LEE Filters Masters of Photography – Charlie Waite

Charlie Waite is one of the UK’s best-loved
landscape photographers. He started life as an actor, but fell in love
with photography in the 1980s. Since then, his work has been published in
around 30 books. He also runs photography workshops and holidays
with his company Light & Land, and launched the hugely successful Landscape
Photographer of the Year competition, which is now in its tenth year. I spoke to him in his Dorset studio about
three of his images. Hi Charlie, thank you for inviting us here
today. We’re going to be talking about three
of your pictures, and I understand this first one was taken
in the Lake District. It was, and it was one of those occasions where the previsualisation and the planning
came together. And eventually, with a little tenacity, determination
and hope, it happens. It’s a very enjoyable process. So for you, part of the experience is the
being there as much as taking the picture? It’s so true. If you’re not fully engaged
with the whole business of being there, you’ll definitely be the poorer for it. Was this picture taken late in the day? It was mid-afternoon on an autumn day, so
the sun was quite low. I think that’s the great thing about
looking up. Our students at Light & Land
never used to look up to see what the relationship was between
the sky and the land beneath. Once you can orchestrate ‘up there’ with ‘down
here’, you’re really in business. The brain and the eye are an amazing
double act. What lies behind the impulse to want to make
a photograph? It’s an amazing rapid scanning process. And then you think,
‘Yes, I’ll do a photograph here.’ What did you have to deal with technically? Filtration has always been a part of the entire
photographic process. What you’re doing, very subtly and with restraint,
is using filtration to produce an image that has parity with what you’ve already produced in your head. In this case, a subtle graduated filter – 0.45
I think – just slightly prevents this paler area of the sky
beckoning the eye of the viewer. You don’t want some bright bit of sky saying,
‘Come and look at me.’ It has to be about this, doesn’t it? But you’re really trying to produce an image
with a sky that equates to what you saw. It’s so rewarding to be able to orchestrate
your filtration, your exposure, as one entire entity on its
own, made up of different considerations. And when you get the result back, in the way
that you did with a transparency, you looked at the transparency on the lightbox and you say, ‘That’s what I did, and I got it right.’ With this next picture, there are two things
at play. The panoramic format is notoriously difficult
to get right, and also you’re in Bolivia, so you have to get it right. So tell me about this one. There’s a certain amount of good fortune involved. Firstly, altitude sickness. Which has nothing to do with photography,
but on that occasion it did. It was a horrible period of bad weather, coupled
with me not feeling well. And when I recovered, the weather recovered. I went to a little island in the middle of
Lake Titicaca, and found this rather delightful thatched
structure – but there was nothing else. I wasn’t quite sure what to do.
I needed something else. The wind was just beginning to get up, and
enter stage left was a boat. With a sail. And it was a blue sail. Not pink, not green,
not yellow, but blue – the same blue as Lake Titicaca. It was a diabolical bit of good fortune. And then the relationship was secure between
the triangular sail of the boat and the triangle of the thatched roof. You were at altitude and the light is different
from when you’re photographing locally. So what sort of filter did you need? Yes, altitude gives phenomenal clarity, plus
it had rained for several days, so a very mild graduated filter is always
handy to have. And a polarising filter, but not used
too much. A polariser is a bit like alcohol: great at the time, but the next day
you don’t feel so good! So I always think a polariser shouldn’t produce
a violet or indigo colour. You have to use it with great restraint. In fact, all filtration should be used with
restraint and care. When you talk about using the polariser
with restraint, do you mean you didn’t rotate it fully? Yes, knock it back a little bit. I always think it’s a good idea to take a
polariser and look through it before putting it on the camera. Because a polariser will have an effect on
something somewhere, all of the time. A polariser will have an effect on any surface
that reflects light. It could even be the thatch, or the top of
my head! Even a reed, a piece of foliage – anything. It increases contrast to a degree, so it has
to be used very judiciously. It’s a good idea to see what your polariser
is doing at a particular rotation, and ask what effect it is having elsewhere. And then try to find a happy medium. So would the area of graduation have been
on the clouds or lower than that, because you have the sail to consider, don’t you? Yes. In an Alpine setting you would use a
soft grad, but here the grad hasn’t clipped the top of the sail. It’s just nudged the tops of the clouds, which thankfully were all on the same
horizontal line. This last shot that we’re going to talk about
is fairly local to you. How important is it to have places nearby
that you can visit in any conditions and at any time of year? It’s very important. I wish I could discover
more little secret places. I think one thing that’s rather magical is finding a particular vantage point that one likes and enjoying seeing it in different performances. I have a phrase I rather like, ‘Nature suspended
in one of its most perfect performances.’ It requires late afternoon sunlight and it’s
got to be very early spring, and needs low light. Any landscape photographer would say that
oblique light is always really handy for trying to create shadows. The relationship between highlights and shadows
is terribly important in terms of dimension and depth. So shadows play a huge part in landscape photography. What was the light doing on this occasion?
Was it moving quite quickly? It was moving quite quickly and that’s rather
enjoyable. You have to consider the relationship between
sky, light and landscape, and when you have fast-moving clouds and wind
at high altitudes, you can utilise the sky in a particular way. I felt the contrast needed to be increased
between the amphitheatre and the background. Which worked very well because I don’t think
it was obtrusive – it was a genuine shadow. I don’t think you can use a graduated filter
of any strength to masquerade as a shadow. A shadow has to be a shadow and a dark sky
has to be dark already. It’s foolish to suggest that a sky that has
no rain in it did have. It’s impossible to produce. You want to use a graduated filter
to enhance what already prevails, and to increase it very slightly. It was already a dark sky, full of rain – in
fact, it is raining in the distance. So I wanted to be able to use a grad very
subtly. And actually – there’s no harm in this – I
brought it down slightly over the horizon. It’s a good idea to try this before putting
the filter on the camera. Hold it up to your eye and move it
up and down, and familiarise yourself
with the effect it’s going to have. It’s so much more rewarding to be able to
observe and witness and analyse and determine where you want to place your
graduated filter. So you cook the meal all in one go, you come
back and – in the way we did with transparency – you say to your printer, ‘Print as is.’ Print it just as you would have done with
a transparency. And I think that’s hugely pleasurable. It’s been very interesting to talk about these
pictures and learn a bit more about them. Thank you very much.


  1. J JM March 21, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Loving this series of videos!

  2. Ginger Photographer March 22, 2016 at 12:19 pm


  3. Andrea Crema March 22, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    Some really sound advise here, very good

  4. Salvador Luque García March 25, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    Fantásticas fotografías y explicadas con muchas claridad

  5. Adrian Richmond March 31, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    I enjoy the way Charlie shares his passion in these videos, lots of great advice. I will be more aware of what my polariser is doing from now on😀

  6. Gerard Pena April 11, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    thanks a lot to share you passion

  7. Hadrian Franklin November 10, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    Words are better than his photos a very over rated photographer IMHO all cliche stuff.

  8. dasp125 March 31, 2017 at 10:10 am

    Charlie comes across as a genuinely nice person and very intelligent.
    Amazingly natural images, which is how I like to create landscape images. Will be researching more into Charlie's way of working in photography.

  9. Martin Treacy May 15, 2017 at 1:34 am

    always lovely to see Charlie's pictorial wisdom at work! I learn a lot from the 'atmosphere' he creates around his photography

  10. Anjan Singh October 19, 2018 at 4:54 am

    Lee has a very blue color cast also adapter rings are separate purchase. Not better value for money if compared with other expensive brands.

  11. Canonista November 19, 2018 at 8:34 am

    I did a workshop with Charlie back in the summer. He shares a lot of insight which made all of us on the day shine in our work. Along with his sense of humour made it a relaxing and very enjoyable. day. Definitely recommend his workshops.

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