Morpeth Camera Club: 'Going Local – Landscape in a Different Light'

On November 14, Morpeth Camera Club was pleased to welcome guest speaker John Thompson, one of the club’s most accomplished photographers, with a print presentation.
Cheviot View by John Thompson.Cheviot View by John Thompson.
Cheviot View by John Thompson.

He started ‘Going Local – Landscape in a Different Light’ with an example of what most people assume to be infra-red (IR) photography in which the sky was jet black and the foliage resembled snow.

He went on to show more of his work and the audience gradually realised that the original example print was not what he was hoping to achieve in his IR work, and he set out to explain the subtle differences and show the results that can be achieved in this genre of photography.

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John uses a camera specifically converted for IR images that lets infrared light through. This conversion produces sharper IR images that aren’t bound to a lens filter’s equipment requirements.

A path through the woods by John Thompson.A path through the woods by John Thompson.
A path through the woods by John Thompson.

IR conversion also removes the need for very long exposures and external filters, and is used like a normal camera.

A series of night images followed where he learned that the camera should be set at the absolute minimum settings and, after experimentation, he realised that the camera could pick up unexpected detail.

He then went on to show his prints of graveyards. With phenomenal tree detail interspersed with atmospheric dappled light, his cameras’ response to foliage produced the impact and energy that he was looking for.

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He challenged himself to find images that work in terms of geometry using his favourite aspects of black and white coming through. He then went on to explain positioning to achieve good light.

In some areas, it is hard to find different points of view to acquire shape and geometry, but he displayed scenes taken at Plessey Woods with its swathes of garlic, copses and textured tracks through the woods demonstrating what he wanted to achieve.

Skies are important to the picture. He said they add interest and provide rewarding possibilities; contre-jour can create light beams and shadows for a well based picture, accepting light in a different way.

He went on to display three different images, one of which was not taken with an IR camera, and those in attendance were asked which one it was. The answer was revealed when John explained that infrared light picks up the chlorophyll in greenery that turns grass silver, resembling snow, whereas in the non infra-red image the grass was detailed and relatively dark.

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The paper used when printing is also a factor of success; a semi gloss paper will catch the light on trees and gives the scene a three-dimensional quality whereas a matt paper would flatten the image. There are times when he sees a view and just knows that it will be a good one and he gets excited by the experience.

He avoids taking coloured photographs in the Cheviots in high summer when the hills are different shades of green – but prefers to photograph in IR, which brings out the textures, and depth, providing a sense of space and is enhanced by the detail in sweeping clouds.

John loves to capture the joy of the area with sheep in the fields under big skies, where he experiences the feeling of what he believes infrared photography should be.

Throughout the evening, he included anecdotes on his experiences of being approached by a herd of sheep, of an organist playing in a remote church, meeting some friendly fishermen, grumpy landowners and of his getting lost in tall nettles.

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Chairman Peter Downs thanked John for an excellent presentation where the audience had enjoyed him showing and talking about more than 70 of his high-quality infra-red prints, introducing an alternative take on the region’s lovely countryside, which we now see ‘… in a different light’.