A Memory Jogger? by Stephen Lewis A.R.P.S.

My maternal grandfather, Adrian Allen (Bob to his friends), was not only a fine watchmaker but also a fine musician. He played a mean jazz guitar, and his main claim to fame was that he played the opening night of the cavern club in Liverpool. The band he played in was called the Ralph Watmough band, and although I’ve been able to find out a little bit about them from the Internet the pickings of been a bit thin.

So I am posting this image here in the hope that somebody out there can tell me something about it. It was taken we think around 1955, and shows a group of session musicians, including my grandfather front and centre with the guitar. This is not the Ralph Watmough band, but some of the musicians in this photograph may have played in that band.


Now I appreciate that the Liverpool jazz scene in the 1950s is a fairly specialised or specialist subject and that many of the people involved around that time will now be getting on a little bit, but if you happen across this webpage and can tell me anything about the photograph or the people in it (including my grandfather)  I’d be grateful.


Back to Basics by Stephen Lewis A.R.P.S.


It’s been a while since I last posted here. (A few other projects and ill health have kept me away).  However, a recent decision about my photography has got the old blogging juices flowing again.

For the last few years I’ve been concentrating on two photographic genres, namely time-lapse and infrared monochrome.  I have done little in the way of traditional landscape photography, and I’ve struggled to conjure up any enthusiasm for it.  I’ve been giving some thought as to why this may be and I think I have the answer.

I have a perfectly decent Nikon D800 which is capable of fantastic results, especially when used in conjunction with Nikon’s tilt and shift lenses.  The DSLR has allowed me to experiment with all kinds of new ideas and to make images which would have probably been impossible with a film camera.  However, I just don’t enjoy using it for landscape work.  It’s fine for my macro work and my watch photography, but when out in the landscape it provides an unsatisfactory experience.

I still enjoy the process of finding a landscape image. The search for a decent subject, the contemplation of light, tone, texture, colour, highlights, and shadows, and the challenge of bringing it all together in a coherent composition.  What I’ve stopped enjoying is the actual process of making the image; of using the camera.  The realisation I’ve come to is that this is largely due to the camera not allowing any kind of real engagement with the subject.

Any camera is just a tool of the craft, and should never get in the way of or interfere with the creative process.  If you’re busy thinking about the camera, which button to press, which wheel to turn, which menu item to select, then you’re not really concentrating on your subject. You’re not engaging with it in any meaningful way.  The technical side has superseded the creative process.

This lack of engagement became evident when I started sorting through my images in preparation for a book to be published later this year.  Up until 2013 I was producing strong, coherent images on a regular basis, but since then I’ve made far fewer.  The quality is still there but whereas I used to produce between 25 and 50 decent images every year, since 2013 I’ve produced maybe 50 in total.  Now, I’m a ruthless editor of my work, and very hard on myself when it comes to the quality, so either I’m editing more out i.e. throwing more away, or I’m just not making as many images as I used to.  Either way it boils down to drop-off in production which I’ve put down to a lack of enthusiasm in turn brought about by the unsatisfactory experience of using a DSLR out in the landscape.  So what’s the solution?

I wrote here in 2016 about coming to terms with selling my large format equipment and how I missed using it out in the field, particularly the sense of engagement it provided.  Since then I’ve constantly found myself checking out websites and retailers to see what’s out there but I’ve always resisted the temptation, mainly due to concerns around the film processing (cost, quality, et cetera).  However, recently these concerns have abated somewhat, and I find myself back in the position I was in in 1997 when I started looking at large format for the first time.

So, I’m going to do now what I did then. I’m going to invest (or should that be reinvest) in a small, lightweight large format system. A lightweight field camera, one lens, a couple of film holders, and some Ilford monochrome film.  My venerable Sekonic spot meter is still working and I’m sure I can find my original dark cloth.  For the time being I will have the film processed by commercial lab, but hopefully at some point in the future I would like to recommission my JoBo CPE2 processing system.  (To fund all this I’m going to sell my Nikon tilt and shift lenses,  so if anybody out there is interested please get in touch).

Buying my first large format system was one of the most significant points in my photographic career. I now realise that selling it was a low point from which I’ve not fully recovered. To quote one of my photographic heroes, Joe Cornish;

“There is a proper sense of occasion and significance setting up a big camera on a tripod.  I liken it the process to a painter setting up a canvas on an easel, and working with paints and brushes, en plein air (as the impressionists described it).  The process itself, with its laborious workflow, reinforces a sense of respect for photography and for the landscape.  This in turn helps me make pictures that I feel do justice to the subject.  It is impossible to snap, to take, to point and shoot and walk away”

I feel better already!  So, is it to be 5 x 4 or the wonders of 10 x 8?  I’ve always fancied a 10 x 8………


Turns out the scientists are no better at counting polar bears than they are at Photoshop.

I typed famous fake images into Google this evening for a bit of fun, and the image above popped up high on the list.  For decades the polar bear has been the poster child for the AGW church. This image was used extensively to garner public support, but is clearly a fake. It’s set me thinking as to what else the polar bear worriers were up to, so I decided to do a little bit of digging. A few nuggets have been unearthed which are worthy of future study but the following is so astonishing that I couldn’t wait. 

My research lead me the the website of Dr Susan Crockford, a zoologist with more than 35 years experience, including published work on the Holocene history of Arctic animals, and currently an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. There I discovered this little gem.

In 2014 Dr. Dag Vongraven, of the Norwegian Polar Institute, was the chairman of the IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG). In May of that year he sent an email to Dr Susan Crockford. It read as follows;

“Below you’ll find a footnote that will accompany a total polar bear population size range in the circumpolar polar bear action plan that we are currently drafting together with the Parties to the 1973 Agreement. This might keep you blogging for a day or two.”

It appears the PBSG came to the realization that some damage control was required.  Here is the statement that the PBSG used as a footnote in the Circumpolar Polar Bear Action Plan;

“As part of past status reports, the PBSG has traditionally estimated a range for the total number of polar bears in the circumpolar Arctic. Since 2005, this range has been 20-25,000. It is important to realize that this range never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand. It is also important to note that even though we have scientifically valid estimates for a majority of the subpopulations, some are dated. Furthermore, there are no abundance estimates for the Arctic Basin, East Greenland, and the Russian subpopulations.  Consequently, there is either no, or only rudimentary, knowledge to support guesses about the possible abundance of polar bears in approximately half the areas they occupy. Thus, the range given for total global population should be viewed with great caution as it cannot be used to assess population trend over the long term.” [my bold]

In other words a senior scientist responsible for collating polar bear numbers, and, presumably his team and piers, have been guessing the numbers. I would say it doesn’t bear thinking about, but the pun trivialises the fraud.

The sun will still rise tomorrow.

Traigh Tuath, Barra. Outer Hebrides. Scotland.

Well there you have it. The dust has settled, we’ve taken belts and shoelaces off those who voted to remain and tried to inject a little magnanimity into those who voted to leave. 

We’ve resigned from a failing and corrupt elitist club, governed by unelected and unaccountable plutocrats, and offered the opportunity to go out and see the rest of the world. To make new friends and forge new relationships which will ultimately benefit everybody.

The uncertainty will be easier to manage, and problems easier to solve, because we are in control of our own affairs and destiny.  There are always exceptions to the rule but ultimately we are a tolerant, liberal, multicultural democracy, and, whilst we are not perfect, we have a lot to offer.  All we need now is the self belief.

An experience shared…..


In the phrase “landscape photography” the most important part is “landscape”, and those photographers who consistently produce quality landscape images have an affinity, an empathy almost, with the landscape born out of their love for it and all that it offers.

Of course not every photographer is going to enjoy the same kind of landscape, and what may inspire one may do absolutely nothing for another. Then there are those landscapes which are definitely an acquired taste. My first love, Snowdonia, falls into this category, as does Iceland.

I had the opportunity to visit Iceland in 2014 and, not knowing the country, choose to go with Wild Photography Holidays. What tipped the balance in favour of WPH was the fact that the owners, Geraldine and Martin, actually live in Reykjavík and consequently have that local in-depth knowledge of not just the landscape but of the practical things such as road accessibility, hotel owners, the ferry companies etc.  That comes in useful when late changes in plan are needed, usually due to the weather.

That trip was so enjoyable that I immediately booked for 2015, during which Gary Beff (The Operations Director) asked if I’d be interested in doing something a little different in 2016.  They wanted to offer a tour visiting  the western fjords and were asking some clients to join them on a trial run.  I didn’t need asking twice.

After meeting up with the group in Reykjavik, the next day found us heading north-west to spend two nights in Budir.  Located on the Snæfellsnes peninsular, there are miles of stunning coastline in either direction and Kirkjufell mountain only 40 minutes away.  In fact on the first night Geraldine and Martin bundled us into the cars and we headed down to Grundarfjördur to take advantage of the clear conditions, and where the northern lights put on a short but spectacular display over the mountain.  An experience shared is an experience doubled and the excited conversation of the group as they fiddled, faffed and fretted over cameras provided a backdrop for the evening.


A few days later, after a stop-over in Grundarfjördur, we boarded the 2 1/2 hour ferry to Brjánslækur, then travelled for two hours to our new base at the hotel Látrabjarg.  Not normally open until May, the owners had opened up especially for WPH. The staff were brilliant, the food fantastic, the landscape……………..

It is raw, elemental, almost primordial.  A landscape stripped back to its basic elements, it curries no favours but offers unique creative rewards for any photographer willing to accept it on its own terms.  For our three days there the wind never let up.  If you didn’t like the weather conditions you only needed to wait 10 minutes, but the wind was relentless. It was the soundtrack to the experience.

As often happens those willing to go the extra yard are rewarded with something special, and the landscape and weather combined to offer a unique  experience, culminating with another aurora display over the western fjords on the one night when, although it hadn’t been forecast, the skies cleared for a few hours, and offered a glimpse into “………the infinite ocean of the medium which pervades all”. (Nikola Tesla).

With a few tweaks, WPH will be running this tour in 2017, and, provided I can persuade the spending committee, my name will be the first on the list.  There are so many opportunities which, although offered, could not be taken this time.  I’ll be grabbing them with both hands next year.

Huge thanks to Mark, Jill, Susanne, Malcolm, Lynn, Caroline, Chris, Albert, Dorothy, Geraldine and Martin.  The best of travelling companions.  Next year?


The best policy ?

I’m going to relate this story because it’s one of those situations where you may wonder what you would do in the same situation. I’m not going to mention the company or the product they retail, suffice to say they sell very expensive items to a wealthy clientele.

A few years ago I received a phone call from a web design company. They were coming up on the deadline to publish a website for a client and had been badly let down by photographer, who was supposed to have produced high quality images of some of the more exclusive items to go on the landing page.  What he had produced was very poor, to the extent of being a laughable.

I assured everybody that I could not only produce the goods but do so in the time remaining, and they gave me a piece to photograph as a trial. When, a couple of days later, I showed them the end results they immediately commissioned me to photograph the six pieces which were to feature on the landing page.

I spent the next week producing 18 images of the pieces, and delivered them in time for the website to go live.  I got paid, they hit their deadline, and the client’s website was completed on schedule. Everybody was happy.

A few weeks later I received a phone call from the client asking me would I be interested in photographing some more items for him on a regular basis. We came to an arrangement and I spent the next three months photographing new pieces as he received them.

Then, out of the blue, I received an email from the client telling me that he had seen some photographs on another website which he was interested in using on his own. Would I be able to remove the background and the watermark from the images?  I replied that it would be possible to to do this, but I would only do so if he had permission to use the images from the copyright holder. He replied that it was not a problem and asked how long it would take me?  I gave him a timescale and reiterated that I would not do it without the express permission of the copyright holder.

I’ve not heard from the client since, and he hasn’t replied to any of my emails or phone calls,

I can only assume that he found somebody else to carry out the task for him. Also, on checking the website I can see that the style of photography has changed, so either he’s found someone else to do the photography or is doing it himself.  (Given the quality of the photography now I would assume the latter).

Many people don’t fully understand the idea of copyright, or choose to ignore it.  When you buy an image, a music track, a video, or software you don’t actually buy the file itself you simply buy a license allowing you to use it. In essence you are renting it.  The copyright always remains with the creator.  It is surprising how many people think that because an image is on the web the rule of copyright does not apply, and the image is free to use for any purpose by anybody.

A couple of times a year I use a piece of software which trawls the Internet looking for my images, and gives me details of where they being used. It is not often I have to write to somebody to tell them to remove an image from their website but it has happened on a few occasions in the past. When contacted those using the images are usually willing to take them off-line.  I’m happy for charities or educational websites to use my images free of charge, but anybody using them for self-promotion or profit wiil receive a email.

My unwillingness to steal another’s work has cost me a lucrative commission.  It would be nice to think that the gesture is being reciprocated.

A Touch of Nostalgia

It’s been three years since I gave up my large format camera, and I haven’t really missed it.  Until, that is,  last Saturday.

Because it takes so long to shoot a time-lapse sequence you have plenty of time to contemplate the landscape or go mooching about looking for traditional images.  So whilst one camera was busy with the time-lapse I picked up the other and went for a wander.  I found a potential image that really caught my eye but couldn’t make it work without the tilt and shift lens, which, of course, I’d left at home. This was when I realised that had I still been shooting large format I could have been happily engaged for the next half hour making what would’ve been a really good image.

I’m not one for getting sentimental about equipment.  It is after all simply a means to an end, and I have only owned four camera systems in my entire photographic career; a Contax 35mm which I bought in 1978, a Mamiya RB 67 medium format which was bought in 1997, my LF system which I started in 1998, and my current Nikon system.  Each has been sold in turn to pay for its successor.  However, and I still believe this to this day, the large format camera is probably the camera best suited to traditional landscape photography.

I’m not going to eulogise to any great length about  the attributes of a large format camera. That is adequately covered on myriad websites, and like any other camera system they do have their drawbacks.  In any case it’s not necessarily the camera’s abilities which make it so good, it’s more the way in which it encourages an engagement with the landscape which I’ve never experienced with any other camera system.  When you throw the dark cloth over your head and all the outside world distractions are minimised what you’re left with is just the image on the glass screen and your vision. You are encouraged to look deeper into the landscape and, ultimately, yourself.

One key attribute however are the movements.  It is difficult to describe to somebody who has never used camera movements just what a fantastic tool they are, and not wanting to give up that kind of control I have the tilt and shift lenses from the Nikon system (24 mm, 45 mm, and 85 mm).  They don’t have anywhere near the amount of flexibility you get with a large format camera but just the ability to align the plane of focus is a marvellous control to have.  (Assuming you haven’t left them at home!)

In 2012 I realised that I had taken my large format camera on every trip that year without using it once.  Consequently I made arrangements to sell it through a national retailer on a commission basis, but it took me three attempts to package it up, because for some reason I didn’t understand at the time I was reluctant let it go.  I now realise that my reluctance was based on the fact that I’d had some brilliant experiences, made some of my best images, and gained some wonderful friends as a result spending time out in the landscape with that particular camera.  So I wasn’t sentimental about the camera itself rather I was nostalgic for the times and experiences it afforded me.

Of course I’ve gone on to have good times, good experiences, and made new friends with my digital camera equipment. The digital camera has opened up new creative avenues for me, and allowed me to make images I could never have dreamt of making with a large format camera.

Having said all that I have recently found myself looking wistfully at adverts for 10 x 8 cameras! You know, for when I have a few hours to spare on a Saturday afternoon!