Sunday 16 January 2022

Finding My Photographic Niche with the Help of a Winter Excursion

We all have a photographic niche that is unique to us, an area where we can excel above all others. Yes, even you. You may not yet have the technical skills or equipment to exploit that niche, but the things that make you uniquely "you" mean that we all have an inherent niche in which we're uniquely qualified to excel photographically. What this niche is depends on our experience, our knowledge, but most importantly on our passions. It's very difficult to take a good photo of something without being passionate about it. I'm a scientist and work in a very fact/evidence-based industry; if it can't be measured then it doesn't exist, but I've noticed that in my photography, different rules apply. It's not just about getting the optimal settings and composition: If I'm shooting something that I feel strongly about  or have a connection to, and if I can transport those feelings and connection through the camera lens to the sensor, then 9 times out of 10 I'm taking a good photo. 

Ice Crystals on Snow || Olympus 86 mm (crop), f/8, 1/640, ISO 200 
So what part of ourselves can we tap into to find our niche? What do you know about your local area, what is your experience of those places? What is it about them that moves you? I've always been someone who struggles with a sense of my own worth and ability in almost all aspects of life - humility was more important than self-esteem growing up. If I say that I consider myself to be a good photographer, it's because I've slowly come to accept the feedback that I've received over the years - it's something I've been told repeatedly. There are also photos I've taken over the years that I am proud of. Accepting that I'm a good photographer (I still find it difficult to even type that) was one thing. Understanding my niche and accepting that there's a corner of photography where I might be uniquely equipped to share my vision with the world has (is) taken even longer, but I'm slowly beginning to feel comfortable in my skin and recognise that I have a contribution to make as a photographer or even as an instructor. I may never be a Nigel Danson or a Gavin Hardcastle, but I am Mike Page. I am an experienced mountaineer (but no Heinz Zak) with a comprehensive knowledge of the north-eastern Alps (and a few areas in between). I can recognise a good image out in the field and know which conditions would be good to return - my experience. I can take a decent astro-photograph, but I'm no Stefan Liebermann, I'm a competent photo editor, but I'm no Albert Dros. I'm passionate about being outdoors and I can write. That's my niche, or at least part of it. What's your unique set of talents and how do they relate to your photography?

The Mighty Guffert || Olympus 44 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO 1600 (don't ask!)
One of our favourite winter outdoor activities is cross-country skiing, a sport that has taken us all over the eastern Alps as well as to the hills of Norway. And so we found ourselves getting up in the dark yesterday morning to join our dear friends W&C to revisit the Guffert Loipe between Achenkirch and Steinberg am Rofan. It was a chilly -5°C as we were putting our skis on in the small car park whilst looking for the start of the trail. Although there are a lot of people who take part in this sport, not many of them can be bothered to lug a big camera around with them and not many photographers get out on cross-country skis to access these areas in winter - again, a part of my niche. There wasn't much snow left on the trees, but there was a decent frost on the surface of the snow and on many of the trees, especially near streams and in areas that the sun wasn't reaching. 

Winter Beech || Olympus 86 mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO 200
Hoar-frost is a very ephemeral phenomenon; unless it's really cold, once the light's on the crystals, you only have a few minutes to get the image before the sun's warmth melts the ice. A lot of the frost that we'd seen in the morning simply wasn't there any more when we came back in the afternoon, even though the temperature never climbed over the freezing point. The crystals on the wire fence are so reminiscent of tinsel that it's laughable, especially when we remember that the basis is actually the other way round.

Hoary Tree || Olympus 100 mm (crop), f/5.6, 1/8000, ISO 1600 (again, don't ask!)
Nature's Tinsel || Olympus 70 mm, f/16, 1/250, ISO 200
Needles on Needles || Olympus 86 mm, f/11, 1/250, ISO 200
Skiing past a beautiful wooden chalet our attention was grabbed by the tits and finches flitting in and out of a tree above a bird feeder. Fortunately the birds were accustomed enough to human presence that they allowed us to take a couple of photos, including this one of a crested tit, posing thoughtfully on the centre of the feeder. It's a very serendipitous image, but like I always say, a good photographer makes their own luck. Being out to capture the image and being in a position to monopolise on an opportunity when it presents itself helped me to capture this gorgeous little bird in exactly the right location.

Crested Tit || Olympus 100 mm (crop), f/8, 1/160, ISO 200
In some places, the ice crystals had really built up, both on the surface of the snow and on branches, giving rise to some really bizarre structures. I had my 60 mm macro lens in the bag, but found that I didn't need it to capture the level of detail I wanted to show. Maybe if I had been out on my own I would have taken the time to swap out the lenses, but I didn't want to keep my three companions waiting too long given the late hour. The day wasn't getting warmer any more. The M. Zuiko f/4 12-100 has a minimal focus distance of an incredible 15 cm, making it relatively simple to get up close and personal with the ice anyway.

Ice Crystals I || Olympus 80 mm, f/16, 1/40, ISO 200
Ice Crystals II || Olympus 35 mm, f/8, 1/640, ISO 200
Ice Crystals III || Olympus 100 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO 200
I'd expected the crystals to be more hexagonal, these were anything but, forming needles on the surfaces that they'd grown on. In terms of photo tips, shoot against the light where you can; light shining through the crystals - or leaves - will really show off the structures from within. If I'd shot with the light behind me, very little of this detail would be apparent.

Ice Crystals IV || Olympus 86 mm, f/14, 1/60, ISO 200
Ice Crystals V || Olympus 86 mm, f/14, 1/60, ISO 200
Ice Crystals VI || Olympus 100 mm, f/11, 1/200, ISO 200
Returning to the car we descended through this last part of the forest. The rest of the route had been well tracked, but the connecting Loipe to the car park was in need of preparation. A fitting last image of the day. 

Last Metres of Track || Olympus 24 m, f/8, 1/80, ISO 200
Well, almost the last image. The nearly full moon rising behind the log pile after we got back down was too much of a temptation despite the rapidly falling temperature. I would have preferred taking this with my super-zoom, but that's 1.5 kg too many for an outing like this.

Moon Stack || Olympus 100 mm, f/8, 1/80, ISO 200
So what's your niche? What's your unique set of knowledge, experience and passion that you're excited to share with the world? I'm genuinely interested to hear what it is - an even more interested to see the results!


  1. Ice Crystals III and IV are my favourites, very nice details!

  2. I am a passionate travel photographer not professional, self taught amateur. Like you I love the mountains especially the Himalaya and Karakoram where I have spent years of my life traversing them. More than anything I love the people and their culture and time spent with them is a precious memory

  3. My niche is my family!!! I am the hobby photo-taker and archiver of events. Each year ´boasts´ a photo book to chronicle our times together. As four of my children are adults now and even my baby is becoming a young lady, it is a frequent event to take out the photo books from years gone by and say...I remember when. I only like scenery when there is a family member in it - so quite to opposite to you, Mr. Page. But oh my, your photos are lovely!