Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland (Part 1)

General, Photographs, Travel


Disko Bay, Ilulissat, Greenland

It’d been a lifetime’s ambition to photograph icebergs, a bucket list itch that was increasingly needing to be scratched. I’m not sure of the particular lure but I just wanted to be amongst them, breathe them, witness them and take a few shots before I died. It was just one of those things. They’re beautiful, awe-inspiring, natural and glaciers are declining fast, the bug was growing.

I’d started to hound my buddy, Ian, who’d also expressed an interest in coming with me. Not ones for a normal package tour, we decided to investigate getting there and hiring/chartering a boat to get us in amongst the ‘bergs. However, there were a couple of things stacked against us…

  1. Getting to and from Greenland isn’t as easy and as regular as most places (obviously)
  2. The cost involved meant we’d have to plan very carefully to get what we wanted

After nearly two years of saving and investigation (and, at times, trying to convince each other it was a silly idea) we’d decided Ilulissat, nearly halfway up Greenland’s west coast on Disko Bay, seemed to offer us the best ‘platform’ for year round icebergs and viewing opportunities. It’s accessible (relatively speaking), has a town of 4,500 people, a few Hotels/B&B/Rooms and a thriving harbour. Perfect for us.

Timing was important, we needed the sea to be navigable (not frozen) and be able to generally get around, however, we didn’t really fancy the height of summer given the increased cost of accommodation and everything else, including our perception of less boats available.

After much head scratching and costing the only real difficulty remained with a boat charter. This one was proving to be very difficult, the regular ‘cruises’ weren’t offering what we were after and expensive. Anything else very tricky to organise and, on the face of it, seemed prohibitively expensive.

During this period of head scratching, Ian emailed me a link to a photographic tour with Iceland Photo Tours along with the words, “not for us but shows the potential”. Along with their “Greenland – Midnight Sun” itinerary the link contained a beautiful video of Disko Bay and the photographic opportunity that existed there. When I looked at the pricing of their ‘tour’, which was for 24/7 daylight (in the height of summer) and included accommodation, breakfast and evening meal, boat charter for 5 days and an organised exploration of Disko Bay, the Icefjord and local settlements. It didn’t seem to be too bad cost-wise (comparatively speaking) and ticked many of our boxes sightseeing wise. I replied with, “Are you sure? Here are the numbers”, and pretty soon after, despite our desire to DIY our trip, we booked ourselves up! I must admit to a bit of soul-searching re the price but we convinced ourselves it was a once in a lifetime chance to get to see what we’d always wanted and dreamed of seeing.

Planning the trip, organising flights, baggage limits (for photographic equipment) and stop-overs to enable us to participate on the 6 day tour became our priority. Details of our itinerary and providers will follow in the next update but suffice to say, it took a bit of fun planning and researching. Always an exciting part of any trip away. Hels, my wife, took one look at the promo video and announced that she was coming along too as there was no way she was going to miss out (the link stated Humpback Whales were always around and in hindsight, this was inevitable!) It was brilliant news but of course, doubled the already eye-watering expense. Having taken out the appropriate second mortgage, we were set up and raring to go… My itch was about to be scratched!


Sunny Ireland


What’s all this talk about Ireland being a damp and sometimes slightly sullen isle weather-wise? We visited earlier in the year and spent a week touring around the southern counties, stopping where we wanted and enjoying the beautiful views in almost perfect sunshine!

The southern peninsulas of Kerry and Dingle were particular highlights with Kinsale town also being a cool destination. We covered some miles but stayed in some gorgeous campsites along the way. Safe to say, we will be back. My previous visit had been a fleeting one to the east coast and that had some photographic opportunities but the south is famed for its views and scenery and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Although not a photographic trip per se, we still managed to get the cameras out to record our road trip and capture some images along the way.


Portmagee with early morning mist

The above image of Portmagee was inspired by some images I had seen on the trip and I liked the way it captures the colourful village with a backdrop of hill fog creating a scene that I expect is all too familiar in these parts.


Stream and bridge nr Tintern Abbey

This shot was taken near Tintern Abbey and was just as a heavy shower was about to unload! The weather gave the image a good light and dream like quality.


Heavy Skies over Ardmore

Showers were infrequent but heavy during our first day but this led to dramatic shots before the inevitable downpour.

Early evening in Kinsale

Early evening in Kinsale

Another lovely sky and hint of a rainbow in a lovely town.

Ireland-1208_tn Ireland-1176_tn Ireland-1092_tn

Finally the weather we hoped for and stayed for the rest of our trip. Taken in the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula.


General, Photographs

As part of my ongoing and forever lasting photographic ‘Lyrics Project’, where I take images representing lyrics that have been important to me, I undertook this photo shoot. The lyric in this regard was “Anastasia Screamed In Vain” from the Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil”. I am not a huge Stones fan but think this track is amazing and was big for me way back when.

Anyway, to me, (and this is all that matters really) the lyric refers briefly to Anastasia Nikolaevich (Romanov) of the Russian Royal Family who along with the rest of her family was ordered to the basement of their exiled home and executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Not a cheery story but Anastasia subsequently became a bit of a legend:- a) because she was young at 17 and considered beautiful and b) because there was much speculation that she and her younger brother had survived the attack. There were many rumours and women claiming her identity but the whole sorry tale was only finally proven in 2007 when her and her brother’s remains were positively DNA tested.

So, the idea for the shoot was to take a literal approach and twist the tale into a more modern way. I therefore asked the wonderful model Helen Diaz to sit for me and ‘act out’ this somewhat testing assignment.

We shot in an empty room and the processing is deliberate to try to give the image an overall stark but engaging feel. This image isn’t the one finally used (as Helen isn’t screaming) but it is my favourite of the session and to me has a troubling feel to it as a stand alone image. The image used is available to view on my website if you are so inclined http://www.squashimagery.com/_photo_12409463.html

Needless to say, Helen was an absolute pro, is totally mental (no, really) and is gorgeous looking and to work with. No question I will be hoping to work with her again soon (if she’ll have me back)!


A Lesson in Portrait Photography


I was recently asked to do a portrait shoot for a lovely friend of mine with the purpose of providing some images that could be used for a biog and media information etc in her line of work.

Jane Evans is an up and coming expert in the field of parenting post domestic violence trauma. As her reputation grows she is getting called upon more and more for training and media interviews etc for her particular specialism. Her unique blend of gentle personality combined with a realism of everyday life make her input and training invaluable to anyone that meets her.

The portrait session was arranged and we decided that a studio scenario was just not going to work for Jane. Like most unprofessional models, Jane didn’t relish the idea of having her photograph taken and was understandably concerned how the results might make her look and perhaps more importantly, feel.

It is very important in these situations (i.e. all portraits!), whether photographing for pleasure or commercially, to put your subject at ease and not ‘overpower’ them with paraphernalia or barked instruction. I am lucky enough to know Jane but if you don’t know your subject it is always worth spending whatever time you can, having a chat with them.  This helps you understand what they want from the shoot and get to know the characteristics of the person you are about to subject to, what to many people, is a dreaded experience.  It also means that they can get to know you as well. A good photographer will never under-estimate this conversation.

This quote sums up my philosophy totally and I believe should be taught at EVERY Portrait Photographic training course in the world! “It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.” – Paul Caponigro.

This is where the difficulty and the excitement lives in photographing people. It doesn’t matter who the subject is, rock star, politician, next door neighbour, brother or a stranger in the street. The skill is in executing the capture of an individual’s heart. Many say ‘soul’. Another famous quote is: “Portraiture is a window to the soul.” I am not sure that is necessarily the case but it certainly is more than just a photograph of a person.

Too many times we are witness to photographs of people that are merely a record of what someone looks like. Capturing the inner person is the secret and the reason the greats are great. Sometimes I have had a portrait session with someone and feel I have let them down. I have failed to capture them in the way I should have. Is that their fault? Is it mine? Always it’s mine, talk to any model sitting for the real greats, Avedon, Blumenfeld, Testino and they will not mention the equipment or the studio or even location. They WILL talk about the photographers passion, engagement, conversation and how they were made to feel fantastic, maybe carefree. They trusted their photographer. This is what should be taught at any photographic educational establishment but is so rarely touched upon. A photographers ‘style’ only develops when they have grasped the mastery of these simple concepts.

Anyway, back to Jane. We decided that as Jane was nervous (not uncommon at all) and that she is a country gal at heart, we went for a walk in the country! As we got going, I shot a few of her with a longer telephoto lens so as not to ‘crowd’ her and get her used to me taking some photographs. I explained what we were doing so nothing was a surprise. As we proceeded, Jane became more confident and we had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

The results are, I feel, fantastic. I showed Jane these images (and a few others) last week and I am always hugely surprised at the impact a good set of images can have on the sitter. It is why I love this job! I didn’t alone make these images….it was, and will always remain, a collaboration. Jane made a comment that I am not sure she realised the impact of. She told me that she trusted me. The highest compliment she could have paid me in my opinion. I hope that although the vast majority of you will not know Jane, you can start to know her from these few images. If that happens, then surely the photography has done its job!


Portraits & People Imagery


Having spent many years working with people and the psychology of what makes them tick, it comes as second nature and really helps to capture that essence in photographic form. Yet it occurred to me the other day that there aren’t that many ‘good’ portrait photographers around compared with say, Landscapers. 

It took me a while to come up with the reasons why and all I could summon up were a few loosely based and untested theories.

The first is a generalisation but I wonder how true it is in the modern digital era. It is that photography at any serious level is a relatively technical business. It is all about f stops, shutter speeds, iso’s, depth of field, bokeh, focal points and post production. And all this before you start to get involved with any artificial lighting in studio’s etc. This means that very often, (here is the untested, generalised bit!) people with a technical ‘bent’ will gravitate towards photography as a hobby while more ‘artistic’ individuals get lost in all the technical waffle.  

In turn (more generalised theoretical stuff), as these people are generally more technically minded, they are less likely to be ‘people people’ and therefore are more likely to gravitate towards landscaping and wildlife work rather than people work. This is more likely to apply to the general public rather than professionals for the obvious reasons. What are they I hear you shout! Well, there is little money to be made these days from stock libraries and general sale of images in the wildlife and landscaping business. This means that those photographers who grow on to become pro’s will usually have to be good with people for several reasons.

The first is, that to run any successful photography business well, you will need to have a certain minimum level of people skills. Whilst we would all love to be shooting for 5-7 days a week, the reality is very different and sales and marketing will employ a new business for well over 50% of any photographers time! The second reason will be that the more lucrative work in the industry (generalising hugely again but please bear with me) involves taking photographs of people in some shape of form. If it doesn’t – say high-end product work for example, then it will still involve a great deal of work with people in the client company, art director field in order to come up with the correct approach to shooting the product in the first place. 

Now, going back to my discussion with myself about people imagery. Those that have mastered the craft will very often treat the technical side of their work as incidental to the image creation process. Yes it will all be taken into account but the style, the look, the location will all have been considered to be more important than the f stop and the shutter speed. It isn’t of course, it will just seem and feel that way. The most important consideration in any portrait will be the connection the photographer manages (or fails) to achieve with the sitter. That word ‘rapport’. I learned very early on that sometimes negative rapport can achieve the look you are after and I have been guilty of employing this method myself once or twice. 

A fellow pro said to me just the other day that he always felt that he had a ‘special’ connection with his models/sitters after a shoot. I would agree entirely. You have both ‘gone through’ something special together. Something that even an assistant won’t be a party to. You have a ‘special’ relationship that is impossible to describe but both know exists. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a closeness, although it can be, more an understanding. 

Now, is it really unfair of me to then take this to the next step and suggest the following?

It is generally unlikely that those of us that have a strong technical approach to photography and indeed probably, life, are too willing to engage in this way with people that they hardly know and are often unlikely to ever meet or converse with again. Thus, I have now managed to convince myself of the reason why few photographers gravitate their way towards people imagery and stick to more solitary subjects such as landscapes and wildlife. 

I thank-you!




This week has whistled by as they all are starting to do these days! Must be a sign of age?We haven’t done much in the way of photographing over the last few days due to the fact that I have had to get my accounting system up to date and accurate. This is not one of my favourite tasks and nor is it one I hate doing either. It just consumes time and much of it. I think Mr VAT Man will be happy as all seems to be in fair order there and the business is doing well according to our P&L log which is brilliant given we have only been properly trading over the last year!

I have also spent a huge amount of time researching and gaining background knowledge on the internet business idea that has now reached a point where we have totally run out of excuses to not proceed with it and the whole thing now needs to go somewhere. I am totally committed to this idea and HAVE to find the right partners to help take it forward and make the dream a very exciting reality. There is an enormous amount to do to take this project finally to market but all the big hurdles can be easily overcome.

Yesterday was spent in London on the above project and visiting one of the oldest retailers in the country to discuss a photographic project. Having spent a brilliant hour with the owner we have agreed that we will begin a project of product shots and location shots for their ‘soon to be launched’ product range and developing campaign. It is a very exciting piece of work based on retro-look imaging and I cannot wait to get going on it. We hope to start work on this in the next couple of weeks and help build a great presence for this wonderful rekindled brand.

As always, everything keeps moving swiftly and each phone call brings a whole new set of ideas and challenges to the ever evolving Ellis Imagery. I am loving this constantly changing and dynamic world and look forward to each week immensely. If only everyone could enjoy their work as much as we seem to!

Saul of James playing his Godin at Hard Rock Calling, Hyde Park, London

Mid-week Excitements!


The update on the hard drive saga is that it is costing me an absolute fortune to see if any data can be recovered by a crack team of ‘experts’ in some far away land. I am guessing it is now becoming a forlorn hope and an experience that I never ever want to have to repeat. What a horrible feeling it is to realise you may never get back some of your hard work!! Boohoo…

On a more positive note, I had an interesting albeit maybe not too lucrative meeting down on the south coast yesterday and managed to catch up with my old buddy and friend Rich Lock. He never changes and in the 2 hours we were together managed to lose his wallet. It sounds dramatic but I have never really been with him for any length of time without him losing his wallet. Or keys. Or phone. 2 hours though is a personal best even for Rich.

Today the icelandic dust cloud has cleared the North of England which means we will be able to travel to Newcastle tomorrow morning and therefore see the amazing Take That in concert at the Stadium of Light as planned! All I need to do now is pack and make sure I have all the right paperwork etc. Early start tho’!

I also visited a potential client today to help with a couple of advertising ideas and hopefully if we can create some good concepts then I would hope to be able to get more photographic jobs from them including shooting the ads themselves. As always it will be the idea that really will win the day, the rest will come quite naturally.

After last weeks slight hiccup (too much wine tasting at the London International Wine Fair) the Radio Show continues on itfm.me.uk between the hours of 9-11pm GMT. Tonights show should be fun as it will be the first time that my Fiancee has ever graced the airwaves and boy is she nervous already! Nice easy baptism from me then in the early minutes do you think?

This triptych study was shot during a studio session with GB Olympic Diving Team members, Monique Gladding and Nick Robinson-Baker, both from Sheffield.

Monique Gladding and Nick Robinson-Baker

Olympic Diving Duo, Monique Gladding and Nick Robinson-Baker