School Days by Alison Johnston

  • Published on: 15th May 2020
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Last week I dug out a macro extension tube, stuck it on my camera and set off round my garden for a literal mini-adventure.

I wouldn’t say I’m a lazy photographer…but I’m definitely not one who knows the technical stuff properly nor their kit inside out. I am more of the type who has to swot up on how to use a flash EVERY time she has to use a flash. On the whole, nobody knows this, so it’s fine.

Therefore, adding technically technical kit like a macro tube (a bit of plastic and metal) to my lens is quite a big deal. It makes this a school day.

To compensate for my lack of knowledge, I find that talking out loud as I take the pictures, gives me the impression that I’m learning as I go. The dog is used to this. When he realises I’m not talking to him, he goes off to find his thrills elsewhere. I have learned this, so when I’m out with my camera I tie his lead round my waist to keep my hands free and him out of trouble. I associate photo taking with the occasional tug at my very core: a prompt to move on from the rusty gate I’ve been photographing for too long, so that he can go and sniff a choice fencepost.

In the industrial and rural wastelands, to which I am drawn, we bother nobody. Nobody hears me chatting away to myself about shutter speed and focal length. Nobody hears me mildly berating myself over white balance.

The dog heads off down the garden looking for something good to play with as I try to focus on anything I can get to stop moving in the breeze. Macro doesn’t tolerate a breeze. It creates such a shallow depth of field that a nodding flower nods right out of focus in the time it takes me to click the shutter. In the end, I decide stones will do and squint my eyes in and out: learning, learning, learning.

Macro takes me a step beyond where I am comfortable, out of reality into a familiar, but alien world. There the cheerful dandelion becomes impossible to grasp –ethereal and otherworldly; the feathery leaves of the sorbaria take on a carnivorous edge and the warmth of the sea-beaten brick reveals its strange man-made form. I love collecting stones, but the grains in the rock looks uninviting, planetary. I can see the wonder in it, but somehow getting so close to these treasures destroys the connection I have with them.

That’s enough learning for one day.

I retreat to my usual focal length, a nifty fifty. (Photographer’s jargon: tick.) I go back to capturing rust, rocks and plants from a safe distance. Every now and then the dog drops the ball at my feet – subtly, purposefully. We are both focussed now.

You can find out more about Alison and her work at:

This blog was first published on An Lanntair’s online artists support blogsite HA! Hebridean Artists – created in response to Covid-19 restrictions to allow a space for artists to keep inspired and connected.