail, and the images that work best always use dramatic light.

People often say my work is 'timeless' or that it glows, and I am asked how I achieve this. In order to visualise how I want the light to look on a print, I've looked at past examples in paintings, etchings, drawings and photography. I look at as many examples as I can and store these in my head as a sort of picture

'Folly'. Andrew prefers to shoot in large and medium formats because of the rich glow it brings to his final images, even when cropped down to smaller sizes

2SI tried to see what it was that made some images work and others fail, and the images that work best always use dramatic light s

The idea for this image was actually cribbed off one of my students - so I thank David Cobley for the inspiration! I was familiar with the scene already, so I knew how to get there. I went with my 10x8in camera and had a vision of my intended picture in mind. I really wanted the dark triangle formed by the wall and shadow in the centre of the frame to be a strong compositional element. It created very nice symmetry, and had I framed it in any other place but the centre, the symmetry would have been ruined.

Often my compositions come down to just an arrangement of shapes and tones. How they work and balance together is what I look for. Again, medium format lets me see that straight away. Everything is reversed in the viewfinder, so you don't see what you've framed as a regular scene. I think this makes me see the shapes better. Some people find medium format hard because of this, but by looking at something unrecognisable, you see it with fresh eyes and are more conscious of how shapes look in the frame. I find it makes composition easier. In a modern DSLR viewfinder you're just looking at what's in front of you; there's no separation from a scene to allow you to scrutinise it.

library. Understanding how others have succeeded (or failed) helps me narrow my possibilities on a shoot. It may mean, for example, that I will want to underexpose to emphasise a ray of light bursting from a cloud because I've seen the dramatic effects it produces.

Of course, my camera has a lot to do with achieving the 'timeless' look in my images, and that's because the camera itself is timeless. I tend to gravitate towards medium format more often than anything. Still, I go through phases where I'm really into a particular format and then swing on to something else for a few weeks. The reason I switch between formats is because each camera has its own look and feel. There is definitely something magical about certain types of cameras, and I wouldn't expect just one camera to be able to give me the range of images that I require. Sometimes I see a scene and know immediately which type of camera would be best for the shot.

For me, there's something special about the way large format sees things. This is a result of the diameter of the front element

'Rydal Water'. Andrew looks for scenes with interesting shapes, such as these hills and the lake, and a rich tonal range

Andrew spotted this shaft of light breaking through the clouds over his village of Holmfirth in West Yorkshire. He raced up a hill with his Mamiya RB67 and a tripod to capture it from this high vantage point

Left: This is a wood off to the side of an asylum, which I wanted to give an older, classic look. To this end I used a Thornton Picard Junior Special wooden reflex camera and shot not on film, but with resin-coated paper loaded in the back. This paper is very slow and isn't very sensitive to light, so it requires a long exposure. I've done a lot of work with paper negatives, so I knew how it was going to perform. Luckily, it was a sunny spring morning and I had the lens wide open, so the shutter speed I needed wasn't too slow - about 1/10sec.

The glow you notice comes from exposing for the shadows. The paper negative flattens the highlights, compressing the image tones toward the highlights yet maintaining subtlety

Below: I was on my way back from a job when I decided to stop the car and take a walk. It was on my walk that I spotted this tree. There was a certain grandeur and largeness to this scene, so I decided to include the fence in the frame to give the composition a sense of scale.

Composition is often an unconscious thing for me. When I approach a scene, the first thing I do is look at the way shapes are arranged in the viewfinder. This is much easier to do with a medium-format rangefinder. When you look through a bright viewfinder it's like looking through a transparency that's already been shot. I find that with 35mm, when you hold the viewfinder up to your eye, it's like looking through binoculars. You're not as conscious of the edges of the frame. In medium (and large) format, I'm more conscious of edges as I have some distance from the screen of the lens, which at 2.5in gives the effect of seeing around things that is very similar to your own eyes - the distance between your eyes is 2 24in. If you're looking through a wide aperture on large format, it gives the effect of making things wider and adds depth. Normally out-of-focus areas behave in a completely different way. Large-format images have a 3D quality, which is enhanced by extreme sharpness and finer tonality, and when applied to the right subject, such as a wide vista, the result can be stunning.

Unfortunately, I don't always have the appropriate camera with me! When I'm out with one camera I'm looking for shots that I know will suit that piece of equipment. As a result, I sometimes have to ignore certain potential images I see because they would only work with my other gear. Using the wrong camera will just produce a poor image.

Because my way of working is so intermittent, my 5x4in, 5x7in and 10x8in cameras are too large and impractical. For spontaneous use, I need something smaller. For me, a medium-format camera is the perfect compromise. I'm using a Zeiss Ikon 6x6in Nettar at the moment, a simple folding camera that gives amazing quality In the past I've used a Mamiya RB67, which is one of my favourite cameras. In my experience, I've found that medium-format cameras are a nice halfway house between the ease of use you get with a 35mm camera and the superb image quality of large-format cameras. Currently, I'm shooting llford HPS down-rated to ISO 200 with a yellow filter to bring out the best in the spring foliage. The thinness of the film retains great shadow detail compared to 35mm and is what gives my images their 'glow'. Even if you cropped medium-format

GEI go through phases where I'm really into a particular format and then swing on to something else for a few weeks ®

film down to 35mm you would still see this difference in quality. Something often overlooked in the digital age is the importance of the paper used to print the final image. I do all my film processing and printing, and never use cheap photographic papers. Cheap paper can ruin the effect of a good shot. A good-quality paper, such as llford Harman FB Warmtone, gives the photograph a depth that subtly imparts a sense of quality.

If digital imaging is your choice, that is fine, but use it like a serious camera. Use a tripod, take care over your exposure, and use an appropriate aperture. You may take fewer shots, but you will have a greater proportion of strong images. AP

A professional photographer for more than 20 years, Andrew Sanderson works internationally as both a teacher and practitioner of photography. He has exhibited regularly in the UK arid New York, and has photographs in picture libraries in both Britain and the US. He currently runs workshops from his darkroom and studio in Holmfirth, and gives lectures and demonstrations for llford Harman technology as one of its 'Master Printers'. To see more of Andrew's images or find out how to participate in one of his workshops, visit www.andrewsanderson.com

The process

The image below was taken in one of my favourite areas of woodland, just south of Midhopestones in South Yorkshire. This woodland is on the crest of a hill and gets quite windy at times. I was looking for moving foliage shots, so this seemed to be a likely place to find them. The wood can be quite dark in places, but here it was catching a bit of light and quite a bit of the wind. As it was autumn, I used an orange filter, which had the dual effect of brightening the leaves and reducing the exposure, allowing for a longer shutter speed. I generally go out with one lens, a 90mm f/3.5, and on this day I was using my Mamiya RB67.

I framed the trees as a landscape-format image because I wanted to draw attention to the tops, which were moving around and occupied more space. A vertical frame would have given me too much foreground. Part of how I see pictures is staying conscious of the space around my subjects.

Next, I took a spot reading from the deepest shadow and set the exposure two stops darker from that to arrive at a midtone. This helped me keep detail in the dark tones. Later, I used a compensating developer to control the highlights and contrast.

Part of how I see pictures is staying conscious of the space around my subjects S

In the end, I managed to capture the movement of the trees on my llford FP4 film, but the quality of the light didn't really come across on a straight print, so I had to do some dodging in the moving leaves to accentuate the glow. This is what I do with my photography, though it is important to me not to take it too far as this can make an image look too false.

Some people believe that photography should be 'pure' and unmanipulated, but I think that manipulation of the scene is merely interpretation - which is something artists have always done. The famous gum printer Robert Demachy once said, 'There can be no art without the intervention of the artist,' and I believe this still holds true today. The very fact that we have common terms such as 'dodging' or 'burning in' is an indication of how inextricably linked manipulation is with the photographic art.

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