Saturday 11 January 2014

It's behind you!!

A Moment Of Colour (asp100-4952)
A brief splash of colour on an otherwise very grey morning.
It's quite apt that I should choose this image for my next post as I'm typing in the height of pantomime season - but more of that later!
While landscape photography is a solitary pursuit in the main, it's always nice to head out for a shoot with friends. 2013 seems to have been a hectic year for myself and my usual photography buddies and we haven't had many joint outings this year - in fact, we haven't had that many solo outings either! Guess what one of my New Year Resolutions is?!
Now, to some of my non-photographic friends this seems an alien concept. They seem to think that I'm colluding with "the enemy" and don't understand why we would want to venture out together when we're all vying to make the final step from semi to full-time pro photographer. But, put three of us in a line with tripods virtually touching and you'll still see three quite different resulting images as we all impose our own style. That always sounds quite grand, and almost pretentious, to me, but it's true, we would all put a very different spin on the same location and moment in time. For example, one friend would look for the classic composition hidden in the scene, another would massively exaggerate the perspective and aim to distort time while I would probably shoot vertically and emphasise the foreground so you would almost feel your toes at the base of the frame.
Also the fact that I run workshops through the year teaching other people how to take better photos makes them think I'm training up the competition but then I'm fully aware that photography needs a lot of thought and input to make a success of it, and an afternoon or two of training, even with the best pro in the world, will only make you a more thoughtful and considered photographer and not an overnight professional.
The part that always makes me chuckle though is how secretive people will be about locations. If you look at my followers and friends on Twitter, Flickr and Facebook, the majority are photographers. No surprise really, but what does amuse me is a nice image pops up online and usually one of the first three questions is "where is this" which is usually followed by some squirming and question avoidance by the captor of the image as they try not to give the location away. Personally, I'm not that bothered about revealing locations. I started making a lot of images at one particular location in the New Forest and couldn't help but notice the plethora of other images of the same venue that started coming online not long after. Were these new images down to me? The first four visits to this particular location I was on my own all morning; the latest visit I was in the presence of about eight photographers all hustling and bustling to get "the angle". I just grinned, bade them all a good morning and carried on to see what I could conjure up around the next bend in the track. Now, this rise in popularity could partly be down to me, it may not, but if I was really worried about revealing the location I wouldn't have used the word "Mogshade" in any of the image titles from my first shoot!
Which brings me back to me featured image, "A Moment Of Colour" - and before you ask, it's near Ellingham, just off the A31 running though the heart of the New Forest. As I mentioned before, a friend is an exaggerator of perspective and stretcher of time, and he had seen an image of mine of a dead tree with a lovely shape. This dead tree is also all on its own in a great big clearing, so quite easy to isolate. We decided to visit the venue together a) because we hadn't seen each other for ages and b) so I could show him where the tree is.
With busy schedules, we finally fitted a morning in and arrived in plenty of time before sunrise. Unfortunately, the forecast appeared to be letting us down and the promised light cloud that could light up with the rising sun was quite thick and grey. Undeterred, we threw bags on our backs, switched on headlamps and headed off into the forest.
Once at the dead tree we recce'd our options and consulted the Photographer's Ephemeris to make sure we were pointing in the right direction and how long we had before sunrise etc. The sky seemed even greyer, and a colourful sunrise was not going to happen so we went off in search of other possibilities around us. While my friend kept going back to the dead tree to try different angles and perspectives, I ventured off in other directions looking for other trees and subjects that might be useful on other days in better conditions.
As I turned a corner and headed off in a new direction, I saw a patch of blue had appeared in the sky - at last! The clouds were moving quite nicely, and the patch of blue was drifting along almost teasing me. I needed a composition and quickly!
As I turned to head back to my gear, I spotted the Scott's Pine pictured here and liked the colourful foreground so started looking for angles and composition options that I might be able to use. Looking around, I found the almost pyramid shaped patch of more orange coloured heather, which I thought could be used as foreground interest with the angled edges acting as lead-in lines to draw the viewer up and into the image.
Foreground? Check.
Distant nicely shaped tree? Check.
No discarded crisp packets or empty Coke cans? Check.
Blue sky / white cloud combo? No, not yet.
Turning back to where the blue patch had been, I caught sight of my buddy again, this time lying prone in the grass using a telephoto lens to presumably shorten perspective and isolate the dead tree more from the distant backdrop. Thankfully, my patch of blue was getting bigger and still heading in the right direction.
The foreground / sky lighting difference was negligible due to the grey blanket, but I opted for my 0.6 ND Grad filter in the knowledge that the patch of blue would make a bigger difference, and I wanted to enhance the foreground colour. To minimise movement in the image, I opened my aperture a full stop to halve the suggested shutter speed and I was ready to shoot. The blue patch passed behind my chosen tree - click - I had an image. I tried another composition, but the blue had already passed by and the sky was returning to grey.
From spotting the blue patch to capturing the image had probably been no more than two minutes - and a good reminder why I teach the importance of knowing your camera inside out. I instinctively know which dials to turn to change settings so I didn't need to take my eye from the viewfinder in case I missed the "moment".
Meeting up with my photographic buddy again, he was completely oblivious to the colour with only mono images on his memory card and was wondering where I'd got the colour from. As I said earlier, you can take multiple photographers to the same location but they'll come away with quite different images!
Exposure information: 1/6 sec @ f/8, ISO100
Filters used: 0.6 / 2-stop Neutral Density Graduated Filter.
Post processing: RAW file processed in Lightroom with small Contrast boost.
Prints of my images are available from my website.
All images are protected by Copyright Laws for Andrew Stevens Photography.

Saturday 4 January 2014

Rain, rain, go away...

Bratley View (asp100-1951)
Bratley View in full colour
After all the recent horrid weather we’ve been experiencing in the UK, we have finally passed a milestone moment. The annual shortest day of December 21st is now behind us, and summer is well and truly on its way!!
Ok, that seems quite an optimistic statement looking out the window at the quickly gathering storm clouds and darkening skies, but the days are lengthening by a few minutes each day and we’re now a few days into the New Year.
Which reminds me, Happy New Year to you all! I hope 2014 is good for you.
While stormy weather can bring dramatic lighting, and some of my best-selling images were shot in or just after rainfall, I’m sure we all prefer to shoot in the more pleasant conditions of the summer months – or the later summer months when colour palettes warm up and landscapes look ever-more appealing. Even in the summer, when shooting around sunrise as in the featured image here of Bratley View in the New Forest, coats and woolly hats are often required as it can get quite chilly standing around for ages before the sun rises – but it’s only a temporary thing and layers can soon be shed. But then again, I feel fairly naked photographing without my woolly hat regardless of time of day or month of the year!
Looking back at the featured image, despite the tell-tale late summer signs like the warm coloured heather and bracken in the foreground and distant temperature inversion so common during warm days and cool nights, this was taken the day after a period of torrential rain had passed. For several days before, we had all been cowering in our homes trying desperately not to have to go outside and get a soaking.
You can imagine the look on my wife’s face when I said “I think I’ll go and get some sunrise photos in the morning”. Don’t worry, I was also questioning my sanity at this point as I cleaned filters and charged batteries while trying to ignore the rain thundering against the window pane beside me. but, as usual, I had been obsessing over various weather forecasts and the weather front appeared to pass over in the early hours followed by clear skies and then a drop in visibility around sunrise - so pink skies and mist were on the cards.
Thankfully, as my alarm rang and I dragged myself out of bed just after 4am, the Met Office had got it right and the sound of rain had disappeared and there was calm all around. Now despite how much I enjoy shooting a sunrise, there is still a split-second sigh when I realise I do have to actually get up and head out into the world and can’t crawl back under my lovely warm duvet.
If you have read my posts before, you will know that I try to minimise my honey-pot location photography. Each honey-pot becomes famous for good reason, normally some fantastic image from a world-famous photographer which many try to emulate, but I generally try to shoot other views around these well-known subjects. This tree has been photographed thousands of times and the only “problem” with Bratley View is this great old tree is virtually in the car park! I had headed to Bratley with the intention of parking there and wandering the couple of hundred yards to Mogshade to capture colourful skies reflected in the still water.
As I changed my shoes for welly boots, pulled my hat down firmly and zipped my jacket up, I could see this image appearing out of the corner of my eye. Even as I walked away from the car park towards Mogshade, I kept looking back over my shoulder at the unfolding landscape image. It was no good, after a couple of reflections I had to turn back and set myself up for this shot.
For those of you who have never ventured out to Bratley View, there really aren’t that many compositions you can make of this tree. If the New Forest workers could kindly carry out some “controlled burning” (where they encourage new bracken and gorse growth by deliberately razing sections to the ground) then more compositions will open up (you can see the edge of the huge gorse bush to the right which we landscape photographers could quite honestly do without).
On arrival back at the tree, the foreground was more colourful than the sky, so the horizon compositional decision was made and I always prefer a tree to lean “in” to the frame rather than “out” so the point-of-interest compositional decision was also made. Now to find the right heather and bracken to offer contrasting colours as well as upright structure all contained within the immediate foreground frame to lead your eye up through the image.
The distant mist (or the temperature inversion I mentioned earlier) helped separate the Scott’s pine from the background, so it was just a matter of waiting for the clouds to move over a little to offer wider colour coverage to the sky. This probably took no more than ten minutes to realise, although it seemed an eternity as I fretted over all the colour disappearing from the sky before I had chance to trip the shutter.
During these few minutes, and don’t forget this is before 6am, I was quite surprised how many cars swung into the car park, cameras were pointed out of half open windows and cars roared off again like I was witnessing some kind of photographic treasure hunt. “Ok, I’ve got the colourful sunrise, now on to get the deer portrait” thoughts were passing through my mind as I visualised passengers ticking off a “to do” list. The odd person actually got out of their car and stood tall before shooting, but nobody really considered compositions or looked around them for a better vantage point – or came anywhere near the tree! Having walked the 10 metres to where they all seem to be stopping and shooting from, all I could see was a big patch of gravel car park and some pink sky. I stood there with the same bemused look on my face they had been using when looking at a sole photographer stood on a bank staring at the clouds with his camera looking in a different direction with a big tree in the way…
I could say the difference between them and me is I’m trying to make money and they were just capturing the “moment”. But then, I do my photography for the enjoyment factor and try to capture the best image possible at that particular time – or the best “moment”. The fact that people like my work enough to buy prints or hire my time for photography lessons is a huge compliment and bonus.
So, with summer on its way we can all look forward to the green shoots of spring and warm colours of summer heading our way. But then again, remembering this image was taken after a long spell of rain – and the forecast for Saturday looks to brighten after a storm on Friday and overnight rain. Perhaps the winter isn’t so bad after all and I need to look at potential weekend venues!
Exposure information: 1 second @ f/11, ISO100
Filters used: 0.9 Neutral Density Graduated
Post processing: RAW file processed in Lightroom with +10 Shadows lift.
Prints of my images are available from my website.
All images are protected by Copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2014.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Wait for it, wait for it...

The receding surf at dusk, Hengistbury Head
On a recent workshop, I had a (small) Eureka moment!
Henri Cartier-Bresson called it "The Decisive Moment" while Charlie Waite describes being in "the presence of some wonderful alignment of events". To me, this particular Eureka moment (a minute or two after the image above was taken) suddenly made perfect sense of these statements and made me realise that some photographers have "it" - whatever "it" might be.
Having led five budding photographers on a very enjoyable coastal workshop, we were spending the last few minutes of daylight capturing some final images. Having spent time through the workshop discussing and shooting lead-in lines and foreground interest, the question came up as to how would I suggest capturing the beach with just the sea and no foreground rocks, groynes or other objects.
With the sun about to set, I was hoping for some reflected colour in the surf at my feet - but the surf looked a little flat. Time for some manipulation - but I'm referring to physical manipulation and not the digital darkroom kind (if you don't know my normal working style, any more than a minute of post processing is deemed a re-shoot required). Some chunky pebbles tossed into the sand provided disturbance to the surf as it turned and drew back out to sea. This seemed to work well and added some streaks and definition to the immediate foreground that would help lift the viewer's gaze up into the image. I was too far away though and this new texture and interest needed to be nearer - time to get wet feet. Heading further into the surf, I pushed the tripod legs firmly into the sand in the hope that my camera wouldn't try a cross channel swim.
So, I had a brooding sky, some interesting surf and a sun about to set any minute. I wanted to exaggerate the brooding sky and lift the light on the surf a little, so slid the 0.6 (2-stop) Neutral Density Graduated filter out and replaced it with my 0.9 (3-stop). I virtually always use mirror lock-up to minimise the vibrations through the camera body during capture. But when you need precise timing, and have waves lapping around the tripod legs, you can afford to turn the lock-up off.
Ok, time to capture the image. Having preached the benefits of aperture f/11 all afternoon, it was time to drop to f/22 to a) lengthen the shutter a little to add movement to the water and b) to make use of the diffraction often found at such a small aperture and hopefully capture a starburst around the setting sun.
Focused, composed and poised for action, all I had to do was wait for a wave to come right in past the limits of my viewfinder, let it turn and start to recede, count to two and hit the shutter. And by the way, this sequence had been perfected during the half dozen frames shot before capturing this image! Finally, the "right" wave came in, I watched it all the way in through the viewfinder, felt my ankles get wet, waited for the wave to turn and start to recede, Job done!
Now back to the Eureka moment. Having talked about what I was doing, and captured a pleasing image, it was time for my guests to do the same. Straight away, the difference in our positions was noticed; I was at the water's edge (if not ankle-deep at times) while my guests were a few yards back on dry sand. Having advanced to the water's edge and composed the view, it was then time to capture the image. Having talked through the capture process, I noticed the eagerness of my photographers to press the shutter and get a shot - too early, the wave was feet away from the bottom of the frame and no blur or lead-ins.
Next wave: "wait for it to turn and start to recede before shooting". Here comes the wave close to the tripod... click. Too early again and static water captured at our feet.
Third wave: "ok, wait for me to say when".
Too early again. Better, but still no dynamic water.
This is when my Eureka hit me. We can all have top quality cameras and lenses, and lets face it, there aren't many bad cameras out there these days. We can all learn the capture process and understand aperture settings and their effect on sharpness, light captured and the relation to shutter speed and ISO. I could go on, but the vital element we don't seem to all be able to grasp, is "it".
At the start of this post I wasn't 100% sure what "it" was. Having typed away for a while, I can only think that "it" is timing. My guests captured some decent images, and I'm pretty pleased with mine and the only real difference was I waited for the "right" moment before tripping the shutter.
I'm never going to rival Henri's street photography or Charlie's landscapes, but that is putting me on the right tracks.
Exposure information: 0.6 sec at f/22, ISO100
Filters used: 0.9 Neutral Density Grad filter.
Post processing: RAW file histogram tweaked slightly in Lightroom, exported as TIFF and inspected at 100% for filter spots (sea spray etc.)
Prints of my images are available from my website.
All images are protected by Copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2014.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Birthday treat

Durdle Door
Durdle Door one cold and grey winter’s morning
I often venture out for sunrise on my birthday for pleasure, with no real “need” to work a scene or a feeling of pressure to make a series of images. It’s usually more about last minute decisions and non-researched gut feeling outings. A sunrise outing also means I have the rest of the day to spend with my family, eat cake, open presents, get spoilt rotten etc. It’s a hard life but…
This image was made on my birthday which is mid-January. This means the sun rises in a fairly southerly direction. I have seen some images of the mid-winter sun rising through the arch of Durdle Door, and fancied following the lead of others for a change – time for a honey pot location!
I arrived at Durdle Door about two hours before sunrise. During the winter months, the caravan park at Durdle is usually closed with a big, locked metal gate, meaning a bit of a hike is required before you even start descending down to the beach.
Walking down to the Door in pitch black is quite an experience, although not one for the faint hearted when you think you’re heading towards a rather high cliff, with crumbling edges, that only has one steep and narrow path down to the beach. Thankfully, my head light and torch were lighting the way for me very nicely. It’s quite something though to stop and pause, switch off all lights and just listen to the tide sweeping in and out on the pebbles below you.
The sky to my left was starting to turn from its current obsidian black, so it was time to head down the steps to the beach. I really must count them one day, but I can safely use the word “lots” to describe them. Once on the beach, I wandered around a bit until I had a clear view through the arch in the general direction that the sun would rise from.
Being down below such high cliffs, my iPhone struggled for signal of any kind, but The Photographer’s Ephemeris app finally loaded and confirmed where the sun would rise and that I was in the right-ish place. Time to get set up!
For a change, I hadn’t studied the weather forecast to any great extent; just enough to know it wasn’t going to rain on me. I can only assume it had looked a fairly promising sunrise as a few other bleary-eyed photographers started to arrive with camera bags slung over their shoulders.
Two of them having arrived together, obviously didn’t like the prospect of “sharing” a location, and immediately headed back up off the beach without even saying hello or taking camera bags off their backs. Odd! So, sat waiting, all set up, all I needed was a lovely sunrise and a starburst around the edge of the arch. What I didn’t need was for the photographer who’d stayed to let his dog off the lead and fill my lovely clean foreground with doggy footprints! Doh!!
From my new footprint-free position a few yards down the beach, I didn’t have an ideal angle through the Door, so I was mentally going through options while trying to resist the urge to throw the dog’s stick 3 1/2 miles in the other direction to keep it off my foreground. But, we can’t blame the dogs and can only mutter under our breaths about the owners.
My new position gave me the more classic view of the Door that you often see, and I had contingency angles lined up should the sunrise be dramatic and doggy footprints suddenly less of a concern.
By this time, the sky to my left had started to colour up – all very blood red and brooding; I could feel my pulse quickening as I watched the light show develop. However, what slowed my pulse was a quick end to the light show before it had even got anywhere near the Door let alone be a starburst through the arch. I had some great stormy clouds, but they were monochrome and the sky was now completely devoid of any colour.
Ok, time for Mono then! I quickly switched my camera to Mono mode and tried a few of the digital B&W filters just to visualise the resulting image – I quite liked what I saw, so added a 0.6 ND Grad filter and liked what I saw even more. I always shoot in RAW to capture the maximum amount of image data, but using the camera functions to shoot a small jpg alongside the RAW allows me to experiment with B&W, even though I’m actually shooting in colour and will convert later in silver Efex Pro. The sun was hiding behind the clouds so I could have probably used a weaker 0.3 ND instead, but I wanted to use a stronger Grad filter so it would lift the detail on the Door, and darken the clouds a bit more.
I usually use Mirror Lock Up in conjunction with a 2 second shutter release delay to minimise camera shake during the exposure. Leaving Mirror Lock Up on, I disabled the timer delay so I could trip the shutter just when I wanted to – I was hoping to capture blurred waves running back out off the beach. f/11 didn’t give me quite long enough shutter speed to blur the water, so I dropped to f/16. This gave me 0.6 seconds, which seemed about right.
Now it was just a question of lining the clouds up. I knew I was going to have a bit expanse of grey cloud in the top right corner, and wanted to use this space a bit more without detracting from the Door and foreground surf. I spotted the brighter sliver you can see in the image, and thought it could be just the thing. It was above the Door when I first spotted it, and waiting for it to drift across the sky seemed to take an eternity. When it finally moved into place, it turned into a subtle lead-in line from the potentially boring corner back to the main point of interest, the Door. Perfect!
As the waves came in I pressed the shutter to lock up the mirror, then just as the wave started to recede I tripped the cable release again to start the exposure and capture the drawback. After a few attempts, I think I got the shot – nothing like I had intended to capture, but I rather like it.
Exposure info: 0.6 seconds @ f/16, ISO100 with 0.6 ND Grad filter.
Processing info: RAW imported into Lightroom and minor exposure tweaks made. B&W conversion using Silver Efex Pro.
Prints of my images are available from my website.
All images protected by copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2013.

Saturday 7 September 2013

Faith - and persistence!!

Rocks and La Rocco II
Rocks and La Rocco, St Ouen’s, Jersey
My wife hails from Jersey, in the Channel Islands, so we make regular trips there to catch up with family and friends. It also gives me a pretty good excuse, if I ever needed one, to take my camera and capture some of the stunning scenery on the island.
La Rocco is a defensive tower from the Napoleonic era, and situated a half mile off St Ouen’s beach on the western end of the island. I’ve been to St Ouen’s on many occasions, but never yet managed a photographic outing through the combination of wrong tides, strong wind or just generally bad luck – plus La Corbiere lighthouse is a short distance from here, and usually draws me (as you will see from my other Jersey images!).
Some time ago, a well-known pro landscape photographer told me you know when you’re a true landscaper when you obsess over four weather forecasts on an hourly basis. Well, on this particular day I was definitely a true landscaper! We had been in Jersey for a week and only had a couple of days left, and I hadn’t managed to make any images yet – I hadn’t even taken my camera out of its bag yet! Looking at the forecasts again, they suggested either light rain, heavy rain or a mix of light and heavy rain – with a chance of sunshine around 8pm. Now, for a relatively small island like Jersey, that’s quite some variance! However, Jersey airport was one of the forecast options, and was the one suggesting sunshine around 8pm. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Jersey’s geography, St Ouen’s is near the airport, and if you take off heading West, you’ll fly right over the beach and La Rocco tower. Airports like to have accurate forecasts for operational and safety reasons, so I was beginning to feel hopeful for a photographic opportunity. I’m quite partial to a passing storm front as they often give amazing light, and it looked like I might have one tonight.
Despite the heavy rain and thunderstorms near St Helier, I packed my bag and jumped in the car to head off – I think my family thought I was mad! On arriving at St Ouen’s, I was beginning to doubt myself too!! The rain was even heavier, with a fairly brisk wind whipping in off the sea!!! Oh well, time to make the trip a little useful, so I decided to scout views, angles etc for a future trip, with hopefully better weather. After driving up and down 5 Mile Road (which is oddly 3 1/2 miles long), and checking out various chunky granite slipways on to the beach, I had narrowed it down to two potential shooting locations. The local authorities are currently renovating La Rocco, so a third possibility would be added to the list once the work is finished, and the scaffolding on the northern wall removed!
It was still raining quite hard, so I left the slipway at Le Braye and headed south, considering heading home – but I had faith in the airport and their forecast, so I wasn’t driving very fast. I think the photography God heard my prayers, as just as I neared my preferred shooting location, a ball of light appeared between the clouds – at 8.05pm. They were late, but it looked like they might just be right after all.
Diverting to the nearest car park, I pulled in, wound down the window, and turned off the engine. The weather was definitely doing something interesting, but was still raining quite hard. Oh well, I had a waterproof jacket on, and my camera bag has a waterproof covering, so I locked up the car and headed across the road to the beach.
Heading down on to the sand via the impressive sea wall (think German WWII fortifications), I suddenly felt very alone. The wind was blowing, the rain was falling, and I appeared to be the only person on the many square miles of beach. But, the light was improving and the rain easing – time to find some foreground interest! Just off to my right was some lovely chunks of Jersey granite, nicely leading down into a series of rock pools – looks like I had found my foreground.
Having traveled light on this trip, I hadn’t taken my Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod, and was about to initiate the 12″ tall Hama tripod I had bought earlier that week. I usually take my Manf, but just didn’t have the space or weight allowance this time.
After about 15 minutes of standing in the rain, it finally stopped, so, I set up my camera with the usual hot shoe spirit level, cable release, filter holder and fixed it firmly to my mini-tripod. Now where exactly to shoot from…
I could see several options that looked appealing. I wanted to show La Rocco tower in isolation – after all, it stands a half mile off-shore. As is usual, my best option looked like it would be from a small rock right in the middle of the biggest rock pool – they’re never near the edges! So, I checked the sky/land exposure difference and slipped the 0.9 ND Grad into place. I also wanted to control the reflections in the pool, so added my circular polariser – I really didn’t want to be hunting for filters while balancing on an angled rock above water!
After a rather circuitous route, I ended up on my rock – and made an image. It looked great; clearing storm, brooding sky, rocks, reflections etc, but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind, and the storm was still clearing… Another rock to the right could be the answer – more hopping, jumping and wobbling later and I had the even better view that you see here. Now all I needed to do was compose and expose before the rain I could see falling to my right reached me. I was looking to use the reflections off the water, so my mini-tripod proved perfect. I was still very nervous as it’s definitely not as sturdy as my Manfrotto, but it was going to give me the view I wanted in a shake-free way,
I just couldn’t believe the transformation happening in front of me – the wind dropped, the clouds cleared, colours changed. I quickly adjusted the polariser to get the reflection effect I wanted, checked focus/aperture/ISO/Grad position and tripped the shutter. Voila, I was a very happy photographer.
Rain was now getting quite close again, so I made my way back to sand, and started to head for the car park. All in all, the rain had stopped for less than 10 minutes, but I had captured possibly my favourite image of Jersey so far. I came away with two images I am very pleased with, and when I got back to my family, they couldn’t believe what I had captured as it was still raining heavily in St Helier, just a few miles from this view. If you’d like to see the brooding image I captured just before this one, take a look at my gallery pages.
Sometimes you’ve just got to have faith, and persistence!
Exposure info: 1/4sec at f/11, ISO100, 0.9 ND Grad + Circular Polariser
Prints of all my images are available from my website.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Unplanned Outings...

Corfe Castle (asp06-4036)
Corfe Castle amidst some dawn mist
My previous posts have been about new images, or at least those that are only a few months old. For this post, I’m going back a few years, back to 2006 to be exact, and for a good reason (or at least I think it’s a good reason!).
Back in my youth, I’d always enjoyed photography, and snapped away with a variety of film cameras, with most of the results being bog-standard snapshots. With my first “proper” job came a “proper” income, which opened up all sorts of new possibilities – like the ownership of an SLR camera! I took my newly acquired Pentax P30 (remember them anyone?), and headed off into my local landscape taking image after image. Living on the edge of the Cotswolds, there were plenty of great views and vistas for me to shoot – I just wasn’t really getting any decent shots. I could see the potential image, but had no real idea how to go about capturing and accurately recording the view in front of me. As is my usual way (being a little OCD at times), I devoured photography magazines and soaked up any information I could glean.
I may need to point out to some that the Pentax P30 was released many years before the Internet was available. Home computers and mobile phones were still glints in the eyes of inventors, so you really had to seek out information – magazines, trips to libraries, talking to photographers etc. It seemed to me that photographers back then were a bit more, how do I put this, “exclusive”?! When you did find a photographer, getting them to divulge information about how they went about getting a particular shot was nigh on impossible. I once tried joining a camera club, and was asked to present my portfolio for their consideration – I didn’t have a portfolio, I had a few snaps but I really needed their help to make a portfolio hence wanting to join!
Anyway, back to lots of reading and practice (and big film processing bills), and my images started to improve. Neutral Density and Polarising filters had started to creep in to my bag, people were now stopping and looking at images in an album instead of just flicking through, and I’d made some big prints and even sold a few. Happy days! Or so I thought…
As often happens in life, things get in the way… Life, work and sport took me away from photography for several years (at least 15!) and I swapped hilly North Oxfordshire for the equally hilly, with some coast thrown in, Dorset. After my sporting endeavours ground to a halt (and that’s a whole other story), I looked for hobbies to fill my spare time as I now had quite a bit of it what with no sports training or matches to play.
So having dusted off my Pentax, I started shooting the wonderful Purbeck hills and other parts of Dorset on my doorstep. Lugging a big kit around wasn’t always ideal, so I bought an Olympus compact – my first steps in the world of digital, and I was well and truly hooked! Instant feedback, quick and easy editing, home printing – what more could I want? Well, how about SLR control in a digital format?
Luckily for me, a landmark birthday was due to fall just after Christmas, so a DSLR was offered as a joint/big present – I couldn’t say no could I and risk offending my other half! So, I was now the very proud owner of a Canon DSLR and some rather nice lenses (thank you Tracy!).
So, being able to employ all those techniques I’d learnt with my Pentax, with the immediate results and feedback of digital, I was ready to take on the world (or at least capture some of the world on my doorstep).
So, what does today’s image have to do with all this? Well, while I was trying to improve my photography, we would venture out together in a joint “mission”. Tracy is from the Channel Islands, so I could introduce her to some of the lovely scenery we have around us while capturing some of it on a memory card. Corfe Castle and the Purbecks remain a favourite area for both of us and we still visit often. Around this time, Tracy had to go on a business trip to Moscow. Very nice I hear a lot of you say, but a trip to Russia can be quite daunting when you’ve never been before, speak zero Russian and have a very tight schedule that doesn’t really allow for hiccups or delays.
So, while Tracy was away trying to make sense of Russia, I was left home alone. On the first night she was away, I couldn’t sleep (cue the aahhh’s). I tried reading, watching TV, cup of (decaf) coffee – pretty much everything and finally drifted off in the early hours. Unfortunately, it was short-lived, and I was awake again at 3.30am – doh!! So, back to reading to try and tire my mind, but it was having none of it.
So, what to do? How about get out of bed and head of somewhere with my camera bag?! So, where to go? Corfe Castle of course!
Now, I normally meticulously plan my photographic outings; memory cards are formatted, batteries charged, filters cleaned and weather forecasts read, read and re-read. For once, I was heading out with no preparation;  all I knew was I was heading for Corfe Castle, and had no idea what lay ahead – I didn’t even know the camera would turn on, the battery could have been flat for all I knew.
Arriving at Corfe Castle, I had forgotten what a joy it is to be out in the wilds over an hour before sunrise. The birds were singing, including some very close-by owls, and the air was so clean and fresh. But I didn’t have time to linger, I had a huge hill to climb and a race with a soon-to-be rising sun.
The view was quite easy to decide on – a nice clean view of the castle with some wispy mist. I’m always hopeful of some pre-dawn colour, but didn’t expect what I saw on this occasion. There was a lot of mist around the castle (a lot more than you see here) and a light fog was rolling in from the direction of the sea. I was beginning to worry that I would have my view obscured, or my filters would mist up too, but just before the sun crept over the horizon, the fog thinned, the mist lifted and everything turned a lovely shade of pink. Time to fire the shutter and sit back to enjoy the splendour in front of me (this was the first time I ever “whooped” when looking at the LCD). It only lasted a few minutes, but every second was wonderful.
To this day, this remains my most popular image. That’s with me, my family, friends and with the general public. I’ve sold this image many, many times – in fact, at my first “proper” exhibition, I could barely keep up with demand as people bought fine art print and canvas versions quicker than we could hang them on the wall. You might even see it on the front of a CD as it’s been sold to two CD houses over the last couple of years (if you spot it, please tell me as I have no idea who’s using it as it went through an agency!).
I also use this image on my workshops. Not because it’s one of my favourites, and has sold so well, but the circumstances behind the image. Yes it looks lovely, yes it sells well, but it was a completely unplanned shot – and taken on my trusty Canon 300D! (You know, that 6.3MP DSLR that appeared to be so ground-breaking when it was released). Lots of people take comfort from the fact you don’t need to spend hours planning or have top of the range equipment to make a pleasing image.
Exposure Information.
1/4sec at f/13, ISO100.
0.6 ND Graduated Filter.
Post processing: RAW file converted to TIFF in ACR. Levels tweaked slightly.
Prints of all my images are available from my website.

Friday 16 August 2013

New Tracks

Soon Be Harvest (asp100-4911)
Making new tracks – or a new view of an old subject
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I try not to shoot “honey pot” images. You know, those that you regularly see on Flickr and on forums, and are actively sought out by photographers as “bucket list” locations, often shot from exactly the same angle as several thousand before them, many of whom are trying to emulate the world famous pro photographer who took the original image with masses of impact and wow factor. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about this, it’s just not how I prefer to operate. I sometimes refer to this in my workshops as “dartboard photography” due to the number of holes left by tripod legs just after a stunning image has appeared, and hordes of photographers seek out that exact same view.
Of course the world famous pro has a couple of big advantages over the rest of us; a) all day to seek out fantastic locations in the first place and b) all day over several days/weeks to get the exact right light to give the wow factor.
I’ve had a conversation with a world famous pro on this very subject. He found a particular location while scouting around some well-known parts of France, worked out the best angle to shoot from, where the light should come from (and which parts of the vista should be illuminated), how high the camera should be (which required his “short stepladder”), aperture, focus point etc. etc. You get the drift; he fully explored the possibilities before even getting his camera out of the bag. After setting himself up and confirming he had everything exactly right, all he had to do was wait for the right light – this took four days to come! Four days stood up a short stepladder, with cable release in hand, waiting to trip the shutter!!
Ok, when he made his image it was spectacular, and remains a favourite image of mine, but we don’t all get such luxuries in life. With life and family commitments, most of us get to grab an hour or two here and there to dust off our cameras and make some images, which could explain the “bucket list” mentality of some photographers – if you’re only going to get a couple of hours out, heading to a spot you know you’ll get a great view from kind of makes sense.
The week before this particular image was made, my photographic buddy, Mike, and I had been out shooting a rather spectacular poppy field. While the field had been spectacular, there were thousands of flowers still to open, so while pleased with the images we’d captured, we vowed to return again soon.
Unfortunately, the following week was the hottest and driest in the UK for several years, and on our return the poppy field was rather dry – with lots of dead flowers! So, what do we do now?! With an hour to sunset, we needed a location, and fast!
Knowing the area pretty well, I knew there was a “honey pot” barn just up the road. This barn is normally photographed from a distance, surrounded by bright yellow oilseed rape crop with a bright blue sky above. In fact, why not try Googling “sixpenny handley barn” and see which images of this barn pop up?(Once you’ve finished reading this of course J )  While this makes for a pleasing image, I was determined to find a view and make an image unlike any I had previously seen of this particular barn.
When standing next to the field, I can see why it’s usually shot from where it is – the hill rises nicely behind the barn giving naturally pleasing curves, and it’s an easy shot without having to enter the field and risk a farmer’s wrath for trampling crops. It’s also easy as you can pull into the gateway, wander a few yards down the road and snap, the bucket list has one less name on it! Job done.
So, how to go about capturing a completely different image? Having carefully climbed a stile, I made my way to the barn to see what else was available for me to make an interesting photograph. As the wheat was nearly fully grown, the tracks made by the farmer’s tractor during crop spraying were very deep and prominent, so I carefully made my way around the edge of the field to explore these tracks as possible lead-in lines to the barn.
Having framed a few views from a distance, I knew I needed to get closer, like in amongst the wheat. Carefully retracing my steps, I found a way in to these big tractor wheel tracks. Should a farmer have arrived and questioned what I was doing, I had taken so much care walking through the crops that I feel confident I could have made a bet that they couldn’t have seen where or how I got so far into the crops. I firmly believe that we should take great care while photographing – you never know when you might need to have a friendly word with a farmer to gain access to a potentially amazing view, so the offer of a business card and a print of their choice of their land has always gone down extremely well (and no-one has ever claimed the offered free print!). Much better than arguing over trampled crops I think – after all, the crops are hard cash to a farmer!
Once in the tracks, I just followed them round and kept turning to check the view. It didn’t take that long to get the lovely curve of the tracks leading up to the barn and beyond. My only problem now, was a completely bland sky. A fair amount of haze was appearing, and the sky was just turning a paler shade of blue. As I was facing about 110-degrees from the setting sun, I reached for my polariser to see if I could make more of the clouds. There was an improvement, but I wanted more.
Looking at the foreground in front of me, there was lots of contrast and texture, so my mind starting turning to B&W. The great thing about digital is I can just turn the camera to B&W mode, and instantly see the potential results. The sky needed boosting a bit more, so I added a 0.6 Neutral Density Graduated Filter to balance the exposure. The image on the LCD was looking better all the time – just a bit more contrast needed… Again, the great thing about digital is the ability to add B&W filters in camera, and see the results immediately. A quick press of the Red Filter button and voila! I had the image you see here!
Happy with my work, I tried a few more compositions, but nothing could improve on my already captured image. I’d expected to go home with some extremely colourful images of red poppies and sunset, but instead I had an exclusive view of an oft-photographed location, in  strong, high contrast Black & White – and a big grin on my face!!
Exposure information: ¼ sec @ f/11, ISO100
0.6 ND Grad plus Circular Polariser filters
Post processing: RAW file tweaked in Lightroom; B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro (High Structure preset).
Prints of all my images are available from my website.