Broad Horizon Nature is the 'umbrella' website for my two projects Broad Horizon Photos and the much more recently started Broad Horizon Natural Soundscapes.
Please note that I do NOT see myself as a photographer nor as a sound recordist as any sort of self identification, but, first and foremost, as a sensitive, 'open' and aware person with a great empathy and 'feel' for nature, who uses photography and sound recording to share with others various 'high points' of his nature experience.
How my interest in nature photography arose and developed
I had been very much a nature person from at least the age of 5 (I was born in 1942). It started with my keeping caterpillars and studying pond life (including the multitudes of microscopic organisms), and progressed through my making a collection of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and keeping in my bedroom as 'pets' a variety of animals - primarily reptiles and small mammals, many of them exotic species.
During that time I also developed a keen interest in meteorology and cloud formations, and came to love watching thunderstorms. I learnt basics of meteorology from books of which we seem not to have the like today; they were clear, direct and informative, with none of the 'dumbing down' which characterizes books on weather which I've seen more recently. As a child I quickly got impatient with books that dumbed down. If I was going to learn at all I wanted to learn properly. The sort of nature books that I avidly read were ones like Ralph Buchsbaum's Animals Without Backbones and certain of the New Naturalist series - and of course I used identification guides such as Richard South's Moths of the British Isles. For meteorology, I remember two particular books I learnt greatly from were The Weather Map and Meteorology for Aviators, both published by HMSO and unavailable probably for decades now.
I was well aware that my collecting and pet-keeping activities were unhealthy for me in important ways, no matter how much I gained from them, and when my father gave me a camera as a 21st-birthday present in 1963 I took this as a cue to phase out the 'pets' and collect only photographs. I quickly progressed to a couple of Pentax single-lens reflex cameras, using a relatively large, hand-held electronic flash (i.e., not mounted on the camera) to illuminate all my close-ups of insects.
At that stage I was concentrating on insects, and selling photos was far from my mind. In 1972 I discontinued the photography and indeed any active natural history interest, but in 1978, while studying as a mature student at Exeter University, I tentatively started nature photography again - this time with a much broader natural history basis - primarily insects, plants, lichens and fungi, and wild scenery, this soon to tie in neatly with my greatly augmented enthusiasm for hiking in wild and rugged places.
I then armed myself with a couple of more modern Pentax SLR cameras, and built up a large photo collection which came to take me a horrendous amount of time in cataloguing, remounting and labelling the colour transparencies, and sought to get some income from these.
I got 'in' with the regional Workers' Educational Association and ran adult education courses on natural history for them, basing them on selections of my transparencies, with some field trips. I also gave one-off slide talks to local organizations.
However, getting 'in' with photo agencies, which was where I'd assumed most money would lie, proved problematical. Generally speaking, they were not interested in my 'naturalist' approach to photography, in which I photographed plant and animal life with their natural background as part of the picture, and photographed what took my fancy. No, they wanted 'their' photographers to be mobile and travel around photographing what their clients wanted - and I had little stomach for operating in that way. Also, being a non-driver put considerable limitations on my mobility to go to places to get specific photos for which there was demand.
The outcome was that only one agency (Oxford Scientific Films) took any of my photos at all, and they took only a very small number, from which I only got a very occasional small fee. This was clearly not worthwhile for me.
I'd also produced regular nature articles with photos for The Great Outdoors magazine from 1984 to 1986, but had troublesome experiences with that magazine and the publishing side of things generally. Then in 1990 I felt I'd had enough of all this - just when I broke out into writing novels - and so I stopped the photography, and in 1998 I actually disposed of my photo collection, having no idea that I could have important uses for some of the photos in my then still infant website. The Devon Wildlife Trust took over the part of the photo collection relating to British natural history, and the Alpine Garden Society took over the very large part which was devoted to my nature photos (mostly flowering plants) in the Alps and Pyrenees.
In 2000, for what I was seeing as probably my final visit to the Scottish Highlands, I was so frustrated by my lack of photos to use in my websites, that I bought a little Fuji compact digital camera and used this, subsequently using it on some of my hikes. This was useful for that purpose, but the photos were not sharp enough to be of saleable quality. Also, this was not really suited to extreme close-ups.
Broad Horizon Photos' serendipitous beginning
In May 2007 I took up a set of life-enhancement practices and measures, which I soon expanded into a full self-actualization / self-realization methodology. Among them was the ability to test for strengthening and weakening energy influences* in my life and surroundings - one of the results of which was my establishing a number of Feng Shui-type enhancements that I needed to carry out in order to make my flat a healthier place for me to be living in. Among these required enhancements was the placing of photos of foliage and trees in a woodland setting, and a photo of green rolling hills, on the walls of my living space in certain specific positions.
* A procedure called energy testing.
For this purpose I wanted good quality photos, and had an outing with my little Fuji compact camera to take the requisite photos. In the event I found that none of what I'd taken was sharp enough, and so, having discovered a dearth of suitable photos on the Internet (and those that were suitable were subject to eye-wateringly high usage fees), I decided to get a better camera and try again.
What I ended up with was a Fuji Finepix S6500fd, which is of an extremely versatile SLR-like design, of a much higher standard than my little compact camera, and had masses of 'bells and whistles' in terms of functionality. Once I started using it the notion came to me to start a new website for selling photos taken with this camera - and that's how the Broad Horizon Photos project* quite serendipitously came into existence.
Actually, at that time and up to January 2011 the project and its website was called Clear Mind Photos. I explain about that further below.
I should emphasize that the Finepix S6500fd does NOT have my full recommendation, and after a bit over 2 months I replaced it with another model. Yes, the S6500 is tremendously versatile with its slightly more than 10x optical zoom range (equivalent to 28-300mm focal length on a 35mm film camera) and huge sensitivity range, but I found its automatic exposure programs troublesome, tending to get exposure wrong, so I commonly had to repeat photos with different settings and indeed different programs in the hope of getting a correctly exposed shot. The camera for some reason didn't invite me to use its manual exposure mode, which was in any case inadequately implemented.
Another limitation I found with the S6500 was that I couldn't simply set the lens to infinity focus, which is what I wanted for distant views and especially cloud formations. Indeed, this was a particular nuisance with the latter, because very often the auto-focus mechanism failed to find clear enough edges in the cloud formations for it to function, yet if I lowered the viewpoint to auto-focus on the horizon, then often the exposure was wrongly set for the clouds.
Yet another limitation - very frustrating - was that the super-macro mode (required for extreme close-ups) wouldn't operate except with the lens set at its widest angle. What this means is that those close-ups were physically just too extreme, sometimes with the protective filter on the front of the lens mount almost touching the subject (scaring away most insects or other small animal life), and in any case, at that degree of closeness the camera or other part of myself tended to cast a shadow within the picture area, so making it pointless to take the photo. Also, super-macro mode doesn't allow flash to be used - yet it's just for such extreme close-ups where flash can often be essential. It's true that the 2x digital zoom can still be used so that I could be a bit more physically removed from the subject, but unfortunately, as with other cameras, digital zoom results in a much poorer picture quality, so, having tried it, I decided not to use it any more.
So, some silly limitations of this otherwise excellent camera made it something of a frustration for me and denied me quite a number of shots that its basic specifications ought to be able to cope with just fine. Of course, this situation could hardly be surprising, for when I chose and bought the camera I'd no notion of setting up this Broad Horizon Photos project, and so I wasn't looking for a very 'serious' camera.
Then in early August 2007 a 'chance' hitch-hiking encounter with Cliff Smith of TrustedReviews.com pointed me to getting the Fuji Finepix S9600, which I soon purchased. This does have some of the limitations of the S6500, such as the aforementioned limitation with use of super-macro mode and there being no setting of the lens for infinity focus, but it is designed much more with the serious photographer in mind, and is much more supportive to using manual exposure settings. Actually, although it is a 9 megapixel camera as against the 6 megapixels of the S6500, it seems disappointing for image quality - because apparently it uses the same lens as the S6500, which means that the same lens resolution and chromatic aberrations towards the edges are enlarged more when each image is seen at full size - so at full size the pictures all look less sharp and more spoiled with chromatic aberration. Basically in my view it would have been better to keep the image resolution to 6 megapixels - but there is no 6 megapixel setting, the nearest being 5 megapixels. So reluctantly I'm using the camera at full pixel resolution, which is really rather wasteful as in my view that doesn't really bring any benefit over 6 megapixels.
However, it is at least much easier for me to use manual mode of the S9600 and get correctly exposed pictures, and its viewfinder system is much clearer and more accurate, so making the taking of pictures much easier.
Also, as far as I can tell, the S9600's auto-focus mechanism is more sensitive, so that I won't so often get refusal to focus on clouds. In any case, because I'm using manual exposure mode at least most of the time, if necessary I can get the camera to focus on the horizon and use the shutter release button to lock the focus while I move the camera to point at the clouds I want to photograph, the exposure already having been set manually.
If you want to see the results that I've got from the two cameras, please note that I indicate for each photo which camera was used. However, because the images on this site are lower resolution copies of the originals, actually you won't be able to see any difference between the results from the two cameras.
The Broad Horizon Photos 'philosophy'
In Broad Horizon Photos, then, I stay away from the normal commercial or professional photographers' approach of taking photos to satisfy client or agency demand, and instead I offer photos of subjects that interest me and give me some sort of positive 'buzz'. This should mean that the photos that I present here communicate to viewers something of my own experience of empathy with and delight in Nature in its broadest sense.
However, I have other interests and activities, so I'm not going out all over the place to take photos, but rather, am photographing what appeals to me on my hiking outings - whether it be wild flowers, animal life, particular wild scenery, cloud formations or particular outdoor pursuits with which I feel some degree of resonance, such as paragliding or surfing.
Why the change of site title and address?
This site was called Clear Mind Photos, which, in some ways, I still regard as the best name for my purposes that I've ever come up with for the project. However, the site was a victim of circumstances beyond my control. During the first half of 2010 it was getting what was, in my terms, quite reasonable numbers of actual human visitors (i.e., as distinct from 'spiders' and 'robots') coming to it each day, and the numbers were still gradually rising. But sometime in the middle part of the year I started noticing in my statistics for the site's traffic an increasing number of picture requests coming from hot-links on rogue sites that have no original content and build their content largely by stealing picture links from genuine image search engines such as the Google Image Resource and hot-linking direct to the images on the genuine source sites (thus infringing copyright), and gain their income from advertising (ironically, using mostly Google's AdSense adverts). Foremost among those image hijacking parasitic sites was one called picsdigger.
Correlating exactly with the rise in the number of hot-link picture requests that this site was getting, its daily number of human visitors progressively dwindled, till towards the end of 2010 the number was in single figures on most days. I had assumed, though, that once Google and other search engines took decisive action to stop the image hijacking sites polluting their search results, and Google closed all the image hijackers' advertising accounts with it, my human web traffic for this site would gradually recover.
Despite many vociferous complaints to Google from many people, Google showed breathtaking inertia and unwillingness to take any action at all until a good three months after the problem had already started getting acute and beginning to threaten the existence of businesses that depended on the use of a lot of images on their websites.
Google did belatedly implement measures to strongly downgrade the rating of the major image hijacking sites, but, if anything, the human visits to this site dwindled a little further. I was left to come to the conclusion that the problem was that my pictures were being displayed on those rogue sites among all sorts of 'unsuitable' and inappropriate pictures and links (including 'adult' ones). This would have resulted in the large number of links or references to items on clear-mind-photos.com, and then clear-mind-photos.co.uk when I changed the site over to that, causing those domains to get a poor reputation and correspondingly low ranking in search engines generally.
The traffic to this site on clear-mind-photos.co.uk continued not to improve, and I was beginning to think I might need to close the site down and reopen it on another domain and with a completely different title, but then the last straw was when I discovered a more recent problem that had developed.
When I transferred the site from clear-mind-photos.com to the .co.uk version, it hadn't occurred to me that by cancelling the former domain I was opening myself to another type of rogue site problem. In early January 2011 I did a test Google search for "Clear Mind Photos", and to my horror the listing was a dreadful and confusing mess, because an unscrupulous domain squatter had got hold of the released clear-mind-photos.com and was making that appear in the listing as though it was still my Clear Mind Photos site (and it appeared above my genuine Clear Mind Photos in the listing), and the rogue was also exploiting Google's culpable inefficiency in updating its listings and in particular its failure to promptly remove entries for pages or images that no longer existed. So, there appeared to be a whole lot of pages and pictures from Clear Mind Photos, but when you clicked on them you were redirected to the home page of that confounded domain squatter, which no doubt had many 'unsuitable' links and also might well load malware onto visitors' computers.
This problem went right through other search engine listings too. Not only would that mean that few people would click through from search engine listings to the genuine Clear Mind Photos site, but also most likely the confusion would also have been causing a downgrading of this site's ranking in search engine listings - and there was really nothing that I could do about that situation. ...Well, except...
And thus it was that in early January 2011 I most reluctantly took the plunge and abandoned Clear Mind Photos and renamed the site, transferring it to broad-horizon-photos.co.uk - this time with no redirect or links at all* sending anyone or anything from the clear-mind-photos.co.uk domain to this one, so that this site would not inherit any 'reputation' from its previous domain and title in the search engine listings. My new photos site could thus build up a new reputation, free from any confusion with rogue domain squatters.
* Indeed, I took the decidedly unorthodox measure of configuring clear-mind-photos.co.uk to return a status code of 410 ('gone permanently') in response to each file request, instead of the normally most appropriate 301 ('permanent redirect' or 'resource has moved') or the default 404 ('not found').
One down-side of this move of mine is that there is no way that I could get the actually very good reputation of clear-mind-photos.co.uk in WOT transferred to this domain, so its reputation has to be built up all over again. Actually, if you like what you see on this site you yourself could help it by giving it a favourable rating in WOT.
There turned out to be a considerable irony about all this, because all along there had been another factor that I hadn't been aware of at all at that time. To my dismay, the initial odd handfuls of visits to Broad Horizon Photos from genuine humans, instead of progressively building up, quickly dropped to a consistent daily NIL! After a few weeks of that I had to assume that something else was going on, and it was then that I twigged to the likelihood that actually the site might have gained a severe penalty from the search engines (i.e., a severe downgrading of its placing in search engine listings) because of something about the site.
What I then suspected was that a totally innocent anti-form-spam measure on every single-photo page on Broad Horizon Photos might have triggered an adverse response from the search engines because it was hidden. Search engines are not programmed with sufficient intelligence to recognise that some elements on a web page can be hidden for completely bona fide and indeed beneficial purposes - so they just assume that any hidden element is an attempt to spam the search engine, and penalize the site accordingly.
My simple measure to block form spammers from my web pages had been hidden and so had triggered an adverse response from the search engines. Once I recognised that this was presumably the cause of the problem, I promptly rendered all hidden elements on all my sites visible. That has had a small negative impact on the appearance of the affected pages, but at least there is nothing anywhere now to draw adverse responses from search engines.
Unfortunately it takes a very long time for a site's reputation to restore in the search engines after such an event, and so, although some human visitors did start coming to the site again very soon after I made the aforementioned change, the number of human visitors was only very slowly and fitfully building, looking like not returning to the sort of numbers that it was getting until at least a year had passed.
...And now it's 'off to Flickr'!
In July 2011 various issues taking rather a lot of my time or, in some cases, simply bugging me, led me to take the radical measure of removing the photos from this site (apart from a few small examples used on the home page), and upload the full collection of original-size photos to Flickr, where actually they would be more accessible and have much more public exposure than they ever could with the nice looking but really quite clunky photo album system that I had on this site. This site is being retained, however, to provide an informational 'front end' for my collection on Flickr, because the Flickr system, however good it is in all sorts of ways, doesn't have any facility for me to properly introduce the whole collection there and give background information.
The beginnings of Broad Horizon Natural Soundscapes
In 2010 I started taking an interest in gathering recordings of certain natural soundscapes, initially as commercial CDs, but then I discovered the wonderful goldmine of Freesound.org, from where I downloaded a prodigious number of recordings, especially of thunderstorms, birdsong choruses and sea / water and wind sound, compiling them into CDs that I could play in my abode as a (usually) healthier alternative to music or silence (though a reasonable amount of the latter is also healthy!).
However, I was bugged by the non-availability of recordings of the wonderful and very distinctive sound of the sea (specifically the powerful Atlantic swell) having often violent arguments with the rugged Cornish cliffs, and also extended recordings of skylarks and other wild birds in remote places such as I hear on Dartmoor, so eventually in June 2013 I bought myself a Sony PCM-M10 recorder, which, although only the size of a modest mobile (non-Smart!) phone, can record to well above CD quality and has extremely sensitive and high quality internal microphones. I am thus in the process of getting some of those recordings that, for whatever reason, other natural sound recording enthusiasts have missed out on.
near Chapel Porth, Cornwall, UK
Later in 2013 I extended Broad Horizon Natural Soundscapes to include my Wind Chimes in the Wild project, again to fill a 'gap in the market', for, surprisingly, all the commercial recordings of wind chimes that I could find turned out to be faked in one or more ways, and were thus most unsatisfying to listen to.