Carrot vs. Stick

In Articles On Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Running up Pew Tor at 5.45 on Sunday morning desperate to reach the top before the red light disappeared from the sky I was being pushed forward by the fear of failure.

Nearly all of my photography trips are built on excitement about a particular area, or the potential weather, but so often what propels me on the day is the desire not to miss out. With all the planning in the world I am all too often caught off guard. The light comes earlier than I expected, I leave for a mountain summit too late, or an alarm fails to go off. In situations when most photographers probably think:  ‘It’s going to be great!’ I think:  ‘I better not miss it’.  At times, in the most dramatic locations, my emotions can verge on despair at the prospect of missing great light. What if I hadn’t been so lazy? What if I was fitter? What if I had predicted this? These are all thoughts that run through my head as I struggle to catch my breath.

Fortunately failure is a massive motivator for me, and I rarely miss out, even if I cut it a little fine (its frightening realising how many images I was only just in time for). I guess I am a worrier at heart! What follows is excitement, satisfaction, elation, vindication. I enjoy photography more than anything else I do or ever have done. It’s a massive emotional see-saw.  Perhaps that’s why I find landscape photography so addictive!

Gasping for breath after running the last part of the hike to Caseg Fraith when I realised the sky was about to ignite. Fortunately I knew the location well, which is pretty essential if you are running late!


  1. Nice image, I know the feeling! You know if I look at the photo for a few seconds the colours get warmer as if the sun is rising. nice trick of themind you envoked with this photo.

  2. Your reflections on your passion and cutting it fine with time are most excellently versed in this blog post Alex! I too have “cut it a little fine” on several occasions.

    Once at sunset on Saddle Tor saw the mesmerizing light i had followed masked by a big cloud as a I raced up the hill, it seemed all over – but for some reason I stayed there a while, hopeful – then for one last fleeting moment the light was revealed, the photograph made and within 10 seconds it was gone again and the rain started tumbling down. It remains one of favorite images, maybe in part due the investments of a visualisation of what may be, effort, tenacity and a heap of luck….. as well as the beguiling light.

    The Caseg Fraith photo is stunning and enchanting 🙂

  3. Mark Mc Mullan 6th May 2013

    Sounds familiar Alex only I do miss the light on occasion ( to often maybe) . My most recent one was having waited for two years on conditions being right for a shot in the mourne mountains , fresh blanket of snow , clear skys , light winds , sun at right angle e.t.c I duly rose at 4 am defrosted the car set offf on the 50 minute drive reached my destination in good time for the short hike up in to my chosen viewpoint only to discover i had left my camera bag on the wall outside my house while I was defrosting the car , nightmare lol . But at least I did recover the situation because I had risen and arrived in good time I still had time to return home grab my bag (which i was relieved to see ws still there by the way ) and drive for 25 minutes to another location over looking The mountains and got some great shots. Even though they weren’t the ones I had origionaly planned for I am very happy with them because they remind me of the total gut wrenching failer I had felt then the elation of the rescue mission .

    • Mark Mc Mullan 6th May 2013

      Oh yes least I forget your images have in no small way inspired me to get up at these early hours to do these silly things images like the one above phenomenal .

    • You’re not the first or last to leave your camera gear at home. You name it, I’ve forgotten it! Thanks for the comment Mark

  4. Hi Alex,

    Have enjoyed reading your accounts of hiking and photographing and thought you could help me out with a small conundrum. My wife and I are dong a 4 night hike along the southern Cape coast in South Africa, starting next Friday – the Otter Trail. It is not necessarily a hugely taxing hike but one does need to carry all one’s own bedding, food and clothing along a 42 kim route – Accommodation is in overnight cabins along the way. There is one particular river crossing, which if not done at low tide, requires crossing in chest high water aided by a rope. I’ve never seen any great photography of this stretch of the South African coast line and think it may provide good photographic opportunities. The equipment I’m planning to take with me is a Nikon D3S body; 14-24mm 2,8 lens, a 70-200mm 2,8 lens and my Manfrotto tripod. Not only will this be rather heavy but I’m concerned about the factor of water/rain along the way. I imagine this is a risk/reward situation and am keen to hear your comments and advice?

    Many thanks.

    Kind regards,

    Plettenberg Bay
    South Africa

    • Hi Rob,

      If I was crossing a river where there was any sort of reasonable chance of ending up in the drink then I would put my camera gear (and sleeping gear!) in a dry bag. When it is raining persistently I just put my camera bag into a normal plastic carrier bag, just to give it some additional water protection. Whether you want to go further than that is up to you! I would also recommend a small microfibre towel for wiping your gear down if necessary, they are generally handy things to have anyway. I don’t envy you carrying all the 2.8 glass and a pro body but at least you don’t have to carry a tent. Sleeping well in a bed also gives you much fresher legs! 40km across 4 days is a nice distance to do because it allows you to really take your time without exhausting yourself. The trail looks fantastic, I agree that it looks to have a lot of photographic potential. Have a great time!


      • Thanks, Alex. Have made provision for wet bags and am resigned to carrying far more weight than my fellow hikers. Unfortunately, my TPE indicates sunrises & sunsets over land for the dates we’re on the trail – a pity, as it would have been ideal to have a sunrise or sunset over the sea, given the fact that most of our overnight cabins are set on the cliffs over the sea.

        • Hi Alex,

          I can report that lugging 6kg’s of camera equipment along with another 12kg’s on one’s back up and down the Indian Ocean Coast line is not for the faint hearted. In addition, no sunrises and sunsets happened over the ocean & so there were no photographic opportunities for them. I did, however, stumble on a family of 4 Cape Clawless otters emerging from the ocean one morning which provided a wonderful photographic opportunity, especially as I also had my 70-200mm f2,8 lens and tripod close at hand. Those 10 minutes made up for all the lugging of the equipment! The wet bags worked a wonder for crossing the rivers.

          I spent some time in the Kruger National Park last week on a walking trail in a 65 000 km wilderness area. I’m having some trouble understanding how to blend some of the more difficult sunsets and moon rises and am hoping you can assist me. I know you offer tuition via Skype for this sort of thing – can you let me know how we would go about this? many thanks.


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