‘Spurn Point’, Low Lighthouse, Spurn Point, East Riding of Yorkshire
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, EF17-40mm f/4 L USM @ 17mm, 2 seconds @ f/4 ISO 1600
10-stop ND & 2-stop ND Grad filters.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“I made this image on the day my father died.”


I made this image on the day my father died. He had been ill for some time, so it was an expected event, but nothing can prepare you for the emotionally numbing sense of emptiness and loss. It can feel impossible to articulate or verbalise such despair, but as photographers we can communicate such emotions in the blink of an eye, through our imagery. When words elude us, we can tell the whole story without actually saying anything. For me, being an artist, a photographer, is a way of life; so the urge to encapsulate such depth of emotion in an image seemed a very natural response. Spending the day alone with my camera, my thoughts, my memories, was consoling and cathartic.

It was a wet and overcast afternoon, the weather reflected my miserable melancholic mood. I decided to focus my efforts on this composition with the lonely old derelict lighthouse, the puddles and the storm clouds all contributing to the tragic and mournful theme. I felt emotionally numb and for most of the afternoon I was functioning on ‘auto-pilot’. I made a number of images with various combinations of filtration and exposures, all using this composition.

This final choice was an unusual one, quite fitting with the unusual circumstances. The image was actually intended as a test shot made with a 10-stop neutral density filter in place. When using dense neutral density filters I start by making a test exposure using a wide aperture at 1600 ISO; this enables me to judge the resultant histogram within a few seconds rather than waiting several minutes. I can then apply appropriate compensation, make a further test shot and then extrapolate the settings to a much longer exposure at a smaller aperture to provide a sharper image with a larger depth of field and low ISO to minimise noise. When I eventually reviewed all the images back at the studio, this one stood out as most representative of my feelings at the time. The clouds were already quite homogenous due to the overcast weather and the long exposures using the 10-stop which completely blurred the sky were not as compelling as the shorter exposures made without using the neutral density filter. However, the high ISO used in this shot created an image with emphasised noise and an appropriate grittiness for such a low-point in my life.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.