I’ve produced a book. It wasn’t commissioned, and it wasn’t crowdfunded. Indeed, upon completion of the project I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to do with the images, if anything at all. The project was, first and foremost, for me, and the prospect of producing something as tangible as a book couldn’t have been further from my mind. Only a small selection of images (Summer, only) have ever been seen. At the time I hadn’t a clue that I was to carry on with the project over the following three seasons but once I did Autumn it became clear that I simply had to finish the task. To give you the backstory, here’s the introduction, as written within.
Many assume that by being a professional nature photographer I get to spend all day outdoors. If only that were true! Instead, at least half a day every day is sat infront of the computer doing all those tasks that running a business entails. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. I get to see some wonderful places and through my workshops meet incredibly interesting people. As a result of my time spent in the office, regardless of my schedule, most days I attempt to get out and stroll around my local woodland. It’s a very special place to me as it was here that I ‘cut my teeth’ as a nature photographer more than 35 years ago and where, for the last 28, I have held the voluntary position of assistant warden.
In late June of 2016, a busy week in the office laid ahead with an impending week-long trip to Italy, and I knew that upon my return, there would be countless tasks to deal with. So, I thought I would set myself this project which would give me the extra incentive of returning to nature every day prior to my departure. I have always enjoyed projects, no matter how large or small, for they are a powerful means of focussing on a specific task, as it can be all too easy to wander and return with nothing in particular. I wanted to travel light, but more than that, to use the absolute bare minimum of equipment; to get back to basics. I left my tripod, numerous other lenses and filters at home, dusted off my age-old 50mm lens, attached the strap to the camera, and disappeared into the beckoning wood for just one hour per day, for one week.
As you can see from the introduction, my intention was to only do the seven days in summer, but such was my enjoyment of carrying out this mini-project that I decided to continue and cover the remaining three seasons. It would give a welcome relief from administrative tasks and an opportunity to re-connect with a place that holds so many heartfelt memories.
Situated on the edge of the North Downs in north Kent, it is neither substantial nor small. It is sufficiently large to harbour a multitude of plant and animal species, yet small enough to wander around in an hour or two. Although sweet chestnut predominates, there is a healthy mix of hornbeam, ash, hazel and oak standards. Common spotted and early purple orchids can be found along the dappled sunlit paths as can gatekeeper and even white admiral butterflies. Away from prying eyes (and clumsy feet), herb paris, solomon’s seal and pyramidal orchids thrive and badgers, owls, dormice and glow worms have made this wood their home.
Map of Kent, showing the approximate location of the wood.
I knew, right from the start, that it would be too great a task – in such a limited period of time – to capture bird and mammal species, and anyway, the equipment I was using was hardly adequate for such flighty, wary subjects. Instead, I wanted to convey something of its spirit, that which so many who enter into this wood feel, as I do. Like so many similar woods across the Downs, it is far greater than the sum of its parts, it is somewhere I can extricate myself from the pressures of everyday life, to stretch my legs and walk on soil, not tarmac, and admire the beauty of the natural world that has captivated me since boyhood.
I used just one camera and one lens during the project. A NIkon D810 and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AI-s manual focus lens. Circa 1990, it is extremely sharp and nicknamed the ‘pancake-Nikkor’ due to its compactness. It came as a kit-lens when I purchased a film camera – possibly the Nikon F3 – and with its closest focus only being 60cm I would, on occasion, use extension tubes (singly, or combined) to enable me to obtain close-ups. No form of support (e.g. a tripod) was ever used and so a wide range of ISO settings from 100 through to 1600 were implemented so as to obtain an adequate shutter speed (with the desired aperture, set), in order to avoid camera shake.
Doing the book
Procrastination is too strong a word. If I have something on my mind to do, creatively, I let it sit there for a while, and work out exactly how I want it to look. Once all four seasons were complete I didn’t do anything with the images at all. I would return to them, on occasion, but to do nothing more than remind me of those four weeks in the wood. I resisted sitting at the computer and playing with design templates. I hadn’t told anyone of my intentions, and so there wasn’t any pressure. If a book were ever to be produced it would be on my terms.
More than a year went by until I eventually decided to produce the book. The design, I felt, had to be kept simple, and the book format, small. Other than the introduction the only text would be Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. I wanted the images to speak for themselves. This wasn’t to be a field guide, and image titles were a definite no-no. I approached a couple of book designers and after much deliberation decided that I could do much the same using a self-publishing platform. Afterall, I knew, already, how I wanted the layout to look.
There are many to choose from and I eventually went with arguably the most well known – Blurb. I’d had limited experience with them, previously, but since you can do the layout in the Book module of Adobe Lightroom it seemed the wisest choice. One of the major advantages with doing it through LR is that I can make adjustments to the image, there and then, and not have to export the file then change the image within an external program. I decided upon the Small Square size. 7 x 7 inches seemed just about perfect and the paper chosen was Premium Matte. I’m not a fan of gloss within picture books and the matte surface gave the images, for want of a better word, integrity. It would suit them, I thought. There were one or two issues upon receipt of the proof copy, but that was my doing, and Blurb’s email support was wonderful; offering extremely quick and efficient advice. No hanging around. I’m a stickler for perfection, and now, having held the finished article in my hands, and leafed through the pages, I’m extremely happy with how it looks and feels.
Hardcover image wrap
Premium Matte paper
So, you might be thinking why didn’t I employ the services of a designer and use a printing firm? I’m not fooling myself, and I am under no illusion that a book such as this has a very limited appeal. It certainly wouldn’t be worth printing any more than half a dozen copies! But, I thought, perhaps others might also be interested. It’s a year in the life of a typical English woodland as seen through the eyes of someone who knows it intimately and cares a great deal about its (and others like it) future. Who knows, upon looking through the book it might even make the viewer appreciate that little woodland at the end of their lane just a little bit more. To stand, and to take a moment to listen at the creaking of branches in the wind, or look in wonder at a germinating acorn. Fellow photographers might also be intrigued. A little book inspiration if you will. To see what can be achieved within such a short space of time, in one location with a single, fixed focal length lens.
At this stage, I am merely ascertaining numbers. To get some idea as to how many might actually be interested in owning a copy. As to the price (as with almost everything) the more I order the cheaper it becomes. We’re looking at around £32 which includes P&P within the UK. A little more will be charged for overseas orders. I’ll even be more than happy to sign it for you. How’s that for incentive! In time, the book will be available through Blurb’s website but it will be selling for substantially more, in the region of £48.
Finally, I must stress that this is not a money-making exercise as I’ll barely be making anything from their sales. (How optimistic of me to say the word, sales!). My intention is to merely show others a small woodland that I love and have been photographing for more than 35 years.
You can drop me a note expressing your interest, here.
I’ve also put together a short audio-visual which I hope you’ll enjoy so before heading dropping me a note grab a cuppa, sit back, and come take a walk in a small wood on the edge of the Kent Downs. https://vimeo.com/300556220