Another Road Trip by Gregory Nolan

A couple of weeks ago, I headed back out on the road for a good old fashioned American road trip.

It’s incredible what you see and experience on those wide open roads and big vistas.

Some of my favorite photos were taken in the Teton Mountains in Wyoming. That’s wide open spaces like nowhere I’ve seen, with these gorgeous mountains appearing in the surrounding flat plains. It’s been an unusually wet spring and early summer in what is usually an extremely dry part of the world. We could see that in the forests and farmlands, and in the tree-filled slopes of the lower Tetons.

But then you get to the Grand Tetons themselves, and those peaks are all rock and snow. That’s a stark, wild beauty if I’ve ever seen it.

The American West, even in a wet year, is a dry landscape. It was hot and dusty on those long days, and even though we stopped frequently for a quick photo or to stretch our legs, the wear and tear of the road got draining. But then we'd arrive at some extraordinary place and the miles would fall away behind us. Bear Lake in Utah was one of those places--a chance to cool off, wade in, and relax. Plus we caught some cheeky wildlife photos in the surrounding area.

The trip also took us to Logan Canyon, which is one of my new favourite places in the world. It’s in northeastern Utah, and is absolutely glorious. The road winds through the canyon, combining riverside meadows with forested hillsides and sheer cliff faces. We only had a couple of hours there as we were passing through at the end of a long day, and there was a place to stop around every bend in the narrow road. Watching the sun set on the canyon walls has got to be one of the best things I’ve ever seen anywhere (even though I was driven crazy by the fact that we weren't at a good vantage point for a photo).

Long stretches of northern Utah and southern Idaho are pretty desolate by any measure of the term. But there are hidden gems, including some we literally stumbled upon by accident when we got tired of racing along at a mind-numbing 80 miles an hour along the freeway. Shoshone Falls and the Snake River Canyon in southern Idaho were unexpected and startling, making a jaw-dropping detour and a chance to breathe in some deep beauty after a dusty morning's race across country. 

I have a particular fascination with places in the process of falling apart. This is not unique to the US--if you cross Ireland you'll see all kinds of half-crumbling homes and businesses. The thing is, though, they crumble differently. One reason for this is a simple question of materials--in Ireland and most of Europe, buildings are made of stone and therefore fall apart in a more ancient-looking fashion. But there's more to it than that. There's something about the wide-open American surroundings, combined with a quality of light and a sense of heat and desolation that makes disrepair feel different here. In any event, these American ruins certainly caught my imagination. 

In non-road trip parts of the trip, I spent time with my girlfriend’s family and friends. Her cousin was getting married, and I took some shots at a family brunch the day after, complete with her almost 96-year-old grandmother (who cooked the breakfast) and the newest addition to the family. I also popped along to a construction day with her mom's friends, who are building a common house together for community events. AND to her dad's Irish band performing at a great local bar.

So it was a busy non-road trip moment for a road-weary photographer.

The final day of the whole trip was spent descending the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains, crossing the Mount Hood National Forest amid startling views of the snow-covered peak and twisting forested highways. The morning started at the gorgeous Smith Rock, a favourite destination for hikers and rock climbers. All that last day we were returning to familiar territory--this was the area where I shot some of the wilderness photos in the current A5 collection. It’s wilderness and highway that’s beginning to feel like it’s in my own backyard.

Over the course of the adventure, we drove over 3,000 miles and made the whole trip in a week. That’s a long way in our adventure car, Spike, listening to podcasts and books on tape, scheming schemes, and watching the world go by.

My First Film Camera by Gregory Nolan

Photo taken with an iPhone camera. 

I was recently gifted a 1982 Nikon FG film camera by a friend of a friend’s parents. They no longer had a need for it--in fact it hadn’t been out of its camera bag in 15 years and weren’t even sure it would work.

I’ve tossed around the idea of a film camera for ages, but never actually took the plunge to buy one. I learned on digital, and shoot on digital, and know how to work with the digital both in shooting and in the post- editing phase. But I’ve always had an idea of wanting to try film.

So I got it home and did some research on the internet, which was interesting because the word internet was first used in 1982, the same year the Nikon FG came out and it would be a good few years before people were using it in their homes. The only youtube tutorial I could find about the camera, featured a guy accidentally blocking the view in the most important parts of the tutorial.So I tracked down a user manual and printed it out.

The camera came with a 50 mm 1.8 lens and two ancient roles of black and white film. It wasn’t until I had the camera in my hands that I realised I had no idea how to actually change film. At all.

So I popped open the first of the two rolls of film that came with the camera and with much excitement I began inserting it. I followed the manual carefully...Or at least I thought I did. On my first try, I accidentally rotated the film the wrong way and broke the film. Not that anyone’s counting, but that’s one roll out the window. Since I’m not one to be discouraged, I gave it another go and managed to not break anything in the process.

I love the camera. Everything from working with such small and light camera to the feel of the film advance lever as I prepare to take the next photo. I’ll even admit to having a romantic notion of heading out with that camera to seek out the greatest shots the world has ever seen--life-changing, earth shattering images of faraway lands...because with a film camera it’s suddenly all the more real, and somehow the dream is bigger.   

I’m not sure I shot quite to my dream of what it could have been. I will say that I actually managed to get the film developed, which in our modern day and my instant-gratification personality is no small feat. I’d literally never developed film before.

And if only 16 of the 36 exposures even turned out at all, well… everyone starts somewhere, and that is almost half after all.

A selection of 'moody' under exposed photographs. The 15:00 is the first photo I took... 

I don’t think any of these shots will stop the presses, but I’ve got to say I’m pretty pleased. Not necessarily with the photos themselves (although a couple aren’t too shabby), but I’m mostly excited about the depth and feel of the images. The way film naturally deals with shades and tones is something that I have always admired and rarely seen even in a beautiful digital image. There’s something special about film, and about having a small camera paired with the mindset that each frame is precious, and each shot is something to consider seriously.

I have a lot to learn still. The camera has some limitations that will push my abilities and I hope will push me forward in both skill and patience in both the film realm and in my digital work.

So I guess from time to time I’ll be heading around town with my new/old silver Nikon film camera along for the ride. We’ll see where that takes us!

Launching One Day Photos by Gregory Nolan

I thought about selling prints for years before I finally got up the nerve to do it. I loved the idea of people hanging my photos on their walls...and was terrified that maybe no one would want to. Plus I’ve got a mess of psychological baggage that makes me just as uncomfortable with people liking my photos as I am afraid they won’t like them...But this isn’t a psychiatry session, so back to the blog post.

The point, if I can stick to it, is that I want people to be able to put my photos on their walls.

It means so much to me that people have purchased my fine art prints, and that they’ve had positive things to say--not just about the images but also about the quality of the paper and the presentation of the product. I’m really proud, and want to continue offering the highest art quality of prints for people to purchase.

But that doesn’t work for everyone.

I want to create a product that people can access anywhere.

I want something that is hassle-free, instant, and accessible. I want it to have a sense of anticipation and even some fun--a way to get a different type of photo out there and into the world.

So I’ve come up with the idea of One Day Photos.

Each Monday, for 24 hours only, I’m going to make one of my photos available for download. The file will be sized for home printing, with the idea that people will buy the image, print it out, and hang it up in their homes.

I’ve launched with Road Trip Sunset because I love the shot and think those wide open roads are something tons of people out there can relate to.

In the future, I plan to share One Day Photos of bands and landscapes and tours and crowds. I hope to do Bastille One Day Photos, draw from my old London music scene days, and share on-the-road snaps of whoever I’m touring with.

They’re photos that I plan to print one at a time, each week, at my little home printer. And for 24 hours, you’ll have the chance to do the same.

Rock Band 4 Cover Art by Gregory Nolan

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Well… I finally lived up to a dream I didn’t even know I had.

A photo of mine is the cover art for an internationally acclaimed video game: Rock Band 4.

Not only is that something pretty worthy of bragging rights… it also meant that I basically got to shoot a gig performed just for me. The marketing team wanted to use an actual photo for the cover, which meant bringing in a band to play a show to an audience, and having me there to photograph.

On the one hand, it was a Disneyland version of the chaos I deal with on any working day (lighting optimised for the photo, band well spaced, crowd carefully not getting in my way…). On the other hand, the pressure was on and I knew darn well I had to get that shot.

It was a really good experience and a cool thing to shoot on the day. The band was really solid and the crowd was actually enjoying the gig. Although this is a massive and stressful campaign, on the day of the shoot the client was laid back and supportive. We’d talked through the idea and style of the photo, and had everything lined up to be as streamlined and controlled as possible.

I took the photos and handed over the files.

This was a very different experience than my usual work shooting live. Not only was it carefully controlled and highly specific, but it was also strange to hand over unedited files and wait to see what the final image would look like. I’ve got to admit I was a little nervous about it--where would the editing take the image? Would it look like what I shot? Did I get the perfect angle, did I maximise the lighting, would the final edit still feel like my photo…?

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Turns out, I’m pretty darn pleased with it. I like the colors they used and the staging they chose and the feel of the image. They wanted to have it look like the video game was part of an actual live scene, and I think they pulled it together well.

And now I keep getting RockBand ads popping up in my social media streams...complete with my photo. Gotta say, it’s a pretty cool feeling.