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.